Sunday, June 3, 2018

Unleashing Passion

As I begin to prepare for next year, I'd like to collect and share some thoughts on unleashing passion in those who are naturally passionate.

Show me a teacher and you will show me someone who loves kids.  So it follows that teachers are passionate by nature.  They are driven by something that many others aren't.  They are driven by service, by the desire to change lives, by a belief in the good in people, by learning, and by love.

So, why does professional learning not connect with these people with a predisposition to learning, service, and passion?

Does professional learning:

  • Connect with passion?
  • Keep kids at the center?
  • Provide opportunities to serve?
  • Make a difference to the teacher's students?
  • Drive change that will benefit student's lives?
Through this summer, I intend to explore ways to personalize the learning of our teaching staff to make meaningful differences for them and for our students.  This is an exploration, not an answer.  I look forward to studying ways to connect district and building leaders with ways to personalize professional learning for the benefit of our students.

Leave comments for me on ways to personalize professional learning (or professional development). If you've had a great PL experience, let me know.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership

Outward Mindset: Think first of others interests
Leadership, at its core, is service to others.  A leader must have, what the Arbinger Institue calls an “outward mindset,” thinking first of others needs, challenges, and objectives.  If a leader acts selfishly, thinking only of his own self-interest, expect his followers to act in their own self-preservation.  Leaders, great leaders, serve others.  Quality leaders focus on those they serve.  Simon Sinek writes, “Leadership is not about being in charge.  Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” People follow leaders who show care and concern for them as a person.  People don’t want to feel used but rather want to feel that they are a part of something greater than themselves.  This sense of fulfillment comes from service.  

Put Others First
People want to be a part of the solution, not simply as a cog in the machine.  Liz Wiseman writes about effective leaders in the book “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter.”   She states "Multipliers are leaders who look beyond their own genius and focus their energy on extracting and extending the genius of others, they get more from their people.  They don't get a little more; they get vastly more." Multipliers do not see themselves as the center and they don’t need to be the smartest in the room.  Putting others on the stage is more important.  “Some leaders seem to drain intelligence and capability out of the people around them. Their focus on their own intelligence and their resolve to be the smartest person in the room had a diminishing effect on everyone else.” When around a person who wants you to know how smart they are, the conversation is often stifled.  Others begin to look to the “know-it-all” leader and expect them to have the answer.  This reduces the overall effectiveness of all those in the room.  Great leaders talk less and listen more.  They want to really understand the issue being discussed and they show that they value all of the individuals in the room.

Get comfortable with Messy
Servant leadership can be messy because it relies on collaboration.  Leaders can be empowering by bringing people together to solve issues.  On the other hand, leaders can be directive leaders which allow you a clearer path to the end result.  You get a straight line to the end goal.  The problem with directive leadership is that you don’t explore the full depth of possibility that you do when you involve others in decision making. Empowering leaders push their followers by giving them a voice and sometimes that voice is in contrast to their own opinion.  Michael Fullan speaks of decisional capital and social capital.  Social capital is “working together in focused, specific ways to learn from others to accomplish something of value.”  Decisional capital is “the ability of individuals and groups to make expert diagnoses and identify corresponding solutions based on experience and expertise.”  Professionals need to have the freedom to make decisions.  It is incumbent upon leaders to allow those they lead to have the ability and freedom to make choices.  At the same time, it is incumbent upon those professionals to always learn and constantly collaborate.  Collaboration can be messy but for deep learning and sustainable practices, it is essential.   According to a study by Dr. Natalia Lorinkova at Wayne State University, directive leaders initially outperform empowering leaders.  However, their leadership does not last past themselves while empowering leaders will experience higher performance in the long run.  Directive leaders do not build sustainable systems. Directive leaders do not see value in the people that surround them. Instead, they see people as simply a means to their own ends.  They see their employees as subordinates who carry out their ideas.  They do not tap the full potential of those around them.

Empower Those Closest to Students
In education, we must work together to get the best results.  Decisions belong as close to the students as possible.  This means a fairly flat leadership structure.  Simon Sinek, in the book “Leaders Eat Last” writes one of his leadership lessons as “Lead the people, not the numbers.”  It is critical that you are deeply engaged with the people that you lead.  This seems obvious but have you heard a school or district leader talk about children like they are only a number?  Physical space and distance from students allow decisions to be made with the students as merely an abstract idea.  The more decision making power we can put in our teachers, the more our decisions will fit the needs of the children we serve.  This requires that administrators trust teachers.  To develop that deep trust, it is also critical that we are explicit with our vision and that we make sure our focus is on instruction and is student-centered.  Imagine a Principal who makes all the decisions for her teachers.  Now imagine a Principal that trusts her teachers to make nearly all of the instructional decisions.  Which one do you think is going to need a deeper belief and value in her teachers?  Which one do you think is going to invest in professional learning that assists teachers in frameworks that allow them to make the best instructional decisions?

Be Humble and Recognize the Value of Others

It is also critical to realize the importance of every member of a school staff.  Everyone brings something to the table.  A leader who listens and values others opinions will learn and grow to become a better leader.  A principal who has all the answers will be well served to listen to those around them.  As the Arbinger Institute writes in the book “The Outward Mindset: Seeing Beyond Ourselves, “Leaders who succeed are those who are humble enough to be able to see beyond themselves and perceive the true capacities and capabilities of their people.”

Further Reading:
“Leaders Eat Last”-Simon Sinek
The Outward Mindset: Seeing Beyond Ourselves-The Arbinger Institute
Together is Better: A Little Book of Inspiration-Simon Sinek
Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter-Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown
Coherence-Michael Fullan

Indelible Leadership: Always Leave Them Learning-Michael Fullan

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Truth that School Reformers Don't Want You to Know

Sometimes when you tell the truth, it sounds like an excuse. People outside of education have a lot of advice on how to solve the problems with public education. They come from very well meaning places, but sometimes they might not even understand the problem they are trying to solve.

An easy sound bite is that every student should graduate or No Child Left Behind or every student succeeds. People then point at public schools as failing because it seems reasonable that every student should graduate from high school. After all, they say, if your goal isn't 100% graduation, then which kid are you OK with not graduating? That is a tough spin. It also puts educators in a bad position. Do you say it's not realistic, giving the appearance you don't believe all kids can succeed?  Do you set a goal that you know is impossible to reach and just let it sit there with every educator knowing it is unrealistic?  When the nation's schools inevitably fail at this goal, any reason for failure is looked at as an excuse.

Every student can learn. This sound bite is true. However, the pace for every student isn't the same. The style of learning isn't the same. Life factors matter. Some will achieve amazing things in music but not science, others might be great in welding, but not English class. Schools meet many different needs, but it isn't fair to say all kids will graduate or achieve at a high level in all subjects.

If we view truth as an excuse, our solutions are different. If we look at  teachers as if they are the problem, then our solution might be to get rid of tenure or pensions.  If we just got rid of tenure, the argument goes, we could fire the bottom percentage of teachers. If we got rid of these pensions, teachers wouldn't be so complacent and lazy. Maybe we can just bring in merit pay. That will motivate teachers to perform at a higher level. 

There are many problems with these solutions. For one, the problem isn't the motivation of teachers. The solution of getting rid of tenure and loss of pensions just exacerbates the situation. People are already not lining up for certain teaching jobs. Secondly, merit pay never works. It is too subjective and if you make it objective, it means using test scores which is an  inaccurate way to assess teaching. Assessments are designed to assess learning, not teaching. It also narrows focus to that which can be tested.

So what are some truths.

Truth: a child is taken from his home after his father attempts to commit suicide and mom gets sent to jail on the same night for drug use. When the police arrive, the children are sent to another community to be placed in foster care.

Another truth: a mom is shot and killed while daughter is in the house. Daughter arrives at new school after moving in with family members.

Another truth: a mother is released from prison. The school gets a call that the mother isn't to show up at school as she no longer has parental rights.

Another truth: a mom shows up to eat lunch with her kids. Later that day she leaves town running from the police. She is later caught and sent to prison. The school finds out the reason she came to lunch is because she knew it might be her last chance to see her kids.

So, back to 100% graduation.

People want to make it out that American public schools are failing. Only 78% graduate from high school in America. But look into those numbers. That is a 4 year graduation rate. "It is also accurate to say that 90% of those between the ages of 18-24 have a high school diploma." It is also accurate to say "On average, 3.4% of students who were enrolled in public or private high schools in October of 2008 left school before October of 2009 without completing a high school program" (Ravitch, 2013). How can all 3 of these be accurate?  Numbers are can be presented for a specific purpose. If I want you to know how bad schools are, I will leave you with impression that a quarter of our kids don't graduate. If I want you to understand reality, I'll let you know that while some students didn't graduate in time, they still graduated.

Facts are important. Truth matters. Faulty rationale can be used to solve a problem that might not even exist, at least to the extent to which people might want you to believe.

Nearly all kids graduate. Kids achieve at the highest level in human history. That is in spite of the truths of some children's lives. Maybe you think the above stories are exaggerated to prove a point. I want to be very clear with this. Every story above is true, every story above is from this school year, and every story above is from one grade level.  These are not from a scary urban school district.  These are the stories that can be told in many public schools.

So maybe the problem isn't lazy, unmotivated teachers or a failing public school system. Maybe the problem is more societal than an educational problem.  If that's the case, then the solution isn't getting rid of tenure, pensions, or privatizing education. Instead we should look to our public schools as a beacon of hope. Maybe we should look at teachers as the heroes that they are and realize that lazy doesn't describe this profession. Passion, dedication, and tireless commitment are much better descriptions of those in the teaching profession.

Truth matters. Public schools succeed. Teachers change lives.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Complicated Success of American Education

Why are 77% of Americans happy with their local public school and yet only 19% of people rate the overall public school system with high marks (Gallup poll, 2012)?  Why have public schools been blamed for any number of shortfallings such as USSR's launch of Sputnik in the 50's, the failure of the auto industry in the 80's, or the proclaimed idea that we are putting our nation in a national security issue in the present time?  How are our scores so consistently low on international tests and yet we still have the strongest economy in the world?

We are so regularly told how bad our schools are that we don't believe our own eyes.  We look at our local schools and say, "If only the rest of America could do it like we do."  At the same time, across the country, others are saying the exact same thing about their schools. The Huffington Post recently had a blog by Steven Singer that pointed out that Napoleon's short stature is a commonly accepted fact. Unless you look at actual facts. The problem is, Napoleon was taller than the average man during his life. So why do we believe that he was short?  When something is repeated often enough, it becomes our perceived truth. Remember the "Summer of the Shark?" In 2001, I heard so many reports of shark attacks that I began to get scared to get in the water and I live in Nebraska. Shark attacks were reported daily. The only problem, shark attacks were actually lower during the summer of 2001 than they were during 2000.

Other countries study our public schools system. They note the independence, innovation, adaptability, and creativity of our students. While others are studying our schools, our federal government was putting out a report called "Nation at Risk" in 1983. This claimed that we were at danger because of our poor performing public schools. Yet, here we are 34 years later with the strongest economy in the world. Why? How can this be?  The product of our education system is the students who graduate and become adults in our nation. Public schools do an outstanding job of preparing an educated society.  As Yong Zhao writes, "Innovative people cannot come from schools that force students to memorize correct answers on standardized tests or reward students who excel at regurgitating spoon-fed knowledge."

There is plenty to be concerned about with public education. Continuing to focus on improvement is completely appropriate and needed. The measures we choose must be carefully selected. Standardized assessments have a place but do not tell the full story. Creativity and adaptability are not easily assessed in standardized assessments. These tests can help us find our shortcomings and strengths and can be useful for discussions of next steps for our children inspecific academic content areas. However, single data points are rarely good ways to make decisions. A school system that promotes equity of opportunities, creativity and innovation along with high academic standards will produce greater long term results than the short term wins of rote memorization for the purpose of high test scores. If you look solely at the results of standardized assessments, you will come up with very different solutions than you will if you find a way to place value on creativity.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Path to Privatization

Imagine if in 2001, police were given a mandate that by 2014, every neighborhood would be crime free. If they were not crime free, police officers would be fired and police stations would be shut down and privatized.

Which neighborhoods do you think would be furthest from this goal, rich or poor neighborhoods?

Which police stations, given the goal of 100% crime free would reach that goal?

Which police departments would be considered failures?

If given a completely unattainable goal, would we all just say "I guess public police departments no longer work. We need to defund them by siphoning money to private security firms."

Siphoning funding from a public institution for a problem that is overstated and misdirected is not wise. No more can police fix all of society's ills than can public schools. Defunding through splitting of money to more entities is less efficient and effective. Holding public schools accountable while deregulating the private sector and holding no accountability measures seems illogical.

Many factors came together in 2001 when this very thing happened to public schools. One factor was that some wanted the privatization of schools and they saw these unreasonable goals as a way to get there.  The punitive nature of the legislation led to blaming rather than fixing, which for some proponents of NCLB, this is exactly what they wanted. This blame put teacher's unions in the position of  being seen as self serving and people in favor of privatization began a campaign to blame things like tenure (poor teachers can be removed, regardless of years of service) and pensions as the reason for the failure of our schools.

Simply calling schools failures doesn't make it true. An apples to apples comparison with other countiries does not exist. The first major report on education "A Nation at Risk" was published in 1983. The fear that our system was a failure has been around for 34 years. If our education system was as bad as the 1983 report indicated, shouldn't we have seen the results. Students who graduated in 1983 are closer to retirement than they are to their 20th reunion.

We can't allow false narratives to drive us to unsustainable answers that will not work for all children. Democracy requires an educated citizenry.  Private industry succeed where there is a profit motive. Public systems fill the needs that don't provide a profit motive but are essential to our democracy,  economy, and general welfare.

Kids not Test Scores

It would be interesting to see what we could accomplish if we stopped focusing on competition and began focusing on process.

Policy makers too often see kids as numbers. They pit schools against each other putting poorer neighborhoods in the position of appearing to fail. If we stopped thinking of kids as test scores and started looking at them as kids, I believe our focus would shift. Education isn't a competition, it is a collaborative effort for the collective good.

At an individual school level, we can set different types of goals. One would be a proficiency goal. However, AS ALL EDUCATORS KNOW, proficiency goals focus on a small number of students. This type of goal requires you to have laser like focus on students on the bubble. You don't worry, for the sake of the goal, on the very bottom students as they will not be proficient no matter what. You don't focus on the top because they will always be proficient. So the bubbles kids get the focus.

If you focus on a growth goal, you focus on all students. Every student should grow at least one year of growth. Any goal that has "every" in it sets you up for failure, however, you can see where growth goal can focus our attention on all students.

Both of these goals miss the mark. I think you can establish a growth goal but the focus must be on process. Why? You can control the process and thereby help kids.

  • Use research based promising practices that increase student learning. 
  • Don't obsess about student results. 
  • Let results occur because you put into place the best possible practices. 
  • Ensure a feedback rich classroom. 
  • Establish clear learning goals. 
  • Establish expected teaching practices such as Gradual Release.
  • Focus on giving students many opportunities to respond to both engage students and to give specific feedback. 
  • Determine what students need to know and create questions that get students to the goal. 
  • Establish levels of questions and the create question sequences that maximize your student engagement and depth of knowledge. 
  • Create grading practices that provide information about next steps for students.
  • Set up time to allow teachers to collaborate and focus on student learning of essential learning goals. 
  • Establish quality assessments to determine student depth of knowledge. 

When process becomes the focus, results follow. When we look at 8 year old children as kids and not as test scores, we can make a difference.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Public Schools Matter

Public schools matter.

In a democratic society, it is important that all children are provided education. ALL children, no matter race, creed, or disability. No matter gender, gender identity, homosexuality, or heterosexuality. No matter immigration status or native language. ALL children deserve an education.

Public schools matter.

Private schools will educate children but nothing requires them to educate ALL children. Not because private schools don't care about ALL children but because they might provide a specific religious point of view and they want to hold true to their beliefs. PRIVATE SCHOOLS ARE NOT REQUIRED TO EDUCATE ALL STUDENTS.

Public schools matter.

Tax money provided to private schools through vouchers will allow some students who already go to private schools to now have the private school paid by taxes. Other students will also get vouchers increasing the overall number of students in private schools. However if they don't meet the private schools standards (athletic, academic, behavior, etc.) they could be removed. Because public schools educate ALL students, these students will be back at a public school. Public school opponents will then point at the lower test scores and higher discipline rates as proof of failing public schools.

Public schools matter.

Public school students grow more than their private school counterparts when accounting for similar demographics. However, anytime one group is exclusive and the other fully inclusive, the data will be skewed. If, as an example, a school only takes children who get A's in class and the other takes all students, doesn't it stand to reason that a higher percentage of students will get A's at the first school. By the way Mrs. DeVos, this paragraph was dedicated to the understanding of the difference between proficiency and growth.

Public schools matter.

Charter schools are for profit schools. How is this more efficient or more responsible to the tax payers? It isn't. Some charters perform better than public schools, some the same, and others worse. On the whole, public schools outperform charter schools.

Public schools matter.

Public, public charter, and private schools are not held to the same standard and yet vouchers and charters threaten to siphon money from public schools without the same accountability.

Public schools matter.

I love every student in my school.  If we reduce public school money by siphoning some of it off for students to go to private schools, will my students be allowed to stay at the private school even if they are transgender?  Will they be able to stay if they are a discipline issue? Will they be able to stay if they openly support a pro-choice viewpoint. Will they be able to stay if they proclaim atheism?

Public schools matter.

Do we want a society where some students are educated and others are not based on beliefs or race or any other number of factors?

If all kids matter, then public schools matter.