Over the past few weeks, I have been stopped by a teacher who, for a lack of better word, struggles. I will be clear, she never struggled in the way that I questioned whether she should teach - she has the heart of a teacher. She struggled in the way many teachers do. She questions her worth, whether she is making a difference, and whether or not she should keep teaching. I am not surprised we have had the recent conversations we have had. Today was our latest conversation.
Today, I was busy. I had meetings all morning, was in the building for just a short while, then had to leave again early. My time in my office and completing my tasks was my top priority. Then, she walked in. She did that, “Hey, do you have a minute?” thing that everyone answers first in their heads, filters it, then replies. I of course said, “No, I am really busy, but come on in.” I struggle sometimes being “on-demand.”
We walk into my office and take a seat. I am at my desk, straightening things up. I am half heartedly paying attention. Then, she says it. “Thank you.”
She had my attention.
This teacher began stating how this is one of her best years. That she is taking risks and doing things she never would have done in the classroom. She talked about how she is making deeper relationships with students and finding they are rising to her higher expectations. She is collaborating with her peers in PLC and taking their ideas and trying them after tweaking them to her style. She isn’t afraid to fail.
At that moment, I was fully re-engaged. My management hat was off and my instructional leader hat was on full display. She came into my office, took a risk, and won my attention.
This teacher reminded me today of a few things:
This teacher is every teacher - every school professional. We question our worth, our value daily. These teachers have the efficacy to get the job done and done well. Sometimes they (we) lack the confidence because we are scared, unsure, or tired. I personally have spent a lot of time this afternoon reflecting on this teacher’s journey by putting the pieces together and trying to read the map that lead her from Point A to Point B. There is no map, just trust and awareness that good teaching and learning has a level of risk.
🎼 Summer learning, had me a blast. Summer learning happened so fast... Tell me more, tell me more...
Over the past three days, teachers, consulting teachers, program coordinators, building administrators, and district administrators attended Iowa Core Institute 2017 (#ICI2017) to gain a deeper knowledge of what works. The focus remained on integrating various literacy strategies into classrooms.
We must be deliberate in everything that we do. This fits perfectly with our 2017-2018 focus of completing a common lesson plan templates. Planning saves time and ensures the focus remains on the most important aspects of learning. Teachers must be intentional in thier planning for learning to be effective. Consulting Teachers must be intentional in their coaching for teacher growth to be effective. Administrators must be intentional in their feedback for teachers to grow and reflect.
This finally makes sense to me. When I am deeply interested in something I read it closely. Self taught, many of us use elements of close reading to ensure a deep understanding. I recall elements of my professional learning where I closely read and interact with my text. I have a personal system of annotating and recalling content of text I felt important. The missing element may be the most important - collaboration over the article.
The final take away is the importance of collaboration. Every session I attended had an element of collaboration. In my first session with ASCD's Heather Donnelly (@DonnellyinFOCUS), she connected the need for our collaboration to that of our students. They thrive on the ability to interact with one another. We know that students will interact whether we want them to or not. When we are intentional with what we want students to collaborate on, learning happens. I also see the connection between close reading and Authentic Intellectual Work. Students receive both a deeper understanding of a text and collaborate. Students have greater opportunities for substantive conversations. Well planned collaboration achieves deeper conversations and understanding of the concepts.
Learnig alongside staff is a great way to spend the first few days of summer. The learning simmers in the back of teachers minds as they refresh and renew for the fall semester. It is the job of building leaders (teachers and principals) to revive those thoughts and great ideas when we return.
At professional development Monday, I ended the day with this quote:
“First of all, a planned lesson is just better. Not all planned lessons are fabulous and not all unplanned lessons are a disaster, but even a bad lesson will be less bad planned, and even a great lesson can be greater with a plan. If you are good at teaching unplanned lessons, you will be even better at teaching with a plan.” The Importance of Lesson Planning
There are multiple reasons to embrace lesson planning. At the end of the day, there is a different reason for each person. For some, it frees time because it improves organization. For others, it reduces stress as they know exactly what is happening and that it’s deliberately sequenced. Lesson planning ensures teacher focus on those things that matter most. Our school has selected the following non-negotiable elements for our lesson plan template:
Connecting our day-to-day work with our professional development in Authentic Intellectual Work is key. By connecting each day’s learning to one of these elements directly ties to our district’s instructional framework as the learning is “linked to Enduring Understandings, not linked to tasks or activities.” When we deliberately plan, we make those connections.
This is a continuation on the great work completed this year. It should never be a surprise on what is being learned. This is the mini-goal for you and your students to ensure learning for the day. This is directly linked to the district’s instructional framework.
This is a continuation on the great work completed this year. With nearly 22% of our students having English as a Second Language and 70% of our students on free or reduced lunches, targeting and addressing literacy is key. We need to be purposeful in how we have students engage in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. This is directly linked to the district’s instructional framework.
This is the next step in Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol. This section is optional for the plan but encouraged. The reason it is important as it supports language acquisition along with the language target.
Four years ago, we moved to the A/B Block Schedule. We were very deliberate in how we used that time the first few years. As time has gone on we have snuck back into old habits. Having an agenda on the plan will ensure your lesson is pacing as expected and that the 88-minute block includes multiple learning opportunities.
As stated, connecting our day-to-day work with our professional development in Authentic Intellectual Work is key. The task summary should list what the students are doing with the content or skills. It should be something that could be brought to AIW to score. It could be anything from a graphic organizer, instructions for a discussion with prompts, a creation assignment, an essay prompt, a scene, a project, etc. This would be the one thing that ties in your content target.
We must plan how we will know if students know, understand, or can do the target/goal. The formative assessment should tell teachers if students meet the target. It is great if they do so through the language target. When writing the formative assessment, it is best to keep the targets in mind.
Literacy is key. One of the best ways for learning to be visible is through writing. This section can have an explanation of how they will use writing or the prompts themselves.
Taking time to reflect and ponder on how to enhance lessons is key. Teachers are the number one factor of student achievement. The work of Hall and Simeral shows that ongoing reflection is key to becoming and being a great teacher. When teachers engage in reflection, the understanding of needs deepens and the responses to those needs improve.
We understand that a common template and submitting weekly lesson plans is a shift – a change from the past. We know that this will take the many great things happening to the next level. Our parents and students deserve the best.
This semester has brought a word back to my mind on occasion. That word is "persistence." When I think of the teachers I admire most, that is the word that rings through.
As defined on webster.com, persistence is a "to go on resolutely or stubbornly in spite of opposition, importunity, or warning." I think back to my teachers. The ones that I admire today. They were persistent.
With the end of the year quickly approaching, it rings true. I recently listened to a podcast "What To Do On Lame Duck School Days." The podcast and accompanying article features low and high value items to do during "downtime". The ideas feature go beyond the "show a movie" that we have all encountered. Although the list contains some low-value items that don't connect curriculum, there are many ideas on what can filled with educational value.
We have to be persistent in focusing on education until the last day. With summer brain drain on the horizon, we need to make sure that students are pushed until the final day of school. We can't afford to quit on May 1st or once prom is over. We must be persistent in focusing on continued learning. We must be persistent that students behave at high expectations. We must be persistent that students are engaged. To do so, we may have to get more creative this time of year.
As we round up our No. 2 pencils, tweak schedules, bag snacks, and count test booklets, we reflect on another academic year. We ask ourselves, "What growth have our students made? How will they do in reading, math, and science? Did we do everything we could do to help them learn?"
It's that last question that we dwell on...
We wrestle with the thoughts on system changes since the previous year. Adjusted our tutoring strategies to focus on Reading, Math, and Science. In our labs, students receive focused tutoring to ensure success in class. After school, for three hours a week, we have core content teachers available for extra support. This, coupled with busing to the nearest feeder school, allowed for no excuses.
However, we also know that "we can't intervene our way to success." We need to re-tool what we are doing to meet the needs of our students who have changed.
This year, we focused on building the foundation of high school literacy. This led us to work on infusing literacy into the daily operation of our teaching. Historically, our teachers have been very good at focusing on content and know what needs to be taught to prepare students for the next level. This year, we added the element of "how" students will engage with literacy (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) to show that they have learned the content. Through posting and referring to both content and language targets, teachers deliberately focused on supporting our school's two largest subgroups - English Language Learners (21%) and Low-Socio Economic Status (70%) students. We knew that was just one step.
The second involved writing. With "Literacy" being the focus, we knew it would have to be very deliberate - we must write and write daily. A major contributor to the thought was Hattie's work on making thinking visible. When we look at the four elements of literacy, two make that happen - speaking and writing. Knowing that we will one day depart Iowa Assessments and move toward Smarter Balanced Assessments, writing will be even more critical to show our students learning. Our students must write and they must speak.
That hasn't been easy. Our students wrote more this year than they have ever written. Seeing students provide written explanations of thought is exciting. It truly makes learning visible. However, some teachers struggle with daily writing and our administrative team struggled monitoring it. We could easily see the results (we requested samples every 3-4 weeks. However, we still need to foster a way to "see" it happening daily in classes.
I am excited for our students to take the state test tomorrow. We aren't about hyping the test anymore. We have done that every year with little to show for it. This year, we focused on being good at a few strategies that should support the learning of our students. A pep rally, pre-test pancakes, fruit snacks, or shaving a teachers head can't take the place of solid academic shifts focused at supporting and improving student learning.
This year, we focused on the right things. Did we do everything we could to help students learn? We did more of the right things and that's the start.
In days of social media and instant information, parents have more lines of communication than ever with schools. However, parents still desire to have a formal communication from school. For the past year, we have sent a weekly bulletin to parents. It has included student announcements, messages directly to parents, data about attendance, messages from the principals, and weekly schedule of events.
We are constantly seeking ways to improve our communication. This spring, our parent teacher conferences focused on communication. First, we built communicated the reason for the changes. With online grades, weekly grade reports emailed, and parent-teacher email communication, many parents did not feel the need to attend conferences.
Sometimes, tough conversations have to happen. During my principal endorsement courses, I read the book "Fierce Conversations" by Susan Scott. Various elements of that book stuck with me during the formative years of my leadership training. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to be trained as a "Fierce Conversation" trainer. That's when things clicked.
"The conversation is the relationship."
When things aren't going as planned, I stop and reflect on what is happening. Most often than not, I realize that I have stopped the conversation. Although there is a honeymoon period for every new job, I felt mine at North High School lasted longer than normal. Needless to say, it ended. During that time I thought deeply on "what happened?" I immediately looked outward and pondered why the staff changed? What was their problem? Then it hit me. I no longer focused on the conversation. Thus, the relationship I was building with the staff started to fade. Our relationship lives in the conversations we are having.
"Let silence do the heavy lifting"
Tough conversations aren't easy. We often don't know what to say. Once I learned that I didn't have to fill the silence with talking, conversations became easier. We have all had those conversations where we didn't know what to say. Sometimes, we filled the silence with whatever spewed out of our mouths. Often, that gets us into trouble. Alternatively, think of a time a family member or friend just needed you around. No words were spoken but the silence said volumes. The same concept applies to our most difficult conversations. Silence can be awkward and uncomfortable. However, when we let silence do the heavy lifting, the person we ware having a conversation with will often be the first to break the silence and begin the process of facing the consequences or reality of the conversation.
"Tackle your toughest challenge today"
Since we don't like uncomfortable conversations, we often put them off. We "don't want to ruin our day." The question is, "Do we ruin our days by not tackling our biggest obstacle right now?" Yes. One of the quotes used by Fierce Conversations from Annie Dillard is "How we spend our days is how we spend our lives." Nothing could be more true when it comes to the conversations that we need to and must have. When we put off those conversations because of fear, we continue to hold back an improved reality. Think of how great life would be if "that" conversation was had today? Yes, it will make your stomach ache. Yes you can't predict how the other person will respond. What you will know is that you cared enough about the relationship to have the conversation.
I hate tough conversations. I don't like telling adults they aren't meeting expectations. I hate telling parents their son or daughter got in trouble. I hate telling people they didn't get the job. I hate telling people they are losing their job. However, I care enough about them to have the conversation.
Snow Days! A day both loved and hated by school personnel. It always seems that timing is everything. The day's "worth" or "value" all depends on the week's schedule, how long it has been since the last day off, and how long into June might we have to go until the warm summer days are impacted.
I can't deny the day's value for me. I slept in. I napped (I never nap). I played Super Mario Brothers. I built legos. I invested in my own learning <<insert sound of a needle screeching on a record and a whip of a head>>
I see "Snow Days" as "Grow Days". Besides growing with my family, I like to spend time on those things that I seldom have time to do (or commit to do) on a normal day. Today, I plunged into our semester ending data and began reflecting on our building goals that we have yet to achieve for the end of the year. I asked myself "what do we need to do?" while filtering it with "what can I get teachers to do without a tyranny or pitchforks?" That took me to YouTube...
Having just completed a session on McREL's Balanced Leadership, I filtered our goals through the Classroom Instruction that Works materials, made connections, and sent some of my learning/findings to teachers. The first video that I repeatedly watched connected to our goal of setting objectives in the form of content and language targets. This video (starting at 1:43) nails our goal of implementing this with fidelity:
After I shared this video over email and Twitter with staff, I made a snack. I mean, it is a snow day...
While the videos aimlessly rolled on YouTube, a video of a Webinar from about Hattie's work on "Visible Learning for Literacy" began to play. This is a book I have been slowly learning through this year. I get to spot that validates and challenges the work we are doing and I stop reading to focus on improving. This webinar had fantastic timing due to the data I examined and our goal of using "Elaborated Communication" as a tool to deepen learning. I realized I stopped reading and was focusing on "Surface Level" strategies and hadn't made it to "Deeper Learning." I need to read on!
I love Snow Days. I love Grow Days.
Up next: Culturally Responsive Teaching "Becoming a Culturally Responsive Teacher.
Some kids are scared. I don't write this for propaganda or other political influence. It's the facts. Prior to the election, students were having conversations about what will happen if one candidate got into office. Today, that is a reality for them. What's next?
We have over 600 Hispanic students in our school. That is our largest subgroup of students. Some were born here, some immigrated, some are refugees, and yes, some may even be here illegally. But it's not just our Hispanic students that have made mention of the new realities in which we live. We have had black students feel as if they lost a voice. We have had East African students worry about families being able to visit or if they will be able to return to visit them. That is just the ethnic and racial aspects. We have a strong LGBTQ and Muslim population as well who may now struggle to find their voice and place in our community.
But, that's our job as school leaders. We set the tone and direction for all of our kids.
First thing this morning, the administrative banter began to discover how we ensure a "smooth transition of power" for our kids? How do we reduce the anxiety of the election results for some of our students while allowing for students on the other side of the issue to feel pride and success? We shared ideas, read articles, shared thoughts, and crafted words. We wanted our kids - no matter the subgroup - to know that they were our kids and we have their backs or supported their beliefs even if we don't as adults. That starts with empathy and understanding. We sent a common message and the staff response was immense.
Our teaching and learning staff have seen change and evolved to embrace it. We are the most diverse school in Western Iowa. This is a very, very foreign concept to our community and not well understood by others in our state. Our students do not look or sound like those of the rural, farming communities that surround us in the Midwest. They don't have the same life experiences or backgrounds. We speak 15 different languages and have 51 students in our school who are new to the country. We are their first taste of America. I wouldn't trade one of our urban 1,498 students for the world. Each one of them gives me hope that, generationally, we are progressing and becoming a better populous.
We will continue to prepare our students for a global economy. We will teach them humility and respect. We will hold them to high expectation. We will support them. We will teach them democracy built on the premise of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." We will encourage them to be civically minded and to act on the ideaology they choose.
As a principal, I never thought I would need to write about a presidential elections impact. I pray that I never have to again. As a student body and a staff, we will move on and grow from this. As I see it, it is like planting a tree. Years from now we will reap the benefits of what is sowed today - sometimes we have to weather storms to get there. All storms pass.
I have been with the same school district since the fall of 2010. One of the first things I remember learning is that it was a district expectation that teachers post "student friendly learning targets in 'I can' statements." Our walkthrough form had a section where the target is identified as posted or not posted. I learned that it was an expectation teachers struggle with achieving.
Fast forward six years...
The expectation has not changed and neither had the struggle for teachers to consistently post targets. Human nature tells me that with 100 teaching staff members, a few will forget to post or change them on any given day. Looking back on walkthrough data our school building consistently posts and teaches content learning targets 81% of the time. Why is it not 100% or at least extremely close?
So, I asked teachers...
Answer 1: We get busy and we forget to post them.
Answer 2: The students don't look at them.
Answer 3: I don't see how they help. I don't believe in them.
These answers made me realize the "mandate to post" targets was heard more than the "mandate for posting" targets. We want to ensure students understand the relevancy and "why" of learning something. We must do the same here.
What is the Mandate for Posting Learning Targets? Below are the four points that, I believe, sell posting targets in clsssrooms.
Just Posting Targets Will Do Nothing
Having well written targets on the board does nothing to support learning if they are not explicitly taught to students. Students must understand what the target means and understand it's connection to the day's activities. Teachers who start with the target, refer back to the target, assess the target, and holds closure on the target will have deeper student understanding - if the student understand the learning target. Having them visual supports our English Language Learners.
Targets Must Tie to Common Formative Assessments
As a student, if I read a target as "what" I am learning today, how will I know I learned it? The content of the target is the most important concept, problem, or theme of the unit or lesson. Teachers should be developing formative assessments that measure the content learning target. This allows the student to assess his or her learning and the teacher can examine data to determine progress of learning.
It Is Research Based
McREL completed a study update on Classroom Instruction That Works in 2010 (1) and showed the effect size of posting objectives as 0.31. This would equate to 9-10 month's growth in student learning. The key to it being research based is that it is used to connect students to learning. When written as "I can" statements it sets the stage for the student to self assess learning.
We Missed the Boat
The video below is researcher John Hattie who explains how posting Learning Targets without also addressing success criteria weakens the goal. Students must not merely know "what" or "how" they are going to learn but also what the criteria is to be successful at a high level.
Posting targets must be about the "what" (content target) and the "how" (language target). We must also present, for understanding, the criteria for achieving the learning of the target. Students must know what they are learning, how they are learning it, and the criteria set to measrlure if they learned and at what level.
What we are learning (Content Target)
How we are learning the content (Language Target)
When will we know we have been successful (Success Criteria)