Take a moment to watch this commercial. It is worth the minute it takes to watch it... you cannot help but laugh at something you see.
I told you it was worth it. What did it make you think about? Maybe it is because of what we will be doing this week and in three more weeks, but I could not help but think about each of you and the STAAR test.
Melissa McCarthy is doing what she loves, protecting the environment. You are doing what you love, teaching students. You became an educator to help students to succeed, to gain an education, to have the tools they need to succeed in life and to live a better life. We all did. I know that is why I became an educator.
Just like Melissa is trying to help the whales, trees, ice caps, and rhinos, you are trying to help your students. And just like Melissa being beat down by the very things she is trying to help, sometimes it feels like we are being down by the politics and constraints that surround education. I know there are times that I feel that way.
When you feel that way I need you to Keep Fighting and Please Don't Give Up. You are making a difference in the lives of your students. Even when you do not see it, you are making a difference.
You are ALL Education Heroes!
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
Next week middle school students in Texas are going to be taking the first round of STAAR tests. For those of you outside of Texas, the STAAR tests are the public-school state assessments for the state of Texas. Over the next few blog posts I am going to show you just how disconnected the STAAR test is from the actual teaching and learning we practice each day at my campus.
I am fortunate to have a staff of teachers at my middle school that have embraced my challenges of thinking differently, challenging the status quo, doing what we need for our kids and not to prepare for a state assessment. I have teachers that wrote grants for flexible furniture in their classrooms and teachers that just bought their own flexible furniture and, thus, have changed how teaching and learning looks in their classroom. Their classrooms no longer consist of desks and rows but instead of flexible seating options with tables, chairs, high seating, low seating, exercise balls… well, just see some examples for yourself:
What do you think? Do those classrooms look like rooms that you would want to learn in? How about your child? Do you want them to learn in classrooms that look like these? How about asking your child what they prefer? See what they say… which rooms would they choose?
What do you see in these classrooms?
I see choice, options, comfort, collaboration spaces, movement options in these classrooms. I see rooms that are conducive for student learning and risk taking in their learning. I see rooms that students equate more to being at home and less like being in a cold space for learning. I see teacher stations that allow for collaboration and conferencing with students
With the STAAR test coming, we are forced to change what our classrooms look like currently to administer the test.
Desks must be in rows, only 2 students per table with a divider between students, and teachers are not able to help students but instead only read instructions to students. The walls in the classrooms must be covered to prevent students from being able to look up and be inspired by a poster on the walls during a writing exam. The hallways must be free of anything helpful or inspirational while they are in the hallways waiting quietly to use a restroom. Students are not allowed to talk to each other in the restrooms if they are still testing because they might talk about their test. Today I had to go to a big box hardware store and purchase 25 tables to bring into these classrooms so that we can administer the test.
I hope you see that we must change the layout, function, feeling, and purpose of the daily learning spaces to take high stakes state assessment exams. These exams are purported to demonstrate a student’s knowledge and mastery of an entire course or in some cases the years of courses. Does that make sense to you that we must change the entire learning environment on the day a child is supposed to demonstrate all they know about a subject?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
Share your thoughts in the comments section below about how we have to change classrooms to take state assessment tests.
During our school district summer administrator leadership institute, we were given the opportunity to pick a post card from a table full of post cards. I do not know just how many post cards were there but I am sure that we had well over 100 to choose from. The post cards were typical post cards, each having their own scene on one side, and the usual mailing and message info on the other side. We were told to pick a post card that we could relate to and that could be aligned to one of our professional goals. I looked at several and then I found a post card that spoke to me. Here is the post card.
As you can see, it is a picture of a serene forest setting. A nice mix of trees, open space, and light. There are large trees and small trees. The bright green of the trees contrasts very well with the dark brown of the soil. It looks like a forest that is several hundred years old.
It spoke to me for two reasons. The first is that I am an outdoorsman at heart. I absolutely love to be outside either working around my house, helping my wife plant flowers and vegetables, improving the landscape, camping in state and national parks, hiking, hunting, exercising, and sitting around a bright campfire. All those things come to mind for me when I look at the post card.
The second reason I chose this card is because it serves as a reminder. A reminder that when I am in the middle of my work as an educator I cannot lose sight of the forest for the trees. I think all of us need that reminder from time to time. It is easy for us to allow ourselves to get so bogged down in the details of our work that we lose sight of the bigger picture. It is this bigger picture that helps to keep everything in perspective. The bigger picture provides the relevance to our daily work and reminds of what is most important.
As educators, what is most important is our students and their learning. As we find ourselves in the middle of the spring semester it is easy to become bogged down in the day to day of our work. Stress levels are high because, for most of us, state assessments are coming. Students (and teachers for that matter) are becoming restless due to the warmer weather outside. The end to the school year is coming into sight but it is far enough that we still have lots of work to be done.
When you find yourself in this situation, when you feel like you are overwhelmed and stressed to the max, take a moment to think of the bigger picture of your students’ learning. How does what is stressing you fit into that picture? How vital is whatever is overwhelming you to the bigger picture? Be willing to take that step back and ask yourself, “Where does this fit in the overall scheme of what needs to be accomplished?” When you do that, you may find that you have been focusing on the details so much that you have lost sight of the bigger picture.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments. What works for you when you feel like you are overwhelmed and stressed. Feel free to share below!
The following thoughts are from Beth Sherry, one of the fabulous teachers at my school. She wrote this for our weekly faculty newsletter and I thought her question should be shared with others... so here it is
Every day, we are presented with a fresh, new opportunity to help our students grow. And each new day has the potential to be life-changing for our students. Ultimately, the opportunity and potential begin with our mindset as educators.
What if we began each class period by letting ALL of our students know that we are glad to see them (even the students who can be difficult at times)?
What if we gave ALL students a clean slate EVERY DAY (even if they acted terribly in class the day before)?
What if we maintained high expectations for ALL of our students EVERY SINGLE DAY (even for the students who maybe haven't done a single thing all year)?
These "what ifs" cost us nothing at all; however, these "what ifs" could make the difference between a good day and a bad day, a completed assignment and an incomplete one, a developing relationship or a crushed one. These small "what ifs" right now might determine whether a student drops out of school or graduates high school.
Every day, we are given a fantastic opportunity.
What if we took advantage of it?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
Despite being reported in the press on January 5, 2017 the new Texas A – F Grading system is going to be reveled on January 6, 2017. This initial release is not intended to be a label or a “meaningful grade” on Texas schools and districts but instead a “what-if” rating. This is what our grades could look like if they were to be given today.
I am trying to wrap my brain around this new system because I am going to have to help my staff, parents, and community members better understand what all of this really means. Let’s see how I am doing in my processing and understanding…
Has This Been Tried Before?
Based off the reactions that are being made on social media and in the early press reports, the “what-if” grades are not being well received. It seems that we have seen this song and dance before. Remember Florida and their A-F unveiling? Read more about how there were many low scoring districts and the “adjustments” that needed to be made to the A-F grading system by clicking here, here, and here.
My Take So Far…
As a principal of a middle school campus in a successful Texas public school district I find that I have to be able to understand and explain a grading system that is based upon an assessment process that does not reflect best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment. Let’s compare the two really quick…
In my school our classrooms often buzz with the sounds of learning, collaboration between peers, facilitation of learning by our teachers, and checkpoint and mastery checks that often involve technology tools as a part of daily assessments. Those assessments are used to shape future learning and lessons to push students toward mastery of learning. Students are able to move around their classrooms, sit in collaborative groups, use technology tools, lay on the floor, use flexible furniture, with individualism and creativity highly encouraged. Seems like a great way to learn huh?
State assessments are the complete opposite of the day to day learning in our school. Students have to sit in columns and rows, no one can speak, answers are bubbled in circles or written on 26 lines that is graded in 90 seconds or less, and the results of these assessments may or may not be returned for schools to use within the same school year. All students are expected to take the exact same test and give the exact same answers as their peers all across Texas. That is real world right?
So what do you think? Is basing the A-F grading system off state assessments reflective of what we do in schools on a daily basis? Maybe in some schools, but not any school that I want your kids to learn in and be a part of. Not any school that I wish to lead because this is not how students should have to learn, rows and columns, no collaboration, no technology, no feedback.
What are the Domains?
Domain I is said to measure student achievement. This basically looks at how ALL of our students performed on the STAAR test. There is a nice little formula to help calculate the different letter grades for this Domain. Now, let’s not forget that the STAAR test does not actually measure student achievement. It actually measures the averages of students because it is a norm-referenced test designed to rank and order students and schools. Make no mistake, STAAR is not about student achievement but, instead, about student averages. There is a difference.
Domain II is said to measure student progress on the STAAR test from year to year. This would seem to be fairly straight forward. Students either improve their STAAR performance year to year or they don’t, right? The hang up is the STAAR test itself. The passing standards are not determined until AFTER the testing has been conducted, the passing standards are changed year after year, if everyone answers questions correctly then the question could be thrown out, and some content areas are only tested every three years meaning students have to pass three years’ worth of standards in a single test. Do you still think it is straight forward?
Domain III is titled closing the gaps. What you need to know is that this is NOT a measure of the closure of any performance gaps between different student groups. Instead this is a measure of our economically disadvantaged students and how they perform on STAAR. There is not a comparison between “succeeding students” and “struggling students” but instead to an expected passing rate and an actual passing rate that is based only on our low social economic students.
You also need to know that based on the mathematical formula being used for domain III, the more economically disadvantaged students a school and/or district has the lower the expected passing rate is for that school and/or district. This means if your school has fewer poor students those students are expected to pass a higher rate than a school with more poor students. Think about that for a minute.
Domain IV is said to measure post-secondary readiness. This domain is based off attendance rates, drop-out rates, graduation rates, college entrance exam performance, career and technology courses, AP/IB courses, and dual credit courses. Elementary schools only have attendance rates for Domain IV and middle schools have attendance rates and drop-out rates.
Domain V will be community based accountability. This domain will allow school districts the opportunity to rate theselves on different areas other that STAAR (state assessment). Please click here for an excellent example of my district's community based accountibility. For the release of the "what-if" scores Domain V was not mentioned due to a "lack of data". I feel that our district has plenty of data with our community based accountibility assessment to hold us accountable to our students, parents, and community on what is most important to us as a community.
How will the single A-F grade be determined?
In the actual grade all 5 of the domains will be averaged into a single grade for the campus and district. Does that make sense to you? It does not make sense to me because this means that everything we do comes down to a single grade that labels our schools, our students, our teachers. There are so many of these items that are out of the control of schools but the legislature feels that a single letter grade will tell the story of a school. What do you think?
So now what?
So as you look at your school and district “What-If” A-F grades ask yourself this question: Are the experiences that you and your child are having in that school reflective of the grades that are being placed upon the school?
Take these “what-if” grades with a grain of salt because they are going to change. All we have to do is look at other states that have decided to use this approach to rate their schools and we will see that grades will be adjusted with the political winds that blow the strongest.
Over the last few years there has been a challenge in the Twitter world to think of #oneword to describe the coming year. If you think about it, choosing one word to encapsulate an entire year is not an easy task. After much thought and contemplation one word continues to surface over and over again. Mindset.
Mindset is important to me because I believe that your mindset really shapes your world. Think about that for a minute. You see what you look for. There is good and bad, right and wrong, struggles and success in every situation. You choose where to place your focus.
Of course there has been a lot of talk, discussion, and literature about growth mindset and fixed mindset. I am not thinking of mindset in those terms right now. I am thinking of mindset more in relation to your perspective, your focus, your viewpoint, your attitude. All of these influence your mindset in any given situation.
As educators our mindset determines how we work with the people we encounter each and every day. If we have a mindset of wanting to work with students, parents, peers, and community members to meet them where they are and help get them to where they need to be we are more likely to achieve success in our efforts. If we have the mindset that we have to work with students, parents, peers, and community members but we don’t take into consideration of where they are when they come to us (because they should already know this stuff) then we will not be successful in getting them where they need to be. It all begins with ourselves and how we choose to approach each day.
I wish you all the greatest successes in 2017. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” To me, this demonstrates the correct mindset in our line of work. You cannot wait for everything to be just right before taking action. Do what you know to be right. Perfection often paralyzes the well-intended; do not wait for everything to be perfect because you may never get started. With the right mindset you will achieve success, even through failure.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
I did not realize just how important perspective was until becoming a school administrator. Over the past several months I have been reminded of the importance of perspective in life. As a public school administrator I am constantly having to look at situations from the perspectives of others. Why? Because I need to understand the importance of the decisions I make.
Working in public schools means that you must serve all points of view and all perspectives. Those points of view and those perspectives are not always going to see eye to eye. Sometimes those points of view and perspective challenge your own thinking. How do you handle those differences in your school? In your classroom? In your decision making processes?
We all come with our own set of experiences that shape our thinking and our perspectives. Some of us are more experienced than others but that does not mean we cannot take the time to see the views of others. In fact, we must take the time to see the views of others because that is the only way we can really understand each other. As educators, we also must help our students learn to see the views of others. This is important to grow and develop a civilized society that can respect the perspectives of others, even when we disagree.
Sometimes I think we have lost sight of the importance of perspective in our culture. The need to be right. The desire to be the one to share the news first. The feeling we get when we think we know better than someone else. All of these situations occur when we do not see other’s perspectives.
Shortly before retiring from public school work Dr. Eddie Coulson said that if he learned one thing in his time as a superintendent, it was the need to listen. Listen to the point of view of others. Seek to understand where others are coming from. Don’t be quick to make decisions. Be quick to listen.
His advice was simple but extremely powerful.
Recently there have been issues come across my desk or in my email inbox that have required me to make a choice. My choice was to make a decision based off the limited information available to me or to take the time to gather more information, have conversations to gain more perspective, and then make a decision. I have learned that if I do not seek other perspectives, then I am failing to understand before working to be understood.
When I do not take the time to learn the perspectives of others am I really serving the interest of all of those that I serve?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
Take a couple of minutes to read the paragraphs above that came from this article in the Atlantic. The article is about a Finnish teacher that experiences what it is like to be a teacher in America.
Now take several minutes to think about what you just read. How does it make you feel? What are your thoughts about that? Did you realize this is even a problem in our schools?
Teachers are so rushed and so busy during their day that they do not have time to sit, think, process, and be creative in their own profession during working hours. We expect teachers to do that outside of the working day. On their own time. What other profession is purposfully structured this way -- having professionsals work outside of the work day to be prepared for the coming work day?
It is true in most schools in America. We wonder why teacher burnout it such an issue.
“If you asked me now, my answer would be that most likely I would not continue in this career.”
There are many reasons that we have arrived at this point in our schools today. Federal accountability, state accountability, budget constraints, funding shortages, teacher shortages, politics, policies based upon local concerns and so on. These are valid reasons and issues.
Issues such as these have caused districts and schools to reduce planning periods to one period a day. Most of the issues causing the reduction in planning is related to funding shortages and testing accountability. It costs money to have planning periods. Kids have to be in a classroom, somewhere on the campus, each period. If teachers are scheduled to not have students then there has to be a place for students to go where there are adults. That master scheduling 101.
Accountability pressures on schools have made it a bad thing to have teachers "not doing anything" during the day. That is what some people think teachers are doing during their conference period... nothing. Well, nothing could be further from the truth.
The business approach to running schools is that we must have teachers in classrooms all day long, teaching kids. That is what they are supposed to do right? Teach? Of course it is! But they also need time to plan, collaborate, create, observe, and prepare their lessons.
Yes, teachers have a conference period but often they are filled with mandatory meeting that are either federal, state, or local requirements or they have legal paperwork that needs to be completed or they have to contact parents about issues and concerns related to schools... and the list could go on.
It is what it is. We are here.
The great news is we do not have to stay here.
I am a realist. I understand the current situations of education in my school, district, state, and at varying levels, the nation. I understand that the issues listed above are real and are not going away anytime soon. But I also know that we have so much room to operate within the constraints that exist in our schools.
We have to be willing to look and see what we can change within the current system and the actually make those changes. I expect that from my teachers. I think that it is time that we all expect that from our school systems as a whole.
What are we waiting for? The status quo to change? We are the status quo. We must make the changes necessary to help our teachers.
We owe it to our students. We owe it to our teachers. We owe it to our communities.
What are you willing to change within your current constraints?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
We recently read Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire as a part of our doctoral program. This book was utilized by the professor to help us to better understand the role of social justice in schools. I must admit that when I first read the title I was skeptical about what I was going to learn from the book. I had not really thought of schools being a place that oppressed students. I mean, we are trying to teach students and give them knowledge to help their future. How are we oppressing them? After reading the book he wrote in 1968, I have changed my thinking. It is still relevant in 2016.
I am not going to recap the book here for you, but I do encourage you to read it for yourself. You just may be surprised at what you read. I am going to share with you one aspect of Freire’s argument that is still relevant in schools almost 50 years later. Freire calls it “Banking Education” and today we would call it “Sit and Get Lecture”. The basic premise about banking education is that the teacher is the keeper of all of the knowledge, ready to deposit this knowledge into the receptacle that is known as the student. Sound familiar?
Freire viewed this teaching approach as oppressive to students because it does not allow students to seek out their own knowledge, participate in meaningful dialogue with the teacher or their peers, research their own learning with the help of their teacher or solve their own problems. In the banking model the teacher is in full control of the learning and students are merely supposed to absorb the information that is presented and regurgitate that information back to the teacher upon request. This process is supposed to demonstrate students’ ownership of the knowledge that has been deposited within them by the teacher. Do you feel that this is true?
Do you know of anyone that teaches this way? How is the learning engagement in their classroom? What skills are these students developing that will help them outside of the classroom? These are the questions that I ask when I see sit and get lecture used as the primary means of instruction.
I am not saying that lecture does not have a place in education but I am saying that it cannot be the go to method of instruction. This passive learning environment does not promote the profound learning that we all want and need for our students. Instead, it creates students that can sit, listen, try to stay focused for long periods of time, take notes, and then repeat the information back to the teacher during an exam.
I am also not saying that every teacher teaches this way but I am going to say that lecture is still a primary method of delivery for most teachers today. Why? Because it is easy and safe. There is much less upfront work needed to prepare for a lecture when compared to a station rotation session, or a PBL unit, or a flipped unit. It is safe because the teacher is in the driver’s seat the entire time and does not have to turn over control of the learning to the students.
Turning over control is a scary thing. I get that. I also get that students cannot ever fully learn if they do not have control over their own learning. As a principal I would argue the same for my teachers and their own learning.
Is the passive learning environment the best for student learning? No. It is best for student compliance but not for learning. Why? Because the students are not doing anything with the knowledge and information. Students need to manipulate the knowledge, explore as a part of their learning, have conversations about what they have learned, collaborate with their peers, and apply their learning in multiple settings and activities. Students need time to develop ownership over their learning. They cannot do this sitting quietly at their desk day after day.
Teachers need to facilitate learning and create learning environments that allow for active student learning. We need more facilitators of learning and not educational bankers. Which are you? What is holding you back?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
As I am in the middle of Thanksgiving Break I am reflecting upon what is most important to me. At the top of that list is time.
At first glance it would seem that we would have enough time. After all, the sun rises and sits each day. We have the same 86,400 seconds with each passing day. We can accomplish so much in this amount of time yet we all complain that we do not have enough time. Why is that? Have you ever wondered where it all goes? I do.
The ignorance of youth tricks us into thinking there is plenty of time but the reality is that time is finite.
Yes, the sun will continue to rise and set in a predictable manner as it has done since the beginning of time. What makes it finite is in how we utilize our time. What do we spend it on each and every day. Do we spend our time on the things that really matter? Do you know what really matters to you? Do you build your days around what really matters to you? Those are hard questions to answer and I encourage you to really reflect upon them.
In education we are guilty of spending our time focusing on the things that may not matter much at all. If you do not believe me, just check out John Hattie’s visible learning research. As you look over the list what surprises you? Where do you spend most of your time? What is most important to you as an educator? How can other see what is most important to you?
How can others see what is important to you?
As Americans we are guilty of spending our time focusing on work. It is a part of our American culture. We work more than anyone else in the industrialized world. I am not saying that work isn’t important. I am as guilty as the next guy or gal about spending too much time working. What I want you to think about is: how is the work – life balance in your life? Are you making time for what is most important to you? How can others see what is most important to you?
As you push through the remainder of the calendar year and close out the fall semester think about how you are spending your time in your classrooms. Are you engaging kids in learning experiences that are meaningful to them or are you wasting their time?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
7th & 8th Grade
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are
Images & Quotes that Inspire