This week students across the state of Texas will be taking the STAAR test (which is Texas's version of high stakes state accountability testing for those of you outside of Texas.) Instead of focusing on the STAAR test and state accountability, I felt the need for teachers to focus on something more important. Encouraging yourself and those around you.
Take a couple of minutes to watch the video above.
What did it make you think about? What have you told yourself to help you get through the tough times that come with being a teacher? What will you continue to tell yourself?
As we know, teaching is so much more than preparing our kids for a state assessment. Teaching is about preparing students for their future, their life, their possibilities, not a state test. But as public schools we are required to administer the state assessments. What we can do is decide where we place our focus as districts, schools, admin, and teachers. I choose to focus on what I do what I do as an educator.
As you are administering the STAAR test, or whatever your state's high stakes test is called, be sure to take moments to remember why you do what you do. As you take those moments to reflect, remember this:
You may not always hear it from your kids and their parents but I promise you that you are making a difference. We are shaping the future of our students' lives. That is the work that matters. Always remember that.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
Take a couple minutes to watch the video above. Jamarion Styles is a kid that I want on my team and you probably do to. Even though at first glance he may not appear to have it all, I think that he does. He has the right attitude, he has the right approach to life, and he has that can do attitude that will drive him to success.
Jamarion's story is way more powerful than his arms. His is a story of what all kids want. To belong; to be "normal" (whatever that means); to be a part of something bigger than himself. I see this in all of our kids and I am sure that you do to. My question for you is: Does your attitude about their situation allow them to feel as if they have a chance?
That is the key.
Here is a young man that was told to go home when he tried to play basketball like the other kids. Here is a young man that was told to go play soccer because people thought that was best for him. Here is a young man that was not given the chance he looked for... until Coach Williams said, "How can I say no to that?"
In public education we work with everyone from all walks of life. It's just what we do. There are times when a student like Jamarion comes along with an obvious obstacle to overcome. As educators we have a decision to make... are we going to decide what that student can and cannot do or are we going to say, "How can I say not to that?"
This story reminds me of one of my long time mentors, colleagues, and friend, Randy Matthews. Randy was my head athletic trainer at Angelo State University. Randy taught us that we are not the ones to determine what someone can and cannot do. We are the ones that are supposed to remove as many obstacles as possible, help them along the way, and get out of their way when they start to fly. I believe that to this day.
Yes, we may see the road ahead and it may be really rocky, but why did we become educators? Are we here to determine someone's future or to help them achieve their future? My answer is to help them achieve their future, what's yours?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
P.S. Share this video with your students and ask them... "What's Stopping You?"
Do you remember these things? They used to be everywhere! Now, you can hardly find them. Oh how times have changed. Take a moment and watch the video below about the phone booth and pay phones.
Sadly, there are some of you reading this right now that have never made a call from a phone booth... or even a pay phone for that matter. Now, please do not think that I am wanting to see the return of phone booths and pay phones. Instead, I am taking a moment to point out how something that was once so common place for so long has slowly disappeared from the American landscape.
What does this have to do with an education related blog you ask? Everything.
Did you catch the discussion at the 3:29 mark about the cell phone stealing the thunder of the pay phone? The response was the cell phone stole the relevance of the pay phone. It was too laborious to make phone calls from a pay phone as compared to a cell phone. Think about that. You had to be able to find a phone, hope it worked, have the right amount of pocket change on hand (yes, pocket change did serve a purpose once), and then hope the person you were calling was physically there to answer their phone when you called. No wonder cell phones were invented.
The same is true for education. The way we have been "doing school" has been the same for over 100 years. Slowly, that has been changing. Instead of seeing as many lectures, desks in rows, and rote learning we are seeing things like collaborative learning activities, flexible student grouping, student collaboration, student choice in learning, and on demand learning all in the world of education. The way students and parents want school to look and feel is different than how you and I went to school.
Continue to change how the teaching and learning looks in the classroom. This does not mean that lectures and knowledge based learning does not have a place in education because it absolutely does. What this means is we cannot rely on lecture and knowledge based learning to be the ONLY WAY we expect teaching and learning to occur in our classrooms. We must take the knowledge gained and use that to fuel the more engaging and exciting approaches to learning. Students should want to come to your classroom to apply their knowledge in new and different ways, not sitting as passive "learners" just taking notes and completing worksheets.
What we cannot do is allow something else to come along and make what we do in classrooms irrelevant. Not possible you say? Ask the phone booth I say.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
Over the last month or so I have been diving into this book as a part of my doctoral program at Texas A&M.
I encourage everyone to read this book, but especially those that are in leadership positions or aspire to be in leadership positions. Here is why. (Don’t worry, I am not going to list any spoilers here.) The world is not black and white. If this is a spoiler for you, I’m sorry. It shouldn't come as a surprise. I think if you are reading this, you already know the world is not simply black and white.
Once upon a time, I felt there was only black and white in this world. I was wrong. I was naïve in my leadership. This book does an excellent job of making you think about the struggles of being a leader and how your decisions impact others. This book is not based in education, but instead situations that all leaders face, ethical and moral dilemmas.
The struggles in the book are struggles of right vs. right decisions. How do you know what is right when both decisions feel and seem right? Do you base your decisions on your morals, your ethics, your conscious, your religion, your beliefs? Or do you put yourself in the shoes of those that are being affected by your decisions and make the decisions from their lens?
As a public-school leader, do you find that your personal views come into conflict with the ethics of fighting for and supporting all students, even when their actions go against your personal views? How do you navigate your waters as a leader? Do you consider those that you leave in the wake of your decisions?
This leadership stuff isn’t easy. It isn't for the faint of heart. Often, there are not right vs. wrong problems but right vs. right problems. What do you do when you come across these problems in leadership? When these types of problems come your way, be ready ...everyone's watching.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
I would love to hear how you work through these issues in your work. Please feel free to share in the comments section below.
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.
A lifelong learner that is committed to asking questions to seek greater understandings.
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are
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