So little time; so much to read

I am so behind.  So behind in my reading.  So behind in posting on my own blog.

My current job as president of Delaware State Education Association (a.k.a. the education union–NEA’s state affiliate here in Delaware) keeps me BUSY, but it is not a hard job. It is not nearly as challenging a job as my lifelong job–teaching. [39 years. Not my age, but the number of years I taught! This amazes even me.]

In truth, in this job, during most weeks, I have more discretionary time outside of the standard work day than I ever had as a teacher. Plus, for the last six years of teaching, I also served as VP and then president of my local teacher union. I ended up working that like a second full-time job. So, here I am with what should be time on my hands. Ha!

Anyhow,…   I do keep up with the local and national news.  I subscribe to and read our local newspaper every day, and indulge in the Sunday New York Times. Admittedly, I have yet to get last Sunday’s NYT out of its blue plastic protective wrapper, but I intend to peruse it this evening.  I did will myself this afternoon to glance through a growing stack of Education Week papers.  I am never disappointed; Ed Week’s articles never fail to grab my attention or engage my thinking and reflection.  If I had the energy and time, I would consider creating a “reading group” for this publication.  The topics are timely—well-integrated into current public education / edreform / school improvement debates, movements, and revelations (both good and bad).

Here in Delaware, as in most states, conversations related to public education include, but are not limited to: early childhood education, school safety & security, teacher preparation, teacher induction practices, teacher quality, teacher evaluation, school leadership, instructional practices, struggling schools, under-achieving students, English language learners, student engagement, parent engagement, community engagement, school funding, instructional technology, standardized testing, Common Core State Standards, etc., etc., etc.

In one month’s time—maybe even within a single edition—you can count on reading something relevant, revealing, illuminating, or inspirational in the pages of Ed Week.  And, I know that I am not alone in keeping up with it.  LOL

So, what stood out for me?  (BTW: This is a very productive question to ask kids or adults after reading or viewing or some other learning experience.  I learned this as part of Penn Literacy Network studies.]  I generally read what catches my attention—what seems to resonate with me or is based in my own experiences.

In the March 27, 2013 issue, I surveyed every article, but read “Resident Teachers Are Getting More Practice” because we have been talking about the induction of new teachers and residency has been one plan that we have debated.  I read Doug Lemov’s book (Teach Like a Champion) on which the residents’ practices seemed to be based, implemented some of his practices that were new to me and sounded worthwhile, recognized much of what he described as part of my own repertoire, but, I found that it ended up looking, feeling, and being “too much of a good thing.”  One quarter of the way through the Lemov book, I tired of the repetitious narratives about the fabulousness of the charter school teachers he referenced.  Just tell the story—enough with the hype already.

I read about how middle school Algebra instruction is not delivering increased NAEP test scores.  My younger son, an identified gifted student,  was pushed in middle school to do Pre-Algebra in 7th grade and Algebra I in 8th and always felt that he had been rushed and was going through the motions with inadequate understanding or time to grasp all of the content and connections.  So, he chose to take Algebra I again in high school.  Wise move, if you ask me.

I read about the return to ability grouping.  Really?  Tracking students all over again?  I was so strongly tracked in high school in the 1960’s—college prep level, which was the top tier at that time—that I was not permitted to take typing because “only business and general education students were permitted to take that class,” even though I had an open period that aligned with typing.  So, I went off to college with absolutely no typing skills.  I still type with 2-3 fingers and must constantly watch the keyboard.

I am an experienced science teacher.  It does take organization, a definite level of skill, a toolbox of accommodation and differentiation strategies, and a commitment to a certain world view to manage heterogeneously grouped classes successfully.  In my middle school, in 6th grade, we were committed to mixed-ability groups in science and social studies, and with the right teachers in place, we made it work.  At the same time, I can understand the value of ability grouping in some circumstances.

I read a fascinating piece about the new superintendent of San Diego schools—an elementary principal, mind you—who seems to have unique and winning ways with parent engagement.  Moving an elementary school principal into a superintendency is rare.  Plus, San Diego is California’s second largest school district with 133,000 kids.  “By this selection, it seems to me that [the school board’s] theory of action for change is that it will be school-based, decentralized, collaborative—the opposite of the ‘top-down’ corporate reform model that so many other places are articulating,” said Carl Cohn, former San Diego super from 2005-2007.  The choice, he says, “grows out of their listening to the stakeholders in the community.”  Interesting—to say the least.

The feature “Partnership Combines Science Instruction and English Learning” on the use of elementary science instruction as a way to boost learning for English language learners is right up my alley and right on track.  K-5 students at El Verano Elementary in Sonoma, CA are captivated by the hands-on science program, materials, and experiences –> increased vocabulary development, improved reading, writing, and spelling skills –> increased scores on standard assessments.

Holy Cow!  Why can’t we do this here in Delaware schools?  Oh, that’s right.  We can.

We have a fabulous statewide K-5 science program, complete with the best science curriculum, materials, pedagogy, and teacher training imaginable.  Why is it lying fallow as we spend all day focused almost solely on reading and math in too many classrooms, in too many schools?  See many of my earlier posts for more details on this squandered resource and my ongoing frustrations about this issue.

Kudos to the teachers in our schools who recognize the outstanding value of elementary science instruction, who finds ways to work around school or district directives that limit the time and attention allowed for science and social studies, and who get similar results as those detailed and explained in the article.

Two other articles that got me to read on: “The Many Keys to Radical Classroom Changeand “Want Effective Teachers? Think About Your Value Proposition.”

In the first piece, Amanda Gardner, principal of UP Academy Charter School in Boston had me when she interjected that her school success story “is not a charter school story—it’s a turnaround story made possible through a handful of concrete and replicable best practices.  We’ve dramatically changed the learning environment here through structural change involving both students and teachers—changes I believe are worth sharing.”

Gardner shares three key practices from her school:

(1) Make the classroom a sacred learning environment.  Seems they standardized routines and classroom procedures and policies throughout the school so that no time is wasted.  Expectations are uniform and clear from class to class.  This makes sense to me, and I know that some Delaware teachers have talked about this over the years.  I would bet that there are few distractions and interruptions in their school day.

(2) Teaching is a joint enterprise.  At UP, teachers have two 50-minute planning periods with grade-level content teams guaranteed every day in order to plan lessons, share ideas and best practices; in addition, they have a 3-hour planning block once a week for grade-level teams to co-plan and mine data; finally, early dismissal every Friday afternoon allows 2 ½ hours for departmental or school wide professional development.  Additionally, every 4-5 classrooms has an identified, dedicated, and compensated teacher leader.  Gardner cites this form of distributed leadership as one of the most effective turnaround measures in her experience.

Please realize that UP has an eight-hour student day, with an optional 9th hour for homework support or detention.  Sounds very interesting to me.  Not sure how they manage to schedule all of this, but this is very interesting.

(3) Accountability is not found in a test.  Gardner states: “Standardized tests, like the MCAS, are measures, but if we consistently evaluate our performance, these scores should largely serve to reaffirm what we already know.”  UP has a structure of managers and coaching, and frequent, on-going co-development of corrective action.  Students are frequently assessed and parents are kept in the loop with biweekly progress reports.

That’s all she wrote—three big ideas—three keys to changing school culture and turning around a school.  This is different—in lots of ways—but it sounds interesting to me.

Want Effective Teachers?” is well worth
the read, and focuses on recommendations from two education consultants for attracting teachers by changing up districts’ and schools’ hiring messaging—a revised, upgraded, better-focused PR campaign of sorts.  They encourage districts to “formulate and communicate a clear and compelling “value proposition,” which they describe as “a complete set of offerings and experiences provided by the employer to the employee.”  They go on: “An effective value proposition reflects the needs of both employer and employee: the employer’s need to attract and retain employees with the right skills and knowledge, and the employee’s need for rewards and working conditions that motivate and engage them to do their best work.”

In other words, it seems to me that they recommend that the entity doing the hiring is completely responsible for creating employment opportunities and teaching environments that would be highly attractive to smart, capable, confident, highly qualified candidates.

Five suggestions: flip the value to clearly identify what the district needs and wants; expand and assess perspectives beyond salary & benefits—think supportive principals, collaborative working conditions, and professional empowerment as factors that appeal to top-performers; customize the offerings; prioritize unique district needs and funding requirements; and communicate in ways that are understandable, accessible, and updated.

One aside:  They included a quote from current performance guru Daniel Pink that really hit home with me: “ ‘Effective organizations compensate people in amounts and in ways that allow individuals to mostly forget about compensation and instead focus on the work itself.’ Not getting it right, he says, keeps compensation front and center and inhibits creativity, ultimately unraveling performance.”

Wow.  Sounds like a dream job.

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This entry was posted in Education News, Interesting Bits, Quality Teachers/Quality Teaching, School Improvement, Science Education, Teacher Reading. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to So little time; so much to read

  1. Totorboat says:

    Thanks for publishing this awesome article.
    I’m a long time reader but I’ve never been compelled to leave a comment.

    I subscribed to your blog and shared this on my Facebook. Thanks again for a great article!

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