Thursday, November 25, 2010

School Improvement Plans Suck! (And why they don't have to)

All right, I am going to give a name to the white elephant in the room by saying that I believe that School Improvement Plans SUCK.  They suck! I am going to argue that in many instances, most 10 (yes, they are out there), 5, even 3 year plans are not worth the paper they are written on.  Douglas Reeves, renowned educational researcher, agrees with me (well, maybe not about the “suck” part—he would be much more scientific).  In his book Transforming Professional Development Into Student Results (2010), Reeves talks about the inverse relationship between elaborate planning documents and student results.  So there you go, it’s official, School Improvement Plans suck.

Let me guess--your plan is glossy, has your logo on the front, boasts your mission statement that promises cures to the ills of society, has pictures of kids being happy and doing happy things, is littered with SMART goals, contains a multitude of strategies so innovative you can barely explain them, documents the process of how you engaged your entire staff (please...), how you got input from the parents (the handful that came to a PAC meeting), and how your students were intimately involved in making your school a better place for future generations.  Barf.  If you actually did all of this, barf again. (I am jealous barfing...)

Why the invective?  Why this rant?  Because I looked at the last School Improvement Plan that I wrote four years ago, it sucks, and it is MY fault.  This is not to disrespect my School Improvement Leader who helped create the plan--he worked incredibly hard.  But it was me who responsible for getting stakeholder involvement, and I didn't do a good enough job of it.  I put the glossy pictures of happy things and happy kids and happy logos, I wrote the SMART goals and presented them to staff (and to their credit, they mostly went along with them), I engineered the plan!  What a backwards way to do things: it is little wonder why I had limited buy-in to the plan.  It was (and still is) a static, lifeless document with justifiably little commitment from the very people that were meant to implement it.

So, I have decided that School Improvement Plans don't have to suck. but I have to make changes so that our plan is "suck-proof".
With the help of my PLN and Twitter, as well as my outstanding School Improvement Leader (who is just as nerdy about this stuff as I am!) we are completely changing our approach toward the development of our School Improvement Plan (SIP) for 2011-2014.  We believe that we can use 21st Century Learning methodologies and technology to take School Planning to a new level.  At the 21st Century Learning Conference in Chicago this October, I heard Cheryl Lemke say “We are moving from an era of using processes to teach content to an era of using content to teach processes.”  This resonated with me, and I am committed to doing things differently, and going to USE our SIP (content) for several purposes (processes):
  • To hear the voices of our students, and to integrate their talents into the creation and execution of this plan
  • To connect with our parents, and to involve them in the creation and execution of this plan
  • To engage our faculty in a Problem-Based Learning model so that they are committed to the creation and implementation of this plan
  • To use the process of making our SIP a learning tool to teach our students, parents, and staff Web 2.0 tools and 21st Century Learning Skills that they can apply to their own situation (and this is probably the coolest part)
  • To tell our story (and this is just the beginning) so that other schools can give us ideas or perhaps get ideas on how to use technology to increase engagement in the School Planning Process.
And ultimately, to create a plan that demonstrably improves the academic and social achievement of our students!

Our first step towards this has been to create a public blog for our SIP. Please check it out at http://sksssip.blogspot.com/

Within this blog, we have:
  • Used Google Docs to create online surveys (with help from parents, students and staff members) for a large sample of our student body, our parent community, and our entire staff (here is a sample of our student results)
  • Utilized Wordle to create word clouds that allowed us to quickly establish trends from open-ended questions
Wordle: SKSS Lesson

  • Used Synreweb in conjunction with BCeSIS (our provincial student information management system) to send out a link to our parent survey to more than 2000 emails of our parents to increase parent involvement
  • Provided links to the tools that we have used to begin the process of engaging our staff in developing our mission for what we would want for our children if they attended our school
  • Included skills that we have modelled (and will continue to model) for each of our stakeholder groups (such as the use of Web 2.0 tools and collaborative learning tools--a list that will continue to grow) so these skills can be incorporated into the classroom to increase student engagement
  • Created a working digital timeline with artifacts that will allow us to reflect upon this process and keep to our production deadlines in the Spring.

And in the end, we hope that we will have produced a PAPERLESS, DYNAMIC document known as our School Improvement Plan that will, in many ways, present itself to our school trustees and senior administration.

And it WILL NOT SUCK.

PS. If you have a minute or two, I have included a Screenr cast that describes a few of the first steps that we have taken in the development of this blog, as well as the web tools (including surveys made in Google Docs, that we have used to help us model the use of technology for our students, parents, and staff. If you have suggestions or ideas to share, please collaborate with us!



Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why is education not life or death?

Recently, George Couros published a post in his blog, "The Principal of Change", wondering whether change should be considered the constant when talking about changes in education.  I could not agree with him more, and it makes me wonder why we might consider the need make changes to our current system of education "optional", or that this need is something we might in fact be able to ignore.  I don't believe that we can ignore change, in fact, quite the contrary: I feel that we need treat education like a life or death situation.  Any student that we lose from our system needs to be considered to be a casualty.

Imagine taking your child to a doctor's office when they are ill.  You are nervous, as your child has not been feeling well, and this has gone of for some time.  You have tried all the usual things that a parent might try, and to the best of your knowledge as a parent, you have run out of options, and you are seeking the help of a trained professional.  Then, imagine the doctor telling you and your child something like this:
 
“Good afternoon, I will be your doctor for today. I have been a doctor for 22 years, and have been working in the same office since I started my career. I meet with my colleagues and the hospital administrator once per month to discuss our workplace, and go to a few of one-day seminars each year on different topics related to medicine. No, no, you don't need to tell me your symptoms, I have a method that I have been using that has been successful in 86% of my patients. I don't know about you, but I hear about all of these new-fangled ideas in medicine, and they sound great, but given the resources I have, I find my method works just fine. If your child does what I tell them, they will have a good chance of surviving. If they don't, they will die.”

Would we accept this?  Would we accept this for our children?  In matters of life and death for our children, I would think not.  Nor would I ever expect it from a doctor.  Yet judging from how we seem to shy away from change in education, I sometimes wonder whether we do accept it in our current system.

Just pulling up a report on graduation rates across the US (http://www.all4ed.org/files/National_wc.pdf), I read that the national average across the US is about 69%.  In 2008, more than 1 million students left US high schools without a diploma.  The cost of this to the United States is estimated to be over 319 billion dollars in lost wages.  319 billion! 

I am not here to comment on the accuracy of this report, on all of the numbers and where they got them, or how all of this figures into a cost. Let's not quibble about the actual number of students--let's just say it is HUGE.  Who cares about the actual dollar cost to society--let's just say it is STAGGERING.  This is not a comment on graduation rates in the US, it is just an example.  The achievement gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students in British Columbia is equally unacceptable.  But if this were a report documenting statistics about casualties in the medical system, I would hazard a guess that we wouldn't be sitting around 'thinking' about changing things or worrying about how people felt about change.  It would be a call to arms!

Imagine how that visit to the doctor could look different, if you sat with him and he said:

“Good afternoon, I will be your doctor for today. I have been a doctor in the same clinic with 18 other doctors for the past 22 years. On a weekly basis, my colleagues and I collaborate to discuss our cases and our medical practices and techniques so that we can continually strive to improve the success rates of our patients. As a collaborative group, we investigate research-based best practices to meet the evolving needs of our ever-changing clients. When you come to our clinic, we will assess your symptoms and determine what procedure will work best for you. We guarantee that this process will be successful.”

A doctor saying that to you would help put your mind at ease that you child, your most precious commodity, was in good hands.  But for the doctor to say that, he would have to have support, and I believe that the support that his hospital administrator would have to give him would look something like what we need to give to our teachers.  That list might include:

  • Excellent training, including an internship
  • Assessment of that training based upon proficiency, as opposed to percentages (I would rather not have the doctor that got 52% on the appendectomy unit)
  • Mentorship in the early years of practice
  • Adequate resources and access to the latest technology
  • Embedded professional development
  • A supportive and collaborative environment that promotes reflection, sharing, the use of research-based best practice, and data-supported decision making
  • And ???

This is not an exhaustive list, and I hope that others will add to this so that we can help our teachers continue to be and become the doctor in the second instance, and avoid “educational casualties”. 

It truly is a matter of life or death!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Are we listening to our students?

One of the most peculiar buzz-phrases of the day in public education is "student-centered learning".  It puzzles me that this seems to be a revelation.  If I walked up to Joan Q. Public on the street who didn't work in the field of education and asked her a question like "What do you think about the exciting movement of the current system of education toward "student-centered learning?", I am quite confident that a quizzical look would pass over the person’s face, and they would respond with something like "If it isn't centered on students, what IS it focused on?".  It would not be a huge stretch of the imagination that people who send their children to schools of today and pay taxes to fund our education system have the basic expectation that the focus of schools should be (GASP!) students.  I believe they are right.  Students (and their parents) are our clients, and we are here to serve them.  Yet oftentimes, these very clients are overlooked in terms of the valuable input and feedback they can provide us about our schools.


Students using their "voice"!

This week, we made major strides in our effort to involve students and parents in the development of our 2011-2013 School Improvement Plan.  With the help of our School Planning Council (with students, parents and teachers as members), we developed a survey using Google forms.  Our goal was to get as much input as we could about the structures that exist in our school, how they are utilized by students, what effective lessons looked like, how we could communicate with them best, and how we could make the entire experience at our school better for our clients—the students.  The advantages of using Google forms were that we got real-time data to make sure that we were getting a representative sample of our school (we surveyed 640 of our 1450 students—more to come), and that the results were immediate and easily presentable to our School Coordinators and staff.   Furthermore, we took the responses from numerous open-ended questions (which are often difficult to find commonalities from in large-scale surveys) and plugged them into Wordle to create word clouds.  These word clouds gave us a quick and visual way to get a sense of some of the trends in the responses that we got from our students.  (Check out this Effective Lesson Wordle of what students said about an effective lesson!)  The results of our student survey will help to focus the discussions that our staff will have in developing our school improvement plan so that it is centered on STUDENTS and how we can make their high school experience meaningful and valuable.

The use of a survey to find out about students is not revolutionary.  But making that information a focal point of how we do business clearly is if we have to continually remind ourselves to be "student-centered". We need to ensure that we are giving our students a voice in their education.  If we want to know more about students, how they learn, what they feel an effective lesson looks like, what effective communication looks for students and the school, or anything to improve student connections to their learning, we need to listen to their voices.  21st Century learning tools such as surveys created by Google forms are an excellent method to engage students, to allow us to ‘hear’ their voices, and to take the information that students give us and apply it what we do.  By doing this, we can truly become what Joan Q. Public has every right to expect of public schools. 

We can be “student-centered”.  What a concept!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Collaborative Time in the Timetable for Teachers Pt. 2- How it Works

Recently, I posted a method to create collaborative time within the timetable that we currently use at our school in Kamloops.  I was astonished at the positive response that I got through Twitter and email, and with that response came some questions on the logistics of what we have done.  Specifically, people wanted some more information on how we carved our collaborative time out of the day and what the students were doing during that time.  This post is to shed some more light on how our timetable works so that people may get some ideas on how to tweak their own schedule to find time for teacher collaboration.

Collaborative Time takes place during our Connections Block on Wednesdays from 2:20-3:00PM.  We called this block "Connections" because it was an opportunity for students to connect with their own and other teachers to get targeted tutorial assistance in a specific subject area such as Math or English.  On a given Wednesday, a teacher from a department (ie. Math) would be hosting the Connections Tutorial while the rest of their colleagues collaborate. Each of our departments has their own Connections Block Room, and each department creates a schedule of coverage for that room that rotates each of the department members through the Connections block. The following is an example from our Math department (Math is so busy that we actually have two Connections rooms).


Over a five week span, each teacher hosts Connections Tutorial once, and collaborates the other four weeks.
 Our core course areas tend to be large enough to have teachers collaborate at least 4 out of every 5 weeks.  We combine some of our elective areas (ie. Home Ec and Tech Ed) together, and students know that some weeks they can go into the shops to get help, and other weeks, they can go to a foods or textiles lab.  Computer labs and gyms are supervision is also assisted by support workers.

So what about the students?  We have more than 1400 students at our school, and nearly 1000 are bus students.  The time from 2:20-3:00 is 'self-directed', in that students may choose to go to one of the tutorial areas (English, Socials, Math, Science, Languages, Fine Arts/Tech Ed), to the library, computer labs or gyms.  However, at any point, a teacher can assign a student to tutorial should they feel that a student is not meeting the outcomes of that course.  By giving some students self-directed time, it has allowed us to artificially create smaller groups of students for our staff to work with to truly give tutorial support.  It also provides a reward system for those students who are caught up--as Douglas Reeves says, "the price for freedom is proficiency"!

The Connections Block serves a dual-purpose:  it allows our teachers to work together on curriculum, instructional practice, and assessment while giving our students opportunities to work with subject-specific "tutors" (our staff) in smaller group or individual learning situations.  Each year, we have polled our teachers, and we have found the following anecdotal results about the impact of collaborative time on improving instructional practice and improving student achievement:



While we would never claim that collaboration time is the sole cause of our improved student achievement and instructional practices (clearly these are multivariate), we are seeing consistent gains in areas that are critical to school success in a sustainable and cost-effective manner.

In my next post, I would like to share our Academic Intervention Program that is built into this timetable:  this is another way that we have found to improve student success rates without a financial hit to the school.

Again, if you have any suggestions for us, or for how you have done something similar, I believe there are many educators (including myself) that would be interested!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Restructuring (not Remortgaging) to make Collaborative Time for Teachers


Early in my career as a high school Principal, I caught myself complaining that we needed “more money”, “more resources” and “more time” to implement new initiatives to improve student achievement. But four years ago, I had a revelation:  the money is the money, the resources are what we have, and there are 24 hours in the day.  In order to change student results, our school needed to investigate a high-yield strategy that utilized our existing resources.  For our school, developing a Professional Learning Community was that strategy.  The PLC journey that we have been on has been chaotic, tumultuous, and at times incredibly challenging, but it has become the most satisfying journey I have embarked upon in my career.

Four years ago, we began looking at a PLC model.  The ideas of creating time within the timetable for teachers to work interdependently to develop common emphasized curricula and assessments, to utilize the resultant data to modify instructional practice, and to create an intervention system that ensured the success of each student were very topical for our school.  Staff collectively determined that our student achievement data needed improvement. Teachers learned about the concepts of collaboration.  An exploratory team attended a PLC Conference, and we created a PLC pilot project for staff.  We ironed the logistics of embedded collaborative time and creating our academic intervention program.  And then we were off:  it seemed so straightforward!  I thought people would relish collaborating with their peers, we would react in a timely and effective manner to ‘promising learners’ who were not able to demonstrate learning outcomes, achievement would go up, and parents would be thrilled with our results.  How na├»ve was I! 

Many people didn’t want to collaborate. If they were collaborating, it often turned into sharing or complaining sessions. Our reaction to our ‘promising learners’ was inefficient and costly. The set of interventions had staff working harder than the students.  The local teacher’s association was complaining that we didn’t address the loss of preparation time created by altering our timetable for collaboration time.  It was chaos!

After these initial hiccups, we have found three things to be essential in developing our learning community:
  • Consistent support on collaborative techniques for team leaders: As a result, teachers collaborate in their subject areas to determine emphasized learning outcomes, use data to find “stumble points” at each grade level, examine promising practices in to address these points, and modify their teaching methods as a result. 
  • Confronting ineffective assessment strategies: Consequently, we have moved away from grading practices such as late marks, averaging of terms, and zeroes.
  • Reorganizing existing time in the school day: We created a timetable with additional time for students to meet the learning outcomes in their courses AND to provide time for teachers to collaborate.

Our school timetable with the mandatory study block and teacher collaboration block

During the Collaborative Time, our students are able to access subject-specific tutorials so that they can receive one-to-one or small group instruction.  The libraries, gyms, and computer labs are open for those students who have completed their work and wish to have self-directed time.  Teachers can direct students to these tutorials if they feel that students are not meeting the learning outcomes for their course.  This time is to augment the mandatory study block for each student in the building.  Should teachers feel that students need even more additional time, students are directed to our after school Academic Intervention program (AI), which takes place Monday thru Thursday from 3:10-4:00.  To supervise this time after school, we replaced a portion of time that teachers were required to supervise our school bus areas with time to supervise AI.  It is very popular with our staff, and gives our teachers a means to enforce assignment deadlines without having to resort to using toxic grading practices such as taking off late marks.

By utilizing these structures, we have seen a continual drop in course failure rates each year since beginning our pilot PLC project!

Our overall failure rates for all courses has decreased consistently over the last four years--95.4% success!

Our school continues the journey to becoming a Professional Learning Community.  For those who wish to begin down this path, there are many challenges that will occur along the way.  However, through the development of an unwavering vision of collaboration, a commitment to adopting assessment strategies targeted at discovery of student knowledge, the development of a timetable that includes intervention structures for students who require additional time and support, and the creative thinking of an entire school community to do this at no cost, we have found the PLC journey to be a trip most worthwhile!

If you have other ways that you have created collaborative time for educators, please share your model and your ideas!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Introducing the PLN to Senior Administrators-A sample lesson plan

A couple of weeks ago, I posted "A Great Staff Meeting" (see below for an excerpt), where I felt I had a triumphant introduction to the use of Twitter and Social Media with our staff (we had about 70 teachers at the staff meeting that night--the rest were coaching).  The presentation created a huge buzz on our staff, and as a result, we have had a number of staff members that have taken the "Twitter Plunge". 

However, I realized that as much as I needed to do this with my own staff, I really needed to bring a similar presentation to our District Administrator's Meeting to help spread the word to my fellow school based adminstrators and our senior administration.  I wanted to demonstrate that:

- I am not an expert with using Twitter, but I am learning quickly, and they could too

- Twitter is one of many social media tools that are available out there, and to encourage them to play around with some of these to see which one worked for them

- through Twitter and some contacts that I had met on Twitter, I created a screencast using a tool (Screenr) that I had never heard of (and would not have heard of) prior to developing a PLN.

-        I am busy, have two children under the age of three, and still can find the time to connect with my PLN, and it makes my job easier and can make their job easier too

-        If they want their teachers and staffs to be more connected to social media, they needed to model it themselves, and here was their chance!

One of the things I had to be very careful of was not to be “TOO TECHIE”.  My audience would have an extreme variation in technological skills and interests, so I felt I had to keep it high interest and relatively low tech. So…..

Here is the “lesson plan” that I used for our administrator’s meeting.  While not the best I am sure, it is a template that people could use with their staff and senior administration.

Activities:

1.     Personal story of what I thought Twitter was / story of Will Richardson polling the large audience at the 21st Century Learning Conference in Chicago, and my shock at how many people indicated (through their raised hands) that Twitter was “the best educational professional development they had ever gotten”.
2.     Demonstration of the power of developing a Personal Learning Network (using @gcouros screencast using Screenr (@gcouros: The Process of Online Collaboration (Video) http://bit.ly/aoFiVh ) 
3.     Demonstration of how I used Screenr to develop something for the British Columbia Principals and Vice Principals Association (I AM NOT AN EXPERT, so don’t laugh-- http://screenr.com/4YZ ) to show that I went from never using any sort of technology like this to using it to teach others.
4.     A video to show that there is a change in education coming, and we need to be aware and a part of it (Sir Ken Robinson’s Educational Reform on YouTube http://bit.ly/biQd5q )
5.     An invitation to join Twitter!

This whole presentation took just over 20 minutes, and accomplished the intention of wowing people on what was available through social media and whetting their appetites on how they can be involved (judging by the very positive response and the number of people that joined Twitter)!

I hope that this format might give you ideas on how you can introduce social media and the importance of developing a PLN to your colleagues!


A Great Staff Meeting

Tonight, I just had a terrific staff meeting.  We have a relatively large staff, and with some of our coaches absent, we had about 65 people in attendance along with our administrative team.  At our staff meetings, we have done our best to eliminate "administrivia", and tonight, I even asked our staff to indulge me by eliminating any announcements from the meeting that can be done through email. The staff wholeheartedly agreed.  As a result, our staff meetings have become focussed on the right thing--student learning.

We began our staff meeting with "Good News" as we always do--one of our staff members, an outstanding teacher with an infectious and effervescent personality solicits staff members for good news from around our school and presents this at the start of faculty meetings.  Today, one of the main points was all of the food that our students brought in through donations as part of the "Halloween for Hunger" campaign--truly amazing and inspirational.

I then took them through my own personal journey in expanding my personal learning network.  Recently, I took three people from our school to the 21st Century Learning Conference in Chicago.  I had the other members of the team talk about what they felt were the most important things to them from the conference--this was powerful coming from teachers to teachers.  I then talked about how at the conference, Will Richardson asked the group of 600 or so teachers and administrators who was on Twitter.  I was shocked when about 400 people had their hands up.  He then asked "How many of you think Twitter is the best source of Professional Development that you have?".  When every person kept their hands up, I told our staff that I had to try this technology.

I then showed them briefly (and I do mean in 30 seconds or so) how I got on to Twitter and how I use Tweetdeck (thanks to Chris Kennedy in West Van!).  However, I wanted the staff to see something that was truly revolutionary for me:  how tools such as Twitter and Google Docs illustrated the peripheral and collaborative learning that can and does take place all around us.  I showed the tweet that George Courous put out on Hallowe'en Night (@gcouros: The Process of Online Collaboration (Video)
http://bit.ly/aoFiVh #cpchat #erlcsm), and I think you could have heard a pin drop in our meeting.  It is truly amazing when you see people have an "a ha" moment about technology.  I told them that I have never been more energized about learning, and suggested to them that regardless of the means that you do it, it is vital to create a widespread PLN.  There were some staff members that rightfully said that they were concerned about students "losing the ability to talk".  This may be a concern, but I truly believe that we are communicating in different ways--I spoke to someone in Sweden this week that I never would have if I hadn't tried Twitter.  It was an incredibly lively discussion with facets from authenticity of websites to teachers having their students use Blackberries in class to access information.  We had a suggestion about having some inservicing about social media tools, which we will investigate for the next professional day.

We then used Google Docs to do a staff survey on the effectiveness of our Study Block for kids.  Login, do the survey, and presto, we have instant data that we can now use in conjunction with student data to make a good decision about what Study Block will look like in the future.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Educator's Worst Nightmare: The Knowing-Doing Gap

I am sure this doesn't happen to anyone but me, but sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep.  Perhaps it is a thought rattling around in my head about something I should have said that I didn't, or worse yet something that I shouldn't have said that I did.  Perhaps it is one of my little girls who can't get settled to bed.  But more often than not, I find that I am thinking about the Educator's Nightmare, the Knowing-Doing Gap.

The Knowing-Doing Gap (or kdg, as I will refer to it from this point forward in this post) comes from a concept originally penned by Pfeffer and Sutton, who describe it thusly:

"the challenge of turning knowledge about how to enhance organizational performance into
actions consistent with that knowledge. Improving organizational performance depends
largely on implementing what is already known, rather than from adopting new or
previously unknown ways of doing things."


Wow.  What a concept--actually DOING what we know to be effective, to be promising practices, to be THE RIGHT THING TO DO.  But yet for some reason, we don't do it. This is what keeps me awake at night.

We say that we need to treat people equally, or equitably if we are really paying attention.  But does our education system do this?  Judging from the achievement gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal learners in British Columbia, one might infer that we don't.

We say that we need to differentiate to meet the needs of every one of our learners.  However, the very chronological nature of schools and the grouping of students by age rather than ability seems to be almost diametrically opposed to this concept.

We say that the 7 Cs are not new, that they have been around for centuries, and that we know what they are and do a pretty good job of it, but if that is the case, it seems odd that nearly every article, youtube video, blog, and tweet is crying out for us to change, to do something differently. 

We have to constantly remind ourselves to make the learnings our classrooms and our schools "student-centered". Yet isn't it odd that someone outside of the world of education would turn to us and ask us something like "If schools aren't student-centered, what are they centered on?".

We KNOW what to do.  But it is time for us to DO it.  Not just talk about it.  Not just wax poetic about theoretical models, but to actually take those models and TRY them.  To model the action research that we want our students to do.  And we need to COLLABORATE with eachother so that we can find out which strategies are the highest-yield strategies, and WHICH ARE NOT.  It's ok to say "That one didn't work", but it is NOT ok to keep that information from our well-meaning and hard working colleagues.  Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results; cruelty is watching someone go through that insanity when you can help them avoid it. We need to help eachother.

The thing that keeps me awake at night is the kdg.  The thing that lets me get back to sleep is knowing that in the morning, we are going to do something about it.  We are going to close that achievement gap, strive for equity and equality, and make our classes meaningful for our learners through differentiation, and keep teaching the skills that prepare our students for any century.  We are going to do it together, as collaborators.  We will do it, even if it's just a little at a time.

So let's get on with it, and get turn what we KNOW into what we DO.  And then, please, let's get some sleep.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Docking student paychecks

In all of your years in the field of education, have you ever been late (in no particular order)
- for a meeting?
- to the start of a class?
- handing in course outlines?
- getting marking back to your students?
- for bus duty?
- calling a parent?
- handing in a report to for a supervisor?
- sending in a posting for a position at your school?
- filing monthly safety reports?
- to watch the start of a game or performance?
- writing a letter of reference for a student (and then worked like heck to get it out)?
- for various other things far too embarrassing to admit?

Of course, this is not even remotely close to being an exhaustive list (and I encourage you to keep adding to this list).  Without trying to make anyone feel guilty, I might guess that ALL of these might have happened in our schools in the past week!  But I am going to guess that even if we were late for all of these and more this week, that we all still received our paychecks in full. 

We are all responsible adults.  We have graduated from high schools, have a few letters tacked on to the signature bar on our emails with advanced degrees, hold down good jobs, and have families (at least some of us).  And guess what--we are still late for things.  Not because we are lazy, irresponsible, or just want to thumb are noses at "the establishment".  We are late for things because we are HUMAN. 

So if this is the case, why is it that in education the debate still rages on about allowing teachers take marks off for students handing in work late?  In a recent post on Twitter, a link to Globe and Mail article called "Report Cards Get a Failing Grade" stated the following:

"And, after more than a decade, Ontario has reversed the guideline (implemented inconsistently by schools anyway) that late assignments should not be marked down – and teachers could not give zeroes. Manitoba is expected to make the same announcement in two weeks, and Saskatchewan is also reviewing the issue.

Not marking down for late assignments – a guideline that directly affects report cards – was an example, educators say, of a well-meaning approach that failed..."

Wow. What are people thinking when they believe that giving late marks motivates students to complete homework on time? The research is so clear (just email Rick Stiggins if you would like a sampling, or watch Douglas Reeves http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHZyrz0NcuE to see his piece on Toxic Grading Practices, or look up any of the work by Ken O'Connor, such as A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, or Guskey et. al, etc.) that this does not work

Imagine every day that you are told that you are a failure.  Of course, in education, you are not told that you are a failure; you are told that you are a "3 out of 10", a "42 out of 100", a "D", or even better "too late".  You don't really like school anyway, it's pretty boring and you don't really know why you have to learn logarithms anyhow.  Your teachers seem to always be mad at you and hounding you, and when you copied your friends work you were told that you cheated, and when you told the teacher that your friend just copied it out of the book and you just copied it from them they got even angrier at you.  But then the one time that you finally did that project you were most proud of, the project that you sweated over because you finally were interested in the topic that your teacher covered in class, and that you excitedly turned in, only to get it back with a huge 90/100 with a MINUS 50% FOR BEING LATE.  Wow, I'll bet you learned a really valuable lesson.  And I can only guess how motivated you will be to do another project.

If schools cannot come up with more creative ways to enforce deadlines for assignments and projects than deducting late marks (ie. if a student does not get something in on time, they have to spend extra TIME at school getting it done--what a concept) then the educational apocalypse truly is upon us. We want students to be creative, but we cannot be creative in solving this very basic issue?  The natural consequence for not doing work is (gasp!) TO DO THE WORK! Not to take marks away. An as a small aside, the last time I checked, students learn at different rates. So our answer to differentiate for their learning is to make hard and fast deadlines and enforce them with late marks? 

Here are some not-so-creative solutions:

- when a student doesn't do the work, MAKE THEM DO THE WORK, not take the zero.  That is the easy way out.

- reluctant workers are not as motivated by marks as they are by SOCIAL TIME.  If a student does not do work on time, lunch hours, breaks, and after school times are excellent motivators to get students to do work--try it.  They will not like it, and their parents will LOVE it!

- don't assign CRAP.  And we all know what crap (aka. busy work, stuff that you don't value) is--questions 1-5 at the end of the chapter when the answers are in the back of the book is a prime example of crap.  Copying out definitions from the glossary is another good piece of crap, and the list goes on.

- Have kids be a PART OF THE ASSESSMENT PROCESS including establishing deadlines!  If they don't meet the deadline, TALK TO THEM about it.  You will find out a lot of things about your students, and a lot of the reasons for them not meeting that deadline will suprise you, and not be about you.  It will also give you a chance to connect for kids, and show them that you care.

- When a student knows that you care about them, THEY WILL NOT WANT TO DISAPPOINT YOU.

I do want to be clear that I am not here to advocate for being irresponsible and not valuing deadlines.  Quite the contrary—deadlines are a huge part of all of our lives. But let’s make sure that we are using the right tools to teach responsibility (not late marks), and let’s make sure that we remember that 1) we were kids once, and perhaps not quite as responsible as we might selectively choose to remember, and 2) we are late every once in a while, not because we want to “stick it to the man”, but because we are human.

It's pretty rare in education that we get our paychecks docked for being late.  Let's not dock students' paychecks.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Collaboration - a 21st Century skill we must value with more than lip service

Last week, I was humbled to be asked to present at the BC Principals and Vice Principals Association a presentation entitled "Restructuring not Refinancing - changing structures to improve student achievement".  Part of what I presented was a model that was based upon the work of Dufour, Dufour and Eaker that we have adapted to use at our school.  In this model, we have weekly collaborative time for teachers backed on to subject-specific tutorial time for students.  It has given teachers an opportunity to work on ropics in curriculum, instruction and formative and summative assessment:  in its fourth year of existence at our school, we have seen a steady increase in the results of our survey of staff in improvement of instructional practice, as well as a notable increase in success rates in all courses for our students.  While we are far from perfect, and there are many bumps in the road, I feel like we are definitely moving in the right direction. 

In the litany of research that is out there about the importance of schools becoming professional learning communities (just a few listed below), and what we are hearing in terms of collaboration being a 21st Century skill that we must teach (and model, I might add) to students, I still am puzzled as to why it has taken so long for this concept to catch on.

I was so pleased to hear that districts in New Brunswick have taken this very seriously (see http://umanitoba.ca/publications/cjeap/articles/williamsspraguesullivanbrien.html).  I think that they have hit it on the head by hitting this head on.  I think their courage in this area is something that I would love to see all districts follow--they have valued the collaborative process with more than just lip service.

I think we could all take a lesson from New Brunswick when it comes to creating a collaborative learning environment.


  • Making Time for Collaboration. Adapted from Learning by Doing: A Professional Learning Community at work
    DuFour Burnette, R, Eaker, R, Many, T (2006). Solution Tree. pp.95-97.

  • Professional Learning Communities:Exploring the power of teamwork
    Posnick-Goodwin, Sherry (2007). CTA (California Teachers Association). November. Volume 12, Issue 3 retrieved on 2/4/2008 from http://www.cta.org/media/publications/educator/archives/2007/1107_feat_01.htm.

  • Shared Vision, Team Learning, and Professional Learning Communities
    McKelvy, Earline, Thompson, Sue .Middle Ground. Volume 10. Number 3,pg12-14. Retrieved on 11/29/07 from http://www.nmsa.org/Publications/MiddleGround/Articles. 
     

  • Teacher Collaboration in Raising Student Achievement
    Olverson, Tyrone L., Ritchey, Sandra (2007). Staff Development Council of Ohio. SDCO Fall Professional Newsletter No. 5, December .

  • Teachers Working Together to Improve Instruction
    Mednick, Amy (2004). 'Conversations' Center for Collaborative Education. Volume 4 (2) Spring 2004.

  • Working Smarter by Working Together
    Honawar, Vaishali (2008). Education Weekly. April 2. Vol. 27, Issue 31, Pages 25-27. Retrieved on 4/3 at http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/04/02/31plc_ep.h27.html?print=1.
  • Monday, November 1, 2010

    A Great Staff Meeting

    Tonight, I just had a terrific staff meeting.  We have a relatively large staff, and with some of our coaches absent, we had about 65 people in attendance along with our administrative team.  At our staff meetings, we have done our best to eliminate "administrivia", and tonight, I even asked our staff to indulge me by eliminating any announcements from the meeting that can be done through email. The staff wholeheartedly agreed.  As a result, our staff meetings have become focussed on the right thing--student learning.

    We began our staff meeting with "Good News" as we always do--one of our staff members, an outstanding teacher with an infectious and effervescent personality solicits staff members for good news from around our school and presents this at the start of faculty meetings.  Today, one of the main points was all of the food that our students brought in through donations as part of the "Halloween for Hunger" campaign--truly amazing and inspirational.

    I then took them through my own personal journey in expanding my personal learning network.  Recently, I took three people from our school to the 21st Century Learning Conference in Chicago.  I had the other members of the team talk about what they felt were the most important things to them from the conference--this was powerful coming from teachers to teachers.  I then talked about how at the conference, Will Richardson asked the group of 600 or so teachers and administrators who was on Twitter.  I was shocked when about 400 people had their hands up.  He then asked "How many of you think Twitter is the best source of Professional Development that you have?".  When every person kept their hands up, I told our staff that I had to try this technology.

    I had some preconceived notions about Twitter--mostly that I was not really concerned with what LeBron James shoe size was, or where Brittany Spears was shopping today.  But after a few short minutes on the computer a couple of Saturdays ago, I have been transformed into a believer:  I am truly amazed at the amount of information that is available to all of us. 

    I then showed them briefly (and I do mean in 30 seconds or so) how I got on to Twitter and how I use Tweetdeck (thanks to Chris Kennedy in West Van!).  However, I wanted the staff to see something that was truly revolutionary for me:  how tools such as Twitter and Google Docs illustrated the peripheral and collaborative learning that can and does take place all around us.  I showed the tweet that George Courous put out on Hallowe'en Night (@gcouros: The Process of Online Collaboration (Video) http://bit.ly/aoFiVh #cpchat #erlcsm), and I think you could have heard a pin drop in our meeting.  It is truly amazing when you see people have an "a ha" moment about technology.  I told them that I have never been more energized about learning, and suggested to them that regardless of the means that you do it, it is vital to create a widespread PLN.  There were some staff members that rightfully said that they were concerned about students "losing the ability to talk".  This may be a concern, but I truly believe that we are communicating in different ways--I spoke to someone in Sweden this week that I never would have if I hadn't tried Twitter.  It was an incredibly lively discussion with facets from authenticity of websites to teachers having their students use Blackberries in class to access information.  We had a suggestion about having some inservicing about social media tools, which we will investigate for the next professional day.

    We then used Google Docs to do a staff survey on the effectiveness of our Study Block for kids.  Login, do the survey, and presto, we have instant data that we can now use in conjunction with student data to make a good decision about what Study Block will look like in the future.

    At this point, we worked on developing social responsibility for our School Improvement Plan through a Think-Pair-Share activity spearheaded by a staff member--we are trying to model activities that develop some of the 21st Century Skills that we are looking at with our staff so that they can in turn use them with our students.

    Finally, we did a bit of administrivia for the last five minutes, reviewing our Academic Intervention program protocols for new people on staff.

    Lots of learning, lots of interactions, lots of excitement, lots of engagement.  Low on administrivia.  It felt like a great way to use 70 brains!

    Happy sigh.