Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Cycle Continues...

As Governor Christie continues to bring down the gavel to remind all he’s in charge and attempts to lead failing school districts to the guillotine for their failure to meet AYP; I continue to sit in astonishment as I watch my school’s planning process to utilize this year’s Title I funding. Let me preface my comments by saying, we are a failing school in year eight. The process is reminiscent of previous years and still causes me to echo the sentiments that, “planning/projecting for success in education, unlike planning/projecting for success in the corporate world, is unequivocally inefficient”. Those words alone would bring a resounding response of “this is not corporate” from my previous principal and then I would go on to explain how we should be forecasting versus reacting in an attempt to quick fix. My comments fell on deaf ears until I met a man…Mike Miles, Superintendent of Harrison School District 2 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Mr. Miles, in no uncertain terms, understands efficient operations to produce effective results. Last year in March during a one day in-district workshop he introduced those in attendance to the concept of systems-thinking. Systems-thinking was explained to us as the process of identifying leverage points that will enable the organization to focus its efforts to maximize use of its resources. He literally walked us through the process of how to connect the disjoint pieces of the puzzle in schooling to produce the results required to be considered an effective school. To assist us in seeing how disjoint we were, he asked us to do a short activity that required us to list three to four things that:

o We spent discretionary money on for that year

o Were key staff development plans

o Were key school goals

What was the finding? We were doing so many things that were not in alignment. He explained how the schooling model of planning process is somewhat backwards. We begin action planning during the summer or in September when budgeting for the school year took place in February or March. He identified that action planning “is” the driving force of where we are going. Thus, all staff development needs must address the action plan as must the budget. Therefore, planning must precede budgeting. Gee! I believe I heard that somewhere before?

OK, so what’s my point? I want my teachers to feel successful through their efforts and I want my students to be successful in their efforts and system-thinking sounds like a starting point. Well, I was enamored with what I learned, so I reached out to Mr. Miles for more information on some ideas presented during the workshop. I began to plan for my department using system thinking on the micro level. I got it and got on board. Yet, I planned in my silo; still waiting for others to see the light. I looked at the district goals for meeting AYP and the professional development plan as I began to layout the framework of where we were going this year to reach SAFE HARBOR (Rome wasn't built in a day). I created my department action plan which supported the district’s PD plan and the school’s Title I plan. I used some local funding to support the PD efforts of the department action plan and… here I sit at the end of January creating the plan that is going to assist us in spending our 2011 Title I funds. You know those funds that …must be used by August 2011? Those funds that are going to help us prepare students to be successful on May’s NJASK test and this school year? You know, those funds that are going to ultimately help us meet at least safe harbor, so that we can be removed from Christie’s hall of shame! Those funds that we are just now being allotted? Yes, those funds!

In a 2007 Webcast for the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement, Miles addressed the fact that there are other systems like the state department of education and former NCLB requirements that influence the school and district system. He mentions the need for systemic change on the state and national level. How ironic, the NJDOE, Office of Student Achievement & Accountability is offering an intensive district and school improvement six-part workshop series featuring Mr. F. Mike Miles through March 2011. I am sure those in attendance have been introduced to the concept of systems-thinking and the process of implementation required to reach success. I only have one question. Was Governor Christie invited to attend? Possibly, if given the chance to grasp the aspect of the system-thinking model he would let go of the model of being, "the bully".

Well! Until then let me complete the plan to spend the Title I funds that’s bound to produce…more comments from Christie regarding spending of public funds for little to no academic success in our failing school districts. One last question! Is that the plan?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Math, Science and the Future of Our Nation

As a lover of  Mathematics I encourage all to particpate in this online discussion. Math and Science are critical for our children's existence. If you don't believe so,  just visit Connect a Million Minds.

Al Gore to Host Global Online Town Hall on Math and Science Education

On November 17, 2010, at 12 p.m. ET, Time Warner Cable (TWC) will host a live interactive online town hall called “Math, Science and the Future of Our Nation,” hosted by former Vice President Al Gore. The town hall will connect young people from the U.S. with students from around the world, and include two internationally known science and technology leaders—inventor Dean Kamen and astronaut Sally Ride. The discussion will focus on attitudes among American youth toward math and science, and how to inspire and motivate them so they will be successful in a competitive global marketplace.

Members of the public can join the town hall online, where they can also submit live video questions and comments from anywhere in the world in real time. Simultaneous “viewing parties” are also being planned in 16 TWC markets across the country. Connect a Million Minds (CAMM) is TWC’s philanthropic initiative involving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Today is the First Day...

Yesterday I held a department meeting excited to introduce the latest tool I have come upon, “Success at the Core”. This is a great website that offers video footage of Professional Learning Communities in action. Absolutely fabulous! You get the opportunity to witness research-based methods and best practices right in the classroom.

Since we are in the process of creating common assessments in the Math and Science Department I decided to work through the Common Assessment Module with the department. So I start the discussion, explain the excitement behind “Success at the Core”, roll the video…and dialogue, right?

I see blank faces just looking at me as if to suggest, “What’s next!” I ask, “Does anyone wish to make any comments about a strategy seen in the video that we might be able to implement or utilize?” A comment here and a comment there and more silence than anything else. I rephrase my questioning and get a few more responses here and there, then realize it’s time to dismiss and regroup. Then that glimmer of hope shines through! A new teacher thinking she hasn’t been at this teaching thing long enough to “verbalize” her thoughts, gives me three written pages of comments and suggestions from the video.

My immediate thought, “Still have to work on the department culture, she was afraid to speak out.” My immediate action, I grabbed a few teachers to ask, why the silence? The responses, “We get it but we are spent”, “Paperwork, documentation, it’s taking its toll on us”, “With all the external forces looking down on us the joy of teaching is now stress, it’s not you.", "Christie’s disdain of the education system, State agencies on our backs, budget cuts on all levels, district wants and wishes…stress!” I feel as if I just ran up against the “Buffer” in full effect (read Results Now by Michael Schmoker)!

Yes! Today is the first day in my nine years of being an educator that I felt I am working at a job and not working at my passion. I still believe collaboration and quality teaching makes the difference. I still support and believe in PLCs; just got hit with a reality check that change takes time... How much time?!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Effective Teachers and Effective Teaching

I had the pleasure of attending the NJPSA/FEA/NJASCD 2010 Fall Conference October 20th. The Keynote Speaker, Professor James H. Stronge, made a statement that I have verbalized many times- “Teaching is Rocket Science”. He proclaimed that most effective teachers change their instructional strategies several times during the course of a lesson. I suggest that the changes in instructional strategies are not just methods utilized to engage students but in large part utilized because the teachers are adamant about the students “getting it”.

Is it that these teachers are passionate about their work and the responsibilities of their job; that is the job of infusing knowledge? Is it that these teachers, classified as “effective” have been blessed with the gift of knowing exactly what each child needs? Have these “effective” teachers honed their craft through professional growth opportunities and administrative support? Or, is it all of the above?

Research suggests that teacher quality is positively correlated to student achievement. The major issue remains what variables constitute “teacher quality”. Whatever the answer, one thing is for sure, the effects of having a good teacher versus a bad teacher is enormous. As Dr. Stronge referenced, “It’s the difference between dropping out and going to Harvard”.

Consider the study comparing two groups of Dallas students. Each group started at relatively the same level of math achievement in the 3rd grade (Graph 1.) Three years later, Group 1 drastically outperformed Group 2. The reason: Group 1 received instruction from three “effective” teachers compared to Group 2 having received instruction from three “ineffective” teachers.

Graph 1.

Source: Heather Jordan, Robert Mendro, and Dash Weerasinghe, The Effects of Teachers on Longitudinal Student Achievement, 1997.

This same study revealed that effective teachers turned previously low-performing Dallas 4th graders into high performing 7th graders.

Imagine the excitement I felt sitting there. I was thinking, "If we could just get all teachers to be effective teachers!" Heads nodded all around the room suggesting agreement and buy-in. Not a second later an administrator in the audience said, "Doesn't teacher comfort with content also matter here? I have seen many teachers take time away from math content to focus on Language Arts because they are more confident in the content." Stronge commented that Language Arts (reading and writing) can be more readily learned outside of the classroom/school setting and that math tends to be more complex and can require additional supports. Was this administrator onto something? Was she suggesting that teachers might be more effective if they taught to their strength in content area? I have heard many elementary teachers profess to love one content over another, even as they are saddled with teaching the four core areas. This is an issue we have yet to weigh in on in my district; as our math scores tend to remain flat - Departmentalization of Mathematics. Just thinking, "Would departmentalization of Mathematics at the elementary grades make the teachers more effective, thus positively affecting student math achievement?"

Sunday, September 5, 2010

I'm Back

After more than a year of not posting, I'm back and still totally committed to helping my teachers improve their teaching techniques. I completed some schooling of my own during the time I was away; forever learning as I always state. Additionally, some major changes have occurred in education on several levels. District wise our school principal retired and we patiently awaited his replacement, state wise Common Core State Standards were adopted for Math and Language Arts, and federally we said goodbye to No Child Left Behind and continue to argue about the fairness of Race to the Top.

What is the correct change for education and how should we go about the change in education? That will always be one of opinion for the scholars and politicians to argue. As an educator, let’s just say that change is needed. My request of my teachers, of all teachers, is to sit down and do some real self-reflection and analysis as it relates to your skills. The essential question: What pedagogical qualities do you bring to your classroom and where can they physically be seen?

I attended several workshops this summer on Professional Learning Communities, Mentoring/Coaching, and Technology for Teaching for the exact purpose of assisting my teachers to answer the essential question above. Teaching is so much more than just a noble profession; it's an awesome responsibility! That responsibility has life long implications for its subjects, our students. Therefore, approach teaching with dignity. You hold the key to making a difference.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Jury is Still Out?

I didn't feel moved enough to add a post until reading Jay Matthews' article, "Will 8th Grade Algebra Help All Students?", in the Washington Post . The article in essence argues the readiness level of all students for Algebra in middle school, and the possible misplacement of students in Algebra 1 and Geometry classes based on their poor performance on the NAEP test.

Of course I love Math and am a proponent of the belief that
all students can learn/achieve; even in Algebra and more advanced Mathematics Courses with "hard work". However, the light bulb went off after reading Part One of Charlotte Danielson's, "Enhancing Student Achievement: A Framework for School Improvement". Danielson introduces the Four Circle Model. The viewpoint is that if educators are to help students learn (what we do), our decisions must be based on what educators want (clearly defined school, district, and state goals), believe (guiding principles), and know (educational research and best practices). I began to question whether we as educators have truly ever identified the interrelationship that exists between the four circles and if the four questions have been explicitly asked or answered in the discussion and decision making around education.

More so, I questioned whether teachers have ever considered how what we "believe, want, and know" influences what we "do". Matthews after speaking with folks, the specialists, who knew what they were talking about suggested- "Maybe Algebra shouldn't be for all but for as many as possible".

Just how much do our beliefs, wants, and knowledge affect what we do as educators to foster or deter student learning?

I am the product of two professional parents, an engineer and a social worker, reared in the height of segregation. When speaking to them about their education, they will be the first to tell you that they were disadvantaged; poor by most standards. My fathers parents were not college graduates, my paternal grandfather finished 9th grade but he
was a self-taught general contractor who owned 3 acres of land; land which my father still holds today.My paternal grandmother finished 8th grade. My mother was raised by a single mom with a 5th grade education. She still says today that I dont know how good I have it; as she continues to tell the stories of her impoverished and unfair upbringing. If you ask about their schools, they will tell you they did not have the latest textbooks or technology. Everything was passed down from the white schools when those schools got the newest and best relative to education. There was no differentiation of student; special education, gifted, and regular education students were all in the same classroom with one instructor. So how did they succeed? In fact, how did so many disadvantaged African-Americans of that time succeed?

My mother says without doubt it was their teachers. She insists that with the limited resources the teachers had, they put their souls into making sure that all their students learned and had what they needed to be successful based upon the time in which they lived. Education was viewed as the golden opportunity, their only option. If you don
t believe me, you should listen to her tell the story of a classmate who was considered a slow learner but was taught valuable life skills in addition to academics that allowed him to go on to become a successful business owner (You may even know his name if you are into hair). Listen to her tell you how she had a full scholarship to nursing school but decided that was not for her after she fainted upon seeing a baby being born while working in a hospital one summer in New York City. She had no back-up plan and my grandmother didnt exactly insist that she go to college. However, a former teacher reminded her that she owed herself more and that she (the teacher) had not educated a quitter. In fact, her best girlfriend had been accepted to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State (College) University in Greensboro, North Carolina and was going to be driven there by her brother. Her girlfriends brother asked her to come along to see if she could get admitted. She was admitted that day after passing all the entrance exams and submitting her grades. She had graduated with honors. My father, also an A&T Alumni, spent 4 years in the Air force and served in the Korean War prior to going to college. My fathers major was music before he decided he needed a more challenging major for a better career opportunity, Engineering was his choice. He, however; continued to play in a jazz band on the side to make money.

Here is my point? What if their teachers believed that life for them was hopeless based on the times? What if their teachers decided that the poverty cycle was their only future? These teachers pre-Danielson
s Four Circle Model approached teaching, what to do, based upon their beliefs, knowledge, and wants for their students. It was ultimately the belief and want of success for all students within the reach of their hands. The students in my classroom have been not unlike my parents- poor, single parent households, and lack of parental involvement in their education. However, if my parents were able to make it why should I doubt the ability of my students? Remembering that my mother said for sure it was her teachers I chose to be one of those teachers. Something you should know about me. Neither Education nor Math was my major. I majored in Economics and worked in Banking and Finance. In fact, I left Corporate America to enter the field of Education. With me I brought the real-world to my classroom. I taught regular math; when I started teaching I didnt have gifted students, I didnt teach Pre-Algebra or Algebra but my students may as well have been in an Algebra class. The fact that someone or some test hadnt rated them stellar or exceptional didnt stop me from introducing algebraic concepts and content. I insisted that they could and pushed them to do more. They were placed in positions to make them have to give it their absolute all. In fact 8th grade teachers would ask the students, "who did you have for math?" When the students responded Ms. Tidwell the comment was mostly, "I can tell". Just six weeks ago a former 7th grade student stopped in to see me because she had not gotten her state test scores. She was not the best math student but worked very hard. Mind you, her 6th grade state test scores were partially proficient, 21 points below the passing score. She just passed the 7th grade state assessment and I encouraged her to take Algebra 1 in 8th grade (took me a little work to help get her in). She did and told me it was too hard. I encouraged her to create a study group and come to me for extra help whenever she felt she needed too and she did. That day, as we continued to talk I printed out her NJASK 8 test scores. She had scored a perfect 300 on the math test. I asked her about her current math class; she was taking Algebra 2. Its a breeze, she said. She told me she had spoken to my father last year during career day and was thinking about becoming an engineer. I was proud of her and also of myself. I reached her. What if I had decided to count her out based upon her 6th grade test scores?

Now, I am sure that her perfect test score had to do with her motivation to do well. However, I also believe I had a lot to do with where she is today as a student. I say that because every student in my 7th grade class had been introduced to the same expectations. I expected them all to do well beyond academics. I also expected myself to go above and beyond to make sure I reached them and involved real-world learning and off-the-topic discussions to encourage their critical thinking and process skills. I took interest in their home lives, activities and such.She even reminded me of a project that every class had to complete. The students had to work collectively in groups of four to create and manage a stock portfolio; the true task to assess application of their math skills. As we were talking, she stopped and said, “It’s a good thing the market was up when we had to do your project because I couldn’t imagine what our charts and profit and loss statements would look like with today’s economy.” I know I touched her!

Today, I supervise a Math and Science Department and approach my job trying to get others to see the view from my window: knowing where people came from, knowing where people are, and believing where people can go. I just have to say, “Barack Obama” to end that thought. I didn’t truly understand who I was as a teacher until I read Parker Palmer’s, Teaching with Heart and Soul: Reflection on Spirituality in Teacher Education. I knew for years that I had not taken time to listen to my inner voice. When asked in conversation, "If you were not in the mortgage business what would you be doing?" For as long as I can remember I always answered, "Teaching math". What Palmer helped me to realize is that I taught the content of math but I more so taught the child. Giving meaning to the child’s learning experience. Everyone should read this article.

The difficulty that I must acknowledge is that every teacher’s view is different. I have a very talented staff as it relates to their education and mastery of content. Many are experienced veteran teachers, former engineers, accountants, and science researchers.Some are even new to the profession all togehter and others left prominent corporate careers to teach. As you enter some classrooms you sense those who were called to teach. They recognize how important their role is and more importantly how the view out of their window relates to their students’ success. This idea of success for them may not be tied to the passing of any state test or the NAEP. Then there are others that I pray will someday realize how much their making a connection with their students and an investment in their own learning could benefit their teaching. Yep, my want is teacher quality born from spirituality in teacher education. Understand that I am just as interested in my teachers’ success as I was interested in my students’ success.

Research suggests that teacher quality is positively correlated to student achievement. The major issue remains what variables constitute “teacher quality” and are the measures irrefutable. Most studies reviewed considered a combination of the following variables: teacher certification, teacher preparation programs and academic degrees, years of experience, teacher test scores, teacher experience, and teacher coursework. However, I believe nothing is more powerful or constitutes teacher quality than a "growth" mindset and teachers interested in their professional learning. I did the work required to gain access to the profession and continue to do the work required to affect my teaching and supervising. That is, I created my own Professional Learning Network for the purpose of honing my craft to learn from others, but also to help others in the network learn for the purpose of improving “what they do”. Thus, I am an advocate of Professional Learning Communities and encourage my staff to engage in collegial work and conversation for their benefit and to increase student learning.

Possibly, the question is not, "Will 8th grade Algebra help all students?" but more so, "Will my beliefs, wants, and knowledge affect what I do to help all 8th grade students comprehend Algebra?”

Monday, September 1, 2008

My Wish for My Staff as We Come Back

Begin tomorrow as if it is the first chapter of a new book. Do not let thoughts, disappointments or frustrations of past years impede the power that you possess. Tomorrow, you will hold some child's future in your hands. That is an awesome responsibility requiring patience, preparedness, and continuous learning. Welcome back and remember in the midst of all you are asked and required to do , you still must Take Time:
TAKE TIME to think -
it is the source of power.
Take time to read -
it is the foundation of wisdom.

TAKE TIME to play -
it is the secret of staying young.
Take time to be quiet -
it is the moment to seek God.

TAKE TIME to be aware -
it is the opportunity to help others.
Take time to be friendly -
it is the road to happiness.

TAKE TIME to laugh -
it is the music of the soul.
Take time to give -
it is too short a day to be selfish.

TAKE TIME to work-
it is the price of success.
Take time to dream -
it is what the future is made of.

See you in the AM.