There is no doubt that this is, comparatively speaking, a stressful time of year. Professionally there is much to do, kids are restless, and for many of us, our own children’s graduations and transitions loom big. I am right there with all of you. Two of my three kids are preparing for new lives, one heading to college and the other continuing grad school by leaving the Carozza nest.
This is when I turn a bit philosophical, count my blessings, and search for my core beliefs which settle my mind a bit. My staff has heard me say this often: I hold to the truth that as human beings, we can’t always be happy – life is just too hard – but we can be joyful. We could look at our lives as a series of things we have to do and of commitments that need to be met. Or, we can choose to find the enjoyment in our students’ successes, the humor we see in our colleagues, and simply the privilege of having a great job and family.
In our school we have focused more than ever on academic achievement this year via PLCs, WIN groups, new math programs, and a focus on data. But in the midst of fulfilling our mission, I never want to lose the joy that comes from enjoying each other. Dean Shareski wrote on this topic this week and he uses a parallel of two airlines to illustrate joy and then pulls that metaphor into our lives in schools.
I worry about the advent of Common Core and the use of data to evaluate teachers. I’m not concerned for accountability – I only want the overriding element of joy to prevail in the midst of the teaching and learning that our students and educators will accomplish. For academic success without joy is not success at all.
Perhaps the best part of my eclectic job is the ability to interact with hundreds of students and nearly 60 staff members on a daily basis. I’ve observed the behavior of nearly every personality type and I’ve seen adults and children who have succeeded and failed based on a variety of factors – some outside their control.
Yet, stretched over nearly 30 years working in schools I’ve found that perhaps the most crucial Habit of Mind to embody for success (however one defines it) is resilience. I find myself using this word in meetings on students and in private conversations with staff when they find themselves in a difficult place. I’ve discussed resilience with my own adult children as they strive to succeed in their college journey or begin their careers. Lately, I’ve had this conversation with myself as I faced some difficult decisions and lived with the consequences of these choices. I call up my resilience when I realize that I could have made a better call on behalf of one of my teachers and my only choice now is to learn from mistakes. I rarely need much resilience when I stumble on success. Instead I need to learn from success as much as failure. Much like the words of George Santayana who said that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” I believe strongly that those who don’t analyze their successes are not likely to repeat them.
How does one call up resilience? Clearly, our genetics determine how much of this trait we can call up quickly, but there are ways to maximize it. While simplistic, getting enough sleep, lowering stress through exercise, and finding times to decompress – these are the front line factors. I have to create peak conditions so that my physical, emotional, and spiritual elements will be as ready as possible for creativity, decision making, and unexpected events.
Resilience is also attained more easily when life is organized to its fullest extent. I am fortunate to be able to use digital means to organize my thoughts, papers, projects, and to-do’s which allows me more time to tackle the areas of my life that require greater thought and vision.
How do you call up resilience in your life? What strategies work for you? Or, are you struggling with managing life?
If you happened to be volunteering today at Harold Martin or anywhere in our district, you saw a sea of “blue” as staff members all wore blue jeans in honor of the Merrimack County Child Advocacy Center’s Paint the County Blue event. In fact, organizations and businesses throughout our county were encouraged to do the same, and with it, donate at least one dollar to support the Center and help prevent child abuse.
It’s a story that plays out in schools across the country: a young child brings a fake weapon to school and receives a strong consequence for his behavior. Last month this scenario played out in Hopkinton, Massachusetts when a kindergarten student took his toy gun out of his backpack and showed a classmate. The Interim Principal made the decision to give this little guy an in-school suspension for a half-day. Turns out that the “gun” was purchased at a Wild West Show during a family vacation in Arizona. The decision was later overturned upon appeal from the parent.
While I would not have suspended the student, I do understand the pressure an administrator is under to act strongly and decisively. I feel the pressure to keep all the children and adults safe in our building. Just this week, a new family from the West Coast arrived at our school surprised that we still keep one door unlocked during the day without a buzz-in system.
A better solution to the toy gun issue? Have a discussion with the young man and the family about safety – not just the importance of keeping everyone physically and emotionally safe but also focusing on the appearance of safety. I remember a conversation with a parent years ago who had some angst that I was calling home to let him know that his son had been waving his trigger finger on the bus and scaring some kiddos. When the parent reminded me that this was no big deal, which I agreed with, I also mentioned that you wouldn’t want him to have a habit of waving an imaginary gun in an airport.
My Superintendent, Steve Chamberlin, recently received an email from a parent in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, thinking that Steve was his Superintendent. (Right city, wrong state):
Subject: RE: can schools teach children to make intelligent decisions?
Date: March 22, 2013 10:28:54 PM EDT
You expelled a 5 year old for bringing a toy gun to school? OMG are you brainless? Are you right now thinking that somehow relating that action to the Sandy Hill massacre is going to prevent a future incident? Please explain it to me, what kind of decision making skills do you really expect your children to learn from this experience?
Of course, there’s lots of inaccuracies here in addition to who he sent the email too. The Superintendent did not suspend the child, the Principal did. And he must be referring to Sandy Hook not Sandy Hill. Yet, I understand this citizen’s angst.
The issues continue to swirl around us. Recently, the Sandy Hook parents who tragically lost children become politically involved. This weekend, two of these parents replaced the President during his weekend radio address. They are trying hard to keep the issue in front of the country’s attention. In our ADHD world, that might be difficult.
The key for all of us is patience and understanding. Your thoughts?
There are times we need to learn from divergent thinkers – to be challenged in new ways. But sometimes you want to hear from the names and voices you trust with time honored advice and teaching that link to your core. Today NHASCD brought in the co-author of Understanding By Design (UbD), Jay McTighe. In my role on the Board of NHASCD, I’ve been able to work with some of the greatest names in our field…the Dufours, Wiggins, Marzano, Tomlinson…but no one is more humble or kind than Jay.
Jay’s “wheelhouse” is assessment and today he spoke on performance-based assessment with a bent toward the Common Core and Smarter Balanced assessments coming to a school near you in the spring of 2015. As expected, he spoke from his core of UbD and focused on its backward design nature which features three stages in its unit planning model:
Stage 1: Determining desired results
What is it that we want students to learn? What are the Essential Questions, Understandings, knowledge and skills, based on standards?
Stage 2: Assessment Evidence
Based on what it is we want students to understand in Stage 1, what assessments should we utilize to determining our students’ level of understanding?
Stage 3: Learning Plan
What activities should I design to match the results I determined in Stage 1?
Of course, Jay’s focus was on Stage 2 with a bent toward formative assessment. After lunch, he focused on seven major points regarding assessment as we look toward Common Core:
1. Use assessments as learning targets. Our goal is to ensure learning – to be sure that our students are understanding. Our bar can’t be simple presentation.
2. Share rubrics with students. Our kids must know the rules of the game before the game begins. There is no “gotcha”-we are not trying to trip kids up with our assessments. Jay showed an example of an Apgar rubric that doctors use to determine the health of babies right out of the womb. We must do no less in our schools. Analytic rubrics are best.
3. Show models and exemplars. Students have to know what excellent work looks like…perhaps they also need to know what sub-par work looks like.
4. Assess before teaching. If we believe that new learning is grounded in prior knowledge, then I cannot teach new material before I know what students know already. Jay demonstrated a number of KWL charts and variations on the theme.
5. Use on-going assessments for feedback. Elementary teachers are particularly skilled at this. Like a movie that is on-going in the classroom the teacher must assess understanding continually through techniques such as fist or five, exit cards, and simple hand signals.
6. Engage students in self-assessment and goal setting. Ultimately, our students must take charge of their own learning.
7. Use results to guide team planning for improvement. Educators must think in both micro and macro ways. We are both concerned deeply for each individual student’s learning but we must use data to drive improvement planning for our classrooms, schools, and districts.
Perhaps the best part of the day for me was the chance to see Jay interact during lunch with ten pre-service teachers from Southern New Hampshire University, Plymouth State University, and New England College. On the way out of lunch he told me, “it doesn’t get any better than this.”
This week I read Diane Ravitch’s recent post on the Common Core where she finally states emphatically that she “cannot support” the standards. Clearly, Diane’s voice is impactful in 2013. She is brilliant, verbose, and states her views with solid research. Part of her allure is that she did a philosophical “180″, having worked as Assistant Secretary of Education under Bush “41” and now with the advent of social media, she’s become the darling of progressives…seemingly overnight.
I am in a precarious position, like many of you. I was not involved with the creation of the Common Core and frankly, no one asked my opinion before the standards were created except for a few state-wide meetings designed to get input. I am also an affiliate president for ASCD, an organization that has received significant Gates money to develop training around the standards. In fact, my organization, NHASCD, is in the midst of developing a joint two day workshop with ASCD specifically designed to train school leaders in Common Core implementation.
My school district has engaged in very practical work around these standards and I lead an Assessment Committee that is examining the impact of Smarter Balanced assessments coming in the spring of 2015. I haven’t heard a single educator question the Common Core in my district and it’s not because they are naturally passive. While we are concerned about the rigor of the standards, we believe that our students are ready for the challenge and for the most part, the standards are well written.
However, Ms. Ravitch believes that the Common Core were thrust upon us too quickly. As she said in her post:
Maybe the standards will be great. Maybe they will be a disaster. Maybe they will improve achievement. Maybe they will widen the achievement gaps between haves and have-nots. Maybe they will cause the children who now struggle to give up altogether. Would the Federal Drug Administration approve the use of a drug with no trials, no concern for possible harm or unintended consequences?
No doubt that a trial of the standards would be beneficial but how would that be rolled out? While many of us wish publishers would just go away, how would they react to a roll out of the standards? How would the data be collected on its effectiveness?
While technically the Feds did not initiate the making of the Common Core, Diane states that the promise of Race To The Top funds was too tempting for states to pass up.
In fact, it was well understood by states that they would not be eligible for Race to the Top funding ($4.35 billion) unless they adopted the Common Core standards. Federal law prohibits the U.S. Department of Education from prescribing any curriculum, but in this case the Department figured out a clever way to evade the letter of the law. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia signed on, not because the Common Core standards were better than their own, but because they wanted a share of the federal cash.
I’m not so sure that the situation is as shady as Diane would make it seem, but clearly the money chase was a factor in the standards being approved by nearly every state so quickly. Either way, it was amazing how many states moved quickly toward adoption, including New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die” state.
I will continue to watch and listen. While I cannot support the Common Core standards, I will remain open to new evidence. If the standards help kids, I will say so. If they hurt them, I will say so. I will listen to their advocates and to their critics.
Well, this is clearly playing it safe. Diane cannot support the Standards but if things go well, she’ll change her mind.
Ravitch benefits from pundit safety. She is not a teacher who has to implement the Common Core. She’s not an administrator who needs to support teachers and is responsible for the results.
Yet, there is a place in the world for pundits. Those of us on the front lines benefit from perspectives that we may not hear while we’re in the center of the action.
I like the “reset” nature of the Common Core; the ability to take a deep breath, dive into curriculum with teachers and improve our instruction based on standards that certainly do not appear harmful to students but whose real impact won’t be known for a while. I believe the Standards are of a higher quality and appropriately more rigorous than our current New Hampshire standards.
In the end, our students’ success will depend as much as teacher collaboration, innovation, and a committment to teach students how to think critically and problem solve mightily. The Common Core journey will be compelling.
I was asked to present at the IntegratED Conference in Portland, Oregon this past weekend and I was both delighted and a bit intimidated. The lineup of presenters included some of the most creative thinkers in educational technology that I’ve been learning from for some time. I was slated to present my usual fare for administrators, the power of social media and a second workshop on productivity. I’ve posted notes to the workshops here on the blog.
Here are some highlights of the experience:
- For far too long, educators (and probably those in other fields), have been tied to professional development that centers on “sit and git”, listening to an endless array of PowerPoint slides delivered by the equivalent of Ben Stein as the boring economics teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Educators have rebelled against that stereotype and developed the concept of Ed Camp/Unconference which I’ve written about recently. It was a strong statement that splendid organizer Darren Hudgins chose to begin the conference on Sunday with an Unconference with nearly half of the attendees participating. Using clever collaborative software, the attendees suggested workshop topics and then we voted for our top choices. Darren quickly assigned rooms, shared it on a Google Doc, and then while we were in our first sessions, he arranged the other two sessions. Once in the sessions themselves, certain individuals naturally displayed leadership and the conversation never waned.
- It is impossible to see every breakout session, so in the spirit of collaboration, many participants took notes on a shared Google Doc which served to fill in the holes and give a broader picture of the conference. This was led by impressive educator Ben Wilkoff who inspired me throughout the sessions.
- I had the chance to meet in person many educators that I’ve known only through Twitter and their blog posts. Especially gracious and welcoming was Tim Lauer, Principal of Lewis Elementary in Portland who spoke about this quite well in this post.
- Thanks to the encouragement of Darren, I am more committed than ever to abstain from “sit and git” in my future workshops and follow the formula of: Explain, Exercise and Debrief, that is…Explain a new idea or tool, give participants a chance to Exercise their new skill or idea, and then Debrief what was learned. Nice formula.
Honestly, my top highlight was seeing my brother Dick and his wife Sue who live outside of Portland. We just don’t see enough of each other.
Next stop on April 1, the LESCN Spring Conference, Educating the 21st Century Learner: An Educator’s Guide to Personalizing Learning in the Cloud where I’ll be presenting two workshops. I hope to see you there.