Wisdom From a D.C. Cab Driver

Cab


I’m writing this post at Reagan International Airport, after working with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in D.C. for the last three days as part of the Principal’s Standing Committee. My 15 minute cab ride from my hotel to the airport was with a driver named Mekonnen. The cab had two small American flags with stems placed carefully in the heat vents on his dashboard and our driver was eager to oblige my desire to chat.

Mekonnen grew up in a small country in Eastern Africa named Eritrea, just north of Ethiopia.  He came over to America a few years ago with his wife, also from Eritrea, and they are planning on becoming naturalized next year. The couple just had their first child and they reside in Baltimore, about an hour from Washington. It’s much cheaper to live in Baltimore, he explained, as his apartment there is only $800 a month. 


Africa

 

While I’m sure he misses his homeland, Mekonnen has great respect and affection for the United States. He sees significant opportunity for his family in the US and has experienced nothing but friendly and accommodating Americans. Mekonnen’s cab driving supports his wife’s schooling and as a result, she will be a nurse within the year. He explains that back in Eritrea, many citizens vehemently criticize the US, buoyed by US official pronouncements over the last few years that this African country harbors terrorists, which is likely true. Mekonnen admitted that the main post-secondary pursuit for most young men after high school is to “learn how to fight”. His experiences in America don’t at all match the impressions he grew up with.

As we departed, I had less cash then I thought and in addition to the fare paid on a credit card, all I had was a dollar to give him. He took it willingly and I hoped my best wishes for his family counted for something. Mekonnen cheerfully smiled and the thought occurred to me that he is likely more thankful for his life then many of us are. As he said to me, “when people ask if I want to go back to my homeland, I tell them that I’m already home.”

While I always learn a great deal from my work in D.C., I may have learned more today from a 15 minute cab ride.

How are New Hampshire Schools Utilizing School Wide Assessment?

GIRLS

 We can’t forget that assessment is all about our students.  

This year marks 30 seasons of my working in the education business. I could write 30 blog posts on what has changed in those three decades, but there is no doubt that assessment was viewed very differently when I began teaching in elementary/middle school in 1984.

We rarely thought of assessment as formative – as a tool to drive our instruction. Instead, summative quizzes or tests were given when we deemed it “time”. If a student didn’t do well on an assessment, the fault usually rested with the child, not the teacher.

The variety of assessments was sparse. Most schools gave a large standardized test such as the California Achievement Test, the Iowas, or perhaps the Stanford, but the test results took months to come in and even when they did, they were too old to be relevant. We often used these outcomes to determine Title 1 or Gifted and Talented eligibility, even if the results were four months old.

Now we have computer adaptive tests, (e.g. STAR, NWEA), many diagnostic tools (e.g. AIMSweb DIBELS), and literacy benchmark assessments (e.g. DRA, Fountas and Pinnell) that allow the teacher the advantage of standardization as well as one-on-one contact with a student.

Of course, when I began, there were no high stakes tests – no state assessments such as NHEIAP, NECAP, or Smarter Balanced.

I was reflecting recently on what how my fellow New Hampshire schools are implementing for school-wide assessment so I devised a Google Form survey, sent it out on our Principal’s Listserv and received responses from school leaders in 26 New Hampshire schools. Yesterday I sent the results to the same Listserv. While hardly scientific, there are some interesting results:

  • A full quarter of schools surveyed are not using Curriculum Based Measures (CBMs) for reading or mathematics. Of schools that are utilizing CBMs, AIMSweb and DIBELS are the clear winners.
  • About 1/5 of schools surveyed do not administer a benchmark assessment for literacy, but for those that do, the DRA and Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System are the clear winners – and are tied for percentage of use.
  • Nearly all schools have bought into the Computer Adaptive Assessment bandwagon with NWEA leading STAR 4 to 1.
  • Schools are primarily utilizing home grown assessments for writing, although three are aligning themselves with Lucy Calkins’ approach.
  • The amount of school wide assessments given varies widely with nearly two-thirds administering three or less and a third giving four or five assessments.
 Are you surprised by the results? 

 

The Next Generation of Educators

Satchat

 Three intuitive educational leaders facilitating the popular live Twitter chat #satchat from ASCD’s Leader to Leader Conference

I finally realized something this weekend. I am not remotely part of the “next generation” of educators who are going to change the world and usher in a new renaissance of learning. Their vision is based on a creative approach to curriculum and instruction, embracing new technologies and a data driven (but not too data driven) approach to assessment. At 53 years of age, I still have plenty of ingenuity and resourcefulness left in me, but the 30-somethings I hung around with the last few days are truly impressive. 

As I type this, I am sitting in the Reagan National Airport reflecting a bit on the latest ASCD Leader to Leader Conference (#ascdL2L) that began Thursday and finished this afternoon. By far the most illuminating part of the three days was my interaction with the participants. 

If every teacher and administrator in America was in the same league as those I collaborated with at L2L, we would easily rank #1 on international measures such as the PISA  and the TIMSS and we would barely need the NAEP to measure our nation’s school effectiveness. These young educators have passion, they understand the power of new technologies, and they are brave enough to create adventures and see them through. They also have the confidence to admit mistakes and the drive to continue with their vision. 

What is different about their insight and talent than what we see in most schools in this country?

  • They understand that specific knowledge is not as important as what is accomplished with that knowledge. The conversations we had were about process and creation, not memorization and facts. They know intuitively that the days of the sage educator as the only purveyor of knowledge died with the advent of the Internet and Web 2.0. 
  • They are young enough to realize what it was like to be a new educator and they know what we need to retain and grow excellent teachers. They have passion and joy.
  • They are instinctively collaborative, whether they are shy or brash, introvert or extrovert. They would rather work together to solve a problem than design an elaborate plan alone on their laptop. They don’t have to be in the same room to collaborate either. They can use a Google Hangout, Voxer, or Skype to keep the flow of ideas going.
  • They are wicked smart, plain and simple. They have enough smarts to be surgeons, top litigators, or successful entrepreneurs. They picked education as their life’s work because they chose the thrill of changing the world for kids instead of working for financial security. 

Brad and bill

A selfie moment with creative educator (and co-founder of #satchat) Brad Currie (left).  

Yes, there were naive moments when the thirty somethings, even some with Ph.D.s, needed (and I hope heeded) the advice of “seasoned” veterans. But that only reminded me of the best teams (the Red Sox last year in fact), who win because of the amalgamation of the vets at the top of their game with the youthful players who bring a spark to every contest. 

I am optimistic that my generation can partner with this new batch of educators to radically improve education as we head into this new era of flipped classrooms, the Common Core, the information revolution, and the transformation of our world economies. My worry is that since it’s my generation that is still largely in charge of our nation’s schools, are we ready to accept the wisdom of those a generation younger? We may have the leadership common sense but we need to capture the fire of those who are nipping at our heels to grab a piece of influence. We have to let them in as leaders and partners. 

Don’t Underestimate the Quiets

This past year I’ve engaged in frequent conversations with colleagues around the social continuum of extraversion-introversion and how it relates to our staff. Lately, I find myself apologizing for ignoring the needs of introverts in my life, especially teachers who may be overwhelmed by my extraversion. How many times have I barged into a teacher’s classroom at 7:30 in the morning wanting to banter about  the success of the Red Sox the previous night? Or perhaps I suddenly wanted to discuss some pedagogical issue without realizing that this introverted teacher just wants some peace and quiet in order to get ready for the day.

Three things I have learned about introversion which has helped me tremendously:

  • Introverts are not shy. They often just need an environment that is not too stimulating in order to be productive and happy.
  • Introverts receive energy more from within themselves then from outside sources such as this meddling but well intentioned Principal. 
  • A colleague told me recently that I like my job so much because I draw energy from other people – and clearly a school building full of hundreds of people has a copious amount of energy to give. But this is not true for all.

Every week I share both a professional article and a video as part of my blog to staff I call “The Sunday Blast”. The most popular video I’ve shared with my colleagues has been Susan Cain’s TED Talk on “The Power of Introverts” based on her best-selling book Quiet. Please take the time to view:

I’m convinced that an organization benefits from having both introverts and extraverts as part of its structure, especially in a collaborative environment where professional learning communities drive much of the decision making around students and the function of the school itself. I’ve been influenced greatly regarding this continuum by my friend, workshop-mate and self-proclaimed introvert Tony Baldasaro who has written about this topic in an article in Edutopia

As we reflect on the social factors inherent in our schools, we must be aware of the “Quiets” and the power they can bring to a staff. Most importantly, as I have learned, we must simply be aware that “Quiets” exist and their style needs to be honored and appreciated.

Is there a “Quiet” in your life that is misunderstood? Make it a goal to reach out to this colleague appropriately when school gets rolling again. 

9 Books for a Principal’s Summer Reading

 

Books

Summer is a time for reflection for the Principal. Yes, we work throughout the hot months, but the job during July and the first half of August is closer to 40 hours a week, not 70 or 75, and evenings are mostly ours. I have to use this time to catch up on professional reading. Partly for your reading pleasure and more for my own accountability, here’s what on tap for summer 2014:

Improbable Scholars by David Kirp.

This is a story of a school district in New Jersey that over time has done surprisingly well. We’ve heard this story before.  A poor district beating the odds and a researcher-writer (Kirp) coming in to document their success. Reviews are mixed on the book but it was highly recommended by NH Superintendents.

Five Levers to Improve Learning by Tony Frontier and James Rickabaugh

So many of us have been working hard for decades to improve schools and yet, data has shown little systemic growth nation-wide. The authors hope that the the simple adage that we need to work smarter not harder holds true. 

How Teachers Can Turn Data into Action by Daniel R. Venables

The author is a veteran of not just the data wars but also professional learning communities. Venables gives solid advice for teachers on dealing with a life awash with data.

Switch: How To Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

The Heath brothers explore the conflict in our minds between our rational and emotional minds. I started this book when it debuted but never finished it. It is a good companion to David Pink’s work.

The Handbook for Smart School Teams: Revitalizing Best Practices for Collaboration by Anne E. Conzemius and Jan O’Neill

This book riffs off the “SMART” acronym for data driven decision making. It is more of a handbook than a front to back read. 

RTI In the Early Grades by Chris Weber

Chris is a former Principal who understands elementary schools and Response to Intervention or (Instruction as we say in New Hampshire). He’s also part of the Dufour/Solution Tree/PLC cadre. 

Catching Up or Leading the Way by Yong Zhao

While slightly dated (2009) Zhao lays out his perspective that we may be emphasizing standards and standardized tests more than the skills we need to stay competitive in a changing world. Zhao is one of our field’s best thinkers and NHASCD is bringing him in to Concord, NH on April 3, 2015.

Digital Leadership by Eric Sheninger

Eric is everyone’s favorite digital Principal and no one is better known in this area.  Eric is also fortunate to have Yong Zhao compose the forward.

Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman

Calkins has been the most influential educator in the area of literacy, certainly in the Big Apple and perhaps throughout the country. This book was selected as last year’s #1 educational book on the New York Times Best Seller List. 

If you read any of these, would you please comment here or throw me an email? I’ll refer and review some of these titles in the Fall. I hope you’ll use the next two months to reflect and write about your learning. Read on.

Managing May Stress

Ogun

Taken by Bill: Ogunquit, Maine 5-25-14

Like many of you in education, I’m managing stress these days. I call this the Merry Month of May with my tongue firmly in my cheek. This month and into June, there is hiring to be finished, schedules to formulate, students and teachers to be placed, and more.

Keep in mind that stress is not a bad thing…if we didn’t have some stress, we would never get up in the morning, and I wouldn’t have cut my lawn today or taken out the trash. I am blessed to rarely get sick from stress, but man, I do get headaches – ask our school nurse. There is a certain level of physical affects that we accept from stress. It’s made more difficult for all of us due to the nature of our school calendar that contain moments of great relief and great pressure. But it’s important that we take the edge off our anxiety as much as possible.

Granted, I don’t have a clue about stress compared with many of my teachers who are raising small children or others who are taking care of elderly parents. I have neither. But I know that there are certain simple rules that apply to all of us. And there are no surprises here:

1. Get enough sleep. (Or as much as possible). I can’t think of anything more important. If I’m working on school stuff at night, I have to do something different for at least 30 minutes before bed. Lately, I’ve been watching old episodes of West Wing or reading something that’s non-education related in order to move my heart rate down and frankly, keep school thoughts out of my head. Otherwise, I’m thinking and planning at 11 PM instead of slowly getting into the REM cycle. Also…what are you eating and drinking right before bed? I can’t even touch caffeine or sugar within hours of bedtime. That will always keep me up.

2. Exercise. I have noticed that I am calmer and more focused on the evenings when I’ve been able to head to the gym before I head home. With the good weather, my wife and I (and whatever assorted child happens to be around) often go for a walk around the lake.

3. Having fun. There are many of my staff who care about me (thank you) and one mantra I hear loud and clear is the need for me to get away from the computer and simply do something fun. I am convinced that the mental diversion makes us so much more productive. We see it in our own students, don’t we?

Do you have any ideas? Love to share them while the merry month of May wraps up.

The Power of Quality Principals

 

Steve etc

 

The Queens University of Charlotte Educational Leadership Program has developed an interesting infographic that you can embed on your website and share with others. The collective information presents an optimistic view of Principals:

85% of teachers believe that their Principal is doing an excellent or “pretty good” job. 

That’s up 12 points from 1986. Part of this positivity may come from the fact that many school administrators are seen as supporting their teachers against the incursion of federal or state mandates, heavier standardized testing, and often Superintendents and School Boards that like to impose edicts that teachers consider inappropriate. 

For those Principals that are rated highly…

40% of teachers stated increased collaboration time and 42% stated greater opportuneness for professional development as reasons their Principals are “excellent”.

This is heartening as teacher collaboration and PD are two important factors in increasing student achievement over time. We know that the through research of Professional Learning Communities, the more that teachers remain connected, the greater students benefit. 

Effective Principals account for 25% of a school’s impact on student performance gains while teachers account for 33%.

It’s difficult to quantify a building administrator’s role in school improvement. But much has been written about the importance of Principal continuity. In this infographic it is stated that:

High achieving schools are 50% more likely to have the same Principal for six or more years. This is 71% more likely in high poverty schools.

Of course, the purpose of the Queens University work is to highlight not only the influence a Principal can have but to bring more into the field (and into their education leadership program). They claim that:

There will be nearly 90,000 Principal job openings by 2020 – that’s a 10% projected demand growth over 10 years. There are nearly nine applicants for every opening.

 

While our colleges and universities keep on turning out plenty of teachers, clearly more than our state can support, (especially in the elementary world), it is difficult to find qualified administrators from our pool of veteran teachers. As I consider a world without Bill Carozza as Principal in my school, nothing would please me more than to leave the building leadership in the hands of a Harold Martin colleague upon my departure. While I would never claim I work more hours than my teachers – check our parking lot on the weekends – it is a more scattered position with a crazy “variety” of tasks and responsibilities. Admittedly, the skill set is different than a classroom teacher’s but there are still an adequate supply of qualified candidates out there. It’s a matter of convincing educators that this is a viable and valuable job and perhaps…an adventure.