Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Authentic Homework

What is it about the current status of homework that bothers people? Is it homework that is photocopied from a textbook provider that never moves beyond matching or true/false? Is it busy work such as word searches or crossword puzzles? The bottom line is homework in it's present state is a command and control experience for kids. It is uncommon that homework mirrors experiences that students will have later in adulthood.

I sit writing this after experiencing a maddening rush of homework with our 8th grade son. During the last 48 hours he created a movie poster for a short story that needed the name of the author, main characters, two critic quotes and multiple colors. The next assignment was multiple math problems from the online textbook. A third assignment was a photocopied matching and definition assignment. The fourth assignment was redoing an essay that had five green marks in pen from the teacher with a verbal recommendation to add details about the journal entry. The final assignment was a one page summary of an important Supreme Court case about the right to an attorney with a checklist for a five paragraph essay. Where in your adult life do you do things like this?

Overhauling our homework system is a topic receiving much attention. Asking teachers to abandon the current homework model is similar to the medical field abandoning charts and files. It takes time. If we tackle this situation with an approach Heidi Hayes-Jacobs calls remodeling we may make a difference and increase authentic homework. If we can create a system that supports current practitioners in their effort to remodel current homework to match what career-based work looks like we might just engage more kids in their own learning. It is time to stop running copier machines into the millions of copies per year and begin to embed life-based experiences into the work we ask all kids to do.

I live near and talk with career minded neighbors that skype, tweet, google and tiny chat to collaborate. They talk of working with a team to create and solve. They report to supervisors and managers that expect collaboration, communication and creativity at the highest level. It is apparent that this is a disconnect to the way we ask kids to play the school game. Can we change the game? What ideas do you have?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

College/Career Readiness Index

In a recent activity with our leadership team we started a process to identify college readiness indicators that help our system predict college and career readiness. Much of our work comes from the realization that we are sending our best on to the next phase in their life very well prepared but we are also sending a chunk of students off to the next phase without secure skills. It began with the development of our Core Competencies. We evolved that to grade level indicators and benchmarks that now include:
1. Reading at Advanced Levels in K-6 as measured by MAP and Fountas and Pinnell.
2. Read at Advanced Levels in 7-12 as measured by Wisconsin's WKCE test and the EXPLORE, PLAN, and ACT for reading.
3. Complete Advanced Math K-6 as measured by MAP and WKCE
4. Complete Advanced Math in 7-11 as measured by grades of "C" or higher in 8TH grade Algebra for all and Algebra 2 by 11TH grade.
5. AP score of 3 or better on at least one AP exam.
6. ACT composite score of 24 or higher.

Would love to have some feedback from folks regarding our College/Career Readiness Index. What do you agree with, propose adding or recommend changing?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Read or Get Left Behind

In a recent post from Manager Tools, a newsletter article described the dilemma facing professionals in all sectors. Finding the time to stay on top of the growing literature. Bottom line, "If you are not reading regularly, significantly, virtually every day for at least an hour, your development is lagging. Professionals interested in their own self-development read voraciously. Their posting was titled, "Read or Die"

The article goes on to recognize the busy pace executives and leaders live. We hear it regularly in our profession - I just don't have time. Get this: In 2008, the President of the United States read 40 books. Might he be busier than you?

So, what should we read as educational leaders? Sorting through the cornucopia of reading options can be overwhelming. Here is a quick list to guide your reading:

Education Week: This is the Wall Street Journal of our sector. If you are not reading it you are falling behind. It is research, journalism, and editorials from the front line of this great profession. Read it.

Business Leadership Genre: Review non-fiction bestseller lists such as New York Times Bestseller Lists and commit to one book a month. Don't forget some of the online options like Fast Company

Professional Books: Visit publishing sources like ASCD, Corwin Press or others for the latest literature impacting our profession.

Finally, set a goal of reading 25 books in the next 12 months while maintaining the pulse of Ed Week, Ed Leadership and one business journal. Track weekly progress in your PDA notes section or in a system that fits your learning style.

Read or die!

Our profession, the most influential in the world, needs to be well-informed and versed in research, pop culture and political winds. We can make a difference. Reading increases our tool box to be more successful with the precious commodity parents give us every day...our students!

In the words of Dick Vitale, "Read, baby, Read"

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Commitments to work by....

This post was inspired by one read through Twitter, my newly found PLN! Mrs. Ripp, aka 4thGrdTeach, posted a letter to herself about changes she would make in her classroom. Very inspiring! A curriculum guys take on it follows...

Dear me,
The changes in education continue to appear at a faster and faster pace. I commit to avoiding the blame game. Federal and state mandated tests are a fact of life and complaining about them is more like a rocking chair. It gives me something to do but gets me no where. Also, forget about building curriculum documents that everyone will abide by. The only way to cover our current curriculum documents is to sit on them. Pay attention to the day to day teaching and learning activities. This is where it all happens, in the classroom. Don't forget to get out of the office and collaborate with the teachers and principals that make schools work. Stay in touch with the true heroes in our profession! Finally, always remember it is about the kids. Filter every decision through the lense of what is right for kids.

Any ideas you wish to add?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Our Promise

We the people of the education system promise to make certain all children are successful in school. We understand that we are the only place in society where every child must attend. Church is optional, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts is not mandatory, playing youth sports is an option but not mandatory. School is mandatory for all. What is not mandatory is learning. We promise to shift from a culture of teaching to a culture of learning. We understand that this will be hard work but our kids deserve the best. Excellence without equity is a hallowed prize but so is equity with mediocrity. We promise to educate all kids regardless of the challenges each student faces in and out of school. We will view kids no longer as victims but as survivors and will deliver the type of educational quality that will help all kids flourish. We will need to shift from a mind stuffing to a mind building mentality. Sometimes our brightest kids in our schools are the ones we have lost because they don't want to just learn stuff. They are the creative minds that have gone stale. This is our promise - schools for all!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

School for All

A recent post by @gcouros about Emily reminded me of a time when serving as a High School Principal. We recently implemented an advisory program to help increase student achievement, create a sense of belonging and build community in a school experiencing significant demographic change. During that advisory it became evident that the school had not embraced diversity. Enter Meghan.

Meghan was a student with a visual impairment. A strong personality to say the least. In response to a Math assignment where students were to write a letter to the principal - me - Meghan penned a letter that changed me. Meghan wrote about her challenges in our hallways. Yes, I said Math assignment. The letter talked about the lack of signage to help her find rooms, students who were treating her poorly and a general sense of being disconnected. She talked in her letter about having her visual impairment cane being taken from her by students. The letter spoke so loudly we had it read by a student in every advisory. The beginning of change!

With one letter, Meghan changed our school. She brought awareness to the diversity in our school and the need to have Schools for All. The attitudes and perceptions of our school and greater community began to change. But Meghan was not done yet.

A year later Meghan and her mother approached us about having a service dog during the school day. She challenged our entire district to re-write policy and procedure to make schools for all a reality.

Over the years Meghan stayed in touch. She went on to the flagship university in Wisconsin and will most certainly change the world. Our schools are better places thanks to the Meghans and Emilys of the world.

Thanks Meghan!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Stop Doing List

Jim Collins writes extensively at his website about stop doing lists. After engaging in a recent conversation with folks who do not work in education something struck me. In Good to Great Jim Collins tells the story of how Darwin Smith, after becoming CEO of Kimberly Clark, started stop doing immediately.

Stepping back into the 1970's, Kimberly Clark was a paper product giant that had layers and layers of bureaucracy. The hierarchy was staggering. He began by stopping systems and processes that were not working. He created his stop doing list. Eventually this process would lead the the ultimate decision to sell the paper mills.

Translating that to the education sector made a lot of sense. 100 years old, bureaucracy, hierarchy, etc. What should we have on our stop doing list? Please share your ideas.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

21st Century Curriculum

Heidi Hayes Jacobs coined a phrase that resonated with me. In Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World she used the phrase "remodeling units". In countless conversations with our most qualified and effective teachers the idea of abandoning current practice for one that matches the 21st Century seems like such a daunting task. Jacobs proposes teachers approach it like remodeling a house. You typically don't gut the entire house but you move one room to another because you still need to live in the house.

In this beach read, Jacobs proposes remodeling the content, skills and assessment of school. She suggests curriculum teams need to review curriculum from seven tenets:
1. Global perspective
2. Local perspective
3. Whole child
4. Future career and work options
5. Real world practice
6. Use of technology and media
7. Developmental appropriateness

This can be done by asking guiding questions including:
1. Within the discipline being reviewed, what content choices are dated and non-essential?
2. What choices for topics, issues, themes, problems, and case studies are timely and necessary for our learners within disciplines?
Are the interdisciplinary content choices rich, natural and rigorous?

The book's conclusions include how schools need to understand that this is a time of great change. A number of disruptors including technology, global flatness and accessible information are influencing this time of change. Presently schools look more like museums and it is our responsibility as the curators to change that. The students entering our schools a very different than earlier generations but remodeling one unit at a time will make the change easier on all.

How we work with our good teachers on changing this framework will be critical to the success of this change. Help ing them understand the simpliciy and complexity of the change will only help on this journey. How are schools successfully introducing this message? Feel free to share the stories!

Monday, June 28, 2010

PLP's for Administrators

After following a few #edchats and listening to conversation at Cardinal Stritch's Summer Institute for Doctoral students it dawned on me that we have a potential disconnect from the early adopters of technology and the educational leaders who set the culture, direction and tone of learning organizations. As a technological novice, I was struck by the tone that I heard in the two communities. The users - those with technology moxy - wrote about anti-change responses from admins that control decisions. The admins spoke and wrote about the pace of change, security, safety, costs, professional development, and related concerns. How do we merge these two worlds?


In our conversation with technological savvy school leaders at the Summer Institute it became obvious that those who are on the cutting edge of technology are not all digital natives. To help spread the power of this personal learning plan what if every technologically savvy leader adopted three or four colleagues from near or far and helped them establish a blog, twitter account, wiki or google docs?

I was surprised by the rhetoric by some regarding the rational some concluded to admin reluctance on technology which included: "They don't want to change." "They don't do anything anyways." and other tough comments. My experience runs contrary to those conclusions. The folks I work, collaborate, and network with all are willing to try if they have the right support and understanding of the rewards.

So - go out and and pay it forward! Find a receptive colleague and welcome them to the power of social media for professional development!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pennies for Peace/Schools for All

At the Principal's Center through Cardinal Stritch we heard Dr. Jerene Mortenson present the Pennies for Peace story well documented in the best seller, Three Cups of Tea. This must read for educators documents one man's journey for peace in some of the most politically challenging places in the world - Pakistan and Afghanistan.

During the question and answer session some great questions about moral imperative popped up. Questions focused on what influenced Greg Mortenson, how he did what he did and what is next but the last one caught my attention. The final question really struck me. The audience member wanted to understand the moral dilemma presented by the success of the Pennies for Peace movement compared to the challenges our own country faces with educating all students.

Through fundraising efforts in American and across the world, Greg Mortenson has built 143 schools for 68,000 kids with 42 of them in Afganistan and 6 in Pakistan. This effort contributed to the dramatic explosion of school accessibility in these two countries - in particular the growth from 800,000 kids in school to over 9 million today. This is an incredible accomplishment!

How does that success lay over our own American Education issues - over 1 million dropouts, high unemployment rates in urban settings, etc.?

What changes need to occur to bring the same urgency to our own challenges in the American Education System?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

School Culture? Come on!

Kent Peterson recently spoke to a group of Cardinal Stritch conference attendees and doctoral students. He asked the question - how do people answer the "Where do you work/What do you do?" question? Does it sound like this?
"I work in non-profit."
"Doing what?'
"I work in education."
"Doing what?"
"I work in the K-12 area."
"Doing what?"
"I work as a teacher."
"I work in the Fill-in-the-blank District."
"At what school?"
Reluctantly, "At So and So School."

How can we fix this? In our never ending quest to manage by fact, should we listen to the research about how school culture effects everything that goes on in a school? Michael Fullan once said, "Effective leaders know that the hard work of reculturing is the sine qua non of progress." Great leaders in all sectors including business, education and health care all tend to the culture. To truly realize "Schools for All", formal and informal leaders might want to consider monitoring and influencing school culture.

1. Ask staff to collaborate on identifying three or four songs that best defines the culture. Is it "Take This Job and Shove It" or "We Are the Champions"?
2. Assess the messages you send when you are engaged in the hiring process.
3. Review your formal and informal induction or on-boarding process. Evaluate the messages your newest staff receive in their first few months in the new role.
4. What actions speak to the values of your leadership? Are you in classrooms? Are you collaborating with colleagues?

We are all cultural leaders. If we want to have schools for all we need to read the culture, assess the staff AND student culture, and transform the culture. Terry Deal and Kent Peterson have great ideas in their most recent 2009 publication.

Please consider adding your best idea on how to tend and transform school culture by posting a comment! Regardless of the sector, how do you ensure that negaholics are not empowered?

School Leadership

Read a recent post about how UPS, with something like 90,000 trucks world wide, made a decision to reduce and even eliminate left hand turns on the deliveries. Left turns are expensive. Waiting for traffic, rapid acceleration to avoid accidents and other left hand turn issues cost money. So after analyzing the costs, UPS leveraged routing software to reduce and eliminate left turns. So after careful attention to deployment UPS realized cost avoidance of approximately 10,000 trucks through the savings from avoiding left hand turns. How does that fit in education?

Consider the education sector and think about our left hand turns? What are they? How can we avoid them so as to put the resources in the areas of greatest leverage - our teachers. Would love to read your ideas!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Top 10 Books to Read about Change

Change is afoot in the education sector unlike any time in recent history. If you are looking for guidance here is a list of ten books I consider must reads for educational leaders engaged in change. Please post any ideas, reflections or observations if you have read any of the Top 10.

1. Good to Great - Jim Collins
2. Motion Leadership - Michael Fullan
3. Switch - Chip and Dan Heath
3. Six Secrets of Change - Michael Fullan
4. The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell
5. Running All the Red Lights - Terry Holliday and Brenda Clark
6. Leading Change - John Kotter
7. Fourth Way - Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley
8. Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell
9. Change Leadership - Tony Wagner
10. Curriculum 21 - Heidi Hayes Jacobs

Any others come to mind?

Managing by Fact

Just finished an introductory presentation from Robert Ewy on Process Management in Education. It struck many in our work team about how much we make decisions through gut or instinct in the education sector. Ewy's message is really about shifting toward managing by fact. Using a process management system from the Bladrige Criteria, it makes the case for using data, work flow charting, and PDSA in our sector. Examples include non-academic and academic. A good start to Leadership Week.