Friday, December 31, 2010

In case you missed… my 5 favorite blog posts that didn’t make my yearly top 10

Earlier, I posted my top 10 articles of 2010 based on the number of page views each post received.  That list included a few of my personal favorites, but there were a few others that I felt were among my best efforts that did not make the list.

Here, I present my top 5 blog posts of 2010 that may have slipped by the reading audience.

  1. Global Competition, Results Based Evaluation, and Building a Culture of Civility in Schools: A Catch-22 for Educators
  2. Educational Reform Thoughts: An Independent Model for Public Schools?
  3. Maximizing the Potential Benefits and Sustainability of Good Ideas
  4. Does Your School’s Mission and Ethos Line Up?
  5. “Kicking and Screaming” – In Which Direction Do Your Students Go?

 

     

My 10 Educational “ins and outs” for 2011

Below are my 10 “ins and outs” for education in 2011.  These are based purely on my observations during 2010.  I also sought advice from the magic 8-ball, so the entertainment value in putting this together was certainly a significant factor in deciding to write this post.

Feel free to comment with your own “ins and outs.”

The Art of Education’s 10 Educational “Ins and Outs” for 2011

 

OUT

IN

10.

Power Point Presentations

Prezis

9.

.doc, .docx

Google docs

8.

“checking in”

logging on

7.

visiting websites

creating websites

6.

tri-fold exhibits

Glogs

5.

Multiple notebooks

Evernote

4.

“open your books…”

“get your e-reader…”

3.

in-class quizzes

on-line quizzes

2.

teacher reviewed drafts

peer reviewed drafts

1.

Defining standards

Defining excellence

Blogging and Social Networking Goals for 2011

When I look back on 2010, I am reminded that it was the year that I decided to jump into social networking and blogging.  This blog, The Art of Education, launched in July, 2010.  Between September and October, I created my professional Facebook page and also opened a Twitter account.  My expectations for each of these mediums were limited to hoping that someone out there finds a few things that I have to say helpful and interesting enough to revisit and recommend to others.

Now that 2010 is closing and I am staring at my first full year as a blogger, booker, and tweeter, I am both humbled and energized by the responses to my attempts to help.  Here are a few items that give me assurance that my time is being well spent.

  • The Art of Education, in 6 short months, has been visited by readers in 17 countries and 5 continents.  Page views are approaching 1,500 for just over 100 posts.
  • Facebook ‘likes’ are hovering around 50.
  • Twitter followers are around 40.
  • #edleaders Twitter chat sessions have begun and have just started to gain a small following.

With these in mind, what goals do I have for The Art of Education, etc. for 2011?  Keeping my own advice about goal setting in mind, here are a few:

  • Write no less than 150 blog posts this year.
  • Perform at least one informal research project about which I can report in The Art of Education.
  • Seek at least three total opportunities to do any of the following: be a guest blogger on another site, submit offer to lead a session(s) at an educational conference, perform a professional development service at a school other than the one which I am employed.
  • Increase my Facebook ‘likes’ to no less than 100.
  • Attract no less than 60 additional Twitter followers.
  • Develop the #edleaders Twitter chat into a more engaging and stimulating experience with multiple #edleaders followers.
  • Encourage and mentor no less than 6 “un-networked” colleagues open a Twitter account and/or begin blogging.

Thank you all for a great 2010, and what is sure to be a wonderful 2011.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Interview with the Pre-K student

Recently, I had an occasion to talk to a 5 year old Pre-Kindergarten student about her first year in school.  Below are some highlights from that conversation (her words).  While these may not offer any great insight into school, I always find it insightful to stop and hear what students have to say.  This is especially true of younger students who are just beginning their school journey.

If we are paying attention to them, we may discover a hidden gem among their words.

  • “My favorite thing to do in school is make paper flowers because I like to make paper flowers.”
  • “I would like to teach ballet because I took ballet and liked it.”
  • “On the first day of school I was a little bit grumpy because I didn't know my friends yet.”
  • “I have a lot of friends now.”
  • “When I grow up I want to go to college then be a cowgirl.”
  • “Pre-K is very close to kindergarten.”
  • (Whispering in my ear so that no one else could hear) “I have a secret – I like after-school care.  It’s awesome.”
  • “My favorite activity is having big kids play in the gym with us during PE.”
  • “I love computer class because I get to use computers.”

What nuggets of wisdom can we gather from the opinions of a 5 year old student?  I noticed that almost all of her “likes” were based on things she was allowed to do.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Value of Clearly Communicating Expectations

Frequent readers of this blog may notice that I have referenced some New Orleans items in recent posts.  The reason for this is that I have been spending my annual holiday vacation with family in the “Big Easy.”  I look forward to these days each year for many reason, but among the best reasons is an annual visit with a few former colleagues whom I have stayed in touch with over the years.

Our conversations often go back on schools and education.  It is always an interesting topic because we are all facing much different circumstances and cultures in our various schools, and it is good to hear such a diverse opinion on a number of items.

Of course, because we are so comfortable with each other, there is some venting of general frustrations, but for the most part, it is obvious that we all have one common element among us.

We are all committed educators who care deeply for our students.

This year, though, I heard a statement in the course of our conversation about which I am compelled to write.  It occurred during a portion of the discourse in which we all were sharing our opinions on the general “health” of schools we have worked.  During that time, one of my friends mentioned that there were only two schools (he has worked at 4 different schools in 20+ years), that he believed were the most “healthy” and the common element between the two was that each of them clearly communicated to him what their expectations were for his classes.  The other two, according to him, assumed he knew what the institutional expectations were.  Ultimately, this institutional assumption led him to a greater sense of dissatisfaction.

I was not completely stunned by this statement.  After all, one of the leadership qualities I present as an option in the recent poll question I posed was:

HOLDS HIGH PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS: “behavior that demonstrates expectations for excellence, quality, and high performance on the part of the school leadership team.”

In schools, there are any number of expectations we have of our students, faculty, administration, parents, etc.  Often when one or more of these pieces are not operating at expected levels, it may be due to poorly communicated expectations or, in some cases, a total lack of communication based on assumptions.  I frequently remind teachers, and myself, to review how we communicate our expectations to the students and their families.  As school leaders, the same reflection is necessary in helping teachers achieve job satisfaction and professional growth.

Monday, December 27, 2010

What could you do with an extra $10,000 +/student?

Let me start by saying that I think that any program designed to help promote the scholastic development of struggling school systems is a noble cause and one that deserves prudently evaluated based on its intended goals and mission.  As I am not in any way involved in the operation of the program described in Times-Picayune article, Advanced Placement classes fail to take hold at two New Orleans high schools, I cannot speak of the daily operation and management of the program.  On the other hand, I am compelled to respond based on the information presented in this article.

I encourage you to read the entire article, but here are a few highlights:

“AdvanceNOLA began administering AP classes in spring 2009 with a $1.6 million grant from the ExxonMobil Foundation.”

“In part because many high schools are just starting to implement college preparatory curriculums, passing rates have been extremely low…”

“Of 158 students enrolled in AdvanceNOLA classes last year, only three passed an AP exam.”

“…passing is not the only or even the primary goal of the program, proponents say. AdvanceNOLA students receive extra tutoring and tours of the Tulane University campus. They are treated to Saturday restaurant dinners and are chauffeured to the AP exam in limousines.”

“Students receive $300 from the program for getting a score of at least 3 out of 5 on an exam -- the minimum needed to receive college credit -- and teachers also receive $300 for each student who passes.”

A few thoughts:

  • I am completely sure how much it costs to implement AP courses.  I know it involves teacher training, curriculum development, etc.  $1.6 million divided by 158 students = $10,126.58 per student.  That is ALOT of money for a program that only passed 1.9% of its participants.
  • College prep curriculums involve much more than introducing AP courses.  These results will only improve as system wide improvements are made, and these results will only gradually improve.
  • I wonder how many graduates actually end up attending Tulane – which could be a benefit of the featured campus visits.
  • Saturday dinners in New Orleans can be a little pricey (I know this from having lived there for years).  Limousine rides are always expensive.  I’m not sure I see any connection between the two and improving student outcomes.  If the goal is to improve morale, then why mask the intentions with the AP/college prep front?
  • The financial incentive obviously has not made much of an impact on scores.

Plenty of money and, I’m sure, some very good intentions are at work here, but I wonder if more value could be found with an additional $1.6 million to improve schools?  Maybe not, but the results reported in this article suggest that the investment is not adding much value.

Another link to the entire article can be found below.

Advanced Placement classes fail to take hold at two New Orleans high schools | NOLA.com

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Brief Leadership video clip from CNN

Brief video clip about leadership - having and sharing a vision, set attainable goals, empower others, care for and take care of your team...

I missed the episode, but hope to catch it on a replay.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Survey of School Leadership Qualities

Recently, I ran across a paper I wrote in the fall of 2006.  As part of that paper, I did an informal survey of various professional educators.  That survey asked the respondents to rank, in order of importance, a list of leadership qualities.

Here is a copy of the actual survey instrument I used for that paper:

SURVEY OF SCHOOL LEADERSHIP QUALITIES

Purpose: The purpose of this exercise is to determine which qualities of an educational leader are most important to teachers.

Directions: Below are descriptions of six qualities normally associated with educational leaders. Please rank each of these six qualities in order of importance to you. Do not put your name on your survey. The results will be reported as a group, not individually.

The six qualities described below are derived from a 1996 report by Jantzi and Leithwood.

  1. PROVIDES VISION (V): “behavior aimed at identifying new opportunities fro the school leadership team and developing, articulating, and inspiring others with his/her vision of the future.”
  1. MODELS BEHAVIOR (B): “behavior that sets an example for school leadership team members to follow consistent with the values the leader espouses.”
  1. FOSTERS COMMITMENT (C): “behavior aimed at promoting cooperation among school leadership team members and assisting them to work together toward common goals.
  1. PROVIDES INDIVIDUAL SUPPORT (IND): “behavior that indicates respect for school leadership team members and concern about their personal feelings and needs.”
  1. PROVIDES INTELLECTUAL STIMULATION (INT): “behavior that challenges school leadership team members to reexamine some of the assumptions about their work and rethink how it can be performed.”
  1. HOLDS HIGH PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS (E): “behavior that demonstrates expectations for excellence, quality, and high performance on the part of the school leadership team.”

Please indicate your order of importance below: PROVIDES VISION (V); MODELS BEHAVIOR (B); FOSTERS COMMITMENT (C); PROVIDES INDIVIDUAL SUPPORT (IND); PROVIDES INTELLECTUAL STIMULATION (INT); HOLDS HIGH PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS (E)

1.  __________

2.  __________

3.  __________

4.  __________

5.  __________

6.  __________

Demographic information:

Grade Level:  __________  Years in Education:  _________  Years at Current School:  __________

Here is a summary of the results of that survey from 2006.

  • Thirty-eight educational professionals completed the survey.
  • Their range of experience in education ran from one to thirty-eight years.
  • According to the results, the most important quality for leaders is holding high performance expectations. This quality was ranked most important ten times. It was followed by providing intellectual stimulation (9), providing vision (7), fostering commitment (5), modeling behavior (4), and providing individual support (3).
  • If the data is examined using years of educational experience, a different factor emerges as the most important. When we look at the average number of years of education experience associated with factors ranked most important, we see that modeling behavior is most important to the group with the most years in education. This factor was ranked number one with an average of 21.5 years in education. It was followed by providing vision (19.43 years), providing intellectual stimulation (16.22 years), holding high performance expectations (13.8 years), providing individual support (12 years), and fostering commitment (9.8 years). This suggests that the more experience an educator has, the more he or she values modeling behavior above the other factors
  • The data can further be broken down into “blocks” of educational experience. By doing so, the survey reveals that years of experience change the quality seen as most important in that leadership. Educators with one to five years of experience chose holding high performance expectations in three out of the nine total responses. Providing vision was not ranked most important in any of those surveys.
  • With six to ten years of experience, educators again chose high performance expectations as most important. This factor accounted for four out of ten possible responses.
  • Providing individual support was chosen as the most important quality for educators with eleven to fifteen years of experience. There were only four surveys that fell into this category, but this quality was ranked most important two out of those four times. In the four surveys from educators with sixteen to twenty years of experience, providing intellectual stimulation was chosen the most important quality all four times.
  • Four surveys were from educators with twenty-one to twenty-five years of experience. Of those four, two indicated providing vision as the most important quality in educational leaders.
  • With twenty-six years and more of experience, the factors receiving most important rankings here were modeling behavior, providing vision, providing intellectual stimulation, and holding high performance expectations.

It can be argued that more experienced educators have developed a well-balanced set of expectations for positive leadership and have even experienced first hand what quality is most important in educational leadership. Because of these issues, the more experienced educators would naturally have the most diverse idea about leadership qualities. It can also suggest that more experienced educators understand implementing a variety of leadership qualities will ensure the attention of the widest range of constituents.

As a follow up on that paper, I have placed a similar poll question on The Art of Education (see right hand side of the blog).  The poll closes January 1, 2011.  I am interested in which quality is voted most important.

Reference

Jantzi, D., and Leithwood, K. (1996) Toward an explanation of variation in teachers’ perceptions of transformational school leadership Educational Administration Quarterly, 32(4), 512-538.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Reaction to Reader Poll: What measures should be taken to improve public education?

Poll: What measures should be taken to improve public education?

While I am visiting family in New Orleans over the holidays, I saw this article from December 14th. The brief article in cluded an online poll for readers to answer the question about improving public education?

One thing that popped out right away was the distinction of "public education." I work in private schools and I was raised in New Orleans. It is safe to say that the perception and reality in that area is that there is a large achievement gap between public and private education. Given that information, the suggestions readers could choose from would not necessarily be based on what is done in private schools in New Orleans that work, but rather a list of national agenda items from which to pick.

If you click on the link to the article, you can see the poll results. The suggestion with the most votes was "Get parents more involved" followed by "Pay teachers more" and "Tie teachers' pay raises to student performance."

In an earlier post, I made the case for an independent model for reform. It would shock me to find out that the New Orleans newspaper, The Times-Picayune, is not aware of the gap in student acheivement in its own city. I also wonder if a more appropriate poll, one including suggestions that have a history of student achievement, would be helpful.

Supervision of Instruction: A Few Thoughts

In many schools, the return to school in January signals the beginning of the “formal” class visits that ultimately become part of a teacher’s summative assessment.  It is also the time in which many administrators perform the “formative” observations based on goals set earlier in the year.

As such, I thought some reflection on the nature of instructional supervision would be appropriate.  I have included my own thoughts below. 

Instructional supervision is a process through which the instruction is reviewed and refined in order to define and implement the most effective instructional strategies. Therefore, the purpose of supervision is to prompt teachers to seek out new methods while sharpening their current skills. Teachers are willing to do this when the supervisor actively promotes a supportive and caring relationship with teachers. Recognizing that there are many factors influencing teacher performance, the supervisor will listen, encourage, and ask questions. Teachers are ultimately responsible for strategies they employ. The supervisor acts as a resource for the teacher while constantly seeking to create an atmosphere of mutual understanding, trust, and security.

A good instructional leader is among a school’s most valuable assets.  Developing and promoting an atmosphere of true professional development is essential to the continued growth of your programs.  With the introduction of digital tools, the role of the instructional leader should adapt to the changing nature of instruction in a more constructivist and collaborative environment.

How does your school lead instruction today and how has it changed in the past few years?  Has it changed at all?  What role can technology play in helping male the supervision of instruction more effective and efficient?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blackboards and TV’s: “Inappropriate” or “Ineffective”

A few years back, my family and I were living in a house that had a built-in entertainment center area in the living room.  In the middle of this built-in, was a space large enough for about a 40+ inch television set.  At the time, we had not decided to buy a new set and were still using our older 27-inch tube TV.

One day we were watching a football game with my brother-in-law who announced that watching such a set in the space provided was “inappropriate.”  Now, I must confess that I was happy to hear his comment because I had been hoping to replace the set with a newer one, but I thought his choice of words was strangely effective.  The set did appear “inappropriate.”  It worked fine.  The game was clearly watchable.  Everything about the set was issue-free, except that it looked “inappropriate” given the space and technology available. 

It was “inappropriate”, not “ineffective.”

The feelings I had that day faded.  I eventually got a newer, larger LCD TV.  Not until recently have I had such a response to something I saw.  Again, the response being “inappropriate”, not “ineffective.”

I got it while making the rounds in my building and saw one of our teachers using the blackboard in his room to teach a lesson.  Now, I am not advocating that he needed an interactive board or using his laptop/LCD projector, what I am saying is that the feeling was simply a feeling of “inappropriateness” based on the resources at our disposal and the technologies available.

As I prepare to move into 2011, I am wondering if the “inappropriateness” should overcome the “effectiveness” (yes, he is a VERY effective teacher)?

Looking for High-Involvement Schools

A recent blog post by Rob Jacobs concerning high-involvement organizations describes such organizations as offering:

  • Challenging and enriched jobs
  • A say in the management of their own tasks
  • A commitment to low turnover and few layoffs
  • A relatively egalitarian workplace, with few class distinctions between managers and workers and relatively small ratios between the salaries of the CEO and the average worker
  • Jobs organized in self-managing teams
  • A strong sense that every employee is a member of a supportive community
  • Extensive, ongoing training and education to all
  • Salaries rather than hourly wages
  • Employee participation in company stock ownership and a high share in company profits (from James O’ Toole’s essay titled “Free To Choose: How American Managers Can Create Globally Competitive Workplaces”  in the book The Organization Of The Future)

The post also includes descriptions of 2 other organization models (low-cost companies and global-competitor companies).  In the end, Jacobs asks whether education has any alternatives to these models and whether educational leaders can support and explore such alternatives.

In my school, high-involvement is not only the norm, but expected.  As an independent school, we rely on the innovative work of all our community members to further our mission and provide the best possible educational experience.  Reflecting on the bullet points above, I find myself finding many of them being supported by our current school structure and culture. 

One glaring difference is with the last point concerning company profits.  Our school is a 503b non-profit institution.  Therefore, stock ownership and company profits are not a piece of our business model.  However, if we consider the results of our labors (college placements, satisfaction levels, test scores, and other measurable outcomes) as our “profits”, I would certainly agree that there is a great deal of employee participation and we take pride in sharing and celebrating our accomplishments among all faculty and staff members.

It is sometime difficult to apply a purely business article to a school setting.  Therefore, maybe we need to define the “high-involvement school” and apply that to our discussion.  Any possible alternatives will likely emerge out of that discussion instead of one that is purely related to the for-profit business world.

Consider this list based on the one above:

High-involvement schools…

  • offer challenging and enriching courses.
  • provide faculty, students, and families a voice in the leadership and management of the school.
  • are committed to low student and faculty attrition.
  • support a culture in which all employees are appreciated.
  • nurture the work of divisional, departmental, and ad hoc teams designed to advance the mission of the school.
  • are committed to genuine professional development.
  • demonstrate individual care and concern for all school members and work to align the individual needs of these people to the overall goals and mission of the school.
  • provide a competitive salary and benefits package designed to attract outstanding professionals and maintain the “leadership density” often gained by employing such professionals.

A link to Mr. Jacob’s blog post is included here:  Education Innovation: High-Involvement Organizations

Monday, December 20, 2010

Using Wordle to check your writing

I began using Wordle in class as a means to have students practice recognizing central themes and important ideas in their reading. I have since used Wordle to help students examine their own writing to see if the main points they tell me their work is about actually shows up in the language they use in their writing.

In my own blogging, I thought it would be good to apply a Wordle check. Below is the result of that check.

Wordle: The Art of Education 12/20/2010

I am happy to see "school", "students", and "leaders" appear as major themes.

What would your writing's Wordle look like?

Constructivist and Traditional Classrooms: How does technology fit in?

Many of us were taught (at least in elementary and secondary school) in a traditional classroom.  In some college and in most graduate level classes, I was taught in a more constructivist classroom.  With the advances in technology in education, it appears that the constructivist classroom is becoming more normative in the earlier school years.

This is not to say that a traditional approach is not beneficial to some students.  What I think is happening is that the growing acceptance of the social nature of education is making a strong case for renewed professional development in the differences between constructivist and traditional classrooms.

I am a firm believer in working from your strengths while addressing your professional challenges.  In terms of whether or not your class is constructivist or traditional (or a hybrid), I have found the following checklist useful in helping to make that determination.

I would also point out that technology is not expressly mentioned in this checklist, but I wonder where it may fit into each side of the chart.

Your thoughts about the chart and the issue of technology’s influence on it are welcomed.

CONSTRUCTIVIST CLASSROOMS

TRADITIONAL CLASSROOMS

  • Curriculum is presented whole to part with emphasis on big concepts.
   
  • Curriculum is presented part to whole with emphasis on basic skills.
  • Pursuit of student questions is highly valued.
   
  • Strict adherence to fixed curriculum is highly valued.
  • Curricular activities rely heavily on primary sources of data and manipulative materials.
   
  • Curricular activities rely heavily on textbooks and workbooks.
  • Students are viewed as thinkers with emerging theories about the world.
   
  • Students are viewed as “blank slates” onto which information is etched by the teacher.
  • Teachers generally behave in an interactive manner, mediating the environment for students.
   
  • Teachers generally behave in a didactic manner, disseminating information to students.
  • Teachers seek the students’ points of view in order to understand students’ present conceptions for use in subsequent lessons.
   
  • Teachers seek the correct answer to validate student learning.
  • Assessment of student learning is interwoven with teaching and occurs through teacher observations of students at work and through student exhibitions and portfolios.
   
  • Assessment of student learning is viewed as separate from teaching and occurs almost entirely through testing.
  • Students primarily work in groups.
   
  • Students primarily work alone.

Leadership as an Organizational Quality: Points for Reflection

The following reflection points are taken from:

Leadership as an Organizational Quality – by Rodney T. Ogawa and Steven T. Bossert

 

  • “Leadership flows through the networks of roles that comprise organizations.”
  • “The medium by which leadership is exerted is social interaction.”
  • “Thus the currency on which leadership is based lies in the resources possessed by individuals.”
  • “Administrators are instrumental in adopting structures to mirror cultural rules in the environment.”

 

Schools are complex organizations.  As such, school leaders play a vital role in establishing the ethos of the school as an organization.  Highly effective school leaders are able to make sense of the complexity presented by the school’s organizational factors.

Often school leaders are concerned with individual needs and work to align those needs with the goals of the school as a whole.  In order to do so, leaders must appreciate and act on the highly social nature of their positions.

What are your thoughts on the points offered above?

Viewing Schools Through the Structural Frame

As educators, we are always learning about how to improve our classes, divisions, and schools.  One question that should be asked in almost any reflection about our classes, divisions, or schools is:

“Is the structure that I have established conducive to what I am trying to achieve?”

In order to answer this question, one must view the class, division, school, etc. through a structural frame or lense.  Bolman and Deal (2002) state that “most educators rely primarily on the human resource or structural lenses” (p. 4), but what is this structural lense and what does it offer in terms of the decisions I make about my school?

Background on the Structural Frame

Bolman and Deal (2003) provide two main intellectual roots for the structural frame. The first is the maximum efficiency work most prominently explored by Frederick Taylor (1911) using scientific management. The second root stems from the work describing bureaucracies by Max Weber (1922).

According to Bolman and Deal (2003), “…the structural perspective champions a pattern of well-thought out roles and relationships” (p. 45). Six core assumptions provide the basis for the structural frame (Bolman & Deal, 2003):

  1. Organizations exist to achieve established goals and objectives.
  2. Organizations increase efficiency and enhance performance through specialization and a clear division of labor.
  3. Appropriate forms of coordination and control ensure that diverse efforts of individuals and units mesh.
  4. Organizations work best when rationality prevails over personal preferences and extraneous pressures.
  5. Structures must be designed to fit an organization’s circumstances (including its goals, technology, workforce, and environment).
  6. Problems and performance gaps arise from structural deficiencies and can be remedied through analysis and restructuring. (p. 45)

By defining organizational goals, dividing people into specific roles, and developing policies, rules, and a chain of command; the structural frame can be traced to both the classical organizational theory with some influence from the organizational behavior perspective (Bolman & Deal, 1984). Durocher (1996) added that the structural frame depends on a belief that organizations operate rationally, with certainty, and predictably once the right structure in employed. Durocher (1996) also states that such predictability and rationality applies to the behavior of individuals in the organization. Bolman and Deal (2003) further described the structural leader as a sort of social architect whose basic challenge was to “attune structure to task, technology, environment” (p. 16).

Leaders Using the Structural Frame

Among structural leaders, there are some characteristics (Bolman & Deal, 2003):

  • Structural leaders do their homework.
  • Structural leaders rethink the relationship of structure, strategy, and environment.
  • Structural leaders focus on implementation.
  • Effective structural leaders experiment, evaluate, and adapt. (pp. 352-353)

Therefore, when you examine your school environment and reflect on how to address the often uncertain dynamics of how to continue to apply your best efforts, how much are you viewing your situation through the structural frame?  Though not the only frame from which to view your school, the structural frame is certainly among the most used frames by effective educators.

References

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (1984). Modern approaches to understanding and managing organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2002). Reframing the path to school leadership: A guide for teachers and principals. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2003). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership. (3rd ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Durocher, E. A. (1996). Leadership orientations of school administrators: A survey of nationally recognized school leaders. Dissertations Abstracts International, 57(02), 525A. (UMI No. 9620148)

Taylor, F. W. (1911). The principles of scientific management. New York: Norton.

Weber, M. (1922). Bureaucracy. In H. Gerth & C. W. Mills (Eds.), Max Weber: Essays in sociology. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reflections on a Life of Learning

This past summer, I completed the requirements for my doctoral degree in educational leadership from the University of New Orleans.  August graduates do not have a commencement ceremony, so I decided to accept the university’s invitation for August graduates to take part in the December ceremony.  The ceremony was held this past Friday.

Reflection has become such an integral part of my professional and personal life, that I have had a difficult time limiting my reflections on the events of this past Friday and what they mean to me.

  • Best advice from a non-faculty member“One day, you will be 40 years old.  Do you want to be 40 with a Ph.D. or without?  Either way, it’s up to you and I will support you no matter what you decide.”  My wife in a conversation about whether or not I should enter the program after I found out I was accepted (2003).
  • Best advice from a faculty member not on my doctoral committee: “You’re not writing your Magnum Opus.  You’re simply adding one more pebble to the already understood body of knowledge.”
  • Best advice from a faculty member on my doctoral committee: “Make sure you get your business cards updated.  Congratulations, Dr. Roddy!”
  • From start to finish, it took me about 6 years to complete my doctoral studies.  This includes obtaining a Master’s in Educational Administration, Hurricane Katrina, and two major moves for my family along the way.
  • Be selective about whom you ask to proof read your dissertation or thesis.
  • I found it ironic that at a ceremony to recognize individual achievements, I was wearing a mortarboard academic cap inside which, “One size fits all” was written.
  • The pre-ceremony reception for doctoral candidates and their major professors held in a VIP room at the arena (where the ceremony was held) was a very nice touch.
  • Even though my “formal learning” as a student in a school setting is likely over, I feel that I am now in my best position to be a learner.
  • I now ask different questions.
  • I am now more critical of what I read about “studies.”
  • When surveying faculty, students, parents, etc. comes up in leadership team meetings, I find myself questioning the validity and reliability of the proposed instruments.
  • Active research and pilot testing ideas in school are now topics I talk about often with teachers and administrators.
  • Defending my work via Skype was cool (and much less stressful).
  • I used to write for the benefit of others (teachers, students, etc.).  Now, I write for me as well.
  • I miss the longer sleeves on the Master’s academic gown.  Where do I hide my book, cell phone, and ceremony program now?
  • Any feeling that I am obligated to teach others and to pass along to another generation what I have learned has been infinitely magnified.  The journey I have made has led me to a philosophical belief that my responsibilities as a teacher go much deeper than the professional.  My obligation to teach is also ethical and moral.
  • An education is priceless.  The value of good teachers is immeasurable.

I welcome any readers to share their own reflections of a life of learning here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Revisiting Yearly Goals During the Holidays

The holiday break is rapidly approaching.  How will you use this time away from your students and school?

One suggestion: review your yearly goals and prepare for the second half.

Earlier this year, I blogged advice for setting goals.  In that post, I offered a three-part test to help with goal setting:

  1. Is the goal appropriate (in other words, is it ambitious enough to be considered an actual achievement)?
  2. Is the goal realistic (is it something you can honestly achieve if you follow an appropriate plan of action)?
  3. Is the goal flexible (can you adjust the goal to account for early achievements)?

When you review your goals, re-apply these three items and make any necessary adjustments.  When re-viewing, I have found a reverse application of the three above questions to be most effective.  For example:

  1. Have you achieved your goal(s) already?  If so, can you add a layer to the original goal?
  2. If you have not achieved your goal(s), have you made noticeable progress towards achieving it?  Are you on track for completion?  Is your plan of action still appropriate?
  3. Finally, if your goal(s) are well behind schedule or if you haven’t seen much progress at all, is the goal(s) still relevant?  Can adjustments be made to account for some progress or have you realized, in hindsight, that these goals are currently unrealistic?

Remember, appropriate goal setting and achievement is a large part of satisfaction and motivation.  You have the ability to chart this course.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Great Teachers Series: Booker T. Washington

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As part of my series on notable educators, today I highlight Booker T. Washington.  Born a slave, Washington became the “foremost black educator of the 19th and early 20th century.”

Among his many accomplishments were founding the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and acting as an advisor to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

As always, your comments are appreciated.  Please feel free to send any suggestions for future educators to highlight in this series.

“Kicking and Screaming” – In Which Direction Do Your Students Go?

As teachers and leaders, we have a great deal of influence over the environment we create in the classroom.  As an example, I recently had a conversation with a parent who passionately described her son’s math teacher as being so determined to make sure the students learned math that she “pulled some students kicking and screaming to an understanding of the material.”

I wasn’t sure how I should interpret that description.  The image of students being dragged to an appreciation and understanding of the course was not necessarily pleasant at first, but upon reflection I am not sure “kicking and screaming” to an appreciation and understanding of a course is such a bad direction to guide the “kicking and screaming.”

Let’s look at a couple of alternatives.

  • Students “kicking and screaming” in an attempt to get away from the class
  • Students “kicking and screaming” to stay home from school

Students come to us with varying levels of motivation.  Some students are quite easy with which to work.  These students are naturally curious, eager to explore new topics, and willing to accept guidance from teachers.  Some students are not.  Some students need coaxing.  For students on this side of the equation, gentle nudging is effective.  For others, it may take a determined stand by the teacher to not give up and be willing to, from time to time, be unrelenting in their quest to educate every child.

As educational leaders, we should recognize and value those teachers who will not give up.  If we do, we may end up “kicking” ourselves.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

An Educator’s Notes on Communication: More Strategies for Success

I have found that effective communication, both verbal and non-verbal, is a consistent quality among good teachers.  While this may seem obvious, it is one of the most difficult topics about which I talk to teachers.

In all honesty, I am not a communications expert.  I do, however, need to effectively communication with a variety of audiences (teachers, other administrators, students, parents, etc.).  Therefore, I have a few principles of communication that have served me well and I believe would be helpful for anyone who is reflecting on their own communications.

Communication is a two-way relationship

Whenever we try to communicate with someone, we take the chance of revealing something about ourselves to the audience.  This can leave us vulnerable for both acceptance and rejection.  On the other hand, this investment can reveal something about the audience that we would not have known if not for our communication.  These lessons provide the context for future communication.

The burden of understanding the message is often placed on the communicator.

The audience is responsible for being attentive and asking questions, as needed, but whether or not the message is received normally falls on the person delivering the message.  Of course, you need to be engaging enough to hold the audiences attention, but you also need to be prepared to be an active listener.  Active listening can be hearing responses, clarifying what you are hearing , and directing your responses based on that clear understanding.  Active listening can also refer to paying attention to the non-verbal clues your audience is sending.  Responding to these signals can also help you make sure your message is being understood.

As communication takes on many forms in the digital world, an appropriate set of communications protocols may help eliminate communication “misfires.” 

These protocols outline your school’s expectations as they pertain to email, phone calls, face-to-face meetings, etc.  Without some agreed upon protocols, you run the risk of sending missed signals about you communications priorities.  Your audience is also left wondering what to expect when it comes to reaching out to you.

Here are a few examples:

  • Emails are responded to by the end of the next available work day.
  • CC and BCC recipients are not expected to respond to the message. Address the email in the “To” field for those who should respond.
  • If a question cannot be resolved within 2 or 3 emails, a phone call or meeting may be necessary.
  • An email (or phone call) to check in with a student who has been absent for an extended period of time is a good idea.
  • Phone calls are returned in the same time period as emails.

Defined Expectations + A Spirit of Partnership = Effective and Disciplined Communication

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Addressing Stress and a Responsibility of Leadership

I frequently say that one of the reasons many people do not accept the call to take on leadership roles more often is an unwillingness to accept the responsibilities that accompany leadership roles.  When I talk to people about why these responsibilities are such a roadblock, I am led to believe that the issues are normally not a lack of confidence or ability to perform at a high level and address these responsibilities effectively.  What I do find is a that more often than not potential leaders are turned away because they do not want the stress that comes along with these additional responsibilities.

From my own career, the ability to accept and manage the stress of leadership responsibilities was the biggest obstacle that I needed to overcome before I was able to make the decision to pursue a career path in administration.  Even today, I find one of the most challenging aspects of my work is to continue to function at a high level while under stress.

Each of us has our own set of strengths and talents as a leader.  I, as a student of leadership, will often call upon examples of past leaders to help me find strategies for getting through a particularly stressful time.  One piece of advice that has served me well (and other whom I have also shared this advice) is found in a quote by President Theodore  Roosevelt,

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

This “philosophy” has carried me through tough times and has provided comfort to many others with whom I have worked.  I find it powerful because it helps me focus on me, not the situation.  By focusing on me, I can separate myself for a moment from the situation and rely on what I have control over, my own efforts and decisions.

Effective school leaders are also great learners.  When I look back on stressful situations and reflect on my responses, I often learn more about my own strengths and limitations.  These are valuable lessons because the next “test” is just around the corner.

"Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learnt something from yesterday." – inscription on John Wayne’s headstone

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reflection Points for Transformational Leadership

The following post is taken from:

Cambron-McCabe, N. & Quantz, R. (2000) Guiding principles for preparing transformational educational leaders. As published in: Senge, P., Cambron-McCabe, N., Lucas, T., Smith, B., Dutton, J. & Kleiner, A. (2000). Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education. New York, Doubleday.

The following points are listed as guiding principles.  As suggested in the chapter (pg. 316 – 321), these principles should be examined based on the current reality of our schools.

The transformation of schools should be the central focus of the field of educational leadership.

The primary goal of public schools is to educate children to be citizens in a democracy.

School leadership is an intellectual, moral, and craft practice.

Educational practice must be informed by critical reflection.

Schools are sites of cultural politics.

Leadership should not be equated with positions in a bureaucracy.

Diversity is a necessary element of education.

A graduate program should be a “program,” not a series of disparate courses.

Faculty and students must make a commitment to community.

Education should be considered broader than schooling (p. 317-320).

Given the current realities of your school, is your leadership transformational?

Feedback is always welcomed.

Great Schools and Great Teachers: Student Opinions

Today, I decided to do some very informal qualitative research concerning student perceptions of schools and teachers.  In other words, I walked around and asked students to complete the following 2 sentences:

1.  Great schools …..

2.  Great teachers….

Here are the responses I received.

 

Great schools…

Great teachers

6th grade achieve goals interact with students
  build community answer tough questions
  succeed give clear answers
    listen
    help
    teach
     
7th grade understand teach
  teach listen to students
  learn answer
  educate help students learn
  help have fun
    allow creativity
     
8th grade make great students help students do well
  provide education understand students
  help students achieve long term goals do not rely on slides, they teach
  are safe havens for learning prepare students
  have excellent morale do not pick favorites
  achieve excellence allow for play
  prepare students allow snacks
    listen
    take advice

What would your students say when asked these questions?

Feel free to add comments with your own results.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Being Out in Front: How visible is your leadership?

One definition of leadership that I like is:

Leadership is saying, “Follow me!”  Not, “Go there!”

School administrators are not necessarily the only educational leaders in the school, but they are often the most visible.  Knowing that every time you leave your office to venture out into the school (which I hope is very often), how much attention do you give to the non-verbal signals people pick up on and what do those signals say about what you care about in your school?  For example, one thing I try to do as often as possible is carry the book I am reading in my pocket (if it is a paperback).  While it is rare that anyone asks about my book, I want students to see  that reading is important.  I am also sending a signal to others that at my school reading is valued.

Here are a few other suggestions.  Let’s start with the beginning of the day. 

  • During drop off time, are you outside welcoming your students and families? 
  • Are you in the hallways speaking to students? 
  • Are you visiting teachers and checking in with them to see how they are doing?
  • At lunch, do you eat in your office or do you eat with students? 
  • Is making time to be with the faculty and talking to children on your calendar?
  • Do you walk around during the day and talk to students about their work? 
  • Do you drop in to watch an interesting class?
  • At the end of the day, do you thank students and teachers for their efforts? 
  • Are you making it a priority to be out and visible during these transition times?

I understand that it is impossible to do all of these each day, but if you find yourself feeling out of touch with your students, families, or teachers, try finding some time to try a few of these items.

One Educator’s Social Networking Story or… “Jump in. The water’s fine.”

I am not afraid of technology.  Nor am I one of those holdouts who will only try something new if I can completely justify its value.  I enjoy new things as much as anyone, and I grew up with as many electronic toys, tools, etc. as anyone in my generation.  We had computers in college, but the internet was just getting popular (Rhodes College, class of ‘93).  I bought my first computer and got my first email address in ‘94.

However, I was somewhat skeptical about jumping into social networking, especially from a professional point of view.  I guess I was comfortable with my blogging, email, and internet searching.  Social networking seemed different from those items.  For me, trying Facebook and Twitter was the electronic equivalent of firing a BB gun for the first time.  I was intrigued by the prospect of entering a world filled with people who share my interests and talents, but also somewhat hesitant to share my ideas and thoughts.

What if I actually “shoot my eye out” when I try this social networking thing?   

As with the BB gun (I wanted to show my father that I was mature enough to handle such a device – no longer a “baby”), I eventually found some justification.  For me, I remember all my graduate courses, conferences, and speakers I have sat through over the years.  I remember thinking, “The one constant value in all those wonderful experiences has been the people I met, the conversations, and the ideas shared.”  I can capture that experience again, live it every day, and do it for next to no cost by using a few social networking sites.

I have now been tweeting a little over a month, and I have had both a personal and professional Facebook page for a little while.  I can say without hesitation that the sharing of experiences and ideas through these mediums has been the most exciting professional development I have explored in quite some time.

Now, I am trying to find ways to guide others to this same experience.

If you have stories or suggestions that have worked for you, feel free to share.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Leading a Change Environment in Schools

In his book, Leading in a Culture of Change, Michael Fullan offers an insight into the nature of change and an approach leaders can use to navigate the change process.  The basic approach is for leaders to act with enthusiasm, energy, and hope while keying in on 5 principles of leadership in a change environment.  These 5 components are:

Moral Purpose

Understanding Change

Relationship Building

Knowledge Creation and Sharing

Coherence Making

If leaders key in on these 5 components with energy, enthusiasm, and hope, then the predicted outcome is increased commitment (external and internal) which then results in more positive things happening.

In examining schools, we are always in a climate of change.  These changes may come in a variety of forms.  A few of them may be:

technology changes

faculty turnover

changing students

changing economy

changing standards

curriculum changes

When examining your school, how would you rate the “outcomes”?  More good than bad?

Which, if any, of the 5 components listed above are missing in currently educational reform leadership?

Reference

Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Reforming Education by Reforming Attitudes

When it come to motivation and generating more positive results, I have found that the saying, “success breeds success” is quite relevant.  The challenge to leaders whose teams are stuck in a cycle of negativity is often finding something to use as a positive foundation from which additional (and incremental) successes can be built.  In my experience, as positive momentum gathers steam, these smaller “successes” begin to add up to major changes.

I mention this because, once again, I read an article about how poorly American students are apparently doing in school.  As usual, my gut reaction was to wonder if the Education Secretary Arne Duncan realizes what just about every teacher I know understands – students are aware of these messages and they do nothing to motivate them to do better.  Also, if you’re trying to motivate teachers and schools to do better, then putting down on their students is probably not going to be very effective.

I do, however, have a proposal.

Let’s try to find something that we do very well in the United States and promote that with our students.

What do we do well?  I would say many things, but one I want to mention is that part of the American identity is our willingness to come to the aid of others in their time of need.  Not that we are perfect, but Americans have a strong record of being socially active and willing to get involved in charitable causes.

The same is true in our schools.  As a resident of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, I can say without hesitation, that the generosity of schools around the country was overwhelming and much appreciated (and continues to be appreciated).  As a nation, citizens have pledged over $1 billion for Haitian relief and our government leads all other countries in pledged help to that cause.

These are but a few examples of American generosity.  It may be true that our students, according to some testing measurements, are not the best in the world in math and science, but there are certainly a great many accomplishments of which our nation should be proud.  These are often the result of a level engagement that no other country in the world can match.

My message to our students:

Keep up the good work.  Your world needs you.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Notes about Independent School Effectiveness

The following post about independent school effectiveness is taken from

Roddy, T. (2010). Frame analysis of the self-perceived leadership orientations of headmasters of the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest, Southern Association of Independent Schools, and the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington member schools (Doctoral dissertation, University of New Orleans, 2010).

Making an impact is an important end in education (Fullan, 2001). As institutions of education, schools are charged with making impacts. These impacts are felt by the entire school community including: students, families, teachers, staff, and administration. Ultimately, the school leader is responsible for whether or not the school is indeed making an impact. This is not an easy task. The challenges presented in today’s schools are more frequent, more challenging, and more intense; thus they demand “a new level of excellence” from their leaders (Green, 2005).

Independent schools have a record of delivering excellence to both students and teachers. According to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) (2006), independent school students study core knowledge at advanced levels. The NAIS (2006) reported that 85% of students attending NAIS member schools study a foreign language before the eighth grade, compared to 24% of students overall. The NAIS (2006) also states that students at NAIS schools were more than twice as likely to complete algebra in eighth grade (70% of NAIS students, compared to 32% of all students polled who completed algebra after eighth grade). Similar findings were reported by the United States Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (2002):

Achievement tests in reading, mathematics, and science show higher average scores for private school students. In addition, private schools tend to require more years of core academic subjects for high school graduation than do public schools, with some variation across school types. Graduates of private high schools have on average completed more advanced courses than public school graduates in science, mathematics, and foreign language (p. 26).

Completing these courses early allows independent school students to take the most advanced courses during their final years of high school (NAIS, 2006). These more demanding academic requirements for independent school students appear to pay off after high school graduation.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2007) published by the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that “the college enrollment rate of recent high school graduates has been trending upward” (p. 1). This government report revealed that 65.8% of 2006 high school graduates were enrolled in college in October 2006 (United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2007). The statistics used for the report by the Department of Labor included graduates from all types of high schools (public, private, and independent) as well as enrollment figures from two and four year colleges and universities.

At first glance, an enrollment of 65.8% appears to indicate that school leaders from all types of schools are fairly successful, but further investigation reveals a much higher percentage of independent school graduates enrolled, especially in four year colleges. When public and independent schools are compared, not only do a much higher percentage of independent school students graduate from high school (99.3% compared to 88% in public school), but enrollment in four year colleges indicates independent schools appear to be more effective in helping students gain access to college (NAIS, 2006). Referencing the National Center for Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing Survey 1999-2000, the National Association of Independent Schools (2006) reports “93 percent of NAIS students went on to a four-year college, compared to 35 percent of all public high school students in 1999-2000” (p. 1). These findings support previous reports indicating that private school students are more likely than public school students to engage in post-secondary studies and/or graduate with a bachelor’s degree or higher (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2002).

Once independent school graduates begin college, they continue to excel among their peers. A number of indicators concerning grade expectation, attitudes towards continuing education, and relationships with college faculty suggest additional indicators of future success may be present. Using survey data from the Higher Education Research Institute’s Freshmen Survey, the NAIS (2005) notes that 67% of NAIS graduates expect to make a B average in college compared to 58% of all others, 86% of NAIS graduates plan to pursue a postgraduate degree compared to 74% of all others, 46% of NAIS graduates asked teachers’ advice after class compared to 25% of all others, and 52% of NAIS graduates were likely to have been a guest in a teacher’s home compared to 28% of all others (p. 3). These findings indicate that an independent school graduate is entering college with a skill set and outlook on their education that allows for the best possible chance at success while attending college.

In addition to enrollment statistics, college expectations, and attitudes towards teachers, graduation rates from four year colleges are overwhelmingly higher among independent school graduates. NAIS (2006) reports:

The “National Educational Longitudinal Study” showed that graduates of NAIS independent schools were nearly twice as likely as public school students to have completed a four-year degree or higher (76.3 percent of NAIS graduates and 38.1 percent of public school graduates). For students from the lowest socioeconomic bracket, the results were even more dramatic than for the group as a whole: Students in low socioeconomic brackets who attended private school in eighth grade were more than three times more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree or higher by their mid-20s as public school students from the same economic bracket (24 percent private school students and 7 percent public) (p. 1).

In conclusion

I have been an independent school administrator for a number of years now.  I have also studied with, worked with, and made strong friendships with plenty of educators who do not work in private or independent schools. 

In writing this article, I am not attempting to stir up a private vs. public school debate.  I am simply pointing out and recognizing the good work of those who have chosen to educate the students who attend these schools.

References

Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Green, R. L. (2005). Practicing the art of leadership: A problem-based approach to implementing the ISLLC standards. (2nd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

National Association of Independent Schools. (2005). Independent schools: Preparing students for achievement in college and beyond. Key findings from the Freshman Survey Trends Report. Washington, D.C.: National Association of Independent Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 493599)

National Association of Independent Schools. (2006). A statistical snapshot of NAIS member schools. Retrieved June 30, 2007, from http://www.nais.org/parents/index.cfm?ItemNumber=149198&sn.ItemNumber=149253&tn.ItemNumber=149663

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2002). Private Schools: A Brief Portrait. Washington, D.C.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Do Great Teachers Need Great Students?

Walt Whitman once said, “To have great poets, there must be great audiences.”

I was reminded of that quote today while reading the refrigerator magnets at a friend’s house, and I have been wondering since then if the same can or should be said of teachers.  The reason this issue has been weighing on my mind all day is because at first I thought the answer was simple:  Of course – if we measure teacher “greatness” by student “greatness” (which is often measured by test scores), then the best teachers will obviously teach the best students.

You may be thinking something like,

“Wait a moment, Dr. Roddy.  Teacher greatness can also be measured in other ways like student growth, motivation, collaboration, etc.” 

To which, I would respond,

“I agree, but let’s reverse the logic and see if it still stands up.  Let’s explore the idea that the students with the worst results are taught by the worst teachers.  Would you agree with that statement?  Probably not.”

So where does that leave us?  Do great teachers need great students?  In order to bring some structure to this answer, we need to discuss what a “great teacher” and a “great student” is.

The “Great Teacher”

Pop quiz, who can list all the teacher standards outlined by their district, system, association, etc.?  I know where to find them, but as far as knowing them well enough to use in this conversation I cannot.

No problem.  Can you describe a great teacher in terms of your own experience as a student and/or a teacher?  I predict that this question not only induces much less anxiety, but actually has the potential to bring a smile to your face.  This is especially possible when thinking back on one of your own “great” teachers.

If we shared our own answers, I also predict that we would share a number of consistent stories and descriptions – many of which would to have anything to do with grades at all.

Now let’s talk about the “great student.”

The “Great Student”

The vast majority of students I have taught have been very good students.  By that, I mean that they were organized, prompt, cared about their work, and made good grades.  Great students, for me, are thus extremely difficult to describe.  Part of this difficulty is based on the fact that I am very optimistic about student potential and have some internal programming that makes me feel somewhat unethical about subjectively categorizing students in that manner.  On the other hand, I can describe what I would consider an ideal student.

For me, the ideal student wants to learn for learning’s sake.  This desire can be accompanied by other motivators such as good grades, rewards, recognition, etc., but the one common denominator is a desire to learn because, to these students, learning and the learning process is enjoyable.

The ideal student asks good questions that not only dig further into the subject, but also inspire other questions – often asked by other students.  Ultimately, the level of discourse is elevated by the engagement of the ideal student.  The ideal student helps discover other ideal students.

Awhile back, I blogged “great teachers are defined by great teaching and great teaching is mostly visible in a classroom filled with engaged students.”  I still believe this to be true.  Just as I believe that teaching does not exist if there is no learning (and thus learning does not exist without some form of teaching), great teachers and great students have a symbiotic relationship.  If the “devil is in the details” then in this case, things get hotter when we try to define greatness in education.

I am far from an expert on Walt Whitman, but maybe the very act of caring about the “audience” enough to empower them to define the “greatness of the poet”, is possibly the very definition of “greatness” we seek for teachers.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Greatest Teachers Series: Socrates

Socrates was the Greek philosopher for whom the Socratic Method of teaching is named.  Though very influential, Socrates never wrote anything for us to reference.  Rather, we know much about Socrates through the writings of others such as Plato, Xenophon, and Aristophanes.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a good resource to learn more about Socrates. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Michael Fullan on Motion Leadership

Michael Fullan, well respected author on educational leadership, discusses Motion Leadership.

Michael Fullan talks about Motion Leadership from Corwin on Vimeo.

5 Ways Students Re-Energize Teachers

After reading a recent article by Andrew Marcinek concerning strategies for re-engaging students, I was reflecting on ways in which students help re-energize teachers.  Here are 5 ways in which I have found teachers to be re-energized by students (oh by the way, good grades is not on the list).

Students re-energize their teachers when they…

1.  Ask great questions

There may not be any bad questions, but a teacher who is paying attention can certainly identify when a student is asking a great one.  Sometimes, these questions are concerned with a higher order thinking skill, but they may also be questions that lead to additional questions.  Bonus points for drawing out additional questions from other students! 

2.  Respond to classmates without prompting

While this could be a result of #1, unprompted dialogue, between students, that fuels continued and constructive conversation is the educator’s equivalent to a chef perfecting a soufflĂ©.  A flash mob of discourse in class is a true sign that you are doing something right!  

3.  Suggest alternative activities

We all will find ourselves a little stale from time to time.  Fresh ideas, though plentiful on the internet, are often clouded by other factors of daily life.  When students come up with and suggest a fresh approach, it shows they care and are taking ownership of their learning.

4.  Seek additional time outside of class

One sign of collaboration is the time devoted to scholarly pursuit outside of the scheduled meetings.  Students seeking additional opportunities to talk about their course is always an answer to the question, “Do any of these students care at all about this class?”

5.  Say “Thank you”

Finally, I love it when students share their appreciation.  If given the choice between gifts during the holidays (how many World’s Greatest Teacher ties, ornaments, etc. can one person amass?), or a simple/sincere, “Thank you.”  I’ll take the,”Thank you.”

 

Thank you.  Feel free to comment with your own thoughts on how students re-energize teachers.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Strategies for Success: Join the Team

In just about every school I have worked or visited, I felt an obvious link between organizational health of the school and the sense of teamwork that existed among faculty, staff, and administration.  As a former athlete and coach, I wholeheartedly believe in establishing a team mentality.  Teams help create cohesion and shared purpose.  Teams also help share the burdens.  I had a coach in college that would tell us, “If everyone does a little, nobody has to do a lot.”  I find this true in schools, especially when we ask teachers to perform so many functions:  teach a full load of classes, be an advisor, coach, sponsor clubs, chaperone events, etc.

There are those, however, who do not appreciate their role as part of the team.  Typically, these are the ones who prefer to focus solely on THEIR classes and when asked or invited to take part in other aspects of school life, they either find a reason to be excused, find a way to be a non-factor in the activity, or simply refuse to accept their responsibilities as part of the team.

When a team is functioning at its highest level, their is an additional reserve of creativity, energy, and productivity that cannot be replicated by individual efforts.  In other words, the whole become greater than the sum of its parts.

Independent School Management, Inc. offers these laws of teamwork for boards of trustees, but I would say that these same items can be applied to the faculty, staff, and administration as well.  The list comes from John Maxwell’s “17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork.”

This is not to say that being a great classroom instructor is not or shouldn't be the primary responsibility of a teacher.  What this does mean is that the image of an extraordinary teacher goes beyond the classroom.  Great teachers’ presence is felt and their contributions to the school exceed their outstanding instruction.  These teachers share their passions an talents in multiple areas and, thus, inspire us all to excel.

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action | Video on TED.com

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action | Video on TED.com

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