Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How Do You Treat the 'New Kid' at Your School?

Increasingly, as WSASCD provides professional development for teachers and administrators, student mobility and English Language Learners become topics of conversation.  With that in mind, I’ve chosen to focus my article on ways to ensure that new students are comfortable in our schools, enabling them to become engaged learners.  When a person is comfortable in a setting, students and adults alike, they are far more likely to engage. 

As a child born into a military family, I had the opportunity to be the ‘new kid’ at school a number of times, even attending three different high schools.  I will never forget the butterflies in the pit of my stomach every time I had to face a new classroom of students.  I was terrified!  That feeling is something I’ll never forget, and it became the impetus for me to provide a safe, welcoming, and caring environment for new students who came into my own classroom years later.  The challenge became even greater when I became an elementary principal, as I tried to help teachers understand that for many students, it is all they can do to muster up enough courage to go to a new school.  The last thing they need is to be told that we are not ready for them, so they have to wake up the next day and face that fear all over again. 

As a principal, when I talked with students who were moving from my school to a new school, their biggest worry was that they would not have any friends or that people would make fun of them.  The prospect of being friendless or getting teased is a concern for many students and can profoundly affect their sense of affiliation with school. Students, new to my school, would share the pain and anger they felt when they seemed invisible or not included. At the extreme, some students were not only treated with indifference but became targets of bullying.

Families that move frequently, do so for a wide variety of reasons – job changes and/or losses, homelessness, family issues, or military service.  Military children get new schools, new friends, and new homes on average about every three years, while the average American family moves once every five years. Most military children will attend six to nine different schools from grades K-12. According to the National Military Family Association, kids say that next to deployments, moving was the toughest thing about being a kid in a military family.

Research has shown that frequent school transitions can affect a child’s self-esteem and academic performance.  However, as a primary social environment for children, classrooms and schools are uniquely good places to learn how to treat others and how to tell others the way we want them to treat us. Dozens of times a day, people in schools negotiate interpersonal exchanges with others from diverse backgrounds, making schools a premier learning environment for social, emotional, and ethical learning, which can translate into more student engagement and increased academic performance.  With that in mind, here are some tried-and-true strategies that various schools have implemented.

1.    Remember that adults play a critical role in teaching children to be welcoming or rejecting. As a teacher, receiving that note in your mailbox, "You're getting a new student tomorrow," or seeing the classroom door open as the principal escorts a new student into the room can feel overwhelming. Your first thoughts might be "Where am I going to find a desk for him/her?" or "What about placement testing?"  If you let these thoughts shape your responses and treat the child as a bother and a nuisance, so will your students.  If you treat each new student as a welcome addition to the community, your students will, too.
  1. Establish routines for welcoming new students. Teach students that it's their job to welcome and include. Show them what that means. Use strategies to communicate with and include children who don't speak English.  Partnering students who speak the same language would be an obvious solution, but without that benefit, a buddy or partner could use signs, pictures and other non-verbal means of communication to connect with the new student. Assigning lunch partners for lunchtime or play-partners at recess is another important way to build connections with the non-English speaking student. The languages of food and play are universal.  With a child who is new to the country, as well as to your classroom, share information about the child's home culture. Honor new students and their home culture by asking them to teach the class words, show pictures, or share their culture. Children feel more empathetic if they know something about the newcomer's background.
  2. Create a link on our website to an online ‘Welcome Wagon’ with a wide range of topics. Give families the opportunity to e-mail their questions and special student needs to the school/district prior to arrival.  Make it possible for parents and students to schedule a visit to the school before school starts.  Upon arrival, provide a map of the layout of the school.
  3. Create a buddy system within the classroom where teachers assign new students a ‘buddy’ to accompany the student to classes and that all-important first day of lunch.  Provide training and role-playing exercises for the buddy prior to accompanying the new student.
  1. Create a parent-buddy system for newly relocated families. Encourage members to hold PTA offices. Having a parent get involved in school serves as a good example for a child to do the same.
  2. Create a welcome bag with items such as a ‘The Principal is my Pal’ eraser, a coupon for a free cookie from the cafeteria, a pencil with a note from the school counselor, and a brochure from a kid’s perspective created by older students.
  3. Keep on hand a ‘welcome wagon’ packet of information that you would normally give to new students at the beginning of the year, including the school handbook. Contacts for local resources like the post office, library, popular parks, or after-school programs, help new families get acclimated to the area quickly.
  4. Create a morning ‘Welcome Room,’ staffed by a counselor, social worker, behavior interventionist, or caring parent.  This would be place where any student could go when they arrive at school each day.  For some students, the need to start the day with a caring adult can help with their transition to the new school.   It is also a place where students, who are not new to the school, can get the socio-emotional support they need to start the day.
  5. Create a ‘New Found Friend Program’ or ‘Newcomers Club.’ New students become members of the Newcomers Club and meet monthly with the school counselor at a designated time. Club activities vary according to the needs of the members.
  6. Encourage new students to join a team, a club, the band, a service organization, or student activities.  Especially for older students, having that sense of ‘belonging’ to a positive group can make all the difference in their outlook on school.  Be sure to reserve slots in classes, athletics, and clubs for students who arrive later in the year.
Children who feel welcome and comfortable in the school setting show increased engagement, better school performance, improved health, and more productive behaviors. Schools and educators are in a unique position to create ways to make that happen.  I wish you all the very best as you find ways to make the ‘new kid’ feel like he/she belongs at your school.

Contributed by:
Kathy Clayton, Executive Director

Washington State ASCD
kclaytonascd@gmail.com 

Friday, June 7, 2013

How Does Your ‘Garden’ of Professional Learning Grow? The ‘What’ and ‘How’ of Successful Standards Implementation


“The most powerful strategy school systems have at their dis­posal to improve teacher effectiveness is pro­fessional development. It is available to almost every educa­tor, and—when planned and implemented correctly—it ensures that educators acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to help more students meet standards.”  (Hirsch, S., 2011)

As summer blooms in the Pacific Northwest, a garden analogy has resonance for me as I think about the professional learning systems necessary to support educators to implement and bring to life state learning standards in classrooms throughout the year. Observing gardens in my neighborhood reminds me of the intention (or lack thereof) that my neighbors and I put into the planting of bulbs, sowing of seeds, and trimming of trees and shrubs during the fall and winter months. What was the vision? What did we do since planting to cultivate the soil and plants for a productive spring? What did we invest (time, money, resources) and when? Did we have dedicated time for cultivating the garden? Who needed to be involved but wasn’t? What is our commitment to maintaining the garden now that it is flourishing and then in getting it ready for winter? Have we articulated a cycle of support that is sustainable and maintainable?
Similar questions are at the heart of the professional learning that is necessary for educators and students as we transition to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics.

Washington’s four State Learning Goals articulated in the 1993 Basic Education Act present a vision of student learning in public education that acknowledges the importance of schools in supporting the whole child. This vision and goals, together with specifically articulated state learning standards, represent the “WHAT”, or the seeds that must be planted from the start of each student’s K-12 educational experience as to what all students should know and be able to do. Without ongoing intention and attention to educators’ professional learning needs from the start and throughout the year, the vision of every student graduating high school ready and prepared for their next steps whether they plan to enter the workforce or go to college, is not achievable. “Standards by themselves cannot raise achievement. Standards don’t stay up late at night working on lesson plans, or stay after school making sure every student learns – it’s teachers who do that. Standards don’t implement themselves. Education leaders from the state board to the building principal must make the Standards a reality in schools.” (CCSS Mathematics Publisher’s Criteria, p.1)
The “HOW” is essential. It is where the rubber meets the road in districts, buildings, and ultimately classrooms.
“The dramatic shift in teaching prompted by the common core will require practical, intensive, and ongoing professional learning – not one-off “spray and pray” training that exposes everyone to the same material and hope it sticks.” (Hirsh, S. 2011)
Over the past 18 months, our state has had the privilege of working with and learning from the national Learning Forward organization (formerly the National Staff Development Council) and the state of Kentucky as part of the national “Transforming Professional Learning (TPL) Initiative”. During the first year, Kentucky, as the first state to adopt and assess the CCSS, embarked on an overhaul of their state and local professional learning systems in support of the new standards in conjunction with a new educator evaluation system. States across the nation, including ours are also on a similar journey to navigate and integrate the interconnected efforts within implementing the new CCSS and transitioning to a new educator growth and development systems (in Washington this is the Teacher and Principal Evaluation Project). For the second phase of the project (this spring and next year), OSPI is partnering with Washington’s Learning Forward Affiliate, and Federal Way Public School’s Teaching for Learning team to define, refine, and put into practice foundational elements necessary to create and sustain strong professional learning systems at each of our levels that will sustain beyond changing standards. All three partners are deeply considering their roles for supporting high quality professional learning across the state.

Several excerpts from a recent Learning Forward action brief, Meet the Promise of Content Standards: Professional Learning Required (2011) capture the foundational underpinnings and core principles necessary for each of us in our difference roles to consider and act upon carefully. First, several core principles must be acknowledged in the shift of in relation to how the state, districts, and schools think about and support students and educators in these transitions (pp. 10-16):
·         Change requires learning;
·         Standards drive effective professional learning;
·         Professional learning addresses multiple purposes;
·         Commitment to equity ensures success for all students; and
·         Effective professional learning is a shared responsibility.

In the action brief, Joellen Killion (2011) also provides recommendations of specific actions that districts, schools, and individual educators can take as they consider the “how” in building comprehensive and sustainable professional learning systems (pp. 29-31) aligned with the core principles above and that echo throughout our work with Kentucky and within our state with Federal Way Public Schools.

I’d like to close with several questions that I will be using with my content team at OSPI and that I’d like to invite you to join us in considering as we reframe the “how” at each of our levels in our educational system:
·         What are the vision, mission, and beliefs for professional learning in your district or building?
·         How do you define professional learning?
·         What types of professional learning do educators experience and who participates?
·         What ensures that professional learning meets standards for high quality?
·         How is time allocated and who determines when it occurs and how it is used? When does it occur?
·         Who determines what types and how much funding are used to support professional learning for all teachers?
·         What other resources (staff, technology, materials) support professional learning? How are they acquired, allocated, and integrated?
·         How is professional learning evaluated? By whom? How often? Who uses the results? How?

As you engage in this dialogue personally and with your teams, there are many resources and districts out there to support you and serve as thought partners. In addition to the hyperlinks throughout this article, additional resources include:
·         Washington State’s CCSS District Implementation Readiness Assessment

References:
Killion, J. (2011) Meet the Promise of Content Standards: Professional Learning Required. Learning Forward. http://www.learningforward.org/docs/pdf/read-the-brief-%28pdf%29.pdf


Contributed by:
Jessica Vavrus
Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

Jessica.vavrus@k12.wa.us

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What is the Role and Responsibility of Educator Preparation Programs to Foster and Sustain Effectiveness?


To be entirely upfront, I stole this critical question from the ASCD EDge blog that I contributed to in early February.  It was just one in a string of questions about teacher effectiveness and the evaluation of such.  So, I acknowledge that the issue is much greater than this one question and I hope all educators will see that preparatory programs play a substantial role in defining the reputation of the profession.  This is an important question – whether you are a preservice or inservice educator.

Presumably, the word “effectiveness” typically alludes to the capacity of a teacher to influence his/her students’ achievement.  While there is currently no direct measure of such effectiveness, a picture can be painted from at least three types of measures:  (1) classroom observations, (2) student perception surveys and (3) student achievement gains (MET study, 2012, http://www.metproject.org/).  So how do teacher preparation programs develop candidates that can perform well across those measures?

I began by asking preservice teacher candidates the same title question.  Their responses are below the dotted line.  A repeated theme across their answers was, “Get us out in the field.”  Teacher candidates understand that the value of what they learn in the University classroom multiplies upon application to the field classroom.  It becomes real.  It becomes relevant.   Having a strong connection to the field cannot be underestimated in terms of its importance to teacher education programs, and should be central to their development.

I agree and want people to consider an additional way to connect higher education to the field that has not yet developed. Allow me to follow the thread of reasoning begun with the question regarding effectiveness.  Presumably, to increase anything – its helpful if that thing is measurable so that we are aware of impacts.  So effectiveness can be connected directly to evaluation, and it does seem that good teaching can be “measured”, according to the MET study.  Those tangible measurables, the complicated pieces of a complex undertaking, get publicized in simplistic ways which are then consumed by a public that opines about the reputation of the profession. That is the thread that I want to pull, all the while acknowledging that none of this is as simple as is presented in this short piece.

Currently there is no consistent standard to become a practicing teacher.  Therefore, it is difficult to see if effectiveness is fostered except for within small communities of learners – which has its own value to be sure.  However, as a profession, teachers have no single bar via evaluation to demonstrate effectiveness.  Is it any wonder then that local opinions of the profession (“Oh, our teachers are great.  We love them!”) vary so widely with national opinion (“Our schools are just not effective.”)?  Might it be that simply having a consistent minimum description of a beginning-beginner teacher would impact public opinion?  Not only would it give the public something to hold on to rather than a different set of measures for every community, but it would also show a consistent standard for entry into the profession, much like the bar exam for lawyers.  (Shortly after I penned this, NPR aired a segment that relates to that very notion, available at http://www.npr.org/2013/01/29/170579245/union-backs-bar-exam-for-teachers.)  However, the education profession might then have the additional opportunity to develop support for sustained growth in the profession as teachers went out into the field if this baseline informed ongoing professional development.  We could use its power for good – at the same time influencing the perception of the profession, entering the public policy conversation, and reclaiming our standing as a profession built on a body of researched-based best practices, not a cookbook set of skills.

The pieces are already being built.  (I thought it was interesting that the NRP piece did not mention that.)  The Teacher Performance Assessment, known as the edTPA (https://www.edtpa.com/) for preservice teachers, is well into field-testing and currently used by over 20 states.  Washington inservice teachers are working with the Teacher-Evaluation Pilot, or TPEP (http://tpep-wa.org/).  There is overlap between the efforts, to be sure – but connections, ties that might strengthen the reputation of the profession as the evaluations roll out and impact public opinion, are not yet intentional, standardized, or formalized within the state.

But Washington is an “accelerated” state for these efforts, one of the first to tie such evaluations as the edTPA to consequential policy required by every teacher certification program, and the TPEP into all schools.  As both systems, higher education and P-12 move forward with these efforts, what is their responsibility to each other?  Acknowledging that mutuality is certainly a facet of the answer to:

What is the role and responsibility of educator preparation programs                                                 to foster and sustain effectiveness?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Second and third-year undergraduate teacher candidates’ responses are found below and highlighted on an ASCD inservice blog at http://inservice.ascd.org/announcements/be-prepared-the-ascd-forum-discusses-educator-preparation-programs/.


Erin Loe
It is my belief that an education preparation program must expose their students to as much field experience as possible. This is vital. They must have active learning as opposed to learning from textbooks and lectures. Students in this program must also be exposed to effective teaching materials as well as resources to expand on this. In addition they must be familiar with the teaching materials and absolutely should use them before using them in their own classroom. In addition, the program should also make certain their students know teaching is an on-going learning experience which will never be perfected, but should be something to work towards.

Zach O’Neill
In order to make effective teachers an education preparation program is responsible for preparing educators in 4 different ways. First by giving the tools and practice necessary for educators to plan their classes, for instance practice creating lesson and unit plans and developing a curriculum for their respective content areas. Second, by helping the future educators to develop their assessments in a way that will benefit their students learning the most, learning to use differentiation appropriately in a classroom. Thirdly, by learning how to apply findings from the assessments in the classroom in order to make sure that the subject matter is being understood by the students. Finally, being able to use these skills in a classroom with real students and get the students engaged in the lesson being taught and making it relevant to their students’ lives.

Celeste Flock
Teacher education programs must keep candidates informed on current issues in education. Since the teaching profession is constantly changing with new curriculum, technology, assessments, and legislation, candidates need to be aware of what is happening and adapt to these changes. Though it is crucial to teach candidates about these issues in class, the best way for them to learn is through experience. Candidates should have many different field experiences and service learning projects in the schools. Field experience is the best education for an aspiring teacher because it shows what lesson planning, teaching strategies, and the state standards look like in the real world. It also gives candidates the opportunity to decide if teaching is truly their calling in life.

Taylor Petersen
I believe that teacher preparation programs are responsible for providing aspiring teachers with the most advanced ways promote interest and determination in young minds. It is not just about creating that desire for learning on average, but rather that we learn how to inspire that love of education in students that are more difficult to teach. The role of the program is to give potential teachers experience working with English language learners, students with learning disabilities, and gifted students so that when they become teachers they know how to teach those learners in a way that will positively impact their lives.

Alexandra Tallas
I believe that teacher preparation programs need to inspire future teachers to acquire the tools they need in order for their students to be inspired and then be encouraged to engage in higher level thinking and inquiry. Preparation programs should instruct future teachers to focus on celebrating the students’ strengths. I believe that if a student can learn to recognize and value their own strengths along with their peers strengths, they will develop a passion for learning that will be forever instilled in them. Along with the passion aspect, I also believe preparations programs need to have a focus on the ever-changing curriculum and other legislation issues. Future teachers need to learn not to take everything for face value but learn to dig deeper in all categories that are involved.

Ellen Chirhart
Part of the field experience aspect of teacher preparation must also involve reflection. Teacher candidates need to know how to reflect on their own work and methods. They must be open to constructive criticism and able to gauge their own effectiveness. Teacher preparation must involve preparation in teacher collaboration so candidates know the importance of cooperating with colleagues and seeking support. It is inevitable that teachers will have diverse classrooms with English language learners and students at a variety of ability levels, so candidates must be prepared to teach to all students.

Sari Hertel
Another important responsibility teacher preparation programs have is to not emphasize one subject area, especially for elementary level candidates. Literacy, Math, Science, History, and the Arts are all important in their own unique ways and it does more harm than good when one is considered more important than the others.

Gene Dawydiak
The role of educator preparation programs are to help teachers better facilitate learning to students by helping teachers be better prepared through assessment of students. For example, assessing the knowledge of students in order to understand the emphasis needed on a particular lesson. This may be a test in the beginning of the semester that measures each student’s knowledge a future lesson that will happen. When a majority of the class shows they understand a certain standard, less time should be spent on that standard and focus more on the standards that students are not as knowledgeable on. However, an educator must also recognize that a majority of the class is not the whole class, nor a minority of the class is the whole class. This means that even though there may be a majority or a minority of people who may understand (or not understand) a standard, there are still students who can demonstrate those standards. A class with a majority not meeting the standards through assessment may have students who do meet those standards, while there may be a majority of students who may understand a standard when a few students don’t. Basically, educator preparation programs help us recognize how to meet everyone’s needs, and not just the majority’s needs.

Tom D’Aboy
The most important thing to me is experience.  Getting out into the classroom and getting that real experience.  Reflecting on those experiences is important as well, because that really makes you think about what you’re doing and how to improve yourself.  Reading and researching teaching strategies and methods is vital, but getting out into the field and practicing it is the most crucial.

Anna Demarinis
I agree with Tom. We can all sit in a classroom and be taught about appropriate teaching methods, assessment tools, differentiation, etc. but the real learning comes from the classroom. Working with students hands on, practicing teaching lessons, seeing first hand what works and does not work in the classroom. It allows you to see first hand what works, what doesn’t work, and helps new teachers learn how to deal with those issues before they are on their own. People always say that practice makes perfect and teaching is the same way.

Jayson Orth
Researching and learning different teaching methods as well as rules and regulations is extremely important.  However, I think that the most important part of the teacher education program is taking all these ideas into the classroom and seeing for oneself what works and what doesn’t.  Engaging in and reflecting on real life experience allows us, as future teachers, to mature, grow, and learn.

Christy Clenin
I believe that it is the program’s responsibility to give its students as much experience as possible. It is easy to read from a textbook and take notes about classroom management, assessment, etc., but what is learned in class does not take importance until it is implemented. I learn from experience. When I am in the classroom setting, I learn about my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. Therefore, it is the role and responsibility of the teaching program to place students in the classroom environment and reflect on their experience. Also, have an advisor oversee students in the schools in order to give constructive criticism to see what they need to improve on and what they are succeeded in. It is important for students in an education program to gain comfortableness in the school setting before they have a classroom of their own.

Clara Shands
It’s nice to know strategies of teaching and classroom management so that you have some clue what to do when you actually end up in the classroom. But by far the most valuable thing is having experience with real students in a real classroom. Theories of learning are forgettable until you actually apply and experience them. The most effective way to prepare educators is to have them simultaneously work in the classroom while they learn about theories, regulations, strategies, etc. that go along with what they’re doing in the classroom. This serves for a memorable cross traffic between the two environments where future educators can apply their experience to the class and apply what they learn in class to their own teaching. 

Contributed by:
Suzann Girtz, Ph.D.
Asst. Professor & Director of Assessment
School of Education – Gonzaga University
girtz@gonzaga.edu

Monday, February 25, 2013

What's in Your Trophy Case? The Power of Collective Commitments



When a parent walks into your school, they will be able to tell what your school values by what is in your trophy case.  Will they know what makes your school a great place? Will they know what the hopes and dreams are for your students?  We subconsciously communicate to our community what our school values by what we choose to celebrate.

With all the noise of modern educational initiatives, it is easy for our true values and vision to get lost in translation.  Do we succumb to the ever present pull of current initiatives and focus on TPEP, CCSS, STEM, evolving changing graduation requirements, adequate funding, charter schools or, do we focus on our core mission…ensuring the learning of every child?  At the heart of every learning community’s effort to meet its core purpose endures the pressing challenge of establishing and holding true to its sense of vision and mission—to make certain that ensuring high levels of learning for each child does not become a hollow axiom. 

In the White River School District, we acknowledge where we need to grow, where we are good, and further acknowledge that being good is the enemy of great.  As much as discussions and acknowledgement help unify and focus a staff, there exists a need for purposeful and ongoing action.  The “expectation-acceptance gap” represents the difference between what we say we expect and what we truly accept.  The gap is caused by excuses, both stated and unstated.  If ensuring high levels of learning for all students is our mission then, what are we willing to do about it?  We must realize that the challenge is not that we do not know what to expect; the challenge is, all too often, what we silently choose to accept.

In Eaker and Keating’s (2008) article “A Shift in Culture,” they ask specific questions that uncover the importance of why we must chose to unify around shared values:   What do we do when a student is not meeting standard?  What do we do when a staff member is not meeting standard?  What are we willing to promote, protect, and defend?  What are we willing to commit to and insist upon?  What are our core responsibilities? The answers establish our collective commitments.  Creating, upholding, and celebrating written collective commitments as a staff, unifies and focuses a team’s work around a shared vision.   

The following are two examples of establishing collective commitments in the White River School District: Mountain Meadow in 2009 and Glacier Middle School in 2011. 

Mountain Meadow Elementary
As Mountain Meadow Elementary staff endeavored to breathe life into their mission, they built shared knowledge and discovered there was no one right way of creating collective commitments, but there were best practices.  In Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work, DuFour, DuFour, and Eaker (2008) illustrated the following ideas:

·   Commitment statements must link directly to the vision and mission statements.
·   Use direct language.
·   Focus on behavior statements, not belief statements.  What we truly value is reflected in
what we are committed to do.  We can control behavior, not beliefs.
·   Commitments must focus on one's self, rather than others.
·   Write commitments in action-oriented “We will…” statements.
·   Regularly, and publicly, memorialize and celebrate commitments.

The key to collective commitment fruition lay in building the shared knowledge of a guiding coalition (the building leadership team), seeking their guidance at implementation, memorializing the commitments, and consistently revisiting our commitments through celebration of their attainment.  During a Mountain Meadow team leader meeting, they discussed how to share the collective commitments effectively with the staff.  The leadership team decided that each team leader would meet with a mixed grade level team during the first part of a staff meeting.  During this time, they built the shared knowledge of the staff; teaching their colleagues about collective commitments and how the commitments bring life to the school’s mission.  Following this time, the team leaders shared the working draft of the collective commitments and sought their colleagues' input.  The staff wholeheartedly embraced the key ideas of the commitments, which follow.

The Mountain Meadow Learning Community will…     
1.  respectfully collaborate around revising and informing our instruction based on learning           data and standards
2.  proactively and intentionally work with all learners and provide extra time and support
3.  make learning targets clear to help each learner achieve standard and reach the target
4.  model lifelong learning and the commitment to quality work with continual growth
5.  actively involve parents and community in the learning process

Glacier Middle School
Staff was engaged in a back to school meeting in August where we focused on developing a collective set of commitments that focused on individual adult behaviors which fostered student learning. The first step was to develop shared knowledge with staff by reading Eaker and Keating’s article (2008). Staff was asked to reflect on how they would need to behave if they were going to become the school they wanted to become. In a jigsaw, activity staff developed a series of commitments that reflected professional dispositions that would foster and support students at Glacier Middle School. In a group discussion, they analyzed the work of the group by asking the following questions:

  a.  What collective commitments did the group feel were the most important? Why?
  b.  Were there any commitments that people could not commit to? If so, why?
  c.  Are these commitments specific enough about how we will behave as a group?
  d.  Are we leaving any commitments out that need to be included?

Upon concluding this conversation, they were able to narrow their commitments to a handful, which are listed below.

GMS Collective Commitments
1.  We commit to modeling PROFESSIONALISM. This means bringing our best each day, engaging in school-wide collaboration, and celebrating!
2.  We commit to setting nothing less than High expectations. This means setting high standards, holding students accountable for learning, expecting all students to do their personal best every day, and inspiring all students to be in control of their own education.
3.  We commit to the use of RIGOR in our lessons. This means seeking opportunities to implement higher level thinking skills: analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
4.  We commit to using effective teaching STRATEGIES. This means will implement and share a variety of teaching strategies with team and in our classroom.
5.  We commit to using LEARNING TARGETS. This means providing student friendly learning targets with checks for understanding & providing clear learning targets for each lesson.
6.  We commit to having a unified RESPONSE TO INTERVENTION. This means identifying students most in need, approaching formative assessment with a commitment to address student misconceptions (skill gap), frequently checking student progress and respond accordingly, using data from quick check for planning and enrichment activities, and using assessment scores to drive teaching practices
7.  We commit to establishing RESPECTFUL RELATIONSHIPS. This means treating all students dignity respect, building empowering relationships with positive interaction with students, believing in every student, creating a caring culture by greeting students with a smile and enthusiasm ‘I-Can’ mentality, and engaging each student before class.
8.  We commit to showing COMPASSION to all of our students. This means each student receives a clean slate every day and promoting and model a culture of acceptance and compassion.
9.  We commit to keeping our students SAFE. This means speaking positively in all environments with all student staff and parents, empowering students with social skills that  will create a positive environment, building physical and emotional safety, and creating and maintaining an environment where students and staff feel safe and valued.

Memorializing & Sustaining Collective Commitments
The collaborative creation of collective commitments will bolster the shared vision of one’s learning community.  If teams stop at the creation of collective commitments, the shared vision will erode over time.  Both Mountain Meadow and Glacier regularly revisit their commitments.  Both teams memorialized their commitments through art.  The Mountain Meadow staff created and installed a mural in the school’s main hallway, while the Glacier staff collaboratively created a visual representation of each commitment, which is prominently displayed in their library.  Each school’s principal makes a concerted effort to publicize how an individual or team has personified one of the school’s commitments each week in the staff bulletin.  Moreover, they regularly honor teams and individuals whose efforts are enduring exemplars of their commitments through Collective Commitment Awards.  For example, Mountain Meadow’s first award recognized staff members who mentored a struggling reader.  This student formerly qualified for special services and went on to obtain the highest score in the school on the state’s fifth grade reading assessment. 

What’s in Your Trophy Case?
Eaker and Keating wrote, “The challenge of changing culture is the challenge of changing behavior, of persuading people to act in new ways.”  Though a noble goal, working to ensure the learning of all students cannot come to realization without a clear shared vision, an articulated mission, and collective commitments to act.  Collaboratively creating and sustaining a schools vision, mission, and collective commitments creates and sustains powerful unified action.

Adam Uhler, Principal
Mountain Meadow Elementary
360-829-6046

Greg Borgerding Ed.D., Principal
Glacier Middle School
360-829-6158

References:
DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & DuFour, R. (2008).  Revisiting professional learning communities at work: New insights for improving schools.  Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Earker, R. & Keating, J. (2008).  A Shift in Culture: Collective commitments focus on change that benefits student learning.  Journal of Staff Development, 29 (3), 14-17.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why is it important for Local School Districts to Have a Voice in Washington State Government and in the Federal Government in Washington, DC?


The great philosopher Plato said, “The punishment wise men suffer from indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by unwise men.”  Decisions made by the State and Federal governments can greatly assist local educators in achieving their objectives or conversely create roadblocks for increasing student achievement.  Educators and School Boards must activate their voice in order to create a Whole Child Education in the two Washingtons.

Perhaps more than at any other time in current history, educational reform is at the forefront of local, state and federal governmental agendas.  Yet, concurrently it is a time of scarcity of economic resources. We on local boards and in local districts have a choice: we can help shape state and federal educational policy or we can be shaped by it.  The Tacoma School Board decided we wanted to be a 'shaper' in the policy setting process.  We wanted to have a voice in student assessment, establishment of innovative programs and processes, and in defining school funding issues in an equitable manner.

State legislatures and the US Congress are complex organizations.  Our state legislature is composed of 147 members and the US Congress has 535.  In the US Congress over 5000 pieces of legislation are introduced each year.  In Olympia, over 600 pieces are introduced each session.  Identifying and tracking those bills that directly involve education or may have unintended impacts on local districts is not something that can be done effectively by a part time board or district staff whose primary focus is increasing student achievement.

While letters and contacts from individuals and organizations to specific legislators and administrators are important, there are people in Olympia and D.C. who work every day in the business of communication.  They are called governmental affairs consultants.  Engaging a governmental affairs consultant is one of the wisest decisions a District can make if they want to influence legislative decisions.  They understand the Congressional and State legislative processes. In addition, having representation builds legislative credibility and demonstrates commitment to our issues.  There is no substitute for day to day representation in the State Capitol and Washington, D. C.

When it comes to providing information and advocating for specific positions, these are the voices that can answer questions and clarify positions.  With the competition regarding divergent issues and finances, an everyday familiar voice is critical if we want to help shape legislation and compete for funding.  Knowledge is power!  This is why Tacoma Public Schools engaged highly qualified and experienced consultants to represent our students, staff and community voices in Olympia and Washington, D.C.  We have seen in a short time our influence already being felt in both venues.

We challenge each community/district to engage in a conversation on how and why it is important for local school districts to have a voice in the two Washingtons.  We challenge you to develop an agenda that supports the Whole Child!


Karen Vialle is a School Board Member in the Tacoma Public Schools.  She has held top positions in school, city and state agencies.  Director Vialle can be reached at KVIALLE@tacoma.k12.wa.us.

Scott Heinze is a School Board Member in the Tacoma Public Schools.  He has worked for a member of Congress and a governor and currently serves on several boards.  Director Heinze can be reached at SHEINZE@tacoma.k12.wa.us.