Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Can We Learn This Together?

Encouraging a culture that supports one another to achieve our goals is imperative. In continuing on from David Cooke’s Critical Question in August, Can You Help Me?, we must provide a supportive environment for learning to be welcomed within our professional community.  When we are faced with the overwhelming sensation of “I don’t know,” how do we develop a culture that accepts this premise?  Hopefully we can initiate the momentum to move in a direction of continuously responding, “Can we learn this together?”   

Teacher leaders, instructional coaches, and administrators should strive to develop a culture that embraces a growth mindset. The following actions serve as a supportive means for establishing a solid foundation of connecting, learning, and growing together:

·   Connect - Provide ample time for educators to connect and build relationships.  Through trusting bonds authentic communication can develop. 
·       Process - Create a safe environment for educators to continuously process their growth goals.  Goals can be revised through continuous conversations to truly identify specific needs.
·      Collaborate - After educators identify others who share similar growth goals, they need time to work together.  Offer routine opportunities for educators to collaborate and make progress towards their goals.
·    Empower - Develop instructional leadership within educators by encouraging them to share their successes.  Allow educators to identify strategies they can pass along from effective implementation within their own classrooms and buildings.  When educators can be empowered to share ideas that support the growth of their colleagues, it is powerful in and of itself.
·     Reflect - Intentionally provide multiple opportunities for reflective practice.  Develop a routine to provide educators time to analyze their progress and establish future goals as they achieve current ones. 

An educator’s career is a learning journey.  As the hurdles of change cross our professional path, we are presented with opportunities to thrive.  These challenges, though, can cause the feeling of isolation, frustration, and defeat.  It is extremely important to reach out to others and remain side-by-side as we travel in new directions on our journey.  Truly embracing challenges in a collaborative nature allows us to find the strength to climb each mountain.  Celebrating success together, when reaching the peak, develops the desire to establish new goals as we descent into the next valley of change.  

The grass is only greener on the other side if we can embrace the learning journey and travel there together.  So reach out to your colleagues as you approach the valley ahead, trying to reach the next mountain peak, and ask, “Can we learn this together?”

Celina Brennan
Multiage Teacher, Salnave Elementary
Cheney Public Schools 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Can You Help Me?

In my first year as a principal I realized that I had a struggling teacher. I was diligent in my assessments and was direct about my concerns with the teacher. It did not take long before the situation became difficult.  The teachers’ union was now involved and the working relationship between the two of us was strained and not conducive to success. A couple of months went by and the situation was grim. The teacher walked into my office and at first I thought another difficult conversation was about to happen. The teacher looked at me, and said, “I know what you are asking but I don’t know how to do it. Can you help me?

The working relationship between the teacher and I changed immediately. Months of building walls and frustration evaporated immediately.  The teacher’s willingness to be so vulnerable in such a dire situation immediately made me reassess my role towards him. He was a person who woke up every morning wanting to do a good job for the kids he worked with. I had found myself losing objectivity.  I realized that I needed to learn how to be a better administrator so that I was open and supportive of teachers who struggled.
Imagine where we would be today if people did not say, “I don’t know what I am doing” or “Can you help me?”  I am sure that these were two questions asked by Lewis and Clark when they were looking for the Northwest Passage. That worked out pretty well for us living in the Northwest.  However in education, these terms seem so rare whether you are a student, teacher or administrator.

I experienced this first hand in my high school junior math class.  Instead of expressing my vulnerability and asking for help, I pretended to know what I was doing, raising my hand when everybody else raised their hand and faked it throughout the year. However I could not hide from the reality of the final assessments, which reiterated what I already knew, which was I could not do it.  Why didn’t I ask for help? The bottom line was that I did not feel safe in that classroom to get the help that I needed. It takes a lot of courage to admit weakness in front of teachers and peers. It has to be the right environment to do so.

Twenty-five years later, this math class still teaches me valuable lessons. I have seen examples similar to mine many times in the classroom.  Students who remain silent in class hoping that their teacher does not expose them for their lack of understanding. Teachers who try to put on a brave face but are struggling with a particular class. Principals who have left the profession because the pressure of improving student learning became an overwhelming task.  In all cases, the problem stems back to the same thing. ‘I am overwhelmed by the task expected of me and I don’t know what to do. However, I cannot admit to my peers that I do not know what to do because I am supposed to know.

There are so many things to learn in education today that it is impossible to be successful at everything. Common Core, TPEP, Student Growth Goals and Smarter Balanced are the latest that all educators need to tackle. While all serve a great purpose, it is a substantial amount to take on as an individual. Why is it not OK to say “I don’t know how to do all of this?" We go to conferences as a way to learn more about these programs but often what educators experience are a one size fits all and so the specific questions and concerns are not always met.

The problem is that in education we are stuck in a situation where we are constantly reminded at all education levels and in the media that nothing short of excellent teaching will put our kids in great peril. Teachers and administrators don’t want to admit they are struggling for fear that they will be seen as failing the kids that they care so much about. How difficult a situation this puts our educators in?

If we are to be successful in the future we must focus on learning environments where “I don’t know” and “Can you help me” are phrases that are encouraged, accepted and supported. This will help create a safe haven where we can eliminate the loneliness that comes with not knowing how to complete a task. “I don’t know” statements can be transformed into group problems of practice. Strategies can be developed around the “I don’t know” so that practical solutions can be developed that meet the needs of the struggling learner.
“Is the world of education truly ready to accept, “I don’t know” as part of the vocabulary for our educators?” Is it OK if we are not masters of all areas? Are teachers and principals safe to admit weaknesses in their practice and be able to find solutions in a safe learning environment?  If we truly want to make change in education than this must be the first step.

If you are an administrator, what is your first response when you hear that a teacher is struggling? Do you provide a safe harbor to allow a teacher to acknowledge their struggle? Do you encourage them to take risks and support them if they fail?  Is “I don’t know,” allowed in your school?

It would only be fair to the readers of this article that I practice what I preach. I have been a principal for ten years and I still have more questions than answers. I would appreciate your help in my problems of practice for the 2014-15 school year. There is many times where I have said, “I don’t know” to the following.
  1. Supporting teachers to develop and assess quality Student Growth Goals
  2. Building a positive learning relationship with the Hispanic Community
  3. Closing the achievement gap for Hispanic and Special Education students
When times are tough in education, it is easy for students, staff and administrators to isolate themselves and try to deal with the problems that they are encountering alone. It often leaves the individual lonely and more frustrated which impacts them and those around them. Now, more than ever it is time to support each other so that we can reach out for help, get the support that we need to help us achieve our goals.

David Cooke
Principal, Jemtegaard Middle School
Washougal School District

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What Does Your Local Legislator Know About Your Work?

“The difference between a politician and a statesman is that a politician thinks about the next election while the statesman thinks about the next generation.” –Hillary Rodham Clinton

Policy changes can move slowly and impact people – including our students and teachers – for years while we learn about actual consequences to well-intended mandates.  For those of us used to the crazy pace of the classroom, the geologic-timing of governmental response can be frustrating.  (Although, to be fair, if policy change happened quickly – that would have its own set of consequences.)

Here in Washington State we have what is termed “citizen legislators.”  In general, while the “salary and time required for the job” significantly limits who can serve, it is also “difficult for legislators to obtain and maintain outside employment.” According to the Washington Citizens’ Commission, (Washington) state legislators typically spend about 70% of a full-time job.  Although their income from legislative work is greater than that for (other types of state) legislatures, it is usually not enough to allow them to make a living without other sources of income.

According to a 2012 National Conference of State Legislatures survey, Washington state elected officials have average annual salaries of $42,106. If we take the “70% of a full-time job” figure at face value, this means our elected officials are in jobs that would average annual salaries of … wait for it… $60,151.

Wow.  Why would someone do such a difficult, important job for such paltry compensation?  I mean – the complexity, the stress, the 24/7 public element of the position…it sounds so…so much like…TEACHING.

Clearly, both members of political and educational professions must work from a reserve of passion and dedication, and not omnipotence.  Understanding that they are dedicated, what is the best way for these folks to learn about your day-to-day professional issues?  From YOU.  You and I must engage our citizen legislators and be the teachers we claim to be.  Educate our representatives.

One recent example of this occurred in Eastern Washington.  My colleague Dr. Lambert, from Whitworth University, and I convened a panel of student teachers, mentor teachers, a supervisor, and professors to teach our area senators and representatives about the new exam required of preservice teachers, the educational Teacher Performance Assessment
(edTPA).  One of the legislators left with this comment, “This was one of the best events of this type I have attended.”  Others agreed and thanked us for the format, which was a bit different than what they usually experience.  Instead of asking them to come with all the answers, we invited them to come with questions while we supplied the “testifying panelists.”  Every participant seemed grateful and expressed a desire to work further on the issues together.  I feel great confidence that each of these legislators is going to the state capitol with a much better understanding of what is happening in this area of the profession and will move purposefully toward action that supports quality teaching and learning. 

We felt proactive. We felt like we had been heard.  We did not wait up in the tower, sighing with our head in our hands, hoping that someone would come ask us about the issues of the day.  We refused to gripe… and then sit idle.  Understanding that communication is our duty as good citizens and educators, we felt good as we partnered with our citizen legislators.

We educators always have our eye on the next generation, and so do our legislators.  How can you help our well-meaning citizen legislators to become better informed about our profession?

Suzann Girtz, Ph.D.
Asst. Professor
Teacher Education
Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Are You PLC Lite?

Terms travel easily. PLC is one of them. Many of us have them, but how we use them is really quite varied. The problem is that the results vary as widely as the manner in which we decide to implement our collaboration time. As a principal, I am constantly faced with decisions which could potentially allow for other agenda items to become more important than the mission itself. When we sacrifice our values we give permission to others to believe that the vision you have set before your staff is really not that important. There are, however, specific paradigms that wedge their way into our work and slowly disrupt our best intentions. When this happens we fall victim to the knowing-doing gap. This is a common misstep in PLC. We all know a well-intended leader working very hard to effect change in a building or district, but the results are a ‘mixed bag.’ The reasons why this occurs are due to both internal and external factors, some within our control, and others outside of it. I would argue these barriers to successful implementation are identifiable and navigable.

The PLC Knowing-Doing Gap
Professional Learning Communities have made their impact on many school districts across the nation. The level of implementation has much to do with the leader’s ability to understand and implement these concepts. Stanford professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton studied the knowing-doing gap (2000) focusing on understanding the barriers of turning knowledge into action and how to overcome these barriers. In their book, they discuss five principles that define the knowing-doing gap. These five principles apply to the implementation of PLCs as well.

If you know by doing, then there is no gap.  Whether you are implementing PLC from the ground level or piloting a new initiative, the best method for getting better is simply to learn by doing. We sometimes overthink our steps and wait until all the details align before engaging the work. At Glacier Middle School in the White River School District, we began the process of reviewing common assessment data in our PLC teams. In many respects we were unsure of whether what we were doing was the correct way. However, once we began the process we realized what needed to change and we made those changes in the moment. Because we did this together as a team the change was meaningful and the new product had ownership. We have developed the mantra – Get started, get better. The bottom line is that no matter how intimidating, or unwieldy the next step might be, just get started. Expect to make mistakes. That is what you are looking for; learning opportunities that arise in the moment and get fixed in the moment. Getting started right now, making mistakes, and fixing them in the moment is the quickest route to learning at high levels. Isn’t that what we would want for our students to do?

Talk. Does your PLC suffer from excessive talk and a lack of action? PLCs are prone to this dynamic. Without a well-established agenda, a strong team leader, and norms which hold team members accountable, PLCs quickly lose their power to the side bar conversation, the hidden agenda, or the ‘nay-sayer.’ When these conversations take over, you have effectively broken a promise to your stake-holders, the school board, your parents, and students. This is simply unacceptable. The time dedicated to PLC time must remain pure to its intent. Train your team leaders annually to draw them closer to the heart of the work and more deeply connected to the mission of improving student learning.

Memory. I call this ‘status quo’ thinking or ‘This is the way we have always done things around here.’ School systems are notorious for adhering to “the way things used to be.” The irony is that never in the history of education have we been in more need of doing something drastically different with how we teach our youngsters. The fact of the matter is that as we become well practiced at something we become rigid in how we do it. When we ask our teachers to meet in PLCs, collect data, share results with each other, and make changes to our practice, we are effectively asking teachers to change what they know and do differently. We are asking our teachers to feel anxiety and discomfort. Creating tension by implementing change is an emotional and trying effort. Stay true to your target, work with these mindsets as you grow forward.

Fear. The concept is simple. People may fear taking risks, sharing information, or making suggestions for improvement, especially if they think that they will be punished for doing so (Pfeffer & Sutton, 2000). I have witnessed a staff share widespread concern that the data being collected on student learning was going to be used against them in year-end evaluations. The reality is that PLCs are professional development for teachers. Sharing data allows teachers to learn from each other and grow in their professional practice. When we implement PLCs with fidelity we need to confront fear by giving voice to teams to make decisions, open the channels for healthy communication, go soft on ideas and hard on people, treat failure as an opportunity to grow, punish inaction, give second and third chances, learn from and celebrate mistakes, follow creativity, and banish people, especially leaders who humiliate others (Pfeffer & Sutton, 2000).

Measurement. Data is our world. We have become an industry that champions the use of data and appropriately so. We are held accountable to it and we constantly seek and analyze it. The downfall is that many of us are poorly versed in the appropriate use of data; and more often than not wallow in the wrong data. Often times less is more. Too much focus on the wrong data obstructs good judgment. The key to using data effectively is to be intentional about the purpose of using it. If your goal is to determine whether or not students learned a specific standard, then keep your data specific to that purpose and no more.
While these are important considerations, it also equally important to consider your building and district culture as well. The gap between knowing and doing is not a struggle for one individual. It is an organizational phenomenon. The very nature of leading an organization embodies an organic element which requires human relations and behavioral dynamics. Building trust, confidence, and morale is essential for establishing a strong and safe environment for changing a culture. As we lead in our work, we must be cognizant of the effect we play on the organization and how we interpret problems. Instead of creating a solution to fix the problem, we need to go to the root cause and solve the issue there. Having a keen sense of the gap will enable us to see how we allow for problems to occur, and begin solving the problem by looking at ourselves first, and then how we are connected to the system.

DuFour, R. (2007). In praise of top-down leadership. The School Administrator, 38-42.
DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (1998). Professional learning communities at work: Best practices for enhancing student achievement. Bloomington, IN. Solution Tree
DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & DuFour, R. (2002). Getting started: Reculturing schools to become professional learning communities. Bloomington, IN. National Educational Service
DuFour, R., Eaker, R., DuFour, R., & Many, T. (2006). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Pfeffer, J., & Sutton, R. I. (2000). The knowing doing gap: How smart companies turn knowledge into action. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Reeves, D. (2007). Closing the implementation gap. Educational Leadership, 64(6), 85-86.
Senge, P. M. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday Currency.
Senge, P., N. Cambron-McCabe, T. Lucas, B. Smith, J. Dutton, & A. Kleiner. (2000). Schools that learn: A fifth discipline field book for educators, parents, and everyone who cares about education. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Dr, Greg Borgerding
Principal, Glacier Middle School
White River School District

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Closing the Achievement Gap through Collaborative Bridge Building?

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”  Helen Keller

Meeting with our local police officer regarding the behavior of one of our elementary students, our concern for his well-being, and that of his already over-stressed family, prompted a journey that forged collaborative relationships and deepened knowledge about the importance of children’s health in the context of school.

As educators, our daily priorities include analyzing data to close student performance gaps, designing professional development to support implementation of our new evaluation system, and supporting staff in deepening understanding of the Common Core State Standards. However, the reality is that many of our students do not arrive ready to learn; and are hampered by deep-seated health issues that affect their childhood and adolescence. In our quest to “close the gap” for all students, our understanding of  the importance of health and our connections with health care services may be bridges to success for the children we serve.

Facing seemingly insurmountable challenges in educating the child and recognizing the fragility of a family in need, we stepped beyond our school to launch a Community Connections Team.   We invited representatives from the police, schools, county health department, medical providers of low income health care, Child Protective Services, postal service, churches, housing agencies, and every other link to help that we could identify. As the meetings grew in size and enthusiasm, collaborative relationships emerged, along with products, such as a Community Resource Guide and a survey to identify needs and gaps for families.

Partners in the health care field expanded our knowledge to encompass emerging work in the area of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES).   We learned that the National Center for Disease Control (CDC) is also involved in this effort, and that the Federal Maternal Child Health Program had recently directed states to provide support through the county health departments. As we interacted with others engaged in this work, we applied data gleaned from the significant Kaiser Permanente study to better understand the dynamics at play in the schools.

The ACES work helps us to understand that adverse childhood experiences, such as emotional and physical neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence and parental substance use have lasting impact on the child.  It is now recognized that these events, often referred to as childhood trauma, influence the brain with long-term effects. As the young brain develops stress hormones flood the child’s system, causing actual structural changes.  Areas related to emotional regulation and cognitive processing are affected, which then become manifest in learning and behavior.  Trauma can have impact even before the child is born, as maternal stress hormones affect the growing fetus. 

Work by prominent leaders in the field offer insight into our students’ behavior.  Notably, Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and an affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine, presents ground-breaking work that provides new direction for supporting our students’ success.  

Dr. Medina’s book “Brain Rules” details a fascinating view of the effects of multiple factors on our brains and offers implications for school and workplace. In his chapter describing the physical impact of stress on the brain, we recognize that many of our students experience great difficulty learning for reasons beyond the scope of our schoolhouse walls. Chronic stress, including parental conflict, divorce, and other common situations, affect our children and teens in profound ways.

In light of this research, the Compassionate Schools model, referenced below, provides a tangible means to work with students affected by adverse childhood experiences. For example, in Walla Walla, where collaborative efforts between the university, schools, health care, and community resource partners are in place; significant and positive results are emerging. Most recently, at Lincoln Alternative High School, which has embraced the Compassionate Schools model, graduation rates have increased five-fold, discipline referrals and expulsions have plummeted and achievement scores have risen. As Lincoln High School, Principal Jim Sporleder notes in a blog, “Accountability and consequences are foundational to our model. We would be doing our students a disservice if these weren’t in place. The difference for us, we seek for the cause, acknowledge the stress, offer support, teach strategies to learn how to self-regulate, and we teach our students about their brain and how stress impacts their inability to problem solve or take in new knowledge. The conversation depends on where the student is in their journey of understanding.” This understanding of the impact of trauma on the brain and learning, as well as the partnerships within the community make success for increasing numbers of students possible.

Results from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey taken in Washington State in 2011 indicate that 74% of Washington residents have experienced at least one Adverse Childhood Experience, and 28% have three or more.    This survey measures health status of adults, but the translation of ACES to younger generations can easily be recognized in the children. As these students’ teachers, principals, and district administrators seek to “close the gap” for the children and young adults, awareness of the impact of trauma on the developing brain provides critical insight. In our quest to ensure success for every student, the nexus between the worlds of education and health offers both hope and results.

For more information, here are additional resources.
Hertel, R, Johnson, M. M., Kinkaid, S. O.. & Wolpow, R. (2009). The Heart of Learning and Teaching: Compassion, Resiliency, and Academic Success. Olympia, WA: Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction Compassionate Schools (OSPI). 
Medina, J, (2008). Brain Rules. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.
Resource List from the Washington State Department of Health.

Kathryn McDaniel
Public Health Nurse Supervisor
Family Medical Center
Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, Walla Walla

Karin Manns
Principal, Monte Cristo Elementary and
Director of Teaching & Learning, Granite Falls School District

Monday, January 27, 2014

Do I Need to be a Connected Educator?

“I’m convinced that we as educators have an obligation to initiate new learning, become skillful in the use of new tools that accelerate and advance our learning work, and share with others what we are learning.”  - Pam Moran, Superintendent Albermarle County Public Schools

Educators have worked extremely hard over the past years to shift away from a paradigm of isolation and closed doors to one of inclusion and support.  School districts have developed and established professional learning communities to further the practice of connecting with colleagues and eliminate the practice of isolation.  Through this intentional work, school leaders and educators have learned from each other, supported one another through new learning, and become reliant on a small team of colleagues for support and encouragement.  They have become “connected” and see the potential in continuing the work.

Being connected to others is exciting.  As educators it is powerful to know that we can share ideas and learn from one another.  We now have the opportunity to stretch our thinking and create a network for learning.  Too often though, this network is limited to just our school walls.  To be a truly “connected educator”, we need to expand our network beyond the walls of the school and engage and participate in the global connectedness we live in.

To do this we must look beyond the traditional meaning of connectedness.  Defining it is not as simple as participating in a professional learning community at your school, belonging to the science team in your district, or knowing your colleagues and staff.  Many people instantly assume that in order to become a connected educator we need to embrace technology as the vehicle for this.  Technology can play a critical role, but being connected is much more than just using technology.  It is about the interactions and conversations we have with people.  It’s about connecting with people who inspire, support, and enrich your learning.  It’s about creating conversations that have purpose and meaning to your work.  It’s about becoming a connected learner and increasing your expertise.  In order to do this, an educator must be willing to:
   Seek out and connect with other educators through any means, technology or otherwise.
   Explore, create, share, and contribute something meaningful to the group.
   Become digitally literate through the use of Twitter, reading of blogs, and the development of a Personal Learning Network (PLN).
   Share with colleagues what you have learned through connecting with other educators.
   Be transparent in thinking and reflect on the conversations you take part in.
   Talk about how being connected has affected your work.

For me the answer about needing to be a connected educator is clearly yes.  Being an active participant in the connected world with which we live, has had a profound impact on my work as a school leader.  The connections I have created through using technology and otherwise, has allowed me to break down the isolation I feel as a solo building administrator.  I have a network of wisdom that I can turn to when I need information or want to learn something new.  Knowing that I can reach out and receive thoughtful, intelligent, and honest feedback is comforting.  The more conversations I have, the more I realize there is no way I could effectively do my job without being a connected educator.

Here are a few ways that our school and I have benefitted by becoming connected with others:
   Fifth grade students participating in an “Identity Day” project where they create a display that shows what they are passionate about in their life.  This idea came from Chris Wejr, Principal at James Hill Elementary in Langley, British Columbia.  This project has become an integral part of our end of school year reflection.
   Participating in the World Read Aloud Day with multiple classes in our school.  Through the power of Skype we read books aloud to other classrooms across the world.  Reading with a class of students in the country of Jordan was a highlight for all.
   Participation in a local network of local school administrators to examine and reflect on the implementation of a new teacher evaluation system. 
   Learning how to become more effective in my work as an instructional leader by participating in educational chats (edchats) on Twitter.
   Developing a collaborative writing project between our school and an elementary school in Missouri.

This list is by now ways exhaustive, but I hope it provides you with a small glimpse on how being connected has made the work that happens in our school meaningful.

We live in a connected world and the students that walk through our doors each day are connected.  They want and need educators that are connected, not just through technology, but also with each other.  Being connected to others is exciting and I hope you find being connected as enriching to your practice as I have in mine.

Scott Friedman, Principal
Nine Mile Falls Elementary
Nine Mile Falls School District

Monday, January 13, 2014

Why does it seem like everything in education is changing? And, is there a way to think about the work that could make the work more manageable?

Anyone working in education today knows this is a busy year. On top of local initiatives that were already underway in many districts, externally-imposed initiatives – such as the new teacher and principal evaluation systems, adoption and implementation of evaluation frameworks, student growth measures, Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and the new state assessment, Smarter Balanced (SB) – are also in full swing. So why does it seem like everything is changing? Because it is! In a nutshell, we are re-tooling almost everything in public education related to curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Why so much change? Our work is changing because the purpose of American public education has changed. In 1993, we switched from a norm-referenced system of education to a criterion-referenced, or standards-based, system with the passage of HB 1209. The goal of the education system over the last 20 years has been to graduate students who were high school competent. Although the system is still standards-based, those standards have changed. Since August, 2013, the new goal is to get all students, not merely high school competent, but college and career ready.

Because our previous standards aimed only at high school competency and not college and career readiness, the CCSS are being implemented to provide a better path to college and career readiness. When the goal of education changed, the standards needed to change. Likewise, once the standards changed, the assessment used to measure the standards needed to change.

Although it is a lot of work to learn the new standards (CCSS) and to align to the new assessments (SB), it may be comforting to remember we have been doing this kind of work for two decades. These changes in curriculum and assessment, although numerous, are mostly just a “search and replace” of the work we have been doing and know how to do. On the other hand, instruction is likely to be the most overwhelming area of change because it has been the most neglected in previous reform efforts.

For 20 years, we have set curriculum standards (EALRs) and aligned to them (GLEs). We also established assessments (WASL/MSP/HSPE) and aligned to those (test specifications). During this time period, however, there was not much talk about instruction. Some of the state teacher evaluation criteria related to instruction, but no state or national initiative gave much attention to improving instruction. The theory of change for the last 20 years was essentially: Set standards and assess students; re-set standards and re-assess students; re-re-set standards and re-re-assess students. When students did not perform to the level of expectations, the standards were revised. The solution to improved student learning appeared to be solely in an aligned curriculum.

The next two decades, however, promise to look a bit different. Because college and career readiness has raised the standard on what students must achieve before exiting high school, students must learn more information, faster, and earlier than they have in the past. This being the case, if 70% of the students in a district were meeting the criterion standard when the goal was high school competency, then one might expect that percentage to go down now that there are more rigorous standards aimed at college and career readiness.

Just because we set new (higher) standards does not mean students will meet those standards unless we consider the role instruction has to play in learning. Research around cognitive science and learning theory indicates students can learn if they are taught in a way that helps them learn. The challenge over the next two decades will be moving our mindset from teaching content to facilitating learning.

The new emphasis on evaluation systems and frameworks reflects an intentional, purposeful effort to define effective instruction and to hold educators accountable for delivering it. Effective instruction will play a (perhaps the) key role in helping students succeed at more rigorous work, earlier in school. This is why there is so much emphasis on instruction now: Because we have never supported it systemically before, and we have some catching up to do. The theory of change for the next two decades is more likely to be characterized by the following:

Can we think about this work in a more manageable way? People are more likely to do something if it is doable. Therefore, how do we make sense of this work and keep it simple? First, try to think about all the changes as being under one initiative related to College and Career Readiness. Second, although CCSS and SB present new information, they are essentially the same kinds of work we have been doing for years. Third, beyond CCSS and SB, most of the other initiatives have to do with our new focus on instruction. Although the professional development that an educator attends might be titled TPEP, GLAD, AVID, GRR, STEM, STAR, Learning Walks, Lesson Study, Danielson, Marzano, 5 D+, Calibration, etc., they all have one thing in common – instruction. I believe helping educators understand why all the changes are happening and how they can make sense under one or two initiative umbrellas is the key to avoiding reform fatigue.


Duane Baker is the founder and president of Baker Evaluation, Research, and Consulting, Inc (The BERC Group). Dr. Baker has a broad spectrum of public school educational and program experience, including serving as a high school classroom teacher, high school assistant principal, middle school principal, executive director for curriculum and instruction, and assistant superintendent. Dr. Baker can be reached at