Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Should We Rethink How We Prepare Students to be College and Career Ready?

Changing mindsets
From my past 25 years in K-12 public education it has been my experience that preparing students for college and career readiness across our nation has been more or less a single minded approach. When we currently think of college and career readiness in most minds it means preparing students to enter college, namely four year colleges and all of the specific requirements that go into that particular process.  Thus, when the term of college and career readiness comes up in most circles of K-12 conversation, it typically means that a student transitioning out of high school that is college and career ready has met each of the requirements to be accepted into a four year college institution.
It is there that we assume that by students being ready to enter college, we have set students on a stage for being equipped with the knowledge and appropriate career preparation tools to excel in college and thus a career of choice for their futures. We have been under the notion that the best way to a solid career path was to earn a four year degree which in some areas of perspective employment is very necessary. However, not all gainful career paths require a four year college degree to set students on a successful journey towards their employment future.

Rethinking the approach to career preparation:
In recent years, it has been noted by industry that the K-12 approach of “college for all” has eroded the workforce that has been largely responsible for the industrial and technology advances we have enjoyed as a nation transitioning from an education system that supported an agriculture based economy in our schools, to supporting an industrial based economy and workforce needs. Over the last three decades we have moved very quickly into a very technology driven economy in the 20th century where college and career preparation meant a four year college degree needed to be attained by all who sought gainful living wage employment in the 20th century.
As we have moved into the 21st century, the workforce needs and the way we prepare K-12 students for those workforce needs through high school and post high school planning has taken a slightly different approach or so it would appear as the need to do so.  According to an article published in the Seattle times by Claudia Rowe, The old image of college as four years on an ivy-covered campus is increasingly giving way to programs that offer hit-the-ground-running career skills, often developed outside of libraries and lecture halls. (Rowe, C. (2016, November 6). Should we prepare all students for four college entrance requirements only? Seattle Times, pp. A1-A3.
The trouble is, Washington State has beefed-up the amount of core academic requirements a student must meet in order to attain a high-school diploma. Washington State’s newly adopted 24 credit graduation requirement appears to focus primarily on more rigorous core academics  requirements and therefore seem to be at odds with the need of some 600,000 jobs forecasted in the next four years that will require specialized training or certification, but not necessarily a four year college degree. Meanwhile, state officials say the number of students enrolling in career and technical education courses (known as CTE) has grown, from 18.5 percent of all ninth-through-12th graders in the 2006-07 school year to 20 percent this year. Those numbers represent an overall average, of course. The reality between districts varies widely, with rural areas tending to offer more career-training programs than urban districts.
“There are a lot of young people who went out to college like we asked them to and had no idea why,” says Ken Emmil, Assistant Superintendent for Career and College Readiness at the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “We have a significant population of kids who graduate high school and go into college with no end in mind. (Rowe, C. (2016, November 6). Should we prepare all students for college entrance requirements only? Seattle Times, pp. A1-A3
Preparing students for 21st Century Careers
Over the course of time since the industrial revolution, post-secondary education has been viewed as an escalator mechanism of sorts, where within individuals who attain higher levels of education have increased incomes over time, an improved quality of life and greater access to educational and medical service (Baum, Ma, & Payea, 2013).
What remains clear to me in the second half of the 21st century is that we must change our counseling and guidance system in K-12 schools from a reactive guidance model that focuses on serving students who are under duress, at risk for failure or drop out, focus on those students who plan to attend a four year college and used in most all school sites as state assessment coordinators. In a comprehensive guidance model, counselors would engage with students on some of the afore mentioned focuses, however, the difference is that counselors would focus on all aspects of a student’s social, emotional wellbeing as well as their college and career planning that would allow for more thorough college and career planning tool use and activities that support college and career preparation.
Washington State has a graduation requirement that states all students will be prepared for college and or a career upon graduation but has not clearly defined a specific protocol that would measure a student’s readiness for college and career success upon graduation from high schools. Therefore, the vague description from the Washington State School Board Directors of what college and career ready means has left individual districts to determine what college and career preparation for students mean for their individual district.
If school districts in Washington State are left to interpret what college and career readiness means for all students, it will be the same way districts addressed the former graduation requirement of students needing to complete a senior project prior to graduation. The intended outcomes will look different with different expectations from school district to school district. There must be a more defined requirement for districts to adhere to, therefore making the college and career graduation requirement expectations uniform to all districts with the same set of expected outcomes for student planning for college and career readiness and success upon graduating from high school.
Over the past three decades or so our student focus has been to graduate students and prepare them for success in completing a four year college degree which will lead to gainful employment and a larger lifetime earnings has left our nation ill prepared to fill the soon to be vacated careers by a skilled labor force with a nation of liberal arts degrees that do not apply to the skills and training needed to access many blue color careers. Preparing students for all post high school pathways seems to be the need of our state and our nation. We tend to forget that two year and technical degrees, apprenticeships, industry certifications, technical training, the military and four year college degrees are all viable pathways for students to be college and career ready upon graduating from high school. We need to make a paradigm shift in our approach to this work going forward in the 21st century or risk further eroding our workforce with less qualified workers prepared to enter these careers. We should prepare students during high school to access some type of higher education training post high school that will specifically prepare students for the expectations of their chosen career path.
Integrate career explorations into the curriculum in the elementary grades:
The popular preparation moniker currently is that college and career explorations exposure should begin as early as elementary school with planning to continue to be more definitively focused as students advance in grade levels. Starting the exploration process in high school has been deemed by many as too long to wait to begin having students focus and prepare for their futures.
Rethinking College Access and Readiness:
Preparing students for college in the mindset of many educators and parents has been thought of as preparing high school students to enter a four year college. That has long been the measurement of a high schools success profile, how many students they send to college each year. Moreover, how many they send to a four year college is the milestone of success when speaking in terms of college entrance. Little thought is put into the rationale for attempting to push all students through the four year college tube, except for the fact it is good to seek higher education at the bachelors level. However beneficial a college degree might be, as many Bachelor degree earners have found, it is good to seek higher education but with a rationale and purpose for doing so with a well thought out plan or course of what level of degree, certificate or technical training might be needed for the career a student seeks. Otherwise, students can find themselves with a degree that has left them deep in debt to attain with little gainful employment outlook for the degree they have earned.
Community and technical college student average age of attendance in Washington State is 28 years old. The community and technical colleges in Washington State tend to focus on recruiting the retrained worker rather than the high school senior. Thus, the data pointing to the average age of a community college student being students who are retraining for another career, need additional training after attaining a Bachelor degree or decided to delay their entrance into higher education for whatever reason. The data indicates again, most high school students are being prepared to largely attend a university after their high school completion.  Programs such as Upward Bound, Gear Up, VIP Scholars are all programs that help facilitate student planning and preparation for college but these programs only exist mostly in urban or rural high schools.
They are not normally programs utilized by most school districts as a planning program preparing students for college, two or four year (Howard, Tyrone C., Tunstall, J. Flennaugh, T. K., 2016).
Upward Bound: Upward Bound provides fundamental support to participants in their preparation for college entrance. The program provides opportunities for participants to succeed in their precollege performance and ultimately in their higher education pursuits. Upward Bound serves: high school students from low-income families; and high school students from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor's degree. The goal of Upward Bound is to increase the rate at which participants complete secondary education and enroll in and graduate from institutions of postsecondary education.
Gear Up: This discretionary grant program is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. GEAR UP provides six-year grants to states and partnerships to provide services at high-poverty middle and high schools.
Earning college credit while in high school:
Most students are encouraged to take a heavy load of college prep courses offered while attending public, private comprehensive high schools and some skills centers, especially private high schools. Advanced placement and International Baccalaureate and Cambridge courses are the courses students are most commonly encourage to take to prepare them for college entrance. Data tells us that many high school students do not take or pass the subsequent culminating assessment affiliated with each of those courses that would allow students to earn the college credit for the course while in high school. This would therefore seemingly cut down on a student’s time and cost of paying for college. There are several other ways high school students can earn college credits while in high school. Tech Prep, College in the High School, and Running Start are all dual enrollment programs that high school student have access to and earn more college credits in but are seldom looked at with the same college prep esteem as AP or IB courses. The cost of taking some of these courses can be prohibitive for some students to take the final AP or IB exams to earn the college credit. Generally the culminating assessment is around $85 for a student to take. College in the High School costs vary from college to college but there is generally a cost associated with each credit earned. Tech Prep and Running Start are generally cost free for earning credit. There may be some minimal administrative cost associated with these two models. Here is a list of the most commonly used programs that offer students the ability to earn college credit while in high school, therefore aiding their ability to adequately prepare for college by starting to earn credit while in high school and demonstrating to colleges that they are taking a load of rigorous course work that will prepare them to be successful with the remainder of their college program.

Dual Enrollment: Concurrent enrollment provides high school students the opportunity to take college-credit bearing courses taught by college-approved high school teachers. It is a low-cost, scalable model for bringing accelerated courses to students in urban, suburban, and rural high schools. Students gain exposure to the academic challenges of college while in their high school environment, earning transcribed college credit at the time they successfully pass the course. Concurrent enrollment also facilitates close collaboration between high school teachers and college faculty that fosters alignment of secondary and postsecondary curriculum. Sometimes called “dual credit,” “dual enrollment,” or “college in the high school,” concurrent enrollment partnerships differ from other models of dual enrollment because high school instructors teach the college courses.
College in the High School: High school students can complete University or college level courses and earn credit while in their own classrooms at their respective high schools with their own teachers. Students and teachers use the college’s curriculum the school or program has an articulation agreement with. Students earn a final grade over time; a grade does not depend on one exam. The credits that students earn are transferrable to most public and many private colleges and universities, depending on the course.
Tech Prep/Dual Enrollment   : Tech Prep is an industry and education partnership committed to providing a highly-trained and motivated workforce, prepared to pursue lifelong learning in a changing technological society. Tech Prep provides occupational pathways for students by preparing them for technologically advanced careers and postsecondary education by emphasizing strong academic, technical, problem solving, and critical thinking skills. Tech Prep prepares students for the world of work and helps maintain a quality life in a changing society. Tech Prep is a national educational initiative. It includes a rigorous and focused course of study that provides students with essential academic and technical foundations that prepare students with necessary workplace skills
Running Start: Running Start is intended to provide students a program option consisting of attendance at certain institutions of higher education and the simultaneous earning of high school and college/university credit. Running Start was initiated by the Legislature as a component of the 1990 parent and student Students in grades 11 and 12 are allowed to take college courses at Washington’s community and technical colleges, and at Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Washington State University, and Northwest Indian College. Running Start Students and their families do not pay tuition, but they do pay college fees and buy their own books, as well as provide their own transportation. Students receive both high school and college credit for these classes and therefore accelerate their progress through the education system. The exercise of that right is subject only to minimal eligibility and procedural requirements, which are spelled out, in state administrative rules for more information.

Credit by proficiency exam: Are programs created by the College Board, which offers college-level curricula and examinations to high school students. American colleges and universities often grant placement and course credit to students who obtain high scores on the examinations.

Advanced Placement(AP): Advanced Placement (AP) is a program of college-level courses offered at many high schools.  Courses are available in many subject areas, including English, history, humanities, languages, math, psychology and science. The focus is not on memorizing facts and figures. It's on engaging discussions, approaching and solving problems together and learning to write well. You'll get to study fascinating topics and ideas. Who knows? One (or more!) might just become the foundation of your future college major or career.

International Baccalaureate (IB): What is the International Baccalaureate? The IB is a high school program that doubles as a highly respected college prep curriculum. The IB program encourages students to think broadly, beyond the boundaries of their communities, and to see themselves as members of a global society. It has gained recognition and respect from most U.S. colleges.
Cambridge: The Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) Diploma is an international curriculum and examination system that emphasizes the value of broad and balanced study. Alongside in-depth understanding of a variety of subjects, students also need to master a broader range of skills critical for success in university study and employment.  The Cambridge AICE Diploma was first awarded in 1997 and has since become popular with a range of schools in different parts of the world. It encompasses the ‘gold standard’ Cambridge International AS and A Level qualifications, and offers students the opportunity to tailor their studies to their individual interests, abilities and future plans within an international curriculum framework.
The bottom line is, Washington State graduation requirements mimic the state college entrance requirements. Data tells us that not all of our high school graduates will attend a four year college. Current workforce trends indicate that our education system does not need to prepare all students for a four year college for post high school career training. Thus, the need to not do so has been reflected in current and national workforce data. Again, it is time to rethink how students are prepared for college and career readiness.

Baum, S., Ma, J. & Payea, K. (2013). Education Pays 2013; The benefits of higher                              education for individuals and society. Washington, DC: College Board. Available at                Trends.collegeboard.org/sites/default.files/education-pays-2013 full report.pdf
Howard, T. C., Tunstall,  Flennaugh, T.K.). Expanding College Access for Urban Youth.
             New York, NY: Teachers College Press(2016).
Rowe, C. (2016, November 6). Should we prepare all students for four year college                            entrance requirements only? Seattle Times, pp. A1&A3

Dr. Thomas Mosby
Executive Director for Career pathways and Partnerships
HIghline School District

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Why Stem?

I am the kind of person who jumps in with both feet, without checking the depth of the water. When a few of my colleagues here at South Colby Elementary in Port Orchard, WA, approached our staff with the idea of becoming a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) school, I was all in. After a year or so of dabbling, I quickly learned that STEM is not stacking cups to build the tallest tower. STEM is a philosophy that supports and integrates all disciplines.

The purpose of STEM education is to guide students toward becoming innovators, to think outside of the box. According to the article What is STEM Education, “Technology helps us communicate; Math is the language; Science and Engineering are the processes for thinking; all this leads to Innovation.” (www.education.com/reference/article/what-stem-education-science-technology/) This was one of those times where jumping in paid off. It has changed the way I teach and the way my students learn.

Last year, my 5th grade students found a problem at our school. They did not like how our upper recess field closed on rainy days because the field was too soggy to use. After countless observations and interviews with peers and staff, they decided that in order for the field to be opened we needed to plant more grass seeds. Our patchy field became too muddy to access on a rainy day.

The only problem was we didn’t know what kind of grass seeds to plant; we needed to test multiple samples and find the best for our climate and the most durable for our busy field. The students decided that our school needed a greenhouse so experiments, such as this one, could be done. We found a local grant and the students applied. I submitted their grant request. To my surprise, they received the grant!

We purchased a greenhouse kit. As it was en route to our school, the students had to find a location, measure the perimeter, calculate the area of needed gravel, price out the gravel, request additional funds, and receive approval from building and district administration. The best part about the whole process… it wasn’t me! In fact, they thought of things that I had yet to process. All I could think was, “Wow! Is this that magical phenomenon I’ve heard so much about when students take over their own learning?”

By the time our greenhouse kit arrived, the students had completely prepared the site and were ready to begin building. On a cold, blustery day in February our greenhouse was built with the help of some adult volunteers. The students had to follow directions, problem solve, work as a team, design, redesign and most importantly, get their hands dirty. The finished product was amazing. Proud is not a strong enough word to describe how the students felt, let alone how I felt.

To begin to test grass seeds we needed quite a few supplies. We needed tools, trays, shelving, seeds, soil and more. The students decided that they needed to raise additional money for the supplies. They voted to create a Donors Choose project requesting the items we needed. After only one day live on Donors Choose, we had been fully funded and our items were shipped to our school. We were able to answer our initial question which was, “How can we improve the upper field during the rainy season?” The students submitted a proposal to our administrator detailing their work and findings, and strongly suggested a brand of grass seed based on their tests and collected data.

The components of STEM were woven through every piece of this large project the students took on. It wasn’t until about mid-year when I realized that STEM is so much more than building the tallest spaghetti noodle and marshmallow tower. Our STEM project started science-based and quickly included technology, engineering, mathematics, informational texts, research skills, speaking and listening, persuasive writing… the list goes on. 

According to research from The Journal of Pre-College Engineering, “STEM integration offers students one of the best opportunities to experience learning in a real world situation, rather than to learn bits and pieces and then to have to assimilate them at a later time.” (Hui-Hui et al) Teaching and applying these skills in a real world situation made the learning relevant and engaged all the learners in my classroom.

I consider myself a STEM teacher. Did I get there overnight? No. Did I do it justice my first two years? No. Was the time, effort and additional learning on my part worth it? Yes, a million times over! It has changed my approach to teaching and has made cross-discipline, real-world, relevant instruction possible.


Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research
STEM Integration: Teacher Perceptions and Practice
Hui-Hui Wang, Tamara J. Moore, Gillian H. Roehrig, and Mi Sun Park

Courtney Vetter
5th Grade Teacher
South Kitsap School District – South Colby Elementary

Friday, October 14, 2016

How Does Social Emotional Learning Intersect with School Mental Health?

Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines Social Emotional Learning (SEL) as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” SEL provides us a wonderful lens to examine the intricacies of daily life in school settings, as well as cumulative benefit, when students are supported to achieve both socially and academically. The definition for mental health is one’s ability to achieve well-being and contribute meaningfully, realize abilities, be productive, and cope with adversities. Here we begin to see the confluence of mental health and SEL.
Specifically relating to mental health in schools, the Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF) is a structure and process for blending education and mental health systems through a multi-tiered structure approach. ISF promotes a continuum of mental health supports embedded in all three tiers of multi-tiered systems of behavioral support in schools. ISF supports schools and providers in collaborating for student well-being, mental health promotion, and academic success in a cohesive and integrated way.
Much like the public health model, universal behavior supports are intended to prevent new cases of problem behavior. These supports are delivered to every student, everywhere, by every staff member. In the tiered framework, supplemental layers of supports are available when a student is in need. The universal supports are always there, working as a foundation.

Here we see the most obvious intersections with mental health and Social Emotional Learning; the emphasis on foundational supports that help our students thrive. We also see that school mental health and SEL cannot be represented by any singular, isolated service or activity. School mental health is an integrated process that asks staff, providers, and school communities to deeply explore avenues for improved student well-being. SEL also requires a growth mindset that asks us to frame interpersonal and academic exchanges with warm reception, curiosity, and a commitment to supportive relationships. When schools promote mental health, integrate treatment, or refine referral services, it is a demonstration of comprehensive social emotional learning. CASEL’s 5 Core Competencies include self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness. Although school mental health is only one school-wide practice driven by SEL, it is one that can save lives.

We know that SEL and school mental health initiatives can contribute to improved academic and health outcomes. Working together within a tiered system, SEL can be the universal approach that allows for students to gain the skills and resources necessary to thrive. SEL is not a universal screening process; which is why it is important to integrate school behavioral health services into a tiered system. SEL offers students resources and skills to bolster their ability to persevere in school, control their impulses, have a sense of belonging, and practice appropriate judgement and decision making. Through a tiered school mental health system, students can connect with behavioral health providers who can deliver acute care. Many districts have success with this effort, what successes can you share?  What big impacts have you seen?

2014 Healthy Youth Survey Data shows that over 50% of youth in grades 10 and 12 reported not being able to stop or control worrying in the past 2 weeks. Over 60% of youth in grades 10 and 12 reported feeling nervous or anxious. Our students are affected by mental distress caused by environmental stressors (i.e., family crisis, end of a significant relationship, or death of a loved one). This impacts their daily experience in school and at home. However, we still struggle with the stigma of mental health in schools and society. How can we continue to improve mental health and SEL awareness?  SEL contributes to student success in school through relationship building and problem solving in interpersonal interactions with peers and staff. This allows for the learning of competencies necessary for managing emotions and resolving conflict. Students who may be suffering from environmental stressors will benefit from the positive effects of the SEL environment. Adding mental health supports into the tiered system offers services to those students who may need more intensive supports.  What shifts are you seeing as SEL and school mental health continue to take shape in Washington state?

Interconnected Systems Framework: Integrating School Mental Health and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports by Kelly Perales 

Mandy Paradise
Project AWARE Program Supervisor
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

Camille Goldy
Suicide Prevention Program Supervisor
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

Monday, August 8, 2016

TPEP 2.0: Is a Growth Mindset Just for Students?

What is making the difference in districts, schools and classrooms experiencing success with the new evaluation model in Washington State and those that are struggling?  Is it new and better evaluation forms? Student growth goal-setting? Binders and binders of evidence? Or is it a difference that is parallel to one we see in the classrooms of effective teachers in our schools: a belief that people can grow and have the potential to learn under the right conditions? Conditions that include systems of support, a fearless press to strive for excellence, and trust between evaluator and educational professional. With the right mindset and these conditions, evaluation can move beyond pre-judgment, judgment and a punitive system, to the actual growth that we intend for all in our system: students and staff alike.

One of the six Core Principles that underpin the TPEP philosophy states: “Professional learning is a key component of an effective evaluation system.”  Let us consider how this principle supports evaluators bringing a growth mindset to the TPEP table.  The words “professional learning,” imply that teachers/educational professionals should not be considered a finished product.  We should continually seek new learning to improve our practice. This principle calls us to continue to learn, i.e. grow.  If we are expected to grow, then those who are helping us reflect on and monitor our growth, and ultimately judge that growth against a rubric, should believe that we have the potential to improve. Evaluators in a successful growth-centered culture, must initially view the people they are evaluating as having the capacity to grow and learn, or the evaluation could be completed after an initial observation in the early part of the school year. If we are setting goals and monitoring progress, then we should give time and opportunity for practice, and, yes, possibly a failed attempt, followed by another try to improve. How many of us view our own evaluation process as an opportunity to say, with learning and effort I can become better at this practice or that piece of the framework?  How many of us have already decided, “I am not good at that instructional strategy, so I’m not going to try it”?

We should have high expectations for growth for ourselves, and press each other to improve.  But do evaluators come to the evaluation process with a growth mindset for us? Desire for growth needs to occur to keep us from becoming complacent, or to move us to the uncomfortable space of recognizing blind spots or areas for growth.  In order for us to grow as professionals through the evaluation process, systems of support must be in place. Just as we would not expect a student to grow without support, we cannot set a non-negotiable for teachers to grow without providing supports including time, resources, and the ability to risk. The ability to risk costs nothing, but risk can be personally costly.  Time and resources have the potential to be a financial drain.  But does it cost much to have a conversation a couple of times a week to check on someone’s progress, or listen to questions about the risk that has been taken and give a bit of feedback?  The act of paying attention and listening to someone reflect on the risks he is taking, including progress and setbacks, can have a positive impact on the relationship between the evaluator and evaluee, and may provide more insight than a binder of evidence presented at the culmination of the school year, when no adjustments can be made. Trust, challenge and support are the ingredients that undergird a growth mindset that can powerfully affect the evaluation process in a productive way.

As we start the new school year, and another round of TPEP begins, we should try bringing the same growth mindset to the evaluation process that we grant our students.
Evaluators, do you arrive at the pre-observation conference with a fixed or a growth mindset? Do you have ways to support teachers as they risk and take chances that will lead to their growth?  Do you spend the time necessary to build trust that enhances your ability to push them to the next level of performance? Evaluees, do you believe you can and should grow, learn and improve? 

Instead of revamping the evaluation forms again, or creating a new list of evidence to be collected this year, what if we focused on setting high expectations and creating a growth mindset for adults that the evaluation process could be used to facilitate and affirm that growth? At the end of the day, what could a little optimism and belief in potential hurt?

Submitted by:
Heidi Hellner-Gomez
Executive Director of Instructional Leadership
Sunnyside School District

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Why Do I Want to Be a Teacher?

Many current practitioners in the field of education are often asked, “Why would you want to be a teacher?”  Frustrating as the tone of that question is, it’s also easy to understand where this often-cynical question finds root, and I can’t say that I necessarily blame the general public for their derision.  After all, our foundational frameworks of understanding education in general, and teaching specifically, is often informed by our interactions with TV shows, 24-hour news channels, political debate, etc.  Teaching is one of the few professions that nearly all members of society have interacted with for the majority of their lives (as either student or parent).  School is a common bond, with uncommon experiences, and it’s those negative (or uncommon dare I say “unexpected”?) experiences that inform the motivation of politicians and bureaucrats who seek to “reform.” It’s also rooted in the skepticism formulated by news stories in today’s 24-hour cycle; and that cynicism is also the driver for negative characterization of teachers as portrayed in popular TV shows and movies. Why would you want to be a teacher?  An article in the Washington Post (June, 2015) highlighted the top five reasons why teachers quit:
  •   Reality vs. Idealism (The gap between pre-service and in-service)
  • Lack of Respect (See above)
  • Paperwork (grading, assessment, report cards, etc…)
  • Environment (Valued Added Measures (VAM) based evaluations – Fear)
  • Will I have a job? (Probably not a current reality in Washington State)

However, what happens when “would you” is replaced with “do I?” as in, “Why do I teach?”  Suddenly the tone changes from defensive to proactive. It postulates a sense of optimism and hope for a profession worthy of both! As Director of Student Teaching, I have the distinct privilege of working in an environment where young aspiring teachers come to us with a sense of urgency to step in and step up to help change the world one child at a time.  As they grow and mature in their training, the rose-colored glasses fade just a bit as they begin to see the realities and challenges presented by the issues in today’s classrooms (over assessment, poverty, racial inequities, language barriers, etc…).  The barriers for these pre-service teachers become opportunities and for so many they move toward certification with a renewed sense of purpose and belonging.

Annually the new “doe-eyed” student comes into my office that has developed a romanticized notion of what teaching is or will be.  Because of this, I challenge pre-service teachers to wrestle with “why” they want to become a teacher.  Initial responses include simplistic answers such as “I love kids,” or I’ve “always wanted to teach.”  Yet, over time these responses mature.  The development process also affords growth in the depth of the answer. The candidates who earnestly wrestled with their chosen profession now find themselves with answers such as “to provide all children (no exceptions) with access to quality teaching, regardless of zip-code.  To model love and empathy; to be a voice for the voiceless, and to stand for justice, when no justice seems present.” 

These are the reasons new teachers are choosing to teach. These are the answers to “Why I do want to be a teacher.”  It’s important, then, that those of us established in this high calling, also help turn the tide and begin to promote the benefits, shorten the gap between idealism and realism, and use our voices to promote equity and access to all. 

I recently asked one of our graduates to reflect on the question: Why I want to be a teacher,” after nearly completing her first year of teaching, here is her response:

Each day I see students smiling and laughing together, helping each other learn a new concept, playing soccer together during lunch, or running to come tell me the latest thing they are SO proud of.  My students are why I am a teacher.  They inspire me everyday, constantly reminding me that there is more to school than the Pythagorean Theorem. I have learned so much from my kids this year. 

I want to be a teacher to help my students learn how to learn. Learn about life. Learn about themselves. Learn about math. Recently I asked my classes what they thought about learning. One student wrote, “School should be a place where we can be curious and happy.” I hope to make school that kind of place, where learning is desired rather than dreaded, curiosity is welcomed, and students feel comfortable thinking out of the box. 

Let us not give heed to the cynicism that so easily creeps into our profession; instead let’s harken back to a time when each of us answered our own why, and let’s join forces with new colleagues entering the profession to balance the realities of high stakes assessments with the goal of bending the arc of justice to a more rounded focus on the whole child.

Keith A Lambert, Ed.D.
Assistant Professor
Director of Student Teaching
Whitworth University

Monday, April 11, 2016

What Messages do Students Receive During a School Day?

I started this article with a plan, as I was asked to write about what it is like to be a kid for a day.  I was going to shadow a student and record the Growth and Fixed Mindset messages students give and receive during a typical day. I did do exactly what I wanted to do:  followed a student and recorded the interactions that could be considered either Growth or Fixed Mindset messages.  I found that it was not as simple as I thought.  A message like, “good job,” is considered a Fixed Mindset message, but what if it is followed up with, “But tell me why you think ‘successor’ means that.”  That simple little follow up statement changed a Fixed Mindset response, to a Growth Mindset response, and communicated to the student that the learning was more about the process than the result. 
What does this have to do with being a kid for a day?  I shadowed a student, trying to get a sense of the messages students heard throughout the day.  What are we, the teachers, communicating, as we offer feedback?  I tracked those messages. I listened, typed, and coded all day long.  At the end of seventh period, our last class of the day, I still was not sure what conclusions I could draw about the Fixed and Growth Mindset messages our students were hearing.  I was not really sure what I could take away from the day, as a student.

Then I had the opportunity to be a substitute principal at an elementary school for a week.  As a substitute principal, discipline is one major job I get to handle.  I actually love that part of the job.  I enjoy talking with kids, learning about them, and working with them to create plans so that whatever went wrong, and landed them some time in the hot seat, will not happen again; so they will know how to respond the next time.  It is amazing how a little listening and some sincere respect causes a child to open up and share more details than I really need to hear.  But it does.  And they do.
One child, a fifth grader, was sent to the office for having a meltdown after his paper airplane, during a science investigation, did not achieve the longest flight in the class.  He was just barely beat out by another student, and he had worked hard, for days, trying to design and fold the perfect paper airplane (That’s a Growth Mindset!).  There is nothing wrong with a little competition, and the teachers had certainly set up the competition in a fun and engaging way, that had focused on the process (design, precision, principles of physics), and culminated in a competition.  And man was this kid upset when he did not place!  He threw his paper airplane, as hard as he could, across the room.  So, to the office he went, to spend recess reflecting about the problems caused by his actions.

I sat down with the student, and we had a fantastic conversation about how frustrated this child felt.  He enjoyed the entire process of the paper airplane challenge, and he was confident about winning.  Unfortunately, he had recently learned something about his family that shook him. With all the turmoil at home, and he was struggling to leave it behind when he was at school… thus, overreacting to the loss of the competition.  After our talk, though, he was feeling better.  He had some ideas for continuing his exploration of paper airplanes at home, and he acknowledged that other students had also worked hard on the challenge.  His loss was not their fault.  He was ready to go back to class, apologize, and have a great day. 

Feeling like I’d had a principal win, I attended to some other substitute principal responsibilities.  Soon there was a call on the walkie talkie that a food fight had broken out in the cafeteria.  I rushed to the lunchroom, to find the same student, and several other boys, engaged in some popcorn launching and exploding milk carton fun.  The cafeteria monitors did not think it was quite as fun.  Since the boys had taken from their community, they had to give something back: washing tables and cleaning up the mess that had been left on the floor.  Though they were not happy about it, all the kids slipped on some gloves and in minutes, turned the room into a sparkling lunchtime paradise.  After the clean-up, the boy I had talked with earlier walked over to the trashcan to throw away his glove. Plop.  It landed in the compost instead.  Out of frustration, one of the lunch monitors shouted, “What are you doing!  What’s wrong with you!”  The boy first became defensive, then turned around, and burst into tears. He crumbled. 

I do believe our students respond to Growth Mindset messages- but those messages are part of a process, and cannot be tracked or assessed in just one day.  These messages must be internalized, and that takes time.  When everything is going wrong in the life of a child, they have no control.  What we say and how we respond to their needs communicates whether we value the process or the product.  Yelling at a child for making a mistake, does not teach the child how to fix the mistake.  It takes more effort on our part, but rather than assuming there is something wrong with children who do not act or respond how we expect them too, we have to continue to teach and communicate the process.  Give children a chance to fix mistakes, both in academics, and with behavior, and recognize the effort it took to make a change.  We may not be able to fix a Fixed system, but we can be cognizant of how we respond to children, and allow mistakes, while we encourage Growth over time. That is a Growth Mindset.

Kelli Dizmang
Title I Math Teacher and Administrative Intern
Jemtegaard Middle School
Washougal School District


Sunday, February 28, 2016

How Do We Create a Classroom Culture That Fosters a Growth Mindset?

Touted as a recipe for success in a number of arenas, including business, education and sports, a growth mindset, compels people to “believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” This is in direct contrast to a fixed mindset, which leads people to “believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort” (Dweck, 2010).  

Recently I set off on a journey to learn more about growth mindset, hoping to provide richer learning experiences for my students, so I googled Dweck’s work, coming across what I shared above.  And though I eventually read on, this was as far as I had gotten before I made a discovery about the implications of this theory in education, a discovery that struck me straight on. I don’t think growth mindset will work in education. Truly. I don’t think it is just something teachers can pick off the shelf and decide to do, unless...unless, they first are willing to create a classroom culture that can breathe life into and sustain the growth-mindset approach. If they are not willing, not committed to doing this, then it is probably best left on the shelf, for it will not succeed. So how do we create a model that fosters a growth mindset among our students?  Let’s take a look at the current model first.

There’s a reason why so many of our students have a fixed mindset. We gave it to them. In many respects, as they crossed the threshold into education, we handed them a mindset that was then fed by the “learn-it-and-leave-it” approach to learning, which consequently resulted in their developing fixed beliefs about their abilities, stuck there from our passing judgement as we moved them through crazily crammed curricula. Year after year after year.  We teach. They learn. We test. They succeed.  They fail. They begin to believe what they can and can’t do. After all, we told them. And before long they have set ideas on their abilities. It is no wonder that by the time kids reach high school they are rigidly set in their perceptions. I am not good at math. I suck at writing. I hate science. In sum, they hate learning. We have to change that. Kids aren’t naturally predisposed to shun learning. They have learned it. But can we change that? I believe we can.

The New Model
To begin, we have to quit thinking of learning as a line.  We, instead, have to think of learning as a circle.  The old model suggests that we move kids along—ready or not.  In the old model, learning is predicated on success or failure, generally determined in a final test at the end of a unit of study, a final judgment before moving on to the next unit of study, a long linear approach that moves through content but never really allows kids to discover the effect that dedication and hard work can have not only on accomplishment but also perception. But what if we did it differently? What if instead of “learning it and leaving it,” we gave kids consistent chances to be dedicated and work hard to improve both their abilities and perceptions, continuously circling back to and around the key concepts and skills that we are focusing on?  If we did, then we’d need a new model. It might look something like this.
Poster created by Krissy Venosdale,

Steps to Creating a Classroom Culture That Fosters a Growth Mindset

1.    Slow down. Learning takes time.
2.    Focus.  Condense content into meaningful, manageable sets of focus standards. Give kids a smaller number of skills and concepts to really focus on and to really learn.
3.    Adopt a path-to-proficiency approach: practice, feedback, performance.  Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.  Really, this is the most important step.  This is the circle.  
4.    Implement and embrace an assessment-for-learning instead of an assessment-of-learning approach to evaluating student performance.  If we can get kids to believe that assessments are crucial measures, milestones for growth rather than ability alone, then we are moving in the right direction.
5.    Let go of the “one-and-done” approach to learning.  Let kids redo, re-submit, and retake everything.
7.    Provide independent learning opportunities. Consider project-based learning.
8.    Adopt and model your own genuine growth mindset.  You have to walk the walk, too. Engage in independent learning opportunities with your kids.  Be a learner.

Above are the steps that I am following as I make my own way. And now that I have taken those initial steps, I cannot imagine going back to my own fixed mindset about my ability to change students’ perceptions about their learning, about themselves.  I found freedom.  I found a growth mindset.  Let’s help students regain their own freedom.  Let’s help them find their own growth mindsets. In the end, it could be the most important thing we do for them. 

Monte Syrie teaches English at Cheney High School and education classes at Eastern Washington University. He is also the creator of the education blog ,www.letschangeeducation.com<http://www.letschangeeducation.com>.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

How can the use of inclusive language reduce bullying?

Words can be a bridge or a barrier to a student’s successful school experience. How teachers and administrators use words to describe the lived experience of their students, families, community members, and culture can invite a student into a dialogue, push them out, or ignore them entirely. Inclusive language is an invitation and is about more than just words – it is about respect, creating space for students to succeed, and recognizing the unique needs of each student. However, changing the way we communicate can be challenging - it requires thoughtfulness and intentionality. We probably don’t realize that many of the words, examples, and practices we use perpetuate bias, bigotry and, therefore, bullying. Communicating in an inclusive way requires patience of oneself and others and we must learn to think and speak differently by challenging our own norms of communicating and use of language. This advancement is essential if we aim to provide equity in teaching and learning.

© kmiragaya/123RF Stock Photo
The term “inclusive”, when used to modify “education”, addresses the need to provide instruction that is representative of all populations including, but not limited to, people of different races and ethnicities, cultural or religious values, genders, sexual orientations, disabilities, gender identities, or gender expressions. While people who identify with any one or more of these groups are protected by our state’s anti-discrimination laws, they are often underrepresented or invisible during instruction. Inclusive instruction ensures that each student has access to education that is equitable and representative. 

What does inclusive language look like?  It includes the use of the word “partner” rather than boyfriend or girlfriend; the phrase “he, she or they” rather than the use of one assumed gender pronoun; words like “if” rather than “when” in reference to marriage or having children; parent or caregiver instead of mother or father; examples of historical figures in social studies that represent diversity of gender, sexual orientation, religious values, disability, and gender. The use of inclusive language recognizes the wide range of expressions that are possible at different points in one’s life, helps challenge limiting and potentially harmful stereotypes, and encourages students to consider viewpoints and experiences beyond their own.  It expands rather than limits the possibilities for students and for education, and it suggests openness rather than restriction. There is no negative consequence to students when this shift in practice is made – only a benefit to more students.

All students deserve to learn about all subjects in settings that are safe and supportive. No one deserves to be bullied.  We know that LGBTQ students experience a highly disproportionate rate of bullying. In Washington, according to GLSEN’s 2013 National School Climate Survey, the vast majority of LGBT students regularly heard anti-LGBT remarks, and most had been victimized at school.  In these instances, inclusivity not only improves the learning experience, it decreases health disparities. The Human Rights Campaign, in a recent “call to action,” addresses the specific needs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) youth related to sexual health education:
For LGBTQ youth to experience comparable health benefits to their non-LGBTQ peers, sex education programs must be LGBTQ-inclusive. Inclusive programs are those that help youth understand gender identity and sexual orientation with age-appropriate and medically accurate information; incorporate positive examples of LGBTQ individuals, romantic relationships and families; emphasize the need for protection during sex for people of all identities; and dispel common myths and stereotypes about behavior and identity.
How can the use of inclusive language reduce bullying?

·       Using inclusive language is a critical component of creating a safe and supportive school environment for all students and staff.  Building and classroom conversations about the importance of language should be regular and on-going, as a way to support staff and students in developing a new, common vocabulary and approach to communication.
·       Observing teachers, staff and students using inclusive language reinforces its importance and its impact.  It helps create expectations for student behavior and helps everyone in the school community develop competence as they try out new ways of communicating ideas and feelings.
·       Hearing inclusive language helps vulnerable students feel safe and respected.  In addition to seeing real-time application of the values expressed in most school policies and procedures, it lets students know it’s safe to report or intervene when abusive or harassing language is used.  Knowing that adults and peers care enough to change their language provides students with the confidence to challenge hurtful and harmful interactions.

It’s not enough to limit derogatory language, although that should be a goal in all schools.  If we truly want to reduce bullying and increase school safety and equity, we all must commit to examining and changing our own use of language and move toward including every student in a positive way.  We need to be willing to intervene when we hear hurtful language being used, but more importantly, to move toward communication that brings us together and helps each member of the school community feel recognized and valued for exactly who they are as individuals. This could make all the difference – to one or one thousand of your students.

Laurie Dils,
Program Supervisor for Sexual Health Education

Marissa Rathbone
Program Supervisor for Health and Physical Education