22 June 2014

Transforming Teaching and Leading in Kentucky

Kentucky is one of six states and/or districts participating in a new project with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.  We are a network of states and districts leading the transformation of the teaching profession by developing and strengthening systems to make board certification the norm and capitalize on the instructional expertise of board-certified teachers.  As a member of Kentucky's #NT3 team, I had the privilege of traveling with our team to Palo Alto, California recently for a week of planning and networking with the teams from the other states and districts.  Our week was filled with long days of intense conversations and planning, but I'm certain it is all worthwhile because I believe in our two aims.

Our meetings were held on Stanford University's campus

The aims of this project are to:
1) increase the number of National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs)
2) capitalize on instructional leadership of NBCTs

By increasing the number of National Board Certified Teachers, we can make national board certification more the norm rather than a group of a few nationwide.  Over 200 research studies have shown the effectiveness of national board certified teachers in classrooms across the country. NBCTs demonstrate they are highly reflective and capable of teaching at high levels for all students to learn. Since the NBCT process is notoriously difficult to complete (50% pass rate), and it's incredibly expensive on a teacher's salary, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards organization is revamping the timing of the process and the payment requirements to make the process more accessible to a wider range of teachers.  The 5 Core Propositions will not be changed, and the standards for each content area will not be lowered.  However, now candidates will have more than one year to complete all the required components, and the cost will be more evenly distributed over the three year time period for completing the process.  In addition to these financial and time supports, external organizations will increase the mentoring and support options for candidates pursuing the NB certification process.

After I achieved NB certification, I distinctly remember a time when I asked my principal if I could serve in other leadership capacities and was told no because my expertise was needed in the classroom.  The second aim of the #NT3 is to capitalize on the instructional expertise of NBC teachers so that NBCTs serve in more leadership roles. This particular aim pushes on the need for system leaders to recognize that teachers are an important improvement resource, and it also requires a shared understanding of the strong connection between board certification and instructional leadership roles.  Not all NBCTs have the same exact leadership strengths, so this second aim also strives to match NBCTs and their instructional expertise with the right teacher leadership roles.  For example, some NBCTs are effective with facilitating adult learning, so they work well with their colleagues in professional development settings or in instructional coaching roles. Other NBCTs have more expertise working with the community and parents, so they might serve in roles as community liaisons for a local school or district.  These two roles represent a tiny fraction of the leadership opportunities NBCTs deserve.  You see, all NBCTs (by virtue of completing the NBCT process) have demonstrated their ability as leaders because Entry 4 of the NBCT portfolio requires us to prove our leadership capacity to impact student achievement.

 NBPTS is looking at the medical profession model when seeking to transform the teaching profession and to make board certification more the norm.  Ron Thorpe, CEO and President of NBPTS, talked to us on the last day of our meeting about Paul Starr's book The Social Transformation of American Medicine.  The book is next on my reading list because according to Thorpe, it provides a model from which the teaching profession can learn.  In the nineteenth century, the medical field professionalized itself by changing the social structure of physicians.

I am hopeful with these two aims of  #NT3 that we will transform teaching and leading in education not only in Kentucky but in our entire country. Our students deserve equitable access to board certified teachers who have demonstrated mastery of content knowledge, the ability to design learning experiences that advance learning, the use of assessments to inform instructional decision making, and a commitment to parent, community, and colleague partnerships.

I believe we will see better teacher preparation and support to meet aim one, and that we will  begin seeing more hybrid roles for teachers and more NBCTs leading the education profession to meet aim two. Since Kentucky decided to participate in this important work with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, I believe we are demonstrating our state's commitment to advancing the work of committed and effective teachers who desire for all students to learn.

he reflective analyses that they submit must demonstrate:
1) A strong command of content;
2) The ability to design appropriate learning experiences that advance student learning;
3) The use of assessments to inform instructional decision making; and
4) Partnerships with colleagues, parents and the community.
- See more at: http://www.nbpts.org/national-board-certification%C2%AE#sthash.X51VlIpa.dpuf

15 June 2014

What Educators Can Learn From Biz Stone's No Homework Policy

Biz Stone, Twitter Co-Founder, writes about a No-Homework Policy in his recent memoir.  As educators, we can learn from this as we look for ways to re-imagine learning outside of school. By re-thinking our homework policies and approaches in schools we will be better able to meet the needs of today's learners.  As Stone says in his book, "the point of school, after all,  isn't to do homework. The point of school is to learn" (147). To re-think our homework polices requires open and honest discussions about our philosophies and ways of "doing work" in our schools and departments.

Why do we give homework anyway? To provide extra opportunity to practice skills? To ensure students will perform well on standardized tests (shudder)? To progress our instructional agenda at a pace faster than what we have time for in the classroom? To extend learning?  To encourage curiosity and exploration?

If you don't want to read his entire book (even though it's good and a short read) you can read an excerpt from his no-homework policy chapter here

Students (like Biz Stone when he was young) might have a good reason for not completing homework.  In Stone's example, he worked to help support his family, participated in athletics for physical well being, and attempted to complete homework before learning it required him to stay up until 4:00 in the morning.  Eventually, he decided he knew best what he needed and homework wasn't something he really needed, if he could pay attention in class and learn the required content during the school day.

Grades for homework either punish students for non-compliance or they provide an inflated sense of what students know and can do. In Stone's example, he is willing to accept the consequences of non-compliance even when that means earning an A in genetics and a C in something easy. How often does this still happen in our schools? Do we punish students with poor grades based on non-compliance to our made up rules rather than on what they really know? Alternatively, do we give students and their parents a false sense of what students know and can do when we give points for mere homework completion?

Students want teachers and adults to listen to them and to know them and maybe even (Why not?) design assignments that offer choice based on interest. Stone thought "it was a mistake to assume that teachers or anyone else for that matter automatically knew what was best [for him]."

A few weeks ago when I blogged on take-aways from Biz Stone's memoir, I mentioned I would write again about Stone's no-homework policy, and I was encouraged to keep that promise when Elisabeth commented that I had piqued her interest. I hope I've piqued your curiosity as well, and I'd love to know your thoughts about how we can continue re-designing homework practices in our schools. Please comment here or join me in September at the Innovations for Learning Conference in Lexington.  Here's a blurb from my proposal:

In this session we will share, collaborate, and explore tools and websites that will help us turn homework into wonderwork. We will re-imagine the possibilities for extending learning beyond the school day. We will ask--what if?

10 June 2014

May Love And Peace Prevail

Last night close to midnight I finished reading Gabby: A Story of Courage, Love, and Resilience by Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly. This hope filled book was also a reminder of violent acts against humanity often committed by individuals who don't have hope themselves or who carry so much anger they feel it's necessary to take lives or harm innocent people, including children. You might recall Gabby's story in the news a few years back.  As a young Arizona congresswoman at a congresswoman on your corner event in Tuscon, she was shot in the head, and others around her were killed or injured.  One of those killed was a 9 year old girl with a curiosity and passion for learning about democracy and government.  While reading about the congresswoman's resiliency and survival was difficult and hopeful, reading about the death of Christina Taylor Green was terribly sad.  I found myself asking when these crazy acts of violence will end. It happens all too often.

This morning in Troutdale, Oregon there was another senseless act of gun violence in one of our country's public schools, and last week there was a shooting at Seattle Pacific University. My mind is peppered with so many questions--

Why do we need guns anyway? Ah-I know the reasons many will give, and I suppose if you can be responsible with your weapon, then fine for you, but I'm a no gun kind of woman. In fact, it took a good friend telling me I was too extreme (and it could backfire) before I let my young sons even play with plastic orange toy Nerf guns.

Why do teens have access to guns? Why don't we have stricter gun laws? Why aren't we creating better health systems to help the mentally ill? Why are children being murdered?  How can we feel safe in the schools and universities where we teach and send our children to school? How can we stop the violence? How can we promote more peace and love? 

I'm sad tonight as I think about the family who sent their fourteen year old son to school this morning, a place that should have been safe, yet tonight their son is dead at the hands of a murderer with a gun.  I'm sad when I think about the teacher who was injured by a gun while at work in a school today. I am sad to think this could happen again tomorrow or the next day or the next school year at schools across our country.

Tonight I will hug my sons tighter as I wish them a good night of sleep, and I will feel grateful for life, love, and hope.  

08 June 2014

My Son's Last Year of Elementary School Was His Best Year

My ten-year-old son finished elementary school on Friday, and I can say without a doubt this was his best year ever.  He would agree that it was his best year because he loved his teacher.  She was inspiring and effective. She believed in him, and she helped him hone his natural leadership skills. She had high expectations and considered herself a co-learner in the classroom.

I think it's true that different children bond differently with different teachers, and for Isaac, Mrs. White was a perfect match.  As a parent who has struggled to understand many elementary teachers' points of view and rigid approaches over the years, I will say that this teacher was a good fit for me as well.  I didn't feel like I needed to ask a million questions because she communicated well in advance and was flexible and understanding of parents with busy schedules. For example, she didn't punish my son if I forgot to initial his planner one night, and she gladly sent home an additional field trip permission slip when I inadvertently lost the first one.  More importantly, she also assigned meaningful work (not word search worksheets) and met the individual learning needs of her students. The thing I most appreciated about her though was that she emobdied the traits of a life-long learner and was eager to learn alongside her students.

When I asked Isaac what he liked best about Mrs. White he said that she didn't make him sit still for long periods of time, and she designed active learning opportunities. He also said she was nice and frequently asked him about his interests. Since Isaac has strong interests in history, he always loved it and felt special when he shared his Abraham Lincoln movie and books with her, and she borrowed them to learn more.

Isaac leaves a note for Mrs. White

As we conclude our days as parents of an elementary school aged child, I am mourning the end of young childhood years when my children needed me more. I am grateful to the amazing Mrs. White for helping us end these elementary years on a positive note.

Isaac with his favorite teacher, Mrs. White

The day of 5th grade graduation (technically called a promotion ceremony), we waited behind multiple other students and their parents for students to have their picture made with Mrs. White. She clearly cared for each of her students and made a positive mark on their young lives.