Thursday, June 14, 2012

Change is Good...You Go First!

Why are people so resistant to change?  Change is not easy, but it is simple.  It all starts with belief.  We manage change or it manages us.  More importantly, without change, our competition and our goals will pass us by.  If we do what we’ve done, we will get what we’ve gotten; if we want ‘different,’ we must think and do ‘different’. 

Change is all around us…..people changes, curricular changes, instructional changes, leadership changes, personal changes.  How do we learn to manage these changes in our lives in order to continue growing and moving forward?  There are two kinds of basic changes: first and second order change.  First order change improves the efficiency and effectiveness of existing structures.  Second order change is systemic and modifies basic assumptions, goals, structures, roles, and norms.  The numbering seems a bit backwards to me, since improving efficiency and effectiveness of something must be preceded by a change in basic assumptions regarding something.  Therefore, we need to examine change from this viewpoint and make sure that we devote enough time to the prerequisite second order change responsibilities before jumping in to a first order change.

Change requires that we make the case for innovation, emphasize the seriousness of the problem/situation, and emphasize the rightness of the solution.  According to Robert Evans in The Human Side of School Change, the four problematic aspects/dilemmas of change are the feelings of 1) loss, 2) competence, 3) confusion, and 4) conflict.  So what do we do?  We need to move from loss to commitment, old competence to new competence, confusion to coherence, and conflict to consensus.  We need to decrease the fear of trying and increase the fear of not trying.  That is called “unfreezing.”

How do we move from loss to commitment?  We must experience continuity, have the necessary time, and maintain personal contact.  There must be a balance between pressure and support…change and continuity.

Moving from old competence to new competence requires training.  This training must be coherent with a specific design and sequence of content; personal by tailoring the experience to the current knowledge, practice, and needs of the stakeholders; and continuous before, during, and after the training experience.

The transition from confusion to coherence requires the resolution of uncertainty to a new clarity of structure, function, roles, and responsibility.  We must understand the big picture and presenting it visually is of the utmost importance.

Finally, sometimes conflict results from the anticipation of change.  To move from conflict to consensus, we must build a critical mass of supporters, exert pressure if necessary, and make the appropriate use of power as a last resort.  Pressure without support results in resistance and alienation.  Support without pressure results in a drifting and wasting of resources.

According to Edie Holcomb in “Asking the Right Questions: Tools for Collaboration and School Change,” initiating any kind of change requires us to address five seminal questions:

1. Where are we now?
2. Where do you want to go?
3. How are we going to get there?
4. How do we know that we’ve gotten there?
5.  How do sustain the focus and momentum?

Until we realize the human side of change and address the aforementioned characteristics, we can kiss the success of that change goodbye.  It is a belief and a commitment that we must make, whether we are boards, administrators, teachers, students, parents, community members or Bulls’ fans.  Admittedly, change takes time, but as Todd Whitaker says: “ We are dealing with the minds of children.  We can’t take that much time, or we lose the chance to make that difference.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Seven Myths about Rigor

 Everyone these days is talking about teaching with rigor, learning with rigor, and even bowling with rigor.  But what does rigor really mean?  Are we using the wrong term?  Rigor…..Definition: strictness, exactness.     Synonyms: accuracy, affliction, asperity, austerity, conscientiousness, conventionalism, difficulty, exactitude, firmness, hardness, hardship, harshness, inclemency, inflexibility, intolerance, meticulousness, obduracy, ordeal, preciseness, precision, privation, punctiliousness, rigidity, roughness, severity, sternness, stiffness, stringency, suffering, tenacity, thoroughness, traditionalism, trial, tribulation, vicissitude, visitation. 

Wow, sounds like a double-edged sword to me.  How about an operational definition of rigor in terms of laser-sharp focus, absolute clarity, timely feedback, passion, commitment, intensity, responsibility, and ownership.  Robyn Jackson in How to Plan for Rigorous Instruction says that “unfortunately, over the years the term rigorous has accumulated a lot of baggage.”  She identifies the following seven myths about rigor:
Myth #1: If you have rigorous standards, you have a rigorous course.  Rigor isn’t as much about the standards as it is about how you ask students to reach the standards. 
Myth #2: Rigor means harder.  Rigorous classrooms do present more challenge to students but there is a difference between challenging and difficult.  Challenging work asks students to stretch and reach for new understanding.  Work can be difficult for a variety of reasons including unclear instruction, a lack of necessary resources, a lack of adequate support, demands too great for the time allotted, etc.  Thus, it is a mistake to think that just because students had difficulty completing their work, they have engaged in a rigorous assignment.
Myth #3: Rigor means more work.  Rigor is about the quality of the work students are asked to do, no the amount.  In fact, rigorous classrooms often have less assignments and homework.
Myth #4: Rigor is a matter of content.  Just because you select highly rigorous content does not guarantee a highly rigorous learning experience for students.  How you ask students to engage in the content also determines the level of rigor of your course.
Myth #5: Younger students cannot engage in rigorous instruction.  The key is to make sure that your rigorous instruction is developmentally appropriate. 
Myth #6: In order to engage in rigor, students must first master the basics.  Rigorous thinking is involved in learning even the most basic material.  Students can learn the basics in highly rigorous ways.  They can learn adequate representations, organize those facts in some way, analyze and construct relationships among these facts, and make inferences beyond what is explicitly presented while they are mastering the basics.
Myth #7: Rigor is for the elite.  All students should have access to rigorous instruction and learning.  To reserve such learning opportunities for an elite group of students while relegating others to lives of memorizing disconnected facts and blindly participating in meaningless activities is to leave them unprepared to meet the demands of a 21st century and beyond.

So, when using the term “rigor,” let’s be sure we use the right side of the sword which leads to positive results for teaching and learning.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Its Being Done!

Now that state tests are over, past-tense, and consummated, let’s reflect again on vision, expectations, and implementation.  One of the big questions facing American education is “Can it be done?”  Can schools help all children learn to high levels, no matter the color of one’s skin, the language one speaks, or the balance of their bank account?  In some districts, there exists an excuse syndrome called the “but” syndrome.  For example, they could do better, but they come from a poverty background, but they speak another language, or but there is no support from home.  Kids do the best they can do based upon the cards they have been dealt.  We just need to intervene as new dealers and make sure that the things that we can control are of the highest quality and are supported by best practice and understanding of how people learn.  Parents aren’t keeping the smart ones at home and sending the rest. Karin Chenoweth in her book “It’s Bring Done- Academic Success in Unexpected Schools” describes those outlier schools that have risen to the occasion and made sure that their students were successful independent of the “but” variables.  What is being done in such schools?  What is being done differently?  How are they salting the oats? (You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink….but you can salt their oats.)

They don’t teach to the state tests.  They teach a rich coherent curriculum tied to state standards. 
They have high expectations for their students.  They assume that their students are able to meet high standards and believe their job is to help their students get there. 
3. They know what the stakes are.  They know if their students don’t get a good education, they could face a lifetime of poverty and dependence.
4. They embrace and use all the data they can get their hands on.  They want to know how their students are doing and match instruction with needs continually
5. They use data to focus on individual students, not just groups of students.  They pay attention to every student. 
They constantly reexamine what they do.  If you do what you’ve done, you will get what you’ve gotten.  If you want different, you must do different. 
7. They embrace accountability.  They know it is their professional obligation to do so. 
8. They make decisions on what is best for kids, not what is best for adults.  KACF…Kids always come first. 
9. They use school time wisely.  Students are engaged in productive activities all the time. 
10. They leverage as many resources from the community as possible.  They bring them in to the schools as fellow stakeholders. 
11. They expand the time students- particularly struggling students- have in school.  Programs occur before and after school and during the summer.
12. They do not spend a lot of time disciplining students, in the sense of punishing them.  They do spend time disciplining children in the original sense of the word: leading them (think of the work disciple)
13. They establish an atmosphere of respect.  Dignity is never destroyed for anyone.
14. They like kids….enough said.
15. They make sure that the kids who struggle the most have the best instruction, focusing on best practice and less on “love units.” ( I Iove to teach this; I love to teach that...e.g. apples, dinosaurs, solar system.)
16. Principals are a constant presence who practice collegial supervision.   
17. Although the principals are important leaders, they are not the only leaders.  Teachers, other administrators, and parents (School Boards) help make important decisions for the schools. 
18. They pay careful attention to the quality of the teaching staff.  Much time is spent on interviewing and selecting new staff members with the best skills for teaching and learning. 
They provide teachers with the time to meet, plan, and work collaboratively. 
20. They provide teachers time to observe one another.  They learn from on another and provide feedback to one another. 
21. They think seriously about professional development. Constant professional development is a priority.  Who wants a heart surgeon schooled in the 1950s and no further training to do heart surgery on them in 2011? 
22. They assume that they will have to train new teachers more or less from scratch and carefully acculturate all newly hired teachers. 
23. They have high-quality, dedicated, and competent office and building staff that feel themselves part of the educational mission of the school. 
24. They are nice places to work.  Work hard…play hard.
When you overcome drag and gravity with enough thrust and lift, you get flight.  James McDermott, a high school English teacher, laid down this challenge to his fellow educators: “We know what works in education.  The research is prolific.  Amazingly then, the question is not about what works, but about why we do not implement what we know works in all schools for all kids.”

Instructional Leadership

Times have changed and the pre-requiisite for being an effective principal is that you are truly an instructional leader.  What does that look like?  It is a far cry from the days when your main job was to order books, create schedules, and take care of discipline.  Today demands leaders who are instructional in nature with a broad repertoire in teaching and learning constructs, concepts, and strategies.  This is not to say that those other managerial taks don't have to be done, but they are not the key variables in increasing student achievement.  Although the teacher is the primary variable in increasing student achievement, the school principal is a close second- someone who is the chief learning officer (CLO) and can "walk the talk" in regard to research based teaching and leading principles.  A genuine instructional leader should feel comfortable modeling lessons in a classroom for his/her staff and partake in discussions relevant to the instructional needs of the school.  Could you answer the following questions:

• How do children learn...not strategies...but describe the process of learning. (Hint: We are past the days of pecking pigeons and slobbering dogs from Psychology 101.  Welcome to the world of neuroscience and functional MRIs.)
• What do you know about research based instruction?
• Second language learning.....what is its impact on teaching and learning, and what does research say about teaching second language learners?
• What are the basic principles of differentiated instruction, and what does it look like in a classroom?
• What defines effective professional development?  How do you maximize its effect?
• Staff evaluation...what works and is effective, and what is a waste of time?
• How does data drive instruction, and how would you use it to empower your staff to increase achievement?
• What professional books have you read in the last year?  What professional journals do you subscribe to AND read?
• Finally, "I'm too busy" is commonly heard when it comes to demonstrating instructional leadership variables.  How can you structure your time and responsibilities, so that daytime is people time and nighttime is paper time?

Being an effective instructional leader takes time, knowledge, commitment, and passion.  Do you have it?

Why do we do what we do?

Why do we teach the way we do?  It seems to boil down to the following four reasons:

1. We teach the way we were taught in school. (Favorite teachers)
2. We teach the way we learn best. (Personal preference/learning style)
3. We teach the way someone told us how to teach.(Student teaching)
4. We teach the way that people learn best. (Brain friendly principles/environments)

My guess is that most people would respond with some combination of 1-3 above.  But how many of us are current with the latest information on brain compatible learning?  The last 10 years has been the decade of the brain when we have had access to look inside "the black box" and examine learning in action.  Very few things have been identified as causational, but boy, there seems to be so many correlational factors- many conclusions that substantiate the things that we already do in classrooms. The days of teaching based upon slobbering dogs and pecking pigeons have advanced to the study of branching dendrites and information processing models.  If you would like an 'easy-to-read course' on #4 above, please check out the books by Patricia Wolfe and David Sousa in my Recommended Resources section of my website.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Instructional Leadership: What Makes An Effective Principal?

Today's successful leaders must not only be good managers, but they are required to be instructional leaders- the CLOs (chief learning officers) of your school. Teachers are the #1 variable in increasing student achievement, but a strong instructional leader falls in the "Best Supporting #2" category.  What are the most important characteristics of an instructional leader with whom you have worked?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Who's the Dog and Who's the Tail?

The frustrating thing about the field of education is that anyone who has gone to school thinks they can tell us how to do our jobs.  In most cases, the people who make some of these ridiculous laws have no clue about teaching and learning, but they come up with some real "doosies" about how we should be teaching and running a school.  Anyone else feeling the frustration?  What should we be doing about this?  What are some of the ridiculous laws that you have encountered?