Sunday, August 2, 2015

Still not sure about redos/retakes... then read this:

There are still lots of questions in regard to redos/retakes in the educational setting. Many of the questions raise legitimate concerns. It's my hope to address many of those concerns below. I'd like to recognize Rick Wormeli for all his work on this topic as he's been influential in helping move our district forward with our grading and assessment practices.

What about all the time it will take to allow students to do redos/retakes... the schedule is already jam-packed, so where will we find time for this?

This is a valid question and is one of importance. If schools believe 'if' a kid learns is more important than 'when' a kid learns, then redos/retakes should have a place within the school day. Also, we can't expect kids to come in early or stay after to participate in the redo/retake process as not all kids have that opportunity. Redos/retakes are about ensuring kids learn what's needed to be learned... if learning is a priority, then finding time shouldn't be a problem.

What about the kids who take an assessment and then five minutes later say, 'I want to do a redo/retake now.' How is this teaching the student to prepare for an assessment?

For a student to be able to redo/retake an assessment, they should first have to go through a 'relearn' process. Having a redo/retake policy is an opportunity we provide students because we believe learning is a priority. Having said that, a student must first demonstrate through a 'relearn' process that they are indeed ready for a redo/retake. Simply having a kid redo/retake an assessment the next day hasn't allowed that student time to learn the material, so the results of the assessment won't be any different. Whether it means a student doing some additional practice or completing missed work or simply having a short conversation with the teacher, the student must first demonstrate that he/she is ready for a redo/retake before being granted that opportunity.

What about colleges... they don't allow redos/retakes, so shouldn't we be preparing kids for what they will experience in college?

If or whether colleges are allowing redos/retakes frankly shouldn't be a concern of PreK-12 education. At the end of the day our job is to prepare kids to be successful in life. We prepare kids to be successful in life (and college) by ensuring they learn. And to ensure ALL kids learn we need to embrace the practice of redos/retakes. Just because colleges use outdated pedagogical practices doesn't mean we should subject our PreK-12 students to these same practices...

What about the students who don't need the redos/retakes... won't they think this isn't fair?

This is a partial myth... students who demonstrate mastery the first time really don't care if it takes another student three or four times to demonstrate mastery. However, the parents of the students who mastered it the first time are the ones who care because they want to believe their child deserves something more for learning the material faster. Learning isn't a competition, and when we allow it to be, we are creating a hostile environment for all of our students. Also, the students who demonstrate mastery the first time around don't have the same uphill battle as the students who require redos/retakes. The students participating in the redos/retakes are also having to keep up with the current classroom learning so in reality they are doing double the work.

What about cheating since the student will have already seen the assessment... won't they just remember the assessment and then look up the answers?

Sure, this could be a concern if the redo/retake assessment is always exactly the same. The trick here is not always using the same assessment when doing redos/retakes. Allow students the opportunity to demonstrate mastery in a different way to eliminate the concern of cheating and/or memorizing the assessment. Remember, the key of allowing redos/retakes is to aid in the learning process, so if a student is able to demonstrate mastery in a different format, then that should be perfectly acceptable. Also, don't ask students to re-demonstrate mastery once they've already showed you they can do it. Only ask kids to redo/retake the parts of an assessment that weren't done at mastery level to save time and keep the focus on enhancing learning.

What about the grades for all the redos/retakes... since it might take a student multiple attempts to demonstrate mastery, shouldn't all the grades be added together and then averaged?

If we take an average of student grades as they are going through the learning process, then we are reinforcing an environment where students aren't going to want to fail and aren't going to want to take risks. Learning requires failure and requires risk taking, so we shouldn't allow the grades a student receives when first learning the material to negatively impact a student's grade in the end. Practice is practice, and the way a football team practices all week long in preparation for the big game doesn't mean they start with more or less points on Friday night... they still start with zero. Focus on most recent evidence when it comes to mastery and grading. Lastly, when we average grades we distort the overall accuracy of our grades.

What about in the real-world... the real-world doesn't allow redos/retakes so aren't we sending the wrong message to our students?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Dear Principal: A few things I'd like you to know...

Dear Principal,

I'm sure you are just as excited as I am for the upcoming school year. The summer has been full of learning for me and I am definitely recharged and ready to do this!

There are however some things I'd like you to know and some things I will need from you this school year. Please don't take this as me telling you how to do your job, as your job is very difficult and encompasses much that I probably don't understand. Please read this with an open-mind and remember that I love my job and I aim to do what's best for our students.

1). I'm planning to try some new things this year that I've learned this summer as well as just wasn't able to fit in last year.

I need you to understand that when I try these new things they may not go over well. There may be confusion in my classroom and it might just be a total disaster. But, I do promise to learn and improve from what I'm trying. Having said that, if you come in to do an observation and I'm trying something new, I need you to understand I'm taking a risk. And, just as we tell our students, it's OK to fail sometimes because that's an important part of the learning process.

2). If we are going to be gathered for a staff meeting, please do everything in your power to keep it positive and constructive. 

I know the hot trend now is to empower building staff and to allow them to run and control meetings in an effort to get buy-in and to get ownership in the process. I completely agree with this approach, but at the end of the day, you're our leader and I assume you were put in this position because you have a specific skill-set and expertise that allows you to move our building to consensus. Sometimes when teachers lead the meeting, not all voices are heard and the meeting can become disconnected and confrontational. We need you to be present and we need you to ensure this doesn't happen. Most people don't enjoy confrontation, so the idea that we will 'police' ourselves isn't always sound. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing a meeting high-jacked by a personal agenda while building administration sits by and does nothing.

3). If I make a mistake, please let me know. If someone else makes a mistake, please let them know and not me.

There's an epidemic in leadership that undermines the integrity of leaders all around the world. It's simple... don't reprimand and lecture everyone about a problem that you are having with only a few people. As Todd Whitaker would say, don't use the 'blanket monkey' to avoid dealing with those few individuals who are causing the problem. When you speak to the entire group about an issue, we all start to second guess ourselves and worry if you are talking to us. Do everyone a favor and increase the chances of eliminating the problem by going directly to the source. Your entire staff will appreciate this, I promise you.

4). Push me in my thinking and help me grow as an educator.

This is difficult for some people, but it comes with your job, so hopefully you can handle it. I need you to push back on my ideas and some of things I'm doing in my class. I need you to help me grow and develop as an educator. I need you to be an instructional leader in our building. Now, I'm not saying I want to be completely torn and ripped apart when I share an idea, but push me and question me and make me squirm just a little bit to justify my idea and approach. This will help flush out my true goals and objective and create clarity in what I'm trying to achieve. I might not like you at the moment, but I will respect you in the end.

5). We are all busy and we all have a full plate. Help keep my plate full of what matters most.

Yes, there are things you will be told we need to do from the 'higher-ups.' Yes, there are things we need to do to stay in compliance and stay legal. Yes, there are pieces of information and data you need to help in your decision making process. But, let's not forget why we are here and what our primary focus should be. Help me and others in our building to keep the focus on student learning. Avoid as much as possible asking us for mundane paperwork and menial tasks that steer us away from what our ultimate focus should be. We will need your protection and coorperation here because it's very easy to say it will only take a few moments. Each time we say it will take just a few moments a small puppy somewhere cries because we all know that nothing takes just a few moments. Also, all these 'few moments' tasks seem to pile up quite quickly.

Thanks for taking time to listen and please know we are all looking forward to a great and wonderful school year!

Thank you,

Your favorite teacher...

An open letter to all educators...

I write this post for all those who call themselves educators.

I write this post for superintendents and the schools boards for whom they work.

I write this post for both central office and building level administrators.

And finally and perhaps most importantly, I write this post for teachers of all grade levels and all content areas.

There is a vicious epidemic that has been spreading and continues to spread unchecked across the globe. The achievement gap that is so often spoken of is merely a cover for what is really happening.

We don't have an achievement gap, we have an opportunity gap...

We have schools that are providing life-changing opportunities and experiences that others can't even fathom. We have kids who are doing work in their classes that is both impacting and affecting the world in which they live while other kids are doing worksheets from outdated textbooks about material and content they can't relate to.

There are kids who are being positioned to be game-changers in their respective parts of the world while others are being comfortably placed among the ranks of industry that is disappearing with skills that haven't been in demand in a decade.

The opportunity gap is widening at an accelerated pace during a time when technology and global connectedness are soaring.

Sure, it's easy to say that kids and their families have a choice as to which schools they attend. Families can move to different communities or choose to attend private or parochial schools that provide some of these wonderful before-mentioned opportunities.

But there's a reality that most know but seem to ignore.

Most families and students don't really have a choice as to where they reside and where they attend school. Communities are built around schools and more frequently than not, those schools who offer vast opportunities exist in communities that most can't afford. The 'haves' and 'have nots' legacy is deeply entrenched in education.

For educators, there are many variables that we can't control and as a result we must learn to work with and accept what we are presented.

This challenge can look very similar to an excuse and justification for why we can't or aren't able to do something.

I refuse to let what we can't control dictate what we can or can't do... and so should you.

When you go to school, fight for what our kids don't have. Fight for the opportunities our kids can only dream of. Fight for the opportunities our kids can't yet dream of. Fight to put an end to the opportunity gap and whatever you do, don't use it as an excuse.

Remember, the next time you hear about some school or district doing something amazing with their kids, keep in mind that the only thing preventing you from doing the same or preventing you from doing something better, is you...

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

10 things I'd like to see more often in our schools:

1). More of a focus on meeting the basic needs of each student before trying to meet their academic learning needs... hungry kids, stressed kids, tired kids, emotionally traumatized kids, and defeated kids are highly disadvantaged over their peers when it comes to their ability and resolve toward learning.

2). Less of a focus on what's wrong with kids and what they are lacking, and rather more of a focus on understanding what our kids have gone through and experienced so far in their short lives.

3). More involvement of students in educator professional development planning/implementation as well as more students involved in a 'research and development' capacity aimed at finding the best new tools and resources for learning.

4). Less of a focus on answers and more of a focus on asking deep rich questions that more times than not lack a clear defined answer.

5). More inclusion of our classified staff members (maintenance, custodians, nurses, food technicians, administrative assistants) aimed at creating more relevant and real-world learning scenarios that allow our kids to see these critically important team members in a different light.

6). More educator-to-educator accountability and the willingness of professional colleagues to not just hold each other to the high standards our kids so desperately deserve, but to exceed those high standards.

7). More teachers standing at their doors and in the hallways greeting their students with handshakes and good solid eye contact like in the Capturing Kids' Hearts program.

8). More support and assistance for our least experienced educators with a focus on helping them not just survive their first few years, but to help them thrive.

9). Less of a focus on teaching and the management of schools and more of a focus on student learning and the actions we take that yield the highest student learning return. 

10). More Legos.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Great coaches can make for great school leaders:

At the annual Missouri administrator conference we had the opportunity to hear from Coach Jerry Kill (@CoachKillFBCamp).  Coach Kill is an impressive and inspirational speaker and we were fortunate to hear his story. Having said that, I couldn't help but think there are quite a few similarities between what it takes to be a great coach and what it takes to be a great school leader.

Here are some of the thoughts shared by Coach Kill: