Sunday, March 31, 2013

Principals Need PD Too

As I have started doing preliminary research for my dissertation I have discovered that high quality, relevant and sustainable Professional Development (PD) opportunities for principals (and building leaders in general) are limited. How is that possible? Principals are supposed to be visionaries! Principals are supposed to be transformational in their leadership! Principals are supposed to be responsible for the learning and growth for all those around them! How can all that be accomplished without proper support through high quality PD? I'm not 100% certain but what I do know is that upon reflecting on the various workshops and conferences I have attended in my eight years as a building leader, not many of them have given me knowledge or information or resources to best support my role as an instructional leader (except for Twitter, which has led me to this potential dissertation study)! It's no wonder finding effective principals who are good at their job and are willing to stay in the position for an extended period of time to support growth, change and learning is more the exception and not the rule. Is this because they lack support? Is it because they lack the "necessary" skills? Or is it because they lack high quality PD??

I am not sure what the reason is for the lack of effective instructional leaders but here is the bottom line- principals (and all building leaders), possibly more than all others in the organization, need high quality professional development so they can meet with success in their efforts to be effective instructional leaders (Research shows that teachers have access to better PD at a ratio of at least 3 to 1)! The expectation of principals today is very different than it was twenty years ago, ten years ago and even a year ago! Being a school leader today is hard and it doesn't seem to be getting any easier. A fellow NYS Principal and friend (thanks to my Twitter PLN), Peter DeWitt recently wrote a post about this very issue - check it out - Why Would Anyone Want to Be A School Leader? Principals are expected to be active and knowledgeable instructional leaders who are agents of change in their roles as transformational visionaries (what the heck does that even mean?!? Aren't we supposed to be home by 3pm and have the summers off? Think again!). 

To help principals meet these lofty goals (some would say unrealistic and unattainable), we need to provide our principals with useful, relevant and accessible PD! Research shows that principals learn best when they function as part of a cohort/group and when they can personalize the learning to their specific school, staff and students. Unfortunately, one day workshops, conferences and even courses at the graduate level usually don't accomplish this goal- this sort of "shot in the arm" PD has not been proven to work so we must change it now! Although I am sure there are many opportunities to create this type of PD experience (book clubs, action research teams, etc.), in my mind Twitter is the best way to go! It is free, timely, relevant, current, it can be personalized and it allows you the chance to develop your own PLN - Professional/Personal Learning Network (cohort or group if you will) to learn in the way that makes sense to you! 

So- this is a call to all principals and building leaders - the time to cease control of our PD has come - join Twitter and let's start changing our schools and doing what's in the best interest of our children one tweet at a time!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Fight For Our Kids

When thinking about sound literacy instruction and the daily challenges that we face as educators, I cannot help but consider the significant divide that exists between what research tells us is developmentally appropriate for children versus what the state of New York (and many other states across the country) is telling us our children need to do to be considered college and career ready. 

Currently, our school is in the first year of fully implementing the Common Core State Standards in both English Language Arts and Mathematics. In a few short weeks our children, in grades 3 through 5, will be sitting through state testing that claim to be assessing their understandings and knowledge. The state tests, which are being called the Common Core State Assessments, will last a total of six days – three days for ELA and three days for Mathematics – and will consume about nine hours of instructional time over a two week period. Although many of us devote a lot of time in our schools promoting sound literacy instruction, these state tests, and their direct connection to teacher and principal evaluations in New York State, are affecting daily instruction and the quality of learning in most buildings.

Over the last few years our school has adopted a Balanced Literacy instructional approach that is rooted in both the reading and writing workshop models. We have provided the teachers and students with various resources including a range of books for each classroom library, instructional materials to guide daily instruction and professional development to expose the staff to varied techniques and approaches, which has mostly been provided by our amazing Literacy Coach. There were some challenges in the first couple of years of implementation but today our incredible teachers comfortably employ literacy instructional techniques that are rooted in the gradual release of responsibility philosophy, which emphasizes the importance of teachers gradually releasing the responsibility of learning from themselves to the students. Our teachers are extremely comfortable implementing strategy/skill driven mini-lessons, working one-on-one with children within a conference to personalize learning and working with small groups to differentiate instruction and to support and scaffold the students in their literacy experiences. With that being said, this is not a promo for Balanced Literacy because I know there are many other sound literacy instructional resources and techniques being used that garner similar results that emphasize the development of each child as a reader and writer.

Although it is our firm belief that sound literacy instruction trumps test prep any day, we are all starting to feel the pressure to have our children perform and are questioning whether we are doing enough to prepare our children for the high stakes tests. Do we believe in what we are doing in terms of literacy instruction? Yes! Do we see the value in strategy/skill-based instruction that is child-centered and student driven? Yes! Do our children see themselves as skilled readers and published authors as a result of the workshop models? Yes! Will that ensure that our children will be able to demonstrate their understandings by answering dozens of multiple-choice questions on high stake tests? Not sure! Hence, the dilemma - we think we know what good instruction looks like but we also feel compelled to give our students a fair chance to perform well on these so-called "assessments."

As Linda Darling-Hammond (2010) points out, places, like New York State, where low-quality tests have driven a narrow curriculum disconnected from the higher-order skills needed in today’s world, educational quality has languished! Although this hasn't taken root in our building, I am fearful that many schools are moving in that direction. In the last few weeks, I have heard from several colleagues and fellow educators about instructional time being devoted to work that looks just like the test items. As frustrating and disappointing as it is to hear about this work, I know that so much is riding on these test scores that none of us would ever want to do a disservice to our children, staff or community. Standardized test scores are now connected to the end of the year evaluations for all teachers and principals; these same test scores will dictate whether or not a student will receive certain support services the following year; and in a district like mine, which is known for its exceptional performance on these standardized tests, these same test scores directly affect the real estate value for the entire community.

And thus, the vicious cycle of high stakes testing, and its many effects, continues to spiral out of control in New York State (and from what I hear, in many other states across the country). The high stakes tests are affecting everyone but most importantly, they are affecting the quality of education our children are receiving. Richard Allington (2010) shared that there were some states in our country that did not administer high stakes testing and all were above the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) average; whereas a state like New York, who relies heavily on these high stake tests, is consistently below the NAEP average. Why then do we continue to give these tests if they aren’t proven to work and they do not affect student learning in a positive way? Our children are supposedly weak readers and writers compared to students in many other countries and these high stakes tests, in conjunction with the Common Core State Standards, are supposedly going to fix this problem. Unfortunately, there has been no educational research that I have encountered that speaks to the validity in this thinking and so, I will continue to fight for sound literacy instruction in our building that produces critical thinkers who are avid readers and published authors, not just capable test takers.

I hope you will all join me in this fight because our children need us to advocate for them now more than ever!  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Educational Mission in Six Words

During our last Faculty Meeting at Cantiague our staff tackled the task of writing Six Word stories to describe our educational mission statements/beliefs. It was a fun activity and the end results (see below) speak to the positive, strong and consistent feelings and sentiments that permeate our building. 

Check them out...

Inspire, protect, nurture, enrich, challenge, collaborate

Inspire, help, encourage, educate, nurture, grow

Helping kids feel AMAZING about themselves

To develop a sense of self-esteem

Make a difference, change lives, share love

Fun, engage, discover, inquiry-based, rapport, rigor

Inspire positive learning, develop lifelong learning

Cooperation, model, inspire, challenge, fun, motivate

Learning environment, fostering happy, confident students

Promotion of lifelong health and wellness

Live, love, care, learn, be somebody

Inspire children to want to learn

Develop a deep love for learning

Confident, creative, proud, kind, flexible, learner

Catalysts, encourage, provide, support, mentor, happiness

My students feel good about themselves

Making one difference for every child

Inspire, coach, love, fun, patience, learning

Encouragement and emotional support for children

Share, inspire, encourage, learn, care, grow

Love, nurture, listen, warmth, encourage, understand

Joyful, passion, fulfillment, playful, awesome

Laughing, learning, playing, sharing, creating, loving

Guide with love, understanding and support

Motivate, differentiate, explore, practice, master, inspire

Inspire, creatively educate, risk-free environment

Impact my students throughout their lives

Make a difference in someone’s life

Growth, strength, confidence, compassion, enthusiasm, faith

Inspire, build confidence, love learning, grow

Music education is imperative for all

Self-esteem, confidence, problem solvers

Develop self-esteem, confidence, love of learning

I want kids to love learning

To inspire the love of art

Maximize students’ potential role model behavior

Joy of language learning and communication

Reading is the key to everything

To help students become confident communicators

To instill a love for learning

Inspire, challenge students as lifelong learners

Build confidence, Empower children, Accept Differences

Motivate, change, differentiate impact, encourage, smile, love 

Teach children to be happy, confident lovers of learning

Inspire, Motivate, Change, Learn, Engage, Empower 

Friend, Inspire, Trust, Interactive, Dedicated, Energetic

Speak and listen to learn and love

After reviewing all of our six word stories, one of the most 
commonly used words is INSPIRE. So, please leave a comment below and share how YOU INSPIRE your students or staff!