30 April 2006
The answers came down to one thing: intellectual curiosity.
They wanted principals who asked good questions and shared his/her thinking. They liked it when there were principals who saw problems and did something about them---even the tiny ones like paying attention to what kids were wearing. As teachers, they used to be asked about what they'd like to pursue within their classrooms---what answers were they seeking during the school year.
Maybe we just don't take the time to ask anymore. Or maybe no one is listening or caring about the questions. Perhaps education today is so focused on what the answers are that we've forgotten that there's joy in the journey, too.
How do we get back to that?
29 April 2006
First up were the grade seven teachers. They are all caring and talented professionals in the classroom---and nice people, to boot. Their only issue? They're still at the stage of covering material vs. student learning. They wanted to spend time talking about how they cover things, which is a good starting poing, but not the right ending point. I redirected them several times before their minds started to fry early in the afternoon. I think each of them is just going to have to individually wrestle with the move to evidence of student learning. It won't be easy, but the fact that they do care so much about the work they do will drive them forward. They're just going to have to crawl for awhile.
My next charges were the bio teachers from my school. This was our fourth meeting this year and each has been a little different. They see each other every day, but they rarely sit down and talk about student achievement and talk about instruction. This meeting didn't start out that way. We did get there and I think some good information was exchanged. People left feeling all right about things...which was not the case with earlier meetings. It has really been a struggle to keep the focus on student learning and not let them slide back into comfortable patterns. I think we've turned the corner now and perhaps they don't need me to hold their hands. I'm hopeful that they might like to move forward without me next year---or even at their final meeting this year.
And yesterday was an elementary group that has been revising one of the science kits for schools in the area. The difficult part of getting this gang up and walking has been the lack of good facilitation. Am I pointing the finger at myself? Yes, in part...although I'm not completely sure that I should. A woman from a local museum is funding all of the work through a grant. She arranges for subs, provides the materials, meeting space, and treats. I don't feel right being in charge when it isn't my party...and yet, she doesn't take the reins very often. I was a little more direct about things on Friday and I think we got a lot of good things done. I guess I just need to remember that for the next (and hopefully last) meeting in a month.
I was talking with another curriculum specialist earlier in the week. She's new and has had a tough year. In our jobs, we want to run with tasks and most of the people we are working with aren't even ready to crawl yet. I told her that it's taken me three years of attention to build the kinds of relationships and trust necessary to do my job (and even then there are a few teachers I haven't reached yet). She found that a bit depressing. It is when you think of all the time when "nothing" was happening. You just have to stay focused on the big picture.
I do wonder how many good principals, administrators, superintendents, and teacher leaders have quit because of that sort of frustration. What if they'd just stuck it out (or been allowed to stay) for even two or three more years? What would the system look like if ideas could be seen out of infancy? Will our instant gratification type of society ever allow for that in public education?
27 April 2006
I'm looking ahead a couple of years and contemplating what sort of advanced degrees I would like to pursue, but I'm in a strange place: I had always planned on going for an MA in English Education, but I just started teaching Spanish, and I have enjoyed it more.This is where your post comes in.I was thinking of pursuing curriculum instruction instead. Can you give me a little advice on what sort of things one needs to...well, that one needs to LOVE to go into this part of the field? I'm not a fan of carrying home the loads of papers, and while I love the kids, their mental weight can be a bit much.Any advice you can offer will be much appreciated!
I thought I'd post my response here:
Keep in mind that I more or less stumbled into the Curriculum part of my job, so I don't know that I'm the best resource for how to properly go about things, but here are some things that I have learned are necessary for one's "toolkit":
- Working with adults is a real challenge. As a teacher, when students did things that were inappropriate, defiant, or naive, I always knew it was because they were just kids. That's a lot easier to work with versus adults (ostensibly "professionals") who pull the same stunts. Be ready to give lots of tough love.
- There are politics to navigate. Any recommendations you have are at such a grand level that you can't help but tread on someone else's program. You also really have to be able to work within the cultures of all the buildings in a district, understanding all the various quirks that go along with that. Be patient---it takes a very long time to build the kind of relationships necessary to make things run like a well-oiled machine.
- Just as in the classroom, you need to be passionate, creative, and a good self-manager. It is up to you to do the research and reading that classroom teachers don't have time for---but who need the information and understanding. You will likely be the only "expert" in your district in terms of subject matter, best practices, and educational policy. Take lots of time to read and reflect.
- Be ready to jump in and help. Go to classrooms and model lessons. If a teacher has had it "up to here" with a class or students, take them for a day or two. Is there a developing teacher leader in a building who needs time to mentor someone else? Volunteer to cover their class for a morning. Get out of the office and into buildings as much as possible, even if it is just to stop in and say "Hi" and smile. Don't underestimate the power of simple things like thank you notes on postcards or pencils. Show your staff at every opportunity (admins, too) how much they are valued by you.
The bottom line here is simply---do you believe that all children in our public schools deserve to have a high-quality education? If you do, then curriculum is a great way to support that. Do the work that teachers need (e.g. alignment, mapping...) so that they have the time and headspace to focus on what's most important: kids.
I plan to take my own advice as I meet with the supe this morning. More on that later...
26 April 2006
"Based upon a demographic study completed in 2000, our School District will continue to decline in student enrollment for the foreseeable future. Since 1999 we have lost 611 FTE (635 headcount) students and according to the last study, we could lose approximately one thousand additional students between now and 2010. Several years ago we planned to update the demographic survey in 2006; the study is ongoing and the results will be available not later than this summer. School districts in our state and across the nation are experiencing the same enrollment decline. The decline is attributed to the drop in the national birthrate. What we know right now is that when we take into account the loss of state revenue due to declining enrollment, our District will have lost nearly $7.6 M between 1999 and 2010."
Holy Katzenjammer kids. One thousand students in the next four years?
Meanwhile, fuel costs rise for buses. Our infrastructure is rapidly aging and technology becoming more antiquated each day. There are ever more mandates from the state and feds for us to fulfill.
The supe filled four pages with budgetary considerations. The bottom line is that we have to significantly tighten our belts...which means that jobs and programs are going to go. (Three elementary art positions were cut last week.) I think that this is his "pre-emptive strike" at getting information out before cuts are made this year. We've all been given fair warning.
25 April 2006
- Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders "The classic on teacher leadership, updated and enriched for the new century!" How can I resist with a tag like that associated with it? Catchy title, too.
- Action Research: A Guide for the Teacher Researcher Unfortunately, the only blurb on the back is a plug for the associated website, but it looks like this could be a good source for planning and data collection.
- Research Methods in Educational Leadership and Management This book claims it's "core reading" and is "accessible for the beginning researcher while at the same time providing appropriate reading for students and practitioners with some research experience."
- The Reflective Educator's Guide to Classroom Research "Authentic and practical, this book demystifies classroom research without making inquiry overly simplistic. Loaded with examples from actual inquiries and drawn from experience working with hundreds of teacher researchers, the authors' advice is refreshingly jargon free and clearly explained."
- The Keys to Effective Schools I'm already prejudiced against this one as it's published by the NEA. Doesn't the union always think it has all of the answers?
- Teacher Research for Better Schools "In these authors' hands we have, at last, a book that goes byond teacher research as a professional development tool and shows us how teachers can both produce knowledge as well as consume it." Tasty.
- Learning to Question, Questioning to Learn There's a big medallion on the back cover with "Construct Meaningful Learning Experiences!" printed on it. Gosh, I hadn't realized such a thing might be possible. Not to mention that this one is written by the Dean of the program. Guess I'd better pay attention as long as she's getting her kickback.
- Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches This one won't be light reading. The first page I opened to had a text box entitled "Transformative-Emancipatory Questions for Mixed Methods Researchers Throughout the Research Process." Don't drink and read, kids.
- What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action I do like Marzano's stuff and have read this one.
I'm looking forward to delving into this stack and thinking about how to apply it to elementary science in my district. I'm glad that I'll have time this summer to read and think about things and am hopeful that this next course will provide a lot of good background knowledge.
Time to get crackin' the books...
24 April 2006
During the morning, we plowed through the goal of mapping the seventh grade Curriculum and captured some ideas for the alignment. I sent the teachers to lunch and drafted up a template for them. They worked to apply it in the afternoon, but things were not as simple as they would have liked. Their eyes started to glaze over as they realized the true scope of the task. We put things away a little early, but they do want to keep at it. They were pleased to know that I have budgeted for sub time next year and that there will be some space in the day at our June training on the new materials.
I have two more groups to "make tired" this year. We'll see if the 8th and 9th grade groups can massage the template into better shape and push things a little farther for all of us.
23 April 2006
State law here in Washington basically says that a teacher has to teach what they are directed to teach. The teachers in our district who are claiming that they won't use the adopted curriculum materials and/or will define their course however they see fit have no protection in case law. Our jobs are about student learning---not teacher entertainment. The "academic freedom" part really comes in terms of how you approach the course: teaching methods, engagement strategies, etc.
I get to walk this fine line tomorrow with a group of seventh grade science teachers. Standards for that grade level and curriculum materials have been identified and adopted by the school board. Our next goal is to map out the year for students: what standards are addressed when and which activities will best allow students to demonstrate their learning. This will be an ongoing process throughout next year, but I hope we'll end up with a useful document for teachers: a reference to the key areas of the curriculum and assessment. Instruction? That makes the line fuzzy, but we'll probably list a few tips and leave it.
The secondary math specialist in Curriculum is really struggling to get most teachers on board with the new curriculum that has been adopted. I think that I haven't because the new materials aren't a drastic departure and also because this mapping work is something teachers have asked to do. It didn't come from me nor the administration. They are the ones who most want to have some common language about what we do with students. I have buy-in from every school: one teacher per grade level has committed to making the work happen. I think that's amazing. I'm glad to have their help as we trip that fine line fantastic.
22 April 2006
The good news is that the parts of the contract which are included for this year's bargaining do not include Curriculum.
The bad news? I hardly know where to begin. The meeting was 45 minutes late getting started because The President was out at a car dealership conducting personal business. Or is it more unprofessional to use a second-grade sing-song voice when imitating the words of the District? The President kept talking about how teachers need more time to plan their implementataion of new standards and strategies in the classroom. Hey, I agree. But The Prez not once talked about exploring ways to build more time in the day---only about how to get a few more dollars into teachers' pockets. The Union is apparently holding grudges against the district for decisions they made two and three administrations ago. Should I point out their jabs at changes in the science program? It's true that at two schools, as science course demands increase for students that they will decrease in electives. But the district is going to have to cut ten secondary positions by next fall. Science only can take the blame for 1.5 of those.
By the end of the meeting, they were trying (and failing) to whip us into some sort of frenzy about how we should be the ones deciding what our jobs were about. You know, none of us are in Curriculum to serve ourselves. We're there for other teachers so that they can make a positive difference for kids. Too bad The Union doesn't have the same ideals for their job descriptions.
20 April 2006
Here are the Top 10:
1. What percentage of the earth is covered by water?
ROBERT GAGOSIAN, WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTE
2. What sorts of signals does the brain use to communicate sensations, thoughts and actions?
TORSTEN WEISEL, ROCKEFELLER INSTITUTE, NEW YORK
3. Did dinosaurs and humans ever exist at the same time?
ANDREW C. REVKIN, NEW YORK TIMES SCIENCE REPORTER
4. What is Darwin's theory of the origin of species?
JONATHAN WEINER, 1995 PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING AUTHOR
5. Why does a year consist of 365 days, and a day of 24 hours?
LESLIE SAGE, NATURE MAGAZINE
6. Why is the sky blue?
ROY GLAUBER, 2005 NOBEL PRIZE WINNER; HARVARD UNIVERSITY
7. What causes a rainbow?
KIM KASTENS, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY
8. What is it that makes diseases caused by viruses and bacteria hard to treat?
HELLE GAWRYLEWSKI, JOHNSON & JOHNSON (AND THE AUTHOR'S MOTHER)
9. How old are the oldest fossils on earth?
PAUL NURSE, 2001 NOBEL PRIZE WINNER; ROCKEFELLER INSTITUTE
10. Why do we put salt on sidewalks when it snows?
ARTHUR KNUDSEN, BRIDGETON, N.J., SCHOOLS
Extra credit: What makes the seasons change?
Need the answers? Read the rest of the article.
I don't know that these would have all been in my Top 10, but they aren't bad. I would have liked to have seen a question or two about the process involved with science. How do we know what we know?
Are there others you think should belong on the list?
18 April 2006
Coach Brown wrote a thoughtful post on how we're killing kids with low expectations. I really like the post, but his comment system isn't being friendly to me. So, I decided to just point you in his direction for a great read. I've had all of the same frustrations he vents about---and no answers, either. Someone who does could make lots of money.
I woke up in the wee hours on Sunday morning with a frightening thought about our elementary science program. Our plan has a giant hole...just when we thought we were being smart about things. You see, we budgeted for two kits per grade level for next year and will buy the third in 2007. What we didn't think about is that two kits isn't enough to serve all of the schools at the same time...so we're going to have to be ready to go full throttle in September. How we will accomplish this is a mystery at this point.
I got to hear today about how one teacher in my building is leaving next year because the new math curriculum will be "too much work." This is because it isn't delivered in the traditional math sense: teacher lectures, kids do lots of practice problems. The teacher would actually have to engage students with various activities with the new program. Heavens! A person at central office told me today about a run-in with another staff member from the school where I teach. This teacher reeked of alcohol and admitted being on the way back to work. I don't know that anything will come of that information, but it does make you wonder.
Curriculum is its own conundrum. With each passing day, I realize how blissfully ignorant I am about things. So many others there are unhappy with the direction things are taking...and in the next breath are glad to have had the increasing support in recent years. I think I'm just going to keep my head down and work on what I think would be best. I have my evaluation meeting with the Boss Lady on Friday. We'll see if she has the same opinion.
I've completed the requirements for my first class toward earning my EdD. I'm looking forward to having next week "off," especially considering the volume of meetings that are on the calendar. For now, I'm just enjoying the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing the course.
It's Spring. Get out and enjoy it while you can!
17 April 2006
I'm not expecting grand results in science this year. I suppose I should be hopeful, but most of this year has been spent getting teachers ready to make the transition to a standards-based curriculum. Few have actually attempted to get their students to the there on their own. Scores will arrive in August and I hope that I'll be proven wrong.
I don't have any 10th graders in my class this year to cheer on. I do, however, wish them all very well.
16 April 2006
We're at the stage of developing some documents for teachers to use as a resource in planning. This is not some sort of prescription, where everyone teaching seventh grade science will do the exact same lesson on the same day. We aren't making widgets here. We're working with young people, all of whom have slightly different needs. However, regardless of the variation, all kids are now held to the same high expectations and standards. The documents we make based on our new curriculum and information from the state should be things that easily identify for teachers which pages in the text and activities are best aligned. Instead of every teacher having to sift through everything in order to figure out whether or not s/he's teaching to the standards, they'll have a reference at hand.
The Reading and Math specialists have developed similar tools for elementary teachers. Neither format suits the needs of science, although each has some good pieces. Anyway, this leaves me needing to make a template...and I'm having a difficult time doing so. If the form isn't just right---maybe a single page, specific sections about the alignment, etc.---then it won't be functional for kids. It's too important not to be in an easily accessible and useful form.
I have four groups of teachers (one for each grade level: 6 - 9) coming in to work on these documents in the next few weeks. I was hoping to have at least a start on the form so that we didn't have to completely start from scratch. But it's being quite the bear to wrestle.
15 April 2006
I stumbled upon the answer the other day.
We have a person in our district whose job is dedicated to supporting new teachers and helping with certification issues (which can be rather complex here in Washington). She has had enough of the politics at central office and after nine years, has asked to go back to the classroom. When she revealed this at lunch, I asked her how much of her job the teacher mentorship was. She told me that it was .5 of her contract and I audibly breathed a sigh of relief.
I could tell from the look on her face that this was the wrong reaction and after a few prying questions, it was revealed that she is rewriting that portion of her job for a .2 and had already had a variety of conversations with the Boss Lady about me being perfect for the position.
So, it looks like I'll be working with newly minted teachers a day a week next year. Mind you, the Boss Lady has not said anything specific about this and the other person's transfer won't be arranged for a couple of weeks.
I'm not completely sure what I think about doing that work. I just never pictured myself in such a role. My sweetie sounded the alarm about a .5 job now being expected for .2 pay. That is an issue, except that we have so few new teachers anymore. Six or seven years ago, it wasn't unusual to have up to 50 for our district. In the last two years, the number has been no more than 15, all but one or two secondary teachers. Enrollment is decreasing, the district is overstaffed, and we just aren't hiring anymore.
In a way, I'm relieved that it doesn't look like the .2 will be attached to continuing my summer job of organizing the "intervention" for high school kids. And on the other hand, I'm a bit disappointed that the .2 isn't associated with the increase in my elementary science responsibilities (including our new science kit center). I can't really complain. In having to split my attentions between students and Curriculum duties, I think the kids have often received the fuzzy end of the lollipop. Even if I have diverse job responsibilities again next year, at least it will be in one location and I will have a lot more flexibility in terms of how I schedule my time.
I have a meeting with the Boss Lady later this week. We'll see if she gives any indications at that time about next year...and a new "task" as a teacher mentor.
14 April 2006
So, not only do they rape money from my pocket every month---now they're out to take away my job. And not just my job. They're out to get rid of every staff member who works in Curriculum. Why? Because our collective salaries could be divvied up amongst the other 800 teachers to give them a pay raise. The Union seems to have forgotten that if they send us back to the classroom---fifteen teachers will lose their jobs due to seniority issues. Not to mention that the district is overstaffed and some teachers' positions are already on the chopping block.
The Curriculum Dep't. has requested a liaison meeting with The Union to find out what their intentions really are. If that doesn't go well, we'll work our way up the food chain. There aren't any guarantees, of course, but there have been precedents of people who went above the local union reps and achieved wonderful results.
Would I be upset if I went back to the classroom full time? Nope. I enjoy my time with kids. But considering I'm paying $700+/year in extortion fees to the NEA Mafia to "protect" my job, doesn't that mean they shouldn't try to cut it?
13 April 2006
The idea is that this might be a kind of carrot to motivate at-risk kids. They need both passing scores on the state test and a particular number of credits in order to graduate.
Personally, I think this is a bad idea. First of all, the state test only has a slice of the full amount of information covered in a year-long course. Also, what happens with kids who passed their math class (for example) during the school year, but not the state test. After they pass the test, do they get additional credit? What kind? Content area or elective? If you give elective credit, then you're taking away potential teaching positions from other areas, because the kid won't need to take another class. Meanwhile, the whole thing feels like "double dipping": the kid gets twice the credit others get for the same amount of work.
I do understand that the students who attend this summer are putting in an additional 16 days of seat time (roughly 10% of a school year). But shouldn't the ability to obtain a diploma be reward enough?
This topic is sure to come up again at other sessions with principals. I can hardly wait to hear what teachers do with this idea.
11 April 2006
There was one outstanding candidate. She has lots of passion and ideas and a good background in elementary science. But we may not get to hire her. Why? Because she is "only" a sub in the district and there was a "real" teacher who interviewed for the job. By seniority, the job should be his. He interviewed poorly and you could tell by his answers that kids would be bored to tears if stuck with him for 3 hours a day for 5 weeks. The admin for summer school is going to go to bat for the sub, but he's not holding out a lot of hope.
I realize that being an official district employee should come with some privileges; however, it seems like we need to find a way to balance that with the needs of kids. The kids who will participate in the program are struggling students...whose parents have paid for them to be there...and who need to be nurtured. I think we owe it to them to be able to hire the best person for the job. Let's hope the HR director agrees.
10 April 2006
That's all the information I was given. Anyone want to guess what my duties will include next year?
09 April 2006
This time of year always makes us (teachers and kids) a little anxious. The next session of the WASL will start in just over a week, with AP testing on its heels. There's going to be plenty of stressed out people running around.
I feel good about the chances my kids have to do well on The Exam this year. It's a small group, but they're committed to doing well and have a solid knowledge of the curriculum and have accumulated some good test-taking strategies and essay writing skills. They'll be okay if they can just hang in there another month.
08 April 2006
I suppose one person's trash is another's treasure. But in this case, it just reinforces to me that quality education in science is increasingly necessary in today's world.
There are lots of great reads out there which help debunk the junk. One of my favourites is A Fly in the Ointment by Dr. Joe Schwarcz. He's a chemistry prof who got interested in stories like the dioxin after getting calls from the public or from reporters about these sorts of tales. He's written several books now, all worth checking out if you can.
07 April 2006
I first saw this term last year when the Scope and Sequence group I was working with was looking for some information on remediation. Apparently, the new way to talk about remediation is to say that you're doing an intervention. My group had a great time with this term. It conjured up a picture where a kid wakes up...and all of his/her science teachers are sitting in the room. Personally, I think that would make for a great intervention.
The program I'm organizing this summer for 10th (soon to be 11th) grade students who barely missed meeting the standard in math, reading, or writing is being referred to as a "WASL Intervention." I can't believe I'm going to be an intervention specialist for a few weeks. So much for remediation, eh?
06 April 2006
It's hard to believe I'm on the backside (so to speak) of Spring Break...let alone the last quarter of the school year. It's odd to contemplate that this might be the last quarter that I ever teach, but I have been allowed to ease into the new job in Curriculum and I am enjoying the adventure. I know from working with people in that office that nearly everyone wants to go back to the classroom after a few years. Perhaps I will feel the same.
Now, back to my regularly scheduled holiday.
04 April 2006
Do I worry about being "outed"? Occasionally. But there are people in my district who know I write this (such as my Boss Lady) and stop by once in awhile to read. One of them asked me if I was ever concerned about someone seeing something here that they didn't like or thought shouldn't be posted. It's possible, but my basic rule of thumb is to not say something here that I wouldn't say to someone's face (not that I use anyone's real name). They might not like my opinions, although I think they would be fair enough to admit that I don't appreciate all of theirs, either. I hope that they would understand that they are personal opinions about professional situations. I do stray from that from time to time.
So why use an alias? I think it has to do with trying to maintain some distance and privacy. Teachers, after all, tend to be semi-public figures. In our communities, we are often in contact with the families who use our schools and it can be rare to have any sort of anonymity. This virtual space is separate spot to organize and communicate without the direct influence of the parents, kids, and staff I regularly see. I like that.
In the end, I guess that all of us edubloggers have to make some hard choices about what we share and who we share it with---both on-line and in the daily lives. For those of you who have had to move around because you were outed (or almost outed), best wishes for your new homes. May you have as much anonymity as you desire.
03 April 2006
I'm back, too, after taking care of a bit of business over the last few days. It is Spring Break here, so blogging may be light this week. However, I do have plenty of work to keep me company over the holiday.