• Common Core State Standards, Factors Influencing Student Achievement, Responsive Coaching, Teacher Evaluation, Autism

  • JP works with schools providing training on how to ameliorate teacher weaknesses brought to light through the process of teacher evaluation.

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  • JP brings together several critical factors in the development of an effective school.

  • JP Associates offers our sites grant writing assistance. Take advantage of our experience writing successful grant requests.
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Tension is Bad, or is it?

Tension is bad, isn’t it?  Well it depends on the kind of tension we are talking about, but for the most part tension is good.  Tension, despite common belief, instead of having a negative influence on our performance, our attitude and our interaction with others, can be a driving force for improvement and growth. As a matter of fact, I would say there is no growth without tension. Tension creates unity.

When we surround ourselves with people that think and act as we do, we remove the kind of tension that leads to exploration and new knowledge. Want generate effective ideas and strategies? Have some tension. 

Disclaimer: We are not talking about the kind of tension that is based on self-interest or personal agendas.  We are talking about the kind of tension that comes from a passion about getting it right and doing good.

What can you do:

Look for people you respect, but may not agree with you

Embrace the disagreement-don’t avoid it

Engage in conversations and explore the disagreements

Realize change often takes on a life of its own, and it may not be what you originally envisioned

Tale of Two Leaders

In prior blog posts the concept of relationships was explored. How leaders build relationships can take several different forms.  It is such a powerful skill for leaders, let’s look at how two leaders addressed similar situations and the impact on relationship building.

Leader #1, Principal Jones, was walking through the hallways and heard a teacher in the hallway speaking to her students that were lined up outside the cafeteria.  More accurately, she was yelling at them:

“We are not going anywhere until you line up straight.”

“How many times do I have to tell you kids? Shut up in the hallways!”

Principal Jones continued to her destination, a meeting with her leadership team. Before the meeting started she vented with her team complaining about the teacher and how something needs to be done. She spoke negatively about the teacher and the behaviors she witnessed for several minutes before she began the meeting. No one ever approached the teacher in question.

Leader #2, Principal Smith, holds regular meetings with her teacher leaders.  During one meeting, new procedures were introduced regarding data management.  One of the more experienced and senior teacher leaders began to make negative comments about the procedure to the teacher sitting nearby, but not commenting to the group as a whole.

“Here we go again, another change.”

After the meeting Principal Smith approached the teacher. The principal shared that she valued the teacher and everything she brings to the table—that she depended on the teacher to provide good feedback, voice any concerns, and make suggestions. She then expressed her concern on how the teacher had commented, not to the group, but to individual teachers and in an overall negative manner about the new procedures.  They explored both the teachers concerns and alternatives to how the teacher could have expressed them. 

In the first instance the leader never approached or spoke to the teachers, but complained to others about the teacher’s behavior. Leader #1 became part of the problem as opposed to leading toward a solution. Relationship building opportunity lost! The second leader took the direct approach, spoke to the teacher, identify the issue and worked on a strategy together that met both their needs. Leader # 2 grabbed the opportunity to deepen the already strong relationship.

Some simple guidelines:

  1.  See something, address it directly with the person/people involved
  2. Identify/Recognize the person’s concern’s and validate them
  3. Work together for a solution that builds your relationship and addresses concerns
  4. See relationship building opportunity in every interaction with your team. See it, take it. Turn negative situations into a positive opportunities to strengthen your team. 

Are you helping TOO much?

Question: Are you helping TOO much? 

The answer is more straight forward than you might imagine…if you were to hang out imagining things like this.  In case you are not hanging out doing that I will just tell you: If the “teacher help” that you are providing hides the need for intervention, you are helping TOO much.  There.  I said it.

Our goal as teachers is to teach students to mastery.  Most everything we teach needs to be taught until students can do it on their own.  I’m not saying that we lose track of this, but ummmm… sometimes we lose track of this!  So, grab yourself a drink (I mean lemonade or tea of course!) and let’s remind each other what we mean. 

Typically, the teaching job is not complete until a student can perform the task without assistance.  It is good (and necessary) to provide the scaffolding (temporary assistance) so students can get it right – but give the message to students from the start that their goal (and yours) is for them to do the work without help.

NOT TOO MUCH HELPING

NOT TOO MUCH HELPING

TOO MUCH HELPING

NOT TOO MUCH HELPING

I do (demo)

We do.

We do.

You do (test)—several students get it wrong.

We do

We do

You do (mini-test)—everyone gets it right independently.

I do (demo)

We do.

You do (test)—several students get it wrong.

We do

We do

You do (test)—several students get it wrong.

We do

We do.

You do (test)—students get it right independently.

I do (demo)

We do.

We do.

You help student to get it right and you mark it right so student’s score/grade looks like he/she knows it.  Move on with lesson.

I do (demo)

We do.

We do.

We do.

We do

You do (test)—only one or two students don’t get it.

Mark item wrong.

Move on with lesson.   *Get them extra help. 

(I do=teacher model; We do=teacher and students do item together; You do=students do item independently)

It is important to remember that ALL questions that are posed to students, both oral and written, during lessons are MINI-TESTS (formative assessments if you will).  The goal for these questions is to find out if the students have mastered the learning objectives/targets for the lesson.  It is information that tells the teacher whether more instruction is needed.

So here are some implications as I see it:

  • “Individual turns” (either oral or written worksheets, etc.) should show that all students have learned the skill in the learning target.  If there are errors by more than ¼ of the group, you haven’t finished teaching that part.  It is probably necessary to go back and re-teach that part until it is mastered.  If less than ¼ of the group miss it, plan to move on ASAP.
  • If you sit with and TEACH or RE-TEACH an individual student during independent work time, you are helping too much.  This results in a couple of things: 1) Other students may be shortchanged in that you are not able to circulate and monitor in order to provide feedback. 2) It sends the message to the student receiving 1:1 instruction that he/she doesn’t need to attend to the whole group instruction because the teacher will provide private tutoring later.  In reality, the teacher should be spending between 20-30 seconds at the most with an individual student while circulating and monitoring during independent practice. REMEMBER: By the time something is assigned as independent practice students should know how to do it with little assistance.
  • If you are circulating and monitoring and you see an error, tell the student something like “Uh oh.  That one isn’t right.  Look carefully and try it again.”  Demonstrating sympathy is cool, but don’t stop to help the first student with an error on an item.  (PLEASE NOTE…NO REALLY…NOTE THIS: THIS IS FAIR ONLY IF THERE HAS BEEN EXPLICIT INSTRUCTION!)  Keep monitoring and look for other students making the same error.  If you find three students (in an average sized classroom) making errors on the same item type, stop the class and do a group correction.  Make a note to review this item type until all the students have learned it.
  • Students who cannot do their work independently are quite possibly in over their heads.  If students can’t do the independent items without help or they can’t get items right, there is cause to take a minute for some instructional decision-making.  Most likely the situation indicates the need for some model of differentiation and/or remediation. 
  • Don’t forget that while building scaffolding is done very systematically, removing it requires the same intentional thought.

Now let’s get out there and teach ‘em!

Randi Saulter started her career as a speech/language pathologist, then moved into the classroom setting where she taught in both general and special education in grades K-12.

She served as district-wide program coordinator for special education; the principal of schools which utilized only research-validated curriculum; Director of Curriculum and Instruction for two different school districts; and a lecturer at San Francisco State University in three departments in the School of Education. 

Randi is the co-author of a very popular math facts fluency curriculum as well as a web-based teacher evaluation tool.  She has also authored and co-authored several articles on various topics in education.

Randi now works as a consultant for school districts around the United States and continues to present keynotes and workshops and trainings nationally as well.

Leading the Effective School

When speaking about leading the effective school, a good road map are The Seven Correlates of Effective Schools. Effective School researchers—Wilbur Brookover, Ron Edmonds and Larry Lezotte—identified existing effective schools. Effective schools are identified as those schools that were successful in educating all students regardless of their socioeconomic status or their family background. After the researchers identified such schools, they then identified the common characteristics among them—those processes, policies, practices and philosophies these successful school had in common with each other. The reverse also was true—they identified which of these traits the less successful schools did not have. The result was the Seven Correlates of Effective Schools:

  • Strong Instructional Leadership
  • Clear and Focused Mission
  • Safe and Orderly Environment
  • Climate of High Expectations
  • Frequent Monitoring of Student Progress
  • Positive Home-School Relations
  • Opportunity to Learn and Student Time on Task

They serve as a destination, but don’t necessarily provide the tools or how to use the tools—they do provide a clear vision (essential to effective leadership). In Stepping Up: Leading the Charge to Improve Our Schools, Lezotte writes, “Whatever the model of school improvement chosen, the degree to which a school or district is successful in implementing positive and sustainable change depends on a very important factor: an effective leader. Fortunately, leadership is not something that is innate and inborn. Nor is it a product of personality or charisma. Leadership arises from the effective use of a specific set of skills and behaviors that can be learned, practiced and refined. However, effective leadership is always found in a specific context. That is to say, while there may be a common set of leadership skills that can be learned, they must be adapted to the organizational context within which the leader must operate. “

A first step to growing as a leader is taking an inventory. What are the issues you face on a regular basis? What are the skills you use to address these issues? Are you happy with the results? Are there additional, new skills that would help? What are they and how would you acquire them. These are just a few of the initial questions you may want to explore as you create a conscious plan to improve as a leader.

Do You Use Your Pause Button?

During work the other day I received an email from a colleague that really pushed my buttons. The email addressed an issue we both had disagreed about, but, I thought, had settled on an answer. The email was a passive-aggressive effort to say, “I am going to do what you ask, but I still disagree and I am just waiting to be able to say, ‘I told you, so.’” I immediately grabbed for my keyboard and typed out a less than polite email.

The email reviewed all the points of the prior discussion and in a similar passive aggressive manner, I made my point that at this time I didn’t care what he thought, we needed to move forward. My hand moved the mouse and the cursor move to the send button…and then I paused.

Today’s technology makes it so easy to respond quickly and often without thought. Hit a reply or send button and instant communication—and gratification. Is it quick always best? Of course, there are times when a quick answer is important and necessary, but there are more times when we need to take the time to think of our answers, our rationale and our tone. Every opportunity for communication is an opportunity to build relationships.

So, you hit the pause button. What next? What are some of the questions we should ask ourselves?

The first question I suggest is, “What is the end result you want to achieve? And will this response help you achieve it?” Often we lose sight of what the discussion is about, and it becomes a win-lose situation—a test of egos. We need to bring into focus our goals and keep our eye on the prize, not the conflict.

Second, “What is the reason the person is responding in such a manner? What are they getting or what do they want to get?”

Third, “Where is the common ground?” Starting from a point of agreement, increases the potential for a successful conclusion.

Fourth, “How can I address their concerns/feelings without compromising goals?

The next step is the 24 hour rule. It is rule I use whenever I am angry or upset. It is the amount of time needed to calm down, ask the above questions, and craft a response that I think will help me achieve the goal. Some suggested guidelines:

Examine the reason the person is upset, walk in their shoes, and explore how you can address their concerns—without compromising the achievement of the goals.

Use neutral and non-judgmental language—don’t make it personal and don’t take it personal.

Use this “conflict” as an opportunity to either create a new relationship or strengthen an existing one. People expect a fight. They don’t expect communication.

I used my 24 hours and the next day responded with a completely different version of my first thoughts. I didn’t back away from what had to be done, but the way I relayed my message had a different tone and a different objective. The first time I wrote to rebuke. The second response was to engage and recruit. The end result? A stronger bond. It was stronger because we experienced conflict and worked our way through it. Stronger, because rather than use power to resolve the issue we used communication.

Do you use your pause button?

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