Monthly Archives: March 2012

School Reform, Pecking, and Chicken Glasses

You must be thinking what an odd title for a blog on education and school reform. Well, you can thank my friend and colleague, Marcia, at WSWHE BOCES for this entry. Marcia reads this blog, and she knows my penchant for rose-colored glasses. Anyhow, the other morning Marcia asked me if I had seen the Antiques Roadshow which featured the $500 appraised chicken glasses, to which I replied, “No?! Are you kidding??” She then described these tiny spectacles which farmers put on their chickens back in the early 20th century. “They are so tiny and cute!,” she commented. Rose colored glasses on chickens???? Hmmmm. I had no idea they did such things, though given the nature of chickens, it does make sense.

A while back I wrote about my preference for rose-colored glasses when working through significant reform projects such as Race to the Top. Anyone who has participated in a major reform effort knows full well the value of a positive, can-do attitude. One that asks good hard questions and challenges assumptions while seeing the possibilities and potentialities difficult change provides. Having a sense of optimism goes a long way when encountering problems during change efforts, and as we know, problems are opportunities. But what about chickens and rose-colored glasses?

If you keep chickens, you’ll know they peck at each other, particularly when they see red blood. In fact, they’re cannibalistic at the sight of blood–which doesn’t bode well for the poultry farmer or injured chicken. When wearing rose-colored glasses, however, chickens actually become color blind. From Todd Bryan’s blog on the Pioneer Way, “When the chickens held their heads upright the red lenses rendered the birds color-blind, eliminating their ability to detect raw flesh and blood. You see, chickens are instinctively cannibalistic and have a natural tendency to peck one another. Pecking is the chickens way of establishing hierarchy within the flock, which is where the term “pecking order” comes from. Also, being that the red lenses were mounted on hinges, the chickens had clear and unobstructed vision while lowering their heads to feed.” 

There’s a lot of “pecking” going on in the field of school reform these days. So much is on the line, and with a growing sense of urgency to raise student achievement, particularly on international measures such as TIMSS and PISA, stakeholders are having heated discussions on how to reform public education. Without getting into the sometimes vitriolic commentary coming from various quarters, the reality of fiscal austerity for public schools and local governments demand adult conversations at all levels. Though rose-colored glasses on chickens are no longer hip at the poultry farm, it may be time to look at the lenses we are looking through in this country when it comes to public education. After all, we do have the capacity and talent to do extraordinary things when we put our minds and hearts to what matters most.

Questions for Future Teachers

A good friend and former colleague called the other night to ask what interview questions I would pose to candidates for an 8th grade science teacher opening. My friend is volunteering to serve on a mock interview committee for a graduate teacher education class, and his team will interview a student seeking middle level science certification. Since I am a former science teacher, my friend thought I might have some good questions for him. I did my best. My two were, “What does analysis, inquiry and design look like in a science class?”, and “How do you bring rigor, relevance, and relationship-building into science lessons?” When we hung up, I thought more deeply about the future science teacher and the critical questions he and other future teachers must answer to thrive in the very complex world of education.

In Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should know and be able to do, Bransford, Darling-Hammond, and LePage cite Schulman’s (1998) six characteristics shared by all professions. These commonalities are: 1) Service to society, 2) A body of scholarly knowledge, 3) Engagement in practical action, 4) Uncertainty, 5) The importance of experience, and 6) The development of a professional community. Depending on whom you speak with, teaching is either regarded as a profession or a pseudoprofession. I prefer profession, but acknowledge there are times when individuals and institutions may miss the mark. With professionalism in mind, I’d suggest another question for the budding science teacher: “How will you contribute and add to the science teaching profession?”. Depending on his/her response, I’d follow-up with “How will you serve others?”, “Put learning theory into practice?”, “Understand the complexity of education and student learning and act accordingly?”, and “Develop into a master teacher or teacher leader?”

Teaching is a wonderfully rewarding vocation. It’s also hard work. Period. Unfortunately, prospective teachers’ preconceptions (and those of the general populace) about teaching are shaped by their own experiences as students. Experiences which are incomplete, filtered, and not reflective of all that precludes effective teaching. Darling-Hammond and others speak about this in Preparing Teachers for a Changing World: What teachers should know and be able to do. Much like watching a professional ball game or a Broadway show, effective teaching appears to be effortless. Hidden, however, are the thousands of hours of preparation, learning, and skill development that occurred prior to the event. So, another question series I’d like to ask the future 8th grade teacher is, “Are you ready to put the time in? To challenge yourself to think differently? To take risks? To seek out mentors who will guide your development, and to do the same for others later in your career?

Now more than ever, we need to graduate student teachers who are metacognitive in their work, who recognize their inherent biases and preconceptions shaped by their experiences in school, and who are self-directed learners moving along a continuum towards master teacher and/or teacher leader.  We also desperately need to grow and distribute leadership throughout the school building, expanding instructional leadership responsibilities as schools ramp up Common Core Standards, Next Generation Assessments, and Professional Accountability Systems. With teacher leadership in mind, I’d close my interview session with a warm handshake, sincere best wishes, and a copy of the Teacher Leader Model Standards.



Hammerness, K., Darling-Hammond, L., Bransford, J. Berliner, D., Cochran-Smith, M., McDonald, M., and Kenneth Zeichner (2005). How teachers learn and develop. In L. Darling-Hammond and J. Bransford (Eds), Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Musings from A Three-Day Race to the Top Network Team Institute (3/12-14, 2012)

On the first night of Network Team Institute (NTI) training I succumbed to Real Steel, a robot boxing movie set in the future. The star was an undersized, old technology “bot” named Atom who was found at the dump yard by an eleven-year old boy. The boy had just recently been reunited with his dad, and the connection between the two was robot fighting, something akin to World Wide Wrestling and pretty popular in the future. Anyhow, it’s a sappy, feel-good movie which reminded me a lot of “Rocky”. In fact, I half-expected Atom to call out “Yo Adrienne” after the big match. So, that’s what I do after some of these Network Team Trainings-watch mindless movies or television shows. I’d like to settle into a good book, or catch up on my email, but honestly, I’m totally exhausted after Network Team Trainings. And that’s usually a good thing.

Learning is fatiguing. I read in a Science Times article the brain consumes 20% of the 1,300 calories necessary for resting metabolism, and when we think hard such as with a complicated multiplication exercise, we burn additional calories. That is the basis for last night’s mind drip. I was too fatigued mentally to do anything else. We worked hard all day. Plus, sitting for long periods of time is a problem. As much as our presenters worked to get us moving, the reality is you sit most of the time when at training sessions. I’m often reminded during these long days of our middle and high school students who sit for nearly an entire day, getting hurried walks in when changing classes or heading to lunch. Hmmm. Lends further credence to student engagement and active learning, not to mention more time for physical education classes. Anyhow, back to NTI reflections.

NTI day one was a good day with the energy of our SED facilitators and presenters revealing the impact of Governor Cuomo’s agreement with NYSUT and NYSED. Some clarity had been restored, and with that a more focused and confident State Education Department. RttT progress was made evident as Ken Slentz reminded us of the quality discussions people are having today regarding teacher observation, common core, and other RttT deliverables versus those of nine months ago. Against that backdrop, our day was focused on evidence-based evaluation of principals. Our presenters from Cambridge Education reemphasized the impact of practice on results, and had us go through a series of exercises tied to ISLLC Standard One. We discussed and applied a comprehensive Case Study example to principal evaluation, and did a fishbowl role-play activity around a principal-teacher post observation conference. There was also practice around goal setting, evidence regarding instructional shifts, use of principal rubrics, and student survey data (Tripod Survey). In the evening, Bradford Central School presented on their progress in implementing Race to the Top. It’s encouraging to see practitioners share what they are doing at Network Team Institutes.

Day two was another good day, longer than day one, and all about Student Learning Objectives (SLOs). We worked with Bill Slotnik’s CTAC group on the SLO template, filling in information regarding student population, learning content, time interval, evidence, baseline data, student targets, HEDI criteria, and rationale. Overall, it was a good session and reminded me of Covey’s “Begin with the end in mind.” During the evening, we had a program on close reading using Thoreau’s “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,” Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Life among the Lowly,” and Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” We ended officially at 8:30PM, though my colleague Courtney and I went on for a two-plus hour Network Team Professional Learning Community (PLC) meeting. By midnight, I was in bed. No need for a movie after such a day. We had the good fortune to meet with Duffy Miller for part of the PLC time, and he gave us greater insight into the MET study, observation protocols, evolution of the various teaching rubrics, and his hopes and goals for teacher observation in New York State. If you want to know something about teacher evaluation, speak with Duffy Miller and his team.

Day three was with Duffy Miller’s group on teacher evaluation. We reviewed evidence-based observation criteria and then conducted an observation of a 2nd grade math lesson from which evidence was entered on a web-based platform to rate performance using either the Danielson 2007 ASCD rubric or the NYSUT rubric. Total time to collect evidence from a 30 minute video exercise, enter data to the platform, and rate the lesson was approximately two hours start to finish. Given the newness of the tools, that time could be whittled down some with more experience. All participants were told to expect feedback on the quality of their evidence, alignment to the rubric elements or indicators, and level of performance within two weeks time.

There are some key take aways from this three-day institute. First, this work cannot be about compliance, though that will be a path taken by some. Rather, for sustained reform to stick, particularly in the area of Common Core Standards, Instructional Shifts, Data-Driven Instruction, and Annual Professional Performance Reviews, Network Team members must carry forth the energy and excitement of the reform efforts to their constituents. Back at district, leaders must in turn provide teachers and principals support and accountability, or run the risk of compliance. Second, this work is extremely hard and time-consuming, and the system is and will continue to feel the pressure. However, it is indeed possible to change our educational system for the better. Lastly, momentum is growing as we begin to apply what we’ve learned to the protocols necessary to fully realize Race to the Top. That’s good news for our students who need us to prepare them for college or career success. It’s also good news for us who will depend on our students years from now to maintain this country’s economic viability and safe, secure democratic way of life.

Is Effective Teaching Measurable? What the Research Suggests.

Is it possible to truly measure teacher effectiveness? To help educators develop pedagogically? To ensure students are provided the very best classroom instruction possible? Well, that depends on how you define effectiveness and on what tools one uses. If we rely strictly on teacher observation data, the predictability of teacher effectiveness is limited in terms of student performance on state or other assessment measures. However, if we combine teacher observation with student survey data and previous value-added state test results, then we have a more vigorous measure with good reliability and predictability. At least that is what the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project is finding in their comprehensive study.

The Met Project is an exciting, unique study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation seeking to define the measures necessary to accurately and reliably describe effective teaching.  Unique in the variety of indicators used (five classroom observation instruments, student surveys (Tripod Survey), and value-added state test results); unique in scale (3,000 teachers, 22,500 observation scores, 900 trained observers, and 44,500 student surveys and supplemental assessments); and unique in variety of student outcomes (math and state assessment gains, Balanced Assessment in Math, Stanford 9 Reading Test, and student-reported outcomes such as effort and enjoyment in class). Findings from the MET Project may provide districts and state education departments leverage for education reform throughout the nation.

Each of the Project’s measures has different strengths and weaknesses, but combined, they have a cocktail effect for defining teacher effectiveness. If we focus on student assessment results, value-added results offer the greatest predictive power on future state tests followed by student surveys. Classroom observation has the lowest predictive power of the three measures. However, classroom observation offers the highest potential for diagnosing teacher effectiveness and guiding teacher development. Student survey data has moderate diagnostic potential, with value-added measures offering little potential. In terms of reliability, all three measures have moderate to high ratings. However, the complexities of teacher observation require specific steps to realize strong reliability.

The MET Project is a must-read for school educators and administrators. Besides presenting a strong case for multiple measures in teacher effectiveness, it provides strategies for developing inter-rater consistency within schools and resources on student surveys. Our WSWHE BOCES Network Team has created a webcast on the MET Project along with supporting documents from content presented by Senior Regents Research Fellow Amy McIntosh at the January RTTT Network Team Training Institute. We know how powerfully important teachers are to student achievement, and the high stakes nature of Race to the Top and school reform ask that we measure teacher effectiveness carefully with validity and reliability. As the nation undergoes a transformation in curriculum through the Common Core State Standards, now more than ever we must look at multiple measures for defining teacher effectiveness.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What it Means to Students

Respect is a condition where one holds something or someone in high regard-a critically important component of human relations. When we respect someone, we convey value and worth to that individual, which is most often pleasing and self-assuring to the recipient. As Maya Angelou wrote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  That powerful quote resonates in people’s hearts and minds and gets at the root of respect. Students value teachers who respect them and make them feel important. Teachers who welcome students by their name at the door each day; who ask how their favorite ball teams or American Idol contestants are doing; and who generally keep a tab on their daily lives convey the message, “I care about you; I’m interested in what you value; and I respect who you are.” Not surprisingly, research shows teachers who earn the respect of their students are more apt to be effective than those who do not.

Initial findings from the Gates-funded MET Project are fascinating. Using a tripod approach to measuring teacher effectiveness, researchers are looking at the relationships of value-added state test results, student perception surveys, and teacher observation data on overall teacher effectiveness. Student perception survey results speak to the power of respect and caring on teacher effectiveness as evidenced by the survey item with the strongest correlation to middle school math gains, “Students in this class treat their teacher with respect.” Other Met Project survey items with strong correlations to student achievement were, “My teacher in this class makes me feel that s/he really cares about me,” and “My teacher really tries to understand how students feel about things.”

Hmmm. Is it really that simple? Just show a little respect and caring and get great results? Well, when combined with content knowledge, pedagogy, and assessments, it can be that simple.  As a secondary science teacher years ago, I remember how powerfully important relationships were to my students and their (and my) success. Smiles, laughter, and a genuine caring attitude were what made the difference for us. We were successful because we respected one another. I remember how hard my students worked as a result of our classroom environment. They valued my efforts to be as good a teacher as possible, and they responded in kind. Were their exceptions? Of course. At risk students struggling with personal and emotional issues had their good and bad days. However, student failure was my failure, and that was not acceptable to me or the class. We managed to be successful as a whole because of our respect and interest in one another.

Martin Ford (1992) wrote, “Motivational interventions that do not respect the goals, emotions, and personal agency beliefs that a person brings to a situation may produce short-term effects, but in the long run they are likely to fail or backfire.” When it comes to teaching, we can not mandate what matters to our children, nor can we demand, cajole, or beg for their participation. Rather, through facilitation and sincere respect for their interests, beliefs, and background knowledge and experiences, teachers can indeed motivate children to succeed beyond their expectations. After all, when the day is done, it’s how we add value to an individual’s perceived worth that truly matters.

Ford, M. E. (1992). Motivating humans: Goals, emotions, and personal agency beliefs. Newbury Park, California: Sage.