Monthly Archives: July 2013

Stewardship, Education, and the Common Core


“Look at the beauty!” my Sicilian grandmother used to exclaim whenever we were vacationing or doing a day trip away from her home in Jamaica, New York City. Whether it be Long Island’s Jones Beach or Masten Lake in Upstate New York, Lucia loved to be in nature, and she passed that love down to her children and grandchildren. Yesterday’s hike with my wife along Mossey Cascade Brook and up Hopkins Mountain in the Keene Valley region of the Adirondacks was the perfect reminder of just how important our stewardship of Mother Earth is to our mental, spiritual, and physical well-being. The challenge I dwelled on at the summit while munching on a handful of wild blueberries was how to cultivate a sense of environmental stewardship with our students.

Years ago a colleague and I had a grand idea: We’d create a school curriculum entirely built around stewardship. Students would first learn about their responsibilities to care for self in the areas of mind, body and spirit. We’d then extend the concept to care of one’s family, immediate and extended. Stewardship would then broaden to that of the region, state, and nation. And last but not least, our curriculum would lead to stewardship of our planet. Students would learn how history, technology, population growth, religion, etc all impact directly or indirectly, the theme of stewardship. Okay, we definitely were thinking way out of the box. But seriously, how do we help our students appreciate the beauty, magnificence, and fragility of our environment? How do we instill the values and beliefs that will help preserve this beautiful planet and its awe-inspiring diversity of life for generations to come?

If it’s true what gets measured gets taught, then one likely route is through the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS). Let’s take literacy as an example. From the introduction (p. 2):  To be ready for college, workforce training, and life in a technological society, students need the ability to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and report on information and ideas, to conduct original research in order to answer questions or solve problems, and to analyze and create a high volume and extensive range of print and nonprint texts in media forms old and new. The need to conduct research and to produce and consume media is embedded into every aspect of today’’s curriculum. In like fashion, research and media skills and understandings are embedded throughout the Standards rather than treated in a separate section. What a lever to teach such a rich and meaningful concept of environmental stewardship through required standards for English Language Arts and Literacy!

Truly, where there’s a will, there’s a way. By looking carefully at the Common Core Learning Standards, one can find many avenues to teach rigorous and highly relevant concepts such as environmental stewardship while meeting ALL the CCLS standards. Ultimately, it comes down to values. How much value do we put on environmental issues? On biodiversity? On climate change? On clean water? On alternative energies?……. Through the Common Core Learning Standards, we have an opportunity to graduate students with the capacity to think deeply and well about important issues, and to do so in spite of the constant noise from our media.  If we think about the environment our children’s children will inherit, there’s no question we must work hard and diligently to preserve this lovely planet we inherited from our ancestors.

BTW, this week I begin my Climate Reality Leadership Corp training. I’ll keep you posted.


2012/2013 Was A School Year Like No Other. Now What?

What a year! New job. New colleagues. New divisions. New classes to teach. New protocols for hiring, creating budgets, evaluations,……  New terminology, acronyms, and policies. New internal and external politics. New networks. New knowledge, skills, and expectations. All in all, it was a whirlwind of change packed into 12 months, and only now am I catching my breath. In fact, yesterday was the first time in 12 months I made the time to delve into the growing pile of files and folders scattered in different areas of my office. What a glorious feeling to churn through the materials, sorting some into new and glossy folders complete with typed labels, while discarding others in the recycling bin, thinking through the process, “I survived.” I know the job better now. I understand the expectations and the resources I have at my disposal. I’ve worked hard, earned respect, made mistakes, and tried to make a difference to the institution. Always looking through the lens of P-12 education, I appreciate the similarities of my first year experience with those of every P-12 educator and administrator who grappled with a state-wide reform agenda.

Public education was at times crazed this past year with new expectations, new curricula, new assessments, new ways of evaluating teachers and principals, new observation protocols, new performance management systems, new resources, and the list goes on. Teacher and principals had to write Student Learning Objectives, understand the HEDI Scale, implement Common Core Standards and concomitant Instructional Shifts, ready students for higher stakes state tests, use new inventory and progress monitoring assessments, conduct classroom evaluations, implement DASA, and do many other “new” things associated with Race to the Top. The challenges were at times overwhelming for building principals and teachers, but through the process, the status quo was turned on its head–and that’s not a bad thing.

With the year under our proverbial belts, it’s time to step back and reflect on all we’ve accomplished and plan what’s next in the cycle. For me, it will be to expand on the skills I just learned this previous year, and to make better those that require fixing. My classes will certainly be more structured and coherent as I repackage the syllabi and improve the embedded authentic tasks. Understanding more about how the system works, including development of budgets, evaluation tools, and the intricacies of SUNY-SED communications, I’m looking forward to expanding the visibility of our programs and Branch Campus culture (Which is pretty darn good already). We’ll also grow new partnerships, extend our services to the region, and fulfill our vision and mission statement. To do my best work, I’ll use the SUNY Plattsburgh Campus Plan 2018 for guidance and direction.

For public school educators, this is the year to fully assimilate Data-Driven Instruction into the regular school routine. It will be a year to refine common core curricula, implement the EngageNY curriculum modules, stay sharp doing evidence-based observations through inter-rater reliability training, create quality SLOs, and so on. This can also be a year to cultivate career ladders that promote teacher and principal leadership. Meanwhile, to stay focused on what matters and to find the best resources, educators would be wise to access the New York State Metrics & Expectations for 2013-2014 resource. The document defines what district superintendents, principals, network teams, and local superintendents should be doing in the areas of Curriculum, Instruction & Feedback, Data-Driven Instruction, APPR Implementation, and Culture of Safety & Development. People do better when they know better, and kudos to NYSED for clearly articulating what needs to be done and where to find the tools to do good work. Now it’s simply a matter of using the document to continue successfully along the path of school reform.


Crossing the Boundary For Meaningful Teacher and School Principal Meetings

How often do principals and teachers get together in teams to talk deeply about student achievement, curriculum, instruction, or assessment? Once a month? Once a quarter? Maybe once at mid year and again in June? Or perhaps, not at all? Truth is, the busy schedule principals and teachers hold can be a major impediment to teacher-principal team meetings. Confound time issues with a lack of perceived value for such meetings on either party’s part, lack of instructional leadership skills or understandings, credibility issues, distrust, etc, and the likelihood of principal-teacher team meetings is further diminished.  And yet, when done well with focus and purpose, principal-teacher team meetings can be phenomenally useful in raising the bar and doing what’s best for student achievement. Smart school administrators and teacher leaders know all too well they need one another to make a positive difference in their schools, but it takes a concerted effort at all levels for teacher-principal team meetings to get traction.

When working in the Glens Falls City School District, every two weeks I’d visit six middle school teams of teachers for what would be the richest and most useful day of professional growth during the entire two-week cycle. With six to eight teachers and counselors together with me in one room for 42 minutes, we’d talk about teaching, learning, students at risk, parents, data, curriculum, interventions, brain research, Understanding by Design, Classroom Instruction that Works, grants, technology, cross curriculum opportunities, and whatever else warranted discussion. We often did such meetings with student work samples in hand. Other times we were looking at curriculum maps, and still others with assessment reports. These meetings were a product of serious efforts by the district superintendent, assistant superintendent, and school board to raise student achievement in the middle school, and what started out as “Stamping out Weaknesses” meetings to analyze state assessment results became “Meetings with Steve.” It was a great time for doing good work.

Crossing the divide which separates teachers and principals requires something tangible. When my wife and I go to a social event, we bring something for the host. A dessert or appetizer perhaps. Inevitably during the party, the host and others remark about the dish. “I love the spicy tang in the frosting, how did you do that? Is that lemon zest?”, or “I must have that recipe. Will you email it?” You get the picture. The dish promotes conversation. Granted, at parties there’s much to converse about amongst friends, but the idea is the same. When something is brought to the table (pun intended), people in the group are more apt to talk about that something than when there is nothing brought to the table. Star and Griesemer (1989) define such tangible item as boundary objects or “objects of interest,” and Wenger (1998) defines boundary objects as, “Artifacts, documents, terms, concepts, and other forms of reification around which communities of practice can organize their interconnections.”

Boundary object are tangible items individuals use to cross boundaries between groups. Within schools, boundary objects are tools principals can use to promote meaningful professional conversations with teachers about curriculum, instruction and student learning.  Boundary object examples could include student writing folders, student work samples, curriculum maps, the Tri-State Quality Rubric, Evidence Binders, Student Learning Objects, Calibrated Classroom Videos, EngageNY Curriculum Modules, student survey results, teacher survey results, parent survey results…… With renewed focus on instructional leadership, particularly at the teacher leader level, in schools across the nation, now is the time to implement regularly scheduled principal-teacher team meetings. After all, if we truly hope to make data-driven instruction, common core instructional shifts, student learning objectives, and other school reform agenda items stick, then people need quality time and relevant artifacts to do the work. Make the time, bring the boundary objects, and people will talk.

Star, S. L., & Griesemer, J. R. (1989). Institutional ecology, “translations” and boundary objects: Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s museum of vertebrate zoology, 1907-39. Social Studies of Science, 19(3), 387-387-420. Retrieved from

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Educating Others Through The Climate Reality Leadership Corps

Are you concerned about the catastrophic weather events occurring with greater frequency? Killer droughts and wildfires out west? Torrential rains along the Eastern Gulf Coast and North Eastern states? Hurricanes that deviate from historical paths to wipe out entire coastal regions, F-5 tornadoes leaving lunar landscapes in their wakes, or 90+ degree days in Alaska? What about snowless winters, shrinking glaciers, rising sea levels, ocean acidification and coral bleaching? I could go on, but all you need to do is catch the headlines each and every day to see the severity of today’s weather and environmental events.

Most global citizens believe these ominous occurrences are indicators of global climatic changes, and for good reason. Scientific models have been predicting these climatic shifts for nearly forty years, and though the concepts occasionally make it into classroom discussions in school, it hasn’t been until more recent severe weather incidences that the public, and more importantly, our politicians have taken pause to wonder what’s going on. Sadly, what’s going on is not good for us or the global biosphere. Our atmosphere’s CO2 levels have tipped 400 ppm (Parts Per Million), not to mention the increasing quantities of other heat absorbing gases–nitrous oxides, chlorofluorocarbons, methane…. We need to get serious and educate ourselves and our children about this important topic.

In my humble opinion, there is no greater threat to global stability than climate change. To do my part, I have been accepted to participate as a Climate Reality Leadership Corps volunteer. In that capacity, I have promised to educate others about how climate change impacts people and what we can do about it.  In the future, I will try to weave more climate change topics into this education blog. Heck, I might even begin a new one focused solely on climate change! In the meantime, check out The Climate Reality Project. If you haven’t been concerned about climate change, go out and see what the .orgs, .edus, and .govs have to say on the topic. Be careful to find resources that are neutral and unfunded by special interest groups (there is a lot of misinformation out there).