Monthly Archives: September 2013

Ensuring Clinically Rich Experiences for Teachers and Principals

“The education of teachers in the United States needs to be turned upside down.” So reads the first line in the November, 2010 Executive Summary section of the NCATE Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation and Partnerships for Improved Student Learning. For those in P-12 education who may be unaware (as I was before entering higher ed),  NCATE is the acronym for The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, and the Blue Ribbon Panel is comprised of educators, administrators, deans, provosts, non-profits, national and professional organizations, and others concerned with ensuring schools of education prepare and graduate effective teachers, specialists, and administrators for our nation’s schools. NCATE’s influence on education is much like that in the old E.F. Hutton commercial, “When NCATE speaks, people listen.”

Given NCATE’s leverage as an accrediting body through it’s merger with TEAC to form CAEP (you got to love the acronyms), the Blue Ribbon Panel’s recommendations for Clinical Practice are significant: 1) More Rigorous Accountability; 2) Strengthening Candidate Selection and Placement; 3) Revamping Curriculum, Incentives, and Staffing; 4) Supporting Partnerships; and 5) Expanding the Knowledge Base. Finally! Exactly what the education “profession” needs! After all, we know there is no greater impact on student learning than teachers, and right after teachers come school principals. The Panel’s recommendations are more than appropriate if we truly want the best educators and school principals in front of our students. It’s tricky, though, and the devil will be in the details.

“I’m having difficulty placing student teachers” says one higher ed official. “I can’t possibly take on a student teacher this year. The stakes are too high,” says a 7th grade math teacher. “Who’s going to pay for this?” says everyone? Unlike the medical profession which welcomes the inexpensive, skilled labor of interns, education is reticent at times to offer clinically rich experiences to novices. With mandatory testing, APPRs, school report cards at all levels, and financial woes, the realities of current clinical practice are disheartening. However, with a “glass half full” mindset, we are on the cusp of serious reform and improvements in all areas of teacher and school leader preparation.

Once again, there is no question the business of teacher and principal preparation needs revision and refinement, but let’s be sure there is ownership across the P-20 spectrum. It is not the sole responsibility of higher education, P-12 schools, or state departments of education to get the important work done. Not at all. Rather, it is a P-20 responsibility. Actually, it is our country’s responsibility to do whatever necessary to ensure every student has an effective teacher and school building leader.That is where the critical role of partnerships comes in. If we want skilled supervising teachers (and school building leaders), referred to as Clinical Educators in CAEP’s Accreditation Standards and Evidence: Aspirations for Educator Preparation, then higher education, P-12 education, and state education departments need to talk.

To ensure our education program students are placed in rigorous and relevant clinical experiences, we must find the very best teachers and principals to serve as Clinical Educators. To do so, we will need to collaboratively answer the following questions: 1) What are the qualifications to be a teacher or principal Clinical Educator?; 2) What are the expectations for such clinicians?; 3) What will be their roles and responsibilities?; and 4) How will we incentivize the process? To help answer these questions, the NYS Professional Standards and Practices Board (PSPB) is working on Field Supervisory Model Recommendations that can help the New York State Education Department in its quest to improve student achievement across the state. Given the P-20 membership within PSPB, the outlook for a meaningful and thoughtful set of recommendations on Field Supervisory Models and effective Clinical Educators look bright.

Big questions. Big opportunities. NCATE has put us in a position where we can “turn the entire system upside down,” and that is not a bad thing. Meanwhile, let’s all work to partner with one another and find solutions to provide rigorous and relevant clinical experiences for our future teachers and principals. Let’s look past the stressors of school reform and do what’s best for the profession and our democracy. Let’s make the NCATE Blue Ribbon Panel’s recommendations our own guideposts as we do the important work that lies ahead. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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“Tickets” to Meaningful Teacher-Principal Discussions on Instruction

Neil Young, Willie Nelson, John Mellancamp, Dave Matthews,….. Wow! Farm Aid is coming to Saratoga Springs! We got the tickets months ago, and today we’ll be going with a group of 12 family members and friends. The tickets will get us in the venue along with 24,998 other folks, all of whom will attend for the same reasons: to enjoy the music, celebrate local farmers, and chill for an afternoon. There is no hierarchy among the mass of people. Age, gender, occupation, musical preference, food choices, etc… matter not. Everyone who purchased their ticket to access the event will come to hear good music and support a good cause.

Having a ticket levels the playing field, allowing the ticket holder to cross boundaries. In the case of the concert, the boundary is the entrance gate. But what about schools? How do principals cross boundaries with teachers to gain access to deep, meaningful discussions on instructional issues? How does the building leader cast aside their supervisory role as lead evaluator to get at the level of instruction? Just what are the tickets that allow principals to cross the boundary separating them from their staff to have relevant discussions regarding classroom instruction and student learning?

“Tickets” are boundary objects which Wenger (1998) defines as “Artifacts, documents, terms, concepts, and other forms of reification around which communities of practice can organize their interconnections” (p. 105). Boundary object are tangible items individuals use to cross boundaries between groups. For building principals, boundary objects are relevant items which promote professional conversations with teachers about curriculum, instruction and student learning. Star and Griesemer (1989) define boundary objects as “objects of interest.” Objects of interest for teachers include student writing folders, student work samples, assessment results, best practices, and curriculum maps, and savvy principals know their value in engaging meaningful discussions with teachers.

Years ago I used to hold weekly meetings with grade level teams at Glens Falls Middle School, and I remember the most significant and worthwhile sessions were those involving student work samples, curriculum maps, assessment results, best practices, and book discussions. During those meetings everyone got fully engrossed in the material. Rather than bemoaning the required time with their curriculum coordinator, the team and I talked about student learning. Those were the meetings that ended too quickly, the “where did the time go?” meetings which built value and credibility for the team time and my role as curriculum coordinator.

As we progress deeper into the 2013-14 school year, now is the time to bring greater conversation into principal-teacher meetings. It is time to firm up the calendar so meetings are scheduled well in advance, and it is time to identify the boundary objects to be used in such meetings. Whether the “ticket” is a common core instructional shift best practice, inventory assessment results and action planning template, student work, curriculum map with tier 1, 2, and 3 vocabulary identified, or an example of a teaching best practice, it’s imperative that everyone has a ticket to the venue.

Peace.

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 http://search.proquest.com/docview/61062484?accountid=13645

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

Priorities and Making Time for Data Driven Instruction

Last weekend I couldn’t find time to write my blog. The time just wasn’t there…. I really wanted to, but…..  I’ll get it done next week once…. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to…. Things are just so hectic right now with the start of school and…. Sound familiar? Isn’t that how things so often go in our busy, busy lives? Our best intentions fall short, and we stress and scramble to do better next time. We make open promises to ourselves, and sometimes others. Why? Is it truly a shortage of time, or something else?

Following my empty blog entry weekend, I spent two days with a small district’s faculty and administration on data driven instruction (DDI). We had excellent, thoughtful discussions on what DDI is and how to best implement it throughout the district. We brainstormed student data available in the district, the processes of DDI (assess, analyze, and action), and the required school culture components. We addressed the importance of standards-aligned assessments, monitoring of action plans, facilitation of data analysis sessions, and professional development. However, the biggest potential impediment to the important work of DDI was the lack of time. As one teacher commented, “The word starts with T and ends with E.”

So where is the time going? Stephen Covey’s 7th habit speaks about sharpening the saw, and that’s what we were doing during our DDI sessions. This particular district had also successfully written a Strengthening Teacher Leader Effectiveness Grant, which among other things, funded eight Teacher Leaders to help sharpen their colleagues’ proverbial saws in the important work of Race to the Top. However, it takes more than being sharp at the work you’re doing. It takes habits number two and three: Begin with the End in Mind, and Put First Things First.

Back to my skipped blog entry, I must confess: I had the time. In fact, I had an abundance of time. I’d even taken Thursday and Friday off to add time to the weekend. What the blog entry work lacked was prioritization. Rather than write, I played and recreated with my family during a wonderful end of summer Maine weekend. Rather than think about RTTT, I boogie boarded in beautiful ocean waves with my daughter. Instead of citing websites, I researched TripAdvisor for the best places to eat. Instead of proofreading, I read fiction books, Fantasy Football Index, and reviews on the best gelato in Maine. I did what mattered most to me and my family.

So what does this all have to do with DDI and schools? From my experience with exceptionally talented educators, teacher leaders, school and central office administrators, it all comes down to priorities. The work we do in school is filtered through the priority lenses of mission statements, goals, and objectives. What gets measured and valued, gets done; and if a district is drifting aimlessly without focus, all bets are off. DDI is the next essential component to successful school reform, and it must become a top priority for schools this year.

Last year was one of survival as educators and administrators focused on writing SLOs, hammering out APPR agreements, and prepping for new state assessments. There was truly no time to do anything else. This year, things are different, and administrators and teachers must figure ways to add time to the calendar for the important work of assessing student learning, analyzing results, developing and implementing action plans, and monitoring impacts. Whether we’re talking late starts, early dismissals, superintendent conference days, new and improved faculty meetings…., the point is DDI will not happen to any great extent without TIME. So before we run out of time, let’s be sure to alert our boards of education and communities of any calendar changes needed to do this important work. If we want to work better, we must have time.

Peace.