Monthly Archives: October 2013

Change and Common Core Standards Implementation

Thankfully, Commissioner John King will restart his Common Core forums this week beginning with a presentation at Myers Middle School in the Albany City School District this afternoon. I’m relieved and heartened he is resuming the important work of getting the message out and discussing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) with community members across the state. The CCSS implementation is a dramatic, far-reaching standardization initiative that bodes well for our P-12 education system now and for years to come. CCSS brings a rigor and shift in instruction our schools desperately need to graduate students ready and able to contribute to a democratic lifestyle and compete globally in literacy, math, science, and arts. At this point in the change cycle, we need our Commissioner and other key leaders to be visible and responsive across the state to ease concerns as districts struggle with the processes of reform.

Speaking of change, when considering the volatility of Race to the Top on schools and communities, it’s helpful to reflect on Dr. John Kotter’s Eight Steps of Change:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency
  2. Create the guiding coalition
  3. Develop a change vision
  4. Communicate the vision for buy-in
  5. Empower broad-based action
  6. Generate short-term wins
  7. Never let up
  8. Incorporate changes into the culture

Or, think of lessons from Michael Fullan’s Change Forces:

  1. You can’t mandate what matters (The more complex the change the less you can force it)
  2. Change is a journey not a blueprint (Change is non-linear, loaded with uncertainty and excitement and sometimes perverse)
  3. Problems are our friends (Problems are inevitable and you can’t learn without them)
  4. Vision and strategic planning come later (Premature visions and planning blind)
  5. Individualism and collectivism must have equal power (There are no one-sided solutions to isolation and group think)
  6. Neither centralization nor decentralization works (Both top-down and bottom-up strategies are necessary)
  7. Connection with the wider environment is critical for success (The best organizations learn externally as well as internally)
  8. Every person is a change agent (Change is too important to leave to the experts, personal mindset and mastery is the ultimate protection)

There are other models for change, but the point is change is complicated, hard, and messy. Change takes time and patience, and change is oftentimes hardest on the individuals bringing about its implementation.

Thank you John King. Thank you to your administrative cabinet and staff who are doing their finest to create an exemplary public school system. And thank you for pushing us to do our best. Peace.

Fullan, M. (1993). Change forces: Probing the depth of educational reform. London: Falmer Press.

Affirmation in the Churning Whitewater of Educational Reform

Before finalizing a purchase, stock investors conduct what is known as due diligence. They evaluate a company’s products and services against its competitors, study its balance sheet, and look at various charts and ratios to decide if it is an investment worthy of their hard-earned dollars. Not necessarily so for teachers and principals in public education. Instead, policy makers in concert with experts at all levels, conduct the due diligence to write regulations that educators and administrators are then required to follow. In the recent case of the Common Core State Standards, Data Driven Instruction, and Evidence-Based Observations through Race to the Top, that has been a good thing (not so sure about tying teacher and principal performance to student state assessment results, however). The really good news is all stakeholders are working hard to implement the change, even if they weren’t privy to the due diligence work. One only needs to spend time with P-20 educators to see the hard work happening across the state.

Fortunately for me, I get to see great educators and leaders at work frequently in my job, and last week was particularly favorable for such observations.

Tuesday, AM: High School Presentation on Understanding by Design and Lesson Planning using Backwards Design.

Tuesday, PM: SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury Seminar Series for Student Teachers on Common Core Instructional Shifts in Literacy

Wednesday, Full Day: edTPA in New York Implementation Conference

Thursday, AM: Principals as Instructional Leaders Seminar Series (SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury and WSWHE BOCES Partnership Project)

Thursday, PM: New York Association of Colleges for Teacher Education Reception and Dinner

Friday, AM: Teachers as Instructional Leaders Seminar Series (SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury and WSWHE BOCES Partnership Project)

Granted, I wear rose-colored glasses, but the events of this past work week clearly show significant progress in our efforts to raise student achievement. On Monday, I visited a small rural high school in upstate New York and was greeted by an audience of teachers in black t-shirts sporting a Wordle design celebrating their roles as teachers. Their solidarity spoke volumes of the dedication to each other and the children they teach, and our review of UBD led to a spirited discussion on  daily lesson planning and student achievement. The teachers greatest concern was writing detailed lesson plans while learning and implementing new curriculum modules and data driven instruction. There is plenty on their proverbial plates. Later that afternoon, I met with 25 student teachers and field supervisors to discuss and model some of the Common Core Instructional Shifts for Literacy. We covered each shift, but practiced text-based answers, academic vocabulary, and building knowledge in the disciplines. Ending the day with young, ambitious future teachers was very nice indeed.

Lest we forget the stressors on the higher ed community, on Wednesday I joined 250 other university and college professors and administrators to learn how best to roll out the edTPA. As we know, future teachers will be required to pass more rigorous exams and complete performance assessments that ask for descriptive, analytic, and reflective thinking and writing on their videotaped lessons. The edTPA demonstrates the value of assessing teachers’ capacities to thoughtfully process their pedagogy against standards of effective teaching. The complexities of rolling out edTPA can not be understated. However, at the edTPA in New York Implementation Conference, my colleagues and I got to see first hand the success stories of early edTPA pilots in colleges and universities spanning the state. It’s working! It’s hard, and it’s messy. However, if you are a fan of authentic, clinically rich self-assessments, then you do what’s necessary to make edTPA work. Another great day.

On Thursday, SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury launched the Principals as Instructional Leaders Seminar Series in partnership with WSWHE BOCES. 17 school administrators showed up for the first of a yearlong series of seminars and group research studies that focus on developing instructional leadership skills. Despite their frenetic schedules, these busy school administrators joined together to seek strategies and supports as instructional leaders, and we’re hopeful the content of our seminars and the research each group will conduct around data-driven instruction, common core instructional shifts and standards, and cultivating teacher leadership will meet their needs. Most importantly, we expect the seminars will provide opportunity for sharing ideas, asking questions, problem solving, and networking that otherwise would be unavailable to busy school administrators. Later that evening, I joined other invited members of the Professional Standards and Practices Board for a NYACTE Reception and Dinner, highlighted with Presentation of the New York State Teacher of the Year Award to Ashli Skura Dreher.  The evening ended with an uplifting presentation by Ashli on her deeply held and success-proven convictions that all students will learn. Another great ending.

Friday brought together a small group of seven teachers chosen by their superintendents to participate in the SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury Teachers as Instructional Leaders Seminar Series in partnership with WSWHE BOCES. The teachers began arriving at noon, though we weren’t officially scheduled to start till 12:30. What energy these folks have! As with the principals who participated in Thursdays seminar, these folks signed up for the series in spite of their workloads and lack of time. Most interestingly, when asked what their greatest fear was as instructional leaders, their concern was that the Common Core Standards would change. It wasn’t things like, “I’m worried about credibility from my colleagues,” or “I don’t know if I have the skills and understandings to be an instructional leader.” Instead, they simply hope there are no more changes. They want to get Common Core, DDI, and Evidence Based Observations right! Hopefully, this seminar series will help them realize their goals. And so ended a very busy, exciting, affirming week.

P-20 educators understand all too well the “churning waters” analogy as the weight of omnipresent forces impact teachers, principals, teacher assistants, superintendents, higher ed faculty, deans of education, student teachers, and most importantly, our children. Despite the chaotic nature of reform and the fact that few were invited to do the due diligence and “sign up” for the changes, most are committed to the Common Core State Standards and concomitant instructional shifts, data-driven instruction, and evidence-based observations. However, most are also frantically clawing to keep their heads above water as they grapple to adapt to the new and seemingly ever-changing landscape.  And they don’t want to “Wait five years till something new is in place.” To my P-20 colleagues, I say “Hang on.” “Don’t let go.” It’s extremely challenging, and at times imperfect, work. Still, steady progress is being made which will ultimately best serve our students and this great nation.

What the House and Senate Could Learn from Teacher and Principal Standards

Ever wonder how standards used to define and evaluate the quality of teaching and instructional leadership might look like if applied to our politicians in Washington? This is not a dig on DC politicians, as tempting as it may be in our current state of affairs. Rather, this is an opportunity to showcase the value of the New York State Teaching Standards (NYTS) and the Educational Leadership Policy Standards (ISSLC) in defining professional practice. I wonder how congress and the senate might be evaluated against such standards.

Take for example NYTS One: Teachers acquire knowledge of each student, and demonstrate knowledge of student development and learning to promote achievement for all students. How might things be different if our friends in Washington took time to understand and promote the needs of all their constituents? Hmmm.  Or, what about NYTS Two: Teachers know the content they are responsible for teaching, and plan instruction that ensures growth and achievement for all students. Would we be in shutdown mode, hurtling towards the fiscal cliff if the senate and congress knew all the facts and assumed responsibility for legislation that ensured the growth and achievement for all constituents? Standard Four is particularly relevant given Washington gridlock: Teachers work with all students to create a dynamic learning environment that supports achievement and growth. Last but not least, Standard Six speaks to what is desperately needed: Teachers demonstrate professional responsibility and engage relevant stakeholders to maximize student growth, development, and learning. 

The relevance of the ISLLC standards are equal to those of teacher standards. In fact, given the leadership aspect inherent in all six ISLLC Standards, they are particularly applicable to Washingtonians.

  • Standard One: An education leader promotes the success of every student by facilitating the development, articulation, implementation, and stewardship of a vision of learning that is shared and supported by all stakeholders. 
  • Standard Two: An education leader promotes the success of every student by advocating, nurturing, and sustaining a school culture and instructional program conducive to student learning and staff professional growth. 
  • Standard Three: An education leader promotes the success of every student by ensuring management of the organization, operation, and resources for a safe, efficient, and effective learning environment. 
  • Standard Four:  An education leader promotes the success of every student by collaborating with faculty and community members, responding to diverse community interests and needs, and mobilizing community resources. 
  • Standard Five: An education leader promotes the success of every student by acting with integrity, fairness, and in an ethical manner. 
  • Standard Six: An education leader promotes the success of every student by understanding, responding to, and influencing the political, social, economic, legal, and cultural context. 

Presently, my favorite is ISLLC Standard Five. Whenever one seeks to promote the success of others by acting ethically with integrity, fairness, the outcome is most often a good one.

Much like educators and school principals, elected officials work to serve others, particularly when the going gets tough. In the words of Muhammad Ali, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” To those who were elected to serve our country: Let’s have a good outcome and end this government shutdown, extend the debt limit, and begin serious and responsible discussions on improving our great nation’s balance sheet. And if you need standards to guide your work, consider those that define quality teaching and principal leadership.