In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“Perhaps the greatest tragedy to come from Covid-related distance learning would be not learning from this experience to improve our teaching when we physically return to classrooms.”
John Hattie (see item #5)
“Students want to come back to school – to see their friends. But after they see their friends, how long will they want to submit to a structure that they have not had for a year and a half? Getting up at 7:00 a.m., classes that last 45 to 90 minutes, three-minute passing periods between classes, sitting in a seat with no food or drink allowed in class, and no access to social media?”
Ruby Payne (see item #4)
“To learn deeply, students need to interact with content, e.g., by linking new information with prior knowledge, wrestling with questions and problems, considering different points of view, and trying to apply their learning to novel situations.”
Harvey Silver and Jay McTighe (see item #6)
“The chicken and the egg sit together in the barn. We lead for specific changes in practice, and at the same time surface the beliefs from which they stem.”
Jon Saphier (see item #1)
“Leveraging the power of poetry is one way to inspire hope. Whether by reading and discussing a poem together before diving into a brainstorming session, or coming to a work session with a poem that inspires them, principals need to make space for harnessing the poetic imagination.”
Sarah Pazur in “The Principal’s Dream Work” in Phi Delta Kappan, May 2021 (Vol.
102, #8, pp. 58-59); Pazur can be reached at email@example.com.
1. Jon Saphier on Courageous School Leadership
In this article from Research for Better Teaching, PD guru Jon Saphier presents six propositions on the courage and skill it takes to move a school to truly equitable outcomes:
• Proposition #1 – “Raising student achievement significantly means large-scale change in teaching practice at the classroom level and high-level team work at grade levels,” says Saphier. Effective improvement initiatives aim directly or indirectly at what happens every day in classrooms.
• Proposition #2 – Reform initiatives that succeed are grounded in a set of core beliefs. Here are the most important ones:
– Academic ability is malleable. Children may be way behind right now, but it’s not a lack of innate ability that’s holding them back.
– We are individually responsible for seeing to it that each and every one of our students masters the objectives of our lessons and units.
– We are collectively responsible and able to get all our students to proficiency, which means we are interdependent with our teaching colleagues.
– There is an extensive and authoritative knowledge base on expert teaching.
– For many children of poverty, part of educators’ job is instilling motivation where it is lacking.
– We must use evidence of student learning on a daily basis to reteach what students didn’t master the first time.
– Being observed by colleagues, and non-defensive reflection on one’s teaching, are helpful practices.
These tenets are essential to the work, but are not often explicitly discussed by educators.
• Proposition #3 – The inertia of business-as-usual teaching and unproductive team meetings is strong, and it takes determined leadership to push for better practices, including:
– Constant checking for understanding during instruction;
– Daily error analysis of what students didn’t understand;
– Frequent, detailed, non-judgmental feedback to students that helps them identify mistakes and misconceptions;
– Helping students believe they can grow their own academic ability;
– Teaching students how to exert effective effort when learning doesn’t come easily;
– Frequent teacher team analysis of student work on common assessments, with colleagues helping each other design teaching and reteaching strategies;
– Using a variety of cognitive tools to make ideas vivid and clear.
“The scale of this change and the very large inertia of sticking with the status quo,” says Saphier, “combines with the identity threat to millions of teachers whose self-esteem is invested in continuing to do business as they always have.” The good news is that many teachers already operate on the beliefs listed above. For others, starting to implement new practices can bring about changes in their beliefs – especially with good leadership and support from colleagues.
• Proposition #4 – Leadership that changes mediocre and ineffective practices involves shifting from the “language of suggestions” – for example:
– I wonder if it would make sense to…
– Do you think it would be a good idea if…
– Have you thought about trying…
to the “language of urgency and expectations” – for example:
– We’ve got to figure out more ways to…
– We have to get more…
– What the kids need from us is that we…
Strong instructional leadership must include acknowledging that these changes are difficult, being humble about not knowing everything, reaching out to other leaders, and listening to the views and worries of teachers.
• Proposition #5 – Large-scale improvement of classroom instruction requires explicit discussion of the key beliefs. “The chicken and the egg sit together in the barn,” says Saphier. “We lead for specific changes in practice, and at the same time surface the beliefs from which they stem.” Leaders have to contend with doubts and fears:
– Fear of being disliked, discounted as “too idealistic,” or losing relationships;
– Fear of conflict;
– Fear of failure;
– Fear of being fired;
– Fear of being revealed as incompetent;
– Fear of being shallow;
– Fear of the hard work involved – and exhaustion.
“It takes courage to push through these fears,” says Saphier, “courage to face resistance and to cause the inevitable discomfort.”
• Proposition #6 – We know what it takes to grow courage, because “courage can be grown; it’s not inborn.”
– Be clear on what your deepest and most strongly held beliefs are and how strongly you hold them.
– Name and face your fears.
– Decide what you’ll hold yourself accountable for – and what you won’t.
– Develop your self-awareness and ability to be mindful in stressful moments.
– Learn key skills of communication and change.
– Work with your network of contacts and supervisors and communicate your plan well.
– Have a professional support group that gives you practice and feedback.
“The Courage to Lead” by Jon Saphier, Research for Better Teaching, April 2021; Saphier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. An Unfortunate Tendency in PLC Meetings
In this article in Phi Delta Kappan, Melanie Bertrand (Arizona State University) and Julie Marsh (University of Southern California) report on what they observed in teacher data meetings in a number of urban, suburban, and rural middle schools. “Time and again,” they say, “when reviewing test scores and other data, teachers would refer to the supposedly inherent deficits of emergent bilingual students, students with disabilities, and other student populations. Instead of reflecting on their own classroom instruction or asking what the school could do to support those children more effectively, many teachers were quick to conclude that the children were themselves to blame for their performance, by virtue of their categorization.” In one seventh-grade team meeting, a teacher said that ELL students were “literal learners” and that “those kinds of kids” had difficulty with abstract and metaphorical thinking.
The idea behind PLCs is to focus on learning problems revealed by interim assessments, analyze why students are struggling, and share (or invent) teaching strategies that help students do better. But too many teachers, say Bertrand and Marsh, are looking at student data with a deficit mindset, in essence blaming students for the historic inequities, special needs, or language barriers that impede their performance. The result is lower expectations for those students and a failure to use PLCs to improve teaching and learning.
Part of the blame, say Bertrand and Marsh, is state and federal policies that lead educators to think of students in categories like “basic” and “far below basic” and exert pressure to improve test scores so poor-performing students move to a higher category. “‘Looking at data’,” say the authors, “tends to mean looking for ways to boost the scores of certain subgroups, lest the whole school be sanctioned.”
Bertrand and Marsh offer two suggestions for turning around this unfortunate dynamic in data meetings:
• Provide the broader context. Training, coaching, and facilitation of PLCs should speak explicitly about the historical roots of student achievement gaps and the role that unconscious bias can play in pigeonholing students and explaining away poor performance. Teacher teams should be continuously reminded that it’s not enough to disaggregate assessment data; the essence of this work is to identify teaching strategies and curriculum materials that improve student performance.
• Eschew tracking. Using assessment data to track students results in groupings “that do not often change and that severely limit opportunities for students in the ‘low’ tracks,” say Bertrand and Marsh. Far better, they believe, is differentiating instruction and using flexible, temporary groupings that address specific needs. In several of the middle schools they observed, the researchers noticed a particularly effective practice: teachers helped students analyze their own learning data, set goals, and choose from several learning activities to boost their performance.
These two suggestions are particularly important, conclude Bertrand and Marsh, as schools return to in-person instruction after the disruptions of the pandemic.
“How Data-Driven Reform Can Drive Deficit Thinking” by Melanie Bertrand and Julie Marsh in Phi Delta Kappan, May 2021 (Vol. 102, #8, pp. 35-39); the authors can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Online “Mastermind” Groups for School Leaders
In this article on The Main Idea website, Jenn David-Lang says school leaders are hungry for professional development, but receive less than other educators – which may explain some of the attrition we’re seeing among administrators. While schools were closed during the pandemic, David-Lang had an idea: why not involve groups of administrators in Masterminds, an online version of accountable, results-focused teacher PLCs? The term Masterminds was coined almost 100 years ago by author Napoleon Hill, but has only recently found its way into the world of K-12 schools.
Here’s how David-Lang and her colleague Mitch Center have implemented the concept. They’re running several year-long Mastermind groups, each with about eight school- and district-based leaders from varied locations (“from Baltimore to Bangkok,” says David-Lang). Groups meet twice a month via Zoom to learn new ideas, share strategies, solve problems, and support one another. The one-hour meetings go quickly, following this structure:
• Check-ins – Everyone briefly shares a struggle or a win. “Getting an inside view of how everyone is doing and what is going on at each other’s schools builds trust,” says David-Lang; “principals are rarely given space to share how they’re honestly doing without the need to put on their ‘principal face.’”
• Goal sharing – In two-person breakout rooms, members report on a goal they committed to in a shared Google Doc at the end of the previous session. This provides continuity from meeting to meeting and keeps people accountable for actions to which they have committed.
• New content – David-Lang and Center share a one-page summary of ideas or research on their screens and everyone reads it silently. A recent example: a synthesis of five mindset shifts described in a recent book on unconscious bias by Sarah Fiarman and Tracey Benson. David-Lang and Center then facilitate a discussion of the ideas, sometimes regrouping into two breakout rooms, or participants fill out a shared graphic organizer.
• Think tank – One member presents a real-life dilemma, including the background and context of the problem (one example: dealing with a new assistant principal who is not garnering respect from colleagues). Other members ask clarifying questions, and then the presenter remains silent while the rest of the team discusses the issue and suggests possible solutions. Finally, the presenter recaps those ideas and thinks out loud about the ones that seem most likely to work.
• One Big Thing (OBT) – In the Chat area, there’s a link to a shared Google Sheet with a row for each member, and they write their biggest takeaways from the session. This makes available to everyone the collective learning from the reading, discussion, and problem-solving. This segment was inspired by John Dewey’s insight that true understanding comes not from doing, but from reflecting on what’s been done.
• Committing to a goal. Each session ends with each member writing a commitment for specific action, to be reviewed at the beginning of the next meeting.
Reflecting on a year of leading Mastermind groups, David-Lang looked up the criteria for effective professional development compiled by Linda Darling-Hammond and colleagues. It turned out that her groups were meeting every one of them:
– Focused on content;
– Incorporating active learning;
– Supporting collaboration;
– Using models of effective practice;
– Providing coaching and expert support;
– Offering opportunities for feedback and reflection;
– Sustained over time.
“While my co-facilitator and I have coached school leaders individually,” says David-Lang, “we were immediately struck by the exponential power of coaching that comes from all members sharing their own learned strategies and diverse perspectives… It is the collective wisdom, energy, and passion that truly distinguishes Masterminds from other forms of PD for educational leaders.”
While the sessions have been particularly valuable during the disruptions of the pandemic, David-Lang believes they should continue to be an important forum in the new normal.
“Masterminds: When PL Meets PLC” by Jenn David-Lang, The Main Idea, May 2021; David-Lang can be reached at Jenn@TheMainIdea.net.
4. Reasons for Teenagers to Come to School – and Keep Coming
“Students want to come back to school – to see their friends,” says Ruby Payne (Aha! Process) in this article in Principal Leadership. “But after they see their friends, how long will they want to submit to a structure that they have not had for a year and a half? Getting up at 7:00 a.m., classes that last 45 to 90 minutes, three-minute passing periods between classes, sitting in a seat with no food or drink allowed in class, and no access to social media?” On top of all that, students may be dealing with mental health challenges and trauma. Many teachers have dialed back their expectations, giving good grades for just handing in work – and students have learned they can get a day’s work done by noon.
So how are educators going to keep students coming back after the initial round of camaraderie? Focusing on secondary-school students, Payne suggests the following:
• Build a future story. She likes the idea of a nine-box storyboard in which students picture themselves at age 25 and think about what they want to have, be, and do:
– High-school diploma
– College, technical school, or military
– Work (What do you love to do that you would do even if you didn’t get paid?)
– Car or other vehicle
Having found images for each box, students think about their plan to get to their desired future – and how classes in school right now are part of that plan.
• Create opportunities for belonging and relationships. An example: one high-school principal shaved a couple of minutes off each class and scheduled 20 minutes of socialization time right after first period when clubs met and students were allowed to be on their cellphones, talk, and eat. One catch: students could participate only if their grades, attendance, and tardies were at an acceptable level.
• Organize consistent mentors. “Each student should have a key relationship with an adult on staff who makes daily contact and does not give up on them,” says Payne. If a student doesn’t have at least one adult serving this purpose in their life, the school mentor spends 3-4 minutes talking to them every day.
• Access support systems. The school must ensure that students who are struggling with homelessness, abuse, emotional and mental health issues, and housing insecurity connect with professionals in the school and community agencies that can help them.
“Getting Students to Come Back – and Remain – for In-Person Learning” by Ruby Payne in Principal Leadership, May 2021 (Vol. 21, #9, pp. 22-23)
5. John Hattie on Continuing Practices That Worked During the Pandemic
(Originally titled “What Can We Learn from Covid-Era Instruction?”)
“Perhaps the greatest tragedy to come from Covid-related distance learning would be not learning from this experience to improve our teaching when we physically return to classrooms,” says research guru John Hattie (University of Melbourne) in this article in Educational Leadership. Hattie points to several positive developments he hopes will continue:
• Focusing on equity – The pandemic dramatically highlighted gaps in technology and access, and some progress was made. As in-person schooling resumes, Hattie urges that we double down, “shifting from measuring seat time to learning engagement; prioritizing assessments that illuminate student growth and learning; supporting acceleration in learning, not remediation; and identifying safe, culturally responsive practices.”
• Listening to the troops – What succeeded over the last 15 months – rapid adaptation to new technology and new instructional practices – did not happen because of top-down mandates but through the initiative and ingenuity of teachers and other school-based educators. In the future, Hattie hopes that district leaders will be more willing to listen to their teachers and build collaborative teams.
• Self-regulation – Remote and hybrid instruction put a premium on teachers and students working more independently. “Teachers who talked a lot in class, asked questions that required less-than-three-word responses, and focused myopically on the facts and content had trouble engaging learners remotely,” says Hattie. Students who already possessed (or picked up) the skills of independent learning thrived, as did teachers who focused on content and deep learning, taught in engaging ways, and gradually released responsibility. He urges educators to continue those practices in the new normal.
• Connections – Many educators used online tools to communicate more effectively with families and get them invested in deeper learning for their children. Teachers also had to get a better handle on how students were thinking, what they already knew, and what mastery of skills and content looked like. All of this should make teaching and learning more efficient and effective in post-Covid schools.
“What Can We Learn from Covid-Era Instruction?” by John Hattie in Educational Leadership, May 2021 (Vol. 78, #8, pp. 14-17); Hattie can be reached at email@example.com.
6. “Learning Loss” – Wrong and Right Solutions
In this online article, Harvey Silver and Jay McTighe worry that “lost learning” is an unfortunate way to define the challenge schools face as they reopen for in-person instruction. By framing the challenge as instructional time lost, there’s a tendency to think the solution is rapidly covering the curriculum that students missed – which has two downsides. “At the classroom level,” say Silver and McTighe, “this solution could take the form of cutting out any of those time-consuming learning activities such as discussions, debates, hands-on science investigations, art creation, and authentic performance tasks and projects” – instead “trying to blitz through lots of factual information.”
Rather than focusing on the content that wasn’t covered during remote and hybrid instruction, they propose two more-productive approaches:
• Prioritizing the curriculum on outcomes that matter the most – A simple but effective way to accomplish this is preceding the title of each curriculum unit with the words, A study in… Several examples:
– The calendar – A study in systems
– Linear equations – A study in mathematical modeling
– Media literacy – A study in critical thinking
– Any sport – A study in technique
– Argumentation – A study in craftsmanship
Preceding a unit title with those three words, say Silver and McTighe, “establishes a conceptual lens to focus learning on transferable ideas, rather than isolated facts or discrete skills.”
It’s also helpful to frame the unit around Essential Questions. For the five units above, here are some possibilities:
– How is the calendar a system? What makes a system a system?
– How can mathematics model or represent change? What are the limits of a mathematical model?
– Can I trust this source? How do I know what to believe in what I read, hear, and view?
– Why does technique matter? How can I achieve maximum power without losing control?
– What makes an argument convincing? How do you craft a persuasive argument?
Well-framed Essential Questions are open-ended, stimulate thinking, discussions, and debate, and raise additional questions.
• Engaging learners in deeper learning that will endure – “To learn deeply,” say Silver and McTighe, “students need to interact with content, e.g., by linking new information with prior knowledge, wrestling with questions and problems, considering different points of view, and trying to apply their learning to novel situations.” The most important skills are comparing, conceptualizing, reading for understanding, predicting and hypothesizing, perspective-taking, and exercising empathy.
A kindergarten example: challenging students to predict how high they can stack blocks before a tower falls down, then having them try different hypotheses and see what works best, and note the success factors. “This focus on cause and effect will become a yearlong inquiry for students,” say Silver and McTighe, “as they learn to use it to examine scientific phenomena, characters’ behavior in stories, and even their own attitudes and motivations as learners.” (The full article, linked below, includes a middle-school unit on genetically modified food and a high-school unit comparing the educational philosophies of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.)
This two-part approach to curriculum is not just “a stopgap measure tied to current anxieties about learning loss,” conclude Silver and McTighe: “Framing content around big ideas and actively engaging students in powerful forms of thinking is good practice – in any year, under any conditions.”
“Learning Loss: Are We Defining the Problem Correctly?” by Harvey Silver and Jay McTighe on McTighe’s website, May 7, 2021; McTighe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
7. Can School Climate Data Be Part of Accountability?
In this article in Phi Delta Kappan, Deborah Temkin, Joy Thompson, Alex Gabriel, Emily Fulks, Sarah Sun, and Yosmary Rodriguez (ChildTrends) say that nonacademic factors are getting more attention since the 2015 ESSA legislation, which required state accountability reports to go beyond ELA and math test scores, English language proficiency, student progress in those areas, and graduation rates. This was an opening to give school climate a more prominent role in K-12 conversations, but by 2019, only eight states had it in their ESSA accountability plans (five others planned to measure school climate, but not for accountability).
Why the hesitancy? Because, say Temkin et al., there’s a paucity of tools that reliably measure school climate and track progress over time. Here are the methodological concerns:
– A survey might provide accurate measures of individual students’ perceptions of climate, but combining those into an overall school measure might not be valid.
– An aggregate climate score can mask critical differences between and within schools.
– The survey might not measure all subgroups, including LGBTQ+ students, who are often victims of a negative school climate.
– Most surveys rely on students’ subjective, self-reported impressions, which might be vulnerable to adults’ attempts to influence students and game the system.
– The survey might have a low response rate, giving a distorted measure of opinion.
– Definitions of school climate vary from researcher to researcher, and states might select a particular survey that they believe will make their schools look good.
“The limitations of existing school climate surveys should come as no surprise,” say Temkin et al., “given how new most of these tools are.”
But it’s important, the authors believe, “to hold schools accountable to the goal of providing every child with a healthy environment in which to learn and grow.” They have these suggestions for measuring climate in ways that are valid, reliable, and comparable:
• Picking a high-quality survey and ensuring broad participation.
• Analyzing the variance in survey scores within schools – Here’s an example of why this is important: two schools have the same average climate score of 8, but in one school, there’s little variation among students’ scores (they all cluster between 7 and 9), whereas in the other school, there’s wide variation, with some students giving scores of 3 and 4 and others 9 and 10. In the second school, some students are happy with the climate while others are having a very different experience, indicating a need to take a closer look at what’s going on.
• Combining climate surveys with independent, structured observations – This involves people who have no personal stake in the school’s reputation systematically observing classrooms, corridors, lunchrooms, and other public spaces and scoring them on a rubric. “Unlike student surveys,” say Temkin et al., “this approach comes with no risk that the results will be skewed because school leaders have tried to influence students’ ratings, or because certain students have chosen to skip it. Further, structured observations can make it easier to measure school climate consistently from one school to another, since the same observers, using the same rubrics, can visit many classrooms at many schools.”
“Toward Better Ways of Measuring School Climate” by Deborah Temkin, Joy Thompson, Alex Gabriel, Emily Fulks, Sarah Sun, and Yosmary Rodriguez in Phi Delta Kappan, May 2021 (Vol. 102, #8, pp. 52-57); Temkin can be reached at email@example.com.
8. Recommended Children’s Books on the AAPI Experience
In this Edutopia article, Monisha Bajaj (University of San Francisco) recommends books that help students explore historical and contemporary experiences of Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities. “While windows and mirrors offer opportunities for exploring and reflecting on cultural traditions, holidays, goods, and ways of life that are all extremely important,” says Bajaj, “the prism, when applied to children’s literature, presents the chance to critically analyze inequalities and injustices in age-appropriate ways.” Her choices (click the link below for cover images, short reviews, and educator guides):
– Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis, illustrated by Kenard Pak
– Always Anjali by Sheetal Sheth, illustrated by Jessica Blank
– Fish for Jimmy by Katie Yamasaki
– Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim
– Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki
– The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story illustrated by Thao Lam
– Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong by Dawn Bohulano Mabalon and Gayle Romasanta, illustrated by Andre Sibayan
– Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, illustrated by Yutaka Houlette
– The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
“Incorporating Asian-American and Pacific Islander Experiences in Elementary School” by Monisha Bajaj in Edutopia, April 28, 2021; Bajaj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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