Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Survey results on working conditions

A recent survey by the Southeastern Center for Teaching Quality in Noth Carolina and South Carolina uncovered some results that are worth thinking about for any school. Here are some of the samplings of their findings.

Teachers said that time for teaching, planning, paperwork, and empowerment contributed the most to student performance.

Favorable working conditions also contribute to teacher retention. Teachers in both states overwhelmingly said that having a collegial atmosphere was the most important factor in deciding whether to stay in their schools or look elsewhere. (emphasis added)

Some teachers also say that while they want flexibility in the classroom, it’s also important to them that their administrators see what they’re doing.

Elementary teachers, though, are generally more positive about their working environments than those who teach at the secondary level—an outcome that Mr. Hirsch largely attributes to the more collegial atmosphere in what tend to be smaller elementary schools.

Overall, there are some important factors to keep in mind as we work toward student achievement.

Halecrest in the news

You may have missed this, but Halecrest's efforts to raise funds for tsunami relief made the papers recently. This is data that demonstrates a healthy amount of learning beyond what can be measured on standardized tests. Congratulations on your work to motivate our students to act with compassion.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Digging into standards

The current issue of Elementary Ed's Newsletter, a publication of ACSA's Elementary Education Council has a brief article by Michael Bossi of the Pleasanton Unified School District. He describes a process of analyzing each key standard and developing performance expectations for those standards:

A school staff CAN answer all these questions by committing itself to establish performance standards for each of the essential/key/power standards. The professional dialogue, collaboration, and sharing of practice and knowledge that will emerge from the quest to establish performance standards and common assessments WILL bring the staff to new heights and learning for students to new levels of achievement.

We will be using a similar process during our buy back days in June and August (Ideed one or two grade levels will begin looking at the standards this spring!). We will not only define the expectations of students for each standard, but we will also select materials and resources that will best address the specific standards.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Hallmarks of Differentiated Classrooms

Carol Ann Tomlinson's book The Differentiated Classroom will be the subject of numerous posts as I encounter applicable points of discussion. In the first chapter, she summarizes some of the hallmarks of differentiated classrooms. Below she talks about one of the byproducts of creating an atmosphere where every student is challenged and suppported appropriately.

They (teachers of differentiated classrooms) work diligently to ensure that struggling, advanced, and in-between students think and work harder than they
meant to; achieve more than they thought they could; and come to believe that learning involves effort, risk, and personal triumph. These teachers also work
to ensure that each student consistently experiences the reality that success is
likely to follow hard work.

Now, imagine the students in your class. How many of them are challenged by the work at just the right level of difficulty so as to achieve success through just the right amount of effort - not needing to exert so much effort that they get frustrated and not needing to exert so little effort that they get bored? And, how does one skillfully manage assessment, diagnosis, curriculum, instruction, and time to make such an environment possible?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Teaching Writing

Patricia T. O'Conner's book Words Fail Me is an excellent work on the craft of writing. She starts out with a criticism of schools in her introduction.

Computers haven't made us bad writers. We write badly because we don't know how. For many years, our schools have done a rotten job of teaching writing. Asking students to write without showing them how is like expecting them to drive before they've had a lesson.

Her criticism is a gross generalization and worthy of debate, however it got me thinking about our instructional focus of writing. The point of having an instructional focus is that we become experts at teaching something - in our case - writing. I think we can all agree that we have not yet achieved that status. Our students will reap great rewards as we gain new insights in our role as teachers of writers and maybe, just maybe,someone will write a book in the near future about the renaissance of excellent writers coming from our schools.

Monday, March 14, 2005

March Madness Elementary Style

Who says learning math basics and state test preparation can't be a little fun? Kay Luzier at Palm Desert Elementary in Florida has her own version of March Madness. She has developed excitement and enthusiasm around mathematics at a low performing, high poverty school. What wonderful strategies to cement those math facts and create some memorable events.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Ownership of student success

In the March 2005 issue of Educational Leadership, Dick Corbett, Bruce Wilson, and Belinda Williams report on a recent three-year study of urban schools. They found many differences between the successful and unsuccessful schools. Here is what they say:

But the most telling difference was that in these two schools alone, every teacher we talked to (and we interviewed almost all of them) asserted that he or she was responsible for student success. The qualities that made their school different from the others, they attested, derived solely from their desire to act on this belief. LIke thier highly effective colleagues scattered throughout the two districts, these teachers argued that they could not alter conditions outside school that impinged on student performance, but they could affect the conditions in their classrooms. Using best practices alone was insufficient; effective teaching meant giving students no other choice but success.

I think this attitude is very strong at Halecrest. Teachers here take it personal when student don't succeed. As we seek to serve an ever-changing student population, we must continue to focus on the things that we control - and there are plenty of those, and not wring our hands about those factors that fall outside our sphere of influence.