Sprint to the Finish
As many of you know, this is my last year working in public education. I decided to prepare a new presentation of some of the highlights of my career and to share with others some important lessons I have learned through the years. I will spend the next several months communicating these lessons via this Update.
The most important lesson I have learned is that school superintendents and building level leaders need to be strong enough to make the right decisions and recommendations to increase student growth and achievement within their schools. An example of what I am referring to is the decisions we make regarding setting visions, policies and procedures that put the interests of students first.
Over and over in my career I have discovered that often we make decisions that are in the best interests of the adults and not the students. For example, in high schools who teaches the hardest students to teach? Who teaches the remedial math and English classes? The best teacher in the school or the newest teacher in the school? Who teaches the AP and advanced classes, the teacher with the most seniority or the newest teacher?
Many schools and districts have adopted release time for teachers for the stated purpose of Professional Learning Communities. What is the work that is done in these PLCs? Is the work really collective efficacy or is the work mostly disjointed, unorganized, and unaccountable?
In these examples, assignment of teachers and PLC work, how does your school district make these decisions? Are administrators afraid of losing climate and culture within their buildings if they make assignments that are in the best interest of students? What happens to climate and culture if the administration requires PLCs to do the right work? In other words, are we more worried about what adults think and feel, or are we more concerned with how students learn?
In schools that I have visited over the past 13 years working for IASA, I have discovered that personnel in buildings who truly care about students first make decisions that demonstrate this vision. I have visited schools that make teacher assignments that are in the best interests of students, and all educators, teachers and administrators, share in this decision-making process. I have visited schools where teachers in their PLCs talk about changing instructional strategies to meet the needs of all individual students and do not spend time talking about why the student cannot learn or cannot behave correctly.
To be an educational leader who puts the interests of students first is hard. The leader must get the followers to believe in the vision and goals of the district or the organization. The leader must work cooperatively with the followers to instill this vision into all the work being done in the district or the school. This is just like good teaching. I know it when I see it.
There is no secret formula to follow to make a school or district great. It takes hard work, knowledge of teaching and learning practices that are backed by evidence, using data to drive decision making, cooperative strategies to get all to believe in the vision and the goals, investment of all into the practices and methods required to meet the vision and goals, and the centered belief that we are making decisions in the best interests of students.
The following article supports my belief that we need to work together to make the district or school better. We need to stop grading people by test scores. We need to work cooperatively together to solve problems and figure out the best way to educate each individual student.
Maybe it is Time to Stop Using “Student Growth” as a Variable for Teacher Evaluation
PERA was passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed into law in 2010, and educators were required to include a minimum of 30% of the teacher and principal rating on the variable of student growth. I believe what has happened is that most local joint committees have student growth as a component of teacher evaluation in spirit, but it does not really affect the rating in the actual practice of teacher evaluation.
What do I mean by spirit? I do think the fact that educators had to consider student growth in the evaluation process has opened up conversations between administrators and teachers on this subject. I do believe that the two parties are looking at student growth in the evaluation process, but I do not think that the student growth score negatively affects the final summative teacher rating.
It would be interesting if someone does a study on the lowest performing schools in Illinois based on the ESSA designations and see if any teacher ratings are Unsatisfactory or Needs Improvement because of the student growth score. My guess is that there will be a very low correlation between low summative teacher ratings and underperforming school achievement and student growth scores.
As a member of the IASA Illinois School for Advanced Leadership curriculum team, I had to participate and pass an extensive curriculum on Adult Coaching led by two great trainers—Sandye Brown and Dr. Nancy Blair. We learned in this training that adults will only change behavior if they own their own change. When coaching adults we learned to not “tell” our client what to do, but rather to ask questions of the client to find out what they wanted to do or improve in their work or personal life—for the client to set their own work and personal goals.
I really believe this should be the basis for teacher and principal evaluation. Evaluators should be asking clients (those they evaluate) reflective questions to get the client to think about their actions. Only when the client believes in a solution and a plan to effectuate it will the solution actually occur.
Let’s face it, teachers do not get dismissed at Lowest Performing or Under Performing schools because of the students’ test scores. What we need to do in education is to change the conversations to data-based decision making with an emphasis on reflective questioning by the evaluator. The client then needs to decide how he/she will change their instruction to result in higher student achievement and growth.
The reason I have added data-based decision making to this conversation is because evaluators and clients both need to examine what the educational
states will lead to higher student achievement. I would invite everyone who is reading this article to click on the following link and to examine what Hattie considers the
250+ Influences on Student Achievement
. Educators should be concentrating on those influences that have an effect size of .40 or higher.
Tip of the Week
Prior to your regularly scheduled school board meetings, upload your school board agenda and item descriptions online to allow the community to be informed of school district business.