Superintendents Need to Make Time to Visit Classrooms
It is just as important for superintendents to visit classrooms. I recommend that superintendents schedule classroom visitations with individual teachers to assure that you will attend. When I am doing workshops with building-level administrators who are responsible for teacher evaluation, I suggest that they schedule classroom observations at the beginning of the week to make sure they actually make the observation. The same is true for superintendents. If you schedule an activity you are much more likely to make the commitment.
It is important to observe classrooms to actually witness the most important function of a school district, the actual teaching and learning that is occurring in the classrooms. You should be seeing engaged students, not teachers lecturing. Students should have energy and be doing the learning. If this is not the case then you need to talk to your teacher evaluators why this is not happening.
The days of education being a factory-based model where all students receive the same information at the same time at the same place is over. Your schools should really be doing more than differentiating learning. They should be personalizing learning. This would consist of every learner being engaged in the learning but also being responsible for their own learning.
Recently I was in a large high school in the suburban Chicago area and every classroom in the school district had "alternative" classroom furniture. Not one classroom had traditional desks and chairs. Most classrooms had moveable tables and chairs that allowed students and teachers the freedom to act in a collaborative manner. In almost every classroom I visited the students were actively participating in the learning. Just imagine, if you change the classroom furniture you will get more student engagement.
Using Data to Make Decisions
As we work with school districts on the use of student growth data for teacher evaluation purposes, some interesting revelations are occurring. High School teachers are finding out that students know a whole lot more than the teachers thought they knew. Elementary teachers are discovering that not all students go "brain dead" over the summer months, and many maintain and even grow the knowledge with which they left the previous grade.
I have written before about the use of data to make decisions. I have learned a lot about the use of data from individuals with MBA-type degrees. I remember talking to an alternative certified superintendent (did not travel through the traditional education duties of teacher, building-level administrator to superintendent) who was asking me questions concerning what factors I used to analyze the hiring of new teachers. I had to admit that we used a certain cadre of questions but in the end we made the hiring decision on non-scientific type responses such as the candidates' love for children.
This administrator related to me an analysis he was doing with teachers in his district. The district had a majority of students from Spanish-speaking families. He had analyzed student growth scores disaggregated by the native language of the teacher. He divided teachers into three groups: 1) native English speakers no Spanish skills; 2) native English speakers with Spanish as a second language; and 3) native Spanish speakers with English as a second language. His analysis determined that students in classrooms with native Spanish speakers with English as second language outperformed all others. Second were native English speakers with Spanish secondary and last were English only speakers. He told me that they were going to use these results as a screening tool in the interview process for new teachers.
While I do not think using student growth for teacher evaluation purposes will be an evolutionary changing experience for public education, I do think using data to think about what we are doing will be important for improving education.
A high school district superintendent shared another example to me. In this use of data the district analyzed the math courses that students took in middle school against the grades and level of math the same student earned in high school. It was determined that students who successfully completed Algebra I in the 8th grade had a 93% chance of getting a 24 or better on the ACT test as a high school junior. Conversely, a middle school student who only progressed through 8th grade remedial math had only a 2% chance of scoring a 24 or better on the ACT. Once these statistics were communicated to parents at the elementary level the feeding elementary districts had much greater success getting students to enroll in more rigorous math classes.
Why Can't We Find a Better Way to Dismiss Teachers?
Recently when I was working with a group of administrators the topic of honorable dismissal via Reduction in Force was discussed. In this particular case the school district was Reducing in Force (RIF) a sizeable number of teachers. The principal was telling me that one of the teachers was from her building. Since the teacher had received the RIF notice the teacher had been absent two to three days per week. Obviously, the teacher was using up her sick and personal days before the end of the school year.
Students suffer the consequences in cases like this. Why can't educators, union leaders, lawyers and elected government leaders find a solution to this problem? Too often those of us who lead, fail to lead effectively. I often ask administrators to self-reflect and determine if they are watching out for the best interests of students or the best interests of adults.
Administrators have their hands tied in dealing with these cases. I do believe the building-level administrator can require the teacher to "prove" illness by visits to the doctor and other measures. Often the teacher counters with a FMLA claim or maybe a grievance claiming harassment by the administrator.
Maybe there are other solutions such as changing the notice date the district would have to give the teacher until after the last student attendance day. Maybe there could be an agreement between the union and the school board that would allow the reduced teacher an opportunity to resign their position at the time of the reduction with reduced salary and continued health insurance until the end of the school year. Maybe you could think of a solution. In the end, I feel it is our obligation to look after the best interests of the students first.
This same administrator told me that the substitute teacher for the above-referenced teacher was doing a better job instructing the students, and she wished she could just hire that person full time for the remainder of the year. Maybe that is the solution?
Be Careful with Cell Phone Use (Abuse)
My recommendation to school administrators is to be very careful with district-paid or -reimbursed cell phones. Many school administrators have cell phones and cell phone bills paid by the school district. If you use that cell phone for any personal phone calls this could cause you a problem. The cleanest way to deal with this situation is either to have two cell phones, one for strictly school use and another for personal use paid for by the school administrator. Another way of dealing with this is to audit the prior use of the cell phone and determine what percentage is school use and what percentage is personal use. Then, have the school district reimburse the administrator for the administrative use. No matter which system you use, any phone calls, texts, emails or other correspondence made or received by you for school purposes can be reviewed by the public via a Freedom of Information Act request or court order.
Tip of the Week
Reorganization of school board
: Some school boards reorganize every year and elect new board officers. Some boards only reorganize following a school board election. If your school board elects officers every year then you need an orderly process for this to occur. There is no defined process, but in the past I have used the following procedure: the Pledge of Allegiance, roll call, approval of the agenda, communication by the public, approval of the previous board meeting minute(s), then the board should "Adjourn Sine Die." This is basically an adjournment of the existing school board (or officers if it is not an election year).
In the year when new school board members are elected, each new school board member must take an "official oath of office." This may be administered by the superintendent reading the oath in sections with the new school board members repeating those sections. If this is not an election year, then just proceed with the next step. Next is the selection of the "President Pro Tem." This can also be the superintendent, who then asks for nominations for President of the School Board. Hopefully, this is not a contentious issue with your school board. If only one board member is nominated for President, then the superintendent can call for nominations to be closed and the person is elected unanimously. If more than one person is nominated, then the superintendent needs to be sure that there are no further nominations before closing nominations and continuing with the actual election. Following the election of the Board President this person assumes the role and completes the election process.
For more information on the reorganization of the school board please refer to the IASB PRESS website and recommended Policy.