A rural Arizona school uses data to personalize instruction for its high-poverty students and has seen student achievement soar.
By Dr. C.J. Huff, Superintendent, Joplin (MO) Schools, and NSPRA Vice President at Large – Superintendents of Schools
Each day professional educators across our country walk into our schools with the noble purpose to educate and grow our next generation of leaders, employees, neighbors, and families. And with each passing day our noble purpose – the reason we do what we do – becomes muddled as we find ourselves fighting perceptions that don't really reflect reality. But as a school board member reminded me once, perception is reality. So the question that must be answered is, “How do we change perception?”
What’s Working...What’s Not?
As you read this article, from coast to coast, school districts will be pushing the send button on thousands of press releases. Spelling bee champions will be recognized, teachers of the year announced, scores from last night’s ballgame celebrated, a big decision by a school board shared, the kindergarten penny drive that raised funds to help the local humane society – the list goes on. We will permeate cyberspace with the good news of our schools. We will tweet, post, click send, like, repost, resend again with the hope that someone... anyone... will pick up on a story and that it will go viral in a good way. And we wait. Then wait some more. We tell great stories, but few are there to listen ...
By Gail Connelly, Executive Director, National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP)
“The Buck Stops Here,” an expression popularized by President Harry S. Truman, has often been applied to school leadership. It denotes the end of the line, the last decision, the final responsibility. For principals, who assume the dual roles of school manager and instructional leader, the responsibilities of school leadership never end; the “bucks” just keep coming.
With upwards of 40 different daily tasks to accomplish, today’s principals must be multifaceted, possessing a range of skills and competencies more complex than ever before.
When it comes to the factors that they directly influence, such as student safety, financial management, teacher working conditions, and high-quality instruction, for example, principals must rely on their “managerial” capabilities. This role also involves brokering various stakeholder interests and contending with unfunded state mandates, among other escalating education issues.
In this era of high-stakes accountability, the pressure has never been greater for principals to excel also as instructional leaders. Research shows the link between school leadership and student achievement continues to be underestimated, despite ...
By Robin Sheffield, National Board Certified Teacher with 20 years experience in education, including service on the Board of Directors for the Toledo Federation of Teachers
One of the many hats I wear as a Peer Literacy Coach is to provide Professional Development to my building and to other building staff within the district. With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), my department has added several Professional Development (PD) offerings to reflect the major shifts of the CCSS. One of the major shifts is the focus on informational text: building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction and informational texts. In response to this shift, we now have a four-hour (delivered in two parts) PD, which helps teachers understand the reasons why expository text is difficult for students to comprehend. Additionally, teachers are taught how to select strategies that will support student understanding of the different structures of expository text.
Last month I was asked to provide this four-hour module to a neighboring building with a K-8 staff. Part I of the PD focuses on why expository text is so difficult for students to understand. When teachers are asked this question, the most common response is that the text(s) contain unfamiliar, difficult vocabulary for students. While this is true, there are other factors that come into play. In addition to unfamiliar vocabulary, the content itself may contain unfamiliar concepts which present problems for comprehension. In addition, different content areas have specialized and/or technical words. There are also varied text structures, most of ...
We know that effective communication is critical in public education, both for building support for public schools and for ensuring the successful implementation of education initiatives, such as the Common Core State Standards. But what does a good K-12 communication strategy look like?
Missouri’s Nixa Public Schools, a suburban K-12 system serving 6,000 students in 11 schools, provides one example. Communication has been a key aspect of the district’s strategic plan for well over a decade, and Nixa has developed a transparent, high-functioning communications program that is two-way in design. For this work, the district was named the 2014 recipient of the Leadership Through Communication Award, with Superintendent Stephen Kleinsmith and Director of Communication Zac Rantz recognized for their exemplary leadership in the field. The district was commended for building a culture where there is a common language between internal and external stakeholders; creating an environment in which information can be shared in a variety of ways; providing the community the opportunity to offer input which is listened to and acted upon; and more.
In a recent e-mail interview, Rantz took the time to discuss the district’s program and give advice to those looking to strengthen their communications strategy.
Public School Insights (PSI): What is the district’s general philosophy on communication?
Rantz: Inform early. Inform often. Inform through multiple channels.
PSI: What are the key components of your communication program?
Rantz: We structure our communication channels into two main sections: internal and external ...
By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward
We know quite a bit about the strategies that help educators improve and develop expertise over time. Over the long term, we have gathered evidence from research and the field about professional learning that led to changed practices for teachers and better results for students.
For example, numerous researchers have established the value of learning communities, and each week we hear about more districts creating time for learning communities to meet during the work day. We know from more than a decade of research sponsored by The Wallace Foundation and others that principals who act as instructional leaders (with all that entails) have a greater impact on advancing students and teachers. Both research and the field emphasize repeatedly the importance of collaboration and the value of peer learning. And while the research isn't clear on the impact of coaching, examples in the field lead us to believe in its usefulness. ...
For his decades of work towards, and advocacy for, the advancement of public education in North Carolina and across the nation, the Learning First Alliance honors Governor James B. Hunt with its 2014 Education Visionary Award.
Considered by many to be the nation’s first “education governor,” Hunt served an historic four terms as governor of North Carolina, from 1977-1985 and 1993-2001. Under his leadership, North Carolina public schools improved test scores more than any other state in the 1990s, according to the Rand Corporation.
Hunt has also been at the forefront of national education reform, particularly in the areas of early childhood development and the improvement of the quality of teaching. Among his many successes in education, his Smart Start program received the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award from ...
By Sharon P. Robinson, President and Chief Executive Officer, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)
A new report from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), in partnership with the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (GTL Center) at American Institutes for Research and five leading national education organizations, including AACTE, was released on April 30. This collaborative approach to research provided an opportunity for teachers and education partners to address the question, “How does the profession support teachers’ development overtime?” The Council of Chief State School Officers hosted a release event featuring a panel discussion by teacher leaders, researchers, and policy makers about the report’s findings
Insights in the report, From Good to Great: Exemplary Teachers Share Perspectives on Increasing Teacher Effectiveness Across the Career Continuum, are based on an exploratory survey of more than 300 national and state teachers of the year. This research identifies valuable professional experiences and supports that were essential to these exemplar teachers’ professional growth and effectiveness throughout various stages of their career. Teachers responded to survey questions relevant to four stages of the teacher career continuum, identified as ...
Principal Whitney Meissner has worked in public education for a total of 22 years as a math/English teacher, an assistant principal and middle/high school principal for the past 11 years. Her observations and insights reflect the experience gleaned from her decades of experience. In an e-interview, Principal Meissner outlines her own experience in a teacher preparation program, shares her thoughts for supporting new teachers as well as components of good evaluation systems. As an instructional leader, she offers thoughts on the Common Core State Standards and the challenges and benefits associated with them. Finally, she reflects on her own continued learning and growth as a professional.
Principal Meissner has completed the University of Washington Center for Educational Leaderhship training as well as the Association of Washington School Principals Evaluation Training (2013-2014). In 2008, she was a Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) International Emerging Leader and in 2009 she received the 2009 PDK Dissertation Award of Merit. In 2012-2013, she served as the President of the Association of Washington Middle Level Principals (AWMLP). She is an active community volunteer where her newest role is serving as a Zumbathon (c) Coordinator to benefit those affected by the Oso/Darrington Landslide. She received her Ed.D. from Seattle Pacific University in 2008.
Public School Insights (PSI): Thank you so much for taking time to share your insights and wisdom gleaned from your many years in different positions in the education field. We are delighted that we can share your expertise with our readers and the wider community.
First, starting at the beginning, you've spent the past 22 years in education. What inspired you to go into teaching? Were you always interested in school administration as a part of your career?
Meissner: I think I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I used to play school in the summer with the neighborhood kids. My mom, aunt, and grandfather were/are teachers. I don’t know if I can point to one specific thing that inspired me; it was more like a ...
Better Lessons, Better Outcomes with the Common Core: An Interview with Master Teacher Diane Siekmann
To get Common Core implementation right, educators must be truly engaged in the effort. Teachers are on the front line, charged with ensuring that our nation's students are prepared to be successful in the global community in which we live. But in debates over the standards, they are often overlooked in two very important ways: As advocates, and as practitioners with valuable expertise who need time and resources to align their work with the vision of college and career readiness for all that the Common Core embodies.
To help elevate the voice of teachers on this issue, as part of our continuing series of interviews on the standards, we are thrilled to highlight the perspective of Diane Siekmann, a National Board Certified Teacher at a Title I elementary school in Phoenix, Arizona. She has experience teaching first and third grade, including six years in a self-contained ELL classroom. And in addition to her current responsibilities as a third grade teacher, she is working with the National Education Association's Master Teacher Project with Better Lesson, an effort to highlight and share the best teaching practices around the Common Core.
In a recent email interview, Siekmann shares her thoughts on teaching under new college and career ready standards and the supports needed to get it right. What I found most encouraging: The changes she has seen in students under these new, higher standards. To quote: "The most exciting thing about the Common Core is witnessing the critical thinking by students. Their knowledge and skills are so visible, and they really enjoy explaining their thought process. The students have become great problem solvers with analytical skills that I have not experienced previously with my students. They truly enjoy the challenges placed before them....”
The complete interview is below.
Public School Insights (PSI): As you’ve transitioned to working under new college and career ready standards, how has your teaching changed?
Siekmann: The biggest change has been on the amount of reflection that takes place for my practice. As teachers we save and hold on to resources, worksheets, and “stuff” from year to year. This year with the change to the new college and career ready standards, I have changed by rethinking everything that is being presented in my classroom. Most of the resources I saved have now been replaced with new lessons and new approaches to teaching the standards. I’m always thinking about ...
By Carol François, Director of Learning, Learning Forward
When I was a classroom teacher, it seemed right around March and April, students' minds began wandering to visions of blissful summer vacations. Spring Break exacerbated the problem since the week off fueled their desire to be rid of school for a more extended period of time, free of schoolbooks and teachers' dirty looks as the children's rhyme taunted.
Little did my students know we teachers also longed for summer almost as much as they did. Having a few weeks of unscheduled time to refresh, renew, and reinvigorate ourselves was considered a welcome treat. Little did we teachers, as well as our students, realize our coveted summer vacation unintentionally might be creating a serious problem. We now know that long summer breaks without opportunities for learning and cognitive growth contribute to significant learning loss.
In research cited by the National Summer Learning Association, "All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer." But that's not all. The association also notes that, "Children lose more than academic knowledge over the summer. Most children — particularly children at ...