Monday, February 28, 2011

To Succeed, Principals Need Support

Reposted from my dean's blog, originally published 2/18/11

A.G. Rud

A New York Times article about the shortage of people prepared to lead our schools reminded me of the value of the College of Education’s principal certification program and Ed.D. degree in educational leadership. Our colleagues in WSU’s Department of Human Development also offer a graduate certificate in early childhood leadership and administration.

But solid university programs are only part of the solution to inadequate school leadership. For a faculty perspective, I turned to Assistant Professor Chad Lochmiller of our Tri-Cities faculty, whose research interests include support for school leadership. The comments that follow are Chad’s.

The Obama administration’s emphasis on removing principals from failing schools rests on the assumption that principals alone drive student learning improvement. Yet we know from extensive research that there are many other factors, including ineffective instructional practices, lack of accountability, and absence of meaningful student supports.

In some cases, changing a principal can disrupt reforms already under way and cause the school’s best teachers to leave. As research in Washington state has shown, classroom teachers cite support from their school principals as one of the most important factors influencing their decision to stay in their buildings. If the goal is to stabilize the school and refocus its efforts on instruction, then removing a principal may not only prolong that effort but derail it altogether.

The administration’s approach also assumes that the problem is inadequate principals, not inadequate support for those educators. Principals will tell you that they are in desperate need of support given the plethora of new initiatives and reforms being thrust upon them. They need supervisors who understand and advocate for the specific needs of their buildings. They need access to data, instructional strategies, and other professional development to help them acquire the skills needed to support classroom teachers. They need opportunities to reflect on their practice, identify areas of growth, and target ways in which their leadership can best help students.

The administration’s focus on school leadership challenges universities to make a stronger investment in preparing principal certification candidates. We must provide principals with the knowledge and skills to effectively improve classroom instruction starting in their first year on the job. This may require prep programs such as WSU’s to develop a much tighter relationship with K-12 educators. We must take shared responsibility with school district efforts to improve failing or under-performing schools.

While I have several concerns about the administration’s approach, I do credit federal officials for their willingness to be creative. I’m hopeful that they will see the professional development of all educators—teachers, principals, and superintendents—as part of the solution to improving the nation’s schools.

A Super Start to Our Film Series

reposted from my dean's blog, originally published 1/31/11

A.G. Rud

Sponsoring a film series is a bit of an experiment for our college. Based on the first presentation, I predict it will be a success. Our goal is to address educational issues affecting children, families, schools and communities.

“Waiting for Superman” was screened Sunday at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre in Moscow, launching the three-part series, Rethinking Education, that we’re co-sponsoring with our colleagues at the University of Idaho College of Education. We had a large crowd, filling the first floor of the theater and part of the balcony. A special thanks to Amy Cox of our development staff and UI faculty member Melissa Saul for organizing the Sunday program.

“Waiting for Superman” revolves around five children whose futures depend upon winning a lottery to attend a charter school. The discussion that followed Sunday’s showing was led by Cori Mantle-Bromley, dean of the University of Idaho’s College of Education. The eight panelists included WSU faculty members Kristin Huggins, who came over from Vancouver, Paula Groves Price, and Xyanthe Neider. Cori asked them to consider some of the ironies of the film as well as their reactions to the portrayals.

Our film series opened in Moscow
Kristin, who has conducted research on professional learning communities, noted shortcomings in the film, such as a focus upon elementary and middle schools but not high schools, no mention of special needs students, and a concentration on only the good news about charter schools. For example, there was no mention of the corporate funding that helps support many of these schools, money that isn’t available to other public schools. Xyan spoke about her son and his struggles with schooling and how some parts of the film resonated with her experiences. Paula said that her reaction to the film was powerful and unexpected. While calling it overly simplistic, she noted that she is the parent of a young child and wants the best for her daughter as do the parents in “Superman.” (You can see Paula’s response in this YouTube clip.)

My own reaction

I found the film powerful, disturbing, and frankly a mishmash of many narratives and explanations. The recounting of recent school reforms, such as No Child Left Behind and the embattled tenure of Washington, D.C., school chief Michelle Rhee, was fascinating. The tale of the triumphs of charter schools ignored studies that point to less stellar achievement and to some of the colossal failures of charters over the past decade. We cannot say unequivocally that public schools are doing a weak job of educating students or charters are one of the best solutions, as was implied by this film.

I was also struck by the sheer insensitivity of the charter selection process, the famous “lottery” held in a public setting as if it were a game show, with triumphant “winners” and many more disconsolate “losers.” This is perhaps the most poignant part of the film – you see the children whose stories you have followed for the past 90 minutes wait expectantly for the roll of the dice. It is profoundly saddening to think that education is reduced to such a spectacle.

Finally, I was dismayed by the drumbeat of emphasis put upon a college education by many in the film. It was not even any post secondary path they trumpeted, it was a “four-year college.”

Certainly many of our children are ill equipped for college, and for those who seek such an education we must do better. But to assert that a bachelor’s degree is necessary for a good life is foolish and biased. I did well in school, and hence became college educated, and now work in a university. But I don’t know much at all about how to take apart a motor, or build a house, or service a broken furnace. I admire those who have these skills, and I know I value them when my car won’t start. Why engage in idolatry about a college education? It is not for everyone, and it is particularly galling to see this emphasized in the film when President Obama is supporting community college degrees and post-secondary training.

More to come

The films and panel discussions in our series are free and open to the public. The other two documentaries will be shown on the WSU campus. “The Lottery” will be screened at 7 p.m. March 9 in Todd Hall 116. In the words of its creators, the film “uncovers the failures of the traditional public school system and reveals that hundreds of thousands of parents attempt to flee the system every year.” Kelly Ward, the interim chair of our Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling Psychology, will moderate that panel.

I will lead the discussion after “The Race to Nowhere,” set for 6 p.m. April 14 in the CUB auditorium. The film features “the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids.”

We look forward to seeing you there!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Teaching 2030: an important book on teaching by teachers

this is slightly modified from the original which appeared at Education Review

Berry, Barnett, and the Teacher Solutions Team (2011). Teaching 2030: What We Must Do for Our Students and Our Public Schools — Now and in the Future.

In all of the public discourse of what we need to do to fix public schools and educate our young people for the future, one set of voices has until now been conspicuously absent. It is the voices of teachers.

This new book, put together under the auspices of the Center for Teaching Quality established by lead author Barnett Berry, and with generous funding from the MetLife Foundation, is an important attempt to include the voices of teachers in helping frame the discussion of how we address our educational needs.

Those of us in classrooms, unless we choose to be oblivious, recognize that our profession needs to be redefined. We lose too many good teachers from classrooms because too often the only path for professional and financial advancement is through administration. In the meantime, we see the students arriving in our classrooms changing as society changes. Often we are prevented from changing what we do in order to meet them where they are. We know this has to change.

This book is the product of an extensive discussion among professional educators. Much of it was conducted online. The final product list 12 authors besides Berry, all themselves notable classroom teachers. They are the ones who sat down with him to put together the book as we have it. But that final product also included material offered by others in online discussions through the various arms of the Center for Teaching Quality, especially its Teacher Leaders Network, of which I am member. Thus while I was not part of the actual author group, I appear 3 times in the work. I do not think that disqualifies me from examining the work and encouraging others to read it.

The teachers participating in this endeavor collective bring a diverse set of experiences to it. Renee Moore taught English high school students in the Mississippi Delta, where she now teaches at a community college. Ariel Sacks and Jose Vilson teach in New York City middle schools. Laurie Wasserman has almost 30 years as a teacher of special education. After a distinguished career in a classroom, Shannon C’de Baca has spent a number of years doing online education. Jennifer Barnett now functions as school-based technology integration specialist in rural Alabama. Kilian Betlach is a Teach for America alumnus who was well-known as a blogger and is now an elementary school assistant principal. Carrie Kamm is a mentor-resident coach for an urban teacher residency program in Chicago. Among these and others in authoring group are winners of State Teacher of the Year (including one finalist for National Teacher of the Year), Milken award winners, Lilly Award winners, and so on. All have experience in trying to improve the teaching profession beyond the reach of their own classrooms. One finds a similar range of diversity and an equal amount of accomplishment in the 33 teachers who are also thanked for their contributions in the online discussions in which we took part.

In addition, those functioning as authors were able to participate in webinars with a number of outstanding experts from across the nation, including on expert from Australia.

The result is a book rich in insight, analysis, and suggestions for the future, one that has already received praise from many notables associated with education and teaching. Of greater importance, it is a book that will speak to a wide range of audiences: those who prepare our new teachers, those who administer our schools, those who make policy, and most of all, to those of us who teach now or may teach in the future.

In his Prologue, Barnett Berry makes a couple of key points that help a reader understand the thrust of the book. The authors
...have come together, in harmony if not always in lock-step, about an expanded vision for student learning in the 21st century and for the teaching profession that will, in myriad ways, continue to accelerate that learning. (p. xiii)

They get to this point by examining what works now in order to describe what will likely work and be needed in the schooling of the future. The vision “emerges from a student centered vision” that takes advantage of new tools, organizations and ideas. It is based on four “emergent realities”:
1. a transformed learning ecology for students and teacher
2. seamless connections in and out of cyberspace
3. differentiated paths and careers
4. “teacherpreneurs” who will foster innovation locally and globally

These rely on six levers for changes: 1. engaging the public in provocative ways
2. overhauling school finance systems
3. creating transformative systems of preparation and licensure
4. ensuring school working conditions that they know promote effective teaching
5. reframing accountability for transformative results
6. continuing to evolve teacher unions into professional guilds

Each of these levers and each of the realities could be a separate volume. Thus the authors cannot fully explore the dimensions of each, yet they provide more than enough to lay out a vision that is clearly possible. In part that is because of the experience they collectively bring to the task, and what they have absorb from the webinars and from the exchanges with each other and with those who participated in online discussion.

The aforementioned Prologue is titled “We Cannot Create What We Cannot Imagine.” It is followed by two chapters that can be considered introductory:
1. The Teachers of 2030 and a Hopeful Vision
2. A Very Brief History of Teaching in America.

The next four chapters explore the four Emergent Realities, each in some specificity. For example, Chapter 5 explores the 3rd of these Emergent Realities, Differentiated Pathways and Careers for a 21st-Century Profession. In just over 30 pages the authors explore four subthemes:
1. Outgrowing a One-Size-Fits-All Professions
2. Redefining the Professions for Results-Oriented
3. Teacher Education for a Differentiated, Results-Oriented Profession
4. Professional Compensation for Differentiated Profession

After these four chapters the book spends almost 40 pages exploring the six policy levers of change before concluding with Taking Action for a Hopeful Future, with a subsection on “What You Can Do to Build a 21st- Century Teaching Profession.”

Perhaps the power of the book can best be understood through the notion of “Teacherprenuerism” as it is explored in Chapter 6. The term first appears near the beginning, with the idea of teacher entrepreneurs serving in hybrid positions that don’t easily fit the normal way we classify teachers. Allow me to offer the paragraph from p. 7 which first presents the idea in some detail, after setting the stage by reminding us how already teachers, many National Board Certified and comfortable with using the tools of the web, are de-isolating teaching and offering cost-effective ways of propagating exemplary teaching practices:
The fruits of those labors have been realized in 2030. About 15% of the nation’s teachers - more than 600,000 - have been prepared in customized residency programs designed to fully train them in the cognitive science of teaching and to also equip them for new leadership roles. Most now serve in hybrid positions as teacherpreneuers, teaching students part of the day or week, and also have dedicated time lead as student support specialists, teacher educators, community organizers, and virtual mentors in teacher networks. Some spend some of their nonteaching time working closely university- and think tank-based researchers on studies of teaching and learning - or conducting policy analyses that are grounded in their everyday pedagogical experiences. In some school district, teachers in these hybrid roles earn salaries comparable to, if not higher than, the highest paid administrators.

Lest one think that a pie in the sky belief about the future, several members of the team that wrote this book - and several of those who like me served as additional resources - already partially function in this fashion. The book posits a day where such teachers would not only be known to wider audiences of parents, community and business leaders and policy makers, but would be respected and listened to. Some of those participating in this process already have that kind of respect, for example, Renee Moore, who has served on the boards of both the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and as the first educator still in the classroom on the board of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (California). John Holland has served as a classroom teacher, a blogger for the Pew Charitable Trust blog Inside Pre-K and moderates an online community of accomplished teachers. Others have similar experiences of attempting to create hybrid roles where they can leverage their expertise and knowledge while remaining at least partially classroom based. They use their experience to project to the future they envision. The process has begun already, but the authors are talking about something more than selling one’s good lesson plans on E-bay. As John Holland notes in Chapter 6,
The combination of self-publishing and the use of the internet as a platform for communication has already given rise to the “communities of practice” around topics ranging from lessons in how to teach fractions to using brain research to perform the teaching act as the highest levels. Teacherpreneurs will increasingly be leaders in these communities, which will stretch far beyond the confines of their school or district - a virtual domain where they are able to impact the profession on a large scale. (p. 143)

As more teacherpreneurs appear they will serve as a primary agents in developing connected learning. As we get more teachers who have greater facility in using the power of the web, not only will teachers be less isolated, but the nature of teaching will begin to change, and radically, as Emily Vickers notes
Teachers will, in fact, be orchestrators of learning - a concept we talk about today, but one that will force itself upon most everyone who expects to be a teacher in 2030. (p. 145)

In part this will be because students will be accustomed to different ways of obtaining information. We are already seeing this among our current students. They know how to quickly obtain information, although we may still have to guide them in how to evaluate the information they obtain. They are comfortable building websites and increasingly also putting together wikis. It is incumbent upon the educational professionals to adapt what we do not only to meet our students where they are now, but also to anticipate how much this will change the nature of what we do. Teacherpreneurs will be key to a successful transition to a new approach to education.

We still have a way to travel to even come close to such a radical rethinking of the teaching profession. The book points out how much we already know, and how we can begin to move in such a direction, even if the path may change over the next several decades from what even the most imaginative of our current teachers can foresee. A key to this is that others with whom teachers interact will need to rethink how they do their jobs. Administrators will need to spend more time in classrooms, even teaching, and most certainly embrace the idea of teacher leadership. Unions will need to rethink how they serve the teachers who are their members, being more open to diverse roles and with those diverse roles different models of compensation. Policy makers will have to be willing to support and invest in the development of the kinds of hybrid roles necessary to implement the kind of teaching we will need. University-based teacher education will have to change, being more connected with what is happening in classrooms, and working together with community-based organizations, as education moves to be more firmly integrated in the communities in which are schools are located.

There are the first five points listed in the concluding chapter. By themselves they represent a major rethinking of how we have been approaching education and teaching. There are examples of these kinds of changes. I teach in a school that serves as a professional development school for a local state university, and we have had an increasingly close relationship between those who serve as mentor teachers and the university faculty. The next step is for more of those who are skilled mentors moving into a hybrid role where they not only mentor within their own classroom, but perhaps serve as adjunct instructors in the university environment, overcoming the artificial divide between learning about teaching and learning how to teach.

For this to work requires three additional points, also covered in the final chapter. The communities must become more involved, helping encourage the new roles of teacher-leaders even as administrations and unions have to redefine their relationship with one another. Parents and students must be willing to advocate on behalf of the effective teachers, providing the support that will enable teacher leaders to help redefine the conversation about teaching.

Most of all, teachers will have to step out of the isolation of their individual classrooms. They will
... need to band together to document their professional practice and assemble both empirical evidence and compelling stories about what works in their classrooms and their communities - and, therefore what matters most for public policy. (p. 210)

The book is intended as a starting point for ongoing conversations. The authors do not presume that they have imagined every possibility. They want to encourage further discussion. They encourage people to visit them at either of two websites, that of the Teaching 2030 social networking site and by connecting with other teachers from the Center for Teaching Quality’s New Millennium Institute.

I am as I write this in my 16th year of teaching. I have been a participant in the discussions of the Teacher Leaders Network for the past few years. I have gotten to know electronically a number of the authors of this book, and have been fortunate enough to meet both Barnett Berry and John Holland. I know how seriously all of the authors take the profession of teaching, and how much they already give of themselves to try to make the teaching profession a more effective way of serving our students, which is ultimately the goal.

For too long the voices of teachers have been systematically excluded from the public discourse about education. In part this book serves as an important corrective, or at least the start of one.

I am not only a teacher, but also one who engages in policy. Like the authors, I wear several hats besides that of classroom teacher. Here you encounter me as one who regularly writes about books on education in order to encourage others to read them. Like many of those who authored the book, I regular write online about education. We are bloggers; it is part of how we connect with one another.
Our expert teachers are a resource that we should value beyond what they accomplish in the classroom, as important as that is. We need to tap their expertise and insight, we need to hear their voices.

If you read this book, you should get a sense of not only how important the teacher voice is, but also how much we all gain from including it in the discussions.

What the authors have proposed is in some ways radical. It has the promise of moving us in a far more productive direction in how we approach the future of teaching. Since I am in my mid 60s, it is unlikely I will still be teaching in 2030. Several of the authors will be. They are helping reshape the profession to which they are dedicating their lives.

I feel as if I should end with the voice of one of the authors. Each offers some closing words at the end of the final chapter. The last are offered by Renee Moore, whose work I greatly respect. It seems appropriate to end this review as the book ends, with the words she offers on p. 214:
We stand on the cusp of a great opportunity to end generations of educational discrimination and inequity, finally to fulfill the promises of our democratic republic. I believe the noblest teachers, students, and leaders of 2030 will be remembered by future generations as those who surged over the barriers to true public education and a fully realized teaching profession - while myopic former gatekeepers staggered to the sidelines of history.

I too am dedicated to improving the teaching profession for the benefit of the students entrusted to our care. It is because I am that I fervently hope Renee Moore is right. Read this book.