A horse gallops with his lungs, perseveres with his heart, and wins with his character.
Source: Courier Journal
The Kentucky Derby is a horse race with pomp and circumstance fit for a Queen. Racing enthusiasts gather at Churchill Downs donning glorious hats and seersucker suits ready to sing My Old Kentucky Home. The young colts enter the gate and everyone anxiously awaits the start. A fast 1 ¼ mile race this year ended with Justify, a 3-year old, in the winner’s circle.
As I watched the race this year I reflected on our job as educators. We often start our year with a bang. We are well-groomed and have fresh legs for the start of a new year. As we head down the stretch after the second turn we are still neck and neck with our colleagues. When we round the final bend on our way towards home we start to tire and become weary. Some of us lose our focus and some simply have little energy to cross the finish line. However, as educators, we must finish strong. Our race is high stakes, we are impacting the future. As teachers, we persevere through the year with heart and we win with our character. Each year, each class, each student is our one shot.
Here are some thoughts for finishing the year just as strong as you started . . .
Teaching is like a horse race in many ways. The training, the quick start, the endurance that is required to be a finisher; however, it’s always the heart and character that makes a champion. Finish strong, educators. Each year, each class, each student is our one shot. Encourage your students to always dream big and thank you for all you do!
At a young age I played school with my friends and would daydream about one day becoming a "real" teacher. Even a class assignment in elementary school reflects my view of teaching and my desire to help people.
However, in high school I thought I wanted to be something more than a teacher. I was accepted to attend the University of Georgia and became a pre-law student. The idea of being a professional with a briefcase and wearing a suit was appealing to me at that time. Reflecting back I realize how crazy those ideas were and how they simply didn't fit who I was or what I wanted to do with my life. I was seeking purpose.
I started to truly reflect on my passion and what brings me joy. I realized that becoming a teacher was inevitable. Everything I chose to do and loved involved children and teaching. I taught horseback riding lessons, coached swim team, was a camp counselor, and even taught Preschool Sunday School (one of my biggest challenges). Even my Mother and Grandmother were teachers. I began to realize it was in my DNA. I was destined to become a teacher.
I share this because I will never regret my choice to become a professional educator. While I may carry a book bag instead of a briefcase, my 25-year career has touched the lives of thousands of students and their families. I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented and selfless colleagues. I have witnessed the life-changing power of connecting with individual students, experienced the aha moments when students learn something new, and found purpose in the daily opportunity to make a difference in someone's life.
The visual below perfectly depicts my journey as an educator. I love teaching, I am pretty good at it, the world needs teachers, and I get paid for it. WOW! I have connected my passion, to my mission, and made it my life's work. All educators can do the same exercise and will recognize, over and over again, that our profession is purposeful.
If you are already teaching or leading in a school, you are embarking on a new school year. There are "to do" lists, meetings to attend, rooms to set-up, plans to make, and more. However, I hope that you will take a moment to reflect on your purpose and find joy in knowing your work is meaningful and makes a difference.
If you are considering becoming an educator, please know now that it is hands-down the most rewarding career. You won't make millions, but you will touch the lives of millions. Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Effective People, has always advised that we should live our lives so that our funeral is standing room only. To me, this is more than being kind or simply a good person, it is about what we give to others. What better way to accomplish this than by being a teacher.
Make it a great school year full of purpose and passion! Thank you for all you do!
Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone.
Last week we visited Rocky Mountain National Park and drove Trail Ridge Road in awe. Around every turn there were breathtaking views. We drove to one of the highest points on the road near the Alpine Visitor Center. Hikers then have the option to climb to the elevation of 12,005 feet. Knowing that it was very cold with high winds, we decided to go for it. As we climbed our heart rate increased and our breaths became labored. What we experienced while on top of the mountain, holding tight to one another, was indescribable. We laughed, took photos, and relished the moment. We were going to skip this climb because it was cold and windy. That would have been a mistake.
After the Rockies I went to support a district with their annual Data Retreats. I opened each session with the photo above. I shared that I was hoping to make their heart rate increase and at times take their breath away. Many teachers and leaders looked at me confused. What kind of professional learning experience was this going to be? I shared that my goal was to make them uncomfortable. I firmly believe that the only way we will improve schools is if we are honest and transparent with our data and examine our adult actions. We utilized a 5-step Decision Making for Results Process to accomplish our tasks. Below is a brief synopsis of our work.
Referencing Jim Collins' book Good to Great we started with setting norms for the day. Collins states, "Creating a climate where the truth is heard involves four best practices." We agreed to use these practices as our norms:
Always begin with questions. Often I find districts/schools are data rich and information poor. We have lots of charts and graphs; however, it is the questions we ask about the data that turn numbers into information that is actionable. Stephen White, author of Beyond the Numbers states, "It's not so much a lack of data, but an absence of analysis, and an even greater absence of actions driven by data."
We can't simply take numbers at their face value. Only by digging deeper and asking questions will we learn more about what can drive our teaching and learning practices. A few of the questions we asked were:
Step 1: Data Dig
In collaboration with the district I organized multiple data sets as evidence of performance. Using Victoria Bernhardt's Multiple Measures, we reviewed student learning data, demographics, school processes, and perception data. Leadership Teams were also encouraged to locate and add data sources from their school to each category. All of our work was organized in Google Drive with folders for each school for synchronous collaboration. Teams were provided a template to guide the steps in the process.
Step 2: Analyze to Prioritize
Next, we analyzed results from the state assessments, in this case SBAC, and drilled down into claims and targets to identify areas of strength and opportunities for improvement by content area and student group. I asked the teams to organize their data by effects (results) and possible causes/inferences in both categories. Effect data was specific and drilled down to the standard level for ELA and Math. This analysis led to a prioritization of our most urgent needs.
Step 2: SMART Goals
Teams turned their priorities into SMART goals. We limited our goals to no more than three. One for literacy, one for math, and one choice goal based on need. This district chose attendance for K-8 schools and graduation rate for high schools. Emphasis was placed on creating Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely
goals that PLCs can use to drive their instruction and progress monitoring.
Step 4: Action Steps
Teams were then encouraged to identify 4-5 research-based strategies and best practices to address each goal area. I encouraged teams to list only items that are directly related to their analysis. Actions that reflect what we are already doing or what is an expectation for all classrooms will not move us closer to goal attainment. One of Albert Einstein's best known quotes is, "Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results." We must identify the actions that will have the greatest impact. Using resources such as, What Works Clearing House, Johns Hopkins School of Education, and Visible Learning, among others can help leaders and teachers determine evidence-based actions to take.
Step 5: Evidence and Artifacts
For each goal area, teams identified a minimum of two pieces of evidence and two artifacts to collect to gauge progress toward goal attainment or to inform strategy implementation. Evidence collected can be benchmarks or interim assessments, common formative assessments, diagnostic or progress monitoring tools. Artifacts may be PLC/Data Team minutes, lesson plans, running records, or PD participant surveys. Collecting both quantitative and qualitative data assists with monitoring and evaluating implementation of the school improvement plan.
Monitor and Evaluate
In order to support leaders and teams in monitoring and evaluating progress toward goal attainment, I developed a 45-day Monitoring Plan. Every nine weeks leadership teams must meet to gather evidence of strategy implementation or student progress. Next steps need to be identified to either continue with identified strategies that are working or make midcourse corrections for those that are not having an impact. In between 45-day meetings each PLC should be meeting to conduct Instructional Data Team Cycles in support of the goals.
The Decision Making for Results process is one that, if done well, can lead to big ahas and discoveries as well as clarity about what we need to do collectively to achieve results. While no one typically jumps for joy when it is time to develop school improvement plans, we all recognize that as learning organizations we must continually seek ways to improve and accelerate student learning. I am proud of the school leaders and teachers I worked with this week and, upon reflection, felt that others may benefit from reminders of solid continuous improvement processes that can impact teaching, learning, and leadership.
Find those nuggets that make you uncomfortable and commit to tackling them as a team! Happy digging!
If you are interested in learning more about the Decision Making for Results Process or Tools, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
You don't have to have a big budget to make a big difference. Changing mindset and focusing on student-centered design can create new opportunities for you as a teacher and for your learners.
Special thanks to Jason Bierle for allowing me to co-design his classroom makeover. We joked and called the project our "fixer upper". He was willing and open to taking some risks. We turned his classroom upside down in one evening knowing he had to teach the next day. He continues to think about the next phase of the transformation and how he can continue to reimagine by asking "what if?".
His principal, Dave Swank also deserves kudos. He was with us through the entire process and recognized that the transformation in one classroom could jumpstart innovations in other learning spaces throughout his school.
You can follow these great educators on Twitter:
Additional Resources for Redesigning Learning Spaces:
4 Tips to Transform Your Learning Space (Edutopia) Click HERE
Rethinking Learning Spaces and Environments (Eric Sheninger) Click HERE
3 Keys to Designing Student-Centered Learning Spaces (Tom Murray) Click HERE
Learning Spaces (Vanderbilt University), Click HERE
Learning Space Design (renovated Learning), Click HERE
"Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire."
As educators we all recognize the importance of sparking a student’s curiosity and motivation to learn. We know that when students are provided with opportunities to undertake meaningful tasks to solve real-world problems engagement soars. So, why isn’t this type of learning experience the norm? What are the barriers to creating learning environments that are authentic, challenging, and engaging?
Education today is mired with the pressure to “cover” standards to pass a “test” that measures proficiency. Unfortunately, curriculum and instruction have been stifled by strict pacing guides and a focus on discrete learning. I collaborate with educators weekly who reminisce about a time when teachers were empowered to design learning that was joyful. Teachers shared lessons that were authentic, hands-on, challenging, and purposeful. These were lessons that addressed more than standards; they focused on many of the soft skills we know are critical for student success in college, career, and life—skills such as being able to collaborate, create, solve problems, communicate effectively, and persevere in tasks.
I have also witnessed many talented, hard-working teachers who are able to create the joyful teaching and learning described above. They are most adored by their students and recognized among their faculty as the “go-getter” always striving for more. We would all argue that all students should have this joyful learning experience. Take a moment to reflect about yourself as a student.
Reflect: Think back to an engaging lesson that you remember. How did it make you feel? What did you learn? What words describe the learning experience? What did your teacher do to set you up for success?
Become a Learning Designer
There are actions we can take now to empower teachers to create meaningful learning by becoming Learning Designers. Rather than simply planning lessons in a 2 x 2 box, what if we viewed our work as designing learning experiences? Every teacher is a leader and every teacher should be given permission to think outside the box, innovate, and create opportunities for all students to experience success.
So, what are the design elements that lead to great learning experiences?
Compelling Content: Beyond discrete standards, teachers have the opportunity to connect content and performance expectations to create real-world problems or situations for students to solve. Learning experiences that offer authentic, interdisciplinary tasks provide relevance and promote curiosity for students.
Learning Goals and Success Criteria: Any great lesson begins with clear goals for what students need to know and be able to do. Goals, coupled with criteria for success, should be communicated to students in a manner that clarifies expectations and serves as a guide for self-assessment.
Collaborative Culture: Learning is social and the purposeful inclusion of collaboration, throughout the learning process, is highly engaging for students. Collaborative opportunities have endless design options such as flexible groups, partners, and online experts.
Student Empowerment: Student ownership in learning increases exponentially when students are given choice over how to show mastery or create a final product or performance. Additionally, inviting students to provide input into what they learn and how they want to engage with the content allows them to play the role of co-designer.
Authentic Tools and Resources: A variety of tools and resources, both print and digital, should be leveraged to create a final product as well as throughout the learning process. Providing a variety of tools offers students choice and emphasizes process over product. Digital tools and strategies such as blended learning, flipped classrooms, and production tools offer rich experiences that are highly engaging and honor how students like to learn and create.
Intentional Instruction: Based on the learning goals, evidence-based strategies should be carefully selected in order to have the greatest impact. Use of the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) model provides structure for direct instruction and modeling (Show Them), guided practice (Help Them), and enabling students to become independent learners (Let Them).
Focus on Literacy: Regardless of the content, reading, writing, and speaking should be incorporated into every learning experience. Expose students to multiple texts, primary and secondary sources, and online resources. Encourage students to engage in academic discussions, collaborative conversations, and healthy debate. Engage students in opportunities to write and write often (e.g. lab reports, technical manuals, narrative stories, research summaries, opinion papers, or interactive student notebooks).
Feedback for Learning: Throughout the learning experience there are feedback loops to give students guidance on their progress toward the learning goals. This feedback can be teacher-to-student, student-to-student, or self-assessment. Feedback is formative and provides students with the safety and security that they can take risks and try new things without the fear of failure.
Instructional Design should lead to learning that is authentic, challenging, and engaging. We need Learning Designers who are intentional about incorporating design elements, such as the eight listed above, to create experiences for students that they will remember long after graduation. And we need leaders who empower teachers to make it happen!
Blog post originally published in The Spark by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 4.26.17
As we begin a new year, I want to encourage all teachers to reflect on all the good in education. The colleagues who make your day, the team that helps you get through the day, and the students that are the reason that you show up each day. Teaching has never been more difficult. There are many reasons to be discouraged or frustrated; however, there are many more reasons to embrace the joy of teaching.
Start your collection of “Mason Jar Moments”. The notes that you receive from students or parents, a picture of a class project or field trip that made you proud, and even a note to yourself about a lesson that rocked or that student that you were finally able to reach. “Mason Jar Moments” are intended to make us reflect on all that is good about being a teacher.
When you have a challenging day, open that jar and grab a bit of encouragement and remember why you teach. Why you work endless hours designing lessons and grading papers. Why you stay afterschool or come early to provide extra help to struggling students. Why you spend your own money on school supplies and snacks for the students that don't have any. It is because you make an immeasurable difference in the lives of children every day!
Want to share this idea with others? You can print a tag to tie onto a mason jar and place directions inside the jar (see below). Click HERE for printable. You can even jump start the preservation of our profession with placing a note in each jar to let your colleagues or staff know how much you appreciate them!
If you would like to share some of your "Mason Jar Moments" with me, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to @lpijanowski. Be sure to include pictures if you have them. I will begin a collection of Mason Jar Moments to continue to encourage and uplift teachers around the world!
Thank you for all you do and I hope this year surpasses your wildest dreams! Make it a great year!
As we embark on our fifth year of implementation of Common Core, we continue to see the following question being posed -
"Has Common Core improved student performance?"
I think we are asking the wrong question. I believe the question should be,
"Has instruction changed to meet the Common Core Standards?"
Standards alone do not improve achievement. It is what we do with the standards that makes an impact on student performance. It is our core work - the intentional design of lessons that promote student engagement and learning. It is the shared instructional practices that drive collaboration, inform coaching, and create compelling learning environments.
I encourage us to truly reflect on the changes in instructional practice that have occurred over the last five years during our transition to new standards. Whether your State kept the Common Core name, or renamed the standards with revisions, all States have standards that represent an increase in student performance expectations.
Reflect on the following questions:
I know you may be thinking these are the things we have been talking about for years now. However, if you are not getting the results you truly desire . . . let's look at our practices before throwing the baby out with the bath water. The last thing we need in public education is another sea change. Let's stick with one thing long enough to see if it works. Commit to deep implementation and focusing on doing a few things really well.
Let's stop rehashing the standards and focus our energy on providing teachers the needed support and resources to meet the needs of the students they serve. I encourage you to take some time before the new year starts to reflect on the questions posed above and determine how your team will begin the new year with a laser like focus on student learning and a realistic "to do" list focused on instruction. It is the only thing that will increase achievement!
Next Post . . . School Improvement Plan on a Page
Thanks for reading, sharing, commenting. @lpijanowski