Monday, November 29, 2010

Evidence Needs to Trump Ideology and Mandates

I have recently read two books--Big Brother and the National Reading Curriculum by Richard Allington and The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller-- that are reminders that educators must not let ideology and/or mandates dictate what happens in the classroom. Teachers who have a desire to be the best teacher possible for their students will earnestly search out what works to achieve the goals that are most important.

For instance, it does no good to create a generation of people who are aliterate--people who know how to read but don't. If we can help create in students a love for books and for learning they will have a much greater desire to learn to read. Separating reading skills from books makes most young people hate reading.

Where we put our energies, time, and monies show what we value most. Therefore, if we value creating a generation of people who read it would probably be wise for us to put our energies, time, and monies into stocking our classroom and school libraries rather than into computer programs and packaged curriculums that only focus on reading skills.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Lose-Lose Situation

Teachers are being asked more and more to objectify and standardize their teaching rather than do authentic teaching. This kind of teaching is not need-satisfying for students. This leads to discipline problems. The discipline problems cause the teachers to become frustrated. Their frustration causes them to demand more ineffective coercive practices such as detention and suspension to deal with the resistant students. Students who are frequent recipients of these coercive practices become hardened towards them and have no fear of them. Obviously in this scenario no one wins as it is a lose-lose situation for everyone.

Thoughts for this posting:
The Quality School by William Glasser

Friday, November 26, 2010

There's No Need to Reinvent the Wheel

There is sufficient evidence as to what works for minority and/or low income students. Books have been written by individual teachers and books have been written about successful teachers and schools that have made a difference for this population. Therefore, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. We already know what principles and strategies work.

One of the latest examples is a school in Salt Lake City--Guadalupe School charter school--which was recently honored for closing the achievement gap. What are some of the things that this school with a 95% Hispanic student population do to close the achievement gap:
  • Offers door-to-door transportation which lessens family mobility concerns
  • Provides an early childhood program which starts at birth by sending parent educators into homes weekly to mentor moms and dads
  • Students begin attending the school's PreK program at age 3
  • All of the teachers are "highly-qualified" and ESL Endorsed
  • Requires 100% attendance at Parent/Teacher Conferences and does whatever it takes to make sure that happens
  • Supports a strong volunteer program consisting of community volunteers who come at least once a week to provide one-on-one interaction with students
  • Works with the whole child which includes having a mobile clinic visit the campus every six weeks

Guadalupe has been in existence for many years. It would behoove other schools serving a similar student population to learn from this school and search for ways to apply the same principles and strategies rather than look for excuses as to why it can't be done in their setting.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Love of Reading Is Caught

Love of reading is caught not taught. The reason Oprah Winfrey has been able to inspire millions of people to read the books in her Book Club is because she is an avid reader herself. It is not uncommon for her to read 3 books in a week-end. Therefore, she is in a position to discuss a book in a way that whets the appetite of others.

If teachers are to inspire their students to read they might want to consider how they can become more like Oprah in this regard. There are studies that have shown that most teachers do not read professional journals or books and only 25% of them read 3-4 books in a month. An additional 20% said they had read nothing in the last six months. Educators are not reading much more than the general population. Yet, they have the responsibility to help develop in their students a love for reading.

Administrators can help. Research about teachers has shown that in schools where their administrators talk about books and professional journals, the teachers read more on their own. Administrators can also encourage teachers to join professional organizations--maybe even paying for the membership--because educators who belong to professional organizations read more professional journals.

Some ideas for this post:
The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Welcome the New Potential Irreplaceables

There are a number of things that a principal can do to make the new potential irreplaceables feel welcome right from the start. It would be great if the principal would take them to lunch before the school year starts. If someone could go to the restaurant ahead of time to leave gifts such as a school t-shirt and personal business cards at each setting would add to the welcome feeling.

Another idea would be to have an Orientation meeting specifically for the new teachers and answer any questions they may have as well as let them know of opportunities that are available for them to grow professionally. It could be helpful to have a panel of teachers who are relatively new to the school to share what they wish someone had told them when they first started to work at the school.

Assigning a buddy as well as a mentor can also help the new teacher navigate the new environment and feel welcome.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Dr. William Glasser states that one of our basic needs is to have fun. This is just as important for teachers as it is for students.

When I was at Jackson Elementary our principal at the time, Ernie Nix, showed us the film FISH Philosophy about Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, Washington. They had learned at this market the importance of fun in the workplace. There is also a book Fish! Catch the Energy written by the owner of the market, John Yokoyama.

Principals can do a lot to make the school a place of fun for the teachers. It starts with the attitude. With the right attitude the principal will think of ways to make a teacher's day and be there to provide undivided, caring attention. This is especially important for those teachers who are irreplaceables.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Recruiting and Retaining the "Irreplaceables" Is the Goal

Our school can become a quality school if we hire AND keep the best teachers. The best teachers are "irreplaceables"--the SUPERSTARS. The #2 irreplaceable is the teacher who influences his/her classroom by continually striving to be the best possible teacher while the #1 irreplaceable has a positive impact on the entire school in addition to the classroom. The #1 irreplaceable is like the #4 missionary Hartman Rector, Jr. describes in his book Already to Harvest. He is not only successful but everyone around him is, too. He thinks of things that have never been tried before. He has tunnel vision--always thinking of ways he can teach with greater effectiveness. He is bold, but not overbearing. He is enthusiastic, but not fanatical.

The next group of teachers is the "solids"--those who are hardworking and dependable but haven't reached the irreplaceable level, yet. The third group of teachers is what we can call the "replacements"--those who are not very good and those who are negative forces.

To recruit and retain the irreplaceables we need to understand what motivates them--achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, advancement, and personal growth. Principals need to find ways to support the irreplaceables in these areas such as making sure that no matter how tight the budget may be monies need to be available for professional development. Also, they need to be recognized for the work they are doing. If irreplaceables don't receive these motivators that support their professionalism they will be the first to leave.

Two sources for this information:
  • Already to Harvest by Hartman Rector, Jr.
  • Six Types of Teachers by Douglas J. Fiore and Todd Whitaker

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Who Is More Important Than What

Who is a more important variable than what. In other words, it's always people, not programs that determine the quality of a school. Therefore, focusing on recruiting, hiring, and retaining the best people will pay greater dividends than focusing on what new program to implement.

The best people are mavericks and want to leave their mark. They are eccentric--rebels, radicals, and revolutionaries--who walk down unconventional paths. These people are willing to leave the safe harbor.

"It is always from the minority acting in ways different from what the majority would prescribe that the majority in the end learns to do better," advises Friedrich August von Hayek.

Ideas based on the works of:
  • What Great Principals Do Differently by Todd Whitaker
  • High-Velocity Cultural Change by Price Pritchett
  • My Years As a Hispanic Youth Advocate by Barbara Lovejoy

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bring In A New Breed

It's hard to improve a school culture without a new breed. A new breed can expose people to new ways of thinking and working. Therefore, when hiring new people it's advantageous to bring on people who are better than the people who left. In other words, the new teacher hired should be the best teacher in the school with the goal being that the school will become more like the new teacher.

When hiring this new breed look for those who will not only be excellent in the classroom but will also have a profound influence on the whole school. Also, focus on talents. Those who have the talent to love students, are bright minded, have a positive attitude, have a congenial personality, have a great work ethic, and have leadership skills will learn the needed skills and eventually in the long run outperform those who are resting on experience and credential laurels.

These thoughts are taken from the following works:
  1. What Great Principals Do Differently by Todd Whitaker
  2. High-Velocity Culture Change by Price Pritchett and Ron Pound

Thursday, November 18, 2010

High Expectations for Whom?

I was reading a book What Great Principals Do Differently by Todd Whitaker that gave me some food for thought. He said that almost all teachers, whether they are effective or not, have high expectations of students. He said that it is the same for principals concerning teachers. What separates effective teachers and principals from those who are less effective is that they also have even higher expectations for themselves.

Educators who have high expectations for themselves would constantly be learning and growing by doing such things as:
  • Attending conferences, seminars, and workshops to learn and to network with others who want to do quality work
  • Finding a mentor and participate in cognitive coaching
  • Reading books and articles
  • Keeping a reflection journal to determine what went well and what could be improved
  • Participating in action research projects
  • Etc.

In other words, the teacher who had high expectations would be to be the head learner in the classroom and the principal who had high expectations would be to be the head learner in the school.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Giving Effective Teachers the Opportunity to Be Effective

I read something this morning in the book The Quality School by Dr. William Glasser that really struck me. He was commenting on why magnet schools are successful--and I would add charter schools. He said the power of innovation is not that it increases the number of effective people, but that it gives effective people a better chance to demonstrate their effectiveness. He went on to say that effective teachers are effective in any school setting but they can be even more effective if they are in a setting where they are managed in the way they manage their students.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Being True to One's Core

For educators who truly want to make a difference it is critical that he or she act from one's own core rather than external mandates. To know one's core I would suggest that each educator buy a journal and then take the necessary time to answer the following questions:
  • Why did I become an educator?
  • What do I stand for as an educator?
  • What do I think is important in education?
  • What are the gifts that I bring to my work?
  • What do I want my legacy as an educator to be?
  • What can I do to remember my own heart?
  • What do I value most?
  • What do my strong interests and passions tell me about my purpose in life?
  • What opinions do I have about education that I passionately care about?
  • What is my vision of a quality school? What would I specifically be doing in such a school?
  • What behaviors would I never engage in if I were in a quality school?
  • What kinds of things would I say to all the different stakeholders in a quality school?

Ideas for these questions came from the book Inspiriting Quality in Your School by Robert A. Sullo and Failure Is Not An Option by Alan Blankstein.