Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
Photo courtesy of

Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Food for Thought

To all,

Pause and reflect. Enjoy this time of the year with friends and family. Keep in the true spirit of the Holiday Season.  Wishing you the very best of the Holiday Season and a safe, happy, and healthy New Year.

To realize the value of one year: Ask a student who has failed his final exam.

To realize the value of one month: Ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.

To realize the value of one week: Ask an editor of a weekly newspaper.

To realize the value of one day: Ask a daily wage laborer who has 10 kids to feed.

To realize the value of one hour: Ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.

To realize the value of one minute: Ask a person who has missed the train, the bus or the plane.

To realize the value of one second: Ask a person who has survived an accident.

To realize the value of one millisecond: Ask the person who has won a silver medal in the Olympics.

Time waits for no one.  Treasure every moment you have.  You will treasure it even more when you can share it with someone special. 

Happy holidays everyone! :)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Freedom School Movement....

I'm sharing our new website along with a letter a friend of mine sent out to friends providing a more intimate introduction. A course she and I took together was instrumental in helping her shape a pedagogy of freedom.

Dear Friends,
As many of you know, my sisters and I are growing the freedom school family and starting to build the freedom school movement: a network of self-sufficient living-learning communities that have the potential to transform regions ravaged by disaster and poverty into thriving self-sustaining spaces. Think: eco-village meets alternative school.
I was initially thinking about obtaining land and building a school on it, but I’ve decided instead to become a freedom school consultant. I am currently drawing up a plan to transform any given space into a freedom school (provided adequate access to land and raw materials). I would like to share the working document with you, my friends and confidants, so that you can contribute your ideas and suggestions. You can check in at any time to see how the blueprint is evolving.
In the meantime, we are looking to make contact with existing schools or communities about beginning the project(s). Right now I’m thinking about Haiti, New Orleans, California, Florida, Jamaica, Honduras, South Africa …I spoke with a friend of mine recently who started a school in Port Au Prince, Haiti. They have a new school building, but they are struggling with expenses. Food alone costs $1000/month and fundraising is a constant battle. They have a small garden, but aren’t currently on enough land to grow sufficient food for the school. I said to him on facebook messenger, “What would you think about a team coming in on a four-year plan to help you build a living-learning space where gardening and building are part of the educational program integrating math, science and writing with the tasks of building and producing much of what you need, gradually eliminating dependence on outside funding while working toward complete self-sufficiency?” He said, “voila that will work.”
Please send along any suggestions you have for locations and feel free to use the above pitch!
The only other detail I’d like to share with you in this email—everything else will be outlined on the website we are creating—is the people we envision on a freedom school team. We need at least one of each of the following. If all goes well, we will be launching the first freedom school in a year or so, asking all volunteers to make a one-year commitment.
  1. Gardener (Indigenous farming practices, forest gardens, permaculture organic/bio-dynamic farming, etc.)
  2. Carpenter
  3. House and Shelter expert
  4. Architect (landscape and buildings)
  5. Water expert
  6. Energy expert
  7. Clothesmaker
  8. Craftsperson (textiles, furniture, etc. )
  9. Herbalist/Medicine Person/Spiritualist
  10. Midwife
  11. Chef with expertise in healthy cooking and food storage
  12. Mathematician/Physicist
  13. Linguist
  14. Cultural Philosopher
  15. Musician(s)
  16. Movement expert (yoga, tai-chi, etc.)
  17. Storyteller
  18. Critical Explorer
  19. Freedom Education expert
  20. Peacekeeper
  21. You
I’m also hoping that people from all walks of life will come help us build and learn: high school and college students, retired people, artists, homemakers, people with their own label, people with no label…
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and incorporating your ideas into the freedom school vision. Thank you all for your friendship and love.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Journal of Teacher Education and Educators

The following announcement is from a former classmate of mine. Check it out!

The first issue of Journal of Teacher Education and Educators has been put into service for you distinguished academicians and researchers working in the field of teacher education and educational sciences.

You can reach the articles included in Journal of Teacher Education and Educators electronically at <> .

I would like to thank you for your kind interest and contributions to Journal of Teacher Education and Educators. 

Feyyat Gökçe
Editor in Chief
Journal of Teacher Education & Educators

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Need a small grant?

Good morning,

This is a wonderful website for small grants. It is easy to use. Please use this website to secure small funding for your classes.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Great holiday sites for small children!

Hi all-
Wanted to share three good Holiday websites if you have small kids:
Screen Actors Guild – The Polar Express
This site has many stories read by actors. The feature story on the home page this month is Lou Diamond Phillips reading “The Polar Express”.
Allows you to “insert” a Santa in to a picture you take. The idea is you “set up” a camera on Christmas Eve and it takes a picture of Santa you can show your kids the next morning. It costs $10.00 for three pictures.
Allows you to make a customized video from Santa. You answer some questions about the receiver and it makes a video for them.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

More awesome new titles!

1. Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day
By Jonathan Bergmann and Aarons Sams

2. Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, 2nd edition
By Howard Pitler, Elizabeth R. Hubbell, and Matt Kuhn

3. 100+ Ways to Recognize and Reward Your School Staff
By Emily E. Houck

4. Motivating Students and Teachers in an Era of Standards
By Richard Sagor

5. How to Create a Culture of Achievement in Your School and Classroom
By Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Ian Pumpian

6. Learning-Driven Schools: A Practical Guide for Teachers and Principals
By Barry Beers

7. Teaching Basic and Advanced Vocabulary: A Framework for Direct Instruction
By Robert J. Marzano

8. Building Academic Vocabulary: Teacher's Manual
By Robert J. Marzano and Debra J. Pickering

9. Building Academic Vocabulary Student Notebook, Revised Edition
By Robert J. Marzano and Debra J. Pickering

Happy reading!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

December 2012 New Books!

Check out these new titles. Great holiday gift ideas for the teachers in your lives!

1. Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life
By Thomas Armstrong

2. Common Core Standards for Middle School English Arts: A Quick-Start Guide
By Susan Ryan and Dana Frazee; edited by John Kendall

3. Common Core Standards for Middle School English Mathematics: A Quick-Start Guide
By Amitra Schwols and Kathleen Dempsey; edited by John Kendall

4. Leading with Vision: 6 Steps to Implementing the Common Core State Standards DVD

5. Understanding Common Core State Standards
By John Kendall

6. Common Core Standards for High School English Language Arts: A Quick-Start Guide
By Susan Ryan and Dana Frazee; edited by John Kendall

7. Common Core Standards for High School Mathematics: A Quick-Start Guide
By Amitra Schwols and Kathleen Dempsey; edited by John Kendall

8. The Core Six: Essential Strategies for Achieving excellence with the Common Core
By Harvey F. Silver, Thomas Dewing, and Matthew J. Perini

9. Assignments Matter: Making the Connections that Help Students Meet Standards
By Eleanor Dougherty

10. Overcoming Textbook Fatigue: 21st Century Tools to Revitalize Teaching and Learning
By ReLeah Cossett Lent

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Great article on text complexity!

Check out this article below entitled, “7 Actions that Teachers Can Take Right Now: Text Complexity.”

Let me know what you think. Seems like something very relevant to literacy. We definitely need to get on board with this type of stuff as well, now that CCSS is coming.<>

Monday, December 17, 2012

Moody computing!

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Using Film to Teach CCSS

A secondary language arts teacher shares how she uses film to inspire her students' interaction with a variety of texts. VERY cool!

Using Film to Teach Common Core Skills

When I was a student, watching a movie in class meant watching documentaries, literary adaptations, or informational filmstrips.

These film-viewing experiences were not without their impact. I can still sing the theme song from a particularly gruesome film we viewed in 5th grade during my first adventures with sex education curriculum. It was titled, "My Mother's Having a Baby," but should have offered the additional subtitle of "Literally, Right There on Screen," so that we could have had a little more context for the images we were about to see.

Traumatic memories aside—I remember my student experiences with film being very passive. I might've filled out a worksheet or two, but that's all. But now that I am a high school teacher myself, I use film to inspire my students' interaction with a variety of texts.

Film and the Common Core

The Common Core State Standards call students to actively analyze texts of all kinds (CCSS: RL.9-10.1). Why not film?

The first part of analysis is pulling things apart to see how they work. But students must also be able to evaluate these workings or interpret why the audience should care about them.
I teach students to interact with texts in three ways:

1) Factual—the who, what, when, where of a text;

2) Inductive—the how or why of a text;

3) Analytical—the so what, or application of ideas from the text.
Film presents a complicated text that is approachable for all kinds of learners, making it an excellent tool for teachers who want to push students towards analytical thinking in the classroom.
Here is a breakdown of how I teach my high school language arts students to analyze film texts.

Level One: Literary Analysis

Most people view film on a simplistic level. By asking students to analyze film, we are asking them to identify what the filmmaker was trying to do and if he or she was successful.

I begin by asking students to identify the literary elements of the film. Using the question stems above, I encourage students to ask the following types of questions:

• Who are the characters?

• What is the point of view? (Whose story is this?)

• What is the theme/mood?

• What is the blatant symbolism? (e.g., Batman as a Christ figure)

• What is the setting? Time period? Physical location?

• What is the basic storyline?

To practice this, I often screen a short piece that lets a class see an entire story and debrief the experience in one 53-minute class period. I sometimes show one of the three film-within-a-film sections of "Run Lola Run," if the school's guidelines regarding R-rated films allow. Many other short films are available through Netflix and YouTube (Google Oscar winning shorts), along with the Pixar short film collections (Volume One and Volume Two available on DVD).

Level Two: Cinematic and Dramatic Analysis

In this second layer of film analysis, students are asked to focus on the choices made in front of the camera (dramatic) and the choices made behind the camera (cinematic).

For dramatic analysis, students examine acting, costuming, make-up, set design, and location. I like to model this type of analysis for them using somewhat obscure titles so I can (hopefully) inspire students to see things that are more artistically complicated. Two of my favorites are (500) Days of Summer (Mark Webb, 2009) and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright, 2010).

To conduct cinematic analysis, students need to be able to look for more subtle elements of film production. Depending on your background knowledge (and whether you want to get really geeky), you can teach kids about everything from camera angles to mise-en-scene framing techniques. I introduce students to vocabulary that can help them accurately describe what they see, with a focus on framing, camera angles, lighting, editing and sound.

The best way to practice discussing these techniques is to analyze still images or short clips or classics, such as Citizen Kane.

Level Three: Critical Analysis

You can ask students to critically analyze film from a variety of directions. For example, you can have them look at how a filmmaker was utilizing rhetorical strategies to make a point. You can charge them with evaluating the quality of a film based on its production value. You can assign them to compare a film to its source text to see how the visual symbolism changes interpretation. (And the list goes on … )

Once I have laid the groundwork for reading film in my class, I gear relevant assessments toward this type of thinking. These kinds of questions help to guide discussion:

• How is the filmmaker manipulating my emotions? Has he or she been successful?

• What is the purpose of this film? Is it to teach, entertain, or weird me out? How well is it doing this?

• What do I already know about the topic? How can I manipulate my own experience of viewing this film with the information already in my head?

By asking students to consider all aspects of filmmaking (sound, visual, story) in their responses, I am requiring them to be active participants in their viewing experiences.

Engaging students is one of our main challenges as teachers. This challenge has been compounded by the added rigor of the common standards. Now, more than ever, students need us to offer differentiation and accessible texts to practice the skills we will assess. Using film creates a level playing field for all students and, hopefully, a much better set of experiences to remember long after they leave Ms. Keigan's high school language arts class.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Some fun Christmas cheer...

...especially great for a Friday!

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Great STEM resources!

Teaching and Learning Resources for STEM Education

Willona M. Sloan
For the resourceful educator, there's no shortage of exciting projects and activities for teaching science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Here are just a few free (and low-cost) resources that you can use in your classroom.
Obviously, organizations such as the National Science Teachers Association, and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics are great go-tos for STEM resources. Here are some other websites that can help you infuse exciting and engaging lessons into the curriculum.

AAAS Science NetLinks
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has revamped its educational website, Science NetLinks. You can find K–12 lesson plans, check out the science history calendar to learn about important historical dates, and stay abreast of the latest science news. Looking for ideas for the after-school science club you advise? Go to
The website can also help you with planning new activities for Earth Day (April 22); National Chemistry Week (October 21–27, 2012); National Engineers Week (February 19–25, 2012); and even Earth Hour (March 31, 2012), the annual international event designed to raise awareness about global climate change.

Discovery Education
Discovery Education's digital science and technology teaching resources offer a rich, engaging, educational experience. The content is aligned to state standards, and the lesson plans include objectives, materials, procedures, readings and resources, vocabulary terms, discussion questions, and rubrics. You can also access a wide range of high-quality multimedia content to accompany the lessons.
Also, don't miss the Puzzlemaker application.

Federal Resources for Educational Excellence
Looking for projects related to oceanography, evolution, botany, or bioethics? Or what about information on designing and building solar and hydrogen fuel cell cars? Tap into lesson plans, games, tests, homework assignments, webcasts, and research in the areas of the life sciences, earth sciences, applied sciences, and physical sciences. And don't forget about math. You can get resources from more than 150 math websites at no cost through this site.

The free, open-source HippoCampus website provides multimedia resources for high school and college students.
Explore lessons on topics ranging from DNA to the chemical and physical properties of solutions to kinetic theory and thermodynamics. HippoCampus includes presentations and videos in several subject areas, including biology, statistics, calculus, environmental science, physics, and algebra. The website also offers algebra and calculus lessons in Spanish.

Intel Education's Design and Discovery Curriculum
Intel's Design and Discovery Curriculum is a free, inquiry-based and interdisciplinary curriculum for students ages 11–15 that allows them to explore engineering by engaging in hands-on design activities. Students build their understanding in a sequential way and learn to identify real-world problems and develop ideas for solutions.
Intel also offers STEM unit plans.

Khan Academy
The celebrated Khan Academy offers more than 2,700 instructional videos covering math, science, finance, and history. These short but informative videos have become a worldwide teaching and learning phenomenon.
This website provides simulations, modules, and interactive tools for learning about nanotechnology—the design and production of structures, devices, and systems one atom or one molecule at a time. is a central place for finding computational nanotechnology research, accessing teaching and learning resources, and engaging in teacher collaboration.

National Science Digital Library's K–6 Science Refreshers
As a science teacher, do you ever wish you could get a quick review of a scientific concept? Check out these science refreshers from the National Science Digital Library.
From weather to electricity and simple machines to paleoclimates, gymnosperms, and symbiosis—there's a wide range of mini lessons here that include modules, quizzes, and links to additional resources.

PBS Teachers STEM Education Resource Center
With more than 4,000 STEM resources available in its database, this website has a vast array of lesson plans, videos, and interactive resources to help you infuse both fun and rigor into your STEM classroom.

NASA's Planet Quest Exoplanet Exploration
Interested in space exploration? Learn from the experts! This website is sponsored by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the California Institute of Technology. The comprehensive, interactive Planet Quest website features spectacular images captured by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope; the Ask an Astronomer podcast; videos; classroom experiments; and the JPL blog, which takes you inside a space mission.
Students can learn cool things about Mars while learning about the Mars Rover Curiosity, play with simulators, take a virtual tour of a planned NASA observatory, brush up on planet factoids through the online games and activities, and even submit questions to the experts for a little homework help. There's plenty to see, do, and explore.
Also check out NASA's Digital Learning Network.

Some STEM Extras

ASCD Express: Preparing Students for a STEM-Filled World
This issue of ASCD Express features promising initiatives that seek to bridge the STEM content gap for both students and educators. The National Science Teachers Association offers advice and resources to help teachers engage their students in STEM subjects, and middle and high school educators talk about preparing students for college and future careers in the STEM fields.

High-Quality STEM Education for English Learners: Current Challenges and Effective Practices
This past summer, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for English Language Acquisition hosted a forum on educating English learners in STEM fields. Panelists discussed effective education practices, made suggestions regarding teacher professional development, and offered tips for creating partnerships to improve STEM education for English learners. Visit the website to read materials from the conference and access speaker presentations.

National STEM Video Game Challenge
Do you want your students to participate in a competition that will really motivate them? What about entering the National STEM Video Game Challenge? Check out the website to learn more and access game design resources.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rethinking Teacher Evaluation

There is a real need for overhauling teacher evaluation and making the process more effective across the country. This article provides some insight and possible solutions that we can all learn from.

Rethinking Teacher Evaluation: Leaders Advocate for More Meaningful Measures

Laura Varlas
How are districts rising to the call for better teacher evaluation systems? What emerging practices translate to better teaching and student outcomes, without creating administrative bottlenecks? Practitioners, policymakers, and experts offer their take on the evaluation debate.

Across the United States, school districts are making good on the teacher evaluation promises laid out in Race to the Top applications, and states are tackling the challenge of designing evaluation systems that provide both formative and summative information on teacher performance. In Chicago, public schools were empty for days as teachers protested proposed evaluation policies that would tie 35 percent of a teacher's rating to student test scores.

Far from the Chicago picket line, the Carnegie Institute in Washington, D.C., hosted a forum of practitioners, policymakers, and other leaders in education who discussed the controversies and challenges surrounding teacher evaluations and offered insights on how using multiple measures of evaluation can strengthen teacher performance. The Revisiting Teacher Evaluation Forum was an initiative of the Carnegie Foundation's Assessing-Teaching Improving-Learning program, which seeks to help policymakers and practitioners learn from emerging teacher evaluation practices and build more effective information systems to advance teacher quality.

What's the Problem?

Heather Peske, vice president of programs at Teach Plus, a nonprofit organization that develops teacher leaders in select urban districts in the United States, said that she sees common challenges in the teacher evaluation systems that have been rolling out in U.S. states and districts. One, according to Peske, is that states and districts lack the capacity to conduct effective evaluations because they are trying to roll out multiple-measures systems quickly. In one district, Peske said, administrators were expected to conduct 12,568 teacher observations in three months.

Inadequate communication between teachers and their evaluators is another huge stumbling block. When expectations and processes are not clearly communicated, both parties feel frustrated. And, on top of that, some evaluation policies are just plain confusing. An evaluation rubric with five rows and six columns leaves teachers wondering where to focus their energy, said Peske.

Most important, noted Peske, is that observers and evaluators need training and should have some understanding of what they are evaluating. The sentiment among teachers is, "These observers know nothing about what I do or [about] my students; how can I use this to improve my practice?" said Peske.

To alleviate capacity issues and address the relevance factor, Peske suggested that schools create more differentiated leadership roles for teachers. "Principals are overwhelmed, and they might not have the credibility or content knowledge, so why don't we draw on teachers' expertise?" Peske asked.

In a video created by Teach Plus, teachers discussed their frustrations with their teacher evaluation experiences. "We're not afraid of being evaluated; we just want it to be a fair process that we are partners in," one teacher explained. Another educator complained that the feedback provided wasn't extremely useful. "We had information on how the classroom should look but not how our teaching should look, what student scores should be but not how to get there." Teachers were also left wondering what next steps to take and how to access professional development that aligns with improvement measures. These comments reflect that, in practice, evaluations are often severed from professional collaboration toward improvement goals.

Give Teachers Useful Feedback

Many teacher evaluation systems lack the substance needed to help teachers improve their performance and inspire greater achievement from their students. "We should be using evaluations to identify strengths and break-through areas that can be leveraged across the school," Robin Gelinas, senior policy advisor at Education Counsel, said at the Carnegie Institute forum. "We need to think about how we can manage teachers not just as individuals but as a team."

Steve Cantrell, who is the head of research and evaluation at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said evaluation practices should be fine-tuned to deliver the most usable feedback to teachers. "If we can communicate to teachers, 'Here's what these measures enable,' and if we are critical of the measures [and ask], 'Do they truly correlate to effectiveness?' then teachers will see that 'it's not about me—it's about improving the whole system,'" said Cantrell. Evaluators must be trained to provide feedback that is specific and grounded in evidence, but not too prescriptive, Cantrell added. "Being clear about expectations, and giving teachers a way to mark their progress [toward those expectations], is revolutionary," he said.

Peske agreed. "Teachers are not desperate for the [evaluation] measure; they're desperate for what to do with the information once they get feedback on their practice," she said.

In a system of support, not judgment, well-trained evaluators would provide critical observation data. To get that 360-degree assessment, teachers need feedback from people other than just the principal. "If you're a special education teacher, you need other special education teachers in the mix of who's evaluating you," said Peske. Students should be part of that process too, said Cantrell, although he hopes it will be in more meaningful ways than websites such as
Department of Education Chief of Staff Joanne Weiss championed using observation data, but she stressed the importance of relevancy. Observers need to know what effective teaching looks like, and that teacher practices aligned with Common Core expectations may look different from what we've expected in the past, Weiss said.

Ronald Ferguson, senior lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education and Harvard Kennedy School of Government, said that going forward, capacity, communication, and credibility challenges could be resolved in a system defined by "multiple measures, multiple times, over multiple years." Weiss agreed, saying she would like to see multiple measures, combined with some professional judgment, guide new approaches to teacher evaluation. She identified Delaware, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island as thinking about evaluation in these ways.

Beyond Buy-In: Rebuilding Accountability

"Teacher 'buy-in' on evaluation practices is the wrong [phrase]," said Weiss. "It should be 'coconstructing.' What does this system need to look like? Help us design it."

"We need to drive fear out of the system," Cantrell said. "Then we will get teachers participating and leading the processes," he said. And what about union support? "It's not a hard sell to unions that current evaluation systems are broken and need improvement. I'm optimistic," said Cantrell.
Teacher preparation programs have a role to play in aligning candidate competencies with the educational priorities and performance outcomes outlined in newly adopted evaluation systems. In most programs, said Weiss, education students don't learn about professional learning communities, using data to inform instruction, teaching in teams, or integrating technology in meaningful ways.

"How often are student teachers paired with mentor teachers based on who's available versus who's really worth learning from?" Weiss asked.

Programs such as STEP at Stanford and Columbia's Teachers College are doing a good job of preparing high-quality teacher candidates, but, unfortunately, these exemplary programs prepare the smallest number of teachers, while mediocre schools turn out thousands, said Weiss. Accrediting systems and labor market demands (i.e., school districts) can be important levers for changing the status quo at education schools, she said.

Peaks and Tweaks in Tennessee

Tennessee has been on the vanguard for its whole-system approach to improving teacher evaluation. In 2011–12, Tennessee adopted a new evaluation system that uses a model from the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP). Teacher effectiveness scores are weighted half on observations—six observations for new teachers and four for experienced teachers—and half on student test data. Of the 50 percent of the evaluation that is test-data dependent, 35 percent of the data comes from value-added calculations of student growth on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP). A challenge to this calculus is that TCAP is administered from 4th to 12th grade, so K–3 and specialist teachers are evaluated according to the average gains for 4th graders in their schools.

In the November 2012 Educational Leadership article "Weighing the Pros and Cons of TAP," Michelle Pieczura, a 4th grade teacher in Tennessee, says that it may not be valid to use 4th grade growth scores to evaluate kindergarten or physical education teachers and that it also places an unfair burden on 4th grade teachers, while giving K–3 teachers little to help them improve. Pieczura says that the 4th grade teacher can study test data subcategories to identify student weaknesses and target instruction to pull up those skills, but K–3 teachers are handed a score with no guidance for how they might make it relevant to their students or how to improve their instruction.

The multipoint rubric Tennessee is rolling out for teacher observations generally gets praise from Pieczura, other teachers, and policymakers. Pieczura notes that there are areas for improvement (e.g., in some cases, the rubric matches neither the type of lesson nor the level of complexity of content that's being taught) and more abstract topics may take several lessons to raise students to mastery, but she also knows that a low score on one indicator will not sink her whole rating.

Time may tell that what's most remarkable about Tennessee's evaluation system is that it is informed and refined by an ongoing feedback loop between architects and users of the system. Weiss believes teacher improvement will come from systems with "a mix of formative data, bringing student work to the table, team teaching and learning best practices from each other, and a continuous feedback loop from principals and peers."

Full article available at:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fun post for a Friday...

This will put a smile on your face at the end of a crazy work week!

Makin' Cupcakes....

         The owner grabbed a camera instead of chasing the puppy away.

"Until one has loved an animal,
part of their soul remains unawake."

This must have been pure joy for the photographer!

Friendship isn't about who you have known the longest --
It's about those who came and never left your side.
             May your troubles be less, Your blessings be more, and nothing but happiness come through your door.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Focusing on True Priorities

Schools that support the cognitive engagement of their teachers have an advantage when it comes to instructional quality, write Arthur L. Costa, Robert J. Garmston, and Diane P. Zimmerman. 

Teacher Quality: Investing in What Matters

Spurred by awards of federal funding under the Race to the Top competition, many states are adopting teacher-evaluation systems with student achievement as the ultimate goal. This drive to create robust evaluation systems places far too much emphasis on inspecting and testing. A system of quality control founded on the belief that inspection and multiple-choice tests are valid measures of effectiveness is flawed. The investment in external measures hides our most valuable assets—the cognitive resources of teachers. Too often, standards are the basis for inspection, with minimal dialogue and little attention to teachers' intellect, wisdom, intuition, and creativity.
Quality matters. How we assess it is important. However, the idea that the complex processes of teaching can be easily inspected or measured by answers on a bubble test is erroneous. As educators, we are puzzled that more people are not voicing concerns about this trend toward an oversimplified system of quality control. A few in the field have become outspoken and urge a more thoughtful approach. Policymakers ought to heed the collective wisdom of these thought leaders.
Notably, Diane Ravitch changed her direction and advice, which was pro-standards, when the emphasis moved toward an obsession with test scores. Charlotte Danielson, a leading expert on research-based frameworks for instruction, cautions against simplistic "drive by" observation models. She advises that even after training, "most observers require multiple opportunities to practice using [her] framework effectively and to calibrate their judgments with others." Despite her cautions, far too many policymakers advocate for an inspector's toolbox full of rubrics and a singular focus on making inspections better.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Thomas Kane, a Harvard University professor and the director of the Gates Center for Policy Research, and Stanford University professor Linda Darling Hammond debate the use of tests for teacher evaluation. Kane, a proponent of the value-added system of measuring gains and evaluating teacher quality with tests, admits that "student-achievement gains are imperfect measures," and then justifies his position by saying that "the same is true for all measures."
"When external evaluators treat a prescribed map as complete and do not engage in deep and meaningful conversations, they lose sight of the fact that educators have vast storehouses of tacit knowledge."
Darling-Hammond cites the wide variation in test scores, pointing out the many variables that impact test scores, including one of the most startling: summer vacations. Researchers at John Hopkins University foundRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader that summer vacations make a large difference in the variation in test scores. After the three-month vacation, upper-middle-class students show the most gains in test points, while students from low-income families show the most gains across a school year. That the enriched summers of upper-middle-class students could make so much difference in test scores should shake anyone's faith in these reductionist measures of teacher quality.
How have we ignored the years of inner wisdom developed from practice, from teachers' cognitive capital? Within teachers' repertoire, there is layered expertise including, but not limited to: knowledge of content, pedagogy, child development, learning styles, culture, classroom management, and, importantly, knowledge of self. More often than not, teachers have valid reasons for why they might deviate from a prescription. When being assessed, however, they are seldom asked, nor do they proffer explanations.
When external evaluators treat a prescribed map as complete and do not engage in deep and meaningful conversations about the larger territory of teaching and learning, they lose sight of the fact that educators have vast storehouses of tacit knowledge based on experience.
The often-cited research on adult learning by Norman Sprinthall and Lois Thies-Sprinthall demonstrated that teachers with higher conceptual levels are more adaptive and flexible in their teaching styles. They act in accordance with a disciplined commitment to human values and produce higher-achieving students who are more cooperative and involved in their work. More recently, Daniel Pink, the author of the popular book Drive, and the researchers Carol Dweck and Albert Bandura have argued that an emphasis on external criteria over which professionals have no control oversimplifies and negates the complex decisions that are the nexus of professional learning.
In our years of coaching teachers and training future coaches, we have learned that teachers whose schools support cognitive engagement and growth have the advantage when it comes to instructional quality. With regular coaching, teachers develop a strong internal sense of control or efficacy through reflecting on their classroom decisions. When teachers are reflective, flexible, and adaptive, students learn and professional knowledge expands.

—Susan Sanford
Cognitive capital—what goes on in a teacher's head that allows for complex decisions in the classroom—is a missing aspect in the current quality-control paradigm. How teachers think about their thinking and reflect on their actions—before, during, and after instruction—is an important measure of quality instruction. It is one thing to hold teachers accountable to standards, and yet another to pair this knowledge with a practitioner's internal maps and mental models for teaching and learning. When teachers weave internal expertise and external criteria together into an intricate tapestry of teaching and learning, they gain confidence in their ability to make a difference for all students. Rather than spending time becoming better inspectors, informed leaders can focus on helping educators investigate, articulate, and expand practices that yield high returns for their students. When teachers find success and share it, they propagate this vast pool of internal resources to colleagues and the next generation of teachers.
The best path to self-efficacy—and, indeed, collective efficacy—found to overcome even such barriers as social-economic conditions is for a teacher to take time with colleagues for personal and collaborative reflection about the effects of his or her teaching on student learning, in a continuous spiral of inquiry. When teachers join together and become more conscious of their ability to make the difference, and they are in control of their multiple options, they demonstrate true craftsmanship. Furthermore, when they begin to meld the complexities of external and internal resources, they develop a vast storehouse of knowledge that enriches and expands their conversations about teaching and learning.
Growing numbers of teachers, administrators, university professors, and policymakers agree that the current evaluation system, which evolved over the past 100 years as an educational expression of an industrial model of efficiency, is broken. Too many people are placing their hopes on standardization and a deeply flawed belief that teachers and students are interchangeable parts, rather than thoughtful, unique, caring, experienced, and often passionate human beings. We should be supporting systems that develop the essence of teachers who inspire a love of learning and inquiry, in contrast to those who just get students to demonstrate mastery on achievement tests. Are we educating for a life of tests or for the tests of life?
Vol. 32, Issue 12, Pages 26,32

Monday, December 3, 2012

How Obama Can Help Fix Our Educational System the Next 4 Years...

President Obama's administration, which has had a sometimes-strained relationship with teachers, will face a host of K-12 education priorities in his second term of office. We asked our teacher-panelists what advice they would give him on improving conditions for teaching and learning in today's schools.


Teachers’ Advice for President Obama in His Second TermPresident Obama's administration, which has had asometimes-strained relationship with teachers, will face a host of K-12 education priorities in his second term of office. Those include issues surrounding the Race to the Top program, NCLB progress waivers and possible reauthorization, education funding, and teacher-recruitment programs.

Imagine you had a chance to sit down with the president to talk about education. What experiences would you share? What advice would you give him on improving conditions for teaching and learning in today's schools? Should the president attempt to improve his administration's rapport with teachers? In your view, what could he do in his second term to leave a positive legacy for the teaching profession of the future?

November 15, 2012

Mr. Obama, Let's Work On Teacher Working Conditions

José Vilson
Dear Mr. President,
During the presidential debates between you and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, you mentioned that you'd hire thousands more math and science teachers to boost this country's status as an economic power. Jennifer Martinez reported on your statement in The Hill newspaper:
"If we've got math teachers who are able to provide the kind of support that they need for our kids, that's what's going to determine whether or not new businesses are created here," Obama said during the debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. "Companies are going to locate here depending on whether we've got the most highly skilled workforce."
As a math teacher, I understand the sentiment. Some of us have felt for far too long that we as a country haven't prioritized competency in math. Far too many people in our country have devalued math, asserting that children only need to know the basics. If they know how to read a graph or calculate a tip, they've mastered all the math they need in life, and any advanced math above that should be left for specialists and enthusiasts.
Yet, Robert Moses, a civil rights leader and the founder of the Algebra Project, saw the connection between 21st-century citizenship and mathematics a long time ago. I understand the economic imperative of assuring that our students, especially our most disadvantaged students, have the opportunity not only to survive but prosper, with a wealth of career options in engineering, computer science, economics, and statistics, amongst other professions.
With that said, even if we reach the lofty goal of getting 100,000 more math and science teachers into classrooms, the problem will most likely not be recruitment but retention. Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, recently cited new research re-confirming what so many of us have known all along: Math and science teachers leave the profession at or around the same clip as every other teacher does. Some of this is due to retirement, but they also tend to leave for higher salaries and, yes, working conditions.
This especially affects schools like mine: high-poverty schools where the system leans far too much on them without proper compensation.
We still have too many schools where teachers spend thousands on their own supplies, where principals have to choose between firing a teacher in the classroom or a set of school aides to help with the flow of the building, where students feel less like they're learning how to be an active participant in democracy and more like automatons filling out paperwork. Much like the rest of us do.
I'm inclined to say it's not all bad, either. Teachers generally love their students and want them to excel, and do so despite the challenges and turmoil present in schools. But the barriers are high and growing. From on high, we can act like the realities of the classroom matter very little, but these little pieces add up to an issue that pervades classrooms all over the country.
If you want to increase the amount of problem solvers and doers, you need to assure that you promote the conditions for your nation-builders to come there and stay.
José Vilson
José Vilson is a math teacher, coach, and data analyst for a middle school in the Inwood/Washington Heights neighborhood of New York.

November 14, 2012

A Lesson Plan for Education Reform

Bill Farmer
President Obama, during your victory speech on election night you proudly stated that "We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools and the best teachers." You probably didn't hear my enthusiastic cheers from the far end of the convention hall, but I was there celebrating your reelection with several fellow Educators for Obama who share your passionate vision for an excellent public education system for all students.
As you transition into your second term, I would encourage you to engage in a reflective practice that mirrors what teachers do every day. It begins with lesson planning, a process that involves establishing desired learner outcomes, designing strategies to teach their objectives, and developing tools to assess the effectiveness of their instruction. This advanced preparation is really only the beginning because teachers quickly realize that even the most well thought out lessons can, and usually do, have significant flaws. A skillful teacher can patch up some of these imperfections on the fly to salvage the lesson, but more often than not several trials and revisions are necessary to yield an effective final product.
It would be my hope that your administration reflects and reassesses its approach to education policy reform in a similar manner to ensure that public education is moving forward for our students by utilizing best-practice research in conjunction with feedback from educators like myself. This thoughtful and collaborative approach would go a long way toward repairing the strained relationship that has evolved between many educators and policymakers.
I believe that primary strengths of your domestic policy agenda are your desired outcomes for public education. Under your leadership, your administration has sought to build and maintain a highly qualified teacher work force, been an advocate for equity in access to both early education and higher education, and pushed for the overhaul of NCLB to support struggling schools rather than punish them. These are among only a few of your objectives that should be maintained into your next term.
Teacher quality is a fundamental pillar of any education system. So let's examine your policy objective to recruit, train, and retain exceptional teachers from my critical lens as an educator. One of the primary policy mechanisms with the aim of bolstering teacher quality was the Race to the Top program. We can use your home state of Illinois, where I happen to teach, as a case study to examine the impact of this federal policy.
Dealing with a state budget crisis, Illinois was eager to compete for federal dollars by rushing through the Performance Evaluation Reform Act with minimal input from educators. One positive result of the legislation was that our teacher-evaluation system, which was long overdue for a comprehensive overhaul, received attention from state lawmakers. Unfortunately, many of the policies promoted by Race to the Top were largely untested by current research, including the linkage of teacher evaluation to student-growth measures and the expansion of charter schools. In fact, recent studies have questioned the reliability of incorporating student-growth metrics into teacher evaluations. Studies have also emerged that suggest charter schools are fairing no better than public schools.
Fortunately, Mr. President, just as with the rough initial implementation of a new lesson plan, there is an opportunity now to regroup and refine policy strategies to move your public education vision forward. Alternative approaches to enhancing our teacher work force can be considered, such as creating incentives for higher education institutions to admit and recruit prospective teachers based on workforce demand and to strengthen their teacher-training curriculum.
Currently, many teacher preparation programs are churning out graduates in disciplines that already have an overabundance of teachers, while high-needs vacancies in areas such as science, special education, and bilingual education are left unfilled. Your administration could play a role in promoting and funding programs that allow higher education and their state agencies to elevate professional teaching standards and provide more comprehensive student teaching experiences. Perhaps I could even boldly suggest that student teaching be modeled after medical residencies to provide more on-the-job training.
Educators have a wealth of ideas and collective knowledge, and we are eager to help grow our own profession and provide the very best educational opportunities for our students with the support of your administration.
Bill Farmer has been teaching biology and chemistry for nine years at Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Ill. 

November 14, 2012

Inquiry-Based Learning for the President

Sarah Henchey
"Education is not a problem. Education is an opportunity." — Lyndon B. Johnson

Essential Question: What role does education serve in our society?
Learning Task: Learners will utilize their understanding of the federal government's role in education in order to propose policy recommendations that support the role of education in our society and learning of the American people.
Imagine you've been challenged to explore the above essential question through the described learning task. How would you approach this charge? What core understandings would support your success? What resources would you turn to for guidance?
Learning opportunities such as this are precisely the authentic experiences encouraged by theCommon Core State Standards. These standards call for students to analyze primary and secondary sources, assess claims made by authors, and evaluate understandings based on textual evidence. Under these circumstances, students are immersed in learning and encouraged to pose questions, draw conclusions, and push their thinking (a stark contrast to the passive learning famously portrayed in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off").
Yet this type of learning and discourse should not be confined to the brick-and-mortar walls of our high schools. Nor should we retire this question, presuming it has been answered once and shall remain a static truth.
To craft intentional reforms and transform our schools, we must all return to this core question and engage in the dialogue and learning modeled by our teachers and their students. We must draw upon historical documents, bipartisan expertise, and the strengths within our system. And, most importantly, we must use the information gleaned from our inquiry to inform the policy and laws enacted.
So, Mr. President, as a starting point, what role do you believe education serves in our society? How have the policies of your administration furthered this ideal? What steps need to be taken to move toward this vision and what lessons can you learn from your predecessors? Please remember to cite specific textual evidence to support your analysis.
And, for you teachers, how might you scaffold the president's learning? What anticipated outcomes would you expect?
Sarah Henchey is a National Board-certified teacher and has taught middle school for seven years in North Carolina's Orange County School district.

November 13, 2012

Mr. President, Can We Repay Our 'Educational Debt'?

Ryan Kinser
In his first term, President Obama treated education issues like symptoms of an undiagnosed disease. His administration led our nation through initiatives to overhaul teacher evaluation, introduce new state standards to promote college/career readiness, and offer competitive funding opportunities for states to innovate. Each of these reforms was a Band-Aid approach that overlooked a fundamental issue: schools fail when communities fail. Our top students are still receiving an education on par with any in the world. It's just that not enough of our students have that opportunity.
Perhaps the bubbling cauldron of recent education issues can be reduced to this one focal point for the president and the federal government. Improve communities first. Schools and teachers will follow.

The president may not have much power to change collective bargaining rights, NCLB waiver ramifications, or the fallout of publicized teacher evaluations, but he absolutely can shift gears to salvage his policies. Why not veer from debates about teacher effectiveness (inherently a local issue) or school accountability and instructional standards (which should be state issues), and instead focus on equitable federal education funding?
Our new Common Core State Standards won't accomplish much if teachers like my colleagueRenee Moore in the Mississippi Delta continue to face a dearth of resources unlike the relative windfall of options I have at an affluent Tampa magnet school. One of the key reasons nations like Finland and Singapore outperform us on international tests isn't because their students or teachers are smarter. It's because their support systems are better designed to combat poverty through equal opportunity, as Arthur Camins argues in The Washington Post more eloquently than I can in this space.
I would also invite President Obama to consult a few pages from Teaching 2030: What We Must Do for Our Students and Our Public Schools Now and in the Future. Why not see the school as a community hub providing stability so parents don't have to choose charter schools across town? Isn't that how we rebuild an economy and first-rate educational system—one neighborhood at a time?
I've taught in urban Washington, D.C., and now I teach at a school striving for International Baccalaureate certification. As a reverse-magnet program, my school buses students from dilapidated neighborhoods in the hopes of offering the same opportunities they might not get at home. But how does this approach strengthen the neighborhoods of our commuter students so they can experience their right to a quality education near their homes?
In her 2007 Urban Sites Network Conference speech, Gloria Ladson-Billings spoke about the "educational debt" our nation has accumulated. This is where I would urge President Obama to start his second term education agenda. Instead of letting states fight for the scraps of an overextended fiscal policy, I'd implore the president to take a closer look at how he can reallocate an education budget to level the playing field. I'll offer some concrete suggestions in my follow-up post.
Ryan Kinser is a teacherpreneur at the Center for Teaching Quality and teaches English at Walker Middle Magnet School for International Studies in Tampa, Fla.

November 13, 2012

Note to POTUS: Stop the Numbers Game in School Reform

Matthew Holland
With all due respect, the president should get out of the education business. Period. Let the profession be run by the professionals who work in our nation's classrooms.
Over the past 11 years, we have seen policies come out of Washington that seek to improve our nation's education through a game of numbers. The policies under President Bush had our nation's schools chasing ever elusive number in math and reading. We see the same with President Obama's policies on education. Now the ever elusive numbers game is spreading into more subject areas while children continue to be viewed as nothing more than percentages, subgroups, and a statistical means for closing gaps that exist in all aspects of our society. No longer are we simply leaving kids behind in education, now we are actually racing away from them in the quest to get to the top. The top of what has yet to been seen.
If I had the president's ear for a few moments (presumably I wouldn't hold an audience with him for long after telling him to get out of the business), I'd ask two questions. The first would be: "Why this fascination with numbers in education?" These numbers are not demonstrating that kids are enjoying learning, they don't indicate that teachers are good teachers, and they don't demonstrate that schools are successful. They are meaningless numbers which don't address real needs. Educator Jim Trelease was right on the mark in 2008 when he said the government's obsession with testing our kids to close gaps and show progress is paramount to "weighing the cattle more often to make them fatter." We are not producing better students or schools through this testing.
My second question would be: "How meaningful are these numbers that we are chasing?" The numbers often cited by the President and others when discussing the need for education policy tend to be our nation's results on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). According to PISA, we are ranked about "average." Yet, as an "average" nation, consistently produce Nobel Prize laureates year after year. As an "average" nation, we are the sole nation to put humans on another body in our solar system. As an "average" nation, we have successfully landed a rover on Mars and are in the process of mapping the world's oceans. Average according to PISA seems to be working for us.
After posing my questions, I would again implore the President to get out of the business of education. The interests of our children are not best served in our nation's capital, but are rather best met in the classrooms and school board rooms of our local communities.
Matthew Holland is a public school elementary school teacher in Alexandria, Va.