Teachers: Do We Appreciate One Another?

teacher appreciation graphic

This post was originally published in @PeterMDeWitt’s blog Finding Common Ground in Education Week.

Today’s guest post is written by frequent Finding Common Ground blogger Lisa Westman. Lisa is an instructional coach specializing in differentiation for Skokie School District 73.5 in suburban Chicago. She taught middle school gifted humanities, ELA, and SS for twelve years before becoming a coach.

Recently, my school district completed our second annual, year-long professional development program we call “mini-con.” Our theme this year was assessment, and I facilitated a course which was attended by 26 enthusiastic and dedicated professionals.

Over the year, our group spent time discussing and studying a variety of facets related to assessment. Teachers then applied their learning (individually or in teams) to create an assessment for their students. These assessments had a number of desired criteria. In short, we aimed to create assessments that:

  • authentically assessed a prioritized standard
  • had clearly defined learning intentions and success criteria which were mutually understood by the students and teacher
  • promoted student ownership

Needless to say, we were not talking about creating multiple choice tests. This was hard work.

At our last session, learning was facilitated by the participants themselves. Teachers shared a bit about their experience creating and using their new assessments. The goal was not for teachers to showcase their “best” work. Rather, this was an opportunity for teachers to ask their colleagues for feedback and answer each other’s questions.

The mini-con session was 90 minutes, and I spent the entire time sitting back and basking in the glory of what the teachers shared. There were a variety of highlights, namely the risks teachers took as they tried new ways of assessing students, how teachers collaborated with each other to analyze student work,  and how technology was integrated to formatively assess students in relevant ways. Teachers were transparent about their processes, emphasizing both celebrations and struggles.

I felt very proud of this tenacious group, and I was extraordinarily appreciative of their effort and strong will to grow as professionals.

On my ride home from work that day, I thought to myself, “How perfect that teacher appreciation week is soon. I can show these teachers how grateful I am for them.”  But, my train of thought was interrupted as I had an epiphany of sorts centered around these questions:

  1. How had I shown appreciation for teachers throughout the year?
  2. Do other teachers show appreciation for their colleagues regularly?
  3. Are our methods of showing appreciation for one another effective?

When it comes to appreciation, do we all speak the same language?
Several years ago, I read The 5 Languages of Love by Gary Chapman, and while this book primarily speaks to personal relationships, I have found the basic premise to hold true for a variety of interpersonal circumstances.

Basically, Chapman asserts there are five ways humans show affection for each other:

  • By giving gifts
  • By sharing words of affirmation
  • By spending quality time
  • Through acts of service
  • Through physical connection

Chapman goes on to explain that people have a primary and secondary love language which they use to express affection. These languages are also their preferred ways to receive affection.

Chapman cautions that just like with all languages, if two people speak different languages they may not understand each other. For example, if an individual feels affection through words of affirmation and someone gives them a gift to show their love, the recipient may not feel loved just by the receiving the gift alone.

Therefore, if we want to make sure our feelings for each other are properly communicated, we need to speak the same language. I can give a gift if that is my love language, but if the recipient of my gift speaks the language of words of affirmation, I need to also include a thoughtful note or explanation. Chapman suggests watching how others show affection toward others to figure out how they prefer to receive love.

OK, but how do love languages relate to teacher appreciation?
Results of a new study, Teacher Job Satisfaction and Student Achievement: The Roles of Teacher Professional Community and Teacher Collaboration in Schools published in The American Journal of Education conclude that a positive school culture and teacher collaboration are essential for student achievement. Additionally, a recent article in Forbes Magazine cites evidence from multiple studies all which indicate employees who feel appreciated are more productive and have more positive feelings about their work/workplace than those who feel unappreciated.

And, it is here where teacher appreciation and the 5 Languages of Love intersect. As stated, studies show employees who feel appreciated have stronger performance than those who do not feel appreciated.

When surveyed, teachers consistently report feeling underappreciated (OECD).  This leaves me wondering something: how many attempts at showing appreciation go unfelt because the wrong “love” language was unknowingly used to express gratitude?

Probably many. But, there is more to this than just using the right language.
Teachers most frequently say they feel unappreciated by society and administration.  And, it is easy to look outward at factors we cannot control, we can’t make society appreciate us. But, when we look inward, we must ask, what part do we, teachers, play in creating a culture of appreciation?

Sometimes we get so caught up in how busy we are and how physically and mentally demanding teaching is that we forget to show appreciation for others who do the same strenuous job.

Then, we have weeks like this one (Teacher Appreciation Week) where teachers across the country are showered with sweet treats in the teacher’s lounge, and are given tokens of appreciation from students, parents, and administrators. But, how many of us take the time to show genuine appreciation for each other on a regular basis?

When we consider ways to improve school culture and create positive, collaborative environments which ultimately benefit students, we often look to our district’s administration or the government to foster conducive conditions. Yet, we overlook the vital role we (teachers) play, individually and collectively, in contributing to a positive school climate.

So, in the spirit of teacher appreciation week and along the lines of the 5 Languages of Love, this week, take a step back and observe your colleagues. How are they expressing their gratitude toward others? Are they sharing words of affirmation, giving gifts, offering service?  Once you determine your co-worker’s language of love, consider these 5 ways to show appreciation for your teaching colleague(s) every day of the year:

  • By giving gifts- surprise your colleague with breakfast.
  • By sharing words of affirmation- Acknowledge what you appreciate about your colleague and share the specifics in an email, note, or in person. “I appreciate how you always keep our team student focused…”
  • By spending quality time: Look at your PLC meetings as quality time. During a meeting, share an example of something you have successfully implemented with your students which you learned from one of your PLC members.
  • Through acts of service: cover your colleague’s extra duty or make copies for them, because you value them, not because they asked.
  • Through physical connection- smile at your colleagues when you see them, everyday.

How else will you show appreciation for your colleagues? Share your ideas and more importantly, share the results. How has showing appreciation for each other impacted your school’s culture?

Questions about this post? Connect with Lisa on Twitter.

Why Differentiation Misses the Mark for Gifted Students

orchestra

This post was originally published in @PeterMDeWitt’s blog Finding Common Ground in Education Week.

Today’s guest post is written by frequent Finding Common Ground blogger Lisa Westman. Lisa is an instructional coach specializing in differentiation for Skokie School District 73.5 in suburban Chicago. She taught middle school gifted humanities, ELA, and SS for twelve years before becoming a coach.

Last week I wrote Differentiation: Attainable or Somewhere Over The Rainbow which addresses some common objections related to differentiated instruction. One of these arguments being that many educators and gifted education advocates believe the needs of gifted students are not being met in the ‘regular’ classroom through differentiation.

Dr. Jim Delisle, author and gifted education expert, brought this topic to the forefront in his 2015 EdWeek Commentary Piece, Differentiation Doesn’t Work. I was first alerted to Delisle’s article via a Facebook update posted by a teacher I attended graduate school with thirteen years earlier. I remember initially feeling quite defensive when I saw her post:

Differentiation Westman.png

Delisle claims (and my former classmate concurs) that differentiation is nothing more than a great proposition which is impossible to achieve: “It seems to me that the only educators who assert that differentiation is doable are those who have never tried to implement it themselves: university professors, curriculum coordinators, and school principals.”

Delisle goes on to warn readers that it is our high-achieving students who stand to lose the most from the unfulfilled promise of differentiation and suggests there is only one possible solution to meet the needs of these students: “Differentiation might have a chance to work if we are willing, as a nation, to return to the days when students of similar abilities were placed in classes with other students whose learning needs paralleled their own.”

Delisle is not entirely wrong.
If a teacher wants to differentiate effectively in a traditional classroom setting, I agree with Delisle when he says, “Although fine in theory, differentiation in practice is harder to implement in a heterogeneous classroom than it is to juggle with one arm tied behind your back.”

Effectively differentiating instruction in a customary classroom setting (teacher imparts knowledge and students show they retain the information) is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Of course, one teacher cannot conduct three different lectures simultaneously. And, it is quite likely that we have experienced assigning group-work where the high kids do all of the work.  And, ultimately, when a teacher in a traditional classroom is presented with a class made up of all types of learners they are forced to teach to the middle which will undoubtedly build frustration for gifted and struggling students alike.

Therefore, I can understand when Delisle suggests reverting back to tracked classes, with students sorted neatly into groups with similar learners. All students deserve the opportunity to learn at a pace that is appropriate for them and tracking students certainly does make pacing easier.

Except, we are solving the wrong problem
Now, before the gifted folks jump on me again, let me preface, as a former gifted teacher and a differentiation instructional coach, I am an ardent proponent of identifying gifted students just as we identify special education students. The needs of gifted students, without question, require special consideration, action plans, follow-through, and monitoring.

With that being said, I also strongly believe that these students’ needs can be met through differentiated instruction in a “regular” classroom. Because, differentiation in it of itself, is not the problem. Rather, our nation’s lack of ubiquitous implementation of differentiated instruction is a symptom of a much larger problem.

The actual issue is the lingering remnants of the factory model/mindset of education still largely ingrained in our educational system today. Case in point, tracking students is a direct result of schools which prepared students for predetermined career paths.

During the industrialization era students were placed on tracks with finite destinations: factory worker, tradesman, professional with a higher-level degree. Future tradesman sat next to other future tradesman, future professionals learned alongside other future professionals.

But, putting students on these same tracks today poses a significant problem because these tracks no longer lead to known destinations. As first indicated in a report from  U.S. Department of Labor called  Future Work Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century and later analyzed for potential implications and solutions for schools by ISTE Connects, 65% of jobs to become available in the future have yet to be created.

Job trends since 1999 support this statistic as new jobs and categories in the services provided industry continue to experience exponential growth, while other industries like manufacturing, continue to trend downward (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

With this information in mind, our focus must shift from preparing students to interact with similar learners to finding ways to ensure our students can productively collaborate with all types of learners. Doing so is critical for our students’ long-term success.

Therefore, teachers must conduct orchestras, not trains.
If our ever-evolving world is not a compelling enough reason to focus on the real problem, let’s also consider this, even in a gifted or tracked class, teachers still need to differentiate for their students.

Programming alone will not meet students’ needs. In Beyond Gifted Education, Designing and Implementing Advanced Academic Programs, authors Scott Peters, Michael Matthews, Matthew McBee, and D. Betsy McCoach state, “Not all students who are labeled gifted require the same things in order to receive an appropriate educational experience. Just as not all gifted students require the same services, a given individual (gifted or not) does not automatically need the same services year after year.”

And, this is the bottom line. Learners’ needs, gifted or not, are fluid. Learning is fluid. However, our current educational system is largely static. We hear a lot talk about student and teacher innovation. Many times we look to the silver bullet (as Peter Dewitt points out in Can We Destroy the Silver Bullet Mentality Before It Destroys Us?) which takes on the form of implementing a tech tool or making something fit in our current practice without changing what we have “always done”.

But, what is really innovative is doing what needs to be done to help shape the next education model- one where the academic and social-emotional success of all students is the only priority. Differentiating instruction for our students needs is one of the ways to do this, and as indicated above, differentiated instruction is more effective when we consider the environment in which we try to implement it and adjust accordingly.

But, How?
I wish I had a linear plan for how to systemically change our educational model. But, I don’t.  I also recognize there are people who consider school reformers to be idealistic. And, I don’t know, maybe we are.

But, I also know there are steps educators can take to collectively propel us forward or there are things we can do (or not do) to ensure we stay stagnant. It is up to us to decide which route we want to take. As country music singer Jimmy Dean said, “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”

I can’t help but think that, maybe, if we all adjust our sails, we may actually have a shot at changing the direction of the wind.

Questions about this post? Connect with Lisa on Twitter.

Photo Credit: Education Radio @BAMRadioNetwork 

 

Differentiation: Attainable Or Somewhere Over The Rainbow?

differentiation cleaning things up

This post was originally published in @PeterMDeWitt’s blog Finding Common Ground in Education Week.

Today’s guest post is written by frequent Finding Common Ground blogger Lisa Westman. Lisa is an instructional coach specializing in differentiation for Skokie School District 73.5 in suburban Chicago. She taught middle school gifted humanities, ELA, and SS for twelve years before becoming a coach.

“If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.” Jim Barksdale

If you want to get an educator’s attention, just say the word differentiation. Call me naive, but until last summer, I had no idea that this word provoked such a wide range of reactions from all education stakeholders.

Then, last August, I wrote my first guest blog post for Finding Common Ground, Yes Differentiation Is Hard. So, Let’s get It Right, and the floodgates opened. It turns out, people have strong feelings about differentiation, and I have been listening and gathering specifics on these views.

Since the post was published, I have written and presented about differentiation quite a few times. Most recently, I presented alongside Carol Ann Tomlinson at ASCD Empower17 and co-moderated #ohedchat on the topic. Every time I write or present on differentiation, I note the questions and comments readers or participants make, and I have found some common themes in response to the topic of differentiation, such as:

  • Teachers often feel unequipped to differentiate effectively.
  • Administrators don’t always recognize differentiation when they see it, or they think they see “differentiation” when what they really see is “different”.
  • Many gifted education advocates believe the needs of gifted students cannot be met in the ‘regular’ classroom through differentiation.
  • There is a pervasive generalization and misunderstanding of the words: assessment and data.

Over time, I plan to address the first three bullet points in detail, but for the purposes of this post, I want to explore the fourth item- the words assessment and data. The misleading associations with these words (assessment=test, data=numbers) have become a giant barrier for teachers who strive to differentiate instruction yet struggle to do so effectively.

The Wicked Witch of The West Assess
I was never the best geometry student, but the one thing that stuck with me was “all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.” The same can be said about assessments, “all tests are assessments, but all not all assessments are tests.”

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines assess as, “to make an approximate or tentative judgment” and tests can certainly do this. However, often times tests are the least effective way to ascertain where students are and what they need. Test results amass a certain type of information and to differentiate successfully, other evaluations (observations, writing samples, conversations) and facets (social-emotional, aptitude, growth) of student performance must be considered.

The way we assess and the assessments we use give us the data we need to inform how to appropriately differentiate instruction for students. Therefore, if we are not using a variety of reliable assessments, our attempts to differentiate instruction often fall flat because the data we try to use doesn’t give us the information we need.

Follow The Yellow Brick Road Data
The word data does not have a warm connotation. Saying “data” in conjunction with student learning often feels sterile and uncaring. I often hear sentiments like, “students are more than a number.” And, when I presented with Carol Ann Tomlinson she responded to a question about using data with, “data sounds like something spit out by a machine.

And, I agree, students are more than a data point. They are more than a number spit out by a machine. And, so is data. Data is more than just numbers, and it can indeed be gathered and appraised in compassionate ways.

Let’s look at an analogous situation: a child’s visit to his pediatrician. When a child visits his doctor, he is more than a number there, too. Therefore, in order to form a diagnosis,  pediatricians look at a variety of evidence, some which comes from a lab or machine (weight, temperature, blood count) and some which comes from other assessments (conversations, questionnaires, observing the patient perform a task). Yet, there is little complaint about using multiple types of data in a medical setting. In fact, I surmise that if a doctor made a diagnosis without various types of data, there would be quite a bit of protesting.

So, what is the difference?

In education, we seem to think that the only usable data we have are numbers: test scores, IQ scores, attendance rates, etc.  This is like saying the only data a doctor can use is the patient’s height, weight, blood pressure, etc.

If this were the case, think of how many misdiagnoses would be made from only using these pieces of evidence? The doctor would not have some of the vital information (data) he needs to diagnosis the patient and prescribe a course of action.

Instead, doctors are also highly dependent on information that comes directly from the patient via conversations and observations. This is data which is collected with sensitivity and not calculated by an algorithm. A doctor uses information from all of these sources to differentiate his approach for his patients, so they thrive.

The same holds true for using data to differentiate for our students in the classroom. When we say the word data in education, we are simply referring to the different types of evidence we gather and consider to differentiate instruction for our students, so they thrive.

There’s No Place Like Home A Data Dashboard
In summary, differentiation is a natural byproduct of collecting and using the right information and the traditional methods of teacher data collection are quickly (if not already) obsolete.

Luckily, help is here. In Data Dashboards a High Priority in National Ed-Tech Plan, Education Week contributor Malia Herman states:

“The push for wider and better use of data (dashboards)–which allow educators to examine and connect relevant student data from multiple sources–is growing stronger…learning dashboards integrate information from assessments, learning tools, educator observations, and other sources to provide compelling, comprehensive visual representations of student progress in real time.”

To keep the analogy going, a data dashboard is like a patient’s chart at his doctor’s office. This is the place where all of the information is housed on individual students and their growth over time can be contemplated. And like a patient’s chart, only certain people are privy to individual student’s information. This comprehensive view of a student makes differentiating for their needs more accessible, attainable, and sustainable.

What are your thoughts? What is your experience using data to differentiate instruction? What successes and struggles have you encountered? Please comment below or tweet your response so we can learn from each other.

Questions about this post? Connect with Lisa on Twitter.

 

Differentiation is The Key to Assessment For Learning

teaching does not equal learning

“Too often, educational tests, grades, and report cards are treated by teachers as autopsies when they should be viewed as physicals.” Douglas Reeves

One of my favorite stories is about the man who taught his dog to whistle. The man was so proud of his teaching. He walked his dog around town and proudly proclaimed, “I taught my dog to whistle!”

Then, one day, a neighbor stops the man and says, “I don’t hear your dog whistling.”

To which the man responds, “I said I taught him to whistle, I didn’t say he learned.”

TEACHING IS NOT SYNONYMOUS WITH LEARNING

Think about your students past and present on a “test” day. Can you recall a student who was nervous? Maybe a student who even cried? This is a common reaction to assessment of learning rather than assessment for learning.

For many years assessment was used as a measure to inform teachers and students how students performed in comparison to each other at arbitrary points in time. Thankfully, with years of research and a shift in the way teaching and learning is approached, the recommended method of determining student success is by using assessment to measure growth. The focus has shifted to ensuring students learn rather than that teachers taught. Assessment results are no longer final verdicts for students, but rather information for them and their teachers on where to go next, otherwise known as assessment for learning.

Assessment for learning is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there, otherwise known as formative (Assessment Reform Group, 2002).

The key to effectively implementing assessment for learning is using the evidence gathered to inform instruction rather than just collecting data. Pre-assessments (or the first of a series of formative assessments) give teachers a starting point and formative assessment helps teachers set the pace and choose content and strategies for students as they progress in their learning. Too often, educators believe they are practicing assessment for learning, but they are not. Below are some common mistakes made which are contradictory to assessment for learning:

  • Collecting data (evidence) and not using it (watch this commercial for a funny visualization of this practice)
  • Simply not counting “formative” assessments toward a final grade, but not adapting pacing or differentiating for students who need modifications or extensions
  • Assessing the wrong criteria (i.e. assessing content recall when the learning target is a skill)
  • Focus on arbitrary dates to finish learning, like “end of quarter”

Quick check to see if you are using assessment for learning correctly

A quick test to see if you are using formative assessment properly is to ask yourself, “Am I differentiating for my students?” It is nearly impossible to practice assessment for learning without differentiating. When looking at evidence of learning, teachers will inevitably find that some students will move more quickly than others and need extensions while others will require scaffolding to achieve. Additionally, some students will need to approach the material in an entirely different way.

This is where differentiation is vital, teachers will need to determine which differentiation category or combination of categories: the content (what students learn), the process (how students learn), the product (how student demonstrate their understanding), and the learning environment (where and with whom students) they need to adapt  to meet the needs of their students:

Differentiating instruction is frequently the piece of assessment for learning that teachers find the most intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be this way. Below is a list of common concerns teachers have with differentiating instruction and some considerations that may help for ease these apprehensions.

03.17.17-Westman_-Differentiation-is-Key

In summary: in order for something to be taught, it must be learned. In order for all students to learn, appropriate evidence (assessment results) must be gathered and used to inform future instruction. As educators, the onus is on us to ensure students learn. When we confirm learning, we confirm we have taught.

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This post was originally published on Corwin Connect.corwin_connect_featured_button1

Standards Based Grading Made My Kid Average

STANDARDSBUMPER

This post was originally published in @PeterMDeWitt’s blog Finding Common Ground in Education Week.

Today’s guest post is written by frequent Finding Common Ground blogger Lisa Westman. Lisa is an instructional coach specializing in differentiation for Skokie School District 73.5 in suburban Chicago. She taught middle school gifted humanities, ELA, and SS for twelve years before becoming a coach.

Recently a friend called me in a panic. She was beside herself because she had just received her seventh-grade daughter’s new standards-based report card.  My friend relayed that her daughter (who was formerly an “A” student) was now “just average” according to the new report card.

I asked my friend if the report card had the word “average” on it and my friend said, “no.” She elaborated that her daughter had received all “meets” and no “exceeds” on her report card, and, therefore, her daughter was now, “just average.”

I calmly responded that “meets standards” does not equate to average. I clarified that a standards-based grading system does not neatly align to the traditional grading system we experienced in our schooling. I explained that standards-based grading is a much more pragmatic and informative way of reporting student progress than the traditional A-F approach.

I expected my friend to accept this explanation and settle down, but instead, her emotions escalated, and she replied, “well, my daughter’s teacher thinks standards-based grading is stupid, too.”

We are the stories we tell ourselves.” Joan Didion

Many school districts that have made the switch to standards-based reporting have been met with reactions like the one illustrated above. And, although I was surprised by my friend’s response, I shouldn’t have been. Reactions like hers are to be expected when identities are threatened, and eliminating traditional grading practices poses a threat to many people’s identities.

How so?

The A-F/100-point traditional grading system has been in place since the early twentieth century. This means all parents and grandparents of students currently in kindergarten through 12th grade, plus the vast majority of today’s teachers experienced school with a traditional grading system.

Based on the grades we received as students, we told ourselves we were “good” or “bad” students. We used our grades to tell ourselves which subjects we were “smart” in and which ones we weren’t. We used our grades to compare ourselves to our peers. Our parents used our grades to compare us to their peers and their peers’ children. We used our grades to determine if we were cut-out for certain careers. We allowed grades to tell us many stories about who we were. For better or for worse, these stories have played a part in shaping our identities as adults. Therefore, when we remove a critical piece of our identity formation (traditional grades) we may, consciously or not, feel threatened.

So, now what?
We will be uncomfortable for a little while.  Ultimately, just like us, our children’s identities will be shaped, in part, by the educational experience they have. However, if implemented correctly (as extensively researched and reported about by Thomas Gusky and Rick Wormeli) standards-based reporting should allow students to identify as individual learners, rather than comparably “good” or “bad” students.

The concept of standards-based grading is not easily enacted by teachers, nor is it easily understood by parents. Rather, this change is a work in progress which requires both educators and parents to work together to relearn what we have been taught in the past about grades.

While this shift is difficult for both educators and parents, it is the educators who must lead the charge, and be the first relearn (watch this video for some inspiration on relearning). The way in which educators share information about standards-based grading with parents is crucial for successful implementation. If educators are positive, admit that change is hard, and stick with the change because it is in the best interest of students, parents will follow suit. However, if educators protest, criticize, or are ambivalent about the benefits of standards-based grading, parents will react similarly. Educators must model the reaction they hope to elicit from parents and students.

To effectively communicate with parents, educators must put to rest some of the widely-held fallacies about grading like the three listed below:

Fallacy #1: Parents need letter grades to understand their child’s performance.
Reality: Traditional grades give the facade of understanding because they use familiar words and measures. Consider a report card that lists: Math: A, Reading: B+. Parents understand the words math and reading. They understand that an A is the highest grade and a B is close to an A. But, the reality is, this communication does not actually tell parents anything about what was learned. Math and reading are too broad of categories to offer any insight and the letter grades could mean a variety of things, many of which have nothing to do with reading or math.

Now what? Standards-based grading is an opportunity to create a common understanding of exactly what is being assessed. When teachers take care to ensure assessments are appropriately aligned to the standards they are assessing, the assessments become a vehicle for dialogue between students, parents, and teachers to adequately discuss where students are in their learning progression and where they are going.

Fallacy #2: Letter grades are more objective.
Reality: Once again, an A-F system creates a facade of objectivity.  Using a percentage attached to a letter  (93% = A) feels objective. But, what isn’t necessarily objective are the tools used to garner those scores. When I taught English, I often struggled to determine the critical difference between an 89% and a 90% on a student’s narrative writing assignment. When I taught social studies, I assumed the multiple choice tests I created were completely objective due to the right/wrong nature of the questions. I didn’t consider, however, the inherent bias of the questions since I had written them.

Now what? There is a reason teachers are part of a PLC/team and there are reasons why these teams are encouraged to meet frequently. This is a time for teachers to discuss topics like objectivity. It is no longer frowned upon for educators to admit that learning is not an entirely empirical process. Learning is complex and, therefore, grading is complex, too. When we look at student work as a team, engage in dialogue about assessments, and come to a consensus as to what “meeting standards” is, we are making the reporting process as objective as possible.

Fallacy #3: By the time we shift to standards-based grading, there will be a new fad, and we will have to start all over again.
Reality: It will take time for individual school systems and the educational system as a whole to fully embrace this change. It is likely that once we become comfortable with this change, there will be additional amendments to the way we grade. But, such is life. This is part of what all successful industries do to stay relevant. They make changes to improve processes, gather new information, and make more changes to improve processes again.

Next Steps: Don’t lament about the process. Don’t worry about what the future holds. We are doing what is best for students with the information we have right now. Celebrate the progressive and long overdue steps we are taking to use grading as an indicator of learning rather than a symbol of finality.

Mom, Can You Pleeeease Record Me?

7-ways-to-use-video-infographic-final

This post was originally published in @PeterMDeWitt’s blog Finding Common Ground in Education Week.

Today’s guest post is written by frequent Finding Common Ground blogger Lisa Westman. Lisa is an instructional coach specializing in differentiation for Skokie School District 73.5 in suburban Chicago. She taught middle school gifted humanities, ELA, and SS for twelve years before becoming a coach.

Making slime from scratch (a combination of Elmer’s glue, Borax, water, and food coloring) is the latest craze amongst school-aged children. This trend is so popular that many stores have completely sold out of Elmer’s glue.

My 8-year old daughter has jumped on the slime bandwagon, and I must admit, this fad is not my favorite (the slime is messy, smelly, and I am constantly searching for more glue).  Additionally, my daughter has “hired” me as her personal videographer, and contracted me to film her slime-making process. But, sassiness aside, there is a silver lining in all of this slimy mess, which is the insight I have gained about kids today:

  1. Children will record anything and everything. Then, they will watch their recordings over and over again.

  2. Children today are accustomed to seeking (and applying) honest, actionable feedback. (Watch the end of my daughter’s video to see what I mean).

  3. Educators are grossly underutilizing the potential of video recordings.

The Power Of Video
I am currently participating in a year-long intensive instructional coaching institute led by Jim Knight of the Instructional Coaching Group.

At our last session, we concentrated on the content of Knight’s book, Focus on Teaching which discusses the many advantageous applications of video as a professional learning tool.

As an instructional coach, I have been quite impressed with the significant impact video has on learning. In Focus on Teaching, Knight explains one reason why video is so powerful:

“– professionals often do not have a clear picture of what it looks like when they do their work….they (many teachers) do not know what it looks like when they teach until they saw the video. And because they are unaware of what it looks like when they teach, they often do not feel the need to change. They might be open to trying new practices, but they don’t feel compelled to change.”

Every time a teacher chooses to use video in a coaching cycle, Knight’s observation rings true. Without exception, after watching videos of themselves, teachers are surprised by what they see. They either recognize tendencies they were completely unaware of and are propelled to take action, or they are pleasantly surprised with the footage as their impression of themselves was too harsh (I call this teaching dysmorphia).  Either way, in my experience, coaching cycles that utilize video are more successful than those that do not (as evidenced by data pertaining to the cycle’s goal).

Could Video Have The Same Effect With Our Students?
Knight’s workshop got me thinking about our students and their perceptions. If adults don’t have an accurate view of their teaching, how can we conclude our students have a clear sense of their learning? If video has such a powerful effect on the likelihood of teacher goal achievement, couldn’t the same process work with students?

According to the National Education Technology Plan Update released by The US Department of Education in January 2017, assessing and documenting the growth of students’ non-cognitive competencies (also referred to as social and emotional learning which includes a wide-range of skills) is as important as assessing and documenting students’ academic progress.

The plan reports some small advances in data collection and curricula addressing social- emotional learning, but stresses there is still a profound need for more reliable and relevant tools (both the learning and data collection pieces).

But, How?
Video learning is one way to address this deficit. As stated, just as a teacher may have a blindspot in their practice, chances are students do not have an accurate picture of their performance either. Video can help illustrate this.

Keeping in mind our students organically record much of what they do, and video is a proven effective learning tool (for adults), educators can capitalize on this set of circumstances to better meet our students’ social-emotional learning needs.

At first, it may seem a bit overwhelming to add something “new” to our repertoire, but as with most things, over time the process becomes less intimidating as the kinks are worked out, and success is experienced.  Also, it helps to keep in mind that while new tools (in this case using video) may be new to us, they are not new to our students. There is no shame in tapping into our students’ knowledge of video to help us with the logistics as outlined below:

Video Logistics

  1. Use any device with video recording capabilities. You can use multiple devices simultaneously.
  2. Set the devices up in the location(s) you wish to record (whole class, small group, individual student desks).
  3. Store videos in an accessible, but not public location (Google Drive, Flash Drive, YouTube listed as a private).

Learning Logistics

  1. Student(s) record themselves for a predetermined portion of a lesson which is likely to garner the best evidence.
  2. Teacher and student(s) confer to identify the skill they want focus on (i.e. appropriate communication with peers).
  3. Teacher and student(s) co-create a list of look-fors for the skill to be observed (i.e. ineffective vs. effective communication of ideas) and cite examples of each criterion:”you are wrong” vs. “I see things a different way. Let me explain.”
  4. Teacher and student(s) co-create a data collection tool or rubric which specifies look-fors. The simpler, the better, tally systems work very nicely.
  5. Student(s) and teacher watch the videos and collect data (separately).
  6. Teacher and student review their findings and set a reasonable, quantifiable goal (i.e. ratio of effective to ineffective comments is 3-1).
  7. Any differences in understanding could be discussed further by reviewing parts of the video together and comparing examples to the rubric.
  8. The teacher and student(s) determine an action plan which includes a learning piece.
  9. After a predetermined interval of learning, the teacher and student(s) repeat the process and determine next steps (adjust action plan to continue to work toward goal or determine the goal is met and set a new goal).

An additional bonus of having students use video to self-assess their non-cognitive competencies is they have additional opportunities to interact with the content of lesson when they watch their recordings.

This model does not have to be used with all students at the same time, nor do all students need to have the same look-fors/data collection tools. This method can be differentiated to meet the social-emotional learning needs of individual students just as we differentiate for students’ academic needs.

Non-cognitive competencies are only one example how video can be used in our classrooms. Check out this post’s accompanying infographic for other suggestions, and please share ways you have used video with your students so we can learn from each other.

Questions about this post? Connect with Lisa on Twitter.

Check Your “Selfie” Advice From a 58-Year Veteran Teacher

tom-obrien-post-image-finalThis post was originally published in @PeterMDeWitt’s blog Finding Common Ground in Education Week.

Today’s guest post is written by frequent Finding Common Ground blogger Lisa Westman. Lisa is an instructional coach specializing in differentiation for Skokie School District 73.5 in suburban Chicago. She taught middle school gifted humanities, ELA, and SS for twelve years before becoming a coach.

 Take a minute and think about where you were when:
1)  JFK was shot

2)  The Challenger Space Shuttle exploded

3)  The Twin Towers were destroyed on 9/11

My answers are:
1) 14 years before I was born

2) A student in third grade

3) One month into my first year of teaching

However, my colleague and friend, Tom O’Brien’s answers are all the same; he was in his classroom, teaching. And, Tom is still teaching. In fact, this school year marks Tom’s 58th year as a middle school teacher.

With close to 60 years of experience, Mr. O’Brien is quite familiar with teaching during times of uncertainty. He understands the intricacy of meeting students’ needs and strives to strike the delicate balance of giving students enough objective information, so they feel safe, but not too much information to cause them fear.

In the days since President Trump’s election and inauguration, Mr. O’Brien has had the opportunity to put his skills to the test as he determines the best way to field questions and concerns from students about the current state of our nation.

A Serendipitous Encounter
Last year, I had the privilege of joining Mr. O’Brien on the last day of school when he met his incoming 8th graders and explained the foundation of his class:

“History is not about memorizing facts. This class is not about me telling you what you need to know. History is about learning from our past. This class is about empowerment. Remember, dates change. People don’t. Make connections, own your learning.”

Lately, this quote has weighed heavily on my mind as I have been struggling to focus on anything other than historical connections. And, the links I am making are frightening.

It has been easy for me to place blame on certain individuals and groups of people whose views, in my opinion, threaten to “ruin” our country.  It has also been very easy for me to confirm my biases. Contrarily, it has not been easy for me to see anyone else’s point of view.

But, I have come to I realize that my feelings are counterproductive. I am perpetuating a divide that is tearing our country in half.  And, while I want to look at the bright side, I am struggling to find one.

In an effort to feel better about our country’s future, I had lunch with Tom with the hope of tapping into his wealth of historical knowledge. During lunch, I rattled off the list of terrifying historical parallels that keep coming to mind (i.e. Japanese Internment Camps, The Holocaust, McCarthyism) and I asked (ok, begged) Tom to share a historical similarity that was promising. What has happened in history that tells us everything will be ok?

What did I learn?
As cliche as it may be, history does repeat itself. But, if we aren’t looking carefully we may not see the reasons why.

I learned there are similarities between society today and civilizations as far back as Ancient Greece. And, more important than the likenesses are the lessons. Specifically, Tom reflected on the difference between The Persian Wars (The Greeks vs. Persia 492-449 BC) and The Peloponnesian War (Athens vs. Sparta 431-404 BC).

During the Persian Wars, Greece was successful in defeating Persia in large part because Athens and Sparta put their differences aside and joined forces. However, shortly after their victory, Athens and Sparta engaged in a series of brutal civil wars known as the Peloponnesian Wars, which stemmed from conflicting political views and contrasting value systems. These internecine battles ultimately led to the implosion of the Greek civilization.

The most notable difference between The Persian Wars and The Peloponnesian Wars was the focus. During The Persian Wars, Greeks’ priority was freedom for Greek citizens regardless of where they were from, and during the Peloponnesian Wars, the focus shifted to what was best for individual city-states with blatant disregard for the common good.

Tom presented me with these two “stories,” and left me to form my own connections. After a few minutes of thinking, I asked Tom if he was trying to tell me that people today are more concerned with self-interests than the interests of others.  Tom answered my question with another question:

Is “The Selfie” A Metaphor For Today’s Culture?
This question gave me the chills. I immediately thought of a disturbing viral video which recently appeared in my Facebook feed called Holocaust + Selfie Culture = ‘Yolocaust’  and, I started to wonder if as a society we are so hyperfocused on ourselves that we are missing the mark on the most formidable threat to our country. Perhaps, our most pressing issue isn’t what our government is doing wrong, but what as a society have we done to allow it to take place?

We Must Come Together and We Can Start In The Classroom
During our lunch, Tom reminded me that an educator’s job is to help students process their thoughts, not to tell them how to think.

He remarked that over the past 58 years students have not changed much. Middle school students still experience the same trials and tribulations of entering adulthood. They still feel the pressures of the world around them. But, with that being said, his students’ reaction to the election has been the strongest he has ever seen.

Students’ heightened responses are likely due to the increased availability and accessibility of information. However, another observation Tom shared forced me to think more deeply about our students’ reactions.

Tom explained that when JFK was assassinated, students were justifiably distraught. They had many questions, with the most common question being, “what is going to happen to JFK’s children?”  Since the election and inauguration of President Trump, the question most frequently asked is, “what is going to happen to me?”

Students, especially students who attend a school with over 70 nationalities represented, have legitimate cause for concern for themselves. Teachers have legitimate concerns for themselves, as well. But, the key is to have that same concern for everyone, including the people on the “other side.”

As educators, we are obligated to present our students with unbiased evidence. Therefore, we have the unique opportunity to help our students find answers to questions about themselves while encouraging them to ask questions about others. By fulfilling this obligation, we promote perspective taking and induce dialogue about shared responsibility for creating a system of values that best describes our society as a whole.

Mr. O’Brien believes educators can accomplish this task by focusing on 4 Cs. And, he is not referring to the 4 Cs of 21st century learning. He is referencing the 4 Cs  of humanity: civility, citizenship, connection, and compassion.

Questions about this post? Connect with Lisa on Twitter.

4 Phrases All Teachers Say and No Students Understand

shift-focus-graphic-finalThis post was originally published in @PeterMDeWitt’s blog Finding Common Ground in Education Week.

Today’s guest post is written by frequent Finding Common Ground blogger Lisa Westman. Lisa is an instructional coach specializing in differentiation for Skokie School District 73.5 in suburban Chicago. She taught middle school gifted humanities, ELA, and SS for twelve years before becoming a coach.

Before I had children, I had no idea just how crucial explicit directions are for their understanding. Case in point, the time my son took his first independent shower. It seemed simple enough. I told him to “take and shower,” and then asked him, “do you know what to do?”

He responded with a resounding, “yes!”

Ok, then! I turned on the water, set it to the right temperature, and proudly waited outside the bathroom door for him. So, imagine my surprise when he came out of the bathroom dripping wet, with shampoo in his hair, and soap on his face, trying to wrap a towel around himself.

I was reminded of this incident while attending an inspirational and thought-provoking workshop led by George Couros, author of The Innovator’s Mindset last week. At one point, George showed us a video clip of a dad telling his young son to “keep his eye on the ball,” and the little boy literally put his eye on the ball.

I started to think about all of the ambiguous things educators say to students with the assumption our students share an understanding with us:

“Study.”

“Work in your groups.”

“Finish your work.”

“Behave.”

More importantly, I started to think about how often we believe we have given students clear directives and put the onus on them meet these vague expectations. Then, if our students do not meet these expectations, we allow ourselves to make convenient excuses, “I told them to study. They didn’t.  I can’t do that for them.”

“Is what we teach as important as how we teach?”
Couros asked us to think about this question during his workshop. As an instructional coach, my focus is on instruction. I strongly believe that regardless of the content, good instruction is good instruction. So, my inclination was to answer, “how.”

But, as I pondered this question more deeply, I believe the answer is actually, “both.” Part of high-quality instruction is offering the right content for individual learners. And,  part of high-quality instruction requires us to be explicit in our communication and flexible in our implementation.

To avoid using vague phrases like those stated above we need to shift our focus from the action (study) to the desired outcome (learn). We can accomplish this shift by implementing the research of John Hattie (Visible Learning For Teachers).  Hattie has found certain criteria to have a greater impact on student growth than others. Strategies with an effect size of .4 for or above are proven to result in a year’s growth for a year’s (appropriate) use. For example, take a look at these four shifts.

Instead of asking students to study, focus on how they learn. (Metacognition .69)

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t understand how I learn best until I became an adult learner, and was given the autonomy to “study” as I saw fit. As it turns out, making flashcards and writing outlines were not the most effective strategies for me. But, creating mind maps and visual depictions are highly effective for me.

With the availability of research about learning, our students have the opportunity to ascertain how they learn best now, as children. The key is for educators to recognize and embrace the fact that all students do not react the same way to all learning strategies. Therefore, we should avoid requiring students use a certain strategy (take notes), and instead, expose our students to a variety of learning strategies and help them determine what strategies were helpful or not.  Then, we can tap into this knowledge to choose/differentiate learning strategies for subsequent learning activities.

Instead of asking students to work in groups, offer them structure. (Cooperative Learning .59)

Contrary to popular belief, group work is not synonymous with cooperative learning. To ensure all students in a group benefit from learning activities, all group members must have equal and active participation and opportunities to learn. This goes beyond setting roles for students in groups (sorry, the timekeeper does not have the same learning opportunity as the discussion leader).

There are multiple ways you can encourage true cooperative learning. Hattie recommends jigsawing content amongst groups to be later shared. This suggestion, however, assumes the learning intentions and success criteria are clear (see below).

Another way to ensure true cooperative learning is to provide structured ways for groups to run, like Kagan Structures. As an instructional coach, I have collaborated with teachers to implement such structures and seen remarkable student growth from tweaking just this one piece.

Instead of asking students to finish their work, provide explicit learning intentions and success criteria (Teacher Clarity .75)

Hattie coins the terms “learning intentions” and “success criteria” in Visible Learning. He uses what has become one of my favorite analogies to describe the need for clear learning intentions and success criteria:

“Imagine if I were simply to ask to get in your car and drive; at some unspecified time, I will let you know when you have successfully arrived (if you arrive at all). For too many students, this is what learning feels like.”

When we tell students to finish their work without providing them with the specific learning intentions and a concrete example of success criteria, while it may feel like we have set clear expectations, students, more often than not, do not know what they need to do to finish their work. Therefore, it is crucial for teachers and students have a shared understanding of the learning intentions and success criteria.

Instead of asking students to behave, focus on building rapport (Teacher-Student Relationships .72)

It is easy to believe we have strong relationships with students just by having their best interest at heart. And, perhaps there is some truth to that. But the question is, what type of relationship is it?

Because of the inherent age and status differences between teachers and students, many teacher-student relationships revolve around compliance and one-way respect (student respects the teacher).  But, genuine relationships require both parties to equally commit to building trust which ultimately leads to respect.  The teacher and the student must also show vulnerability, be transparent, and approachable.  Again, because of the inherent age difference between teachers and students, it is the obligation of the teacher to model these qualities.

“Behave” is a non-specific directive often used in response to a variety of actions: disruptions, fidgeting, yelling out, fighting, etc. The root of these actions is what really needs to be addressed, rather than demanding students “behave” which is unlikely to result in any sustainable change. Contrarily, when authentic teacher-student relationships are established, teachers and students are more likely to discuss the issues and create effective action plans.

In the end, these are just four phrases of what is probably a long list of things we say that don’t clearly communicate intentions to students. What other ambiguous statements have you said in the past and how have you adapted your practice? Please share; I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Questions or comments about this post? Connect with Lisa on Twitter.

 

How Differentiation Fosters a Growth Mindset

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This post was originally published on Corwin Connect.
For more on differentiation, click here. 

The great teachers believe in the growth of the intellect and talent, and they are fascinated with the process of learning.”– Carol Dweck, Mindset

The theory of growth vs. fixed mindset popularized by the research of Carol Dweck is ubiquitous in today’s educational landscape. A cursory Pinterest search for “growth mindset” produces a plethora of options for bell ringers, bulletin boards, and other resources encouraging students to adopt a “growth mindset.” Similarly, a Google search will show an abundance of professional development opportunities on growth mindset for educators.

Perhaps, for these reasons, Carol Dweck is now cautioning us not to fall prey to a “false” growth mindset. Dweck explains in a recent interview with The Atlantic:

“False growth mindset is saying you have growth mindset when you don’t really have it or you don’t really understand [what it is]. It’s also false in the sense that nobody has a growth mindset in everything all the time.

Many people understood growth mindset deeply and implemented it in a very sophisticated and effective way. However, there were many others who understood it in a way that wasn’t quite accurate, or distilled it down to something that wasn’t quite effective, or assimilated it into something they already knew. Often when we see kids who aren’t learning well, we might feel frustrated or defensive, thinking it reflects on us as educators. It’s often tempting to not feel it is our fault. So we might say the child has a fixed mindset, without understanding instead that, as educators, it is our responsibility to create a context in which a growth mindset can flourish…

-another misunderstanding [of growth mindset] that might apply to lower-achieving children is the oversimplification of growth mindset into just [being about] effort. Teachers were just praising effort that was not effective, saying “Wow, you tried really hard!” But students know that if they didn’t make progress and you’re praising them, it’s a consolation prize. They also know you think they can’t do any better. So this kind of growth-mindset idea was misappropriated to try to make kids feel good when they were not achieving.”

As educators we can put up beautiful bulletin boards and use growth mindset language with our students, but unless our actions support and match our growth mindset, we are most likely sending contradictory and/or ineffective messages.

What teacher actions are indicative of a growth mindset?

In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck addresses the question, “What makes a great teacher?” Simply, a growth mindset is present in almost all “great” teachers. Dweck shares multiple examples of teachers who instruct with a growth mindset, which include teachers who:

  • Believe talent and intelligence can be developed and are not innate
  • Embrace the challenge of ensuring all students can succeed
  • Set high standards for all students
  • Determine appropriate strategies to ensure all students meet those high standards
  • Are more interested in learning alongside students rather than imparting knowledge (Dweck 193-202).

DIFFERENTIATION EMBODIES GROWTH MINDSET

Differentiation is an approach to teaching in which educators actively plan for students’ differences so all students can best learn. In a differentiated classroom, teachers divide their time, resources, and efforts to effectively teach students who have various backgrounds, readiness and skill levels, and interests (ASCD).

Teachers can differentiate in a variety of ways depending on need. Teachers can differentiate one or more of the following:

  • The content (what students learn)
  • The process (how students learn)
  • The product (how students demonstrate their learning)
  • The learning environment (where and with whom students learn)

By differentiating instruction, teachers can better ensure they are promoting an actual growth mindset. Additionally, differentiation allows teachers to focus on the process of learning and provide feedback around learning strategies which is an approach proven to develop a growth mindset.

In contrast, a one-size-fits-all approach to instruction will increase the chances that a false growth mindset is created. When instruction is not differentiated, students are inevitably praised for performing well with minimal effort (too easy) or praised for an effort that ultimately didn’t result in growth (too hard). False growth mindsets over time will inevitably present the same way as fixed mindsets.

TEACHER MINDSET IS OFTEN THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE TO DIFFERENTIATING INSTRUCTION.

Initially, effectively differentiating instruction can be challenging for teachers (you can read more about this here). However, as strenuous as differentiating instruction may be, as I stated earlier, teachers with a growth mindset welcome challenge and enjoy the trial and error that goes into determining the best way to meet students’ needs. Therefore, they tend to differentiate without issue and cut themselves some slack along the way. They look at failure as information to help them determine how to proceed in the future rather than as a reason to not try or give up. The trial and error part of differentiating instruction is an important piece of learning for teachers which in time will streamline the process for teachers.

With these connections between mindset and differentiation in mind, what personal connections can you make? How do you view challenge and failure? What do you see as the potential positive outcomes (for both yourself and your students) of differentiating instruction and fostering a growth mindset? What do you see as potential obstacles?

I would love to hear your thoughts and dig a bit deeper. You can connect with me on Twitter @lisa_westman.

What? Principals Are In It For The Money?

principal-vs-teacher-infographic-final

This post was originally published in @PeterMDeWitt’s blog Finding Common Ground in Education Week.

Today’s guest post is written by frequent Finding Common Ground blogger Lisa Westman. Lisa is an instructional coach specializing in differentiation for Skokie School District 73.5 in suburban Chicago. She taught middle school gifted humanities, ELA, and SS for twelve years before becoming a coach.


“I love our principal.” The first time I uttered those words was thirteen years ago. At the time, I was joking around with my teammates- I had just married my building’s principal (no impropriety here, we were both teachers when we met, dated, and got engaged). But, as I have progressed in my career, I have continued to say the same thing, “I love my principal” as I have been very fortunate to work for some exceptional instructional leaders.

With this bit of personal background, it may come as no surprise to you that two recent EdWeek articles have left me scratching my head.

The first article, “Principals Work 60-Hour Weeks, Study Finds” explains the findings of a recent study of the workload of school principals. As the title suggests, the study found that, nation-wide, principals average 60-hour workweeks. While no two principals account for their 60-hours in the same way (some cite managerial tasks and others cite paperwork or parent meetings as taking up the bulk of their time) the study found that to perform the role of principal in a meaningful way, principals are looking at 20+ hours of “overtime” per week.

Frankly, I found this average to be quite conservative. Thinking back on my days as the wife of a principal (meet my husband, Keith Westman), 60-hours would have been a light week. In addition to the school day, we could consistently count on school-related functions that required the presence of “the principal” several nights each week and on many weekends.

With this first-hand experience, I was shocked when I read Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers blog post Teachers’ Views of Leaders: Feedback From Our Readers in EdWeek which was a follow-up post on their post “Boss and Buddy: Can A Leader Be Both?” Jill and Ann had a similar reaction to some of the responses they received as the response from some readers was disheartening.

Many teachers painted their principals as egotistical, money-hungry, micro-managers who couldn’t hack it in the classroom. Reading these comments was like driving a stake through my heart. On one hand, I felt terribly that so many teachers have not had the invaluable opportunity to work with inspirational, transformational leaders. Yet, on the other hand, these comments made me angry. Because some of the claims were just plain wrong.

You may not like your principal, but do you really know why?
In any industry, there are professionals that are “good” at their job and others that are lackluster or downright incompetent at their job. Education is not immune to “bad” employees. Fortunately, we have ways to remedy these situations. We have evaluation systems, accountability measures, and if all else fails, we can litigate.

However, a recurring theme in Berkowicz and Myers’ post is that teachers believe their principals went into administration for the money and this financial goal accounts for their leaders’ perceived lack of leadership.

“Few teachers get into education for the pay. But there’s a subset of teachers who go into education not to teach, but to climb the ladder. In my thirty years, I’ve seen one physical education or special education teacher after another teach for five to seven years, go get an M.S. in administration, and then start climbing. One made it as far as regional superintendent. In my experience, that particular subset was never really good at teaching. As a consequence they were mediocre (at best) administrators. The goal was money and a career-climb, not young people.”

As we all know, the vast majority of school administrators- good, bad and otherwise- started their career in education as teachers. And, since we know teachers surely don’t enter into the profession for the money, how can we conclude that money become a significant motivating factor for one to become a principal?

If the goal of teachers who aspire to be administrators is to climb the “lucrative corporate ladder”, as some respondents to Berkowicz and Myers insisted, there are surely industries that allow for much quicker ladder climbs and ones that lead to much more lucrative heights.In addition to the hefty expense of  the additional education to acquire administrative credentials; being a principal simply does not pay a lot when we consider some facts.

After doing the math, the national average salary for a principal breaks down to $34.88 an hour (60 hours a week, 48 weeks a year). (EdWeek, Glassdoor). The average teacher salary breaks down to $26.56 an hour (53 hours a week, 40 weeks a year) (Washington Post). For basis of comparison, equivalent positions to principals (advanced degrees + internships + experience) make an hourly rate that is substantially higher.

So, why, then, do principals Become principals?
In the summer of 2014, ASCD reported the results from a survey of over 20,000 teachers conducted by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In answer to the question, “why did you become a teacher?” 85% of teachers surveyed said they chose teaching “to make a difference in the lives of children.” Only 4% of teachers surveyed said answered, “for the earning potential.”

As stated earlier, most administrators started as teachers. So, if the vast majority of teachers became a teacher to positively impact students, can it be true that those same individuals suddenly changed their professional motivation to swap making a difference with making a buck?

In The Roles and Responsibilities of the Principal as Perceived by Illinois K-8 Principals Who Belong to Generation X, my husband found that the majority of principals do, in fact, become principals to make a positive difference in the lives of students and their staff. After surveying hundreds of principals, he found that 97.6% of principals said their motivation for entering administration was their passion for student learning.  Additionally, almost all of the principals surveyed cited the most rewarding aspects of the principalship that fell into one of two categories, being witness to the growth and development of students and being witness to the growth and development of adults, including parents, teachers, and community members.

In short, administrators choose administration for the same reasons teachers decide to become teachers. Sure, less than 5% of principals may have ulterior motives, but these are likely not financially inspired. If a principal lacks some of the qualities his or her staff deem desirable, perhaps these perceived deficits are due to years of working 60-hours a week and being pulled in many different directions.

New evaluation measures, standardized testing, and a shift in the way teachers instruct and assess have all increased the stress and workload associated with being a teacher in the year 2017. Teachers are not the only educators affected by these changes. Remember, principals feel these demands, too.

Being a principal is not an easy job; neither is being a teacher. But, we (teachers and principals) choose this line of work because of the impact we can make. And, when we make this impact, this is inarguably the best form of compensation.

Questions or comments about this post? Connect with Lisa on Twitter.