Monday, November 23, 2009

Annotation of Grow Your Personal Learning Network

New Technologies Can Keep You Connected and Help You Manage Information Overload.
By David Warlick

Warlick gives today’s educators insight in keeping up with technology by creating their own Personal Learning Network (PLN). He writes that friends, families, and colleagues, all who rely on so many resources and professional information encompassing a PLN. The use of technology to grow PLNs is constantly changing. PLNs can be very successful but with all of the information out there things can quickly get out of control. Although technology is the source of this problem, it can also be the solution. New technologies can help us collect, store, and organize all of that information as well.

According to Warlick, he highlights three different types of PLNs:

- Synchronous (personally maintained face-to-face communication)
This is the traditional network of people and places you’ve always had, but people can enhance PLN with technologies like chat, instant and text messaging, teleconferencing (such as Skype and messenger), Twitter, and virtual worlds such as Second Life.

- Semi-synchronous (personally and socially maintained real time connections)
This refers to the idea that “collaboration doesn’t have to happen in real time” and can involve such technological tools as mailing lists, wikis, Google Docs, Twitter, group discussion boards and comment walls on Facebook, and commenting on blogs.
* SURN has 3 blogs focused on: Literacy, Middle School Math, and Education Research Annotations.

- Asynchronous (dynamically maintained collaboration over a period of time through a “different time-different place”)
This differs slightly from the other two types in that this type more often connects us with content sources like RSS aggregators (Google Reader and Netvibes) and social bookmarkers like ‘Delicious’ where people bookmark it for later use.

Want to read the study? Warlick, D. (2009). Grow Your Personal Learning Network: New Technologies Can Keep You Connected and Help You Manage Information Overload. International Society for Technology in Education, 12-16. Retrieved November 17, 2009 from

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Learning Profiles & Achievement: do learning preferences have a place in promoting students success in the classroom?

Tomlinson gives administrators and teachers beneficial insight of using student learning preferences in guiding for their decision making to students. She writes that learning profiles are only part of differentiated instruction which challenges them to draw on their best knowledge of teaching and learning.

According to Tomlinson, she identifies the difference between “learning style”, “intelligence preference”, and “learning profile” that teachers and administrators need to take into consideration to promote successful decisions in student learning:

  • Learning Profile- How students learn best in their differentiated learning backgrounds such as gender, culture, learning style and intelligence preference.

  • Learning Style- How students feel about their work, and their environments as a whole.

  • Intelligence Preferences- Students’ ways of thinking, understanding, and skill related to a particular intelligences or sets of intelligences of learning.

Also, she explains the difference between two leading intelligence researchers on intelligence preference in Gardner’s multiple intelligences and Sternberg’s analytical, practical, and creative intelligences.

Want to read the study?

Tomlinson, C. (2009). Learning Profiles & Achievement: do learning preferences have a place in promoting students success in the classroom? School Administrator, 66(2), 28-34. Retrieved Oct 9, 2009 from Education Research Complete database.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Annotation of Teaching Students and Teaching Each Other: The Importance of Peer Learning for Teachers

This study examines the benefit of having high quality teachers in schools to positively affect their students’ performance as well as influence the performance of their teacher colleagues’ students. The study found that when high quality teachers are in a school that there are “peer spillover” effects. This means that teachers may be motivated change their amount of effort and teaching practices when they observe and/or are aware of what a highly effective teacher is doing. This peer learning is a positive influence in increasing teacher effectiveness over time. Indeed teachers perform better when their colleagues have a high level of professional excellence. In particular, new to the profession teachers benefit more from working with high quality teachers as they generally are receptive to feedback about their teaching performance.

An analysis of 11 years (1995 to 2006) of testing data on 3-5 graders in North Carolina was used. The researchers measured teacher quality using teaching experiences, license exam score, and a calculated a “value-added” score using data from teachers’ previous year’s students standardized test results in reading and mathematics. As expected students of teachers with less teaching experience and lower licensing exam scores performed more poorly than their peers who had more experienced teachers with higher exam scores. All the teachers had North Carolina issued regular licenses.

Want to read the study?

Jackson, C. K., & Bruegmann, E. (2009). Teaching Students and Teaching Each Other: The Importance of Peer Learning for Teachers. NBER Working Paper Series. Retrieved September 8, 2009 from

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Academics Trumps Transportation, but Transportation Woes are a Barrier to School Choice

Rain is falling on this first day of school in my area. So the bus stops are full of colorful umbrellas and raincoats providing a festive appearance to the day. School buses are a staple in American public education. Given that nationally 55% of students are daily school bus riders spending an average of 90 minutes (45 minutes each way) on the bus each day, transportation is a considerable issue both in terms of time and public dollars. An issue that influences school choice.

A study was conducted in Denver, Colorado (some public transportation and most people have cars) and Washington, DC (mass transit and fewer families have cars) to determine the degree to which transportation influences school choice for families earning $75,000 or less per year. Approximately 75% of the parents had considered where to send their children to school (i.e., private, zoned, or public charter) and about half had opted for a school other than their zoned school. The top ranked reasons for school choice were:

  • #1 Academic Quality
  • #2 Location/Convenience
  • #3 School Environment

Overall, 56% of parents were very satisfied with their zoned public school compared to 66% for charter schools and 81% for private schools. The study found that transportation was a barrier to families sending students to another school for a better academic program when the family earns less than $20,000 per year. Further, a third of these families were unaware of transportation options provided by their school district to transport their child to another school. For families earning $40,000-$75,000 per year, the parents were typically satisfied with their school options. A challenge identified by the researchers is for school districts to make families aware of their options for transportation.

Want to Read the Study? Tesk, P., Fitzpatrick, J., & O’Brien, T. (2009). Drivers of Choice: Parents, Transportation, and School Choice. Center on Reinventing Public Education: Washington, DC. Retrieved on September 8, 2009 from

Monday, June 22, 2009

From Jefferson to Obama and Beyond: Essential School Leadership for the Next Generation of Engaged and Thoughtful Citizens (NLA, Tuesday Session)

Dr. Carl Glickman offers a surprising analysis of the real achievement, economic, and citizenship gap in America and how education cannot close any of these gaps until they understand the relationship between all of them. This interactive presentation will explain- through the use of vignettes and protocols and guided questions- how educators can center teaching, learning, and assessment practices so that students learn that education and improving democratic life are one and the same. The talk will draw from the newly released book Those who dared: Five visionaries who changed the face of American education.

Creating Rigorous Culturally Responsive Classrooms (National Leadership Academy, Tuesday session)

Dr. Donna Ford shares strategies and resources to address the strengths and needs of our increasingly diverse student population. It is important that educators create classrooms that are culturally responsive and rigorous in order to effectively address the achievement gap.

She is the author of numerous articles and books including Teaching Culturally Diverse Gifted Students.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Leading in a 21st Century Paradigm

Steve Edward's session will focus on the changing dynamics of leadership in a global knowledge economy. An era of continuous and rapid change requires a leadership skill set that is always evaluating and adapting to external forces.

Please share your thoughts and reflections about this National Leadership Academy session in the comments space.

The Digital Learning Farm

Alan November, author of Web Literacy for Educators, engages participants in a laptop journey modeling 21st century learning tools. Before tractors and combines, more than 60% of the population in North America was involved in farming. Today that number is less than 2%. Farm children made vital contributions to the family with real chores. While technology eventually eroded the meaningful work of children, we can now focus its use to restore the dignity of real work in school. All of our students can use collaborative online tools and research and global communications skills to add value to the learning community.These contributions include:

  • Tutorial Designers

  • Official Scribes

  • Researchers

  • Tool Developers

  • Collaboration Coordinators

  • Curriculum Reviewers

  • World Relations

Please share your thoughts on November's National Leadership Academy session in the comments section.

Academic Leadership: Creating a Climate of Success for All Students (National Leadership Academy, Monday)

Freeman Hrabowski, III shares how the rapid and dramatic demographic and technological changes present our nation’s schools with enormous challenges for educating students in the new century. Among the most critical questions we face are what will students need to know in order to succeed academically, and what skills and values must they possess? What strategies and best practices can educational leaders use, working together with parents and community leaders, to ensure rigor, elevate academic achievement, and support the success of all students. Answers to these questions will substantially influence how well students achieve academically and, ultimately, America’s global competitiveness and the civic engagement of its citizens in the first part of the 21st century.

He is the author of Overcoming the Odds.

Please share your thoughts about his messsage at the National Leadership Academy in the comments section.

United Focus: Getting Staff Buy-in (National Leadership Academy, Sunday Workshop)

Angela Seiders, a current middle school principal gets "it." Effective relationships with staff is a powerful and necessary component of positive change in schools. Angie asks, "as an administrator do you feel like a lone captain of your ship?" If so, "come learn how building relationships can get all hands on deck." The session focuses on cultivating strong working relationships between teachers and instructional leaders. In this interactive session, research-based ideas from the field will be modeled and shared so that instructional leaders can use or adapt the strategies to their setting.

The tone of this session was set from the engaging music to inviting leis which quickly transitioned to the sharing of "lifesavers" for building relationships. Numerous ideas and sample materials were modeled and shared.

Angie is the co-author of People First.

Please use the comments section to share your experiences in this workshop at the National Leadership Academy.

Implementing Response to Instruction/Intervention (RtI) in Our Schools (National Leadership Academy, Sunday Workshop)

Mary Little will share how the Response to Instruction/Intervention (RtI) model within classrooms and schools has been developed as a proactive process of instructional problem solving to improve student learning, as well as to identify students with disabilities. During this session, the participants will gain an awareness of the similarities of the school improvement processes and classroom instructional decision-making to Response to Instruction/Intervention. Case studies, resources, and processes will be shared for school leaders within classrooms, schools and districts to consider for continued implementation.

Participants will be able to:
  • Compare policy mandates of Response to Instruction/Intervention with current school and classroom implementation of school improvement processes, data-based decision-making, professional learning communities, and action research;
  • Describe the policies and processes of Response to Instruction/Intervention;
  • Describe and facilitate instructional problem solving process using data; and
  • Develop an action plan for implementation of the RtI process in schools and districts.

Please share your experience in the RtI workshop at the National Leadership Academy in the comments section.

Leading Teams to Improve Literacy K-12 (National Leadership Academy, Sunday Workshop)

Jan Rozzelle and Carol Scearce will model research-based strategies and techniques that increase student comprehension and retention of content material. The workshop will feature demonstrations, video clips of real classroom instruction, and samples of exemplary lesson plans. Participants will have an increased awareness of effective literacy practices to look for across the content areas.

Rozzelle and Scearce are the authors of

Power Tools for Adolescent Literacy. Use the comment option to share your experience in the 2009 National Leadership Academy workshop.

Data to Improve Teaching and Learning (National Leadership Academy, Sunday Workshop)

Dr. Michael DiPaola plans to provide strategies to assist principals and supervisors in recognizing and collecting data on teacher classroom performance. Participating principals and supervisors will return to their schools with tools to collect data, that when shared with individual teachers, will help them focus on student engagement, verbal interactions, questioning skills, and other research-based practices to improve their teaching and consequently, student learning.

Please use the comments option to blog about your experience in his workshop at the 2009 National Leadership Academy on June 21st.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Reading in the Content Area

Even though the 2008-09 school year has just ended, I am always on the look out for articles, books, and in general reading resources that can be used to compliment the adopted textbook.

My most recent “find” was yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article, “The Terror of the 10-Foot Putt More Golf Events -- Especially U.S. Opens -- Come Down to the Lightest Stroke; Less Than a Joule.” The article struck me as clip-worthy for possible use in an unit on energy. A post-it note serves as a reminder as why the article was clipped as sometimes looking back at a newspaper clipping months later makes me wonder why I liked the piece.

In this case, the article is about golf and how the exertion of a relatively small amount of energy has an impact on the outcome of the game. Given the popularity of golf stars such as Tiger Woods and that students are taking up in increasing numbers so for some students, the article would catch their attention.

I could see the article being used as part of an introduction on energy and work. The use of the word “joule” in the subtitle could be a hook for students to start them reading to learn more. A borrowed putting green and a putter could be in the classroom for demonstration and experience. As a student modeled a putt, we could talk about the use of energy and how it is measured. The article basically builds a case that golf the putt which requires the least amount of energy of the strokes has a tremendous impact. A couple of scientists are quoted with their input on science and the sport (one a bit glib and the other a balance of humor and science).

Reading more about the article, students can be reminded of the role of friction and resistance as they read about the affect rain has on the greens as the grass has grown very thick this year resulting in dense roughs. If joules aren’t in your curriculum, the article provides fodder for designing an investigation as it specifies some variables that influence the accuracy of the shot. This could be an avenue for a guest speaker or the inspiration for a science project.

So let the clipping begin (or electronic saving of articles) for summer school or next year!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Widget Effect: Teacher Evaluation

Across the United States, the school year has ended or will end soon. Field days, graduation ceremonies, cumulative folders, final report cards, and summative teacher evaluation conferences mark the end of the school year along with a host of other activities. Unfortunately, teacher evaluation in many systems is a “check the box” event as opposed to a process.

On Monday (6/1/09), The New Teacher Project released The Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness in which the teacher evaluation practices in 12 school districts in four states (AR, CO, IL, OH) were examined. Over 15,000 teachers and 1200 administrators were surveyed. Documents were analyzed and 130 interviews were conducted. The school districts ranged in size from serving 4,450 students to 413,700 students. The Widget Effect “describes the tendency of school districts to assume classroom effectiveness is the same from teacher to teacher. This decades-old fallacy fosters an environment in which teachers cease to be understood as individual professionals, but rather as interchangeable parts” (p. 4).

Teachers are you treated as Widgets? Administrators, does the evaluation system you use suffer from the Widget Effect? Common characteristics of the Widget Effect are:

  • All teachers are rated good or great. In evaluation systems with satisfactory, unsatisfactory, and not applicable choices for each item, most teachers are going to be rated satisfactory as bar for unsatisfactory is too low and/or required documented effort of work to address teacher weaknesses during the year raised performance just above unsatisfactory, but there is no middle ground. In systems with multiple ratings, the report found that 91% of teachers received the top two ratings and less than 1% were rated unsatisfactory. An behaviorally-anchored performance rating scale for each performance standard that defines what performance for each level looks like and consists of is one way to increase the use of ratings that do discriminate between great, good, needs improvement/developing, and unsatisfactory performance.
  • Excellence goes unrecognized. In many school systems, an effective teacher who gets gains with students, but only has four years of teaching experience makes less money than the 15-year mediocre teacher in the next classroom. While many school systems have a teacher of the year program, this only recognizes one “great” teacher while many more dedicated an effective teachers go unrecognized for their work. Often evaluation systems perpetuate this problem by failing to acknowledge excellence when it exists in areas such as instructional delivery, planning, assessment, classroom management, and content knowledge, professionalism, and student interactions.
  • Inadequate professional development. Often teacher evaluation is disconnected from professional development. Seventy-three percent of teachers surveyed in this report said that their most recent evaluation did not identify areas for professional growth.
  • No special attention to novices. Teacher evaluation systems that treat everyone the same are failing to acknowledge that new to the profession teachers benefit from additional support during their first few years in the classroom.
  • Poor performance goes unaddressed. The majority of administrators (81%) and teachers (58%) surveyed indicated that there was a poor performing teacher in their school. Further 43% of the teachers indicated that the teacher’s performance warranted dismissal.

The report offers four recommendations for addressing and reversing the Widget Effect. Better teacher evaluation is a component. A more difficult challenge is changing the mindset of people who say that teacher quality matter, but do little to recognize, promote, and improve effectiveness. The recommendations are:

  1. Have a comprehensive teacher evaluation system that provides a means to rate teacher performance according to factors associated with effective teaching. The evaluation should be linked to professional development. Teachers should receive frequent feedback.
  2. Evaluators need to know how to use and use the evaluation system effectively. Training needs to be provided so that the system is implemented in a fair, legal, useful, and consistent manner.
  3. Teacher evaluation needs to be linked to critical policy and action items within the school system (e.g., teacher hiring, compensation, reduction-in-force, dismissal).
  4. Have dismissal policies that “provide lower-stakes options for ineffective teachers to exit the district and a system of due process that is fair but efficient” (p.8). This report recommendation may have state law implications as some states have codified the process for dismissal.

    NOTE: the green text is directly taken from page 6 of the report.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

End of School Year Appreciation Ideas

On Twitter the other day a teacher was asking for ideas for what students could do after they finished their standardized test. I sent back a few idea such as create a topic in review using Glogster, update powerpoints with better images or looks or perhaps a complete redo such as prezi, artwork, or  writing and illustrating a children’s book. Those books could be read to younger students. All these activities are ways the students' work can positively influence the learning of other students. If you would like to follow me on Twitter, I am jlhind.

However, I neglected to share one of the activities that perhaps meant the most to me as a teacher – letters to a teacher who had a positive impact. At the end of my first year of teaching a student handed me a word processed poem he had written about his teachers. I still have it. About 10 years ago, I received three letters in my faculty mailbox courtesy of intra-district mail. Each one was written by a former student telling me how I had made a positive impact in his or her life – the letters were an assignment the high school students had during teacher appreciation week. I still have those letters. I have also had my students do the same. When I was in graduate school, I had a professor whose encouragement was especially helpful and I wrote her a letter. She later told me that she kept letters in a special place to read after a hard day. I could completely relate. So as the school year comes to the end, if you are looking for a writing assignment, consider having students write a letter telling a teacher, staff member, volunteer, or parent how that person made a positive impact on them. Then arrange for the letters to be delivered so the smiles and memories can begin.

If you want a positive student focused activity, consider one of the following three. I’ve done them all with great results with students. 

1)    Make a bookmark with about 30 lines on it and a heading telling the class name such as “Mrs. Apple’s Class values the strengths of ______________. Those strengths are the following as written by fellow classmates.” Each student fills in his or her name on the top and leaves it on the desk. Then classmates go one by one to each person’s desk and write something positive on the line. The activity took about 20 minutes and then I laminated the bookmarks for the students. I still have mine and in fact “immortalized it” on page 43 of The Handbook for Qualities of Effective Teachers

when I wanted to share a sample with readers.

2)    Make certificates for each student that features something special about the student that occurred during the school year. In fact, we did it as a culminating team activity in which the team of four teachers I was on came up with the superlatives. Then call the students up in front of the class one by one to receive their certificate. My students really liked this.

3)    Write a letter to each student. I was fortunate to loop with half of my students each year as half my team was 7th graders and half were 8th graders. So after having many of them for 2 years, I wrote them exit letters. The first year I had 50+ handwritten note cards and a major case of writer's cramp. I realized that first year that the opening and ending of my message were similar for all students. So after that I used the mail merge function of Word to insert tailored sentences, memories, and names. 

Friday, May 8, 2009

13th Annual William and Mary National Leadership Academy

The 13th Annual William and Mary National Leadership Academy will be held June 21-23, 2009 in Williamsburg, VA. This high quality professional development offering is limited to 250 participants to ensure interaction among participants and the speakers. A number of the speakers have websites and videos on the web.

Sunday, June 21, 2009
Afternoon Concurrent Sessions
Dr. Michael DiPaola – Data to Improve Teaching and Learning

Dr. Jan Rozzelle and Carol Scearce – Leading Teams to Improve Literacy K-12
Boundary spanner: Rozzelle takes W&M research to public schools (video)

Dr. Mary Little - Implementing Response to Instruction/Intervention (RtI) in Our Schools

Angel SeidersRelational Leaders using a United Focus to Get Staff Buy-in

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dr. Freeman Hrabowski - Opening Session
Academic Leadership: Creating a Climate of Success for All Students
Dr. Hrabowski is interviewed by Dr. Julian Bond (video).

Alan November - Morning Session The Digital Learning Farm
3 Skills Students Need to Succeed (video)


Dr. Steven Edwards - Afternoon Session
Leading in a 21st Century Paradigm
Video Clip of School Leadership: Leaders for Today and Tomorrow

Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Dr. Donna Ford - Morning Session
Creating Rigorous Culturally Responsive Classrooms
Closing the Achievement Gap (video)


Dr. Carl Glickman - Closing Session
From Jefferson to Obama and Beyond: Essential School Leadership for the Next Generation of Engaged and Thoughtful Citizens
Articles, research reports, and books

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Free Book, Free Article Access, and Other Ways to Get Information to Come to You

I am a self described research mole. I like digging into the research literature to address questions. Back in the eighties, I used the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature and card catalogs. The advent of microfiche made looking up articles faster than those reels that had to be fast forwarded through and then rewound. So by the time the nineties came around with the Internet searches and into the twenty-first century with PDF files, I was thrilled and at times amazed at how quickly I could pull sources, including refereed journals. I still do old fashion digging with paper journals, looking up studies referenced in articles. I do appreciate subscriber services that alert me to new articles, opportunities, and soon-to-be published studies. Some of my favorites are:

  • EPAA (online publishing peer-reviewed studies and book reviews), 
  • Public Education Network (weekly email of education policy and studies),
  • Science Daily (refereed journal article highlights), and
  • ASCD Smartbrief(summaries and links to education articles found in newspapers reporting studies or initiatives),
  • and various journals that send me their table of contents with links to the article abstracts so I can determine if I want to look up the article.
Other information sources include twitter and using  the feed options on blogs I like to read such as Learning to Collaborate.

Below are three “nuggets” that came through my email in the last week or so that I wanted to share with you. Whether the free book from ASCD (ends 5/6/09), free article access on how sleep affects adolescent learning , or math research article summary is gold is up to you to decide. Click the item of interest to you.

 Articles and writings on this blog are an extension of:

  • what SURN Superintendents identify as important focuses for their school systems
  • research interests of SURN staff, and/or
  • what sounds applicable, unique, or just plain piques our interest as ways education-related research or education-applicable research is going.

Use the comments in this blog to tell us what is of professional interest to you. By knowing what you are wandering about or working on we can keep you in mind as we read broadly.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Books, Books, and More Books: Reading is the Lure and the Hook

On Tuesday (4/7), I received a notice of an online Q & A with Donalyn Miller, author of the The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child. I read the Q & A as it was occurring and on Friday (4/10), the book was procured.

I had intended to read the opening pages, but alas that was 1.5 hours ago and now the 227 page book has been marked up with green ink including a couple of notes on the inside front cover. So here are my short notes from the inside front cover notes: easy read; gives teachers ideas for immediate implementation; written in first person so readers can connect with Miller without being overwhelmed with a sense of “well I am not her, so how could I do this.” The book is written to pass those tips worth sharing and empower teachers to create environments in which reading thrives. In short the book connected with me, a former science teacher who used literacy strategies, journal articles, and trade books in the classroom to support instruction. The book is a guide on how to awaken the sleeping reader inside some students and immediately empower voracious readers while honoring everyone between the two extremes.

Donalyn Miller offers alternatives to book reports and read-alouds. She provides insights into how to mine the instructional day for reading opportunities and create a viable and growing library. She candidly shares the ups and downs of her teaching experiences as she journeyed from new teacher to experienced professional. She is currently a sixth grade language arts teacher in Texas. She also writes a blog for Teacher Magazine.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Assessing the Effectiveness of School Leaders

Administrators have a tremendous impact on the teaching and learning that occurs in their schools. Last month, the Wallace Foundation released a document that highlighted the need for instructional leaders to receive feedback that could be used to promote their effectiveness. The document was based on work the foundation had funded related to assessing school leader effectiveness. Central to the work was the need for feedback to be a part of a process as opposed to a point in time measure. Often administrators receive summative feedback (e.g., evaluation), but not much formative feedback which could be used to promote growth and expand expertise. A combination of the two forms of feedback is desirable.

The key question asked was, “How can we expect school leaders to improve their performance throughout their careers and meet the mounting challenges of their jobs if we aren’t gathering, and acting on, the right information about the effectiveness of their behaviors and actions as leaders of learning?” (p.2-3). Consideration of the question is especially relevant given a study cited in the article that nearly half of assessment instruments did not offer clear feedback on areas which teaching and learning could be better supported by leadership. Further links between evaluation, professional development, and mentoring are tenuous. In short the response offered in article to the question that began this paragraph is to:

  1. Connect standards (e.g., state, ISLLC) to the evaluation

  2. Align professional development opportunities and mentoring to identified needs for instructional leader growth

  3. Identify and focus on behaviors that improve teaching and learning

  4. Recognize that effective leaders build capacity and share authority to promote professional learning communities

  5. Use valid (i.e., appropriate) and reliable (i.e., consistent) tools

  6. Have the assessment be flexible so it is useful for leaders in various contexts and stages of their careers

  7. Provide training to evaluators

  8. Examine strong models of assessment tools such as the Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education (VAL-ED) tool which uses norm-referenced scores to support the evaluator in identifying areas for administrators (based on comparison to a logical group – new to the position leader) to improve (formative focus) as well as criterion-referenced scores to enable comparisons with peer colleagues (summative focus)

Number 3 above references identifying leadership behaviors that support teaching and learning. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of leadership studies. For a well-organized "primer" on qualities of effective principals, check out James Stronge, Holly Richard, and Nancy Catano's book on the topic. A sample chapter entitled Instructional Leadership: Supporting Best Practice is available free as a preview online from ASCD.

Monday, March 23, 2009

School Branding

During the Friday workshop called Hiring the Best, a cartoon was shared in which both the applicant and the personnel director had misspellings (one on the resume and the other on a desk sign). The points for consideration were (1) both parties should be trying to impress each other such that the applicant would want to come to that school system and the school system would want the applicant and (2) to what degree are grammatical and typographical errors “fatal” in the hiring process. Other discussion points that day addressed how to get the applicants that the school system wants when other school systems have better pay etc. One participant shared that it was frustrating when a major player in the community told new teachers that the pay may not be much, but the community would love them more.

Fast forward to Monday and the Wall Street Journal had an article entitled Employer Branding which made me think about how branding would work well for any school system or school. Further it could be especially beneficial for school systems that may be at a disadvantage when vying for the same top applicants as a neighboring school system with “more” of just about everything. Typically folks think of branding as product focus, but in recent years, employers have been branding themselves to get the best. The article identifies 5 areas for each; I provide a school based example (that was inspired by the article).

  1. Potential profitability – identifies what the most effective teachers want and then create opportunities for them. Plenty of systems have talked about merit pay in various forms. Often this is hard to get adopted, so consider a recognition program for good results. For example, if your highly effective teachers want tuition reimbursement or funds for classroom materials.
  2. Product-feature preferences – in step 1, the school system identifies who it needs to keep/get and in step two the district seeks to provide those desirable benefits. This is dependent largely on where teachers are in their lives. For example, many effective teachers have left the classroom because of family commitments. What if there was a policy that made schools even more family friendly for workers such as a teacher-coverage program that allows teachers to leave school for 1-2 hours for parent-teacher conferences or plays at their child’s school? Other ideas include job-sharing. With so many middle and high schools going to alternate day schedules, it would be entirely possible for two teachers to split a job each working a full day and the students have consistency in the teacher. Likewise there are many other viable job sharing set ups. Alternatively, high performers may want some “perks” like funding for supplies or tuition reimbursement.
  3. Reference groups – people want to work for school systems that folks they interact with respect. Schools need to “market” themselves and get the positive press. This may be inviting local newspapers to cover academic school events such as “Pi Day” or an interesting science/social studies lesson on science in the Renaissance. Using the school’s outside marquee for “tooting its horn.” Keeping the website current. Sending out emails of “good news.”
  4. Bargaining power – admittedly this is harder in education as it refers to the power of an employee with desirable skills to negotiate for better pay, benefits, etc. Some school systems though do offer signing bonuses or extra pay if an employee teaches in a critical needs area.
  5. Choice barriers – these are policies that make it harder for an employee to choose to leave the organization. For example, a school system may reward employees who reach milestones in their careers. Given that half of all school teachers exit the profession after five years, maybe there is a one-time bonus given for teachers who have seven years with a school system. Another would be a true merit pay system that recognizes gains that teachers achieve with students.

The article also led me to reflect about a chapter in the book, People First, in which I wrote about how a school leader’s team sense was an invaluable set of knowledge for recruiting, retaining, and developing teachers. The chapter has three main sections:

  • Wise staffing decisions

  • Thoughtful teacher development choices

  • Conscientious retention efforts

Think how school leadership’s actions in the three areas above could create a positive “brand” the school that would be attractive to intra-district transfers and applicants from outside the school system.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Depth vs. Breadth for Addressing Course Content

“Students who experience breadth of coverage in high school biology perform in college as if they had experienced half a year less preparation than students with without breadth of coverage, whereas those who are exposed to indepth coverage perform as if they had had half a year more preparation than the students without depth of coverage” (p.17).
Not interested in biology? In high school chemistry the difference was ¼ of a year difference and for high school physics it was two-thirds of a year.

So here is the scorecard compiled from the study (if you want to know about the study details they are provided after the list:
(1) Depth of coverage (one month spent studying a BIG concept) prepares students better for future study (e.g., higher grades in college courses)
(2) Breadth of coverage (lots of topics) may result in higher standardized test scores in high school
(3) Balancing depth and breadth neither positively nor adversely affected future grades
(4) The findings were consistent regardless of subject area in the study.

A recently released article (press release; for the study one needs a subscription to the periodical) reports the findings from a survey of 8,310 college students in 55 U.S. institutions who were enrolled in a fall introductory science class (i.e., biology, chemistry, or physics). The researchers sought to answer or at least add to the discussion of what is better depth or breadth of coverage in high school science courses.

College students were asked about their high school coursework for example introductory physics students were asked about high school physics. They also provided information about their demographics and high school teachers. At the end of the semester, the students’ professors provided their grades in the college course. The researchers decided to use the course grade as introductory classes are the gatekeepers to future study in the subject area and they believed would be more valid than a specially-developed test.

The article cited another study that found that students of teachers who did not rely on the textbook earned higher grades than students whose teachers used the book extensively. This suggests that when teachers judiciously use the textbook, they design learning experiences that scaffold knowledge and skills such that students can interact and learn them in meaningful ways.

Blogger's Thoughts

The implications of such study are important for us as educators. The TIMSS study consistently finds that countries that outperform the US address fewer topics indepth. Yet, US teachers are working in an age of accountability testing in which there is an “incentive” to ensure that all topics that appear on the test are addressed in class. We have ready access to standardized test scores and often do not hear from our students or others about the lasting effects of our teaching. The question for us as teachers is: how do we prepare students for future study (long term goal) while facilitating their learning for demonstration on end-of-course and grade level tests (short term).

Want to read the study?
Schwartz, M. S., Sadler, P. M., Sonnert, G., & Tai, R. H. (2009). Depth versus breadth: How content coverage in high school science courses relates to later success in college science coursework. Science Education. Retrieved 3/11/09 from NOTE: released first online, so no vol(issue) is available at the time of this post.

Image taken at Hooker Falls in North Carolina

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Literacy and Technology-What a fusion!

Within days of each other, two publications made their way to me.

The Journal of Reading Research came by email with links to various articles. These alerts come from many journals that I frequently read. But this month was special as the articles were just a two clicks away (1 from the email to the webpage and the other one to have the PDF pull up). The special issue's topic was literacy and technology. The second article got my attention because I did not know one of the words - bebo. So I clicked through From Blog to Bebo and Beyond: Text, Risk, and Participation. I learned that bebo is a social networking site, but that only satisfied the initial curiosity. The article is an academic read and reminded me as an educator that students are multi-literate accessing and producing text. Through the author's analysis I appreciated the differences between how the adult and adolescent (both female) organized and shared information. Literacy in Digital Worlds is an article detailing the process ups and downs of teachers planning for and implementing an online literacy experience for students.

The second publication arrived by snail mail, Educational Leadership (March 2009 issue). The issue focus is Literacy 2.0. A couple of the articles are available online such as Orchestrating the Media Collage which is a reader-friendly look at how text and media converge, diverge, and complement. For those still wondering just how to get their hands around emerging technology, start with the last section of the article "teachers as guides" as it identifies key functions of teachers in this ever changing digital landscape to:
  • articulate what constitutes quality work
  • provide feedback
  • and support students as they make appropriate choices, select technology, and use their voice effectively.
The author provides eight guidelines for teachers to embrace and cultivate the multiliteracy of students. For folks who have embraced digital technology, the eight guidelines will resonate well. They range from moving from a text-centered orientation to a media collage through the use of art and conclude with digital fluency. Each guideline is elaborated upon.

Image from

Monday, February 9, 2009

Reflect Your Best

Reflection is a critical attribute of effective professionals. Seems, all my life, I have been reflecting. When I was in Brownies (Girl Scouts) there was a ceremony in which the words, I do not recall, but at the end my troop and I got to peer over the edge of the flora and fauna and saw ourselves-the only person we could change. There was a mirror on the floor with its edges hidden by plants. As a student teacher, I had six 42-minute periods one semester. Three of which were 8th grade math - so there was an opportunity to quickly reflect between class periods to adjust instruction to enhance results. During that time, my cooperating teacher supported me in my reflection with questions or observations. As a teacher, department head, and later a writer I have chosen to use reflection as an internal process to enhance my effectiveness.

In this month's issue of the Virginia Journal of Education, there is an article that I co-authored with James Stronge (author of Qualities of Effective Teachers) on reflection.The "aha" for me in the article was classifying thoughts by their reflective state. Sometimes just having a label to attach to a thought can help in the processing of the event. The three states are: emotional, acknowledging, and questioning. Often times, a reflection involves multiple reflective states, but once clear of the emotional response, I feel free to explore the issue. The article addresses in a nutshell developing a reflective process through the use of three questions (an idea I borrowed from my mother who always started her classes with three questions on a topic) as well as how to support colleagues' reflective practice.

The three questions are:
  1. What went well today and why?
  2. What could have gone better and why?
  3. What do I want to remember for the future?

Certainly there are otherways to reflect. The three questions get you started. For me, the questions provide a frame to decompress from work as well as hold onto what was worthwhile and process what needed to be better.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

3 Pet Peeves about Applications

Ever complete an application and wonder “why did they ask that?”

This blog is inspired by my son’s preschool application as several of the inquiries connected to pet peeves I have about job applications that have arisen as I have reviewed them in my work with school systems.

Pet Peeve #1: High School Graduation Date
My son’s prospective preschool (he has not been accepted yet for the 2010-2011 year) uses the same application for preK-12. So there are requests as there should be about prior schools and the dates attended. I just wrote “not applicable.”

The inquiry though made me think about job applications for teachers and administrators that ask for the high school and date of graduation. For positions requiring a college degree, high school graduation date is not job-relevant. In fact, knowing the high school graduation date makes it easy to figure out how old an applicant is given that many U.S. high school graduates are between 17 and 19. So age discrimination could be an issue.

Pet Peeve #2: Social Security Number (SSN)

On the application, the school asked for his SSN (I wrote in that it would be provided upon his admission). Long story short, identity theft is too common to just have social security numbers sitting on applications. A lot of employers put a space for SSN and note that it is optional for the application, and then require it as a condition of employment. Once a job offer is made, the provision of a SSN is necessary. If the SSN is required for being considered for employment there usually is a statement referencing the Federal Privacy Act along with an explanation.

Pet Peeve #3: Hobbies and Extra Curricular Activities
On my son’s application, I indicated that his hobbies included playing with toy cars and his extracurricular activities consisted of outdoor fun such as sliding and riding his bike. Yet what job-relevant reason would a school system need to know an applicant’s hobbies? Perhaps it is for coaching or club sponsorship – the school system may be looking for teaching-related activities that an applicant does. Personally, I like items to be clear-if hiring a teacher ask teaching-related inquiries; if hiring a coach use a different application to gather information about expertise in that realm.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Teacher Selection a Process, not an Event

Effective instructional leaders know that people are the heartbeat of the school. For students having adults (teachers, custodians, secretaries, nurses, and the list goes on) who are committed to working with children and youth is essential to school and student success. Education is a team effort, from time to time there may be a MVP, yet points are scored when we all work together. It matters who works in the school, their attitudes, their abilities, and what they can offer to colleagues and students. Teacher selection at its worst is a series of interviews in which someone is hired because they are breathing and have the necessary credentials. Teacher selection at its best is a process – a series of inter-related activities that gather information and insight to arrive at a decision about who will best assume the role of a teacher in a particular school. This blog goes through how each step of the process can build on the previous one. Key to this process is ensuring that information is recorded and shared. For example, why ask an applicant each step of the way what she/he is licensed to teach if the information is readily available on the application.


Keep the website up-to-date with which positions are open. Include a date that application review will occur, so potential applicants know the timeline. Make sure that current employees know what is available as they may have colleagues in other school systems that may be interested or they themselves may want a transfer. Reach out to local colleges if an opening occurs in January as December graduates are looking for jobs.


Develop a credential review so that applications are reviewed for prerequisites that research studies have associated with effective teachers such as: degree in the area being taught, verbal skills, teaching experience, student teaching, etc. This will help narrow the field. The data summary should be available to school system staff seeking to fill a teacher position.

Interview Stage – consider having two

Design a structured screening interview (each applicant for a specific position is asked the same questions) that will solicit applicants telling about their past professional practice. This can be a short 15-20 minute interview done over the telephone, by web cam or at a job fair/on-campus recruitment day. Ask 5-6 questions TOTAL about planning, instructional delivery, classroom management, assessment, and developing rapport with students and their families. The goal of this interview is to determine who should remain in the applicant pool so fewer building level interviews need to be held. Summary data of the interview should be added to the applicant’s file or database record so administrators system wide can review the applicant.

Design a structured building-level interview that asks different questions than those asked in the first interview. Likely the interview will be 45-60 minutes and will query the areas associated with effective teaching (see above). Delve into topics such as experience with working with at-risk populations, technology use, assessment usage, data reviews, and specific instructional strategies. Make sure that the data from this interview is available to other administrators. The goal of this interview is to select a teacher.

Plan for an alternative performance interview in the event the applicant did really well at a building level interview in your school district, but was not selected because there was someone better, consider using a performance interview. After all, the administrator already has data from a face-to-face interview done by a colleague. The performance interview could be asking the applicant to come prepared to teach a demonstration lesson to the interview committee or if school system rules allow, take over a classroom for 30-45 minutes. Some school systems use a performance interview as part of the process. Many more do not since this takes more time.

Reference Checks

Each step in the process narrows the applicant pool. After interviews, spend a little more time on the top 2-3 applicants. Call their references. Acknowledge if a letter was sent and ask a couple of questions such as:

  • How long and in what capacity did you work with [applicant’s name]? In the event, this was not stated in the letter.
  • What strengths did [applicant’s name] bring to your school?
  • What are areas of growth or potential for this applicant professionally?
  • Thinking of all the teachers with whom you have worked, is [applicant’s name] in the bottom 25%, middle 50%, top 25% and why.

Selection Decision

Review all the data sources, consider the school needs, and make the hiring recommendation to the appropriate person in your setting. Some school systems have an additional interview at the central office level while others extend an offer. Keep copies of the documents compiled during the selection process – you may need them if the applicant chooses another worksite or issues arise.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Adolescent Literacy Website

Ever on the lookout for resources, I was delighted when a colleague shared with me a website that had been recommended to her. Ad.Lit ( is a website called All about Adolescent Literacy: Resources for parents and educators of kids in grades 4-12. The website has been around a while given some of the dates on the articles, but if you haven’t visited it, it is worth a stop. My favorite part of the website were the author interviews as they go beyond what students read in the brief “about the author” and address aspects of the authors’ lives that students would find interesting and perhaps connect with. I found additional author’s interviews under the Video and Multimedia section as well. So here is a preview of the site.

Author Interviews: Every want your students to meet an author such as Christopher Paul Curtis or Lois Lowry, they can through if you download their interview from The power of the interview is that the author becomes accessible and “real” to students. To briefly summarize Lowry’s interview, she shares how a series of life experiences made her a writer. From having to recite a poem at age 4 for her grandfather’s friends to one of those friends leaving her enough money when he died to buy a car, so she dropped out of college, got married, had four kids, and then finished her degree.

Classroom Strategies: Looking for additional strategies to add to your teaching tool box or perhaps a refresher on a particular strategy? This website organizes dozens of them in a table divided into reading (vocabulary, comprehension) and writing and further classified as a strategy for before, during, or after. This may sound familiar to Power Tools alumni who have used the Power Tools lesson plan. The explanation of each strategy is done through a series of questions and answers such as “what is it?” and “why is it so great?” then it moves to the how-to use and includes a link to a sample of where the strategy has been applied.

Glossary: Always nice given the alphabet soup laden world of acronyms and terms not defined in the dictionary. Those terms can come in handy though, I once had a colleague pulled over for speeding. When asked where she was going in such a hurry she rattled off that she was late to meeting with the school SPED coordinator to discuss an upcoming IEP as the SWD needed some additional accommodations. She got a warning.

Just for Fun: This page is a bit of everything left over, but should not be missed. Want to know how to get free books before anyone else can buy them – students can sign up to be book reviewers, writing contests, technology links.

Research and Reports: This section is organized by topic and consists of brief annotations with links to the report, if available on the internet.

Topics from A-Z: Additional links to resources are organized by topic. Some topics are rather lacking in resources (e.g., special education), although others fill many screens (e.g., content area literacy strategies). The podcast article under technology is useful to get one started using this technology with students. If you have ever scripted a video production, you know how much reading, writing, and editing is involved. Using the technology is a way to engage students in the reading and writing process.

Consider sharing a web resource that you have found fun, useful, or a combination of both by posting it as a comment to this article.

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