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.

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