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.


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