Monday, October 29, 2012

Be careful of what you read...

What is really going on in our nation’s schools? 

I attended a conference last week and it really got me thinking about the perception of public schools.  Nationally, the assumption from the media is that our public schools are failing.  We must be careful as we wade through what may be considered truth by a certain few.  PISA is the international test the media often refers to when gauging successful education systems.  PISA stands for the Program for International Student Assessment.  Students are chosen at random in the countries that participate.  In 2009, the United States ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in mathematics.  We are in the middle of the pack based on international comparisons and it is cause for concern.  These statistics state the we are behind, but are we?  The United States consistently ranks the best on the Global Competitive Index, which means our economy is strong and our people are competitive.  Yong Zhao, the author of, “Catching up or Leading the Way,” says that the higher the nation’s scores on PISA the less innovative those countries are.  International test scores are not a valid predictor of national success. 

Our public schools, teachers and principals are constantly under the microscope.  Nationally, our worst public schools have begun to represent all public schools in United States.  The large percentage of schools in North Dakota are great schools, and Rugby is no different.  We consistently rank well above the state average on the North Dakota State Assessment and the ACT.  There have been recent reports that the ACT and SAT scores are at an all-time low.  The scores are lower, but we must look at the reasons as to why this is before we can make assumptions.  In North Dakota, we primarily use the ACT for college entrance.  As of three years ago the state of North Dakota now requires all juniors to take the ACT, in the past it was voluntary.  Until this mandate only students that were going to attend college took the ACT.  100% of all juniors in the state of North Dakota take the ACT, which has decreased the overall score.  The reality is that more students are taking the ACT and SAT than ever before, this has caused the decline in scores. 

Don’t get me wrong like any organization we have areas that we need to improve upon, but the majority of our nation’s schools are doing an excellent job at educating our youth.  Please be weary of the assumptions the media may make in regards to our schools.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Teaching is a profession!

I have been reading an excellent book lately from Fullan & Hargreaves Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School.  The book discusses the idea of developing professional capital within your schools.  This becomes very difficult in the United States due to the nature of our educational system.  Part of being a professional is to have the time to be one.  Teachers must be able to have time within their work day to work together and to be able to reflect.
"In the United States - being a teacher means spending almost all your time just teaching and teaching without time to reflect on and refine teaching." - Fullan & Hargreaves
What profession spends all of their time doing their craft and not given time to reflect on best practice and even more important next practice?
"Expert teachers are always consolidating what they know to be effective, testing it, and continuously adding to is." 
In the United States we spend almost double the amount of time teaching than other more successful countries based on PISA scores.  Our solve has always been to increase the school day and school year.  When we know that other more successful educational systems spend far less time "teaching" and more time being a professional.

What does it mean to be a professional?

Professionals have time to collaborate, research, reflect on best practice and new practice.  Professionals have the continual growth mindset.  They never get stagnant and actively take risks to improve themselves.  Professionals have a collegial responsibility to each other to improve as one.  They make each other better by bouncing different methods off of each other.  Professionals are critical of each other and are able to have crucial conversations without taking it personal.

There are three kinds of capital that comprise professional capital according to Fullan & Hargreaves.

Human Capital: Skills that can be developed within people.  The sooner people start school, and the longer the period of attending school, then the more return on investment for our economy.

Social Capital: Exists in the relations of people.
"Social capital increases your knowledge - it gives you access to other people's human capital."
WE need to increase the collegial responsibility of each other.  Isolation will not allow for our teachers to receive other teachers human capital.  To me social capital is the glue that holds everything together.

Decisional Capital: The essence of professionalism is the ability to make discretionary judgements.

The practice of making good quality decisions increases this capital within people.  Having the time to reflect plays a key role in this area.  Talking with others in your similar role and reflecting on those conversations increases decisional capital.

I always seem to revert back to time and scheduling within my own school.  Our teachers don't have the time to be professionals.  They don't have the time to reflect, to meet with each other, to do research, to use best practices and next practices.  The amount of time a student spends in a seat does not lead directly to student achievement.  The US is a prime example of this.  Lets keep this in mind and begin to allow our public schools the freedom to create innovative schedules that allow for professional growth.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fathers as reading role models

Last weekend I had the privilege to take part in a international symposium on education. At which I heard Caroline Hirlihy speak.  She was a former head teacher (principal) from the United Kingdom.  During her presentation she mentioned a program they had started called "Dad's Reading Project."  This caught my attention.  There is quite a bit of research out there that supports the power of reading to your children at an early age. It may even be more important to boys as to which parent reads books in the home.

Research from The Children's Literature Research Centre in London found that there was no clear evidence that boys came to school as reluctant readers.  They did however find, "that many boys start to resist reading, and resent activities which tend to surround reading in school." Ted Wragg, found that in the early years, "boys find it hard to make a good start on reading.  From their point of view, it is a more female than male activity."
"The Leverhulme Project found that mothers were much more likely than fathers to read with children at home."   
As a classroom teacher I saw this first hand.  Girls were much more likely to have the reading completed, and would often be able to expand on what they had read overall.  This has caused me to really reflect on the time I have spent on reading with my own children.  So I challenge all dads to be reading role models to their children, especially boys.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

How do you develop student voice?

Yesterday was by far the deepest learning experience I have ever had.  I took part in an international symposium with a representatives from the United Kingdom, Canada and regional schools.  We capped off the day with a debate of Yong Zhao's book Catching Up or Leading the Way.  This symposium was interlinked with my doctoral curriculum class.  It was a great learning experience and allowed us to create.  We took ownership of our learning, and the freedom granted to us allowed for us to develop deeper understanding.

Our professor was hands off and allowed us to go in any direction that we wanted in preparing for the debate.  Driving home yesterday I began thinking about how we can embed this type of learning into our schools.  This type of deep learning is exhausting and leaves you wanting more.  Below is the setup of how the debate operated.  This could be easily setup with any class at any level.

I feel debates are great ways to develop deep understanding and a great way to develop student voice.  By the end of the debate many people in the audience changed their views on the topic.  As leaders and educators we need to be able to understand both sides of an issue and be able to draw conclusions from those.

How do you develop student voice?