Bev is Chalkboard’s TIF grant manager and helps organize Chalkboard’s annual all-district meeting.
What happens when you bring together educators and school leaders for an all-day event to share innovations and best practices? You get a super-charged environment of learning, collaboration, creativity, and connection.
That’s exactly what happened on May 12, when more than 150 participants—teachers, building and district administrators, and union representatives—attended Chalkboard’s annual all-district meeting in Eugene. The educators, representatives from districts participating in either the Teacher Incentive Fund or School District Collaboration Fund grants, engaged with statewide peers and learned about innovative practices in Colorado and Tennessee.
In the name of learning together, three Colorado school districts shared their experience of designing a hybrid model for teacher leadership, redesigning the classroom to better align the curriculum with today’s global society, and rethinking educator compensation system for effectiveness and growth. Denver, Douglas County, and Harrison school districts challenged the participants to envision innovative approaches to transforming teaching and learning.
As one participant noted, “It was nice for our team to see what could be designed and hear from teachers about how their leadership roles support students and fellow teachers, and increase their own effectiveness. Triple win!”
Another winning presentation came from Tennessee’s Lipscomb University. Dean Debra Boyd shared the differences in working conditions based on generational characteristics, particularly as Generation Y’ers enter the education workforce. A timely topic about hiring and retention: one that many were dealing with back in their own districts. “If this information were presented two or three years ago, the audience response would have been much different,” remarked one attendee. “But now that our districts have been working on this for the last five years, this doesn’t feel as threatening as before.”
From presentations, to round tables, to brainstorming sessions, it didn’t take long to feel the power of collaboration: educators stepping outside the box, exploring opportunities, and engaging deeply in meaningful learning experiences.
And as the day came to a close, I came away excited about the energy, connectedness, and sharing that took place among passionate educators, who will go back to their districts, schools, and classrooms, and ignite the passion of learning in the children they serve.
If you haven’t seen a teacher use a Prezi on their Smartboard you should. Teachers can do some pretty amazing things, these days, with technology in the classroom. It seems like just yesterday I was the tech savvy teacher in 2004 that printed transparencies for my lectures from a word document instead of scribing my class notes on an overhead projector. Flash forward 10 years; overhead projectors and transparencies are extinct. Now teachers use LCD projectors and Smartboards to access Prezi presentations and online formative assessment apps like Plickers and Socrative to promote learning and instruction. We have made remarkable technological advances in education in a decade. The future will only bring more creative platforms to engage students and promote learning. With technology making our lives so much easier in the classroom and beyond many would presume that the drawbacks are limited. Believe it or not, there are some very real drawbacks for some students in the digital age. The emergence of technology as an educational tool has unintended consequences. Technology can augment the disparities between privileged and underprivileged students.
In a poignant speech for Google, educational leader Geoffrey Canada astutely articulates how students who come from educated households are more likely to have supports at home that know how to leverage technology for learning (e.g. using sites like Khan Academy). According to Canada, “kids who have no access are totally left out of this whole thing”. More specifically, students with guided access to technology at home are more likely to engage in hours of academic practice each year while less fortunate peers lack access, or if they have access they use technology primarily for entertainment and social media. In the end, underprivileged students get left behind and the deficits that perpetuate the opportunity gap grow.
What can we do? Technology changes so rapidly that we can’t expect all parents to be technologically competent. We can however, promote access, exposure, and digital citizenship within the confines of our own schools. Some school districts address this by adopting one-to-one technology plans where every student within a school gets their own personal iPad loaded with educational applications and digital textbooks.
Students do not have to come from upper middle class families to benefit from the advantages of technology. From a global standpoint, technology has leveled the economic playing field for many developing countries. One of my favorite examples of technology improving a community is a YouTube video entitled, “Growing Knowledge” that features a man in a rural Kenyan village using technology to promote innovation and solve problems within his impoverished community. This story is inspiring. It shows that technology can truly benefit everyone.
I love technology. More often than not, I marvel at technological ingenuity that transcends how we communicate, entertain ourselves, and improves our overall quality of life. That being said, we can’t be oblivious to the perils of technology especially when it comes to kids and education. Schools must make a concerted effort to ensure technology acts as an educational bridge and not a barrier.
As first appeared in Education Week March 23, 2015. Reprinted with permission from the author.
I hear it everywhere I go: “initiative fatigue.” The common-core standards are being implemented in more than 40 states, requiring significant shifts in instructional practice. At the same time, major teacher-evaluation reforms are taking hold. Too often, educators experience these changes as discordant at best, contradictory and confusing at worst.
I wanted to do something about that—and I wanted to do it with teachers, not to them. I wanted to hear directly from practitioners: What are they struggling with in their adoption of and alignment to the common core in terms of their instruction and understanding of the standards?
To answer this and other questions, I worked with a team of independent educational researchers to engage more than 500 educators, including teachers and principals, from March 2013 to June 2014. The participants came from four distinct school districts: Bethel, Conn.; Indian Prairie, Ill.; New York City; and Washoe County, Nev. These districts range from small suburban communities to a city with more than a million students, each with diverse socioeconomic levels, ethnic and racial populations, standardized-test scores, and common-core experiences.
To conduct the research, my organization, the Danielson Group, which sponsors training to support the widely used “Framework for Teaching”—a research-based and validated tool for teacher preparation, professional development, and teacher evaluation—partnered with Student Achievement Partners, which develops and shares open-source tools to aid teachers in their instruction of the standards. We received support from the Helmsley Charitable Trust, a significant funder of K-12 education and common-core-alignment initiatives.
What we discovered was that practitioners from across the country are deeply engaged with the question of how to successfully implement the common core. Their feedback revealed a strong commitment to ensuring that elements of instruction, teacher observation, and professional development are structured around the rigorous student learning prescribed by the standards.
The feedback also revealed several challenges about tackling the new standards.
In a nutshell, it’s hard. Teaching to the higher standards involves using instructional practices that are new and challenging for many practitioners and administrators. Participants in our study highlighted the need for strong content knowledge on the part of both teachers and observers, and they expressed doubts about the extent to which current practice either captures or develops this essential dimension. For the common-core math standards, teachers and administrators reported a clear need for more specific guidance on implementation at all levels.
Another clear take-away was that it takes time to develop deep familiarity with and confidence in new standards and to establish practices for diverse educational environments. Teachers, in particular, commented on the critical need for time to devote to reflection and professional conversation. They recognized that successful common-core teaching is not simply a matter of adopting some new—or different—instructional practices; it’s bigger than that and includes, in addition to deep content knowledge, changes in teachers’ understanding of student learning.
Both teachers and administrators also believed that observation and evaluation, including by peers, should be a central element of professional development. This dual nature of observation is not, however, the norm. Fundamentally, teachers expressed a desire to have agency and feel supported in developing their practice. Participants agreed that the instruments used for evaluation should be aligned to the common standards, and that when the focus is on ratings, the culture for professional learning suffers.
While it is widely recognized that teacher-evaluation and -development systems need to support practitioners both in the understanding of the new higher learning standards and in the improvement of their content knowledge, we know this is no easy task. Indeed, aligning models of teacher evaluation and development with the new learning standards, and finding the funds to do so, have been identified as the challenges faced by states and districts.
“There is significant recognition that new adjustments will require perseverance and even struggle.”
The suggestions, concerns, and desires captured in our research underscore the primary challenges facing teachers today and highlight the ways in which we can modify and strengthen supportive tools to draw more explicit connections to the new common core.
Our organization is working to make the criteria in the Framework for Teaching more streamlined and responsive to the instructional implications of the new standards. And as a result of our work, a collection of videos on standards-aligned classroom lessons, professional-development modules on common-core instruction, and other resources, all of which are free, are available on the Teaching the Core website.
When it comes to the big questions of how practitioners respond to the common core, the sense of both challenges and potential is clear. There is significant recognition that new adjustments will require perseverance and even struggle, but that the demands of the standards present students with new ways of learning and thinking. It may take time, but it is time worth taking.
Steve Campbell teaches at Ponderosa Middle School in Klamath Falls. A teacher for more than 22 years in Oregon, he was the local teacher association’s president the last four years, and has been involved with CLASS for the past three years and serves as the compensation committee chairperson.
I will honestly admit that I wasn’t very excited to travel to Colorado in February for the Douglas County School District Innovation Summit and Harrison School District #2 visit. At least I wasn’t attending by myself, but instead attending with an Oregon delegation of TIF and Collaboration grantees, plus Dale Rooklyn, our Chalkboard Coach, and Bev Pratt of Chalkboard Project. But in the end, I enjoyed the presentations and seeing the work they are doing in the areas of assessment, teacher evaluation, and compensation.
I didn’t agree with everything they did, however. I was disappointed in how their reforms were created without union involvement—there is perhaps 20 percent union membership in Colorado. I’m grateful for Chalkboard’s assistance in helping the teachers association become a prominent part of the CLASS reforms in Klamath Falls. Having union participation adds important checks and balances to the development process, and, in my opinion, the CLASS program has added greatly to the collaborative relationship between the school district and the association.
My biggest takeaway from Colorado is learning how these school districts created their own assessments after deciding the statewide assessments don’t evaluate what they feel are important.
Harrison School District’s teacher evaluation processes were compelling, and I wish I could have had more time to talk to their teachers about how they felt about scoring and evaluations, accomplished without association input. I flipped through a three-ring binder that included forms that teachers submit for review, outlining their achievements in the field such as mentoring, leadership, additional training, student scores, and others. This application is reviewed, scored, and used to evaluate if a teacher or principal deserves pay increases. As well as being a tool to evaluate pay increases, the reverse is also true—a teacher can go down in pay scale if their work performance falls below a prescribed level of expectations for two consecutive years.
Unfortunately, some of the things I really liked can’t really be replicated down here in Klamath Falls. Perhaps at some of Oregon’s largest school districts, but we have a small district of about 4,000 students, and the Douglas County district has 65,000 students, and we just don’t have the staff to do what they do. Harrison School District had 13 people working exclusively on writing assessments for every grade level.
Back in Colorado, there was a school superintendent who described the boldness of their reforms by saying, “We run with scissors.” They take chances and go for the big things in Denver and as a result, they are at the leading edge by trying new and different things. Here in Klamath Falls, Oregon, our Collaboration grant committees are testing the waters to make meaningful and lasting change happen to improve the profession of teaching, and increase the quality of education for all of our students and the families we serve. And I’ve learned—you can’t judge a conference until you’ve been there.
In schools statewide, instructional assistants are the backbone of programs for English language learners. Usually native speakers of other languages (most often Spanish), these assistants work closely with students to improve in every subject area, from reading to math and science, and the assistants report they are deeply committed to their students and their communities. They also don’t earn much—the starting salary for an instructional assistant in Salem-Keizer is $20,983, compared with $37,320 for new teachers with bachelor’s degrees.
Many instructional assistants would jump at the chance of becoming teachers if they had the means and support to advance their careers. Portland State University’s Bilingual Teacher Pathway program is an excellent model that is turning instructional assistants into teachers. The Oregon Education Investment Board and Department of Education are also working on initiatives designed to develop career pathways and accelerate the time it takes to make the move from instructional assistant to teacher.
As part of this effort, we also must do more to support to aspiring teachers taking the state licensing exams, which can pose a significant hurdle for non-native speakers.
Maribel Peña’s story is a case in point. A Mexico City native, she studied law at the University of Mexico before moving to Oregon over a decade ago. She attended Chemeketa Community College and was hired in 2004 as an elementary school instructional aide in Salem Keizer. She currently works at Cesar Chavez Elementary. From the start, she was able to make strong connections with her students as well as their families. “I share my own experiences with them,” she says, “and that helps me be an influence.”
She works mainly with students who are native Spanish speakers, some of whom have had such limited schooling they are illiterate in both Spanish or English. Anyone who saw her in action would say she has everything it takes to be an outstanding teacher.
Peña earned top grades in PSU’s Bilingual Teacher Pathway Program, as well as an endorsement as a teacher of English for speakers of other languages. But despite studying and extra tutoring, she has struggled to pass the licensing exams.
Although her own English language skills are excellent, she had to re-read questions several times and encountered questions and vocabulary that, as a non-native speaker she found tricky to comprehend. Combine that with the pressure of taking a timed test, and you see how much of a challenge lies before prospective bilingual teachers.
“I feel I have earned my own classroom,” she says. “I am more than qualified to be a teacher.” She plans to take the test again. “I want to make a change in my school and my community,” she says. “I want to impact lives.”
Chalkboard’s TeachOregon initiative is working with school districts and colleges and universities to attract more students of color to teacher preparation programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level. We have some new programs that start even earlier. The Pro-Team and Teacher Cadet programs being piloted in Salem-Keizer schools gets students interested in teaching careers as early as middle and high school. The High Desert ESD offers college credit to high school students of color who work as summer school interns.
Some of these programs will take time to produce results. However, a ready source of bilingual/bicultural teachers remains to be tapped—instructional assistants already working in classrooms in Oregon. Critical supports for the successful licensing of these potential teachers should be investigated, and then installed, to empower diverse teacher candidates, thus creating a brighter future for Oregon schools.
When I began teaching in 2004, I was what could be called a “generational outlier”. At 23, I distinguished myself as one of the school’s few teachers who belonged to the Millenial generation. I listened to Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony, and I was an early adopter of text messaging and Twitter. And as a professional, I was constantly looking for validation from my peers as well as the administration. During seven years of teaching, the generational differences between my minority Millenial ideals and the majority Baby Boomer leadership often presented themselves. Initiatives were top down, administration and teachers worked across the aisle, and getting the job done was a greater priority than celebrating success. I accepted these work settings despite the fact I didn’t always agree. When I went into administration I knew I would lead differently.
In 2011, Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) represented nearly 50 percent of the teaching workforce. In the next five to ten years, a majority of this population is expected retire and be replaced by Millenials (born 1981 to 2004). The stark contrasts between these groups create a cultural divide. The former have a reputation for being task oriented, competitive, they prefer clear direction, and have a hard time adjusting to changes in the workplace. The latter tend to value flexibility, need constant validation and feedback, value working in teams, and have only known a technologically advanced world. Bridging this cultural divide presents significant challenges to school leaders.
Principals at our schools must find a way to lead, inspire, and work with both subgroups. Many leaders in different industries have already begun the process of implementing different methods of inspiring this new generation. In the world of athletics, coaches have opted to nurture relationships with players rather than imposing their authoritarian will on players. University of Oregon football coach Mark Helfrich made headlines last fall when he shared that yelling at players was against the program’s philosophy.
Shifting the leadership approach in public education poses a great challenge to leaders. The components of the school system are complex and the margin for error is great. Leaders can start by blending a style that acknowledges those Baby Boomers who are accustomed to a certain style leadership—task centered and reluctant to change—while grooming the landscape for an influx of new talent that isn’t attached to any form of leadership, but intrinsically want feedback, collaboration, and relevance.
In my building, our blended leadership approach encourages active participation, urges openness for change, and celebrates traditions that work. The challenge is in finding the sweet spot. Leaders must earn buy-in from more-accomplished veterans who think differently about teaching, instruction, and education without being dismissive of their values. Baby Boomers will ultimately be responsible for passing the proverbial torch to a new generation of educators. But good leadership should recognize this transition, and begin now to construct the foundations that bridge the gap between these differing generations.
Mark Helfrich on Not Yelling
Getting Smart: Making the most of Millenial Teachers’ Mindset
Millenial Characteristics: Indiana University
Marsha Moyer is currently a trainer and project coach for Chalkboard Project, after a 24-year-plus career as a teacher, and administrator in various states, and has spent the majority of her career at the Salem-Keizer School District before her retirement.
I’ve often said, whenever I get finished doing what I’m doing as far as my professional development work, I’m going to go back into the classroom, and I’m going to teach. And after I retired, I renewed my teaching license because I believe there’s nothing greater than teaching.
But years ago, being young in my teaching career, having a family, just getting started, and looking at pay—if I wanted to do better, and afford myself a better life, I had to take my skills and talents, leave the classroom, and go into administration. And that is what I did, and what many of my teaching colleagues did because it was the only education career pathway that was open to us.
At the time we believed if you were a great teacher, and you wanted to do more and create an impact, the only way to do that was to leave the classroom, and go into administration.
What I would like people to understand is that many teachers were often filling leadership roles working outside of the classroom, just as we have today. A school cannot be successful if its teachers merely show up, go into their classrooms, teach, and leave. There are many components of extra duties and contributing factors that a teacher contributes to make a school successful. We just didn’t call it district leadership, or shared leadership, and they weren’t paid for it.
As we move from the traditional model, our values are starting to shift and we’ve got to look at doing things differently. CLASS’s creation of new career pathways and leadership opportunities that are associated with additional compensation has always resonated with me—it made so much sense. Because we have great people who really want to be touching the lives of children and families everyday, but still want to make sure that their children can go to college, and have the funds to do it.
When I retired from the Salem-Keizer School District, I told myself that as long as I have good energy, I would teach again. I love being able to mold minds, and remove barriers, because my career has taught me that a teacher not only impacts a child in the moment, but impacts generations. A teacher can possibly take a child out of generational poverty just by opening a doorway. Oregon’s teaching workforce should be empowered to embrace both new leadership roles and the classroom experience, with the full support and compensation it deserves.
Iton Udosenata, principal of Cottage Grove High School, was raised in north Eugene, Oregon and earned his Masters in Education from the University of Oregon. After teaching in South Central Los Angeles for two years, Iton returned to Oregon to teach and then chose a path of leadership as a vice-principal, and later as a principal. His personal interests and education have revolved around teaching social justice and equity issues. Iton serves on the Distinguished Leaders Council, which recently published, School Leadership in Oregon: A Framework For Action.
As part of Black History Month, Iton (who is Nigerian/Mexican-American) touched on the topic of whether educators should use current events, such as the recent shooting tragedies involving young black men, to teach in the classroom.
Race and themes of social justice are very relevant in 2015. Sometimes the face of injustice resembles the narratives of the civil rights era and sometimes it morphs into a new strand that older and younger generations alike are trying to make sense of. As educators we struggle to address these issues for a plethora of reasons. Conversations of race can be awkward, uncomfortable, and caustic. For white educators there is always the fear of coming off as clumsy, ignorant, or worse…racist. Educators of color feel the burden of being “experts” in this area, which leads to an equal degree of discomfort in these conversations.
Educators should know that current events could act as a bridge that brings relevance to their educational content. How do the stories of Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, or Trayvon Martin parallel the story of Emmett Till? How do their stories parallel Rodney King? How do the stories of these men parallel the events that led to the Watts riots of 1965?
I think teachers can use these events as a talking point to talk about what’s going on and have a real conversation in the classroom. Sometimes it’s that real conversation that helps a student become connected. And, I believe it is important for educators to know that it is exactly those real conversations that inspire a student to learn, to lead, and to lead change.
The risks of educators mishandling conversations on race are real and present. However, the risk of deploying young people into society without serious discourses on race, ethnicity, and social justice could lead to dire consequences. If educators do not take the lead in the quest for social justice we put our kids at risk. It is on us to talk with our students about race and ethnicity.
Through these discussions we can model how to use conversation in times of conflict. I know our children will not inherit a world free of injustice. Eric Gardner, Trayvon Martin, and Mike Brown serve as reminders of this. However, if we educate them I would feel a sense of reassurance our children will inherit a world of abundant opportunity. And the tragedies of the past will be a reminder of where we have been but not a reality of where we are.
The debate around student testing continues to escalate. Nationally, Congress is considering removing annual assessments as a requirement for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In Oregon, bills to allow students to opt out of annual testing or removing statewide annual assessments all together are being introduced in the legislative session.
While I agree we should engage in a thoughtful conversation about how we build an effective and balanced assessment system, I am concerned about the rising voices questioning the importance of statewide annual assessments, and the push to allow students to opt out of these tests.
An OEA workgroup commissioned by the Oregon Education Investment Board recently published a white paper proposing a system of assessments to support learning and foster student success. While the workgroup rightly highlights the need for better assessment literacy among educators, especially in formative and classroom summative assessments, it downplays the need to continue annual statewide assessments for all students in grades 3-8 and once in high school as currently required.
Chalkboard Project supports the need for a highly effective and balanced assessment system. While teachers must be well versed in formative and classroom summative assessments to help make adjustments to daily instruction, this alone is not enough. The goal of assessment is to improve how our students learn and ensure we are providing the best learning environment possible. Eliminating annual statewide testing would undermine our ability to identify which schools and districts are excelling or struggling; which strategies work or don’t; and where the state should direct its resources. Most importantly, annual statewide assessments are the cornerstone of a public accountability system that ensures historically underserved students and those most at risk are not forgotten or minimized. Statewide assessments provide transparency and are a tool to further equity of access to quality teaching and opportunities to learn for all students.
Every healthy system needs an outside check to monitor progress. Annual statewide assessments provide just that. There are valid concerns about current testing systems. That’s why we support the need to audit the type and number of assessments currently administered in Oregon schools, because many of these test are mandated at the local school or district level, and are often redundant and unnecessary.
At a time when Oregon lags behind nationally in student achievement and high school graduation, getting rid of a useful tool for measuring student learning seems counter productive and irresponsible. We cannot dismiss accountability nor accept mediocrity. As parents, educators, and taxpayers, we should be confident that our state is educating our children, closing achievement gaps, and holding our education system accountable. Annual statewide assessments are an important tool to meet this need.
Andrea Shunk is an Oregon School District
Collaboration Grant Manager for the David
Douglas School District. She has worked in
and around education since 2002.
I’ve often compared teaching to running a marathon.
However, unlike experienced marathoners who pace
their running over 26.2 miles, teachers begin their
marathons at full out sprints at the start of their careers and maintain that speed for as long as possible.
Running at a full sprint year after year doesn’t serve anyone well. Not teachers, not students, not parents, not principals. There is no time to slow down, reflect, change course, or respond to changing circumstances. There is only time to keep putting one foot in front of the other while straining to see the finish line.
How do we change the nature of the profession then? I believe teacher leadership becomes the game changer, giving teachers the time, space and autonomy to positively affect their peers and most importantly, their students.
Leading, Not Reacting
The breakneck speed of the school year sets up teachers to become reactors rather than leaders. Situations arise, and teachers react.
Situation: Cesar and Paige continue to disrupt class.
Reaction: Call home or create a seating chart.
Situation: Stack of work samples to grade.
Reaction: Clear Saturday morning. (And night. And Sunday.)
Situation: An assembly was scheduled in the middle of your test.
Reaction: Reschedule the test and shave a lesson off the unit plan.
Addressing the problems in front of us by leading is something different.
Leadership implies taking initiative, setting a process in motion, or being the reason for something. It gets teachers out in front of situations making decisions and creating plans to support students and their peers before a situation becomes problematic, rather than behind situations where we can only react to outside influences.
Leading by Example
Recently, our Collaboration Grant leadership team had the great fortune of attending one of the Teach to Lead summits put on by the U.S. Department of Education this year. We heard from a wide variety of teacher leaders from around the nation and inspiring stories of leadership.
The story of the Dolores T. Aaron Academy, a school in New Orleans, stuck with me as a model of leadership. The school’s administrative leadership gave teachers the time, space and autonomy to lead instead of react. Through six school leadership teams, teachers identified the needs of their students and school community and created ways to meet and address those needs.
For example, the Community Outreach team wanted to strengthen the relationship between the school and the male role models in students’ lives. They planned a “Donuts with Dads” event to start connecting with these important men. To the teams’ surprise, more than 350 male adults attended, flooding the school with support.
Individual teachers could have kept reacting at Dolores T. Aaron. But I don’t believe they would have found the same level of success. Instead, teacher leadership and principal support gave teachers the ability to slow down, seek out solutions to complex problems, and find unprecedented success.
In my school district, David Douglas, we have launched a teacher leadership program, the Cadre of Distinguished Educators, to change the nature of leadership for our teachers and students. We’re still figuring out the parameters of the program, but are starting to outline and define what teacher leadership could look like in David Douglas. How will we give teachers the time, space and autonomy to find innovative solutions to the complex problems facing our students and our profession?
Each year, running the marathon at a full sprint gets harder and harder. Instead of perpetuating systems where teachers can only react to influences outside of their control, let’s continue to find ways to strengthen teacher leadership and give teachers the time, space, and autonomy to implement lasting change.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Andrea was quoted in a recent Education Week online article about the Teaching & Learning Conference.