While much of the Common Core buzz has centered on mathematics, another change is the increased use of non-fiction texts. While many schools already made such increases before Common Core, there are now mandatory increases of using non-fiction texts, beginning at the kindergarten level.

Educator and author Marc Aronson lectured recently in Portland on the topic of increasing non-fictional text usage in schools. Marc earned his doctorate in American History at NYU while working as an editor of books for young readers. He was the first winner of the American Library Association’s Robert F. Sibert Medal for the best informational book for readers through age 14. He teaches in the graduate library school at Rutgers where he trains school and public librarians, and frequently speaks at conferences on materials for children and teenagers.


Marc Aronson found time before his lecture to speak with Chalkboard staff on the topic of the Common Core and the increase of non-fictional text in the classroom. When asked what were the urgent things he would say to Oregon teachers, he had this to offer:

Make sure you have read the Common Core standards.

That is because I think a lot of the heat and tension are from people who “know” the standards third-, fourth-, or fifth-hand. I think when you read the standards, you will find that they are very clear.

Our students are living in an environment of constantly changing knowledge.

This is the reality of the technological world we live in. I believe we are living in a time where tools for gathering data and processing knowledge have exponentially increased their speed and power. Students have to have that forward-thinking mentality because it’s out of our hands—that’s the reality we are in.

I urge teachers to look at the standards, and non-fiction books, non-fiction websites, with the eye of:

  • Does this help my students learn inquiry?
  • Does this help them see all of knowledge as a detective story?
  • Does it help them develop the tools so they can make sense of new ideas, new technology, and new knowledge that will arrive in the coming years, but which isn’t here yet?

If you speak to a librarian, a person who see kids and their caregivers looking for fun reading, they will tell you non-fiction is very popular. Kids want to know things. They want to know things about the world. They want to know things about dinosaurs, weather, and about sharks. And as educators we want to teach reading as a skill that is worth their time. For many kids, non-fiction provides motivation. It makes the process easier, because you are giving students more of what they actually want to read.

I work and meet with countless teachers and administrators across the country. Every time I go to such a conference I hear the story of a child who wanted to read a nonfiction book and was told he couldn’t, because reading meant, “reading a novel.” That is a bias, and therefore, it is a barrier that we have to remove.

We have to expose more teachers and administrators and show how lively, how engaging, how fresh, and how dynamic much of the non-fiction being created for K-12 truly is.

Among all school-related factors, leaders are second only to teachers in their impact on student learning. But a principal’s day-to-day practice often looks very different. Faced with a myriad of pressures and responsibilities driven by the political, social, and economic landscape in public education, school leaders often lack time and support to improve instruction.

At the University of Washington’s Center for Educational Leadership (CEL), we believe that we need to get our priorities straight to best serve our students. The most important responsibility of the principal is to improve teaching and learning.

WilliamsPLQTEThat’s why we at CEL are excited to partner with the Chalkboard Project to improve instructional leadership in Oregon Public Schools.  This is a paradigm shift towards better instructional leadership development in public education and Oregon is leading the way.  The Leading for Learning project will establish the state as a national leader in supporting principal (or instructional leader) effectiveness.

As a former principal, I know the pressures of the principalship and the constant feeling of not having enough time for everything that is expected.  Unfortunately, one of the first areas to take a hit on my calendar was time spent in classrooms, observing instruction and providing feedback to teachers and students.

I wasn’t alone in this situation. A 2012 report found that principals spent only 3 – 5 hours per week on instructionally focused activities. When I was a principal, the culture of the central office was not set up to support me or my colleagues in this area. Thankfully, the national focus is now shifting toward providing this support to principals – it will be the focus of our learning together throughout this project.

The foundation for our work with central office leaders and superintendents through the Leading for Learning project is the Principal Support Framework, which addresses how central office personnel should support principals in the work of improving the educational outcomes for all students and eliminating the persistent achievement gaps that exist along the lines of race, class, language, and disability.

The framework calls for three critical action areas for supporting principals:


We believe that these actions, when taken in total and well executed, create dramatic improvements in a principal’s instructional leadership practice, and as a result improvements in student achievement.

One of the foundational ideas at CEL is that improving practice in a culture of public scrutiny requires reciprocal accountability – meaning that if we are going to hold you—a teacher, or a principal—accountable for something, we have an equal and commensurate responsibility to ensure that you know how to do what we are expecting you to do.

It is in that spirit that CEL is partnering with the Chalkboard Project, central office leaders and superintendents throughout the state to establish a culture in which every school leader is supported to improve teaching effectiveness for every student in every classroom across Oregon.

Congratulations to Julie Cleave, a teacher at Salem’s Hallman Elementary School, for being recognized as an outstanding educator with a 2015 Milken Foundation Award.

Cleave is in her 11th year at Hallman, a Chalkboard partner through the Teacher Incentive Fund program. The Milken Foundation gives out the annual awards (including a $25,000 prize) to just 40 teachers across the country.

Despite the fact that three out of four students at Halllman come from low-income families, Cleave produces outstanding results. Most children enter her blended first/second grade classroom struggling in reading and math, but nearly every one of them catches up to grade level by the end of their time with in her room.

Cleave employs an array of instructional strategies and groupings to engage students in project-based, hands-on learning. She uses assessment data to monitor student progress and to adapt her teaching strategies accordingly. She also goes above and beyond her work in the classroom, creating a girls’ running club and rallying support in the community for needy students and their families.  JuliePllQTE

Cleave notes that Chalkboard’s work on revamping teacher evaluations is raising the bar for the entire staff at Hallman, which piloted the new rubric in the district.

 Principal Jen VanSlander says it is impossible to clone someone like Cleave, but the new system provides teachers much more detailed information to guide them in improving their practice. “Before, our evaluation system was based on teachers either ’meeting’ or ‘not meeting’ a standard,” VanSlander says. “Now the feedback teachers get is much more purposeful and designed to support their growth.”

Congratulations to Tillamook’s Randy Schild for being named the 2015 Oregon Schools Superintendent of the Year. Randy is a strong partner and supporter of Chalkboard Project, working with the CLASS Project when it started in 2007-8.

Randy has made a huge mark over his 14 years serving as district superintendent in Tillamook, where he was born and got his start as an educator. But he also understands that excellent teachers and principals are the keys to student success.

RandyRonSaxton“The No. 1 factor is teacher effectiveness, and No. 2 is principal effectiveness,” Randy says. “My role is to give everyone else the resources, the knowledge, the tools, and sometimes the push, to do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

That perspective on leadership is what earned Randy this recognition from the Oregon Association of School Executives and the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators.

“(Tillamook’s) focus in educator effectiveness and participation in the Chalkboard CLASS Project set the standard and example for other districts,” State Deputy Superintendent Ron Saxton wrote in his nomination letter for the award.

Randy says transparency is the key to successful leadership. Whether he is negotiating a teacher contract or making a strategic decision about instruction, he makes sure his decision-making is communicated every step of the way.  With the support of the CLASS Project, the Tillamook district revamped teacher evaluations, instituted a mentoring program for novice teachers, and made other key moves, such as creating an afterschool program and expanding full-day kindergarten.

While there are many facets to a superintendent’s job, “I see myself, first and foremost, as an instructional leader,” he says. ”I’m always looking at outcomes…And if were not where we want to be, I try to figure out what we’re going to do to get there.”

Teacher leadership is a title which comes with many perceptions. Just depends who you talk to. Some parents view teacher leaders as “practitioners” who can manage a classroom and consistently guide their students through quality lessons. Administrators may see them as accomplished “coaches” who model effective standards-based instruction, and assist peers to adapt their instructional practice accordingly. Many policymakers admire teacher leaders as “facilitators” who transform ever-changing education standards into quality instruction and improved student learning. These are just some of the perceptions held by folks in Oregon who are deeply invested in K-12 education.

 However, teacher leadership should extend beyond the confines of a school, and into the educational policy arena. For at the root of these perceptions lies a deeper question: “Should teacher leaders play a prominent role in education policy decisions?”


To help frame this question, I selected excerpts from an Ed Week teacher blog entitled “Teachers Should Be Seen and Not Heard.” In this blog article*, Anthony Mullen, the 2009 National Teacher of the Year, described his experience at a national education conference where stakeholders proposed needed changes in education. The blog commentary began as follows:

 I am a fly on the wall sitting at a table. Seated at a round table are three state governors, one state senator, a Harvard professor and author, and a strange little man who assumes the role of group moderator. The strange little man asks the group to talk about their experiences at the education conference. The ex-governor from the South begins to talk about how the traditional school model is not working and the problem of too many teachers who do not understand what they teach. Teachers, he complains, are not prepared to teach in 21st century classrooms because they possess, in his words, “only 20th century skills.” He does not provide specific examples or elaborate upon his theory but the other guests at the table nod their heads in agreement.

 One by one, other table members provide their commentary:

 A governor from the Midwest…tells us that his “good friend “is “right on target” about teachers not prepared to teach in 21st century classrooms.”  …the Midwest governor complains that teachers, particularly math teachers, don’t know their subject materials. Again, the other guests at the table nod their heads in agreement.

 The state senator from the West… is a diminutive lady and pauses to reflect… “I think we need to consider the role of teachers in the classroom,” she replies in a soft voice. “We are headed toward a teacher-less classroom and must be guided by this fact.” The senator continues her line of reasoning, asserting how the rapid infusion of technology in classrooms is better understood by students than teachers. “Teachers are best suited to facilitate the dissemination of knowledge through interactive technology rather than try to teach ideas and concepts using traditional methods.”

 What does Anthony Mullen think about all of this?

 Where do I begin? I spent the last thirty minutes listening to a group of arrogant and condescending non educators disrespect my colleagues and profession. I listened to a group of disingenuous people whose own self-interests guide their policies rather than the interests of children. I listened to a cabal of people who sit on national education committees that will have a profound impact on classroom teaching practices. And I heard nothing of value…..Today I have listened to people who are not teachers, have never worked in a classroom, and have never taught a single student, tell me how to teach.

 While the aforementioned scenario may not be a common occurrence at every large-scale conference, it happens all too frequently for practitioners who are given the chance to engage in education policy.  But perhaps more alarming are the lack of opportunities for teachers to provide their instructional expertise in a leadership role at the table with stakeholders, period. Today, a growing number of building administrators are utilizing teacher expertise to generate recommendations and strategic plans for how to improve instructional practice and student learning. However, these same practitioners are often not invited to contribute their professional judgment to school decision-making policy discussions. This “wisdom of practice” is an untapped resource which would not only provide invaluable advice to school districts, but also a governing board such as OEIB (Oregon Education Investment Board).

 I am disappointed that our Governor has not appointed a practicing classroom teacher to OEIB. This board is responsible for promulgation of critical “investment” decisions for education in Oregon. And yet no teacher leader is a member. Although state teacher advisory groups exist in some fashion (teachers seen), there has been no concerted effort to formally invite accomplished teachers to participate in significant education policy deliberations (but not heard), with the noted exception of the DEC (Distinguished Educator Council).

 Two years ago, Chalkboard Project empanelled the DEC to establish opportunities for teacher leaders to weigh in on education policy issues. DEC prioritized and selected their own policy issue agenda, and has successfully made inroads to endorse legislation on topics such as teacher mentorship, new models for teacher preparation.  CP should be applauded for its commitment to bring accomplished teachers together to not only deliberate over policy issues, but also to hatch plausible solutions. As a result, these solutions have real potential to be crafted into new policy recommendations. This model for enlisting the participation of exemplary classroom teachers provides a much-needed context for how education policy can be more clearly translated into classroom practice. I believe OEIB would benefit tremendously by appointing an accomplished teacher to the board. Increasing visibility and raising the voice of teacher leaders is worth the investment.

So what do you think? Should accomplished teachers participate in formal educational policy discussions in Salem? In a school district? In a school building? In what ways and to what extent? How should school districts in Oregon encourage and provide teacher leadership opportunities beyond instruction and assessment?

*Access Anthony Mullen’s entire blog article

Yesterday, Governor Kitzhaber proposed to spend $9.4 billion in education, half of his $18.6 billion proposed state budget for the next two years. This is an increase of nine percent over the last education budget and demonstrates the governor’s commitment and leadership on strengthening our education system SueBUDG

We welcome this focus on education. The climate for educators is very complex today—constantly evolving and with many challenges, especially as they navigate Common Core, new evaluations, and new state testing. Teachers are the single most important in-school factor that drives student success. That’s why it’s important to put strong resources into support programs that allow them to bring their best to our students, whether they are in preschool, third grade, or ninth.

We support the governor’s priorities in early education and his increased focus on English language learners. These are important and worthy investments. And while we agree it takes efforts on many fronts to prepare our children to succeed, we want to ensure that educators and educator effectiveness remain a top priority. Investing in our educators is the strongest strategy we have to improve the quality of education in Oregon.

During the last budget cycle, the state created the Network for Quality Teaching and Learning as recognition of the need to develop and support effective teachers and leaders by building ongoing statewide systems and supports. The Network impacts the full continuum of an educator’s career pathway and invests in strategies that are evidence based and research driven. The governor’s 2015-17 budget includes the statutory funding set aside for the Network at $37.4 million and continues to expand the School District Collaboration fund, which supports districts implementing CLASS-like work. It also funds K-12 educator mentoring and school leadership efforts. But it stops short of investing in other vital areas of the educator continuum, namely improving teacher preparation programs and implementing new teacher and principal evaluation systems. These efforts are currently underway, but without continued funding, risk poor or incomplete implementation. The statutory funding also doesn’t provide adequate supports for educators as they rework their curriculum and teaching practices to meet new state standards. For this reason, we have urged the governor to fully fund the Network with $55 million. We intend to work with him and our state legislators to attain this goal.

Every Oregon student deserves a great teacher. If we are to deliver on the promise of a high-quality education for all our students, there must be a strong focus and investment in our educators. While this may not be a new demand or strategy, it is a proven one. Effective educators are the most important factor to ensuring the success of every student, and the success and vitality of our state. Let’s make sure we invest in their success by maintaining our commitment to educator effectiveness as one of our top priorities.

Letter to Gov. Kitzhaber regarding the proposed 2015-2017 budget

Every person has a unique story to tell: Where they came from, what obstacles they faced, and how they got to where they are today. Among the many stories, one characteristic always seems to stand out: each person either had a role model who helped shape them into who they are today or obtained an education that gave them opportunities to be who they strived to be.

I grew up in a time and place where there were very few Latino educators. More Latinos were settling into Oregon, but the school districts were not prepared to serve them. My father was able to work his way out of the fields and into the classroom, becoming a teacher. I witnessed firsthand how difficult it was to be one of a handful of Latino teachers in the public education system. He was treated differently than the rest of his colleagues. Since he was the only Spanish speaking teacher, administration would call on him often to interpret for a parent, often times disrupting his class.


The students my father taught were all Latinos, which is still common in many school districts in Oregon: Latino teachers teaching Latino students. Times, however, have changed since my father taught in school. Yes, there are still students who need to be in a Spanish-speaking classroom, as they receive help in transitioning to English speaking classes. But there are also Latino students who speak English just as well as Spanish, and they are slipping through the cracks. My hope for the future, especially for K-12 schools in Oregon, is that we continue to shine a light on Latino students regardless of where they are in the system.

Oregon’s K-12 schools have paid attention to their English language learners (ELL), which is wonderful. But we also have students who have been here for generations who are not doing as well. They speak perfect English, but are poorly integrated into the system. Without role models or teachers who see their potential, they often fall through the cracks. Many bilingual Latinos are more than qualified to attend college or university, but because they don’t know their options, they don’t move forward. We need teachers in Oregon to reflect the students they serve. This needs to be a top priority for our K-12 schools statewide. We need more diverse teachers in the districts.

Every diverse teacher we add could change the system and culture of a school. Students would see a teacher similar to them achieving something they might not have thought possible. I was fortunate to have a Latino father as a teacher, showing me every day that education was valuable. When I attended the School of Business at Portland State University, I learned that a diverse workforce is powerful. The more perspectives you have the better decisions, products, and services you provide to your customers. People want to relate and the best way to do so is by seeing someone similar. I believe this is true in the public school sector as well. Students want to relate to their teachers and having a diverse pool of educators will only increase their success.

I’ve been actively involved in Oregon’s K-12 schools as an adult. As I continue to engage with the education system, I’ve come to realize how similar my path is with that of my father’s. I know that change is not easy nor is it always successful. I’ve been a school board member in the Woodburn school district; in fact I was the first Latino ever elected. I also worked for the district as the director of parent and community engagement. Currently, I am serving on the State Board of Education. These positions were not easy to achieve; but as an advocate for Latino students and a Latino myself makes them mean even more to me. I have learned a lot over the years, such as one vote is not a majority and that not all I expected would be as it seems. I thought my presence would change things for the better; however, I quickly learned that you have to listen, learn, and build relationships to move things forward. I now understand that we can change the policy of an organization, but the day-to-day operations are harder to change and take much longer to move.

I have been given a lot of wonderful opportunities as a Latino living in Oregon. This didn’t happen by chance or luck, but because of people who believed in me and helped me see what I could achieve. My hope is that Latinos of the future are given the same opportunity and see their potential just as I did as a young child raised by parents who started by working in the field and decided to work harder for more.

We all seem to agree that effective teachers drive student achievement. So it’s no surprise that many efforts are directed at increasing teacher effectiveness—from more rigorous licensing exams, to reconstructing teacher evaluations and the evaluation process.

With so much focus on the teaching profession, from recruitment to retirement, what could be missing? Time. That is, time for teachers to collaborate with one another during the day, and have tools and resources available to them. Time to be able to work and plan together, to collectively manage instruction in order to get the most out of teacher and student efforts, and provide a consistent interwoven curriculum plan that builds on each component for students.


 In 2013, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conducted an International Teaching and Learning Survey to more than 100,000 teachers worldwide. The summary of that survey indicated that despite the fact that teachers in the US work more hours per week on average, they spend considerably less time collaborating with their peers than teachers in other countries.

Marc Tucker, director of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), in his recent report, “Fixing Our National Accountability System” (2014) builds a case that in the US, teachers typically teach approximately 80 percent of the day in front of students, while teachers in top-performing countries average 60 percent of their time in front of students with the remaining time set aside for collaborative planning.  Research indicates that US teachers spend 3-5 hours per week on average working collaboratively, while their counterparts in high-performing countries have collaborative planning time with colleagues an average 15-20 hours per week. Tucker’s contention—supported by high-performing student results in these countries—is that consistency in instruction, care in planning for engaging learning experiences, and meaningful assessment are products of adequate time for teacher planning and collaborative work.

The often-heard response to pleas for increased teacher collaboration time is: “funding is standing in our way”. Is it? Are there creative ways to leverage funding and find ways to deliver instruction and enrichment activities to students that provide more time for teacher-directed collaboration? How about an experiment where we increase the collaboration time by 25 percent for a group of teachers through the use of differentiated staffing, community members providing enrichment activities matched to curriculum standards, technology integration, or increased fine arts experiences? Even fitness and play options—such as nutrition classes taught by the school lunch team and programs like Playworks—could offer alternative ways for students to have additional positive learning experiences taught or facilitated by support staff and others.

With creative planning we can tackle the issue of time while still providing students meaningful, enriched, and targeted learning experiences. After six months we can assess our outcomes and compare the results with students whose teachers did not have the opportunity for increased collaborative planning time. We may find the answer is right in front of us. 

We would like to introduce Chris Chavez,  a new author at ChalkBloggers.
Chris currently teachers social studies at Liberty High School, in the Hillsboro School District. Previously he was a teacher in the Woodburn School District for ten years.


I recently read Dr. Hilda Rosseli’s piece Oregon’s Educators Workforce Diversity: Still Falling Short regarding the 2014 Oregon Minority Teacher Act Status Report.  As an educator of color I am, and continue to be, very conscious of the lack of diversity in education.  Since the passing of the Minority Teacher Act of 1991 we have seen a growth in the number of minorities entering and completing teacher programs but, according to the report, we saw only an additional 10 minority teachers added to the workforce in 2013-2014 from the previous year.  Yet according to the numbers compiled by the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission in June 2014, between the public and private Oregon educational institutions we saw 221 culturally and linguistically educators complete their initial teacher licensure programs.

Even with the new proposed change under Senate Bill 755 that was recently introduced that would redefine as a minority any staff member whose first language was other than English, parity across our state would still be CChavezpullqtefar from being achieved.  Given the current progress of the hiring of minority educators, I support the Oregon Educator Equity Advisory Group’s assertion that parity includes a re-examination of recruitment, interviewing, and hiring practices at the district and building level.

This would mean that districts consciously, actively, and systematically recruit more minority teachers, whether Latino, African-American, Asian, women, disabled, etc. As districts and communities embrace diversity, there is a need for us to address this re-examination proactively.

The incorporation of more minority teachers plays an important role in changing the perception of minorities in society, and in all students, regardless of demographics.  Especially if these teachers are hired to teach in the core subjects: science, math, English language arts, and social studies. In the case of some minority educators, we would even add the benefit of more bilingual teachers who are endorsed in core subjects, and increase our capacity to implement fully bilingual programs.  Furthermore, the different perspectives and experiences of these new teachers would be an invaluable resource to our staff as teachers and as future leaders.

I am often amazed how few educators—including educators of color—are even aware of the Minority Teacher Act of 1991. To move forward, I believe the issue of parity should be part of any school improvement plan, utilize current minority teachers to recruit teachers, and, most importantly, districts recruit from their own community of graduates.

We have made great strides and I applaud the progressive steps we have taken.  Parity is just another step in our long journey as a society and toward our goal to provide the best and most equitable education possible for all students.

Last month, the Distinguished Leaders Council (DLC) released its report and recommendations for improving school leadership in Oregon. Recognizing the urgent need, and grounded in the recommendations from the DLC, Chalkboard Project is partnering with the Center for Educational Leadership at the University of Washington to launch a program aimed at building districts’ capacity to develop effective principals. The program’s goal—designed for current central office leaders who have supervisory roles with principals—is to strengthen central office administrators knowledge and skills in the leadership practices that ultimately drive significant gains in student achievement by increasing the capacity of school principals. As the DLC noted, principal supervisors who prioritize instructional leadership, emotional intelligence, and student-centered accountability are ultimately better able to support principal performance. I’m pleased to say that we are now accepting applications for the first cohort, due back to Chalkboard on October 30.


A hallmark of effective school principals is that they find a way to prioritize instructional leadership over traditional administrative tasks. While no two schools operate exactly alike, in my experience a common trait in schools led by highly effective principals is that they empower leadership at all levels of the organization, which allows them to focus more deeply on improving student achievement.

Through coaching teachers in the classroom, working with teachers and staff to respond to formative assessment data, and managing human capital, principals become a key lever in school improvement. Effective principals are highly visible in their schools. They provide useful feedback and ensure high-quality professional development resulting in strong school cultures of support, trust, and continuous improvement. They lead through an equity lens to develop and advance culturally responsive practices and close achievement and opportunity gaps.

Yet for many principals, the seemingly endless number of administrative tasks can often overwhelm their best intentions to devote significant time to instructional leadership. It can feel like a trap. As a former principal, I can attest first hand to the challenges of juggling administrative tasks with finding time for instructional leadership. I knew both sides of the job were critically important to the success of my school and both placed large demands on my time. I was often left having to, in the words of Kim Marshall “attend to the urgent at the expense of the important.” And, often I fell short.

Part of running a successful school, I learned, required enlisting leaders at all levels of the district. Slowly, and with lots of help from my amazing staff, I learned how to build a culture of trust that created the conditions and expectation that our staff (and students!) could take ownership for many facets of our daily operations. This allowed me to shift how I spent my time and gave me the time I needed to support educators to do their best work.

We’ve known for a long time that school leadership matters. After educators, effective principals have a significant impact on student achievement. Helping central office supervisors to create the conditions that lead schools to new levels of student achievement can only happen with an intentional focus on leadership, and because district leaders have been given training, support, and experiences that deepen their knowledge and skills. I’m excited to see this work take shape.

DLC report release
Photo: Official release of the Distinguished Leaders
Council report and recommendations,
September 17, 2014.