Rural communities, and especially Oregon’s tribal communities, have many significant challenges to providing enriching childhood educational programs and leadership experiences. A successful program serving the Burns-Paiute Tribe has a mission to “Provide a safe and supportive environment where youth will learn tradition, language and culture”, and help the Burns-Paiute youth embrace a proud self-identity and a positive healthy lifestyle.”

Burns-Paiute blog1“Tuwakii-Nobi (Kid’s House) provides a consistent learning environment. Every day after school, the tutors are there, the computers are there—we have consistency for our children. This is where we engage these kids, and then line them up with leadership and education opportunities,” said Michelle Bradach, Burns-Paiute social services director.

The Burns-Paiute Reservation is located north of Burns in Central Oregon, about 130 miles from Bend, and spans nearly 12,000 acres. There are approximately 380 Burns-Paiute tribal members living in rural Harney County, considered one of the most economically needy areas of Oregon—per capita income is 22.2 percent less than the state average.  Since Chalkboard’s 2014 report on the education status of Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes, the Burns-Paiute tribe has seen marked improvements in math skills, but not in reading. And their school absenteeism rates are some of the highest in the state.

Recognizing the need to improve their children’s academic achievement and wanting a safe and nurturing place for their children after school, the Burns-Paiute people launched Tuwakii-Nobi (Kids’ House) in 2012 with funding from the Oregon Juvenile Justice Department Program (OJJDP).  The program offers meaningful wellness programs, plus tutoring, and tribal language instruction.

Fifteen children attend the afterschool program during the four-day school week, and 25 children attend on Fridays. Their three-week summer session bring even more children into the program. Over the last three years, the community has grown to appreciate the program, and a recent community survey rated Tuwakii-Nobi as the top funding priority—a powerful message just as the OJJDP grant monies were running out.

Searching for new funds has been a daunting task for a tribal administration office with a single person managing social services—Michelle Bradach, tribal services administrator.  Subsequently, finding time to search for funds has been elusive. How can you find funding for a program when you are understaffed, far from large population centers and nonprofit resources, while each day is consumed with completing the task directly in front of you?

To support the Burns-Paiute Tribe, the Spirit Mountain Community Fund helped build a collaborative partnership between the tribe and Chalkboard Project. The primary purpose—to create a multi-faceted, three-year strategic plan to sustain existing services and expand the offerings to build leadership opportunities for young adults, obtain staffing to build financial support, and move the program into a comprehensive Wellness Center.

The strategic plan was based upon input from a steering committee made up of tribal elders, parents, and children, feedback from the tribal prevention and education staff, and after Chalkboard staff visited the community, and held weekly conference calls afterwards for several months. Chalkboard Vice President of Education Policy Frank Caropelo, Michelle, and program director Elise Adams wrote the plan to both capture the tribe’s vision for its community and serve as the backbone for additional funding.

“Before this program, our tribal children would have their tutoring held in different places and offices—there was no stability for them. Tuwakii-Nobi is a safe place for all tribal youth to go, and experience positive things they would not otherwise do,” said Michelle.

While this official partnership is coming to a close, Chalkboard will continue sharing the story of the Burns-Paiute Tribe and about the dedicated people who are working hard to create a prosperous future for their community.

Being involved in the CLASS Project earned us tickets to Minnesota!

Yes, Minnesota. Let me explain…

Our CLASS design team in Mt. Angel has been working together for three years now. Mt. Angel, a small school district with scarce resources, is located 18 miles northeast of Salem. Though our CLASS implementation plan for the 2014-2015 school year was not funded, we still decided to move forward with a small part of the plan through a professional development mini-grant available to teachers.

MtAngelIn January 2015, we successfully secured a winning grant that funded 11 teachers (me included) at St. Mary’s Public School to be trained to implement a supplementary reading program called Logic of English (LOE). The program’s author, Denise Eide, teaches the concept that the English language does, in fact, have rules and if we teach students these rules, they will become far better readers and spellers. We not only used the video trainings available from LOE, but the grant allowed us to hire substitutes so our grade-level teams had implementation time to plug the lessons into our current schedule, and even have Skype sessions with Denise to tackle questions with implementation.

While grade-level teams planned and worked together to implement the curriculum, a new level of cross-grade level collaboration also developed. My first-grade team would tell the second-grade teachers how excited they were going to be to get this batch of kids next year, and the kinder teachers would tell us the same thing!

Our collaborative efforts not only brought us closer together as co-workers, but final analysis of the data showed that student outcomes in reading increased as well. Staff and board members were impressed with our findings and our excitement after viewing a short video we had produced, and were even more excited about St. Mary’s potential of future reading success.

When I shared the video with LOE author Denise, she told me she had tears streaming down her face. She wanted to continue our collaboration together by offering our district two free slots at her week-long Master Teacher Training Course in Rochester, Minnesota, July 27-31! We know this opportunity will strengthen the collaborative commitment we have made at St. Mary’s Public School, and I can’t wait to see how far we go next year!

RobPutnam1On June 9, author Robert Putnam shared the lessons he learned from his research for his recent novel, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.

Robert Putnam, professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, is also the author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of the American Community and has been a consultant on social issues to Presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton. His presentations were sponsored in part by Chalkboard Project and organized by SAGE (Seniors Advocates for Generational Equity).

Chalkboard Project staff, board members, and guests had a deeper discussion with Professor Putnam on June 10.

One key point he made is that more children are growing up in isolation. Today’s societal pressures: under-paid parents unable to focus significantly on their children’s needs; movements toward privatizing after school activities; and less involvement with church or civic groups (entities outside of the family) have resulted in more children growing up alone, unable to create trust relationships with others or develop ownership of the American Dream.

Professor Putnam noted that we often mistakenly point the finger at schools as the source of students’ inability to succeed. “While schools are not the source of the problem,” says Putnam” what we haven’t been able to do is to use our public school system well to help lower-class students find a successful path forward.”

One example he gave really hit home with me.

PutnampllqteMy years in marching band created some of my fondest high school memories. It taught me so much about myself, about so-called “stick-to-it-iveness”, and more. Therefore, when my daughter entered high school, I was happy to see her enthused about joining band.

But she came home dismayed to learn that we would have to pay for her to participate and was worried that it would be out of reach (because it was for some of her classmates). The fee was substantial, something my parents didn’t face when I was going to school. Fortunately for us, I could pay it, while murmuring “…times sure have changed.” I assumed it was necessary due to dwindling school funds, then thought no more about it. And, I didn’t have to think about it, because my college-graduate lifestyle and income made the problem go away.

However, for many children who want to gain a positive school experience and explore music, team sports, and extra-curricular activities, these “pay to play” fees create a substantial obstacle. In our lifetime, our society has constructed a wall, or a wire fence if you will, where only more-affluent children enjoy an enriching school life and the rest can peer thru the fence. We deprive children of not only the activity, but the positive influence of a trained adult mentor outside the home—a coach who offers encouragement, affirmation, and structure. Ask many “successful” people who made a difference in their lives, and you will find it wasn’t always a teacher or a parent.

Putnam reminded us these extra-curricular activities were historically free, and were created specifically to foster emotional and intellectual growth in all children. While marching band or playing football may not lead to career options or skills, the so-called soft skills that children gain—teamwork, discipline, interdependence, empowerment, and self-respect—are invaluable.

While Putnam maintains he is not trying to find all the answers, he is meeting with policy makers and speaking across the country “striving to give oxygen” to more discussions about growing inequities for children in today’s society. And yet, despite the heart-wrenching stories of children profiled in his book, and the studies pointing to increasingly low chances that all children will have an equal chance to succeed and prosper in this country, Putnam reports that he feels extremely hopeful about the future.

“I’m a deeply optimistic American,” he said. Thanks to both my gratitude for after-school programs and to my newly opened-eyes to the dire situations we have built for today’s children, I want to create that optimism, too.

Updated and reprinted with permission from the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership. First published April 1, 2015.

Dr. Sandy Austin manages district partnerships and provides instructional leadership support for district and school administrators. Dr. Austin is one of three instructors in the Leading for Learning initiative.  She joined the Center for Educational Leadership after serving as an assistant superintendent and a school administrator for fifteen years. Sandy is interested in the link between instructional leadership and improved teaching and learning. She received her Ed.D. from the University of Washington in 2006.
When I ask principals what prevents them from focusing on instructional quality in their school, the number one answer I get is: time. It’s true, time is always a concern for principals, but it is not the only one. I have found that even when principals carve out the time to improve instruction, they are often at a loss for what to do.

That’s a problem because principals matter. School leadership is the second greatest school-related influence on student learning, second only to teacher effectiveness (Leithwood & Riehl, 2003). Without an effective principal in every school, it will be difficult to improve student outcomes and close persistent achievement gaps.

So why do principals struggle to find the right approach to foster instructional excellence? It’s because principal leadership is complex and requires expertise, practice and reflection. As we all know from trying to learn a new skill or change a habit, it is difficult to do without continuous support, a plan, feedback and a way to monitor progress.

At the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership (CEL), my colleagues and I are working with principal supervisors and principals across the country to form new habits and learn new skills. Over the years we have developed an instructional leadership inquiry cycle tool that helps principal supervisors and principals to collaboratively engage in a continuous process of instructional improvement and analysis. Since January of 2015, we have been helping principal supervisors, superintendents and other district leaders in the state of Oregon to learn this tool as part of the Chalkboard Project’s Leading for Learning initiative.

Let’s take a closer look at this inquiry cycle and see how taking an “inquiry stance” can become a way of working in our schools.

Instructional Leadership Inquiry Cycle

The Instructional Leadership Inquiry Cycle has four phases: analyze evidence, determine a focus, implement and support and analyze impact.

One important piece of advice we’ve offered Leading for Learning participants is, before you start: don’t try to solve every problem at once. The cycle of inquiry is short term, often completed in three to four months and therefore the student-learning problem and teaching problem are small in scope. The principal area of focus is a specific skill needed to solve the identified teaching and learning challenges.  Principal Supervisors in Leading for Learning have focused their learning with one focus principal over the past six months in order to learn the steps of the Inquiry Cycle.

Step I: Analyze evidence

In the first step, principal supervisors and principals use student test scores, self-assessments, classroom observations and observations of principal practice to identify the most pressing student learning problems and contributing teaching and leading problems of practice.

Questions to help identify these challenges are: What are the learning strengths and challenges of student learning? What are the related instructional strengths and challenges of teaching practice? What type of evidence will be collected to determine the principal’s area of focus? What is the principal area of focus for this cycle of inquiry?

Let’s look at a recent example from our practice.  At a 500-student elementary school with declining test scores in mathematics, a large percentage of those identified as English Language Learners (ELL) were not meeting standards in math at the fifth grade level. More specifically, ELLs recently released from ELL programs were struggling with comprehension of mathematics problems and explaining their thinking to others. The principal and his team identified this as the student-learning problem.

The principal supervisor and principal repeatedly observed classroom instruction. They noticed that the four fifth grade teachers were not consistent in giving ELL students opportunities to learn mathematical academic vocabulary or to talk to the teacher or other students. As a result of these observations and discussions with teachers they determined that the key teaching problem of practice was that teachers needed to better teach the vocabulary and the processes for students to engage in effective mathematical discourse.

AustinJunePullqteStep II: Determine a focus

In the above example, the principal completed a self-assessment of the district’s instructional leadership framework and the principal supervisor shared his observations in order to determine a focus. They decided that the area of focus for this cycle of inquiry was for the principal to find out about the resources available for teaching school leaders and staff what mathematical discourse looks and sounds like in a fifth grade math classroom. The principal was also going to learn how to develop systems to hold staff accountable for implementing learned strategies.

One important thing to remember in this phase: be sure to surface the current realities of student learning, teaching and leading practice to project what would count as evidence of success at the close of the cycle.

Step III: Implement & support

Creating an implementation and support plan is the next step in the process. Typically, the principal supervisor and principal set up a series of learning activities together based on the principal’s and teachers’ learning needs to improve student learning in the identified area of need for this cycle.

Critical questions in this phase include: What are the possible actions for a series of learning sessions? How will these sessions improve principal performance?

In our example, the team used the Instructional Leadership Inquiry Cycle to plan a series of four learning visits. It is important to remember that this is a short-term cycle so the learning activities need to be carefully designed to improve principal practice in the identified area of need. Keep in mind that these are learning activities and not steps that the principal is expected to take on his or her own since it was clearly established that this is a task that the principal does not know how to do without additional learning or support.

Coming back to our example, this included working with a math specialist to determine resources, planning professional development activities and observing together in classrooms. During one learning session the principal supervisor modeled a feedback session with a teacher and then provided feedback to the principal when he executed a similar feedback session.

Step IV: Analyze impact

Facing initiative overload, this is the step in the inquiry process principals and their supervisors often skip. This is unfortunate because collecting evidence and analyzing results generated by the actions taken is crucial to building a virtuous cycle of instructional improvement.

Critical questions in this phase include:What was learned about leadership practice and its impact on teacher practice and student learning? What are the implications for the next inquiry cycle?

To share the project results, principals often prepare a written reflection on the changes in student learning and teaching and principal practice. After presenting this to the principal supervisor or colleagues, the team can decide whether or not to continue with the current cycle or begin anew.

Let’s get back to the example we have been following. In this specific case we had a group of principals who were completing their cycle of inquiry at the same time. The principal presented his cycle results to three other principals using a structured protocol. The principal, after obtaining feedback from colleagues, decided that there was enough evidence of improved teaching practice and student learning that he could release the fifth grade team to continue to work with the math coach to further refine their practice. The principal, with input from his principal supervisor, decided to work with the K-2 ELL students and teacher to prepare them better for what they would experience in fifth grade.

The feedback from principals was very positive. Many admitted that at first the process had intimidated them, but after working through it, they shed their earlier reservations and even wanted to continue to work in similar fashion in the future. Some principal supervisors even said that the experience was the best learning they had since taking the position.

Impact on Practice

Getting this process up and running is not easy. But when it grows and takes root it is a powerful force for instructional improvement.

In our wide array of work with principal supervisors, I have seen this many times. In one district a principal supervisor told me that she now has clarity on how to work with principals to help them implement actions to improve teaching practice and student learning. She also recognized that she and the principal do not need to wait for benchmark data or end-of-year assessments to see if student learning is improving. They can see changes in teacher practice and student behavior every day. Many principals comment that the dedicated support and a clear plan helped them to improve in ways they never imagined.

Because school leaders are getting results, they have a greater sense of accomplishment, which – almost everybody tells me – increases their motivation to continue to dedicate time to focus on instructional leadership.

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.

BevMay26In 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.

UdonestaMay19In 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?

DanielsonpullqteTo 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.

COconfpull2COconfpull2COconfpull2 COconfqte2I 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.

Maribel_AprilpullqteAs 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.

MillenialApril 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