The Greatest Lesson in Life from the Commencement Address Never Given

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I remember starting my first job as a systems engineer on an aerospace project. My new boss gave me an unusual assignment on my start day. He wanted me to tell him what “E = mC(squared)” and “You can’t push on a rope” meant.

As part of figuring out the answer he said to first ask anyone you want in the department for advice or insight. Of course, I thought he just wanted me to meet everyone on my own since I already knew the answer to both questions.

It turned out I was wrong on all parts.

Here’s what I told him when we met for lunch in the cafeteria on the third day of my first job.

“E = mC(squared)” While I got the scientific principle right the bigger purpose was to understand how this relates to the real world of product design given competing constraints on functionality, time, cost and manufacturability. The lesson: It doesn’t matter how smart you are if you lose sight of the big picture.

“You can’t push on a rope.” I thought this one had to do with strength of materials, some kind of force diagram and one of Newton’s laws. But it turned out to be about human nature. The lesson: The most important part is that you can’t push the people involved to do what you want them to do despite overwhelming analysis or engineering evidence. You have to understand their needs first.

I learned later that Zig Zigler said it more eloquently, “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

That’s a principle everyone needs to apply to get ahead regardless of their age or their job.

Here are a few other useful life principles I learned early on in my career.

In my first engineering design class the professor showed a picture of a bridge across some river that didn’t meet perfectly in the middle. There was a six-inch offset. The professor started by saying that in this course you’ll learn how to ensure this will never happen to you. Planning ahead was the big lesson. Thinking of the consequences of your actions was the more subtle point. Stephen Covey’s “Begin With the End in Mind” pretty much sums it up. While this stuff is easy to say, it’s hard to do whether you’re building a bridge or figuring out how to just get through the day.

Persistence overrides intellect. In most of my engineering classes the answers to the problems were given. My non-engineering friends thought this was too easy. I thought so too until I was given one very complex problem to figure out. It took me all night and a lot of trial and error to get the right answer.

There were a lot of lessons learned that night. The obvious one: Getting the answer right was secondary. Figuring out how to find the right solution was the purpose of having the answer given. A lot of smart people gave up too soon. That’s when I realized that persistence is far more important than intellect.

Some similar things happened a short time later as an intern and during my first full-time engineering job. I was assigned two very complex technical projects. In each case there was an initial 2-3 weeks of total confusion. It was clear I was going around in circles, over my head and an abject failure. After stumbling about, talking with people and thinking about the problem from a totally different perspective, the fog starting lifting. Soon a solution emerged. In both cases it took a few very uncomfortable weeks to go from nothing to a potential solution. Of course, getting the actual solution took a lot longer but that was the easy part. The lesson learned again: It’s okay to be confused but it you keep at you’ll figure out what to do.

I learned later that Winston Churchill said it much better, “Never ever give up. Never!”

But that wasn’t the big lesson in all this. By not giving up too soon you build confidence in yourself to take on any project as long as you can figure out a solution and create a vision of where you’re going. As a result I then started volunteering for projects and positions over my head and even asking for promotions in different departments. And I got them by selling the vision to others and getting them to see how this would personally benefit them. This got them to be allies not foes and they became proactively involved in ensuring we were all successful.

The real lesson is that true confidence is contagious. But you need to struggle a lot before you develop it in yourself. So look for some struggles to tackle. A lot of them. And never give up despite how easy it might be to do. I’m not sure, but maybe this is how leaders are developed, too.

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Data-driven decisions require CIOs to help educators interpret and organize vast amount of information

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When it comes to data analytics, Maribeth Luftglass,CIO at Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, focuses on ensuring privacy of all student data. And, she adds, it should be a top concern for all CIOs. (Photo: Donnie Biggs, Fairfax County Schools)Just a few years ago, CIOs—if they were involved in data analytics at all—would run a report, export it into an Excel document and create a chart or a graph to share with teachers and district leaders once a week, or at the end of each semester.

Now it’s all about creating systems that aggregate and sort data automatically, making it easier for educators to view crucial information every day.

“The CIO is really becoming more of a leadership position,” says Elizabeth Dabney, director of research and policy analysis at the Data Quality Campaign. “It’s not just an IT role—it’s having a very broad vision and a good understanding of the value of data in supporting education goals at the district and being able to communicate that.”

Since creating its first custom data dashboard in 2014, Sun Prairie Area School District in Wisconsin has been in a constant push to develop easier ways for educators to analyze data pulled from all of its schools.

The district used to rely on the state’s WISEdash system, which is a data portal that uses “dashboards,” or visual collections of graphs and tables, to provide multiyear education data about Wisconsin schools.

But it was barely used, because it didn’t allow schools to really drill down into detailed data. So the Sun Prairie district joined a data consortium of local districts a few years ago and has been creating different custom dashboards with the help of a software company.

The most recent project: An early-warning system that identifies students at risk of not graduating high school. The system feeds data from 12 indicators—including attendance, grades and discipline—into an easy-to-use program so educators can provide extra support to at-risk students as early as middle school.

Educators would previously look at the risk indicators individually in WISEdash. The new system overlaps the data to show which students are most at risk.

“What we’ve seen is the need to get data into the hands of our teachers, and get that into their hands in real time so they can use that information for decision-making on an almost daily basis,” says Michael Mades, Sun Prairie’s director of technology.

Sun Prairie’s data transformation reflects changes in the day-to-day roles of CIOs and CTOs in many other districts. “I am not someone who is allowed to be in the background making sure that our infrastructure is working—that isn’t my job anymore,” says Tony Spence, chief information officer at Muskego-Norway School District, also in Wisconsin. “It’s on a much higher level. I spend most of my time making sure the data systems we have reflect the needs of the district.”

So how do CIOs keep up with the changing demands? Here’s what four CIOs and CTOs had to say about how data analytics is changing their jobs—and their districts.

CIO as data interpreter

CIOs say their role is increasingly that of a data interpreter—someone who bridges the gap between the technology department (or product vendor) and the academic and operational branches.

Mades, at Sun Prairie, says he speaks two languages. In meetings with principals, he talks in academic language about the kinds of data that can be generated to improve student achievement, for example. Then he goes back to his IT team and, in much more technical language, discusses the systems needed to track and analyze that data.

Mades is a member of both the academic and operational branches of the district, meaning he keeps tabs constantly on how every department uses data. “Part of my work in the meetings is to listen to what their needs are and then help our data system support those, whether that’s building new dashboards or modifying some of the reports,” Mades says.

Because Mades understands the problems leaders are trying to address, such as behavior, he can provide better analysis.

For example, if misbehavior reports increase at a school, he can help a principal determine if there’s a buildingwide issue or if the problem is limited to specific classrooms or teachers.

For Dane Conrad, director of technology at Hattiesburg School District in Mississippi, interpreting data involves working with the district’s academic evaluation specialist to determine what data should be collected and analyzed. He then turns to his vendors to identify programs or products that meet the specialist’s needs.

On a different day, he might help schools take better advantage of existing data—for example, showing them how to track and identify trends in teacher or student absences.

CIO as data visionary

Because systems change so quickly, analyzing systems is a task that requires being something of a data visionary. And it means understanding how data supports current district goals, and then thinking about what information its educators will need in five or 10 years.

Many CIOs are shifting their focus from managing district data servers and applications in-house to seeking out third-party vendors and cloud-based systems that automate analytics for them, says Tracy Weeks, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association.

For CIOs who don’t have time to develop relationships with vendors that can provide analytics services, Weeks suggests teaming with neighboring districts to seek out the best products via consortium procurement agreements.

When looking for new products, Conrad from Hattiesburg relies on an email Listserv for district technology leaders in the state. He also finds ideas from Linkedin and technology conferences.

Even if the end goal is to automate analysis—when data from different areas, such as attendance or behavior, is merged in ways that educators can easily access—selecting the right systems involves hands-on work.

“We want somebody who used a product, preferably somebody who has had it for a while, that can tell us their experiences and how the product fits into their flow and make sure their flow matches our flow and our needs,” Conrad says.

CIO as trainer-in-chief

cCreating ways for teachers and administrators to study multiple kinds of data has opened up the problem-solving potential of analytics, says Rich Boettner, chief technology officer at Hilliard City Schools in Ohio.

But it’s also created a new role for CIOs: trainer-in-chief.

It’s important to make sure educators who may not have a background in analytics can use the information in meaningful ways, Boettner says.

Spence, at Muskego-Norway schools, trains teachers, academic coaches and certified staff during summer breaks and throughout the school year in how to use data systems and understand the numbers. Before CIOs can plan training or make sure data is being used effectively, however, they also must have a deep understanding of the data and how it supports district goals, Boettner says.

Boettner points to several main sources for professional development for himself and his staff: product vendors; internet resources, local and state networks for technology leaders, and conferences like ISTE.

CIO as silo regulator

And finally, after administrators understand how different departments use data, such understanding can help reduce or eliminate the data silos that exist within many districts.

At Muskego-Norway schools, Spence relies on a building-by-building plan that outlines how each school site is working on the district’s continuous improvement goals and which data will be used to support which efforts.

The plan gives Spence a clear understanding of what data each department collects, so he can ensure the systems are kept timely and up-to-date.

“Without the data plan it would be stabbing in the dark,” Spence says. “Instead we have a very specific goal about where we need to be.”

New Bill Offers a Good Start on Defining Professional Development

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December 4, 2015 4:14 PM

Earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed the Every Student Succeeds Act by a 359-64 vote. While there is much to explore and discuss in the bill, Learning Forward’s advocacy efforts related to the reauthorization of ESEA have concentrated solely on professional development.

We believe that ensuring a clear and specific definition of professional development in federal policy, one that aligns with our Standards for Professional Learning, lays the groundwork for states, districts, and schools to create professional learning that has impact. The definition of professional development that appears in the bill is important because it applies to every example of professional development mentioned in the bill.

Overall, we are satisfied with the definition that is included in Every Student Succeeds Act, though we believe that effective professional learning requires more than what the bill describes.

We’re pleased with the first part of the definition. It begins: Professional development means activities that “(A) are an integral part of school and local education agency strategies for providing educators (including teachers, principals, other school leaders, specialized instructional support personnel, paraprofessionals, and, as applicable, early childhood educators) with the knowledge and skills necessary to enable students to succeed in the core academic subjects and to meet challenging State academic standards; and

(B) are sustained (not stand-alone, 1-day, and short-term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, classroom-focused….”

While there are additional ways to improve upon this part of the definition — it would be ideal to move away from thinking of professional development as “activities” rather than a continuous learning journey — it is affirming that the key words included within it tie directly to Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Learning. Congress has affirmed that educators’ professional development must be collaborative, job-embedded, sustained, classroom-focused, and data-driven. The definition is also significant because it so clearly focused on school- and classroom-level professional learning.

The legislation continues with this phrase: Professional development “may include activities that …” followed by a long list of professional learning elements, experiences, and topics. For example, professional development may include activities that “improve and increase teachers’ knowledge of the academic subjects the teachers teach.”

The placement of the “may” is significant. Everything before “may include” is essential and officially part of the definition. Everything after “may include” is dependent on the context and needs of the local educators planning and implementing professional learning. To define professional learning too tightly would overlook the differentiated needs of educators and could contribute to schools and systems addressing adult learning through one-size-fits-all solutions. We trust educators to use the key words before the “may” to assess their needs and design their learning objectives and processes, then identify the priorities that best fit their circumstances among those listed after the “may.”

As education leaders and policymakers make sense of the bill once it moves into law, which is expected to happen next week, we are hopeful that in implementing the definition of professional development, they will also consider the following:

  • Evaluation of impact must be a part of any professional learning, as it is part of so many other school improvement elements outlined in the legislation.
  • The cycle of continuous improvement is the ideal vehicle for making so much of this definition come to life in schools. Through collaborative, continuous problem solving, teachers examine data to understand what student and adult learners need, set professional learning goals and determine learning strategies, apply their new learning with ongoing support, and assess the impact of what they’ve applied in their classrooms.
  • Clearly defining the professional learning roles and responsibilities of educators throughout the system helps ensure meaningful implementation and collective accountability for results.
  • While the definition of professional development in the bill describes that educators gain “knowledge and skills,” intentionally addressing changes in practice is essential to achieving better results for students.

Defining professional learning meaningfully in policy is one key step. But the definition doesn’t equate to implementation. The hard work of planning, facilitating, implementing, sustaining, and evaluating professional learning happens every day in states, districts, and schools.

As always, Learning Forward is eager to provide educators the support they need to create learning that meets this definition and aligns to the Standards for Professional Learning. Please let us know how we can continue to do so.

Stephanie Hirsh – Executive Director, Learning Forward

Leaders and Moral Courage

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One of the most difficult things to do is to let go of the familiar, of the terrain you have crossed and mastered.  It is, for some, frightening to ask if habits and practices that have developed over time and served well are still the right answers for the present problems and purposes. Personally, some of these habits helped us learn and grow; some of them guided us through professional and personal hard moments. Professionally, all of us have habits and practices that contributed to our success at our jobs.  We even wonder if we are wasting time to reexamine those well-worn paths to success. But…these past few decades are unrelenting with daily challenges and unanticipated demands.

Two Right Options
The educator’s dilemma arises within the domain of what’s good enough. An “acceptable” number of students graduate, and an “acceptable” number of students go on to college or join the work force.  Where did that “acceptable” number come from and whose hand moves it when we glance away? We lead schools, institutions that exist at the core of our society; they are expected to both keep pace with change and hold true to tradition. We choose often between two right options, trying to find which one is the better one or which serves a higher good.

Finding Moral Courage
Enter the need for moral courage. Nearly every decision or action is accompanied by some degree of risk, however small.  Here, from Rushworth Kidder:

So it is with moral courage, where danger is endured for the sake of an overarching commitment to conscience, principles, or core values.  Here too, the key lies in properly assessing the “measure” of peril.  Underestimating the danger, and our moral courage will be written off as imprudence.  It will be seen as pointless self-sacrifice, doomed from the outset because we never understood the difficulties we would encounter.  But overestimate the danger by inflating mundane annoyances into fantasies of fright-and then riding bravely out against them in battles we’re sure to win-and the world will credit us with nothing more than bluster, bravura, and rant. (pp. 109-110)

In another book read a long time ago, with a title and author long forgotten, a compelling story about a well-liked Superintendent’s generosity reveals the real dangers that lurk for leaders.  It was Christmas Eve and the Superintendent, who lived in the district with his family, was getting ready to head home and decided to offer the custodian, who had been suffering hard times, the Christmas tree that had been decorating the office. Following the holiday, a Board member accused the Superintendent of stealing district property. Those in the district who had some disagreements with the Superintendent joined in the attack. It was on the front page of the local newspaper, was embarrassing to him and his family. Ultimately the accusations continued. He lost his ability to be effective as trust was eroded. He left the job and the people he loved working with and for.

From Where Do Our Dangers Emanate?
It is plain common sense that if the ways schools are organized and operate, if teaching and learning continue as they were in the century past, can we state with confidence that we are serving our students well?  A danger exists in ignoring the danger in remaining with habits and practices from years past. If following one’s heart to offer someone in need the opportunity give away a tree rather than discard it is a simple and quick decision before schools close for a week or more. Yet the fallout strongly impacts a well-intentioned leader’s life.  We wonder if the tree created a family memory for the custodian and that in the long run, that human exchange of a gift during the giving season enriched both men’s lives. But, who knows?

Know Yourself and Be Yourself
Leading in this century will always happen under the cloud of urgency. And, criticism is always just around the corner.  So as the days grow shorter and we light trees and our homes, families gather and we think about the important things in life. Our message is: Leaders, know yourself and be yourself.

Change is something we talk about so much it becomes an abstract, academic exercise. But, every decision and every change leavens possibilities, some we plan and others surprise us. The most important thing is that we can live with whatever arises because our hearts were clear and true to our calling.

By Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers

School-Leader Standards to Get More Revision

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Amid sharp criticism from experts and practitioners in recent weeks, a key set of professional standards that guide the training and professional development of the nation’s school leaders will now explicitly address equity, social justice, and ethical behaviors. An  was chided for downplaying the role of principals and other leaders in addressing those issues.

The about-face is a departure for the Council of Chief State School Officers, which owns the copyright to the standards and is partnering with the National Policy Board for Educational Administration to revise them. It also follows a 19-day public comment period in which nearly 300 people provided feedback in an online survey and others submitted written responses to the CCSSO.

When a draft of the seven standards was released last month, Chris Minnich, the CCSSO’s executive director, defended them against critics, saying that social justice, equity, and ethics were addressed in the document’s introduction and embedded throughout the standards. Mr. Minnich said at the time, however, that the CCSSO was open to revising the benchmarks based on feedback from the field.

The standards, known as the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium standards, set the benchmarks for what school leaders are expected to know and do. They are used across the country to help guide leadership preparation programs, including those for principals and superintendents. They are also used to set policies and regulations around school leaders’ hiring, evaluations, and professional development.

Multiple Drafts

Equity and cultural responsiveness had been a discrete standard among 11 that were part of a September draft issued by CCSSO. Under that standard, principals were expected to advocate for children and families, attack issues of student marginalization, deficit-based schooling, and limit assumptions about gender, race, class, and special status.

So when CCSSO released its May draft, the removal of that standard caused strong pushback in the education leadership community, especially given the ongoing national conversation about poverty and race and the shifting demographics in American public schools to a student body that is increasingly nonwhite, low-income, and in need of English-language instruction. School leaders are also responsible for creating safe and welcoming learning environments for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.

Without explicit standards to address equity and social justice issues, leadership training programs would graduate students “without ever challenging them to be aware of their own presumptions around race, much less make their schools equitable and inviting places for children of color and children of all kinds of differences that characterize our society today,” said Bradley W. Davis, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Mr. Davis was among six education leadership professors and education school deans who wrote a letter to the CCSSO seeking changes. More than 500 people, including professors, principals, and teachers, signed the letter. The September draft also contained a separate standard on ethical principles and professional norms, which was removed from last month’s version.

Mary-Dean Barringer, the strategic initiative director of workforce development at the CCSSO, said “there was a lot of encouragement” in the most recently public comment period to put functions related to equity and social justice into a separate standard. Similar comments were provided on ethical behaviors, Ms. Barringer said.

Process Revised

In what appears to be another effort to appease critics—who claimed that the tail end of the revision process had been cloaked in secrecy—a committee of education professionals, possibly including principals or representatives from principals’ associations and convened by the national policy board will hammer out the final standards.

The new set of final standards are now scheduled for release in the fall, Ms. Barringer said.

“There was clearly a lot of pressure put on [the CCSSO],” said Joseph F. Murphy, a professor of education leadership at Vanderbilt University and the author of the original standards, who was a critic of the May draft. “And I think they reflected on that, and I think that that pressure was effective in this case.”

Mark A. Gooden, the director of the Principalship Program at the University of Texas at Austin, said he understood the CCSSO’s goals in attempting to “weave” matters of equity through all standards, as it had done in the May draft. But Mr. Gooden, an associate professor, said that he’d rather see a two-pronged approach that would weave equity throughout all the standards and explicitly set it apart as a concrete standard.

Putting concepts such as race and gender in the standards pushes educators to name the problem and it increases the likelihood that they would tackle it head on, he said. And given the cheating scandal in Atlanta and its major fallout, addressing ethical behavior is critical, said Mr. Gooden.

Other education groups also weighed in. The ASCD wrote in a June 4 letter that the standards captured well the competing responsibilities of principals as instructional leaders and operational managers, but it also noted concerns about the absence of equity and ethical principles. Ms. Barringer, from the CCSSO, said the final revisions would reflect feedback and comments from the variety of education organizations that responded.

Overall, the feedback from the online survey was positive, with 77 percent of the 271 individuals who commented deeming the standards to be “good to excellent,” Ms. Barringer said, citing language from the survey.

Feedback also suggested that the language in the May version was clearer than the September draft, she said. And many appreciated the preamble on “transformational” school leaders who focus on student learning, continuous improvement, and creating inclusive school communities, she said.

Of the respondents, about 20 percent worked in higher education, some 60 percent were school-level administrators, and 11 percent were teachers, she said.

The May feedback was more constructive than what CCSSO heard last year, with many respondents following up with extensive comments and suggestions, she said.

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Rob Larson, the director of the Oregon Leadership Network, for example, provided the CCSSO with examples of how Oregon since 2012 has embedded equity and cultural competency across all licensing and preparation standards. Mr. Larson said in an interview that meeting the needs of all students was part of the essential and important work of school leaders and that Oregon would continue to focus on cultural competency and equitable practices.

As a result of the delay in releasing the ISLLC standards—they were originally set to be published this spring—the first-ever set of standards for principal supervisors will also be pushed back, according to Melissa McGrath, a spokeswoman for the CCSSO.

Ms. Barringer said the CCSSO will try to work concurrently on both the ISLLC standards and principal-supervisor standards to ensure that there is not a significant lag time between the publication of the two documents.

“We are going as fast as we can,” Ms. Barringer said, “but only as fast as we can get it right.”

Which State Has the Best K-12 Public Education School System?

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Which states are doing the best job in maintaining strong public school systems?

According to data compiled by SmartAsset, a technology and data company, good schools are in the northeast, and the west can do better.

In order to find this data, “SmartAsset looked at ten across-the-board metrics of education, placing a special emphasis on how well states are preparing students for college,” the article said. For each state, we considered the percentages of students taking the SAT, ACT and AP tests, and the average scores for those tests. We also looked at the state-level funding-per-student, the student-teacher ratio, the high school dropout rate and the percentage of high school graduates attending college after graduation.

” One of its key findings was that good schools are in the northeast.”

“Led by Connecticut, each of the top four states in our study is located in the northeast, and seven of the top ten are on the east coast,” the article said. “Most notable among these states was the high rate of college-attendance. In New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut, over 70 percent of high school graduates attend college within 12 months of graduating.”

SmartAsset also found that “the west can do better.”

“The west is home to all four of the lowest-grading states in our study, and six of the eight states that received an overall F are west of the continental divide,” the article said. “Washington, Arizona, Oregon and Nevada all have below average college-attendance rates, below average per-student spending levels and higher-than-average student-teacher ratios.”

The article also ranked the states according to “SAT Testing Percent”, “ACT Testing Percent”, “College Attendance Rate”, “Dropout Rate”, “Funding per Student”, “Student-Teacher Ratio”, and “Grade”. Connecticut made the top of the list with Nevada at the bottom.

Article by Kassondra Granata, Education World Contributor

Seven Things Teachers Want Principals to Know

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Dear administrators,

We don’t know how you do it. You lead us into the fray of public education, steering our ship through coarse passages, torrential rains, as well as help us to appreciate the beauty of calm waters. You’ve taken the role of captain on this journey, and for that we are forever grateful. Although we appreciate the collaboration in our school and the open discussion environments you help to create, sometimes it is difficult for us to thoroughly and honestly express our worries and concerns. May this list serve as an open letter to all administrators from your dedicated troops – some things that we wish to share with you as insight into our world.

1. Fast-moving political efforts in education concern educators. We want to make sure you’ll always remember that we’re human beings while you strive to meet local, state and national goals. Education reform is written on paper: embedded in lines of legislature and recommendations from those who study our practice. Reforms and mandates can feel removed from the day-to-day classroom experience. In other words, just because an initiative seems possible doesn’t mean it is reasonable in our school and district. There are significant, positive improvements coming from education reform efforts, but we’re not completely convinced that all edicts would be healthy for our community. As expectations increase for us all, educators (although often capable of superhuman-like feats) need initiatives that are manageable.

2. Unstructured or undocumented work time doesn’t have to be scary. Teachers (and employees in general, as it turns out) will more often than not do the things that are considered “good practice” in the classroom without it being a mandatory initiative, part of a shared document review, or placed into regular accountability checks. It makes sense that for you to monitor fidelity of practice, you’d need us to report out. But don’t be afraid to provide professional development around an aspect of our work and then simply see what we do with it, especially if you give us the time to mull it over, kick it around with peers, and try it out without feeling the weight of expectation.

3. We want you in our classrooms. Especially with the new world of accountability in education, we really want you to be there and witness our craft. We also understand that this is no small feat. Of course, sometimes it makes us nervous to be observed. Don’t take this personally. That’s mostly due to the aforementioned politics around our practice. We’re worried that you’re looking to “catch us”. Let us know you’re not out to get us by giving us resources to improve. Suggestions from a fellow educator (you!), presented as a helping hand and not a wrist slap, can go a long way in helping us feel respected as professionals and ensuring that a collaborative, growth-focused environment will operate in your school.

4. We need encouragement. If we’re being honest, we are living in an age where teachers are being scrutinized more than we’ve ever seen in the history of public education. Accountability is the game. And in many ways this has helped us to align our curriculum, communicate our goals, and collaborate better with our peers. Not to mention, it helps the public feel like their tax money is being well spent. However, we both know that “teacher practice” is not the only variable in this equation. And the reality is that jobs around human relationships are always going to include mistakes and flaws. This scrutiny, if not put into a realistic context, can quickly feel overwhelming and like there is a sort of “anti-teacher” sentiment among the public. This can be exhausting and very discouraging. A little encouragement throughout the day, week or month can remind us why we got into the field. A quick note via email is usually all that’s needed.

5. We’d like permission to say “I don’t know”. Things are changing every day in our field. We have bookshelves and Kindles filled with strategies and pedagogy. Our email inboxes and web browser bookmarks are littered with new ideas, articles, and the latest studies from the top universities. We’re doing our very best to keep informed, but it’s all happening so fast, and we might not be reading the same texts as you! Help us to create a community where “not knowing” is okay. Our schools have become too competitive. It’s not logically feasible that we would know it all. Once we feel comfortable saying that we “don’t know”, it naturally frees us up to comfortably say, “I want to learn”. And that … is where real growth begins.

6. Our concerns (around policy, schoolwide initiatives, school culture, curriculum, etc.) are always going to reflect the need we are seeing on the front lines. Both of our jobs are intense. There’s no getting around that. We’re not always going to agree, and sometimes decisions are out of both of our hands. Just understand that when we are frustrated, concerned, or disagreeing on an issue, that concern is always in defense of the students that we both serve. We can work together to improve implementation efforts—and then you’ll truly see great results from our classrooms. This way, you can share in the bragging rights!

7. We can’t imagine our jobs without you. Expectations are high for teachers; we can’t even begin to imagine the pressures you feel from above. We understand that in many instances in your day-to-day, you act as the General defending your troops, and we don’t know how to thank you. We mean that. We worry daily that you don’t feel appreciated. We come to you with every problem in the world, expecting you to support us, defend us, and direct us. Everything you do allows us the luxury of making learning happen in the classroom—every late night, every never-ending meeting, every conference and mind-numbing document. Your stress and headaches allow us to be what we’ve always dreamed we could be. We could never begin to do what we do without you. We don’t always get to say it: You are appreciated. Thanks!

Written by Keith Lambert, Education World contributor

 

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