The Greatest Lesson in Life from the Commencement Address Never Given

Leave a comment


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.

Trends in Teacher Evaluation: At A Glance

Leave a comment


Trends in Teacher Evaluation: At A Glance

For decades, teacher evaluations were little more than a bureaucratic exercise that failed to recognize either excellence or mediocrity in teaching. As such, evaluation represented a missed opportunity for giving teachers valuable feedback that could help them improve their practice.

Increasingly, this is no longer the case. Since 2009, over two-thirds of states have made significant changes to how teachers are evaluated. For most states, the change was motivated by incentives available through the federal programs Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind waivers, and Teacher Incentive Fund. State applications for these funds earned additional credit for upgrading teacher evaluation systems so they take place annually and are based in part on student achievement (Bornfreund, 2013). Other states revamped their systems in response to new political leadership. Regardless of the reason, the end was the same: in most states, teacher performance will now be judged for its impact on student learning alongside traditional measures such as classroom observations, lesson plan reviews and others. Combined, these measures make for more accurate evaluations and serves as a tool for continuous improvement.

The changes states are instituting are far from minor. The most dramatic and controversial is the inclusion of student achievement measures in teacher evaluation. The way student achievement data is used, however, varies significantly by state. For example:

  • Most states use student scores from state standardized tests, but many also combine this data with measures such as student learning objectives (SLO), formative assessments, or some other indicator of student achievement.
  • States use different statistical methods for attributing student learning to teacher performance. The most widely used models are value-added and student growth percentiles (SGP), both of which attempt to measure student gains so that the system doesn’t unfairly disadvantage teachers whose students were low-performers when they entered their classrooms.
  • Student achievement data comprises only part of teachers’ overall evaluation score. In no state does it count for more than half; in several states it’s considerably less.
While linking student achievement to teachers is certainly groundbreaking, nearly every state is revamping how classroom observations are conducted, too. Gone are the days when a principal sits in on a teacher’s class every couple years, armed with a checklist of instructional requirements that rarely were associated with high quality instructional practices. In contrast, teachers are now being observed every year — and for many, multiple times a year — by trained evaluators using a researched-based rubric that more accurately judges instructional effectiveness. More importantly, the new classroom observations provide more useful feedback to teachers.

Student achievement and classroom observations are not the only measures used to evaluate teachers. Student/parent surveys, lesson plan reviews, teacher self-reflections and student artifacts are just some of the other measures included in teacher evaluation systems. In most states, districts have wide discretion on which measures to include along with student achievement and classroom observations. Each of these measures has their strengths in providing teacher’s valuable feedback about their instructional practices. There is less evidence, however, that they accurately predict teachers’ impact on student learning. The exception is student surveys. In fact, a recent study by the Gates Foundation found that a high-quality researched-based student survey can accurately measure a teacher’s future effectiveness and can enhance the accuracy of an evaluation system when combined with measures of student achievement and classroom observations.

Keep in mind that identifying teacher effectiveness is a relatively new concept and no system will be perfect. But by examining the different approaches states have taken, state and local education leaders can learn from each other to refine and improve their own systems.

Across states we found:

  • Forty-seven states require or recommend that stakeholders, including teachers, provide input into the design of new evaluation systems. Such input is important to gaining broad-based support.
  • Forty-six states require or recommend that evaluations include measures on how teachers impact their students’ achievement.
  • Classroom observations are a component of every state’s evaluation system; about a third (33) of them require or recommend all teachers be observed at least once a year.
  • Forty-one states require or recommend teachers be evaluated on multiple measures as a more complete and accurate gauge of performance.  No state evaluates teachers on test scores alone.
  • Most states are primarily focused on using evaluation for the purpose of raising teacher performance but also use the results to inform personnel decisions.
    • More than half (31) of states use evaluation results to target professional development opportunities for individual teachers.
    • Teachers can be dismissed due to poor evaluations in 32 states. However, typically teachers are not eligible to be dismissed until they have been rated as low-performing over multiple years and only after being provided interventions to improve. Even if the teacher fails to improve, in most states the decision to dismiss is left up to the discretion of the school district.
  • Local school districts need flexibility in designing and implementing teacher evaluation systems so they are aligned to the needs of the district. But they also need strong support from their states.
  • Seventeen states provide districts flexibility as well as support in developing evaluations systems while 21 states leave almost all the responsibility for developing an evaluation system in the hands of districts.

Developing a comprehensive teacher evaluation system is far from straightforward. But state and district policymakers should make every effort to ensure teachers are being evaluated fairly and accurately.

Whether developing a teacher evaluation system, or implementing a new one, school district leaders should ask these questions:

How is the evaluation system developed?

What is the goal of the evaluation system?

Do those goals align with the district strategic plan?

What flexibility do districts have to tailor the evaluation system to the district’s strategic plan?

Does the district have the knowledge and resources in-house to develop their own evaluation system or modify the state model?

Who was involved in development of the evaluation system? Were key stakeholders, particularly teachers, involved in some way?

What is included in the evaluation system?

What measures are included in the evaluation system? How much weight does each measure carry in the overall score?

How accurate are the results? What are the evaluation system’s strengths and weaknesses?

What measures are used to determine the impact a teacher has on their students’ achievement?

What statistical model is used to measure the impact? Why is that measure used? How accurately does it isolate a teacher’s impact on student achievement?

Are the same measures used to evaluate all teachers? If not, how do they differ?

How often are teachers observed in a classroom setting? Does the frequency differ by experience or the teacher’s previous performance level?

Do evaluators have enough time to conduct all the observations required without impeding on their other responsibilities?

Who conducts the observations? How are they trained?

Is the observation rubric researched-based and aligned with the district’s goals?

How are results used?

When do teachers receive feedback from each observation?

Are the overall evaluation results used to improve instructional quality? If so, how?

Are the results used for personnel decisions? If so, how?

Are the results made public? If so, what information is made public?

Peer-Led Anti-Bullying Efforts Yield Payoffs

Leave a comment


No matter how diligent teachers and administrators are, it’s easy for bullying to happen under the noses of adults at school. In the bathrooms, the hallways, and on social media, students are often the only ones around to police themselves.
That’s why researchers at Princeton, Rutgers, and Yale universities are analyzing middle schoolers’ social networks to find the students most likely to change their classmates’ attitudes around bullying. They are finding that bullying is generally driven not by a few bad apples but by a majority of students within the overall culture of a school. Shifting alliances and cycles of harassment and retribution can all play into that culture, and undercut adults’ anti-bullying campaigns.

“Adult-identified leaders are often very different from student-identified leaders,” said Hana Shepherd, an assistant sociology professor at Rutgers University. “Adults look at traditionally defined ‘popular’ kids, the ‘good’ kids, while kids who are leaders of smaller groups might not be on the social radar of adults, but often are [influential] too.”

During the 2012-13, school year, Shepherd, Elizabeth L. Paluck, a Princeton psychology professor, and Peter M. Aronow of Yale University repeatedly surveyed more than 24,000 students across 56 middle schools about the students they respected most and liked spending time with online and in person, out of a list of every student in their schools. They also asked students to list peers they had conflicts with, and the social norms in each school around behaviors shown to increase conflict, such as retaliating on behalf of a friend who has been bullied.

Not Just ‘Popular’ Kids

The researchers used the data to create network maps of student friendships in each school, identifying not just the most popular students or those whom teachers considered leaders, but the students who are most influential to different peer groups throughout the school. Of those so-called “seed” students, the researchers randomly invited half to participate in the Roots program, an anti-bullying program intended to support students in recognizing and finding ways to improve their own school climate around bullying.

In a study published late last fall, the researchers found schools using Roots had 30 percent fewer discipline reports on student conflict than similar schools not using the program.

Through 10 sessions over the course of the 2012-13 school year, Paluck said a “breakfast club” of influential students in different cliques in each school met to think out their own responses to bullying and discuss ways to reduce peer conflicts. Even the wording mattered. Rather than discussing “bullying”—a term that prior research has shown is linked more with stereotypes of physical intimidation and lunch-money theft—the students typically referred to conflicts as “drama.” Students talked through exercises among themselves about how they would respond if they either saw or heard about conflicts among students.

Critically, the seed students also discussed how their peers would react to their responses, and how they could influence their classmates better. In each school, students came up with their own projects, such as creating positive GIFs, or looping animations, for Instagram or handing out wristbands to reward a student who is seen de-escalating a fight or supporting a bullying victim.

Teachers integrate technology into classrooms with help from ISU online master’s program

Leave a comment


ISU’s online Master of Education degree program in curriculum and instruction technology has helped 67 educators in the last decade to incorporate technology into their classroom. The online program is part of ISU’s School of Education, and offers the same curriculum as another on-campus program at the university.

“The growing use of technology in the schools was really picking up. We realized that we needed to make available professional development,” said Clyciane Kossatz Michelini, the program coordinator. “Technology is everywhere, most people use technology. But what is effective or a way to really make a difference in their teaching? We don’t want to get technology for the sake of technology. It has to be meaningful, has to be motivating the students, has to be making an impact while they’re teaching.”

The program is offered every two years, with the next cohort beginning next summer, and students are in the program for three years. Students learn about trending uses of technology in the classroom, how to teach courses online and, because most participants are already teachers, students get to conduct their research in their own classrooms.

One course is offered each semester, and Michelini said it makes it convenient for full-time teachers, as they are not required to be on campus for their coursework.

Denise Schmidt Crawford, an associate professor in the School of Education and director of the Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching, said students are asked to visit campus just twice a semester—once at the beginning of the program and once to present their final oral exam. Those who cannot attend are also able to use a video conference set-up to meet the requirement.+

Michelini noted that because the coursework is available online, the program has reached students even outside of the state, and working with teachers across the country has “really brought in another perspective.”Michelini said students leaving the program are entering new jobs that give them leadership roles in technology, and teachers are now “confident in what decisions they make and how they can help other teachers to step up and use more technology in a more effective way.”“Just because you have computers in the classroom, that doesn’t mean you’re making that better for the students,” Michelini said. “You have to really understand how to integrate that to the content and your teaching style and the way kids learn

School-Leader Standards to Get More Revision

Leave a comment


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.

Related Blog

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.”

Survey: Social, cultural barriers discourage STEM pursuits among girls, minorities

Leave a comment


By on September 30th, 2015 | Comments (0)

Are corporations and associations doing enough to help build an inclusive workforce? Join us October 23 to hear a panel of STEM experts discuss ways companies and professional organizations can step up their efforts to address this issue. Come ready to share your ideas with our panel and your peers. We’ll ensure attendees leave with actionable best practices for preparing students for the 21st century workforce.

*****

Businesses and trade associations can help foster a more diverse workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields through outreach programs with schools, according to a recent month-long STEM survey from SmartBrief on EdTech. Sixty-seven percent of readers polled said they would like to see more career events, mentoring, internships and job training programs on STEM opportunities open for females, minorities and students with disabilities

SmartBrief on EdTech’s STEM survey, which presented a different poll question to readers each Wednesday in September, found that 34% of respondents reported that STEM skills are a primary focus for their school or district. Forty-three percent indicated that STEM skills are somewhat important for their school or district.

When it comes to cultivating interest in STEM among girls and minorities, 51% of respondents stated that their schools/districts have programs in place designed for this purpose. Yet, social and cultural protocols prevent many of these students from pursuing STEM opportunities, according to 41% of respondents.

Here are the full results of the survey:

How much importance is placed on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — skills in your school or district?

  • STEM skills are a primary focus in my school or district: 34%
  • STEM skills are somewhat important in my school or district: 43%
  • STEM skills are not a focus in my school or district: 23%

Does your school/district have efforts in place aimed at generating more STEM interest among girls and minorities?

  • Yes: 51%
  • No: 49%

How can businesses and trade associations in the STEM fields help foster diverse, inclusive workforces? What kinds of outreach would you like to see would you like to see for girls, students with disabilities and students from minority backgrounds?

  • Events that shed light on careers students may not know exist: 6%
  • Mentoring opportunities: 8%
  • Partnerships that include internships and job training programs: 19%
  • We need it all!: 67%

What factors do you think contribute to STEM gaps among girls, minorities and students with special needs?

  • Low student interest: 10%
  • Lack of knowledge about the broad range of careers included in these fields: 10%
  • Lack of exposure to role models: 15%
  • Not enough programs targeting these students: 14%
  • Social and cultural barriers that discourage students from pursuing these fields: 41%
  • Curriculum geared toward the general student population: 10%

According to projections from the US Department of Commerce, by 2018, more than 1.2 million STEM jobs will go unfilled for lack of skilled workers.

Dispelling Myths about Improving Student Achievement # 8

Leave a comment


Myth: Ability grouping is effective.

Some believe grouping students by ability allows teachers to customize learning to student’s learning pace, but the opposite is true — it has little impact on achievement. The greatest negative effect is that students from minorities are more likely to be in the lower groups and such equity issues should raise major concerns.

From District Administration Magazine by John Hattie, Educational Researcher at the Melbourne Educational Research Institute at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Older Entries