As the key players in developing the climate, culture, and processes in their schools, principals are critical to implementing meaningful and lasting change in the ongoing school-improvement process. Those who have a clear vision; inspire and engage others in embracing change for improvement; drive, facilitate, and monitor the teaching and learning process; and foster a cohesive culture of learning lead our schools in ensuring that each student—and school staff member—is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
From July 21 through August 1, we'll be sharing advice for new principal leaders—those who are new to the role or new to a school. What advice do you have for new principals? Are you (or have you been) a principal and have a story or experience to share?
All the talk of closing the achievement gap in schools obscures a more fundamental issue: do the grades we assign to students truly reflect the extent of their learning? In a new ASCD book, Grading Smarter, Not Harder, Myron Dueck reveals how many of the assessment policies that teachers adopt can actually prove detrimental to student motivation and achievement and shows how we can tailor policies to address what really matters: student understanding of content.
In this video, Dueck tells the story of how he saw the flaws in penalty-driven grading by trying to get his son to brush his teeth.
Educators across the nation are working to improve their students' academic achievement, engage families and communities in learning, and maintain safe and healthy learning environments. But in Washington State's Tacoma Public Schools, educators are being held accountable for all of these responsibilities, not just their students' performance on tests. That's because the district is strategically aligning its accountability system with its overall purpose of supporting the whole child.
Middle school kids are a different breed. If you aren't motivating them, they are not learning. In fact, they are probably tearing something up if motivation isn't in the picture. During my years as a middle school principal, I figured out that building a school culture with character education, fun, and a sense of belonging was key to improving student achievement.
The year before I arrived at a junior high of 510 students, teachers sent students 5,090 times to the office for disciplinary infractions. Discipline was handled in three different ways: kick the kid out, let the kid sit on the bench outside the office and go to their next class with no consequence, or paddle them. The school board was very adamant that this building culture change.
Jean G. Fay has no typical workday. Whether it's working one-on-one with a child with special needs, helping out in the cafeteria at lunchtime, sewing costumes for the school musical, or leading 40 2nd graders in the Crocker Farm Elementary hip-hop crew, she does it all! Jean is also known at Crocker Farm for her homemade cookies. Her kindergartners love to munch on them while they listen to her read "Junie B. Jones" stories. She wants to bring her love of reading to them every day, whether it's reading Simon James' "Baby Brains" books or poems by Emily Dickinson or T.S. Eliot.
Over the last 15 years, she has taught children to read, write, and do basic math; comforted children who were feeling sad; encouraged students in their social interaction; and helped them with all of their first steps in education. She has been there for them just as they begin learning to be learners and mastering the skills that they will need to be successful in life. On Thursday evenings, Saturdays, and Sundays, she heads to her second job, at JCPenney at the local mall. Working at JCPenney has meant more than just paying the bills, though. She has used it as a way to help students and their families. Using her employee discount and the Massachusetts Child grant program, Jean has been able to buy clothes and school supplies for her students. When the father of one of her students passed away and the mother was struggling financially, Jean was able to use the Massachusetts Child program to purchase clothes for the children for their dad's funeral. Jean continues to be connected to this family today.
Society is quickly shifting, and so with it shifts the dialog about meaningfully learning and contributing. What used to pass for preparation to participate in a democratic society with a free market economy no longer holds true. Public schools currently reflect the 1900s more than the 2000s, even as education bureaucracy has clamped down and locked in on traditional, measurable standards and assessments. Instead of opening things up to the marketplace of ideas, public schools have opened themselves up to the assessment and technology marketplace, investing in solutions to document and justify the last century's ideals.
The Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards have drawn new attention to how these skills are developed across curriculum and across grade bands. In their 2014 ASCD Annual Conference session, "Collaborative Conversations: Meeting Anchor Standard 1 in Speaking and Listening," authors Nancy Frey and Doug Fisher were enthusiastic about the potential within these curricular shifts. "Our world will be different when adolescents are prepared for and participating in collaborative discussions with diverse partners, building on others' ideas, and expressing their own clearly and persuasively," noted Fisher.
Consider how your classroom has changed since 2010, asked Frey. She related that, in her own practice, the word "evidence" never appeared on a language chart used in her classroom. "It just wasn't on our radar." Now, kids are supporting their opinions with evidence in classroom discussions.
The dictionary definition of reflection states that reflection is light bouncing off a flat plane and returning back at the same angle. This allows us to see an image clearly, like when looking in a mirror. Reflection is an almost perfect representation. If the light bends prior to it returning, it's called refraction. What was once a perfect view becomes hazy, the representation distorted.
When applying these terms to education, how often do we reflect vs. refract?
Reflecting on our own pedagogy and practice takes a confident mindset. We need to be secure with ourselves in order to be open to honest feedback from others, admit mistakes made during delivery of instruction, and self-identify possible solutions for why things didn't go as planned. Reflectors do not blame students for their inattentiveness or behavioral issues. They identify ways to maintain consistent engagement and involvement throughout the learning process. If many students do not get the correct answer, the default response of a reflective teacher is not to state: "I don't know why they didn't get it—I taught it!" Instead, the reflective teacher reviews their approach to teaching the concept, and will try a new approach the next day. Reflectors know not all students understand content delivered the first time because reflective teachers are lifelong students, and may not have grasped content presented to them at some point, too.
U.S. Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Rodney Davis (R-IL) just introduced federal resolution H.Res.658 (PDF), which supports a whole child approach to education. It's a crucial first step in getting federal lawmakers to develop policies and make decisions that more effectively promote students' long-term learning, development, and success. Now, we need your help in letting your lawmaker know about the resolution and why it's important. Please take five minutes to ask your representative to cosponsor the resolution.
The resolution states that the U.S. House of Representatives
recognizes the benefit of ensuring students are challenged, supported, healthy, safe, and engaged;
encourages parents, educators, and community members to support a whole child approach to education for each student; and
encourages the federal government to identify opportunities among federal agencies to coordinate the education, health, and social service sectors serving our nation's youth.
We thank you in advance for asking your lawmaker to cosponsor the resolution. Take Action!