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Kevin Parr

End-of-Year Reflection: Think About the Whole Child

As the school year winds down, teachers are spending as much time reflecting on the past year as they are thinking about a summer filled with sit-down lunches, obligation-free evenings and weekends, and restful nights without dreaming about school.

Throughout the year teachers reflect continuously on particular interactions with students, a given lesson, or even a whole school day because they realize it is the key to improving their practice. At the end of the year, however, teachers should take time reflect on how things went overall to set themselves and their students up for success next year. Without a framework to guide teachers, reflecting on the entire school year can easily turn into spiraling self-talk with few results other than "this was the worst year ever" or "this was the best year ever." Nevertheless, teachers can engage in focused reflection that will truly help them to better meet the needs of the kids they will meet in September.

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Kevin Parr

Back to Basics: From Quick Fixes to Sustainable Change

School improvement conversations usually focus on quick fixes, those strategies thought to make immediate improvements to student achievement. While this model may work well for some, kids (and their teachers) remain unconvinced because their needs were never really considered to begin with—just their test scores. Even so, schools are encouraged to implement these overly simplistic strategies in spite of the fact they contradict most everything great teachers know to be true and effective.

Teachers know effective teaching connects students to their learning by creating purpose, meaning and enjoyment. They also know effective teaching allows students to feel a sense of accomplishment by using their learning to affect the world around them. At best, quick fix models are short sighted. At worst they are negatively affecting the school experience for large groups of kids who yearn to be motivated, engaged, and have purpose for their learning. In this way, the cycle of disengagement, low test scores, and new quick fixes is perpetuated. To remedy this, we need to replace quick fixes with long-term, sustainable changes aimed at teaching kids in their entirety, not just their data profiles. In short, we need to get back to the real basics of education.

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Kevin Parr

March Madness: What Teachers Can Learn From Great Coaches

The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is underway and millions of people are tuned in to root for their favorite team or more likely, to earn bragging rights via the office betting pool. No matter the reason, the fate of these fans' success rests in the success of the teams they are rooting for.

Conventional wisdom would tell us that the secret to a winning basketball team is simple; they have the best players. Although having skillful players does help, it seems that the skills and attitude of the coach plays an even more significant role in predicting the success of a team. The proof lies in the fact that great coaches turn losing programs into winning programs and they do it wherever they go.

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Kevin Parr

Keep Students and Parents (and Teachers) Initiative Fatigue Free

Last week I entered a meeting feeling pretty good about my teaching life. I was sticking with my goals for the year, trying some new things outside my comfort zone, and achieving some success doing them, but soon my head was fixed on all of the things I wasn't doing. All I could think about were the things other people were doing or telling me I should be doing that I wasn't. I was feeling inadequate and I just couldn't shake it. I was, as ASCD CEO and Executive Director Dr. Gene R. Carter recently phrased it on a panel discussing developing teacher leaders, experiencing "initiative fatigue." There was too much, too fast, and with too little time for me to evaluate or prioritize the ideas coming at me, let alone do anything with them. I was overwhelmed and anxious. I was lost.

Assuming that I was not the only teacher in the room feeling that way (and I doubt I was), what was the collective effect of those feelings having on the atmosphere of our school? Were all of these well-intentioned ideas empowering teachers or disenfranchising them?

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Kevin Parr

Personalized Learning: A View from the Factory Floor

Personalized learning seems like such a perfect model of teaching and learning. In fact, "student-driven, competency-based learning that can happen any time, anywhere" seems too good to be true. As teachers we read about schools implementing personalized learning and we immediately turn to utopian dreams of working there and teaching that way. Soon after, we realize we don't teach in that school and lament "if only ..." We pinpoint reasons why the personalized learning models portrayed in the articles would be impossible within the confines of our school or district still based on the factory model. In the interest of our students we must move beyond that kind of thinking. Fortunately, we can if we keep our ideals in mind and work with what we have. We simply need to shift the conversation from all the reasons why we can't completely personalize student learning, to how we can make learning more personal.

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Kevin Parr

Approaching Student Achievement Like a Forest Fire

It has been another active fire season here out West and once again firefighters have been attacking the fires systematically and efficiently. As a teacher it is interesting to look at the way these fires are attacked. The contrast to the way problems are attacked in education is staggering.

In wildland firefighting when the problem (the fire) becomes big enough, a two-pronged attack is launched. Firefighters coordinate their efforts to fight the fire from both the ground and air. In contrast, when the problem in education (student achievement, mainly) gets big, the most common response is to narrow the range of approaches. By and large this usually means demanding more time strictly devoted to teaching the critical academic subjects (math and reading) at the expense of everything else.

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