Collaboration

Making Collaboration Work

What do principals need to do their jobs more effectively? This is a question school administrators struggle with on a daily basis. The truth is that the best people to answer that question are the school administrators themselves. After all, they know their schools best and they know the unique nuances that may affect any new initiative. So, why not ask principals to create the tools they need to make their jobs easier? (more…)

Tell us Why #TogetherIsBetter

In education, we rarely achieve success on our own. In fact, as school leaders, we do our best work when we share our goals and empower those around us to get there. (more…)

Upping the Price of Teacher Absenteeism

By Stuart A. Singer, Author of The Algebra Miracle

In a recent post, Mel Riddile explained in great detail one of the primary reasons for the academic success of the students at our school—low teacher absenteeism. The conclusion of his post accurately summarized the overall plan:

“We trusted our teachers and treated them like the professionals they were. They trusted us and cared about their students and fellow teachers. They took ownership of the problem and the solution. Our teachers didn’t feel as though they needed to sneak around or feel guilty because they were absent. Many of the substitutes developed a loyalty to the school and would only sub for us. They felt wanted and appreciated. In this scenario everyone wins. We had the lowest teacher absence rate and the highest percentage of class coverage by substitutes and the best pool of quality substitute teachers in our entire school district. Most importantly, we faced a challenge together and we solved another problem by trusting each other and working together.”

The problems inherent in teacher absenteeism are obvious. It is common knowledge that any time a student misses a class it has a highly negative impact on their academic progress. A classroom without its regular teacher is the equivalent of twenty-five students losing a day of instruction multiplied by every period in that day. In addition, as Dr. Riddle points out, the costs in teacher coverage and potential additional administrative discipline issues increases the price exponentially.

The view from the classroom

In his post Dr. Riddile listed a number of important steps that resulted in lowering teacher absenteeism. But there was one that was the most important from the perspective of the classroom instructor: (more…)

Teacher Attendance and School Culture – Revisited

Note: This is an update of an article originally posted on June 3, 2014

“Culture eats strategies for breakfast.”–Peter Drucker

Great schools can be average in some areas, but great schools cannot have a glaring weakness and be considered great. Great schools find a way to solve the problems that stifle or debilitate good schools.

Increased accountability coupled with new, more rigorous standards and more challenging assessments place increased pressure on principals to improve classroom instruction. Maximizing instructional time is a key way to raise student achievement. Teacher absenteeism and the use of substitute teachers, which reduce instructional time, have long been problems faced by every school. Faced with budget shortfalls, many districts have resorted to removing teachers from classrooms during the school day in order to attend professional development sessions. Labor agreements have been structured in a way that encourages teacher absence. States have reduced the number of school days in a school year.

While principals often face district and state policies that actually encourage teacher absenteeism, principals can impact teacher attendance. Like every school problem, the long-term solution lies in the culture—attitudes, beliefs, mindsets, expectations, and relationships—of the school.

In Teacher Absence, Leading Indicators, and Trust, Raegen Miller made some important points regarding teacher attendance pointing to the need to look more closely at school culture:

  • If teachers’ presence in the classroom matters so much, shouldn’t we pay more attention to teachers’ absences?
  • Professional culture in a school can exert a strong influence over the leave-taking behavior of its teachers
  • Forty-five percent of the variation in teacher absence is between schools working under the same district and state parameters.
  • Paying attention to teacher absence gets at the professional culture in schools through the notion of trust, a universal human tension if ever there was one. In particular, theory and evidence point to trust between teachers and management as a moderator of teacher absences.

Teacher Attendance and Student Achievement

Here is the reality. When teachers are absent, students lose valuable instructional time. No matter how qualified they are, substitute teachers do not improve student achievement. “When I was absent I knew that my classes would regress no matter who was the substitute or how well I planned.” – Stuart A. Singer, Author of The Algebra Miracle

A recent study indicates that teacher attendance is an overlooked factor in improving student achievement. “Given the time and attention spent on school programs, new curriculum and strategies to strengthen teacher quality,” the report’s authors wrote, “we may be overlooking one of the most basic, solvable and cost effective reasons why schools may fail to make education progress.”

The study goes on to point out the following:

  • One in six teachers in some of the country’s largest public school districts are out of the classroom at least 18 days, or more than 10 percent of the time, for illness, personal reasons and professional development.
  • Overall teacher attendance rate is 94 percent.
  • Districts spend an average of $1,800 per teacher to cover absences each year.
  • No measurable relationship between teacher absence and the poverty levels of a school’s students
  • No difference in absentee rates among districts with policies meant to encourage attendance, such as paying teachers for unused sick time, and districts without those incentives.

A study by the Columbia University School of Business offers some interesting findings:

  • Substitutes are worse than the regular teacher. “In teaching, the person with whom an absent teacher is replaced is clearly worse in a substantial way. Substitute teachers are less likely to be highly skilled, since otherwise the chances are she would already have found a full-time teaching job. Even if a substitute is highly skilled, there is a start-up cost: just because someone has a degree in math doesn’t mean she can hop in and be a great sixth-grade math teacher.”
  • Students do worse in years when their teacher takes more time off.
  • “When a teacher takes an extended medical leave, it causes a drop in math and English test scores on par with putting a rookie teacher in the place of a teacher with four years of experience for an entire year.”
  • Shorter absences are more detrimental than longer ones. Ten one-day absences over the course of a year were found to lower student scores more than when a teacher missed two consecutive weeks.
  • Incentives for teachers to not be absent don’t work.

A Short Success Story

I received a call from the district’s Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources. He was calling to arrange a time for his staff to visit our high school. Unbeknownst to me, our school had the highest rate of substitute coverage for absent teachers in a district of approximately 270 schools.

In our school, when a teacher was absent, we had substitute coverage approximately 96% of the time. I was shocked to learn that other high schools averaged 65% coverage. In addition, our school had the highest teacher attendance among the almost 30 high schools in the district.

This came as a shock to the district staff because (more…)

Teacher Attendance and School Culture

“Culture eats strategies for breakfast.”–Peter Drucker

Great schools can be average in some areas, but great schools cannot have a glaring weakness and be considered great. Great schools find a way to solve the problems that stifle or debilitate good schools. Teacher absenteeism and substitute teachers are problems faced by every school. Like every school, the solution is in the culture—attitudes, beliefs, mindsets, expectations, and relationships—of the entire school.

Here is the reality. When teachers are absent, students lose valuable instructional time. No matter how qualified they are, substitute teachers do not improve student achievement. “When I was absent I knew that my classes would regress no matter who was the substitute or how well I planned.” – Stuart A. Singer

A new study indicates that teacher attendance is an overlooked factor in improving student achievement. “Given the time and attention spent on school programs, new curriculum and strategies to strengthen teacher quality,” the report’s authors wrote, “we may be overlooking one of the most basic, solvable and cost effective reasons why schools may fail to make education progress.”

The study goes on to point out the following:

  • One in six teachers in some of the country’s largest public school districts are out of the classroom at least 18 days, or more than 10 percent of the time, for illness, personal reasons and professional development.
  • Overall teacher attendance rate is 94 percent.
  • Districts spend an average of $1,800 per teacher to cover absences each year.
  • No measurable relationship between teacher absence and the poverty levels of a school’s students
  • No difference in absentee rates among districts with policies meant to encourage attendance, such as paying teachers for unused sick time, and districts without those incentives.

A study by the Columbia University School of Business offers some interesting findings:

  • Substitutes are worse than the regular teacher. “In teaching, the person with whom (more…)

Education is a True Team Game

By Stuart A. Singer, author of The Algebra Miracle

While some people might dismiss the importance of creating the proper mindset within a school’s faculty as critical for improving academic success, the outcome of this year’s World Series may help change that misperception.

That victory by the Boston Red Sox was good for baseball. One of the sport’s most storied franchises had waited 95 years to win a championship on its home field. It was an emotional boost for a city that has endured so much pain at the hands of terrorists. And it was great fun for the casual fan to watch a group of men who looked like characters from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy celebrating their title-clinching victory like a group of excited little boys.

But for education this Boston team could also serve as a model for success.

A little bit of historical background

In 2012 the owners of the Red Sox spent huge amounts of money on a team filled with superstar talents and a big name flamboyant manager. They watched that group crash and burn finishing in last place. The next season, with more than $2500 million of “great” players discarded, a number of unknowns taking the field on a (more…)

Professional Development Should Be a Team Sport

By Stuart Singer, author of The Algebra Miracle

For me it was always the worst week of the school year.

For the first 34 years of my career, I dreaded the August in-service. During each and every one of them I considered quitting the profession. This angst was the result of the knowledge that somewhere in the vicinity of 150 students would be appearing in my classroom in a few short days and I was not ready for that influx. The tedium of the time spent not preparing for that invasion wore me down mentally. Even in retirement those memories were vivid. I warned my daughter-in-law prior to her first in-service that she would have thoughts of vocational suicide during that week. Sadly she found my prophecy accurate.

A brief history

My displeasure was not the result of a lack of effort on the part of those planning the August teacher training. They were sincerely trying to accomplish important educational goals. Actually, that is not completely accurate. In my first three years the sessions (at the time three days in duration)  consisted of the assistant principals reading the teacher handbook aloud from the first page to the last as the faculty assembled in the school library.

Over the years the time devoted to in-service expanded to five days and the administrative staff abandoned the group reading of the handbook and began implementing significantly more interesting activities. But lost in all of the teaching strategies, attendance policies and bell schedule tweaks, was the primary concern of the teaching staff—time to prepare for their classes. In year thirty-five, however, something wonderful happened.

At the March department chair meeting, teacher concerns about the in-service week were placed on the agenda. The principal, Mel Riddile, agreed that it was a topic worthy of further discussion. The next step was a survey of the faculty designed to see how much planning time was actually needed to prepare for the start of school. The resulting data revealed that during the previous August a majority of the staff had felt it was necessary to come to school the week prior to the nominal reporting date in order to properly prepare for the first week of instruction. Even more revealing was the fact that nearly 75% had entered the building during the weekend prior to the opening day in order to finish their work. These numbers demonstrated that there was a lack of adequate planning time during the in-service week. When a group of teachers offered to help restructure the week, Dr. Riddile agreed to let them try.

A difficult task for everyone

Allowing so much teacher input into a process that had previously been virtually the exclusive domain of the administrators represented a tremendous concession. While they retained final approval over the week’s events, all of the planning was initiated within the teaching staff.

The parameters for the week were set by the administrative team. The district required a certain number of hours of what it deemed to be “staff development” activities. There were additional school-based (more…)