Curriculum and Instruction

Getting the Most Out of Block Scheduling

Guest post by Sedric G. Clark

As a young English I and Algebra I teacher, I always searched for best practices that would help my students succeed. One of the practices I encountered and embraced early in my career was 4×4 block scheduling. In fact, I completed my master’s degree paper on the topic and later chaired a committee for my district that recommended the implementation of 4×4 scheduling in all high schools.

That was more than 20 years ago. Since then, I have served as assistant principal and principal in five different schools in four different school districts—in two different states. I am now in my first year as superintendent, and hopefully, my last year as a doctoral student. When my doctoral adviser asked me to choose a topic for my dissertation, I once again turned to block scheduling. I wanted to see if block scheduling still offered the benefits that I thought it did at the beginning of my career. (more…)

Change Starts With Us

Guest post by Jamie Richardson

A few years ago, I found myself trying to convince my son that he needed to “play the game” of school and figure out how to rack up as many “points” as possible in order to succeed. As these “encouraging” words came from my mouth, I stopped and asked myself, how was it that any of my students—let alone my very own son—needed artificial motivation to feel inspired about school? At that moment, I came to an important realization: (more…)

Raising Test Scores: One School’s Story

Guest post by Amy Mims

When I became an assistant principal of Independence High School in Charlotte, NC, our school’s test scores were low. As I started observing classrooms, I saw talented teachers hard at work designing and delivering interesting lessons that utilized a number of instructional best practices. I also saw motivated students who were engaged in lessons, completed assignments, and did well on assessments. I wondered: What was causing our school’s low test scores? (more…)

Finding Your Path Toward Competency-Based Learning

Guest post by Brian M. Stack

Imagine trying to go somewhere for the first time without having access to a map. Worse yet, imagine being the great explorers Lewis and Clark who crossed the western part of our country for the first time in 1804 with no map, no roads, and little knowledge of what it was going to take to get to their destination. In education, early adopters often feel like trailblazers too, using research, trends, and sometimes their guts to forge new ways of thinking and doing. If you are a school leader looking to move your school to competency-based learning today, you may feel a daunting sense of helplessness as you embark on your journey. The good news is (more…)

College and Career Ready: Preparing Students With the Skills They Need to Succeed

Guest post by Renee Trotier

One of our recent Rockwood Summit High School (RSHS) graduates came back for a visit after a few months of college. His observation was that the course content was not a problem, but the most important aspect for success in college was actually time management.

The conversation stuck with me because I learned this same lesson the hard way (more…)

Pave the Way for Freshman Success With an After-School Intervention Program

Guest post by Kimie Carroll

I often say to the students that I mentor in our ninth-grade intervention program: “My job is to protect you from yourself.” As anyone who has worked with theses student know, freshmen don’t always make the wisest choices and they need lots of adult support to make positive decisions and pass their classes. To address these problems and reduce the failure rate, Canby High School in 2010 started an after-school intervention program called CATS, (more…)

The Brownsburg Way, Part Two: Supporting Teachers to Succeed

Guest post by Amber Schroering and Jim Snapp

In our post last week, we introduced you to The Brownsburg Way, the approach our district—the Brownsburg Community School Corporation (BCSC) in Central Indiana—uses to deliver consistent and high academic results year after year. We discussed how our narrow teaching and learning focus contributes to our achievement. Of course, curriculum and instructional programing aren’t the only factors. Without our stellar educators, none of our success would be possible. So how do we support our teachers so that they do their very best? (more…)

The Brownsburg Way, Part One: A Narrow Teaching and Learning Focus

Guest post by Amber Schroering and Jim Snapp

The Brownsburg Community School Corporation (BCSC) in Central Indiana has a long history of academic excellence. For many years, BCSC has topped the state rankings for academic excellence in all of the areas of the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP). Dozens of schools and school corporations visit our district each year to learn how “The Brownsburg Way” results in exemplary student achievement. They always ask what we do to get consistently high results.

One of the reasons we are successful is  (more…)

The Multidimensional Impact of School Climate

Guest post by Cheryl Spittler

The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015 has ushered in a new paradigm for student achievement that now includes nonacademic indictors in addition to measuring proficiency in math, English language arts, and English-language proficiency (for English-language learners), as well as high school graduation rates. These nonacademic indicators are aimed at providing a broader measure of student performance and include:  (more…)

The Real Problem with Teacher Evaluation

by Stuart Singer, author of The Algebra Miracle

The title of a recent post on the Principal Difference site asked “Teacher Evaluations: Are Principals reluctant to issue low ratings?” This question reflects a painful reality. Placing the responsibility for teacher evaluation squarely on the shoulders of a school’s administrative staff frequently results in inaccurate and often incomplete assessments. These shortcomings are not a reflection on the competence of the administrators. Also somewhat irrelevant is whether these appraisals are unrealistically high or low. What is critical is that teacher evaluations too often fail to reflect with precision an educator’s classroom performance.

Ironically, the solution is simple but will require a changing mindset.

The wrong people for the job

The task of running a school is full time and then some. Asking Assistant Principals to be the primary evaluators of teachers is not fair to either party. Here is a question whose answer may explain the dilemma—how many observations and/or follow up meetings have been postponed because of a school emergency? An honest answer reveals the rank of teacher evaluations on the priority lists of the vast majority of school administrators. It is not that there is a lack of appreciation of teacher evaluation. It is simply the fact that a food fight in the cafeteria requires immediate attention and that there are only so many hours even in an extended work day.

It is time for educational assessments to be the purview of professional evaluators. School districts need to hire, train and employ a cadre of carefully selected individuals, whose sole job is observing, assisting and evaluating instructional personnel. They would work in multiple schools, focusing primarily on academic areas in which they are fluent.

The advantages of such an approach would be numerous.

  • A broader viewpoint. Observing Algebra 1 teachers at five different high schools gives a vastly superior sense of overall quality than watching five in the same department who may be sharing instructional materials. As previously mentioned an additional positive of this plan would be that observers would be better equipped to understand the material being taught. This would resolve the problem faced by so many APs—evaluating staff employed in multiple departments.
  • A more impersonal analysis. School personnel whether in the administrative wing or the English hall, develop relationships, good and bad, as a result of constant interactions. People who are not affiliated with a school would avoid such complications.
  • Evaluation is job one. The typical distractions and interruptions of the AP day are eliminated when an individual’s sole responsibility is to assess educators. The finished product would reflect this singular focus.

The best way to ensure that the most productive teachers remain in the classroom is to develop assessments that determine these individuals and help them to refine and improve their skills. The employment of professionals to conduct these evaluations would be the first step in that critical growth.