Teaching and Learning

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…)

Creativity and Innovation in Secondary Education

Guest post by Brian Pickering

What can secondary schools do to build a learning environment that fosters creativity and innovation?

Seven years ago, the leadership team at Contoocook Valley Regional High School, or ConVal, set off on a mission to answer this question. The goal was to guarantee all students the opportunity for academic and social support, as well as learning extensions and enrichment. (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…)

Transforming Business Engagement at School, Part Two

Guest post by Tommy T. Welch

In last week’s post, I described how Meadowcreek High School (MHS) has partnered with local and national businesses to develop a robust program of paid internships that are enhancing student learning and long-term curriculum development. Of course, this did not happen overnight. It took years of effort from hundreds of people all working toward a common goal. But I am absolutely confident that other communities can replicate our success. (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…)

Transforming Business Engagement at School, Part One

Guest post by Tommy T. Welch

One of the main functions we perform in education is preparing our students for entering the workforce. But how do we know if we are succeeding? Traditional assessments tend to focus on achievement up to high school graduation but not after. There are numerous articles and studies out there that explore how curricula need to change to equip students with the skills necessary for 21st-century jobs. At Meadowcreek High School, we have taken a slightly different approach by partnering directly with local and national businesses to give students hands-on experience through paid internships. By approaching businesses as authentic knowledge partners rather than just taxpayers, donors, or sponsors, we have enlisted their expertise and experience in the process of preparing our students for productive careers and lifelong learning. (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.

Fifty Years in the Making

By Stuart A. Singer, author of The Algebra Miracle

At first glance it seemed like an unlikely place for an extended philosophical discussion of education. Then again perhaps it was the perfect setting for teachers, young and old, to gain an appreciation for the potential lifelong impact of their classrooms and consequently the heavy responsibility that possible outcome brings with it.

And to think it was supposed to be simply a 50-year high school reunion.

Oldies but goodies

For the sake of full disclosure I must explain that recently I was dragged by my best friend thousands of miles, kicking and screaming most of the journey, to a gathering of my high school class of 1964. For my buddy this event was just another in a long series of these get-togethers. Of course he had good reasons to relish these meetings—fifty years ago he had been the star of the state championship football team, steady date of the captain of the cheerleading squad and on his way to a scholarship to the University of Virginia. I, the owner of a significantly lower social profile during those same years, was far less motivated to revisit a world in which I perceived I had made scant impact.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was not a total outcast among the 200 in attendance and that my experiences in the classroom both as a student and teacher would somehow become center stage.

Time does not dull all memories

It was at breakfast on the Sunday after the final gathering and a group of six alums were gathered around a large round table. Richard, now a dentist in Lake Tahoe, posed an interesting question to the assembled group: “Which of your teachers was the most influential in your life?” Without hesitation I answered “My Junior English teacher John Harocopus,” then added, “he was my model in my career especially in terms of classroom management. He was young and not physically imposing but he was passionate about his subject and ran a wonderfully disciplined and demanding class.” I went on to explain that I later adapted many of his methods in my own classroom.

My friend, who in addition to his athletic talents was highly successful academically, quickly joined the conversation. “For me it was Col. Brose. He brought history alive for me and to this day he gave me a strong interest in the subject. He was a great teacher who brought the curriculum alive for everyone in the class.” A former star basketball player seated across the table nodded in agreement with this choice.

And so it went for fifteen minutes, six men all hovering around the age of 68 and five decades removed from public education vividly discussing the profound influence wielded by educators they had encountered when John Kennedy was President. In the midst of the conversation my wife, a retired Biology teacher, leaned over to me and whispered, “More than a little scary what a difference teachers can make. Every person in education should have to listen to something like this.” The proof of this assertion was clearly on display.

And on the flip side

During the course of the reunion not all of the memories were so positive. At the second reception a man approached me and introduced himself by saying, “I don’t know if you remember me but I’m Steve Alsop. We were in eleventh-grade U.S. History together.” Surprisingly once he had given me his name I did, indeed, remember him. “When I saw your name on the list of attendees,” he continued, “I couldn’t wait to ask you if you remembered the time you were asked the question about the British and Colonists in the Revolutionary War.”

My blank look indicated a total lack of recall of an event that occurred in 1962. “I’m afraid I don’t,” I said somewhat sheepishly.

A smile crossed his face. It was apparent that this incident was still an amazingly fresh memory. “So that crazy teacher of ours says to the class, ‘Given all of the circumstances entering into the war, which side had the advantage, the British or the Colonists?’” The grin widened. “Well, everyone was terrified that she would call on them and then she looked at you and said, ‘Stu Singer, what do you think?’ I’ll never forget how you gave a wonderful answer explaining all of the numerous factors favoring the British. It was a compelling argument, an extremely powerful argument. So after you had finished and most of the class was nodding in agreement she says, ‘Now that was very logical, but it just wasn’t the answer I was looking for.’ Steve shook his head and put his hand on my shoulder. “At that point you just looked back at me a few rows away and rolled your eyes. I will never forget that moment.”

While I had no such recollection the implication was clear—this hypocritical and bizarre response by a teacher had left a permanent and obviously negative impression on this individual. The question that went through my mind was “how many other people at this reunion have similar stories?”

During the course of the three days other teachers, some good others not so much, were placed under a similar half-century old microscope. The take-home message for this retired educator was clear. Fifty or more years after the classroom instruction had been completed the palpable impact on many of the students, positive and negative, remained.

It is as important lesson for educators in 2014 as it was in 1964.