Flipped Staff Meetings: Great Advice to Give and Follow

Guest post by Paul Hermes

“You should try to make your classroom more student-centered and interactive. Don’t talk at your students so much.”
“Do you think you could integrate the concepts of the flipped classroom to optimize student learning time?”
“How much input do you give your students in choosing what, where, and how they learn?” 

As a school administrator, have you ever said something like this to a teacher? My guess would be yes, you have. And if that is true, let me ask you why then do you, as a school leader, not practice what you preach when it comes to your own staff meetings and professional learning? Look at the questions above and replace “student” with “teacher.” If your evaluator asked you these same questions, would they apply to you as the teacher of your teachers? Does the idiom “do as I say, not as I do” fit?  (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…)

Bad Weather is Bad News

By Stuart A. Singer, The Teacher Leader

Her one word response said it all.

I had just returned from a district math department chair meeting and was relating the angst of the County Math Coordinator. He had told us, “I am very troubled by the decline in the Algebra 1 SOL (state barrier exams) scores last year. What was particularly troubling was the fact that it was so uniformly across the board. Everyone’s were down”. The intensity of his concern indicated that this issue was being seriously discussed at levels well above his in the school hierarchy.

That afternoon I raised that question with my best Algebra 1 teacher. Her succinct answer was “snow”. The previous winter had been brutal with snow days and delayed openings piling up at an unprecedented rate. She then elaborated. “Here’s how I can quantify that answer. I always reserved the two weeks prior to the testing for review. That review is crucial for my students especially at that level. Last year I finished the curriculum on the day before the exams. The review period was gone due to the snow days and the scores suffered as a result.”

No one messes with Mother Nature

That awful winter has been replicated in 2013-14. All across the country snow and ice has played havoc with school calendars. In my old district ten days have been cancelled and more than a half-dozen have been truncated. The damage that such disruptions cause is far more than just a finite number of missed classes. One of the most important components of a successful classroom is momentum and nothing stops that more than weather problems. As an illustration due to snow and ice students at my former school had a five-day weekend followed by two days of classes followed by a four-day weekend caused by teacher workdays. After three more days of school another five day weekend followed because of the white stuff. The official count was five snow days (one of the days was a holiday) but the reality count of the losses would be more like three weeks.

The district’s response has been as follows. The President’s Day holiday in February and a teacher workday in April are now school days. Two additional days will be added to the end of the year in June. No other classes will be rescheduled. While on paper such a plan may sound bad, in the classroom it is much worse. Two school days in June (adding to the insanity is that they are a Monday and Tuesday) will do nothing to improve test scores in May. The earlier make-up days will suffer as well. They were originally parts of three-day weekends for students and many families will have planned to use them for travel, doctor appointments, etc. Absenteeism will be disproportionally higher for both students and staff.

And it is inevitable that next year someone will be asking the question as to why scores have gone down.

There are few good options

It would be nice to be able to list some suggestions that would make this dilemma disappear. Years ago (that should probably read “decades ago”) Spring Break and even Saturdays were utilized for making up snow days. Those options do not happen much anymore. Plus local school administrators have no real-time input into make-up day decisions. But there are steps that can be taken to recognize and help mitigate the problems.

Share strategies. Have teachers meet to brainstorm ways to cover the necessary material in reduced time. Often half of the solution is the mere recognition that there is a problem and the other half is to find creative ways to deal with them.

Eliminate disruptions. Any activity that will take students out of classrooms needs to be cancelled. Pep rallies, most field trips, senior pictures, etc. are now a luxury that cannot be sustained. Consider delaying the start of after-school activities to allow more time for extra help sessions. If the student body is given an explanation of why this is being done, they may be more likely to take advantage of it.

Be proactive. While this winter may be an anomaly, weather disruptions will occur in the future. School administrators need to share with district policy makers that the current system is hurting student academic performance. Do not wait until the scores are in to answer the questions as to why they dropped. Let the public know while the memory of all of those missed days is still fresh that end-of-course, AP and IB exams will all suffer when huge expanses of class time is lost and not recovered.

Less than great solutions are better than none.

More than just numbers

By Stuart A. Singer, Author of The Algebra Miracle

Perhaps because I am a former math teacher I cannot help myself. Maybe my extensive coaching background is what makes it even more compelling. Regardless of the precise motivator the fundamental conclusion seems so obvious.

Education needs to utilize data analysis more effectively.

Stats are bursting out all over

Data analysis can be a powerful tool for innovation in a multitude of endeavors. It can illuminate the path to better outcomes and accurately affirm success and failure. It is not, however, a static process. In order to maximize its effectiveness constant reevaluation is required. Otherwise conclusions made based on statistics can quickly become inaccurate and irrelevant.

One powerful example of such numerical evolution was evident in the aftermath of the gubernatorial election in Virginia. When the final results had been tabulated several newscasts explained the victory in these terms—the Democrat won the women’s vote by a larger margin than the Republican won the men’s. From there the speculation became focused on what specific issues had caused this “gender gap”.

But a day later another set of numbers presented a significantly different perspective. When one statistician divided the same voters into the category of either “married” or “unmarried” new conclusions emerged. A majority of married men and married women favored the GOP; unmarried men and women did not. Suddenly, because of these numbers the conversation and potential suppositions veered in a very different direction.

Similar numerical adjustments are occurring in the world of sports. A recent article in the Washington Post explained that the Nationals new baseball manager Matt Williams based a large portion of his improvement plan on the introduction of something new to the organization—data analysis. The plan is basic. An individual will be hired who will filter through the statistics provided (more…)