In a recent study group, I was directed toward a documentary from ABC News. Strawberry Mansion High School was considered one of the most dangerous schools in America. Fights, behavior and poverty rates ran high. The school had six months to prove it could turn itself around to stay open. The assistant superintendent could not find a principal to handle the school effectively, so she volunteered to be the principal. She cared about the students so much, that she wanted this task.
After watching the documentary, I took some time to reflect about why this person would go into a dangerous place to try and overcome a huge obstacle. Everything came down to caring for the students, doing what is best for the students. In the clip, the principal tells students she cares about them and loves them. The students want to learn and have a safe environment, but the school needed a leader to bring about this change.
What a task this leader had to tackle. Being a leader, there are times that situations are difficult to handle, but leaders need to take a step back and think about this: What is best for students? That should be the question and statement that drives all decision-making.
It’s about the relationships with students, and having students know that they are cared for and are safe. We might not know a student’s environment outside of school, and that is why it is so important to for all teachers, including teacher-leaders to:
- Treat each child uniquely and respectfully
- Put students first
- Leave personal things at the door and try your best to remain positive
- Be honest, kind and admit when you are wrong.
In Chapter 2, the authors discuss what happens on an assessment and why. Now that the assessments have been created and administered, it’s time to delve into the data to see progress of students and make an action plan for re-teaching or enrichment. To begin, a simple and useful data template is needed before diving into the data. Items to include are names, question numbers and types (open-ended, multiple choice, etc), standard addressed and the percentage of correct and incorrect responses of individual students and the class as a whole. If each teacher has this report ready, they can compare what questions were answered incorrectly, thus understanding what standard or skill must be retaught. When teachers learn what standard must be reviewed, students can be grouped into skill levels for direct instruction. Students that have generally answered all the questions correctly can be placed into enrichment or extension groups. If teacher had most students answer one question correctly, while the other teachers had most students answer it incorrectly, they can collaborate with that one teacher to see how he or she taught the skill. That strategy can be used by others to see if it makes a difference to help the students master that specific standard.
During the data meetings, there should be communication between the building leader and teachers involved with the assessment. Results from interim assessments are discussed and analyzed. Meetings do not always have to be lead by an administrator, but can be conducted by instructional coaches or teacher-leaders. Recommendations to conduct a successful data meeting included:
- All members of the meeting must come prepared with appropriate data and materials
- Celebrate successes or highlight positive changes
- Continually go back to specific questions on the test and ask why a student got a question wrong
- Create an action plan to help students learn the material that must be retaught and make sure teachers are held accountable for this action plan
In Chapter 1 of “Driven by Data,” the authors discuss the essential building blocks of effective assessments. They include:
- Assessments must be the starting point
- Assessments must be transparent
- Assessments must be common
- Assessments must be interim
Without the above items as a strong foundation, effective assessments will be difficult to achieve.
To begin, assessments must be written before the start of a lesson or unit. This way, teachers can plan lessons that address standards that will be assessed. If teachers are aware of the skills that will be assessed, they observe how students interact with the material and adjust the lessons as needed for students to learn the skill. Next, assessments must be transparent. Students must have clear expectations of what they will need to know to be successful in the classroom. This practice of disseminating expectations can include learning targets and I Can statements. Communication with families about students’ learning processes and the curriculum sets a plan in motion to help students take ownership of their learning and know what is expected of them in regard to assessments. Students must know the purpose and the why they learn a skill. Another piece to effective assessments includes ones that are common. These should be the same across classrooms and even different schools within a district. Common levels of mastery will be similar across classrooms, and data-driven meetings will be meaningful and productive if teachers break down skills on common assessments to assist students where areas may be weak at the moment. Lastly, assessments must be interim, meaning they should be given to students quarterly or every six to eight weeks. If teachers go all year without assessing students, they will not be aware of targets or skills students have not mastered. Interim assessments provide teachers a snapshot of where students currently are, and make a plan for where they need to be by the end of the year to meet standards.
During my first year in the district, I participated in a Drive By Data study group. The information was helpful and I have recalled resources to use for this CNYLDP course, but I still feel my program is not driven by data.
As an elementary library team, we have worked hard to pull essential standards from the Information Fluency Continuum. We have to go through 7 grade levels, and have not completed this process yet. It feels until we have the essential standards for each grade level, that we cannot create common assessments or have data-driven meetings. We have not had the opportunity to have full-day collaborations or meetings like grade-level teams or special-education teams. With all of us in different schools, it is difficult to meet. To combat these obstacles, however, we have tried to have monthly virtual PLC meetings and connect though Google Suite to pull curriculum ideas and standards. We are on the start of this journey and will complete it in the end, but the road getting there has been arduous. I remind myself that every little bit counts and we will have a full curriculum, essential standards and common assessments eventually.
At the last class, we completed a poverty simulation. Everyone was split into different families, with scenarios of which to participate. Expectations were clear and we all had to be active participants in the project.
I was part of the Collins family, and played Ernest. This character lost his job as an electrician and was on track to complete his BA. His wife had a full-time job at a bank, and the couple had three children. Also, Ernest’s nephew from Texas, lived with them. He was seventeen.
My group read over the scenarios and we carefully budgeted our money. The first week, everything seemed to go OK. However, we accidentally left our money on the table, and $500 of that was stolen by different people in the room. The loss of money did not allow us to pay bills and unexpected emergencies that occurred. We had to go on a payment plan with the bill department, and by the next month, we owed hundreds of dollars.
Overall, the poverty simulation allowed me to think about what many of my families might experience daily. Emotions that ran through me included frustration, hopelessness and anxiety. Toward the end of class, we had a group discussion where I reflected on the experience and how to move forward. One person mentioned this: what is one thing I can do tomorrow to help a student, to bring hope? At times, school might be the only safe-haven in a student’s life and what can I do to provide that refuge? I’ve thought about some ideas, and it’s now to go forth and continue to do good for my community.
During the winter break, I delved more into the text for the critical issues course. After completing the book, there were some questions I had:
- To what extent do administrators handle critical issues daily? The case studies in the book seemed very extreme and how could one person not tackle the issue with common sense?
The case studies brought up a number of topics that were and were not familiar to me. I have thought about how I would react to the situations and reviewed questions posed at the end of each case study. I pondered the issue at hand, and everything went back to this: What is the process that will provide a safe learning environment for students?
One case study that made me really reflect was 3.5: Teacher With A Handgun-The Right To Bear Arms, Protecting Students And School Policy. I can sympathize (not empathize) with Jenna’s fear, abusive past and concern with lack of proper safety features in the town and school. I was appalled that the administrator appeared to attempt to cover up the situation, as well as surprised how vague the policies about firearms on school grounds were and Jenna’s belief it was her duty to protect her students with a firearm so much she would have it in school if a situation was that dire.
Days after reading this case study, I still think about it. There are various factors that must be addressed:
- Policy of firearms on and off school property. This needs to be reviewed and/or revised and information disseminated to the appropriate stakeholders
- Poor infrastructure of the buildings: Can anything be done to make the buildings more secure in case of an emergency?
- Moral compass of the administrator (lack-there-of)
Reflecting back on 2016 with reading, I am pleased of the progress that was made this year. I looked back to Goodreads at the 2016 goal of 60 books, finishing with 114 books. Many books this year included series and stand-alone books for middle-grade fiction.
At the beginning of the summer, I found myself in a reading slump. I was tired of reading elementary and middle-school aged books. I discovered an Elizabethan mystery series, YA and adult fiction books the second half of the year.
Looking at goals at the beginning of 2016, I did not accomplish many:
- Finish Anne of Green Gables Series: I finished books 4-6, but attempted books 7/8. I do not care for these as much as they do not heavily feature Anne, but her children.
- Finish A Series of Unfortunate Events series. I listened to these books on audiobook from March to September on my drives to and from work.
- Read The Peculiar Series again by Ransom Riggs. None.
- Read a classic book a month (will start with The BFG and finish Anne of Windy Poplars). Started strong, but finished weak.
- Blog about my reading progress each month. Did not do this
Highlights of the year included:
- Audiobooks to listen to and from my commutes to work
- Graphic novels. For the longest time, I thought I hated graphic novels, but I have come to enjoy a well-written book and appreciate the genre more this year
- Leigh Bardugo’s books. Need I say more?
Top 10 Books of 2016 Read
- Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
- Ghosts by Raina Telgemeir
- These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
- Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire
- Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
- Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
- Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
- Heartless by Marissa Meyer
- Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst
- Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
(Top three included These Shallow Graves, Every Heart A Doorway and Six of Crows)
My goals for 2017 include:
- Read 70 books
- Re-read Harry Potter series
- Finish 2 series currently reading
- Read all of Roald Dahl’s books
- Read and finish 2 new series
Last week, I had my formal observation. The process is a bit less stressful this year, as there is only one formal observation to prepare for. It’s beneficial it’s completed in the first few months of school so I can implement feedback sooner in the school year.
During the conference with my administrator, I shared my learning style: I like to follow rules and know exactly what is expected of me for a situation. When this information was shared, I believe the feedback was more relevant and meaningful because it was tailored to meet my needs at the time. After some good conversation, the feedback was received. The post-conference occurred this morning and I have many ideas swimming in my head right now. I will reflect on her feedback for a few days and move forward from there.
Additionally, I met with my communication teammate this week. We reflected on the past few months, and besides easy-to-fix mistakes, we are pleased with the communication committee and plan to move forward. We discussed some simple changes. Also, with feedback from presentations at class in November, we discussed how to encourage teachers to have more ownership and participation in the communication process. We came up with some ideas:
- Encouraging teachers to create videos and send to us for distribution to the appropriate networks (teachers already submit photos to the building shared photo on the server)
- Have a dedicated share-out time at curriculum meetings where each grade-level rep will highlight events, curriculum or projects
We plan to implement these items at our next meeting in mid-December. I am currently on working pulling first quarter data from 2016-17 for the Facebook page. My goal is to have that done by December.
In class last week, we talked a lot about the difference between feedback versus criticism. We constantly provide feedback to students, but do we provide meaningful feedback to colleagues or negative criticism? After some reflection, I began to understand more of the differences between feedback and criticism:
- Culture of trust and safety
- Two-way conversations
- Celebrates what went well, but has an open conversation about what are areas that could be improved. Specific and clear goals, expectations to show growth and improvement
- Non-confrontational and open communication between people conversing
- Negative conversations: only focuses on what went wrong and fault is with the person being evaluated
- No plan to move forward or grow as a professional
- Power struggles
- One-way conversation
- Close-ended questions and answers; no specific advice
No matter who I converse with, I need to provide a culture of meaningful feedback, whether it’s peers or students. To begin this, I feel I already have created a culture of trust and safety in the library. Without that in place, no meaningful conversations can even begin to take place. I do have to continue to promote this trusting culture-it’s not something that you never stop working at. I hope colleagues know that I keep information confidential and can actively listen.
However, as I become a teacher-leader there are some items I need to work on to provide effective feedback in the future. One huge takeaway for me from this last class was being specific and as clear as possible for growth plans. It is helpful to have a big picture in mind, but the little details along the journey are needed, as well. I need to set more specific goals and clear deadlines. We provide clear expectations and goals to students, so why would adult learners be any different?
Also, in the last class, we received some information about what type of feedback learning style most correlates with us as individuals. After reading through the packet, I determined I am instrumental learner (rule-follower) for feedback. To feel successful, I need to know what is expected of me and have clear examples of expectations.
My formal observation is coming up soon, and I want to share with my principal in the pre-conference this information about my learning style, so my post-conference will be more successful. Also, we will have the opportunity to peer-poach a colleague. I want to share these learning styles for feedback so I know what type of learner he or she is. This information will help me provide more effective feedback. I’m excited to share this information to see if there are more effective takeaways and plans for growth.
Last week while meeting with our district classmates, we each had to present our presentation in front of the group. This was for practice the official presentations Wednesday, November 9. During each presentation, we would receive feedback about the overall presentation. I received my feedback, but put the papers aside for a few days in order to reflect personally.
It is comfortable for me to go in front of students to talk and to teach. The kids are easy-going and eager to learn. Presenting in front of colleagues proved to be a bit different for me. You don’t know what thoughts are in their minds or what their opinions are. My quiet side came out again, and that made me frustrated with myself. I’m outgoing and goofy with my students, but that side didn’t come out with these presentations. I guess with new groups of people I do not know well, I am a bit reserved. I like to observe my surroundings before I feel comfortable to come out of my shell. Each meeting is becoming easier to initiate conversation with people as I get to know them more.
Anyways, I reviewed my feedback yesterday, and it was helpful (I had no idea I talk faster when I am nervous). I will adjust some processes for the official presentation on 11/9 and update some of the visuals.
A few weeks ago, I interviewed an administrator, the director of technology in FCSD, about her views on communication. Throughout the interview, there were some key points that she pointed out that have stuck with me the past few weeks:
- Think about the medium. Make sure it’s the right format for the message: electronic, paper, phone, etc.
- Understand who the audience is, and tailor the message to meet characteristics of that audience
- Make sure the message has a purpose. If it doesn’t, then you need to rework a message so it has meaning
- Put yourself in the position of the person that needs information. Let that be your guide and keep info simple
- Make sure to not communicate too much information in one message. Break up information and keep it clear. This will have more impact
Since this interview, I have reflected about how I communicate and whether it is effective or not. I have changed some practices:
- In emails, using more bullet points and headers for sections
- Emailing one main idea per message
- Putting myself in the stakeholder’s position and writing down on a notebook what type of information might be needed. This writing process has helped me tailor a message to communicate more effectively with people at school. I have gotten fewer questions this year about events or resources because I have taken the time to anticipate what information a stakeholder might need
- Communicating more effectively with our ELL students. Last year, the ELL teacher spoke Spanish to help me communicate with families. This year, our new ELL teacher does not speak Spanish, so I have had to find different ways to effectively communicate with families where English is not the first language. I’ve also had the students try to teach me some phrases in their first language so I can more easily talk with them. This has been a great learning experience for me, as I am getting to know our students more
The communication task force has created its first video that showcased information about the first-grade blood drive. It was quite a learning experience as I delved more into the ins and outs of video-editing and creation. It’s becoming easier the more I play around with the software-we use Camtasia.
However, there was one big mistake we made with the making of this first video. We connected with the team and they sent kids down to create the video and rehearse. But the kids did not have any lines memorized or even had an idea of what they had to say. We ASSUMED that the grade level would have helped students create the script and have students practice lines for the PBL video project. We quickly wrote a script and had students practice it for the final take the next day.
In the end, there was a decent video that was created. However, the team reflected and we decided we needed to tell teachers that we need their help for the videos. At our next faculty meeting, we went over the expectations that students need to come prepared to shoot a video with us and know what they are expected to accomplish. This now-clear communication about our role and expectations has provided positive results. We have made a few more videos since then, and teachers have sent students prepared to rehearse and shoot the video. I hope this keeps up.