Posts filed under ‘Teacher Effectiveness’

The Teacher Prep Debate – Of Double Standards and Managerial Dodge Ball

Teacher prep programs cannot be forced to maintain a longitudinal tracking system on the career progress of their alums. Such a system would violate the privacy of the individuals who were monitored, answer only genuinely academic questions – not timely solutions to problems, and crowd out more prudent investments in higher education for teachers. In the meantime, districts would be allowed to dodge accountability for talent management while sitting in the real locus of control. All the while, a revolving door of TFA darlings would bypass scrutiny as they churned through the schools with guaranteed turnover. In the end, the only real change in the picture would be a serious fracture in the long history of collaboration between teacher prep programs and school districts – one of the greatest assets we might have leveraged.

Teacher prep programs are being targeted for accountability in teacher quality. Under consideration is a Federal plan to have schools of education track their graduates for up to ten years after program completion. The goal is to sort the good from the bad and hold the prep programs accountable for any shortcomings in future teacher performance. The hair on the back of my neck is raised as I consider the Bill of Rights, school district responsibility for talent management, and the perennial boot camp teacher prep experiments. School districts and teacher prep programs have a long history of collaboration. Why kill this strength by pitting the two against one another?

Employers are responsible for hiring the best people for every job, supervising and motivating them effectively, and assessing their continuing value to the endeavor. Employees enter an organization honestly and with appropriate preparation. They share responsibility for keeping themselves whole on the job. Continuous growth and professional development must be valued on both sides of the contract. When these conditions are not met, employers and employees have a problem to solve. External parties may be asked to facilitate the process, but nowhere do labor standards call for privacy invasion or deflection of responsibility onto unrelated parties.

Teacher prep programs are supposed to get their students ready as teachers. School districts hire those people, and the locus of control over the situation is transferred. The education schools are essentially off duty with regard to specific students. In fact, just as the districts must have permission from prospective new teachers to seek information from their prep programs, the prep programs have no right to seek and track employment data about anyone except their own employees. They have no right to invade the privacy of their alums. Nor do they have any control over the conditions of employment that exist after students leave their programs.

Employment is always a “buyer beware” situation. If districts suspect they have hired teachers who are inadequately prepared for the job, they are protected by probationary employment contracts. Experienced leaders must assess the situation and, in consultation with the new hire, make a plan to remediate and reassess. A trend in bad hires from particular teacher prep programs is instructive much more rapidly than a gratuitous multi-year tracking system. In addition, prep programs may well have addressed constructive feedback from districts and improved their outcomes before the negative data stream has been aggregated, analyzed and reported.

And what about alternative pathways to credentialing of new teachers? I happen to believe many of these programs bring good teachers into the education field, but they benefit from a double standard in any regulation of quality. Teach for America (TFA) only asks for a two-year commitment, by which time novice teachers are considered barely adequate practitioners. Yet we only hear good news about their contributions and worry about losing them to what is prescribed turnover, not issues of quality.

Schools of education and school districts may continue to leverage their relationships to improve teacher prep as well as sustaining educator vitality on the job. However, their primary roles should not become blended, nor should their respective accountabilities be diffused.

March 5, 2012 at 12:29 PM Leave a comment

Show Me the Reports

Step 1 in any merit-based compensation program is training around the definition of merit. A template for performance measures and evaluation thereof is shown to the people who will be subject to them. Then the forms are filled out and discussion ensues. At some later date, these criteria are used for actual merit pay. Trust comes from knowing the people and the tool. It is not the basis for signoff on a system to be designed later.

With all the talk about teacher effectiveness and compensation, there must be hundreds of teacher effectiveness reports out there, right? Of course, they are based on well-developed records of student outcomes…which don’t really exist yet either, do they? Please tell me I’m wrong. Show me the reports.

Children learn with outward results; however, they also internalize many things that will manifest themselves later. We will never know all that we have taught them, the good, the bad, or the rest. That is why we look at teacher effectiveness with an eye to process and outcomes. Accordingly, multiple measures have been tossed around with regard to teacher performance. Now it is time for the report designers to just put the templates out there and validate them.

Similarly, children take tests to show what they have learned, their ability to analyze and solve problems. Children also demonstrate their habits of learning, their creativity and industriousness, and their civic mindedness. All will contribute to a foundation for lifelong learning. Additional measures that document intellectual and psychosocial development track their successful growth toward adulthood as well as highlighting need for intervention. Schools have built databases that cover some of these elements, but the models are not robust enough to be fully instructive or actionable. Still, it is time to print them and share them.

Absent good data, the debate over student outcomes and teacher effectiveness is being held in moot court. It is time for demonstration projects to reveal themselves and share what they have got, warts and all. Be prepared for flak, but don’t be surprised if you get more than a bit of praise from real reformers. We all need something tangible to turn this discussion into a problem with a solution.

Prior posts…on teacher effectiveness…on basic student data…on psychosocial development

October 24, 2011 at 8:10 AM Leave a comment

Because You Laid Them Off

The high rate of turnover among new teachers is highlighted as a major problem in urban education. I call it a symptom. Bewildered analysts are trying to figure out how to fix teacher prep or change the compensation. In reality, some people just can’t keep going back year after year seeking employment from someone who keeps firing them.

Staying employed in the same urban education district for the first three years of one’s career takes dedication and nerves of steel…Not because of the pay, the conditions, the long hours, or anything else intrinsic to the work. It’s the process of getting laid off each spring and hanging on until the last gasp of fall hiring brings you back to work.

By May each year, provisional, or non-tenured, teachers have gotten a notice that their employment status is not guaranteed. Within a few weeks each will be officially laid off. Large urban districts have well-oiled machines for these annual layoffs. By contrast, the restoration of these same jobs seems to happen with great delay. Many who would love to return to their prior assignments simply do not have the stomach or the financial wherewithal to turn down opportunities elsewhere while holding onto that verbal reassurance from a headmaster who vows to rehire them eventually.

Yes, we need good teachers from the start, people who have spent quality time in many learning environments, who have learned their own lessons well, and who are committed to growth in the profession. We need formalized teacher induction programs, facilitated by the school district and managed by the leadership within the developing teacher’s milieu. We need to compensate teachers fairly and equitably. However, none of these help us keep teachers who have found themselves too often in the water, hanging onto a lifeline that used to be attached to a ship that has since sailed away.

As we research our issues with new teacher turnover, can we differentiate among teachers who fled the field, those who got the boot for cause, and those for whom the timing just wasn’t right? In the first two cases, authentic preparation and induction processes offer remedy. In the last case, however, the urban district’s loss just might be a gain for another district with greater agility in the HR department…a critical success factor that will only grow in importance with innovations in functional teacher mobility.

October 10, 2011 at 9:00 AM Leave a comment

Promote Teacher Quality with Career Mobility – Not More Regulation

Professionals often get their first jobs because of their educational backgrounds; they keep getting jobs because of where they have worked and what they have done. They enter each job well-prepared and committed to keeping themselves current, energized, and growing. Obstacles are hurdles to be overcome; problems are opportunities for leadership and accountability. These are NOT the values of regulation; they are the values of entrepreneurship.

Historical patterns of regulation in K-12 education tended to erect barriers to entry in lieu of professional quality assurance. Teachers and administrators have had to complete required coursework and apprenticeships as well as passing exams or other assessments to achieve licensure. They then entered the profession, often remaining in the same school district for the duration of their careers. Periodic recertification required professional development and, in some cases, additional formal education. However, by that time, most had achieved tenure. They were IN the system, and every financial incentive from paycheck to pension created barriers to exit.

The US Department of Education has determined that this regulated approach to teacher quality has failed. What we need is…drum roll, please…regulation to make the barriers to entry higher. Huh? Yes, let’s make it harder for those closest to the energized newbie end of the spectrum, new teachers-in-training, to get the job. Not sure how this addresses the problems of hiring and retention in urban education, but it clearly does something that even the toughest blame-game champions have never been able to accomplish: assign accountability for failures within the public education system to people who have not yet participated. Way to keep the peace guys!

I am truly disappointed. This is not Change I Can Believe In. This is further abdication of leadership. We have an opportunity to inject entrepreneurship into the system, challenge bureaucratic procedures, and reset the way we motivate leaders in the classroom and in the front office. Let’s rethink this thing. And not with the institutional myopia of a group of insiders whose vision comes from the wrong end of the telescope. It’s time to let people in education come and go as they please, and to bring a more cosmopolitan approach to problem-solving. I’m talking removal of the barriers to exit.

Suppose teachers and administrators had freedom to move about the education system, seeking new experiences, sharing expertise, and disseminating best practices…without severe financial penalties. Suppose a great teacher wanted to go for an MBA instead of an MA in school leadership…to bring new management tools back to the system. Suppose an empathetic school leader wanted a burned-out educator to get to a better place…without losing the ranch.

Educator quality arises from openness to change, which, when managed correctly, translates into professional growth. It is predicated on trust, fair evaluation of performance, and safe harbor while taking calculated risks and exploring creativity. It is stifled by rigid regulations, inflexible pay and benefits, and scapegoating behavior. We will not build a better education system with a slow trickle of teachers from more tightly regulated teacher prep programs. We have a lot of great teachers. We need to set them free.

October 3, 2011 at 11:56 AM Leave a comment

Student Surveys Predict Outcomes

Melinda Gates reported to EducationNation yesterday that students can tell who is a good teacher. Gates Foundation research found that students who felt they had a good teacher demonstrated better outcomes than students who perceived they had weaker instruction. More on this, please.

A high correlation between positive student outcomes and positive student perceptions on the ability of their teachers seems like good news.  Now I am anxiously awaiting the next round of related research. In the meantime, I cannot resist the urge to explore some possible reasons for this phenomenon. I wonder if…

  • Children who receive effective instruction recognize it and appreciate it, especially when they take a test and realize they have been prepared well.
  • Classically strong teachers and motivated students are more likely to be matched within the education system. Less responsive students are turfed to marginalized programs staffed by rookies and other less-empowered educators. The latter case does not enhance engagement, performance, or satisfaction with instruction.
  • Kids who like their teachers are more likely to engage in learning.
  • Good teachers attend to the whole child, including discussions with them related to their intellectual and psychosocial development. This enables the children to be more self-aware and to recognize adults who have helped them grow. Alternately, students without such support are more likely to perform at a lower level and assign blame for failure on others, including their teachers. 
  • Children want to learn, and the adults who listen to them and work with them make better teachers.
  • Nothing succeeds like success. Each test is a cumulative evaluation of the system. Those who have done well historically will enter new classes ready to learn and do well; those who have lagged in the past will not assimilate well in the future or perform well on assessments. The best teachers combine the ability to sustain growth in some while breaking failure cycles with others.

Thank you, Ms. Gates. So what did the kids say?

September 28, 2011 at 9:23 AM 2 comments

Saying No to Peer Pressure

Professionals benefit from constructive peer review. On the other hand, teachers calling upon one another to use peer pressure to ensure fellow teachers are up to snuff brings flashbacks of old-fashioned bullying. When compounded by passive aggressive leadership that pits teachers against one another, revival of toxic culture is more likely than reform. True leaders seek positive change and actively intend professional collaboration and review.

After a restless summer of teacher-bashing, budget woes, and discouraging reports from the field, educators are preparing to go back to school, each with renewed commitment to be part of the solution. Something has gone awry, however. In the absence of authentic education reform, well-meaning teachers are trying to fill the void. When talk turns to teachers using peer pressure to make sure their colleagues are up to snuff, it is time for the leaders to step in with a little counterintuitive insight.

Vigilante justice on behalf of students could set education reform back a few decades. A leader with a posse of do-gooders (who, by the way, often got a pass on their own quality review by association) was a hallmark of old-school toxic culture. We have been trying to move forward to a world of objective evaluations and collaboration. Good intentions need to be recognized and commended, of course. But efforts to bypass official channels of supervision should be redirected toward support for the whole team. New forms of evaluation and quality improvement are stressful enough without the distraction of self-appointed standard bearers.

To short circuit this phenomenon, teacher quality programs should formalize a process for peer review as well as professional development to support its implementation. Orientation should address the shared values among staff members, an understanding of roles for each team member, and simulated exercises to explore the process in advance. Constructive peer review can empower professional collaboration while taking the “gotcha” of peer pressure out of the mix.

August 19, 2011 at 4:42 PM Leave a comment

Whole-school Bonuses in NYC…It’s Complicated

Columbia University PhD candidates Serena Goodman and Lesley Turner prefer individualized teacher bonuses over whole-school bonus plans. That was the only conclusive evidence I could find in their article describing their work on the aborted whole-school bonus program at the NYC DOE. Now the Rand Corporation has revisited the experiment, suggesting in the fine print that it failed because of inadequate teacher buy-in and competing accountabilities. Too bad they did not stop there.

New York City’s Department of Education has scuttled an experiment that paid merit bonuses to staff for whole-school performance. The DOE suspected that the program was ineffective and ended the bonuses less than two years into a three-year plan. A couple of Columbia PhD candidates seemed, at least on the surface, to confirm that perception. However, too many factors were in flux to draw any real conclusions. Further, the researchers spent more time suggesting support for an alternative (unstudied) program than they did critically assessing the flaws that made the whole experiment invalid. Their persistent attempts to draw an untested conclusion seemed inexcusable. That was before I read the Rand Corporation’s research brief, What New York City’s Experiment with Schoolwide Performance Bonuses Tells Us About Pay for Performance. Rand repacked the flawed study with some attitude surveys and spun it for release as legitimate research.  Sadly, rapid electronic dissemination of their fictional findings has transformed them into virtual reality.  

Whole-school merit pay failed to drive a statistically significant change in outcomes in the New York experiment. This absence of a result occurred in a truncated time period, under unstable conditions, and using an unreliable measurement tool. This form of merit pay deserves reconsideration under more reasonable conditions. The issues…

1.       The objective of the study did not match the method.

The study sought to evaluate the impact of whole-school bonuses on motivation to achieve student outcomes in effective schools. Instead of conducting the experiment in stable, effective schools, the study group was chosen from the most disadvantaged schools.

2.       Bonus-related motivation was obscured from the onset by externalities.

The system-wide New York City accountability system was implemented simultaneously with the whole-school merit pay experiment. These new public report cards became the basis for high-stakes decisions across the NYC DOE that could lead to principal firings and school closures. These factors held the potential to overwhelm the impact of the bonus money on differential performance. The researchers discarded this factor, suggesting that the new NYC DOE accountability was barely noise in the environment compared to NCLB.

Teachers did not have a clear idea of their bonus potential. In each school, a committee of four administrators and teachers decided, after the fact, how to distribute the bonus money, if earned. Individual bonuses varied from $200 to $5,000 with few limitations on the gang-of-four’s discretion.

The results were measured using an unstable tool. The NYC accountability reports, which formed the basis for merit pay, were new and unfamiliar to many employees.  Also reports were subject to variability in NYSED test scores. Standardized test scores had been rising across all populations during the period studied, suggesting that the tests themselves were becoming less rigorous. Control groups could have seen their performance rise regardless of motivation.

3.       The study sample was not representative of the population.

Random selection did not yield demographics that were representative of overall populations in schools. In fact, bonus pool schools had a higher percentage of students whose learning was complicated by special needs, English language proficiency, and poverty. They had more minority students, less experienced faculty, and higher absenteeism. In addition, they had a history of lower than average test scores in math and reading.

4.         Performance measurement was not standardized between the study group and the control group.

Bonus pool schools with lower test scores were required to make larger incremental improvements to meet accountability goals than their counterparts in the control group.

5.         The time horizon for the study was too short.

The program was implemented late in the first year – announced in November with accountability for test results beginning two months later in January – and ended in the second year. This is not adequate time for authentic behavior change.

July 19, 2011 at 11:35 AM Leave a comment

Treading Teachers

Luring the next generation of heroes into the teaching profession has become the perennial solution to every ill in education…because, of course, blame for every problem in education has been laid on the teachers. So, whatever happened to all those good teachers who have been hired over the years?

The ritual is played out annually. In the limelight, new heroes arrive with great expectations, anxious to be inducted into their new profession. Rising stars step up to pseudo-leadership positions, the new role models for veteran teachers in need of reinvention. The unwilling, the usual suspects, gird their loins and place their union reps on speed dial. Administrators extend their welcome, endorse their favorites through praise, and send the occasional stern glance. In the background, the majority of staff watches the show.

Yes, there are millions of teachers who love what they do for a living and do it with quiet dignity behind the scenes. For many of them, the best they can hope for is to be taken for granted, to be left alone to perform their duties out of the spotlight. They could be the true leaders, the natural mentors, and the knowledge bank for pedagogy and student support. Yet they often seem to have become the forgotten partners for administration.

Public education is a profession with a very flat pyramidal structure. This structure has been successfully employed in higher education and many high tech industries. It has been heralded as the model for innovation and independence. However, it presumes a strong potential for individual achievement as well as a preference for stability and lower professional risk once tenure has been attained.

Absent the great successes in a field of innovation or the prestige of a university professorship, elementary and secondary education offers limited extrinsic professional value. Nowhere is this more evident than in the urban setting. Challenges far outweigh the recognition or rewards, and the flat pyramid offers little opportunity for promotion. Instead, the culture has developed a cycle of churning those who offer early signs of leadership through a short-lived rising star/falling star phenomenon.

Each batch of fresh recruits brings the potential for new solutions to the achievement gap in urban education. Promising rookies quickly catch the eye of administration. As they grow into their jobs in the classroom, many begin to be groomed for leadership. They offer access to the latest innovations from education schools. Dedication bordering on masochism underlies their choice of the urban setting. They are eager to please and cannot say, “No.” And they do not know yet that tying up all the loose ends for a department or project does not constitute management training. A star is born.

Eventually, a few begin to climb the leadership ladder. Many leave the field, exhausted, disillusioned with education, or drawn to other opportunities. Some remain and join the corps of career teachers. This last group finds itself walking a fine line as they re-assimilate with rank and file teachers, many of whom have grudgingly tolerated their stardom. No time to look back. The next class of new teachers has arrived. New heroes are offering the best lesson plans and latest technology. Pedagogy has shifted; what was old is new again. But only the newer kids are allowed to own it.

Above it all, school leaders tread through the cycle, not actually affecting much change in student outcomes. Accountability calls for action, and action means calls for new teachers. “Send me a new batch…the last ones seem to be broken…Where, oh where, can we find good teachers?

Meanwhile, an invisible army of teachers carries on, driven by their independence, a desire to share in the joy of discovery, and the knowledge that they are not really alone in spirit. Still, it is going to be a long 30 years. There must be a better answer.

June 21, 2011 at 4:25 PM 1 comment

First Glance at Teacher Effectiveness Data

How can we create a climate of continuous quality improvement for educators? The job is complex,; the work is difficult, and the intangibles are highly valued. And, no matter how well the students perform each year…a new cohort arrives and the process starts all over again.

Each year, teachers are hired, provided job descriptions and terms of engagement, and assigned course loads and student rosters. Textbooks, curricular objectives, and pacing guides may be available. Orientation sets expectations for the culture, academic goals, policy, and procedures of the school. Day one ends and the business of educating students begins.

Facing one’s job as a teacher can be daunting. A complex mix of lonely autonomy, resource constraints, and unpredictable challenges must be met with courage, resilience, and flexibility. Often, time is the scarcest commodity, and the start of a new school year marks the end of personal leisure time and lifestyle choices. Students come first, and teaching them must be its own reward.

This would seem like an administrator’s dream – highly motivated people wanting to do what is best for children. However, it is that same independent spirit and devotion that creates conflict in teacher evaluations. How do you create a climate of continuous quality improvement for a collection of individual contributors whose motives are so sincere and whose commitment is so complete as to be deemed beyond reproach?

Some ground rules are needed…

  • Level the playing field for all teachers. No good guy/bad guy dichotomy. Teachers resist even minor constructive criticism in a culture marked by exemplars and losers.
  • Create teacher effectiveness reports and share and validate the data before implementation.
  • Balance the subjective content with generous quantities of objective data that link accountability to parameters under each teacher’s control.
  • Be sure to include any behavior that is valued in the tool. Attendance may not be the most highly valued attribute, but if you presume it, you will lose it.
  • Limit the impact of data gathering for teacher effectiveness reports with automation, student participation, and integration into existing routines.

So, how do you evaluate teacher effectiveness? How well that teacher does his or her job must be assessed using a variety of data sources to answer a range of questions. Some are as simple as what were the most basic terms of engagement, and were they met? Or, did you hire a “whole” teacher or one who has qualifiers concerning readiness to teach? Did the teacher fulfill contingencies for continued employment, make reasonable progress toward continued preparation? What are the values of the school? Did the teacher support the culture in a positive way? For example, did the teacher collaborate effectively, resolve conflicts well, support collegiality?

What was the outcome for the students? Were students engaged in education? Did students complete the course successfully? Were they satisfied with the teacher/instruction? What did their portfolios show about their instruction and assessment? How well did they perform on formal assessments? How did their parents respond to their educational experience? Too many questions, but I would rather design a tool around too many than too few.

1st Draft  of Teacher Effectiveness Framework

Question

Data Source

Data Use

Is the teacher meeting basic terms of employment? HR record Attendance, participation in professional development, professional conduct
Is the teacher highly qualified? HR Profile Credentials, progress on plans
Is the teacher meeting curricular expectations? Teacher planning documents Evidence of unit plans, robust lesson prep with differentiation
Student notebooks Evidence of course content
School-wide curriculum tracking system Adherence to pacing guides, content standards
Is the teacher maintaining a safe and effective classroom environment? Continual classroom walk-throughs, casual observation Visible evidence of student-centered design, organizational support, student engagement, and visual content reinforcement
Record of interventions Discipline issues, pro-active problem-solving
Are the students successful? Attendance record Attendance rates, patterns
Local assessments Scores on assignments, informal tests, formal assessments
Student portfolios Samples of student work, student record of academic and psychosocial accomplishments, peer review
Student report cards Pass rates, grade distribution
Student follow-up records Advanced placement, graduation rates
Student’s actual and predicted scores on standardized tests Teacher value-added to test scores
Parent surveys Parent satisfaction with instruction, classroom environment
Can the teacher deliver a strong composite snapshot of his or her practice? Classroom observation Teacher’s practice in action
Peri-observation data bank Documentation of practice in terms of curricular goals, lesson prep, student record and work samples, teacher’s standard records and personal progress data
Pre and post-observation conference Teacher’s reflectiveness, response to feedback
Does the teacher support the school’s culture and values? Teacher peer review Evidence of collaboration, vertical course alignment, professional conflict resolution
Professional development portfolio Contribution to school culture and value system, participation in organizational growth goals, personal growth record

This  is just a starting point for discussion. Many issues remain for customized format, such as…

  • How well developed was the assignment in terms of deliverables? How creatively was the gap between defined and discretionary deliverables closed? Was the program academically rigorous?
  • Was there unusual challenge in the course load and roster? Is there hardship duty to be assessed?
  • Were there added dimensions of special needs or English language proficiency? Did this involve co-teaching or unique curricular requirements?

Comments welcomed.

 

April 13, 2011 at 10:55 AM 4 comments

The Wisconsin Debacle

Collective Bargaining? YES. Unlimited Benefits? Not likely.

The recent uproar in Wisconsin has demonstrated the kind of hyperbole that plagues the education debate. Public employees were stripped of their collective bargaining rights in a bizarre sequence of events led by the governor and ultra conservative legislators. The action, which targeted a seemingly conciliatory teachers’ union, attempted to set a precedent for legislative union busting. Fortunately, at least one judge has chosen to challenge the constitutionality of that action. However, the residue of the Wisconsin fiasco is a debate that failed to differentiate between the right to collective bargaining and the need for fiscal prudence in funding wages and benefits for employees.

Rising healthcare costs and under-funding of pension benefits for state and municipal employees will strain budgets in the best of times. Many factors have conspired to give us Social Insecurity where old-age benefits once seemed secure. Private companies have responded to similar constraints by asking their employees to share the burden of funding their health and retirement benefits, effectively choosing between wages and benefits in their total compensation. The collective bargaining process creates a structure that offers the benefit of a more democratic decision for employees along with the burden of proof and persuasion for the employer. This is not necessarily a problem.

 The governor and a significant percentage of the legislators in Wisconsin attempted a power play to avoid the bargaining process, citing the unions for an untenable position. This was not a valid argument. Further, the governor’s intent was clearly to abuse his new power in the immediate future – the kind of clear and present danger that has driven unionization of workforces historically.

While the fate of public employees in Wisconsin hangs in the balance, the rest of us may wish to consider more creative solutions to the finance issue. Regardless of the outcome in the courts on collective bargaining, the fiscal challenges will not go away. Among the issues to research are:

  • Salary structures that reward performance as well as tenure
  • Flexible compensation plans that allow choices between wages and benefits
  • Alternatives to union-managed defined benefit pension plans

 Finally, public employers are often the largest purchasers of healthcare benefits in any state. They need to continue to exert pressure as prudent buyers against price increases from healthcare providers. If the largest employers cannot influence prices, government institutions may wish to join their employees in a fight against a common foe, healthcare monopolies.

March 23, 2011 at 9:29 AM Leave a comment

On cultural change through teacher leadership…

Some time ago, I worked on a Strategic Practice grant to expand a teacher leadership program at my high school. Found this among my entries…

 “The distributive leadership model is being explored to empower teachers as content leaders and mentors. While these roles have been designed to sustain momentum in academic disciplines and improve staff retention rates, incumbents also enhance the cultural diffusion of new values throughout the organization. Teacher leaders represent access to decision-making, goal-setting, and professional growth. As credible change agents, they endorse new programs by getting involved. As rank-and-file teachers, they stimulate interest in leadership values among peers as colleagues reflect upon their own professional aspirations in a new light. As a result, the current cohort of teacher leaders directly affects pedagogy as well as tacitly motivating their own successors. Ultimately, every member of the faculty should expect to have an impact on organizational growth and an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in and out of the classroom.

I continue to agree with this model; however, I would suggest some caveats below. 

  • Teacher leadership opportunities must offer authentic roles, not merely compensation for the absence of administrative assistants for content areas or professional development. The latter merely reinforces the bureaucracy by encumbering an exemplary leader with more low-level tasks, rather than genuinely supporting his or her career progress. Similarly, it reinforces a dues-paying mentality more so than creativity as a driver of career success.
  • Cultural change cannot occur unless peer leadership is empowered to challenge colleagues past the point of complacency with existing performance. There must be a shared sense of urgency for professional development along with the commitment to a participatory change process originating with senior management.
  • Having the intent and ability to lead is intrinsic to the teaching process. A culture of instructional excellence must recognize that strength across the faculty and encourage sharing of each unique voice. Access to leadership opportunities cannot be perceived to reside among a privileged few who share a common point of view.
  • Student-centered learning is nearly always on the agenda for professional development. Ironically, that is modeled through teacher-centered professional development whenever the teachers are being asked to learn something new. 
  • Teacher leaders should reflect the diversity of the faculty and the students over time. 
  • Institutional mentoring programs are by definition artificial and may reflect a lack of respect for maturity among teachers. Staff members should be encouraged in their search for kindred spirits and natural mentoring relationships. Time should be allowed for faculty relationships to evolve and genuine professional nurturing to emerge. School-assigned “mentors” should not be part of the long-term solution.

In keeping with my point of view…I resigned my teacher leader role after one year to make room for the next voice to be heard.

March 14, 2011 at 12:00 PM Leave a comment

The Case for Career Mobility

The revolving door for newcomers, the pension trap, and the toxic culture of a flat pyramid contribute to the breakdown in public education. Today, students may pursue their diplomas through traditional classrooms, online courses, and dual enrollment in college. Just as the doors are opening and the walls are coming down for students, teachers and administrators would benefit from access to career detours outside of their districts.

 An enlightened workforce would bring benefits to any education complex, adding…

  • Perspective from educators in other districts or career paths;
  • Management tools from other industries and organizations;
  • Credible knowledge of practical ways to apply lessons learned in school;
  • Insight for organizational effectiveness and culture; and
  • Creativity from a fresh look at the milieu.

 Access to 401K plans, Social Security, and other retirement options would improve equity and fiscal prudence for all educators. In addition, districts should allow employees to leave and return later without loss of service credits. A sunset clause should be introduced to union contracts for an orderly transition to pension plans with transferable contributions.

 Leaving one’s job is not the only solution. New teacher induction programs that offer mentoring and retention incentives are a topic for another day; likewise, in-district professional development. However, removal of the barriers to mobility is crucial to enlightened self-interest for educators.

February 18, 2011 at 10:45 AM Leave a comment

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