Category

School Improvement

Ed leaders: Do you see professional learning as an expense or an investment? The answer matters. A lot.

As a fitness enthusiast, I often make the distinction between having to work out and getting to work out. Seems like semantics, but it’s really about mindset. Do I work out because I feel I have to, or am I headed to the gym because I enjoy it and see it as part of how I maintain a healthy lifestyle—one that allows me to live my life to the fullest? I’ll be honest, there are mornings when I don’t leap quite so quickly out of bed to go work out. But I know that when I look at my fitness as an investment I’m making in my health and well-being, exercise becomes as integral to my life as eating or breathing, not just a nice-to-have, add-on activity.

As a veteran facilitator of professional learning (PL), I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at helping educators acquire the skills and insights needed to continuously push themselves toward ever greater excellence—to really embrace the workout. I’ve also, sadly, gotten pretty good at predicting when the work I do with a school or district might not have the hoped-for results: When leaders view PL as a sequence of motions to be completed and forgotten about, rather than as a lifestyle change.

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Principal turnover is an avoidable crisis

Two years leading a school is not enough time for a principal to create meaningful, lasting effects for students and teachers. Yet 35% of principals serve even less than that, according to new research from the Learning Policy Institute and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. (I read about it at the Education Dive website.) On average, principals are staying at their schools for four years, before leaving for other schools, taking on different jobs within their districts, or simply exiting the profession altogether. This constant leadership turnover in a school is a tragic waste of human capital that has negative consequences for teaching and learning. As Learning Policy Institute chief Linda Darling-Hammond was quoted as saying, “you’ve got to reboot those schools” every time a new principal is hired.

Why do they leave? The study found that departing principals commonly cite reasons such as poor working conditions, lack of resources and support, inadequate professional development, low salaries, high-stakes accountability, lack of decision-making authority, and the overwhelming nature of the job.

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Welcome to the sixth foundation of reading: Academic language skills

For those of you who have coached, taught, and followed the five foundations of reading: Did you know there’s now a sixth?

It was back in 2000 when the National Reading Panel last published findings and recommendations for teaching the five components of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Research since then has been vetted, and last year’s What Works Clearinghouse practice guide, Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade, identifies a sixth foundation: Teaching students academic language skills, including the use of inferential and narrative language.

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Yes, you should share the learning model with your learners!

Ever since we articulated McREL’s six-phase model for student learning in our April 2018 white paper, Student Learning That Works: How Brain Science Informs a Student Learning Model, I’ve been having great fun talking about it with thousands of educators at conferences and workshops around the world, sharing instructional strategies and classroom practices that support each phase. (Learn more about the model in the spring 2018 issue of Changing Schools magazine and this October 2018 blog post.)

The purpose of the model is to remind us all that the goal of school isn’t teaching, it’s learning. This hasn’t been news to any of the educators I’ve interacted with. What is new is seeing the entire learning process—from disconnected data points to a robust plan for ongoing personal growth, mediated by known science on neurological and psychological processes—described in a unified model for student learning. Teachers often tell me they’ve been doing many of the strategies we endorse, yet have never before had an opportunity to think about why they work or how to sequence them in a cohesive manner (or how to tweak them to work even better for the precise mix of students in their class). In other words, they’ve long had a good toolkit and materials but often lacked the blueprints, and you need both to build a sound house.

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Instructional models help schools do the right things the right way

A guest post by Elizabeth Ross Hubbell, co-author, with Bryan Goodwin, of the influential book, The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching: A Checklist for Staying Focused Every Day, and the forthcoming Instructional Models: How to Choose One and How to Use One.

I have had the greatest pleasure working in schools and school districts around the world as they worked tirelessly to help their students succeed. One of the most common aspects of my work was helping schools during their transition to a new instructional model—a tool that can lead to consistently excellent instruction by explaining why successful teaching practices work and how to emulate them. I often came in after the model was chosen and was there to lead training, observation, and implementation efforts. On occasion, I had the good fortune to work with schools as they were starting the process and got to be a part of the discussions, trials, and decision making that went into making these monumental shifts.

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Window Notes: How to turn note-haters into note-creators

Imagine asking hundreds of students and adults to share their unfiltered thoughts and feelings about taking notes in school. What do you think you’d get back? It turns out that our team has actually conducted this mini research experiment in schools across the country, and here are the most common responses: pained faces, deep shudders, a litany of adjectives like boring, tedious, and torture (not technically an adjective, but you get the idea.)Are these responses about what you expected? Are they similar to what your own would be if you were one of the respondents?This visceral and negative response to notes is a real problem because we know from research (and experience) just how important notes are to student success. In fact, the comprehensive meta-analytic study that underpins the second edition of Classroom Instruction That Works (2012) shows that teaching students how to make effective notes is one of the highest-yield strategies of all, with associated student gains of over 30 percentile points (Beesley & Apthorp, 2010).

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The value of classroom walkthroughs: One district’s perspective

In Millville Public Schools, we’ve been conducting informal classroom walkthroughs for more than 10 years to gather meaningful data about what’s going on in our nine schools. We use McREL’s Power Walkthrough app to record our notes and collect data on the instructional strategies we see (or don’t see) being used in classrooms. This gives us great, actionable information we can use in conversations with teachers and school leadership teams about needed professional development supports related to our instructional and professional goals. These walkthroughs are definitely not about evaluating teacher performance—they’re truly about instructional collaboration and professional learning.Getting into a long-term habit of routinely conducting and reflecting on our walkthroughs has helped us set and achieve a variety of key goals: determining a clear focus, developing a common language for instructional and leadership conversations, creating greater visibility for our principals and administrators throughout their schools, and establishing an open-door culture in all our schools. We want to share a little more about each of our results related to the goals we set, in case it sparks ideas for how walkthroughs can be used in your own school or district.

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Why we love to hear a common instructional language

Frequently after working with a school district, we hear teachers and leaders say that one of the most valuable things they learned from their time with McREL was “a common instructional language” to use with one another and with students. You might be wondering: What exactly does this mean? And why would educators ever have felt they were deficient in their professional vocabulary?

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A balanced leader isn’t necessarily a superhero

Principals are super humans, but they’re being asked to perform a superhuman range of responsibilities, and that’s not fair—not to them, not to teachers, and not to students. In the March edition of ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine, McREL CEO Bryan Goodwin asks how school leadership got so overly complex and demanding. He believes the phenomenon dates to the 1970s when researchers first started describing principals as “instructional leaders”—a catchall phrase that had unintended consequences.

As the body of research around effective school leadership traits grew over the decades that followed, so did the understanding that specific leadership traits showed more promise than others in their effects on achievement. Further, the role of collaboration in shared leadership gained new importance and we began to seek “transformational” leaders who might usher in a new era of educational effectiveness.

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The Science of Learning: What’s memory got to do with it?

Imagine a student who is well adjusted socially but . . .

• Is reserved in group activities; rarely contributes to classroom discussions or activities.
• Has difficulty completing tasks.
• Appears to not follow instructions.
• Is reported as not paying attention, having a short attention span, or “zoning out.”
• Makes poor academic progress.

What could be causing these problems?

One might not initially consider memory, particularly working memory, as the mechanism at work in these types of young learners’ struggles. However, research has shown that working memory problems, even in the absence of diagnosed developmental disabilities, can result in learning challenges for students (Dehn, 2008; Gathercole, Lamont, & Alloway, 2006; Gathercole & Alloway, 2007; Holmes, Gathercole, and Dunning, 2010; Willingham, 2009).

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