Sunday, September 21, 2014

Feedback as Professional Development for Teachers

September 21, 2014
“Students learn best when they are engaged in meaningful activities; when they collaborate and receive peer feedback; when they reflect critically on what they are doing; when they work on real-world, challenging, authentic activities; when their work is constantly evaluated; and when they are intrinsically motivated.” (Vrasidas & Glass, 2004)

Certain times of the year in a teacher’s life there are moments of anxiety and dread when the words “professional development” are whispered in the hallowed halls of their institutions. With the age of accountability upon us, and the level of anxiety rising in all areas of our schools, we need to recognize the problems inherent in providing relevant professional development that truly has an effect on improving instruction, and student achievement.

Unfortunately, most professional development is a waste if there is no connection to the real-world issues faced by the faculty on a daily basis. In fact, anyone that has ever taught in the schools knows that peer feedback is an essential part of the professional learning process, especially in the faculty room. There are a few successful models where professional development occurring on the school site, and woven in such a way as to encourage facilitative feedback and peer evaluation may be a more constructive and achievable process for creating significant change.

            Over recent years there has been an abundance of research created in the types of successful professional development that can nurture this desired outcome, but to what avail do we look for these opportunities? We cannot only evaluate teachers into oblivion, we must help them discover their potential, and their discoveries should be gathered in a collective, and constructive manner with the aim of improving teacher and student learning. If teaching is ever to rise to the level of a profession in the eyes of our critics, than this goal is a must in the lives of our teachers and our students.

            There are many successful models for professional development, but one, which I am quite impressed with, is the format that actively involves, and infuses collaboration and feedback into the process. “Feedback” is defined as ‘‘specific information comparing a student’s observed performance with an established standard or objective.  In a study by VandenBurgh, Ros, and Beijaard (2014), efforts were directed to improving teachers’ feedback behavior during active learning by implementing a specifically designed professional development program (PDP) measuring the extent teachers’ feedback occurred during active learning. The PDP outline for the study is outlined below.

1.        Informative meeting with team
2.        Videotaping an active learning lesson delivered by each teacher
3.        Selection of pertinent fragments from their own videotape by each teacher
4.        Video interaction training meeting in small groups and a facilitator/supervisor

The study was ongoing and proved that a long-term effort of PDP facilitated for active teacher involvement was much more successful in improving the teacher’s ability to change making constructive efforts to improving student learning and achievement.

            The opening quote presents a challenge to all 21st Century School Leaders to create and provide the opportunity and the process for constructive professional learning, whenever possible. Take up the challenge and create significant change for your schools this year. “Innovative professional development will involve opportunities for teachers to share their expertise, learn from peers, and collaborate on real-world projects.” (Vrasidas & Glass, 2004).

Vanden Bergh, Linda, Anje Ros, and Douwwe Beijaard. "Improving Teacher Feedback During Active Learning: Effects of a Professional Development Program." American Educational Research Journal 51, no. 4 (2014): 772-809.

Vrasidas, Charalambos, and Gene Glass. Online Professional Development for Teachers. IAP, 2004.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The District's Lesson Plan

September 18, 2014

In this heightened age of accountability, and core everything, planning and decision making are at a greater level of need, than ever before. Once again, taking our cues from the world of business, the strategic planning process for a school district is one of the most important steps school leaders can maneuver in working with the different socioeconomic groups and issues of the community that benefit from the work of your school district. According to Matthew Zajechowski (2014) "Strategic planning is a powerful process that your company can use to gain profound insights on its clients, target market and competitors for the sake of creating an unbeatable competitive edge." Substitute "school district" for "company" and "students and community" for "clients, target marketing and competitors".

Despite the article emanating from the world of business, it resonates for anyone truly passionate about school planning, and accountability from the community.

The Foundations of a Strategic Plan

"The foundational building blocks of strategic planning come together in asking yourself some probing questions that come to the core of what your [school district] and business are all about. Once these questions have been answered, you can then move onto even more specific competitive improvement strategies." (Zajechowski, 2014).

Five key questions you need to ask yourself about your school district consist of:

    • Where does your district currently stand with meeting the needs of students, families and community members?
    • What are some core goals your district wants to fulfill?
    • What is your picture of near perfect success and how might you reach it?
    • How could you plan your time, activities and resources for reaching your ideal image of success?
    • What steps in this direction have you taken so far and how are you measuring your advancements?

The Creation of your Consumer Information Roadmap

"The most absolutely vital part of your strategic planning process will be getting to know and understand your community at a deep level, as we’ve already mentioned in the last bullet point for your strategic planning checklist.

Getting to really know your students and the community means gathering together all the information you already have on your consumer base and adding to it as widely as possible on a regular basis, and then applying this information in planning meetings with the Board of Education and the faculty and staff." (Zajechowski,2014)

What are some key consumer information data points to continuously investigate?

    • The socioeconomic factors of the the community 
    • Browsing and ad view
    • How they’re finding your message and promotional material
    • How your message is being delivered to community members.
    • How they perceive your district's programs and policies
Remember, community members vote on your school budget. Meeting their needs garners support for your 21st century learning program

.Zajechowski, Matthew. " the Strategic Planning Process | Project Eve." Project Eve Navigating the Strategic Planning Process Comments. July 16, 2014. Accessed September 17, 2014.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The First Point of Contact

September 17, 2014

Communicating the vision of an organization, especially a school district, is a very important task for the school leader. Besides all of the issues and problems of school management that turn our schools into a "wack-a-mole" style of leadership, communicating a unifying mission and direction to teachers and staff, as well as students and the community at large is extremely important. 

For many years I have been intrigued how message is conveyed in not only schools but in organizations at large. In this case I came across a wonderful piece from Guy Kawasaki's column and I felt there was something inherently important for our 21st Century School Leaders.

The article, by Anna Guerrero on the Canva Blog (1) outlines the process of sending an impression or message to constituents via the medium of the album cover. She outlines a wonderful step-by-step process to engage an artist to create an impressive and captivating album cover that could convey a message, a theme, and a passion. 

Now, some of you might be saying the obvious, such as " What does this have to do about conveying a leader's message?" to which I would say, "What doesn't it do to teach leaders about conveying a mission?"

According to Guerrero, "Album covers are often the first point of contact between listeners and your music or audio." So, what is your "first point of contact" that parents and the community at large see or hear about your school? For some school facilities it is usually an ominous presence at the entrance of the school warning what will not be tolerated, or allowed, or used. Personally, not the most inviting experience some people have on their first contact with their child's school. I realize much of that kind of forewarning is necessary in this gun crazy culture, but think about the message it conveys to the parents when they bring their pride and joy into your facility for the most precious years of their lives. 

I would encourage school leaders to process the steps of the creation of the album cover and think about what their message and "first point of contact" should be with their teachers, staff, students and community. In fact, employ the 10-step process as a faculty meeting activity so teachers could do the same. 

Message and communicating it correctly are important tools in the repertoire of the passionate, and focused 21st Century School Leader.

(1) Guerrero, Anna. "10 Tips to Boost Your Reach With Album Cover Design." The Canva Blog. September 17, 2014. Accessed September 17, 2014.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Self-Actualized School Leader

September 15, 2014 

As many of us remember the work of Abraham Maslow and the pyramid of needs to become a self-actualized human being, leaders could learn something sincere and poignant in driving the direction of their organizations.

This week’s blog post is a review of an excellent article from the business community that could contribute immensely to the world of 21st Century School Leaders. Despite the barrage of federal and state mandates and everything common core, leaders are still needed and in great demand as the focal points for school organizations. All we need to do is look at the models from business, and most recently the CEO’s of companies such as Apple and other technology companies.

We as school leaders can learn much from what occurred this week.

Our first article of note comes from the American Express Open Forum. In a wonderful expose of trait characteristics demonstrated by “great” leaders Julie Bawden Davis presents a wonderful outline for school leaders to emulate. She presents an interesting thesis that the "self-actualized leader" will be the most effective in bringing dynamic drive and interest to their organization. Basing her ideal on the work of noted American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, she constructs a list of eight traits worthy of the self-actualized leader:

Self-Actualized Leaders are:

1. Accepting: “Self-actualized leaders accept themselves, as well as their employees, colleagues, vendors and customers, as they are rather than hoping for something different.”

2. Humble: Jill Salzman describes them as “ the ones who don’t act like they’re great leaders, but employees and others in their orbit look up to them as though they are. In other words, self-actualized leaders will never tell you that they’re leaders, but everyone knows they are.”

3. Willing to seek assistance: “Self-aware leaders have no problem reaching out to their customers and clients or membership bases and asking questions that reveal their lack of knowledge or skills in certain areas.”

4. Able to solve problems: “Self-aware leaders know they can be and do anything, and they realize that no problem is too big as long as they’re willing to put in the hard work to solve it”

5. Realistic: “Self-actualized leaders are fully aware of their personal faults and the weaknesses of their businesses.”

6. Spontaneous: “When an interesting idea or suggestion is made, self-actualized leaders aren’t afraid to put tradition and schedules aside to try something new.”

7. Independent: “While self-aware leaders work well with others and aren’t afraid to ask for assistance, they're also more likely to be autonomous.”

8. Grateful: “Self-actualized leaders view the world with a perpetual sense of wonder and appreciation.”

The true question that evinces the "self-actualized" leader is the perspective to pursue a quality style if leadership that demonstrates integrity and support for the members of the school. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Starting a new school year: lifeless statue or visionary leader

There are so many beautiful works of art that sit in so many museums throughout the world. Some in particular that come to mind are magnificent statuary on display and presented at the Museo Archeologica Nazionale in Naples, Italy. My wife and I visited there two years ago, and were awe struck looking at the lifeless, yet remarkably oversized statues of the Caesars and their compatriots, as well as their enemies, standing or sitting erect looking out into the distance. These statues are a testament of time, history, and the closest images we will ever have of who and what they were without the convenience of photography. But, they are still just statues taking a revered pedestal in a museum.

            Interesting enough the white marble and granite statues seem pretty much all the same. Research from various sources have now determined that at the point of their creation some thousands of years ago, they were actually painted and colorized with pigments to make them look much more lifelike as a memorial testament to who they were and what they did for the civilization of their times. [1]
As the picture of Octavius Caesar can testify, colorizing the statue makes him look different. The bust on the right looks regal, resilient, and visionary. The bust on the left looks made-up to be more human. It’s hard to imagine following such a leader like the one on the left, compared to the commanding presence of the figure on the right.

     But, that is how it appears as we look for leadership today. We want the resilient and fearless leaders of marble and stone to pave the way. But, instead, we have these people of human qualities, with flesh and blood. And when you come down to it, leadership is nothing more than just that: human qualities of flesh and blood.  Despite the fact Augustus Caesar may have been a great leader in his day, it matters little to us now. Leaders are people and they deal with the everyday issues of life, as we know them today, and not a thousand years ago.  As David Foster Wallace reminds us: “Real leaders are people who help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better, harder things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.”[2]

            So, how can you be a visionary leader for your organization as you begin a new school year. Take some advice from an interesting article I read a few month ago entitled the The 7 Secrets of Inspiring Leaders, by Carmine Gallo[3]:

1)             Ignite your enthusiasm: according to financial guru Suze Ormon, “You cannot inspire unless you inspire yourself.”[4] Struggling with low test scores reported last spring? Ignite passion for the work of being the leader of your school.

2)             Navigate a course of action: vision, sharing it, directing it, and leading others into a process to successfully meet their goals is the purpose of the vision or the course of action.

3)             Sell the benefit: your teachers, students and even their parents are in need of a rationale for making sense of the common core issues of our schools. Make it a goal to incorporate it into your comments, dialogues, and conversations to reinforce the vision.

4)             Paint a picture: the human mind is programmed to see the bigger picture. Sometimes that is accomplished through telling stories, using humor to lighten the load, and finding the group moral to the narrative.

5)             Invite participation: we all lived through “shared decision-making”. Now, invite everyone to participate in working towards the mission and the vision. Invite faculty to drop in regularly to voice their opinions and concerns. Have a weekly coffee hour with parents  so they can do the same. Valued constituents in a school organization want meaning. They need to feel valued as well as their opinions and feedback.

6)             Reinforce optimism: General Colin Powell said it best: “Optimism is a force multiplier”. Find something positive about something that is happening everyday in your schools. Share the excitement.

7)             Encourage potential: In this phase of heightened teacher accountability, and professional learning plans, and the fear of firing people, look for ways to encourage the seminal goodness and earnest potential of each and every faculty and staff member.

There are many things to remember about starting a successful school year. Consider the lifeless statues I mentioned earlier. Being known for greatness is not worth anything after you are gone. Making meaning for the people in your organization is worth everything now.

Have a great school year.


[1] Bier, Sariel. "Iconic Images: What Images Will Change the Way a Person Sees the World after Viewing Them?" August 8, 2014. Accessed August 23, 2014.
2 "A Quote by David Foster Wallace." Goodreads. Accessed August 23, 2014.
[3] Gallo, Carmine. "The 7 Secrets of Inspiring Leaders." Forbes. July 6, 2011. Accessed August 24, 2014.

[4] ibid

Monday, April 7, 2014

Dysfunctional School Boards?

What does it mean, to be dysfunctional? 

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines dysfunction:


 noun \(ˌ)dis-ˈfəŋ(k)-shən\
: the condition of having poor and unhealthy behaviors and attitudes within a group of people
medical : the state of being unable to function in a normal way

Full Definition of DYSFUNCTION

:  impaired or abnormal functioning <gastrointestinaldysfunction>
:  abnormal or unhealthy interpersonal behavior or interaction within a group <family dysfunction>
— dys·func·tion·al  adjective
So, when one hears that a Board of Education is "dysfunctional" one must query for deeper context and understanding. 

Recently, in upstate New York, the board of education of a prominent school district accepted the resignation of it's superintendent of schools by a vote of 4 to 3. This act was a mid-year collision of leadership, which, of course, is a serious act that can offer chaotic circumstances.The media and the critics have offered their interpretation of this as a "dysfunctional board of education". I sometimes wonder what Shakespeare would have said about a situation of this kind. Maybe, "dysfunction is in the eye of the beholder?"

Having served as a school superintendent of another prominent school district in New York State, our school board voted 5-2 on closing one of our elementary schools. They were also called dysfunctional. But, I would contend that our board, and the board mentioned above did what they were supposed to do, and that is provide direction, policy leadership and act on program decisions to the best of their ability. A unanimous board decision is a rare act when it comes to providing educational stability and meeting the needs of so many disparate groups of people that make up a school community.

But, still, there are situations where dysfunction occurs, and school leaders need to be proactive in helping and providing context for the members. Activities such as a solid, school board orientation program outlining the responsibilities of school board members in their functions, goes a long way in establishing a constructive working relationship with other members. Establishing the district direction as to vision, mission, objectives, and strategic planning should be the initiative of the school superintendent in conjunction with the members of the Board and the community in establishing the work of moving schools forward.  And, with a continual planning and review process this becomes an important feature in maintaining positive and constructive behaviors and actions for the district.

The Oregon School Boards Association offers: "there is a relationship between misunderstanding one's role and the tendency to find yourself in over your head." And this happens to newly elected school board members who have an agenda that may be contrary to other board members. Consider the "Tea Party" legislators that entered Congress in recent years with an agenda to shake up the government. Right or wrong, it was their commitment to contribute to the legislative process from their beliefs and their constituents. 

Dysfunction is a disease that can destroy the focus of an organization. But, acting from one's beliefs is a commitment to the integrity and purpose of why people run for a school board seat in the first place. It then becomes the commitment of the school leadership to provide guidance and orientation to all board members as to their role and responsibility. 

Here are more recommendations from the Oregon School Boars Association:

  • Board members are policy makers for the district, not micromanagers.
  • Vision, mission and priorities are the responsibilities of the board of education and the superintendent
  • Board members must be prepared for each and every meeting. When everyone is prepared, the entire board acts functionally
  • How the Board of Education conducts their business is as important as the business they conduct.
  • Presentation, honesty and discussion often leads to consensus, or an understanding of positions when opposition is discovered.
  • Asking questions in ok.
  • School Board Members are responsible to all the people, but more importantly to all the students.
  • Every issue is special.
  • Board members are simply citizens until a quorum is called and the meeting is called to order

Oregon School Boards Association, "Is your school board dysfunctional?." Last modified July 28, 2009. Accessed April 7, 2014.

"Dysfunction." Accessed April 7, 2014.