4 Ways Schools Can Effect a Smarter Electorate

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How important is it for educators to know that the electorate makes decisions about candidates primarily by their emotions, rather than through reasoning?  But before this question can be answered, we must first consider other questions:

1. Should schools play a role in having an informed citizenry that can apply reasoning to political issues?

Decades ago a consensus formed that schools do play this role in our society.  This is reflected in part through the school curriculum, which includes courses on government and history.  Character education programs also often include good citizenship as one of their important principles.  In 1930, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote:
“. . . remember that on the public school largely depends the success or the failure of our great experiment in government “by the people, for the people.”

2. Do we know how to provide students with the reasoning skills needed to tackle complex political issues?

An abundance of teaching strategies are available for teachers to guide their students to reason about significant topics.

Some strategies:

  • Model our own reasoning
  • Debates
  • Review and discuss case studies
  • Require reasoned position papers
  • Analyze statements by candidates and their surrogates

I wonder what percentage of teachers in schools employ these approaches as opposed to the all too familiar lecture method.

3. If we do provide students with these skills and attitudes, how can this be sustained into adulthood?

Maybe you have some ideas about this question.  I would love to hear them.  You can post them in the Comment section.

I believe that through more engaged types of learning, and encouraging students to follow what’s happening in the world, we can get them to ‘feel in their bones’, why our founding documents are so special.  They need to understand that our constitution is not self-sustaining; that it lives through the lives of women and men who cherish it’s basic principles.  And that emotion detached from reason will lead to chaos and the destruction of our institutions.

4. Should all emotions be taken out of political decisions?

Even if we thought it desirable, it would be impossible.  We are human beings after all; with both rational and emotional sides.  Intuition and feelings about candidates will always play, and should play a role in evaluating them.  Students should know this and maybe even learn to further develop their intuitive skills.

But if we let our emotions rule, we become prisoners to them.  They rule us, rather than the other way around.  White hot emotion blinds us to what is right and can lead to mob rule (a persistent fear of the Founders), placing our democracy in danger.  Just like our government has checks and balances, our emotions need to be checked by our rational side.

Now back to the original question:  How important is it for educators to know that the electorate makes decisions about candidates primarily by their emotions, rather than through reasoning?

I believe that educators are obligated to help sustain our nation’s values, principles and key institutions.  If most of the electorate makes decisions based upon emotional responses, rather than primarily through rational thought, educators have a duty to assist in correcting this imbalance.

 

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Comments are encouraged and welcomed.

Thanks!

Here is a Surefire Method to Improve Schools

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Can a school be great without a great principal?  Research indicates that the answer is no.  The undeniable fact is that principals are the most influential figures in driving schools toward greatness, or not.

It is  unlikely that anyone knows the percentage of schools having great principals.  It is certainly not 100% and may be lower than 20%.  And then of course, we have the question as to what constitutes great.  Whatever the percentage, it is a safe bet to assert that all principals can improve their performance, even the great ones.

I’ve worked in a variety of evaluation systems during the 35 years that I served as a principal.  Some systems were better than others.  But all of them lacked one essential ingredient: feedback from staff, students and parents.  My supervisors rarely, if ever, attended meetings that I conducted, observed interactions with my school community or reviewed my written communications.  Unless parents or teachers complained to central administration, it was highly unlikely that a supervisor will learn about a principal’s faults.

One method for remedying this gap in knowledge between how the principal performs and the supervisor’s knowledge of that performance, is to employ a multi-source feedback instrument  . The most common one employed by the business community is the 360 degree feedback survey.  “Studies suggest that over one-third of U.S. companies use some type of multi-source feedback.  Others claim that this estimate is closer to 90% of all Fortune 500 firms.” Wikipedia

INFORMATION ABOUT THE 360 DEGREE SURVEY 

  • Completed by principal and anonymously by school community members: staff, peers, supervisors, students, parents
  • Can be used in conjunction with or replacement for principal evaluation system; or as a developmental tool
  • Used to identify strengths and weaknesses of principal’s performance
  • Feedback given on approximately 10 areas of responsibilities found to impact school achievement (school culture, group dynamics, communication, etc.)

ADVANTAGES OF USING THE 360 DEGREE SURVEY

  • Addresses the fact that principals rarely get valid, specific feedback about  performance on their key responsibilities
  • Studies in the business world indicate improved employee performance after using
    performance based assessments  (J. Folkman)
  • Able to use the results to set goals and create action plans to improve performance
  • Demonstrates to all, a commitment to your own professional growth

The 360 degree survey is a relatively neutral tool.  How the tool is implemented will determine its effectiveness.  “360 data is only helpful to the extent that it gets acted upon and used. The majority of programs we see simply give the feedback and then it gets swiftly forgotten. No plan = no change in behavior.” Forbes

So it is critical that all involved understand that a plan will result from the data collected.  The plan should be closely monitored leading to future surveys that will assess progress.

SUGGESTIONS

  1.  Do not rush into using the survey.  If you are at central administration, you may ask a few principals to volunteer
  2. If you are a principal, initially use it to do a self-assessment without involving others
  3. Review the  literature on using the 360 degree feedback survey in both corporate and education settings.  Modify the contents of the survey to meet your needs.
  4. Jointly develop a process that will increase the likelihood of its benefits and avoid anger and mistrust issues

Finally, and most importantly, I strongly urge that for at least the first two years, that the survey be used as a developmental, rather than as an evaluative tool.  The goal is to improve, not find fault. In the ideal world each principal who uses this instrument would have an external coach who has served with distinction as principal. Short of that ideal, I could see principals in a district join together in a trusting, collaborative relationship to assist each other on those dimensions of the position needing improvement.

A multitude of approaches can be used to improve schools.  But without a strong, effective principal supporting and pushing them, the odds of significant change are slim. For this to occur, the use of the 360 Degree Feedback Survey offers hope.

Note: Email me at stelev@comcast.net if you want a copy of a 360 degree survey that I modified for use with principals.

AND DON’T FORGET TO SIGN UP FOR EMAIL POST UPDATES!  THANKS!

 

 

Courage in Schools — 4 Examples

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 EXAMPLE #1– A FEARFUL BACK TO SCHOOL NIGHT

During my first year, in the first month of my new assignment as middle school principal, I was confronted with a choice that had the potential for derailing my career and negatively impacting my family.   It was late afternoon when I received a phone call from the Board Secretary, that she would soon bring me 500 copies of  the Board of Education’s position paper on the tense negotiations currently underway with the teacher’s association.  She told me that this was a Board decision and I had no choice but to give this information to the more than 1000 parents expected to attend Back To School Night, that evening.  I immediately understood that refusal would probably cost me my job, but handing out this provocative information in an event designed to bring the school and community closer together, was wrong.

Fortunately, this matter was resolved without my being fired or distributing the information to parents.  Someone  told me that I was courageous for taking the stand that I did.  But with two small children, a new house and  other financial obligations, was I  courageous, or foolish to do what I did?  It is said that there can’t be courage without fear.  Well, I was certainly fearful.  But now, many years later, I still have not been able to answer this question.  I guess, maybe a little bit of both.

EXAMPLE #2– THE SCARY ART TEACHER

Some teachers were scared to arrive even a little late to the art room to pick up their class.  If they were late, or in some way violated the art teachers strict code of behavior (for others, not her), they were in for a scolding; often in front of their own students.  In other words, the art teacher was a bully.  No teacher had the courage to stand up to her, until one day, a fifth grade teacher had had enough.  She came to the defense of another teacher when she told the art teacher,  “You may intimidate other teachers, but you do not intimidate me, and stop treating your colleagues this way.”  The bully had been called out and thereafter pulled in her horns.  The fifth grade teacher had summoned the courage to speak up and made working at that school better for all.

Other examples of teacher courage in schools include:

  •  Disagreeing with principal at a faculty meeting about a significant school issue
  • Informing the supervisor of another teacher who frequently screams at his students
  • Telling  a parent who is often hostile something negative about their child
  • Taking an opposing position from the group consensus

EXAMPLE #3–  WHO ME?; I DON’T THINK SO

A fourth grade teacher developed an exceptional writing program, confirmed by observations and by a variety of assessments.  The principal thought that it would be a great idea to have this teacher present a workshop about her program, with the intent of possible school-wide adoption.   But schools can be places of conformity, where the following Japanese Proverb rules:

‘The nail that sticks out shall be hammered down’

The teacher overcame her fear of standing out from the faculty and presented a fantastic workshop that was praised by the staff and with some modification, became the writing program for the whole school.  Student writing improved significantly.  If it weren’t for this teacher exhibiting courage, and risking the possible alienation of some fellow staff member, this would never have occurred.  This happened a number of years ago, and my perception is that the culture of schools has improved where teachers now assume a variety of leadership roles.

EXAMPLE #4– A SMORGASBORD OF COURAGEOUS ACTS

  • The student who stands up to the kid bullying his friend
  • The principal who challenges the superintendent’s ideas
  • The parent who has legitimate concerns about a teacher’s practices but raises them any way
  • The secretary who tells the principal to get his own coffee

Without courage in our schools, change will not occur.  We need educators willing to challenge the status quo, which means taking risks.    We need educators to stand up to those who obstruct what is best for students.  We need COURAGE!

SO WHAT EXAMPLES OF COURAGE HAVE YOU WITNESSED?

PLEASE SHARE THEM IN THE COMMENT SECTION UNDER CONTACT

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How to Fix the Mess with Teacher Evaluation

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Using student test scores to evaluate teachers is harmful to them and to their students.  It’s a simplistic approach to a complex, but not insurmountable problem.  The knowledge we need to improve teaching is readily available.  We can find it in successful schools and from teachers, as well as from research.  What is lacking, is the will and commitment to seek this knowledge.

In 2009, there were 15 states that required test results as one component of teacher evaluation.  By 2015, that number jumped to 43 states. So what is the rationale for this?  The intent is to pressure teachers whose students are not performing well to improve their teaching, or failing to do so, be forced from the classroom.  But the assumptions behind this approach are false:

ASSUMPTION #1  —  We know how to link teacher performance, student learning and test scores.

Actually, we don’t know how to do this.  About 95% of educational researchers dispute this assumption.  They believe the approach of value added models or VAM, is not reliable or valid.  How can a system be valid when teachers who score high one year, score low the following year?  Might not other factors contribute to test results, such as: student characteristics, a new curriculum or the validity of the tests?

SUGGESTIONS:

  1.  Insure that students are assigned to teachers using a randomized approach that allows a fair comparison between teachers whenever that need arises.

  2. Analyze test scores over a 3 year period, rather than yearly; searching for patterns in performance.

  3. Teachers who are identified as falling below the average of their grade level, receive assistance in the form of: professional development, coaching and opportunities to watch other teachers’ lessons.

ASSUMPTION 2 — Using test scores to motivate teachers to improve their teaching is a valid approach.

A consensus of studies appears to agree with the following statement; “There is also little or no evidence for the claim that teachers will be more motivated to improve student learning if teachers are evaluated or monetarily rewarded for student test score gains.” ERIC: ED516803

The above assumption is based upon Theory X of human motivation discussed in my last post.

A number of national polls reveal that teachers feel that they are under unprecedented stress by the focus placed upon them by policy makers. Network for Public Education’s Survey

SUGGESTIONS:

  1. Create a school culture focused on strong teacher collaboration.

  2. Provide frequent opportunities for teachers to learn from each other.

  3.  Establish a teacher evaluation system based on current standards for effective teaching.

ASSUMPTION 3 — Students will benefit from VAM.

Some of the negative consequences when teachers believe that their job may depend upon test scores are:

  • testing becomes the main focus of instruction to the neglect of other subjects and activities

  • stress on students as well as teachers when test are given paramount importance

  •  temptation to cheat

SUGGESTIONS:

  1. Stop using test results to measure teacher performance.

  2. Fully engage teachers in the design and implementation of the evaluation process using the best research available.

ASSUMPTION 4 — Teachers not meeting expectations will be removed from teaching

From the limited evidence we have so far, using test results has not made much of a difference. One recent quote undermines this assumption: “The vast majority of teachers — almost all — are identified as effective or highly effective.National Council on Teacher Quality.

SUGGESTIONS:

1.  Teachers identified as in need of assistance receive a jointly created improvement plan.

2. Failure to achieve the objectives in the plan may lead to removal from teaching.

3.  Expectations and supervisor recommendations need to be clear and specific.

I hope that this post serves as a springboard for discussion to reduce teacher and administrator stress under the current system for teacher and principal evaluations.

How to Fix Teacher Dissatisfaction

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70% of teachers in a 2014 Gallup study reported that they felt disengaged from their schools.  That is an astounding figure.  In this post, I explore one reason and offer suggestions for fixing this condition. This is the first in a series of  posts on this topic.  I  invite you to follow this blog and offer your comments on this urgent topic.   

ACCOUNTABILITY–ARE WE ON THE RIGHT TRACK?

$620 billion dollars was spent on education in the U.S. during the 2012-13 school year.  Politicians want to know what the public is getting in return for this spending.  This makes sense.  But if the strategies employed to insure accountability are based upon a theory of worker motivation that says teachers,

  • Have to be controlled and threatened to deliver what’s needed.

  • Need to be supervised at every step, with controls put in place.

then we may face unintended consequences that will lead to results contrary to the goals being sought.

Question for Reader

How does the above approach to accountability impact teachers?;  Students?
(Please answer on Contact Form)

 AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH TO ACCOUNTABILITY

  • Identify for the public the specific qualities that effective teachers possess.

  • Identify for the public the instructional philosophy that all teachers are to exhibit in their classrooms.

  • Identify for the public the specific skills and knowledge that students must master.

  • Require frequent contact with parents about their child’s strengths and needs.

  • Hold superintendents and principals accountable for monitoring the above.

  • Board of Education reports progress on the above bi-annually to the public.

The above suggestions are aligned with a theory of worker motivation that believes teachers:

  • Take responsibility and are motivated to fulfill the goals they are given.

  • Seek and accept responsibility and do not need prescriptive instructions.

Under which approach to accountability is it more likely that we will  attract and retain highly intelligent and creative people to join the profession of teaching?

The question answers itself.

 Further Reading

Theory X and Theory Y
http://www.accel-team.com/human_relations/hrels_03_mcgregor.html