Transparent Learning

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.

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Great Teachers: Ms. Wellington

Posted by transparentlearning on November 28, 2008

Okay, to be honest, it’s entirely possible Ms. Wellington was a good teacher who had a great moment.  I say that because I remember this literature teacher assigning a huge amount of reading and somehow I got out of her class without actually reading much!  Maybe I was a good skimmer.

But one day stands out in my memory in her class.  We were studying “Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards.  There’s proof she was an effective teacher – I still remember the title and author!  Anyway, she was having us take turns reading the sermon.  As she went up and down the rows, each 10th grader reading his/her quota, she encouraged us to read with passion.  I heard anything but passion in my peers’ voices.

Keep in mind, I was the invisible kid in school.  I wasn’t cool, I wasn’t a trouble maker, and I wasn’t at the top of my class either.  I was a good kid, a good student.  But not someone to take notice of.  I’d always lived up to that expectation, too, but something inside me that day told me to take a risk and read my paragraph of Edwards like I meant it and like I imagined he would.  So when Ms. Wellington called on me to read, I mustered up my best southern-baptist televangelist drawl and read with conviction (and yes, I now know that Edwards wasn’t from the south:).

I half expected Ms. Wellington to give me a referral when I was finished.  I wasn’t sure if she would see what I did as disrespect or not, since I’d stepped out of what was the norm for me.  I don’t remember what she said, but I remember her stopping and praising me for reading like I did.  I took a risk and it was worth it, all because Ms. Wellington accepted out of the ordinary results.


Posted in Great Teachers | 1 Comment »

Hope as a Commodity in Schools

Posted by transparentlearning on November 22, 2008

img_2104Hope is a commodity and it is bought and sold in schools just like stocks on Wall Street.  In many cases hope is traded with the same volatility as the 400 point swings we’ve witnessed lately.

The following quote on hope is from the book Whatever It Takes by DuFour et al:

“The first rule of the Hippocratic Oath that has guided the medical profession for over two thousand years is ‘Do no harm.’  Rick Stiggins (2003) contends that the first rule of the educational profession should be, ‘Do not deprive of hope.'” 

So the question (at least in my view) is how to sustain hope?  How do we grow hope in our schools?  I think the first step in this process is to identify and define those things that create and dismantle hope in schools.  Here are three things in each category, beginning with the bad news:

Hope Wreckers

1)   Leaders who fail to, or refuse to, identify and address morale issues within the building.   2)   When students blatantly defy the institution of learning without real consequence.   3)    Teachers who do truly stupid things like play rated M video games projected on screens in the classroom or have intimate relationships with minors/students (both of which I’ve heard about happening in my home state this week).  These situations are relatively rare (though, it seems, increasing in frequency), but get a lot of media and tarnish the profession as a whole.

Hope Builders

1)   Parents who are involved in their child’s education and supportive of teachers.   2)   Leaders who put the health of the school ahead of their own ambitions (and don’t see their position as a stepping stone to something more grand)  3)  Teachers who go beyond…they do that extra-cool project, or organize the spelling bee, or make a positive phone call home… usually at the expense of their own time, money, or energy and without thanks or even being noticed.

Romans 8:24 says, “Hope that is seen is no hope at all.”  Hope is intangible. But it is these acts of excellence, the tangible decisions people make every day, that give birth to hope in schools.

What are your Hope Wreckers/Hope Builders?

Posted in Climate, Discipline, Ethics, Faith, Parental Involvement | 2 Comments »

8 Scary Teaching Moments – in honor of Halloween

Posted by transparentlearning on October 29, 2008

1)  Gunshots near the playground.  The police on duty at recess had us stand against the wall until the shooting stopped.  It turned out being a couple teenagers shooting into some nearby apartments.

2)  A fellow teacher leaning down slowly with both hands on my desk and saying, “Just you wait.  The chickens will come to roost!”  Weird!

3)  Listening to an angry parent who was standing so close and in such a way that I was sure he was going to hit me.  Thankfully, I was wrong!

4)  On September 11th, a teacher called me over to tell me somebody “bombed the Pentagon.”

5)  Sitting in on a meeting with a parent, school personnel, and a police officer telling me about a student who was going to be placed in my class, though he had violent tendencies.  He was later suspended for making a threat on which he drew a picture of me decapitated.

6)  The next week when the boy’s social worker came to school for the sole purpose of informing me that he talked to the student and asked him, “You wouldn’t really kill Mr. Cook, would you?” to which the student responded, “Maybe when I’m 18.”

7)  Reporting suspected abuse to the counselor after noticing a bruise on a girl’s face and her telling me one of her parents hit her.

8)  Finding one of my students who had real anger issues had a knife hidden in his sock.

Posted in Climate, School Violence | 4 Comments »

Evidence-Based Instruction/Reading Programs

Posted by transparentlearning on October 25, 2008

Some questions sent to me on Facebook:  What’s the latest on evidence based curriculum in reading? I am doing a paper on the whole part whole approach to learning reading. Also doing a lot of research about the DIBELS testing and the Reading First part of NCLB.  Anything new you learned that I would be shocked to hear?

Well Sarah, I don’t think I have anything to “shock” you with.  As a resource teacher, I use Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI).  This model comes from Fountas/Pinnell (the writers of what I call the Literacy Bible – “Guiding Readers and Writers”).  LLI is similar to Reading Recovery in many ways, but is designed for instruction of up to 3 or 4 students at a time.  This makes the program more cost effective to school districts because Reading Recovery was designed for a 1:1 teacher to student ratio.  I’ve found that LLI is a very systematic and effective intervention for students struggling in reading.

If the students I see don’t seem to be showing the growth I’d like to see in LLI, then I try the Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing Program (LiPS).  When using LiPS, you talk with students about how sounds feel.  What is your tongue doing when you say “t”?  You use names like Tip Tappers, Tongue Scrapers, and Lip Poppers to describe the sounds that the letters represent.  I personally see this as a more intense intervention to be used sparingly, but I’ve heard of people using it with an entire class.

However, both of these programs are interventions.  In the RtI model, they would likely be Tier 2 instruction.  This tier of instruction is for students who were not successful when taught with an evidence based core curriculum in the whole class setting.  You mention Reading First.  I honestly am not very familiar with this program, but know teachers who are a part of Reading First schools.  From what I hear, it is research-based and is also a very scripted and supervised program.  However, I recently learned that “Evidence-based” doesn’t necessarily mean a packaged program.

This week I was at Indiana’s Response to Intervention Academy for three days in Indianapolis.  According to a couple of the presenters, evidence based instruction (at the Tier 1 level/all students) has the following components:

-Teachers use multiple data sources to know the students – Essential skills and strategies are taught – Differentiated instruction is taught based on assessment results – Explicit and systematic instruction with lots of practice (a spiraling curriculum) – Opportunities are provided to apply skills in a meaningful context with teacher support – Student progress is monitored regularly and re-taught as necessary

So, it’s conceivable to have an evidence-based core reading curriculum, without having a packaged program if the criteria above are being met.  As you can see, this will require getting some good data and DIBELS may be one of those sources.  I’ve never used DIBELS, but I hear it gives some good information.  Unfortunately, I also hear that it really doesn’t tell you anything about comprehension.  So, a teacher might want to give a Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) in conjuction.  I use the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmarking System because it correlates with LLI.  Marie Clay’s Observation Survey yields some great information as well.  There are also some great software programs out there like NWEA, Success Maker, and Waterford for primary students.

Sorry for the long post!  I’ll try to get some links to some of the names I’ve mentioned.  Feel free to keep the conversation going by commenting or asking more questions.  I certainly don’t have all the answers, but together we can at least become a bit more informed!

Posted in Evidence-Based Instruction, Professional Development, RtI (Response to Intervention), School Improvement | Leave a Comment »

Great Teachers: Mr. Miller

Posted by transparentlearning on October 23, 2008

When I was in High School, I had this teacher named Mr. Miller.  I’m guessing it was freshman or sophomore English/Literature – who knows?!?!

Mr. Miller would read to us.  Yeah, we were in high school and the guy would read to us.  Not only that, but he would read to us using different voices and inflections, as if he were acting it out.  You know, like they do in 3rd grade!

Just today, someone mentioned Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado” and the voice of Mr. Miller rang in my head, “I will not die of a cough! (insert fake cough here)”

Mr. Miller, you stepped out and took a huge risk reading like that to high school students.  However, you also TAUGHT.  You taught in a way that enabled me to remember story elements and different works well into adulthood.  Thank you, Mr. Miller.

Who was one of your great teachers and why?

Posted in Great Teachers, Student Centered | Leave a Comment »

Faith in Schools

Posted by transparentlearning on October 12, 2008

I am a Christian. 

Some may have read those four words and escaped to another website already.  But you’re still reading, so I’ll keep writing!  I don’t go out of my way to share my faith in an overt way in my professional life.  Depending on your definition of overt.  I like the quote, (and I’m paraphrasing) “Preach the gospel, and if you must – use words!”  I think it was St. Francis or Augustine, but I’m not sure.  I’m pretty sure it’s somebody old enough that I don’t have to worry about copyright infringement, though! 

My faith influences everything I do and is infused into every part of my life.  At least that’s the guy I want to be.  So my faith is revealed when I ask a student how his weekend at dad’s went.  My faith is evidenced when I try to resolve a conflict between two kindergarten students on the playground.  My faith is evidenced when I help a student open her milk carton.  And if I can give some hope to that teacher who is discouraged, that’s only because I believe Jesus would do that same kind of thing.  I think… I hope… that IS overt.

On the other hand, most of us have been around someone who is very vocal about their faith.  They talk about their meetings at church, they always write “God Bless” at the end of their e-mails, and always have a smile on their face.  These aren’t bad qualities, but what inevitably happens is that some of these well-meaning people mistreat coworkers before they head off to their church meeting.  Their “religious” talk alienates employees who don’t ascribe to their faith.  The ever-present smile doesn’t jibe with the life experiences of most people.  Simply put, people are turned off if you are not authentic.

What do you think?  Am I being to critical of vocal Christians?  Maybe you see my view as a rationalization for not reaching out more?  What is your experience with Faith in schools or with co-workers and supervisors?

Posted in Faith | Leave a Comment »

Care, But Be Careful

Posted by transparentlearning on October 10, 2008

Look Out

Look Out

With the increase of social media and sites like this, it has become much easier to find people.  I have a great desire to look up students who I’ve lost touch with.  When you spend a year with a group of students, it becomes impossible not to care about them.  I want to know how they are doing, what they are up to, and encourage them along the way.  I would have been overjoyed if a teacher had looked me up after high school!

However, what are the ethics involved here?  Seeking out former students on social media sites such as myspace or facebook could be perceived as an invasion of privacy.  Even if students are college-aged, should a former teacher initiate communication considering there is no longer simply an educational interest? 

My policy is to welcome any communication from former students, but not to seek it out.  Teachers care.  That’s why we do what we do.  However we must be careful, in our efforts to show concern for former students, that we do not assume the interest is mutual.  Care, but be careful.

Posted in Ethics | 2 Comments »

Discipline Policies: Ambitious vs. Ambiguous

Posted by transparentlearning on October 3, 2008

I’ve been in schools where the discipline policies were extremely defined as far as detailing consequences for students.  If you do A, then B will happen to you.  If you get 6 referrals you will be up for expulsion.  This very cut and dried system of discipline makes decision making easy.  However, if there is no follow-through, then the students figure this out very quickly.  Eventually everyone is frustrated except the kids. 

Then there are other schools I’ve been in who purposefully create a very vague policy.  This keeps referrals to a minimum and allows for judgement calls regarding each specific incident.  However, the lines are blurred for the students when they see others disrespecting adults with no consequences and then still others who receive a referral for the same behavior.  This ambiguity gives some the perception that there are fewer discipline problems happening within the learning community than actually are.  However, the students, teachers, and administration know the truth and an underlying tension resides.

In this manner, some schools “cook the books” like the Wall Street accountants we’re all loathing these days!  We owe it to ourselves, our students, and their families to be direct and honest about behavior occuring in our schools.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Fight or Flight OR…

Posted by transparentlearning on September 4, 2008

Today I was trying to explain to a co-worker why I want to pursue leadership in schools, even though I struggle with “the system.”  I was saying how 5 years ago, I wanted nothing to do with administration because I didn’t want to be a part of the system.

As I’ve though more about this today, I’ve come to some realizations.  One is that, if you are a teacher, you ARE a part of the system, like it or not.  You can say that you are not responsible for policies set forth by the leadership, but you are part of it, nevertheless.

I also found that there are two reactions one experiences when there is a discrepancy between the way things are and the way things could potentially change for the better.  This is the old “fight or flight” theory as it relates to conflict.  One can escape or one can choose to struggle to improve the situation.  I guess that’s how I look at my journey toward school leadership.  I am not naive enough to believe I can fix all the problems in a system or that I won’t make mistakes.  However, I think many teachers,students, and parents feel victimized by school systems.  The very word “system” conjures up images of a cold machine in my mind.  Schools are more organisms that systems.  They are in a constant state of change – different students and teachers, new curricula, different amounts of funding, different leaders and dynamics of relationships.  Therefore, in order to stay healthy, schools must adapt to their environment, as all living things do.

I guess fight or flight are not the only two categories.  Some educators may embrace the system and fail to find its flaws.  I would venture to say this is a very rare breed.  And then there are those who see the problems inherent in systems and, out of fear, can neither flee nor fight.  They cannot risk the financial cost of finding a new career and will not risk the emotional toll of struggling to improve the quality of education.  They are powerless pawns living as if predestined to be a cog in the giant machine.

Anyone with this mindset has lost confidence in the importance of their position as a teacher, or possibly never understood their role to begin with.  I’ve gone a little long on this one, but will comment soon on ways to empower ourselves as educators and improve the overall health of our organizations.  Please feel free to add any of your own thoughts to this post!

Posted in School Improvement, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Water Your Garden

Posted by transparentlearning on September 2, 2008

Some things are more important than work, believe it or not.  Even if you teach for a living.  If I died in my sleep tonight, there would be a replacement for me within the week.  Heck, being a resource teacher, they wouldn’t even need to get me a sub!

These cucumbers are from my garden and, as you can see, they aren’t quite going to work in a salad.  I’ve let the ground dry and crack and have neglected to feed them and now they are not usable.

Are you tending the garden of your soul?  I know that I devote most of my words on this site to the realm of education.  But I believe with all my heart what was written in Ephesians 6:12 – “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” 

So, if I excel professionally to the detriment of my soul, all is lost.  But if I discipline myself to listen to God, read His Word, and act in accordance with His will then I flourish personally and eternally.  THAT, I believe, carries itself over into the classroom and makes an impact in peoples’ lives.  When a cucumber from my garden grows like it should and has a rich green color, guess what I do with it?  I consume it and it nourishes me because it has been nourished. 

Take care of your soul and your classroom will reap the benefits.

Posted in Faith, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »