Author Archives: Shari Conditt

TPEP 2: Personnel Supports–Impact and Reflection

This is the second post in a series regarding the current Teacher and Principal Evaluation System (TPEP) in Washington State.  Each post will examine findings from the University of Washington’s Final Report on TPEP, titled ‘Washington’s Teacher and Principal Evaluation System:  Examining the Implementation of a Complex System.’  The full report can be found here:  http://www.education.uw.edu/ctp/sites/default/files/UW_TPEP_Rpt_2017_Rvsd_ADA.pdf  

In my last post I examined the challenges of the comprehensive model.  I also shared my building’s first go around with comprehensive and how we established systems to make the process a bit more manageable.  My administrators reworked their schedules, which created greater capacity for time in the classroom and meetings with teachers.  This shift has been a positive one, accentuating discussion about teaching/learning and not about student discipline/classroom management, only. In the recent University of Washington report on TPEP Implementation, teachers noted increased engagement of instructional leadership by administrators, including use of the instructional framework and feedback on student growth goals (Elfers and Plecki, 25).  Administrators concur with the findings of their teachers.  “A majority of principals (70%) and assistant principals (79%) agree that TPEP has allowed them to to focus more on instructional leadership (Elfers and Plecki, 25).  

TPEP fundamentally changed my school and my job. While my administrators made some serious adjustments, I did, too. Three years ago I became a .2 instructional coach. My responsibilities are diverse in many ways, but essentially I assist our teachers with TPEP.  I support student growth goal writing, coach/reflect with teachers on lessons taught, and implement new technology and engagement strategies. Over the past three years, the demand for coaching time has increased resulting in the expansion of our model. I am now one of two instructional coaches–I serve as a .4 and my colleague is a .2 release.  Basically, we’re the eyes and the ears of the teachers, not the administrators. Our job is to help our teachers navigate design and delivery of instruction, assessment, management, goal writing, and whatever else they need.  This is good work. This is important work. This work impacts students and teachers each day. This was absolutely driven by TPEP. That’s not to say that this is a negative.  New technologies and strategies have developed because of our coaching model.  In some ways, work that individual teachers took on has been shifted to our coaches.  It’s surprising to look back and consider the supports teachers should have received for years but didn’t.  Maybe teachers didn’t even know that they could ask for those supports?  In any case, TPEP was the catalyst.

My building is not alone.  “59% of superintendents and 15% of school administrators said that they added time from instructional coaches, TPEP coaches, or department heads”  (Elfer and Plecki, 41).  The results are staggering. There is a cost.  An increase in coaching and department head work results in loss contact time with students.  When I decreased my teaching load from five courses to four and then from four to three I immediately realized that I’d be working with fewer students.  I was acutely aware of what I was missing but also worked to amplify the relationships that I was building with the students in my remaining three class periods.  But, in all honesty, I miss the kids that I’m not teaching.  

Clearly TPEP has increased workloads for administrators. The report indicates, “About three-quarters of principals and assistant principals who responded to the survey agreed that TPEP has reduced their ability to perform other essential duties (76%) and reduced the amount of time interacting with students (73%)” (Elfers and Plecki, 28).  So, if we’re going to do TPEP “right” and make it meaningful, teacher driven, a natural harvest of work, and focused on student learning outcomes, how do school manage the logistics of this work?  Has an increase in coaching been the only solution?

UW’s report also speaks to the rise of administrative positions as a result of TPEP.  The Seattle Times asserts that TPEP led to a “hiring spree” (Seattle Times, Ed Lab, January 9, 2018).  The most significant impact in hiring came in the form of the assistant principal position where growth far exceeded the expansion of principal positions.  From 2010 to 2016, the number of principals grew by 4% compared with a 29% increase in assistant principals (Elfers and Plecki, 41).  The largest area of growth within the market was at the elementary level. The Seattle Times highlights that this was a 126% growth for elementary school assistant principals.  The data begs questions. How many of those schools that saw growth never had an assistant principal?  In schools where an assistant principal (AP) was added, how has the principal’s job changed?  What’s been taken off of his/her plate?  What’s been added?  What’s multiplied?  The diverse landscape of our state is made up of small schools, many which may have traditionally only had one administrator at the helm.  Is the increase in administrative positions, particularly with regard to the elementary assistant principal, directly caused by TPEP related duties or correlated with TPEP and the outgrowth of stronger instructional practices and resuscitated funding emerging out of an improved economy during this time span?  

TPEP isn’t binary and it’s not useful to think about who/what systems win and who/what systems lose as a result of the implementation.  Instead it’s far more useful for buildings and districts to consider the voices of stakeholders and reflect and adjust. Perhaps supports were needed for quite some time and TPEP created the impetus for the change? But, even with these report findings, I can’t say that definitively.  What I do know is that teacher quality and student learning isn’t easy to measure and systems must reflect those obstacles and provide flexibility in order to demonstrate fidelity to the evaluation process. To do so may require these personnel supports but without integrity to this process, TPEP will surely collapse.

TPEP 1: Re-Evaluating our Evaluation Model

This is the first of a series of posts I will be writing regarding the current Teacher and Principal Evaluation System (TPEP) in Washington State.  Each post will examine findings from the University of Washington’s Final Report on TPEP, titled ‘Washington’s Teacher and Principal Evaluation System:  Examining the Implementation of a Complex System.’  The full report can be found here:  http://www.education.uw.edu/ctp/sites/default/files/UW_TPEP_Rpt_2017_Rvsd_ADA.pdf  

Washington’s Teacher and Principal Evaluation System (TPEP) created fundamental changes to the way teachers and principals talk about teaching and learning.  Moreover, TPEP established a shift in how teachers are evaluated and how they evidence their achievement in eight criteria. The system requires that each teacher complete a comprehensive evaluation (all eight criteria, including measurements of student growth towards specific learning goals) once every four years and a focused evaluation during the other three years (evidencing one criterion and one student growth goal).  A new teacher must successfully complete the comprehensive evaluation for three consecutive years before he/she can move towards a focused evaluation.  Additional legislation now allows a teacher to carry his/her comprehensive summative rating into the focused cycle as a way to promote growth and zero in on a focused area of weakness for improvement without fear of receiving a worse summative evaluation rating at the end of the year (see WAC: 392-191A-190).

I was an early adopter of TPEP.  As a building leader and local education association president I felt it was important to see what this new process looked like first hand so I offered myself up as a guinea pig. Thankfully, a few of my building colleagues did the same. Four and a half years ago we underwent the comprehensive system for the first time and like anything new, we (both teachers, building, and district admin) muddled through the process, putting this new policy into practice. We learned a great deal from trial and error. Within a few months our building established an effective system based on routine meetings (every three weeks) and grounded in teacher agency over artifacts. Our process is now streamlined in contract language and having completed a full cycle (1 year of comprehensive and 3 years of focused) I can confidently say that conversations about teaching and learning are firmly entrenched in language found in the criteria.  We’ve established a process that helps teachers and administrators talk about our work with shared values and a common language. A recently released report from the University of Washington regarding the implementation of TPEP echoes similar sentiment from stakeholders in districts around the state  (Elfers and Plecki, xii).

I’m back on the comprehensive model this year and finding the process to be inhibiting to my growth as a teacher. It’s not that I’m unwilling to closely analyze my practice to demonstrate my achievement in these areas. In fact I welcome these opportunities. But evidencing eight criterion (three pieces of evidence for each) and two student growth goals (with three different assessments) is challenging to do well in one academic school year.  To be fair, I live this work every day.  Half of my day is spent serving as an instructional coach supporting our building teaching staff as they prepare for meetings and reflect upon their practice. The University of Washington TPEP report indicates that the comprehensive evaluation model within a single year poses series concerns for teachers, school administrators, and superintendents. “More than three-quarters of teachers, four-fifths of school administrators, and 71% of superintendents either strongly or somewhat agreed that the comprehensive evaluation attempts to cover too many aspects of teaching in a single year.”  (Elfers and Plecki,  xiii).  But now that I’m back in the mix of the twenty four pieces of evidence, six assessments, etc… I’m feeling like I can’t juggle all of  these criteria well and as a result, I’m not demonstrating my best work and that has me concerned. These feelings signal to me that I’m treating the comprehensive evaluation system as a checklist of attributes and indicators that I have to reach so that I can show that I am a “Distinguished” educator this year so that next year I can go back into the focused model and take some real risks, pushing myself in my areas of weakness so that I can make substantive changes without fear of losing my “Distinguished” label. I’m tired of proving that I’m “Distinguished’ enough to do this work.  I’m a National Board Certified Teacher, once renewed, who has shown through a variety of means that I continually seek out opportunities to grow professionally so that I may be a better teacher for my students.  The comprehensive evaluation system makes me feel weighed down and less reflective, not more.

What about our newest teachers?  Our state, like others, is struggling to retain teachers in the profession, yet we immerse them in this complex process right out of the gate.  84% of building administrators felt that covering all aspects of the comprehensive evaluation with a first year teacher was of major or moderate concern (Elfers and Plecki, xiii).  So how can we expect new teachers to the profession to carefully and thoughtfully engage with this instructional evaluation tool?  Spoiler alert: I’ll address the rise in support systems that have emerged since the implementation of TPEP in my next related blog post.  Nonetheless, the UW report on TPEP Implementation doesn’t zero in on the experience of new teachers (from the perspective of the new teacher) as an analyzed sub group, but there are hints at the familiarity of new teachers with TPEP.  The report finds that teachers who recently graduated from a teacher prep program (within the past three years) largely had experience with TPEP related criteria such as use of assessments to inform instructional practice and the assessment and collection of evidence of student growth (Elfers and Plecki, xii, 6).  But does experience alone mitigate the challenges presented in the first year of teaching coupled with the use of a comprehensive evaluation?  I’m hoping to see additional research in this area. So I wonder, what would happen if new teachers began with focused area, allowing for richer reflection and analysis in one area, instead of jumping head first into the all eight criteria?  This would create less pressure and more confidence for those just starting into the career.  

So where do we go from here?  We’re now almost five years into implementation and perhaps now is the time for policymakers to step back and make adjustments to this system.  Re-examining how we evaluate our newest teachers and ensuring that all teachers are able to take risks, improve weaknesses, and cultivate practice will create an even stronger, perhaps more sustainable teaching force for our students.  

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

With the recent news that 1,435 teachers recently earned National Board Certification and 533 teachers renewed National Board Certification, the State of Washington has much to celebrate. This achievement means a great deal to the teachers, districts, cohorts, and our state education system, including a variety of agencies and organizations that provide supports to those seeking certification. However, for those who’ve just earned certification, your race to the finish line might feel it’s over, but In fact, it’s just beginning.

Thirteen years ago I began my National Board Certification journey. I was a fourth year teacher, both new to Washington and my district.  I was the first in my district to attempt certification much less complete the process.  I remember trying to explain it to my students–many had never seen a video camera in the classroom before. Most people in my district hadn’t heard of this certification, much less how to support it. I struggled through the certification process without the supports that exist in the system today, but with the mindset that I would finish what I started.  And I did. In all transparency, I barely made it and certified by one point. That one point might have made the difference between certifying in 2005 versus 2006 but the process involved created more growth for me than just arriving at the destination.  After certifying, I took on a challenge.  I wanted to open the doors for other teachers to deeply analyze their practice using the structure and framework provided by the National Board process. This is where my leadership began. I wanted to be the person who helped clear the pathways so that others who wanted to, could travel with a bit more ease. Thirteen years later, I’m proud to say that my district has many National Board Certified Teachers and an effective cohort system that supports teachers and counselors as they journey down this road.

I oftentimes share with candidates that the process of earning National Board Certification is more of a marathon and less of a sprint.  Figuring out when to start the race depends on the individual teacher/counselor. There is no perfect time to start. I started the process at a critical time in my career. I was just past the triage stage–you know, when you’re staying up until midnight planning for tomorrow’s lesson, unsure of where you’re going or how to get there.  Now, I could see the big picture and better understand my pacing, skill development, and how to write assessments.  But I certainly didn’t feel settled. I needed National Board Certification to push me, to develop me, and to help me find more rhythm. I questioned the triage strategies and routines I’d already established. I needed this, like a runner needs fuel.  Analyzing my work fed my soul and honed my skills to make me a reflective practitioner.   

The growth didn’t just come from the process.  Certification was a pivotal turning point in my teaching career. Who knows, perhaps it was the one point differential that activated change in me.  Perhaps it was the adrenaline rush that comes from finding out that I certified.  But after learning that I certified, I began to see myself as a teacher leader.  I became more involved in organizations that promote and support highly effective teaching practices. I began advocating for students at a building and district level. I understood that my voice could be heard and that my personal struggle through the process brought validation and credibility to the table when I talked with administrators about the needs of students.  I took on more leadership roles, participated in building decision making, and felt inspired to be a change agent for my community.  I took risks–used cutting edge resources, created new lessons, developed new strategies and all the while, reflected upon each change to determine what worked, what didn’t, and why (a process I practiced through National Board and continue to use today).  And while many of my colleagues who aren’t NBCTs may be doing these things too, this certification caused me to go down this path.  The best part is, that my journey into teacher leadership is still ongoing. Like so many other NBCTs, my race isn’t over yet. Heck, we’re just now picking up speed. 

 

 

Oh Pioneers!

 

 

When I think of a pioneer, I think of nineteenth century people willing to take chances by moving west, astronauts empowered by mathematicians and scientists that sought space exploration, and characters in a Willa Cather novel.  In the past, I hadn’t really thought to apply that word to teachers. Yet, in so many ways, teachers are pioneers, seeking to open up a new activity, a new line of thinking, or a new development in the education world.

Look around on Amazon and you’ll see teacher authors selling books on new engagement methods and strategies. On Twitter, teachers are organizing, leading, and participating in chats. I read the books from my teacherpreneur friends and participate in weekly chats on Twitter.  I’ve learned a lot over the past few years about education and how to help my students engage within the classroom.  Yet, some pioneers seek to create a bridge to engage the outside policymaking world with the needs of students and teachers within the classroom.  Enter WATAC. Taken from their website, “The Washington Teacher Advisory Council or WATAC is the voice of accomplished teachers advocating for student success.  We inform education decisions and influence policy, promoting equity, and excellence for all.”  WATAC is functioning on a new line of thinking– open up the lines of communication between those education decision makers and teachers who are impacted by policy.  Pioneering, right?  So maybe on paper, this doesn’t sound like a new development in the education world. But talk with teachers and you’ll soon find that we are rarely consulted about how an educational policy is impacting our kids and our work.  While there are some opportunities for work groups to flush out policy implementation (I participated in one for TPEP analyzing the first few districts to pilot the new evaluation system), educator voice is needed at all steps in the policy process, not just at the work group implementation stage. Much less, we’re even less likely to be approached with what legislative or policy needs we have. Until you’ve established a line of communication between yourself and your local legislator, it’s unlikely you’ll be consulted about potential legislation (although to be clear, I’m a huge fan of talking to my legislators and I’ve had a positive experience with this over the past year).  So, to take up the cause, WATAC seeks to do this work and to help teachers learn how to advocate for their students and their classrooms, too.  Basically, WATAC wants to ensure that there is teacher voice involved in creating policy and evaluating policy.  Because who better to know what a policy can do to a classroom, than the teachers who work with students who are impacted by the law?  

How do we create and curate teacher voice in education policy decisions?  What systems need to be in place to ensure that teachers have a voice?  What systems need to be in place to ensure sustainability regardless of who the education policymakers are? Clearly, I have more questions than answers. WATAC is still new and this is pioneering work that these educators have taken on. Engaging in education policy advocacy isn’t something teachers have a lot of training in how to do and frankly, it’s hard to find the time to eat lunch, much less read up on laws moving through the state legislature (by the way, save yourself some time and consider signing up for weekly legislative updates here: http://cstp-wa.org/policy-dialogue/legislative-updates/.   You can also sign up to receive updates from OSPI (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction) and PESB (Professional Educator Standards Board) here:  https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/WAOSPI/subscriber/new.)   Creating systems that partner teachers with policy makers is going to take time, some careful planning, and serious assessment.  We need clear deliverables in statutes that require practitioner voice.  We need systems in place for how to do this.  

I have faith.  WATAC’s work has just begun but the foundation’s laid.  A network of award winning teachers has been established and a leadership team of teachers assembled.  Last Spring, WATAC held its first conference, engaging educators in policy advocacy at the local, regional, state, and national levels. The result? 75 educators came together to learn how policy is constructed, and how to ask for change in their schools, their districts, and at the state level. Educators learned about ESSA and had a chance to talk with legislators and policy makers from OSPI and the Governor’s Office.  The network is growing. Like pioneers, the pathway may not always be clear as to how to get to the goal, but the vision is there.  Planning is key for a journey like this.  But promoting educator voice is worth the expedition.  

Smarter Balanced: Celebrating the Scores?

Like many parents across the nation, we received our children’s Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) results a few weeks ago.  The results, printed in color ink, did not largely surprise us. What did, however, was our children’s reaction.

My daughter is now a 6th grader.  She’s been taking this test for a few years, although science was a new component for her last year in 5th grade.  In the past, she’s been worried about the adaptive portion of the exam, nervous about whether she’s moving too slow or too fast and wondering if her screen should look alike or different from her peers.  One year, right before school let out for summer, we received notification that she was invited to attend a summer math program. This invitation was an opportunity for extended math instruction, which I was gladly willing to take her to.  I did, however, have no sense that she was struggling in math.  Her standards based report card always revealed that she was on target.  So when I dug around a bit more and contacted the building assessment coordinator, we discovered that she met standard and that the invitation was an accident.  However, the damage was done.  She was downtrodden about her math skills and entered into the 5th grade believing that her skills weren’t where they needed to be (whatever that means).  After receiving the official score report and looking at the data with her, I saw a noticeable difference in my child and how she thought of herself as a math student.  Even then, it took her months and at least a quarter in 5th grade math before she felt confident about her skills and abilities.  You’d think that I would have learned my lesson.

So this year when the assessment results arrived in the mail, I immediately opened them up. After reviewing the data, I decided to sit down with my children to discuss the results.  My daughter the now 6th grader, looked at her scores and said, “I guess this means I’m pretty smart.”  I was stunned.  I’m thankful that I had enough clarity of thought to respond with, “Uh, this test doesn’t measure whether you’re smart.  It tells you that you can answer specific questions related to certain skills and standards that the testing organization wants to measure. It certainly doesn’t address your ability to learn music.”  My husband, her father, is a middle school band teacher.  My daughter has been playing piano for five years (read:  I’ve been paying for piano lessons for five years.)  She nodded and walked away.  I then sat down with my son to review his first SBA results.  

But I wish I hadn’t.  In fact, I’m done sitting down with my children to talk about these scores. Sadly, I think they, like so many other children, adults, school districts, and states, are defining themselves in relation to a score.  My daughter’s self esteem as a math student was tied to that exam.  This year, she used the exam to confirm a sense of self.  

And that’s scary.

And unhealthy.

And it must stop.  

I want to be clear.  I’m not anti-test.  I’m not anti Common Core.  In fact, I embrace the Common Core, and I’d be happy to address that in another post.  However, I fear that we’re sending a dangerous message to our youth if we oversell the data learned from the test.  My school, like so many others, examined our scores in our back to school meeting.  Thankfully,  I didn’t get a sense that our students and our teachers were being overly celebrated or beat up due to assessment data. Our building elevates a variety of achievements, accomplishments, and talents. However, communities across the country put up gigantic signs on  schools when some percentage of students are meeting a standard.  This isn’t helping.  We award schools for these scores and for the most growth over a year.  I’m not saying it’s negative to give a hard working staff recognition for their efforts, but essentially aren’t we also celebrating the test score?  What false sense does that give us of who our students are and what our students know and can do?  

Do teachers walk around defining themselves by their evaluation score?  I sure hope not. This would be an unhealthy approach to the profession, one that isn’t sustainable, and does not encourage self reflection or growth.  So why do we do this with kids?

Let’s find other things to celebrate.  Shouldn’t we consider exalting our students and our schools as more?

What I’ve learned about the first day

Tuesday marked the beginning of my eighteenth year of teaching. While the school year is filled with a variety of excitement and wonder, the first day of school seems almost magical.  Yet, having done the “first day” eighteen times, I’ve started to develop some observations about this special day of school.  Some of these observations are more like advice while others are basically predictions.

1.No matter how many extra copies I think I’ve made I will inevitably be short by at least 1 copy.  I might count them ahead of time.  I may have made sure that I added together all of my students scheduled for 1st and 3rd period but nonetheless, I will be short on copies.

2.I have to retrain my stomach and my bladder.  No longer do I have free reign of when I can eat nor when I can leave my room.  Welcome to monitoring liquid intake over the next ten months.

3. The technology application I’ve practiced 10 times will not work or will crash when I need it. Naturally my lesson is based all around the use of this app. However, here’s the good news– because I’m a teacher, I know how to punt and create a workaround.

4. A senior who knows his/her way around our building (he/she’s been attending for years) will suddenly forget how to navigate the hallway and will be late to 2nd period.  Somehow they’ve figured out that we don’t count tardies on the first day of school.

5. The day is best spent getting to know your students instead of teaching content.  Save that content for the next 179 days of the year.  Building the foundation for a positive class climate will make teaching the content far more manageable and enjoyable.

6. Those heels I thought I could pull off- nope. One of these days running shoes will be fashionable with dresses.  I’m patiently waiting on this fashion trend.

7. No feeling can ever match how it feels to look out at your room right before the students walk in.  Teachers spend days, even weeks, preparing for the first day.  It’s exciting to think of all of the learning that is going to happen in our classroom over the next ten months.

8. Students want to feel successful from the very start.  The first day is the silver lined cloud. Our relationship with students helps determine how long that lining remains.

9.  I have a better afternoon when I’ve had lunch with my colleagues. Spending some time talking about topics unrelated to our work helps shift my brain and allows me the opportunity to have a break in my day.  I am more effective when I take a break in the middle of my day– even if it’s for just thirty minutes.

10. I can never have enough pens and pencils.  The 40 Ticonderogas I bought before school started and placed in the extra pencil cup will be gone within two weeks.

11. I have to retrain my hand on the size of an Expo versus a Sharpie. I am incredibly thankful for those newly formulated white board cleaners.

12. Meeting students at the door generates a sense of hospitality.  This is their classroom, not mine. I just happen to spend more time in it than they do.  

13. I create opportunities so students can laugh. This is a big one, folks.  If we can laugh on day one we’ve begun to build a positive environment where students can let down their guard. I know that my students see me as an expert.  I have degrees and awards on the wall.  They’ve heard stories about me.  But I also want them to see me as approachable.  We inherently feel more comfortable working with people with whom we can share a laugh or two (or many).

What observations have you made about the first day?

 

Share Your Stories

“Oh you’re a teacher!  You guys have it made.  Paid summers off where you sleep in every day–what a cushy life.”  These words, uttered by my dentist while his hands were in my mouth drilling a tooth, caused far more discomfort than the actual dental procedure.  So after he was done (and yes, the novocaine still had half of my face numb) I shared with him that I spent most of my summer at conferences and in classes. I also explained how the pay structure works.  And, as these conversations typically go, it ended up with, “I really had no idea.”  

A year ago I felt a fire light inside me. I can’t remember what started it all to build, but the result has been an overwhelming desire to advocate for the teaching profession.  Maybe it was the need to address the misconceptions that people have about this lifestyle (I consider teaching a lifestyle, it’s far too encompassing to just be a job) or perhaps it was the oversimplification of this work by the media, tv shows, and movies that show burned out teachers, but either way, that fire started and it keeps burning brighter.  

So last week, when the airplane pilot standing next to me on the shuttle to our plane started asking me questions about my work, I was happy to share the dynamic nature of teaching. I also made sure to note that I was flying back from a week long class on constitutional law.  The pilot didn’t realize that teachers participate in summer coursework to strengthen their knowledge and skills in the classroom.  He was curious about this and we had a great conversation (our shuttle was stuck on the tarmac for 30 minutes) about professional development for teachers and pilots, thus shedding light on both of our professions.

I have spent the past eight months talking to policymakers and stakeholders about the impact of legislation in the classroom.  While I go in with a game plan, inevitably the conversation always turns when I tell a story about my students, my colleagues, and my own children.  Last month I met with my US Congresswoman in Washington D.C., and while my ask was to retain Title II funding in the budget, my story was specific to how we use that funding in our schools.  This story provides insight into policy impact and also constituent needs. Her job is dynamic, too, and I do not expect my representative to be an expert in all facets of life.  So if I can be a resource and share my experience with her, then perhaps that experience can shape her thinking on an issue.

I’ve come to see these interactions as opportunities to educate and advocate for this work. We can control the narrative.  It’s easy to sell an anti-teacher message when the public doesn’t have a deep understanding of what our work looks like.  Worse, if people rely upon their varied past experiences as students without recognizing how that skews their vision of what schools look like today, the picture that’s created may likely be inconsistent in practice and unrecognizable to those of us who do teach.  So instead of dismissing ignorant remarks about our work,  it is imperative that we seize the moment as an opportunity to teach.  We must teach others about our work so that they can see the intricacies of this lifestyle.  We must share our stories, our experiences, our successes, and our struggles. Only then will the larger public begin to see who we really are.

Rethinking our Assessment System Statewide

On May 24th, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal outlined a series of phases that addressed his long term vision for K-12 education in the State of Washington.  Included in
that vision is a differentiated assessment model that allows students pathways to demonstrate proficiency and mastery.  The plan calls for an immediate suspension of all test based graduation requirements for the Classes of 2017, 2018, and 2019, a policy that some legislators can get behind.  (See the June 4, 2017
Seattle Times Op-Ed piece by Rep. Monica Stonier and Rep. Laurie Dolan)  This agenda item isn’t necessarily as visionary as others but is more triage in nature.  Asking for these assessments to be waived now is a pressing concern for our potential graduates waiting in the wings (including the 7 students at my high school who are hoping that the state legislature acts immediately since graduation is on Friday, June 9th).  However, other components of this assessment system provide more opportunity and greater steering towards a student’s plans for high school and beyond.

One of the key takeaways from this plan is the use of assessment data for high school planning.  Superintendent Reykdal proposes that the 8th grade assessment (assuming this will still be mandated by the U.S. Department of Education) be used to determine what courses and in what sequence students need to take.  A 10th grade assessment (the Standards Based Assessment, or SBA, also mandated by the U.S. Department of Education) would further clarify what students need in order to be career and college ready.  That exam, while not necessary as a graduation requirement, would be a baseline for which other decisions would be made. The assessment would help stakeholders update a student’s high school and beyond plan (commonly referred to as a HSBP), either demonstrating that is student is now proficient in the required basic knowledge and skills needed to earn a diploma or highlighting what specific skills students need to further develop in order to achieve proficiency.  The plan suggests that alternatives such as the SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement exams, International Baccalaureate exams, Running Start, College in the High School, and other options be used to demonstrate proficiency.  All students after 10th grade must work towards a pathway that includes immediate entrance into the workforce, technical college, community college, apprenticeships, four year colleges/university, or the military.

This new assessment system may just help us combat the apathy that emerges junior and senior year from students wondering why they are enrolled in certain courses that don’t remotely relate to their post secondary education plans.  Such a plan opens the door to exciting new classes tailored to meet the needs of the 21st century learner on whatever pathway he/she may be on.  High schools will be able to utilize the flexibility and creativity that this system promotes and adjust current course offerings, tapping into the talents and expertise of their staff.  The idea that students can select pathways and prepare for those future careers allows students more buy in on their secondary education, potentially impacting overall attendance, number of failed classes, and eventually graduation rates.  Specific training and coursework geared towards a pathway will indeed result in a better worker or stronger college student thus largely impacting the state’s post secondary education system and the local workforce.  Superintendent Reykdal’s proposal directly impacts students allowing them to tap into their talents and interests at an earlier age so that they may develop as stronger, more effective and more efficient contributors to our communities and overall economy.

My New Superheroes

 

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the first Washington Teacher’s Advisory Council (WATAC) Conference.  80 award winning teachers, principals, and classified staff attended the event.  Featured speakers included Washington State Superintendent Chris Reykdal and a panel comprised of Camille Jones, Teacher of the Year, Melanie Green, Classified Employee of the Year, Mia Williams, Principal of the Year, Noel Frame, Legislator from the 36th District, and Deb Merle, Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Governor.  It was an incredible opportunity to listen to a committed and passionate group of educational stakeholders who hold an encouraging vision for the future of our students.

But my biggest takeaway didn’t come from a specific message or a session.  Instead, my inspiration came from the 80 superheroes in the room. These outstanding educators gave up their weekend, set aside their papers, lesson planning, and data tracking to improve their advocacy skills.  Fellow CSTP blogger, Mark Gardner, and I led a session on how to increase your voice at the local level.  In our session we worked one on one with teachers to define, develop and practice their pitch to decision makers.  For example, one teacher felt a new intervention program targeting students with high rates of absenteeism was necessary at her school.  She worked on her pitch, mapped out her strategy, practiced her elevator speech, and worked on determining the concerns/needs of decision makers.  In another session, educators learned how to get involved in the work of the State Board of Education.  Still another session taught educators how to connect with their local legislators.  Watching these award winning teachers and classified staff working on these skills caused me such pride in my profession.  Knowing that colleagues from across our state wanted to elevate their voice in helping shape local, district, and statewide policy means that our children have champions in every corner of the Evergreen State.

All week, in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I’ve been shouting out on social media my student teachers, colleagues, and friends who work in education.  As I reflect on the week and the educators that have shaped my career, it’s equally important to recognize those whose work is often unseen and yet so often felt.  These superheroes advance our work in a way that creates more support and capacity for the profession.  Frankly, our schools need allies who will lift up our cause to legislators who make the decisions that directly impact our kids.  So, here’s my shout out to those teachers for taking the time to become active participants in local and state policymaking.  The rest of us are incredibly grateful.   #ThankATeacher

All Politics Are Local

Last week I had coffee with my local senator.  Okay, to be fair, I had water but nonetheless, we sat down and met for an extended time.  I walked away better understanding her position on issues of interest to me and I hope she felt the same.  

It all began with a fifteen minute meeting.  I scheduled a meeting with my senator in her office on Presidents Day. It was a busy day, lobbyists filled the hill, and sev
eral bills were being heard.  She squeezed me in at 8:45.  Our meeting was short but she offered to meet a few days later when she was in her home district.  I was grateful she was willing to extend her personal time and I took her up on that offer.

Five days later I was at her house talking one on one about everything from meeting the teaching shortage to TRI (time, responsibility, incentive) pay.  We even discussed the elephant in the room- education funding.  Here’s the thing- I felt heard.  I felt engaged.  I felt powerful.  I felt like I was able to share my experience as a teacher leader with my senator and I believe that she understood my work and passion.   Most importantly, I told her about my kids: 100 students and 2 biological.  We discussed assessment, CTE and Running Start, and the real trauma faced by students every day.  And when the meeting was over, I didn’t feel dismissed. Instead I felt like I’d built a bridge.

Being a teacher and a coach, I build infrastructure all day long.  I scaffold learning for my students.  I help teachers seek out new ideas and create new platforms so they can dive into deeper learning.  Yet, it didn’t occur to me until recently to build a bridge.  Perhaps that’s what my work is now.  I’m an engineer–creating bridges between my classroom and my state policymakers.