Tag Archives: students

Celebrate First Downs, Too!

10 Apr

The indictments of 35 former Atlanta educators, including former Superintendent Dr. Beverly Hall, have raised our collective ire once again at the harm done to children by their actions, but before we replace the smart looking “A” in the system’s logo with a scarlet letter, let’s not overlook what is hidden in plain sight. Most educators did not cheat.

This may seem little consolation at first glance, but we’d be fools to overlook this. We have a choice. We can stigmatize the 95 percent of educators that didn’t cheat and the entire school district because of the 5 percent that did, or we can build on this good news. The district has already taken important steps to ensure integrity and higher ethics, though there may be more it can do.

So, back to those educators who did not cheat. What shall we say about them or to them? We might simply acknowledge their honesty, integrity, and dedication in helping children learn in the face of education policy roulette. If all we discuss is what is wrong, we miss an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the small wins we need to motivate educators to stay in the game and to win.

We can and should leverage this legitimate good news to reframe the dialogue from what’s wrong with APS to what’s right and to consider how we routinely use good news to breed energy and success into our district. If nothing has been taken to show appreciation for the contributions of educators who have continued to educate children against the backdrop of this ongoing investigation, something should be done to recognize their engagement beyond the check they receive every two weeks.

Most of us know more about APS’ failings than we do of real accomplishments. Here are a few good things I’m aware of as someone who pays attention to APS, but the general public doesn’t know about this, or other good stuff, because no one talks about it. And that’s got to change. For example, per CNN, Parkside Elementary School students won the 2012 Robotics Competition and an APS teacher was selected as a Georgia Teacher of the Year finalist.

Taking time to celebrate and congratulate people for moving things forward can drive greater productivity and performance in APS. After all, educators, like employees in other industries need a sense of accomplishment to keep them engaged and inspired to come to work each day.

Engagement is highly correlated to productivity and performance – – you know, those test scores and graduation rates we’re after. The 2012 Gallop Q12 survey found that over 70% of 1.5 million North American workers are either underperforming or sabotaging the work of their company and co-workers because they are either not engaged or actively disengaged. Instead of pressuring educators to perform, our students might fare better in school districts that know how to motivate educators to do what they already want to do.

Acknowledging and celebrating small wins can go along way to rebuild morale and deepen engagement and satisfaction that can yield greater success for more children. It can also restore public confidence and desperately needed hope that Atlanta’s children are being prepared to do great things. What we celebrate puts the culture of an organization on display.

Celebrating first downs – – each play that steadily advances the ball down the field is essential. Celebrations are the shared experiences that can keep people motivated and invested in achieving the ultimate goal. Educating children is inherently meaningful work. If Southwest Airlines can make its employees feel good about air travel and if Starbucks can make its employees feel good about selling coffee, then APS should have little difficulty making educators feel good about an even higher purpose – – educating our children.

When we simply drill people about performance without pausing to celebrate small victories, we wear them out. Weary people lose hope and without hope, some people lose their way.

Etienne R. LeGrand is an education strategist, co-founder and CEO of the W.E.B. Du Bois Society.

Leaders Wanted. Sheriffs Need Not Apply.

12 Feb

Michelle Rhee, the former Chancellor of the Washington, DC schools appeared as a guest on Jon Stewart’s “Comedy Central” show the other night. As she talked about her tenure in the nation’s capital, she sounded more like a wild west sheriff than the leader of a school district. In the westerns I’ve watched, sheriffs ride into disorderly towns thinking the worst of the people who live there, pull out their six-shooters, gun down the bad guys, and quickly establish order. That’s an approach that may work in Tombstone, but it has no place in our schools.

Hired to turn around a failing urban system and armed with a point of view that teachers are our best hope for achieving this objective, Rhee and others with this “sheriff” mindset make the mistake of taking aim at teachers rather than engaging them as one key element of a complex solution to our nation’s biggest problem.
This “shape up or ship out” leadership style assumes the worst intentions of teachers – – that they don’t care about the success of their students, and are content to take their paychecks and go home.

School leaders, who don’t trust the people they lead, or respect their intentions and capability, aren’t likely to earn their trust and respect in return. So from the beginning, the objective of achieving higher academic performance through higher quality teaching is in jeopardy before the extent of a teaching quality gap has been measured. There is no argument that quality teaching contributes to student learning. It is also true—though less well understood—that quality educational leadership contributes to student learning, too.

More and more educational research finds that a well-established fact in business applies equally well to schools: The quality of an organization’s leadership contributes to its performance and productivity. Many of our school districts and schools are in need of leaders who can motivate and inspire people to do their best, appreciate them for their contributions and who know that they need the “soft stuff” that comes from creating a great culture in order to succeed.

Sustained best-in-class teaching can emerge from best-in-class leadership. Despite our best efforts, it’s unlikely to emanate from mandates and laws that decree it to be so. We need leaders with the skills to “sell” their ideas for achieving success to many different groups of people, instead of simply ramming mandates down teachers’ throats. It is not quite clear yet, but while a background in teaching may be necessary to educational leadership, it is insufficient.

Effective educational leadership also requires a growth-oriented mindset that enables one to see the glass as half full, not empty; the know-how to listen to other’s ideas and engage their trust and talents; the talent to create and sell a strategy with clearly defied metrics that tell you when you’ve arrived at your destination; the capacity to establish the structure and processes to align and focus people to the goal and the forte to create an organizational culture that becomes the foundation for achieving the hard results we want.

How much more effective at producing results for kids might Rhee and other superintendents be if their leadership was less about bringing order to an unruly, dysfunctional organization and more about getting people on their side to achieve success? How inspiring might it be to work for an educational leader who believes in your capacity to contribute, who respects you, engages your ideas, is committed to providing what you need to contribute, and shows appreciation for your efforts?

By now you’re probably thinking this is impossible to achieve in publicly funded school districts, to which I have just two things to say: Being a leader who believes in the capability of her people to contribute and who understands the importance of motivating them to succeed isn’t against any union or government law. And what have we got to lose?

FaceBook was recently recognized as the 2013 Employer of Choice. Employees cite trust in the company’s leadership, clear priorities, company culture, perks, and the impact they are making as reasons they are happy to be working at FaceBook. With this in mind, I wonder what a survey of DC and other school district employees might reveal about working in these organizations? The unspoken reality is that we don’t seem to care. But didn’t you hear? There’s a new sheriff in town.

Are Your Children’s Teachers Effective?

23 Jan

Across America, states are developing elaborate systems to evaluate the performance of teachers. These systems are important— knowing how well teachers do their jobs is a critical step to improving educational outcomes; but, judging the quality of teachers’ performance is difficult —and using the results of teacher evaluation systems effectively may be even tougher.

The development of these systems is spurred by federal funds under Race to the Top. To ensure states prioritize the need to assess teachers, leading advocate StudentsFirst is rating them for their compliance in implementing such systems, among other things. But what do these ratings tell us about the quality of teaching and education in these states? Not much at all.

It is essential to know whether the teachers standing in front of our classrooms are good at their jobs. Every child must have a quality teacher in order to learn and parents shouldn’t be forced to advocate for their child to ensure he is taught by the teacher(s) perceived as the best in that grade or subject. In case anyone’s still on the fence, we need all teachers in our schools to be of the highest quality — to be “best in class”.

Performance evaluation systems are necessary but insufficient. While they provide us with indispensable information about teachers’ effectiveness and identify new skills teachers’ need to respond new teaching challenges arising from poverty and new technologies, the system is missing the mechanism it will use to respond to the deficiencies it identifies. People don’t develop simply from receiving feedback, however meaningful or timely it is received. People grow and develop when they are provided with opportunities to build new skills and acquire new knowledge.

State education and district budgets are shrinking in the face of our commitment to improve the quality of our teaching force. Shrinking budgets notwithstanding, we must realize that spending on new performance systems to tell us how well our teachers are doing without the commensurate spending to help them be their best is short sighted.

Teachers comprise the largest segment of the workforce in our school systems and research finds they contribute 33 percent to learning. Many believe teachers are the single biggest lever to closing the gaps in achievement. If we buy this, it means we need many more great teachers and fast. Nationally, research finds that 31% of teachers change practice as a result of new knowledge and skills, but the changes aren’t sustained. So, in addition to the need to invest in developing new skills in our teachers, we need new approaches for helping them acquire and sustain the knowledge and skills they need to drive us to success.

Upgrading the quality of performance evaluation systems for teachers is a good first step. But absent a more robust approach, we’re left with more questions than answers. Once we learn which teachers are great, what are we doing to ensure they become even greater? What structures and processes do we have in place to leverage their know-how back into the people in our schools and districts? How are we using what we learn from these “best in class” teachers to inform whom we attract and recruit into our schools? For those who aren’t performing to par, what is our commitment to enhance their skills, beyond offering insightful feedback? Lastly, what are doing to retain this top talent?

Mandated policy solutions such as performance evaluation systems aren’t likely to be effective at producing higher quality teachers as discreet, stand alone pieces. Without a commitment to developing people, they become little more than a way to weed people out. These systems can be a key part of a larger system designed to attract, develop and retain quality people in our nations schools that drives us toward a simple truth – it’s the people in an organization that make it successful. Mandating only one of these interrelated pieces does not contribute to a high performing district.

To move from higher teacher quality to higher school performance we need to address the overlooked driver of more effective leadership of our school districts so that well-conceived policy solutions have a better chance of producing the higher performance we’re looking for. But that’s a blog for another day.

In the meantime, since we’re offering feedback, let’s add to the algorithm the percentage of states’ budgets allocated to invest in developing the very people on whom we’re relying to drive us to higher performance for our kids. If we going to keep score, let’s at least include all the things that matter.

Etienne R. LeGrand is president and co-founder of the W.E.B. Du Bois Society

To Everything There Is A Season

11 Sep

We have been working over the past 8 years to transform the lives and learning of minority children by celebrating and inspiring academic ambition.  From the beginning we’ve demonstrated that celebration and motivation are the keys to improving students’ academic outcomes. We’re proud of the many students that we’ve challenged thus far, and grateful to their parents and collective communities for stepping up to change the path of their lives.

We remain a long way from causing the change we’re after, but we have learned a great deal about the complexities of the public education system and the challenges to financing this work.  We’ve audited our processes, reviewed the landscape of education in this country and determined that the current conversation about education reform overlooks one important focus.

We’re convinced that learning is enhanced and transformed when the culture or conditions for learning in schools, homes and in our communities are aligned to foster learning.  Beginning with the 2013 school year, we will place an acute focus on school culture, and the dynamic educational and motivational shift that occurs when all connected to a school are aligned to focus on learning. What do we mean by “school culture”?

A collaborative educational system that celebrates the accomplishments of students and teachers, allocates the necessary time for teachers to collaborate and improve; invites parents to contribute their ideas and opinions, in addition to their resources; and coalesces necessary partners to support the myriad needs of poor students.

Why school culture?

Few are talking about it.  Research shows that schools with a positive culture foster academic improvement, cohesion, collaborative decision-making, professional development and staff and student learning.  Even as we tend to overlook it because we can’t adequately measure it, school culture influences what the school cares about, the way people behave, what the people in the school spend time doing, and what they celebrate. The school whose leadership does the best job of deliberately influencing culture does a better job at producing student and teacher learning.

As we focus on the link between school culture and performance we need your help.  We want to know:

  • What does culture look like in your child’s school or a family member’s school?
  • How does the school nurture and celebrate learning?
  • In what ways do the people in your child’s school work cohesively to foster learning for all children?
  • Are the teachers engaged and active in problem solving challenges or have they checked out?
  • What could the school do better?

Email me at etienne@webduboissociety.org and share what’s going on in your schools. Your stories and testimonials add value to the discussion, and are a critical factor in the success of our outreach.  Together, we can begin to disrupt the education reform debate to get this country focused on change that will make a difference in our children’s learning.

With investment, engagement, and support, we can make a difference.

Sincerely,

Etienne R. LeGrand

President

The W.E.B. Du Bois Society

Culture In Action: Oregon principal flattens school walls

25 Apr

Often, it seems all too easy easy to find a public school where teachers and students are floundering in a toxic culture.  That is the sad, but undeniable, truth.  On the other hand, many schools are shining examples of the power and impact of a positive school culture.  That’s why we love profiling Culture In Action–where principals and teachers are taking charge of their classrooms, their hallways, their students and their outcomes to cultivate a culture that produces learning and growth for every student. 

That’s the kind of culture that Oregon principal Tom Horn is shaping.   A self-described “hippie kid from Eugene,” Horn has transformed a troubled alternative high school—not to mention his teachers’ job descriptions—by introducing a radical project-based learning model.  And, as is almost always the case with a positive culture, progress at the Kennedy School of Sustainability began with Horn’s transformative leadership.

Here are some excerpts from an Education Week article profiling Horn’s success.  A link to the full article is also included below.

  • Transformative Leadership: By many measures, Horn’s leadership style—and his emphasis on beyond-the-classroom learning—appears to be working. The attendance rate at the 100-student high school…has jumped from 23 percent in the fall of 2006, when Horn took over, to a current rate of about 90 percent. The dropout rate is now at 12.5 percent, down from 20 percent in 2004-05. Test scores, though still below par, are on the rise. The once-stigmatized alternative school now has a 180-student waiting list. And for the first time ever, students from Kennedy are going to college. 

    This leadership doesn’t start and stop with Horn.  The district superintendent is also engaged in effort.  She notes: “One of the criticisms of the old alternative high school, and any alternative school, is that the standards have been watered down.  You lower the bar and that’s how kids are successful there. We had to fight that perception and make sure the rigor was present.”

  • Extreme Teaching: The teachers at Kennedy have an extraordinary—even potentially overwhelming—amount of responsibility. In addition to the overnight trips and projects that require much out-of-school planning, they are working with a demanding population: According to Horn, 38 percent of Kennedy students are homeless, 14 percent are teen parents, many have dealt with addiction issues, and all are at risk of dropping out. The school has a full-time counselor, but teachers need to be tuned into students’ mental health and emotional needs, too.
  • Project-Based Learning:  Horn determined that the students needed a unique curriculum to keep them engaged and in classes. Because of the natural resource-rich surrounding area as well as his own interest in green technology, he chose project-based learning and the theme of sustainability. He divided students into five cohorts, each of which would complete projects related to a subtheme—agriculture, energy, forestry, architecture, or water.  All of the projects were aimed at having “tangible positive effects on the entire community,” he explained. “We’ve flattened the walls of the school.” Since many Kennedy students had been demoralized in the traditional school system, Horn hoped getting kudos from community members might help restore their feelings of self-worth. In addition, he figured, the projects themselves, visible in the surrounding neighborhoods, could serve as a source of pride.

Click here to learn more about Principal Horn and the Kennedy School of Sustainability.