Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Are We Too Accommodating to Today's Students?

As a nation, we have accommodated students’ needs more and more as we work to provide them with the optimal learning environment, but at what point does accommodating become enabling?

Laura Klein, 8th grade teacher at I.S. 217, Rafael Hernandez School of Performing Arts in the Bronx, explains, “It’s our job to teach them no matter what. We are often the adults that children see with the most consistency and frequency, and we are responsible for their educations, in the broadest sense of that word. But to truly help them be successful, we ourselves have to embody the “no excuses” attitude.”

“The problem is that by allowing ourselves no excuses, and doing whatever it takes to make students successful, we often find ourselves accepting excuses from them.”

As an educator, do you ever make excuses for your students? If so, where do you draw the line?

Read Laura Klein’s full article here

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Students Learn Social Studies "On Location" with Technology in the Classroom

While most of us have never been to Egypt, students in Dan Jones’ social studies class have come close. Taking full advantage of available green-screen technology, Mr. Jones transports his students to the places they study.

Jones, who is in his seventh year of teaching, said every teacher can find creative ways to use technology in class. He said he picked up most of his strategies by experimenting with a variety of online tools.

"Our students' world is made up of Facebook, YouTube, texting and more," he said. "We, as educators, need to bring these things into our classroom and figure out how to use them for an educational purpose . . . I have students creating websites, portfolios and video book reports.” Jones’ goal is for kids to leave his class with a portfolio of work they’re really proud of.

Do you agree with Jones? Do educators need to bring technology into the classroom?

Read more about Dan Jones and how he has used technology in the classroom here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Giving the Right Attention to All Students

While every educator has likely experienced a child who makes a spectacle in class to receive attention, not every teacher knows how to react. Last week, Coach G (Education Week) offered some tips to steer teachers and administrators in the right direction. “It all starts with the need to focus attention on constructive behavior at the expense of disruptive behavior rather than the other way around,” he said.

Three of Coach G’s tips include:

1. Give attention to attention givers
2. Leverage all available attention
3. Communicate non-verbally

As Coach G puts it, “There's no way around it: all children need and deserve attention. And how you manage a classroom full of kids vying for attention can make or break your overall effectiveness as a teacher.”

To learn the “how” behind Coach G’s tips, click here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Blocks Help Build Student Learning

Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times
Technology has revolutionized the world of education. How students learn and what they learn is constantly changing, but that doesn’t mean that educators should throw out everything they’ve ever done in the classroom. Blocks, yes blocks are making as much of an impact as ever in the learning of young children. So why not combine the two?

Yesterday, Kyle Spencer of The New York Times published an article filled with the positive effects of blocks in today’s classroom. Block building is not about occupying time or finding a way to get kids away from a computer screen. Blocks are about exploration.

Jean Schreiber, a self-described “block consultant,” advised a group of parents to engage their children in building by photographing their work. “Don’t rush to help them with structural challenges,” she said. “You don’t have to ask them a million questions. Just sit with them and notice.”

Jessica Thies, a teacher at Chapin School on the Upper East Side, said her students photographed their block extravaganzas with one of the school’s iPads. Last year, they made a documentary about blocks using a Flip video camera and edited it during computer class. “It is very low-tech/high-tech here,” Ms. Thies said.

Sasha Wilson, co-director of the four-year-old Bronx Community Charter School, said his faith in blocks was solidified by a struggling second grader’s actions after an apple-picking field trip. “She went to the block corner and built an incredibly complex structure, a tractor engine, and she was able to talk about how all the parts moved,” Mr. Wilson recalled. He said he told his staff a few days later: “We need to be looking at this student in a very different way.”

Blocks may just be one more tool we can use to help students learn.
What do you think?

Read The NY Times article here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Data-Sharing is Key to College and Career Readiness

Every day, we hear “data this,” and “data that,” being told “the data” will show us how to get students college and career ready. Although data is powerful, its power lies in what we do with it. Kentucky educators are discovering how data really makes a difference in the education of their students. It’s no secret that collaboration is a vessel for change, but it wasn’t until university professors and high school teachers began comparing notes about their expectations in class that real changes began to occur.

According to an article in Education Week, transition courses were developed in high schools to help lagging students avoid remediation in college. Advanced Placement restrictions were lifted to expose more students to college-level courses. As communication lines opened, other changes followed. The percentage of college-going students in Kentucky went up, and the need for remediation in college went down.

Kentucky is at the forefront of collecting and sharing P-20 data, information that spans preschool through graduate study. Since the 1990s, it had been tracking the performance of students over time. But not everyone knew it.

Sam Evans, the dean of the college of education at Western Kentucky University, in Bowling Green, was part of the group that sketched out how the new P-20 collaboration would work. "Everybody had their data sets, and they weren't speaking to one another," he said. The focus of the discussion, he said, was practical: "What do we need to know?"

The driver for everyone to work together was economic development. There was agreement that the only way it could be achieved was with more college degrees and well-prepared high school graduates, said Mr. Evans.

How can we improve the use of data in our schools?

To learn more and to read the full article, click here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Teachers Teach Students How to Be Competent Curators

“The 21st century will not be defined by the volume or speed at which you consume information. (That was the old way of being smart.) It will be defined by how well you curate that information, translate it and contribute information back in a way that your community can understand it. Teaching students to be competent curators is our main responsibility as educators.” –Angela Maiers (education-tech expert)

Earlier this week, Julia Steiny included this quote in her article, "Most Kids Way Ahead of Us as Digital Learners, for Better and Worse." She discusses the future of earning in a digital age, giving us a new way to look at what happens in the classroom every day.

Do you agree with Angela Maiers?

Monday, November 14, 2011

How Much Do You Value Education?

No one can deny that education is important, no matter what country they live in. It’s true that every person doesn’t have the same opportunities for education as their peers across the globe, but that doesn’t mean there is a lack of dedication to learning.

Last week, Nicholas D. Kristof from the New York Times presented the story of a malnourished 14-year-old Vietnamese girl making every sacrifice possible in order to go to school and take care of her two younger siblings at the same time.

Dao Ngoc Phung is so obsessed with schoolwork that she sets her alarm for 3 a.m. every day to cook rice for breakfast while reviewing her books. She rides her bike with her two siblings for 90 minutes each way to and from school. Though she is only 14 years old, Phung takes responsibility not only for her learning, but that of her younger sister and brother—she doesn’t complete her homework until after she helps them finish theirs. Sometimes this means late nights with little sleep to start over again the next day.

Phung is not the only one who values education. Kristof explains, “Teachers in America’s troubled schools complain to me that parents rarely show up for meetings. In contrast, Phung’s father takes a day off work and spends a day’s wages for transportation to attend parent-teacher conferences.”

Then what may be most admirable is the following statement from Phung’s father. “If I don’t work, I lose a little bit of money,” he said. “But if my kids miss out on school, they lose their life hopes. I want to know how they’re doing in school.”

“I tell my children that we don’t own land that I can leave them when they grow up,” he added. “So the only thing I can give them is an education.”

Today, we might ask ourselves, “How much do I value education?”

Read the full article here.

Friday, November 4, 2011

How Much Do You Know about Implementing the Common Core State Standards?

There is no doubt that the Common Core Standards will change education. Whether those changes will be lasting and positive is largely dependent on the implementation of the Standards. How does your school plan to use the Standards? How do you plan to use the Standards? Recently in the Harvard Education Letter, Robert Rothman addressed five myths about the Common Core State Standards that may provide perspective concerning Common Core implementation.

Myth #1—The Common Core State Standards are a national curriculum.

Rothman reminds readers that “standards are not curriculum: standards spell out what students should know and be able to do at the end of a year; curriculum defines the specific course of study—the scope and sequence—that will enable students to meet standards.”

To learn more about this myth and additional myths, click here. To learn more about how to effectively implement the Common Core Standards, click here.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Parent Conference Attendance Affects Teacher Merit Pay

It’s not just about test scores.

At least 29 school districts in Idaho have developed merit plans partly based on parental involvement. Many plans also include student attendance, graduation rates, and writing assessments.

In the central Idaho countryside, Challis schools have set a goal that teachers make contact with the parents of their students at least twice every three months.

In southern Idaho, up to 70 percent of the potential bonus available to employees at Wendell High School will be based on attendance at parent-teacher conferences. More than 40 percent of parents have to attend the meetings in order for Wendell teachers to earn the maximum bonus and that goal was exceeded this fall.
About 50 school districts and charter schools have opted not to develop their own pay-for-performance systems but rather to comply with the state's plan, which bases bonuses on standardized test scores. In the 105 districts and charter schools that have developed or are working on their own merit pay plans, teachers will still have to meet statewide goals in order to receive their pay-for-performance bonus.

To learn more about Idaho's plans for merit pay, click here.

Is it possible to truly measure a teacher's performance? If so, how?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Do Teachers Still Wonder?

“We must remind ourselves how little we know and how much there is to know.” 

As we get older we attend more classes, have more experiences, and gain knowledge all along the way. For many of us learning becomes a means of survival, rather than an exploration of life. So where along the way do we forget to question, to wonder, to be curious?

Peter Huidekoper Jr. so clearly described the loss of wonderment and the need for its return in his article, “The Age of Wonder.” He says, “To learn, it is best to begin humble, open, unsure. Most adults know that feeling. Teachers must know that feeling. And yet, we forget. Sometimes, as we focus on convincing parents, students, principals (our evaluators), even colleagues, of how much we know, we lose touch with this quality we so hope to find in our students.” 

“Our foolish pride gets in the way as if we need to prove we know more than those darn bright kids staring back at us, who read better than we ever did and absorb new information faster than we ever could.”

Peter questions the desire teachers demonstrate to their students. Do they encourage desire and learning in the classroom? He reminds us that, “Searching invites participation. Knowing says, ‘I hope you can begin to catch up to me, here at the finish line, here with my wealth of information.’ The former fosters wonder and learning; the latter, regurgitation and boredom.”

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New Research Gives Insight to Teacher Training

The academic progress of students is linked directly to where their teachers attended college.

Not to say that if a teacher went to a low-ranking school that they couldn’t or wouldn’t be successful in the classroom, but rather that all teacher training is not created equal. According to the director of the University of Washington Center for Education Data & Research, Dan Goldhaber, the new research revealing that academic progress of public-school students can be traced, in part, to where teachers went to college is just the first step toward determining what kind of training — not where the training occurred — best prepares teachers for excellence in the classroom.

Washington state schools are among the first to see which teacher-training programs seem to result in the best student test scores, but 35 states now have the means to do similar research, according to the Data Quality Campaign, a national organization formed by education and business groups to track state progress on collecting data about students and schools.

Is the future of teacher training on its way up?

To read the full article, click here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Digital Library Aids Students Learning in a Digital Age

What if we encouraged students to learn in the same ways and with the same tools they spend their time away from school, their “free” time?

Not only that, what if we provided them the means to learn in that same way?
In Chicago, the city’s main library is giving it a go. With a 5,500-square-foot space, Chicago teens are utilizing resources in the “YOUmedia” section of the library to experience learning on “their terms.” While no one knows if this new media space will help the students directly in their classrooms, it is likely to provide a greater interest in learning altogether and knowledge of how to use modern day technology to pursue interests they may want to pursue in the future as a career.

"We are in one of these rare moments in time where what it means to be literate today, what it meant for us, is going to be different from what it means to be literate for our kids," says DePaul University's Nichole Pinkard, who first envisioned the space. Just as schools have always pushed teens to read critically and pick apart authors' arguments, she says, educators must now teach kids how to consume media critically and, ideally, to produce it.

To learn more, click here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Is Collaboration Essential for Students to Learn?

“If school isn’t about doing things together, just about everyone has better places to spend their day.” Ira David Socol declared this statement in his blog post about the necessity of collaboration in creating and sustaining real learning. The dilemma of students becoming prepared for careers in the 21st century and centuries to come in what Socol calls a 19th century school (a classroom with a bunch of kids doing the same thing in the same way on the same device) is not a new one, but while many discuss the problem, Socol outlines what he believes is a solution.

He explains that classrooms where, “educators think the information of the world still moves via paper and pencil, that there are ‘correct answers’ to everything, and that there is a structured cultural norm of learning behavior, best exemplified by the silent child bent over a wooden desk with a thick physical book, which must be duplicated if a student is to succeed in their learning spaces” is an environment that impedes the desire for students to come to school at all.

Instead, Socol gives four ways to provide an environment that promotes self-motivated learning:
1. A learning environment in which students make most decisions
2. A time environment in which students learn and work along a schedule which makes sense to them
3. A technological environment which supports collaboration across every barrier
4. A social environment where adults do not rank students according to their oppressive standards

To learn more about Ira David Socol’s solution and improving collaboration in schools, click here.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Once Upon a Time . . .

In 1956, Peter Stang left his hometown in Hungary to travel to the United States. Why? Because the U.S. represented opportunity—opportunity to achieve anything Stang could imagine. Now, at 69, Peter Stang is receiving the National Medal of Science, the highest honor given to a scientist or engineer by the United States.

Over 50 years ago, and even before that, immigrants came to the U.S. searching for a better life, knowing the freedom to study, learn, and progress was finally possible. Some might argue that the country has lost that reputation or that it has significantly diminished. Although we may not currently be at the top compared to competing nations of the world in math and science, the United States still has an abundance of potential. Peter Stang became a world-renowned chemist (ranked 69th on a list of the world’s top 100 chemists) because he had opportunities. He credits his success to the freedoms and opportunities he has enjoyed in the U.S. “This is the only country in the world that I know of that takes the best of anyone in the world and gives them the opportunity to succeed.”

Can the United States still be the catalyst for great learning and innovation? How?

Learn more about Peter Stang by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Are the Students Asking the Questions?

Any teacher will tell you that asking the right questions is imperative to fostering real learning in the classroom. But what about the questions the students are asking? In a recent article, Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana discuss the positive effects of teaching students to ask their own questions. They conclude that, “Typically, questions are seen as the province of teachers, who spend years figuring out how to craft questions and fine-tune them to stimulate students’ curiosity or engage them more effectively. We have found that teaching students to ask their own questions can accomplish these same goals while teaching a critical lifelong skill.”

While learning more about questioning, a child at Boston Day and Evening academy observed: “When you ask the question, you feel like it’s your job to get the answer, and you want to figure it out.” Rothstein and Santana indicate that, “When students know how to ask their own questions they take greater ownership of their learning, deepen comprehension, and make new connections and discoveries on their own.”

Are you teaching students how to ask their own questions? Do you agree with Rothstein and Santana?

To learn more about teaching students to ask questions from Rothstein and Santana, click here

Friday, September 23, 2011

Will Wyoming's Students Achieve with the Common Core State Standards

In June 2010, Wyoming’s Board of Education decided to adopt the Common Core State Standards. Although the opportunity to raise the English and math scores of students seems like a good idea, nearly one-third of the members of the Legislature’s Joint Interim Education Committee have decided that the Common Core math standards are too difficult for Wyoming students.

One would think if students are struggling with achieving the standards that almost every state in America has adopted, what will change if the standards don’t change? What will be done to ensure those students stop struggling and experience high-level learning? If the legislative committee reverses the decision by the Board of Education, Wyoming’s students likely will always be behind the other states in terms of math achievement.

Kay Persichette, dean of the University of Wyoming’s College of Education, said the Common Core Standards do raise the bar in math. That’s exactly what should happen if our students are falling behind their counterparts in other states.

“It only makes sense that we have some platform of expectations in terms of rigorous common standards in core subjects across the nation if we’re going to be able to reasonably compare achievement, progress and learning,” Persichette said.

Monday, September 19, 2011

How Do We Determine Teacher Effectiveness?

National leaders, teachers’ unions, state officialsall have tried to come up with the most effective method for evaluating teachers. What will ensure quality educators for the students in our schools? Although there is no simple, ready-made solution, Nancy Folbre argues in an article in the New York Times that rating teachers according to their students’ performance on standardized tests and firing those who don’t make the grade will likely backfire.

Too much pressure to improve students’ test scores can reduce attention to other aspects of the curriculum and discourage cultivation of broader problem-solving skills, also known as “teaching to the test.” The economists Bengt Holmstrom and Paul Milgrom describe the general problem of misaligned incentives in more formal terms – workers who are rewarded only for accomplishment of easily measurable tasks reduce the effort devoted to other tasks.

Advocates of intensified teacher assessment assert that current practices leave too many incompetent or ineffective teachers in place. But many schools suffer from the opposite problem: high teacher turnover that reduces gains from experience and increases the costs of personnel management. As Sara Mosle pointed out in a recent review of Mr. Brill’s “Class Warfare,” about 40 percent of teachers in New York City quit after three years.

Is there a solution?

To read the full article, click here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Current Condition of Our Education

“The passing references to children and students feel largely like rhetorical flourishes in the partisan and ideological fights among adults.” Yesterday, Gene R. Carter, CEO and executive director of ASCD, made this bold statement on the current condition of our education system in the United States. Evident in the title, “We Need a Different National Conversation,” Carter exposed disappointing facts about the decline in the education system that will likely remain if the conversation about education does not change. He said, “Our poorest children routinely don’t get the help they need inside or outside the classroom. Their teachers are the least well prepared; their schools are the least funded; and the community services they need are largely lacking.”

“We talk about the importance of teachers, but we are in the midst of firing tens of thousands of them. We want teachers to be more effective, but we rarely provide the professional development they need or encourage their desire to be the best they can be.”

Carter fearlessly called on Congress to support a whole-child approach to education, to support quality schools and effective teachers, to broaden the definition of academic excellence, and to embrace college- and career readiness standards that include all core academic subjects, not only reading and math.

Read the full article and learn more here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

CA Superintendent Takes $800,000 Pay Cut to Save School Programs

“Where will the money come from?” That’s the question every superintendent and other school officials are asking as they try to find a way to keep the programs and jobs that are near extinction. While many school leaders might be looking within their already shrinking budgets, Fresno County School Superintendent Larry Powell is taking matters into his own hands . . . and out of his own pocket.

Until his term expires in 2015, Powell will run 325 schools and 35 school districts with 195,000 students, all for less than a starting California teacher earns. He asked his board to allow him to return $288,241 in salary and benefits for the next three and a half years of his term, equaling a total of $800,000. He technically retired, then agreed to be hired back to work for $31,000 a year — $10,000 less than a first-year teacher — and with no benefits.

To read the full article, click here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

How Is Your District Saving Money?

For years, states and school districts have spent hundreds of hours struggling to redistribute and make calculated cuts to school budgets in an attempt to provide a quality education in spite of the lack of funding. While the decrease in funding has caused the cutting of teacher positions and even classes like music and physical education, many schools have resorted to even bigger cuts—cuts like eliminating an entire day of instruction.

The Irene-Wakonda School District in South Dakota is among the latest to adopt a four-day school week as the best option for reducing costs. The four-school week is an increasingly visible example of the impact of state budget problems on rural education. This fall, fully one-fourth of South Dakota's districts will have moved to some form of the abbreviated schedule. Only Colorado and Wyoming have a larger proportion of schools using a shortened week. According to one study, more than 120 school districts in 20 states, most in the west, now use four-day weeks.

Larry Johnke, the superintendent of the district, said the district will add 30 minutes to each day and shorten the lunch break to provide more class time Monday through Thursday. In elementary school, recess and physical education classes will be shortened.

What is your district doing to save money this school year?

To read the full article, click here.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Standardized Tests: Are They Helping or Hindering?

This week in EducationNews, Julie Steiny compared punitive testing models to educational bullying. While she isn't directly blaming the tests, she says, “We’ve crossed a none-too-fine line between accountability—which we all want, without question—to bullying, plain and simple.”

She affirms, “Tests are not the problem. Achievement results are just information. Reliable data is great. It shows us where successful innovation might be underway. It raises red flags, confirms good work, and anchors hunches that our latest strategies are working, or not. We’ll never improve education without hard information, and plenty of it.”

“No, the problem is the bullying. Bullying has become a unique characteristic of America’s education culture. Comply or be punished. Get your students to meet federal and state proficiency standards — or else. Failure can bring public humiliation, wholesale staff dismissals, or schools being closed down entirely. States lean on districts; districts on their administrators. The public and pundits snarl at teachers. Teachers try hard not to take it out on their students.”

Tests are more than measurements for teacher effectiveness. Tests provide large amounts of valuable data, but it’s what we do with the data that makes a difference, how we better help the students understand the curriculum. As Steiny puts it, “The tests are a red flag, not a diagnosis. Test scores are just measurements until digested and interpreted by human judgment.

To read the full article from Julie Steiny, click here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Declining Economy Hinders Student Learning in the Classroom

Unemployment and foreclosure are affecting the ability for students to learn in the classroom. Recently, an annual Kids Count Report estimated that 56,000 Utah children who lived in mortgaged households have been disrupted by foreclosure since 2007. Utah is just one of many places where the poor economy is becoming one more hindrance to children’s learning.

Midvale Elementary school teacher Leandra Stromberg says, "I've had students who tell me they can't come to school because they don't have gas for their cars or it is broken or there's too much snow." She said children from the nearby homeless shelter often join her third-grade class halfway through the year or whenever they move to the community.

"The economy has gotten worse since I started teaching," Stromberg said. "I've seen many of my students, who used to come to school in cleaner clothes, brand new outfits and backpacks, come back the next year with the same stuff. They're lacking supplies because the economy has gotten worse."

Have you seen the effects of a declining economy in the lives of your students?

To read the full article click here.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Exercise Increases Students' Ability to Focus in Class

Keeping students focused and engaged in the classroom can be more work than covering the actual lesson material at times. According to an article in the New York Times, one aid in attention retention is exercise. A new study of 138 schoolchildren ages 8 to 11 living in Rome demonstrated that students’ performed better academically after physical activity, specifically endurance exercise (results based on students’ performance on a written test widely accepted as a good indicator of a person’s attention and ability to concentrate).

The study also revealed that when students were asked to learn new drills with a ball in their gym class versus the endurance exercise class, the test scores increased, but not as much as with endurance-focused exercise. The second session, which was “geared toward the development of both motor control and perceptual-motor adaptation abilities,” required more thought than the endurance class, the researchers wrote. The same researchers speculated that asking the students to both think and move was too much, inducing “an excessive stress load” on their brains.

To read the full article click here.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Cincinnati Closing Achievement Gap and Increasing Graduation Rates

For years, leaders in education have worked hard to close the achievement gap between white students and African American students. While many schools and districts are still pushing forward in this effort, Cincinnati, Ohio Public Schools (CPS) has managed to close the gap with their high school graduation rates.

For over a decade, CPS has involved coordinated, research-based strategies towards closing the gap, but without the creative and courageous work by those actually in the schools, such an ambitious goal could not have been realized. So how did they do it? Is there a way other districts can repeat such success?

Cincinnati, Ohio Public Schools used several strategies including:

• Focusing on just a few goals (increasing overall graduation rates and reducing the high school graduation gap).

• Taking educators, parents, community leaders and students to visit some of the nation’s most effective urban district and charter public schools.

• Focusing staff development on a few key areas: literacy, numeracy and learning to work more effectively with today’s urban youth.

• Increasing youth/community service so students learned they are capable of more than they thought.

• Positive ongoing leadership from the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers

• Holding principals accountable and replacing some in schools where there was not much progress.

To read the full article and see the full list of strategies, click here.

Friday, August 5, 2011

How Technology is Changing Classroom Instruction

Yesterday, in a San Diego Newspaper, author Jeffrey Taekman claimed that 30 years ago MTV rewired our brains for learning. Now, you can decide whether that is true or not, but Taekman was using MTV’s introduction of the music video in the 80s to support his statement that today, “educational methods that embrace technological advances are needed to enhance the learning experience.”

He goes on to say, “despite numerous advances in technology and the science of learning, the majority of our teaching remains lecture-based, for no better reason than it is the easiest approach.

It is time for a change.

Taekman goes on to discuss the responsibilities of educators to adapt new roles as guides or facilitators, rather than “end-all, be-all oracles spewing forth knowledge.”

To read the full article click here.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lesson Learned: How a Teacher Was Changed Forever

Every day, teachers are asked to instruct anywhere from 15 to 40 students in their classrooms. Whether big or small, it seems there are always those stories of the kid who throws a fit or gets completely out of control. In fact, most teachers could probably name the top five horror stories of students misbehaving in their classes off the top of their head. Marilyn Rhames was no different. Within her first six months of student teaching she fled an elementary school on the West Side of Chicago, hoping her perception of teaching would not be too tarnished after such a negative experience.

One day, in the teacher’s lounge of her second school, she, along with other teachers, were spurting out their horror stories to each other. That is, until a middle school social studies teacher spoke up and said, “It happened to them” —the four words that shut her and the other teachers up. “It happened to them, not to you. You tell the stories like it's some kind of entertainment, but it happened to them—the kids. They are the ones who 30 years from now will remember these stories with tears in their eyes.”

Have you had similar experiences? Let us know what you think.

To read the full article click here.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Dear Student: Advice for the New School Year

If you could give any advice to students returning to school this fall, what would it be? Phrases such as “pay more attention in class, study harder, or try to make new friends” might come to mind, but Jeff Thredgold went far beyond that when he published a letter to his children seventeen years ago. Recently, he republished the letter as a reminder to his children and grandchildren of what to keep in mind as the new school year begins, and perhaps a reminder for us all:

· Recognize that the only limits you face are those you set for yourself.

· Be the BEST that you can be.

· Recognize that YOU are responsible for your successes and failures.

· You must earn your way.

· Strive for excellence—not perfection.

· See the glass as half full, rather than seeing it as half empty.

· Focus on positives, rather than on negatives.

· Look to praise, rather than to criticize.

To read the entire letter, click here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Educators Speak about the School Improvement Innovation Summit

The School Improvement Innovation Summit was a great success! July 11, 12, and 13 were filled with dynamic speakers and presentations focused on improving today's world of education and sharing ideas and skills that can be used firsthand in the classroom and the overall school. We want to thank everyone who participated as a presenter and especially for those committed individuals who came to learn how to create real transformation in their local districts. We could go on, but we thought we'd let you hear for yourself from those who attended the Summit.   

Friday, July 22, 2011

A New Way of Learning for Teachers

Every day, teachers are focused on how they can use technology and innovative strategies to prepare students for their future in a fast advancing world. However, while most of those teachers are being asked to think “outside the box,” many of them are still being in very traditional methods and environments, until now.

Instead of instructing teachers through typical courses, Relay Graduate School of Education will contain 60 modules, each focused on a different teaching technique. There will be no lectures and no building to hold class. Instead, the graduate students will be mentored primarily at the schools they teach.

Do you think this new type of graduate school will make a greatly improve K-12 classroom instruction?

To read the full article and learn more, click here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

States Present Their Own Solutions to No Child Left Behind

It’s no secret that No Child Left Behind has caused frustration and discontent among educators and state officials for years. However, now select state representatives are taking matters into their own hands. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker reported, “We are not trying to get around accountability. But instead of using the blanket approach that defines a lot of schools as failures, we will use a more strategic approach so we can replicate success and address failure."

While some states are still waiting for Congress to make the big changes, other states have lost patience. South Dakota, Montana and Idaho recently told officials they would disregard key aspects of the law. Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, said states must either follow the law or apply for a waiver. "There is no Plan C," he said, adding that the department can withdraw federal funding from states that don't comply.
To read the full article click here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Future of School Assessments

Standardized bubble tests have been the norm for almost all state and national testing. Numerous educators will say the traditional tests are limiting and will agree that these assessments don’t always display the true knowledge of the student. Also, as evaluations in every state are changing and evolving, these assessments are playing a larger role in demonstrating teacher effectiveness.

With so much emphasis being places on the assessments, it is no surprise that teachers, administrators, and parents are anxious to see if the new assessments being developed will actually make a difference and be an improvement from the current method of testing. So who’s in charge of creating the new assessments? Two separate groups — Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, and SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium — are using the federal government’s Race to the Top Funds to come up with the new testing systems, which will be used by different states.
The new tests will be designed to use technology in both administering and scoring and will measure “performance-based tasks, designed to designed to mirror complex, real-world situations,” according to the New York Times. In addition to greater technology integration, the new assessments will be more performance-based and require more in-depth critical thinking.

To learn more, click here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Budget Cuts Equal Less Class Time

The recent effect of budget cuts is not painting the prettiest picture of the future of our nation’s education. Not only has the lack of funding caused an increase in class sizes, but also the cramming of classes into four-day weeks and cutting summer programs and days off the school year.

While virtually everyone in education agrees that American students need to spend more time in the classroom, states can’t ignore the fact that it’s just not in the budget. “Instead of increasing school time, in a lot of cases we’ve been pushing back against efforts to shorten not just the school day but the week and year,” said Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the federal Department of Education. “We’re trying to prevent what exists now from shrinking even further.”

Read the full article and learn more here

Friday, July 1, 2011

New Federal Data Reveal Educational Inequities

“Transparency is the path to reform,” said Russlynn Ali, the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for civil rights. New federal statistics shared Thursday revealed the level of equity in schools and districts across the United States.

Ali commented, “These data are incredible and revelatory. They paint a portrait of a sad truth in American schools: Fundamental fairness hasn’t reached whole groups of students.”

“For a long time, we have fallen short on why the achievement gap exists,” she said. But the data collected show “gaps in opportunity, in access to courses and other resources that continue to hobble students across the country.”

Although the data online isn’t aggregated by state, the numbers offer a glimpse into the educational inequities at the national level:

• Some 3,000 schools serving about 500,000 high school students weren’t offering Algebra II classes last school year, and more than 2 million students in 7,300 schools did not offer calculus.

• At schools where the majority of students were African-American, teachers were twice as likely to have only one or two years of experience compared with schools within the same district that had a majority-white student body.

Read the full article and learn more about the national inequities here.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

School Improvement Network-Atomic Learning Partnership Gives Educators New Tools

Districts across the U.S. are utilizing numerous resources to provide teachers with a well-rounded professional development program. While the use of multiple resources allows districts to provide comprehensive training, it creates a challenge for end users in accessing resources from various websites and managing multiple logins.

To begin addressing this challenge, Atomic Learning and School Improvement Network announce a collaboration to provide shared resources to guide educators on a path to technology-empowered learning.

With the release of Atomic Learning’s new Effective Online Teaching and Learning spotlight program and PD 360’s Technology Pedagogy training, the companies have come together to build a free educator forum where all educators can explore the topic of online teaching and learning.

Learn more about the benefits of this partnership here.

Duane Sprague talks with Jon Blissenbach, Director of Product Management at Atomic Learning, about the recent partnership between Atomic Learning and School Improvement Network:

Monday, June 27, 2011

Does Class Size Really Make a Difference?

Principals and teachers across the nation have been fighting for small class sizes in spite of budget cuts and increased enrollments. For several years, San Diego has been successful in maintaining these small class sizes in a district of 130,000 students, but that may no longer be possible. Using state and federal stimulus dollars, San Diego has held class size to 17 in kindergarten through second grade at its 30 poorest schools. However, with stimulus money spent and budgets deadlocked, San Diego’s young students are looking at a future of 30 students instead of 17.

While educators debate whether the academic gain from reducing class size is worth the cost, research has shown that significantly smaller classes make a difference in the earliest grades. In fact, Mr. Barrera, the school board president, believes that the rise in the district’s state test scores — to 56 percent proficient in English from 45 percent three years ago — is due, in part, to smaller classes.

So, the question is: Does class size really make a difference?

Read the full article here.

Friday, June 24, 2011

One-to-One Laptop Program Helps to Raise Test Scores

How would lesson plans change if every student in your school in grades 4-12 had a laptop in the classroom? In Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina, students’ faces light up as they pick up their laptop ready for the school year to begin. 

Mark Edwards, superintendent, launched the one-to-one laptop program four years ago in an attempt to bring technology to the classroom on a more personal level. Most districts nationwide were using laptops in at least one grade at one campus, according to the 2008 “America’s Digital Schools” report from The Greaves Group and The Hayes Connection, but the success of such efforts isn’t widespread.

Yet, the 5,400-student Mooresville district has drawn national recognition, securing a visit last summer from Karen Cator, director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology. “I think Mooresville has a tremendous amount to offer in terms of leadership and what they've learned along the way,” Cator told local media.

Since the “digital conversion,” test scores in the district have increased, with overall student proficiency rates growing from 73 percent to 86 percent in three years, putting Mooresville in a fourth-place tie in North Carolina’s academic index ratings. And the district’s four-year graduation rate improved 22 points to 86 percent over five years, according to district data.

Read the full article here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Teachers Welcome Media and Technology in the Classroom

According to a national survey tracking teachers’ use of media and technology in the classroom, nearly all K-12 teachers reported in 2010 that they use some form of digital media for classroom instruction. Types of media included interactive games, activities, lesson plans, and simulations. As teachers get more strategic in their use of technology and media, teachers are integrating media more thoroughly into content and instruction.

Teachers also report strong preferences and affinities for specific types of technology, often tied to the grade levels they teach. Teachers of grades 4 through 6, for example, use interactive whiteboards the most, with 47 percent reporting that they use them to supplement or support their teaching. A good number of K-12 teachers (17 percent) who don't have access to interactive whiteboards say they want them. Pre-K teachers, on the other hand, use and value digital cameras more than any other device. And, while cell phones are banned in most schools, 17 percent of high school teachers say their students use personal cell phones for classroom assignments or activities. 

Read the full article here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Why Job-Embedded Professional Development Is So Effective

Research has shown that job-embedded professional development, when conducted correctly, is more effective than traditional PD because it better addresses the needs of adult learners. In job-embedded PD, educators work on concepts or initiatives more than once, making the learning more effective and longer lasting. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

iPad 2 For Your Thoughts?

We’re looking for a new name for the world’s largest online community of educators and we’d love your help!

The PD 360 community is home to over 700,000 collaborating teachers, administrators, coaches, mentors, instructional leaders, and paraprofessionals. Community participants have the ability to create their very own forums with links to content they have found most useful in their everyday practices and upload files from external resources, all in a place where their peers can comment and discuss.

This is where you come in: we want to give the community a name that represents the rich resources that are shared within it, the learning and collaboration that happen on it, and the people who communicate every day through it.

Share your best ideas, and you’ll receive an iPad 2 if we choose yours!

Don’t have access to PD 360 and the community? No problem. Register here for a free 30-day trial, and let us know what you think.

Submit your idea on Facebook

Entries can be submitted until August 30, 2011 at 5 p.m. (MST). The winner of the iPad 2 will be announced September 6, 2011.
*If we do not select a name for the community from the entries posted on Facebook there will not be an iPad 2 recipient.
**If more than one participant enters the name we select, the first person to do so will be awarded the iPad 2.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Strategies to Improve Teacher Effectiveness: A Contest

School Improvement Network wants to hear from you! Teacher effectiveness has become a major concern throughout the U.S. with measurable outcomes lagging behind global competition.

“Principals and district administrators are in a unique position to see what works across a variety of classrooms,” said Chet Linton, CEO of School Improvement Network. “We want to hear from the leaders closest to the action, whose voices are important in the national debate.”

Between now and June 15, we are inviting principals and K-12 district administrators to post a comment to this post (500 word max) sharing their ideas for “Improving Teacher Effectiveness in Your School District.”

Twenty-five lucky winners will receive a professional development scholarship to the School Improvement Innovation Summit, a two-day conference in Salt Lake City, July 11-13 (valued at $1,200). The scholarship includes Summit tuition and free licenses to SINET online professional development, as well as online community access to 700,000 educators and recognition at the Summit.

The online public will then vote to determine the winners. Voting will occur June 16-20. Winners will be notified by email. Full terms and conditions are available here.

Please use your actual email address in the entry so we can contact you, or send us your name, school district, & email address in an email to contest@schoolimprovement.com with the subject line: CONTEST

Monday, June 13, 2011

PD 360 Creates Big Change in Small Missouri District

Although a small, rural district in a high-poverty locale of Polk County, Humansville R-IV School District in Humansville, MO is taking big steps to bring quality professional development to their schools. Like other rural districts, Humansville has been faced with budget cuts, time restraints, diverse teacher needs, a small teaching staff, and high teacher turnover.

While searching for solutions to some of their greatest challenges, Humansville R-IV discovered the quality research-based on-demand platform PD 360 and realized it was a perfect partner in achieving their professional development goals.

As a small staff, Humansville teachers are delighted with the ability to share support and ideas with teachers around the country through PD 360’s interactive communities and groups. Teachers and administrators can share best practices, learn from one another, and eliminate classroom isolation.

Most importantly, PD 360 is having a positive impact on student achievement. In the Missouri Assessment Program, Humansville’s Math proficiency scores have progressed from 26.9% in 2007 to 40.1% in 2010. And the Communication Arts proficiency scores have advanced from 32.2% in 2007 to 40.6% in 2010.

View the full case study of Humansville R-IV here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Montgomery Offers a Different Approach to Teacher Evaluation

Measuring the success of teachers has been an ongoing dispute in the education community. Deciding which teachers should stay and which teachers should go isn’t an easy task for any district, but for Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland there is a unique system in place to help make those decisions.

The program, Peer Assistance and Review — known as PAR — uses several hundred senior teachers to mentor both newcomers and struggling veterans. If the mentoring does not work, the PAR panel — made up of eight teachers and eight principals — can vote to fire the teacher.

Nancy S. Grasmick, Maryland’s state superintendent of schools, called PAR “an excellent system for professional development.” Senior staff members from the United States Department of Education have visited here to study the program, and Montgomery County officials have gone to Washington to explain how it works. In February, the district was one of 12 featured in Denver at a Department of Education conference on labor-management collaboration.

Learn more about PAR and read the full article here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

School Improvement Network Facebook Fan Wins iPad 2

In the month of May, School Improvement Network gave our Facebook fans the opportunity to win an iPad 2. After weeks of "likes" and great comments from educators all over the world, we announced the winner on June 1, 2011.

Carrie Grona from Austin, TX was the lucky winner!

Thank you to all our fans for joining us for this contest, leaving comments, telling your friends, and for all the work you do to stay updated on the most innovative and effective classroom practices available! Don't forget to stay connected on our Facebook page to learn about teaching techniques, education news, case studies and more from School Improvement Network, including more opportunities to win.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Study Explores New Methods for Vocabulary Building

Children learn new words at various stages and through various techniques. While many of these techniques include flashcards and picture books, a new study suggests that children—and, in fact, all new language learners—can build up concrete vocabulary from interacting with a complex learning environment, not just repeated exposure to words in isolation.

Many language-development researchers believe children learn a new word gradually, taking a general meaning from encountering it multiple times in various contexts and gradually arriving at a more specific meaning. By contrast, the researchers for the new study argue that people instead make a best guess about a new word’s meaning based on the context in which they initially encounter it, and hold onto the meaning unless it is clearly found to be wrong.

“Where people were learning gradually, they were learning the wrong thing. They got more and more abstract descriptions in order to cover all the examples,” said Lila R. Gleitman, a study co-author and a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “But little children don’t learn that way at all; they learn concrete before the abstract; they learn doll before they learn toy.”

Read the full article here.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Power of Professional Learning Communities

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are changing the impact of teachers in schools across the United States. Recently, Jackson Junior High School in Jackson, Missouri has noticed dramatic improvements since the implementation of PLCs.

There are four critical questions at the core of Professional Learning Communities: What do they want students to know? How will educators know when a student has learned it? How will educators respond when a student doesn’t get it? How will educators respond when a student already knows it?

Teachers and administrators at Jackson Junior High School say students and faculty are working collaboratively to answer those questions. And that partnership, they say, is paying big dividends.

The Jackson School Board heard and approved an evaluation of the instructional effectiveness of the junior high's PLC, which just wrapped up its third year. The collaborative culture has seen some real measurable results, according to principal Cory Crosnoe and junior high teachers. Discipline referrals have been cut by a third, and grades were up considerably in the first semester of the recently completed school year. F's made up just 3 percent of the grades, according to district statistics.

Read the full article here.

Learn more about creating and improving PLCs here.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

New Principal Leads School Turnaround at Chicago High School

Chicago’s Marshall Metropolitan High School is experiencing a drastic school turnaround with principal Kenyatta Stansberry leading the way. Stansberry, 39, is one of a new breed of principals charged with reforming some of the worst schools in the Chicago Public School system. This is her second turnaround high school. Where other educators run from buildings paralyzed by violence, chaos, and virtually no learning, Stansberry thrives.

"The minute you slip up, the minute they think you're not paying attention, they're going to think, 'It's OK. We're about to get away,'" says the mother of two and former preschool teacher who now butts heads with the most challenging of CPS students. "You have to be consistent."

That consistency has helped Marshall, a school that habitually landed in the bottom rung of the state's high schools, show signs of improvement this year. Attendance has gone up by 22 percentage points. Seventy percent of freshmen are on track to graduate, up from 30 percent last year. Results for the most recent Prairie State Achievement Exams won't be available until July, but school officials are confident of big gains over 2010, when only 2.6 percent of students met or exceeded standards.

Read the full article here.

What has been your experience with school turnaround in your district?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Building a Better Education System in the United States

According to the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, the United States ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in mathematics. Ranking the knowledge of 15-year-olds in 70 countries, the report demonstrates the need for the U.S. to make improvements in how it's educating its students.

The new report from The National Center on Education and Economy (NCEE), an organization that researches education systems around the world, says that America can solve this educational crisis by looking at it like it looked at manufacturing at the turn of the 20th century.

"We took the best ideas in steelmaking, industrial chemicals and many other fields from England and Germany and others and put them to work here on a scale that Europe could only imagine," the report says. By using the educational strategies of successful nations, NCEE says, the U.S. can catch up.

"The most effective way to greatly improve student performance in the United States is to figure out how the countries with top student performance are doing it, build on their achievements and then, by building on our unique strengths, figure out how to do it even better," Marc Tucker, NCEE's CEO, said in a statement.

Read the full article here.

How do you think we can build a better education system in the United States? 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

New Documentary Zeros In on the Realities of Teacher Life

In an advanced screening on Tuesday in Washington D.C., Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other government officials previewed a new documentary titled, “American Teacher,” produced by Dave Eggers and Nínive Clements Calegari. The documentary follows five K-12 educators from different parts of the country as they navigate the life of being a teacher. 

At the heart of “American Teacher,”  lies the question, “Why are teachers in the United States so undervalued and lately even disparaged?” Narrated by Matt Damon, the film seeks to counteract popular misconceptions about the teaching profession and present a picture of what teachers actually do and what their lives are really like.

Read more about “American Teacher” here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Using Blogs to Teach Writing in the Classroom

The art of writing instruction has never been simple. Teaching a student when to use a comma or the definition of a metaphor is one thing, but facilitating expression through words is a much more complex undertaking. In an interview with Michael F. Shaughnessy, Education News.org Senior Columnist, Jon Schwartz, a teacher at Garrison Elementary School in Oceanside Unified School District, CA, explained why using blogs can be such a powerful tool in teaching his students to write.

One key element to motivating students to express themselves through writing is giving them a topic they care about personally. Schwartz relates a story where a college professor of his gave him a specific book to read for a book report after assessing his personal interests and it made all the difference to Schwartz’s interest in writing the report. In addition to the personal nature of writing assignments making a difference, Schwartz also addresses other elements of using student blogs, such as confidentiality, parent and principal support, and tailoring the entire blog writing experience to the particular grade level teachers are instructing.

Read the full interview here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Is the Professional Development in Your District Preparing You to Teach Today's Students?

"If you try to teach students today in the way they were taught before, you’re going to have disengaged students. Dropouts today are not because students aren’t interested in learning; it’s because schooling has not changed to fit the needs of today’s students," said Curtis Linton in his interview with Ken Royal on the topic of on-demand professional development. 

In today’s episode of The Royal Treatment, Ken Royal discussed Tablet-Age Professional Development with Curtis Linton, Vice President at School Improvement Network. Curtis shared insights into the need for a type of professional development (PD) that demonstrates best practices accessible at the exact moment when the PD is needed, not only at a designated time in the future. Here are more highlights: 

On-demand professional development really requires that we support teachers in the way we know good teaching of students also occurs:

What does the teacher need to know?
How do we know if the teacher knows it or not?
How do we support the teacher if they don’t know it?

The support provided to a teacher in terms of professional development needs to happen at the moment, not be pushed off until later on.

Listen to the entire interview here or download the podcast for free on iTunes here.

Has your professional development changed to fit the needs of today's students? 

Monday, May 16, 2011

President Obama Delivers Commencement Speech at Booker T. Washington High School

Today, President Obama delivered the commencement speech at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tennessee. Competing against schools across the country, Booker T. Washington High School demonstrated an incredible increase of graduating students from 4% in 2005 to 70% in 2010, and was selected based on their entry video. Here are some highlights from the president’s speech:

“Well, we are here today because every single one of you stood up and said, ‘Yes we can.’ Yes we can learn. Yes we can succeed. You decided that you weren’t going to be defined by where you came from, but by where you want to go – by what you want to achieve, by the dreams you hope to fulfill.”

“Today BTW is a place that has proven why we can’t accept any excuses when it comes to education; that in the United States of America, we should never accept anything less than the best our children have to offer. As your teacher Steve McKinney, a.k.a. Big Mac, said in the local paper, ‘[W]e need everyone to broaden their ideas about what is possible. We need parents, politicians, and the media to see how success is possible, how success is happening every day…’”

“Education also teaches you the value of discipline – that the greatest rewards come not from instant gratification, but from sustained effort and hard work. It’s a lesson that’s especially important today, in a culture that prizes flash over substance, that tells us the goal in life is to be entertained, that says you can be famous just for being famous.”

Read the full speech

Booker T. Washington Entry Video

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

And the Winner Is . . .

iPad 2 Winner - Valerie Kirklin
In the month of April, School Improvement Network asked PD 360 users to participate in a survey to help us improve their experience with PD 360 and all of our professional development products. Thank you for your honest feedback and for assisting us to produce tailored professional development to help all students succeed. Congratulations to Valerie Kirklin from Oak Park Elementary School in Pine Bluff, AR for winning the iPad 2!

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Learning Community of 700,000 Educators

Today, best practices and effective teaching methods are constantly changing and advancing. As educators search for ways to stay up to date with new innovations in education, PD 360 provides a central, secure location to not only learn best practices from leading educational experts, but also to learn from and collaborate with a community of 700,000 other educators.

Community participants have the ability to create their very own forums with links to content they have found most useful in their everyday practices and upload files from external resources, all in a place where their peers can comment and discuss. With the ability to search by topic, teachers can easily find answers to their questions such as “What is the best way to deal with misbehavior in the classroom?” or “What are some methods of differentiation that have worked for you?”

The PD 360 Learning Community really is that—a community. Collaboration has never been so powerful and far reaching. Even outside of the actual community forums, users can create profiles in PD 360 and connect and share directly to other users through the Colleagues feature. Once teachers and administrators join the community they will have access for life, whether or not they decide to continue utilizing the rich PD 360 resources after the 30-day trial.

Click Here to Join the PD 360 Learning Community

As Teacher Appreciation Week concludes we just want say, “thank you” for continually learning so that you can continue to enlighten the minds of the students in your schools!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

President Obama Honors State and National Teachers of the Year

In a ceremony outside the White House this morning, President Obama honored the National Teacher of the Year, Michelle Shearer, and the State Teachers of the Year. In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Day, we thought we would share some of the president’s comments and highlight a few of the characteristics that we can all honor in the teachers around us:

“What people I think don’t realize is just how much work and how much sacrifice it takes to make that connection. My sister is a teacher, and so I’ve had the occasion of just watching her preparing lesson plans and then going out of her way to call that student who she thinks has potential but is slipping away, and working with parents who maybe don’t know how to support their kids. And it’s tiring work, but how incredibly gratifying it must be.”

“Because in the end, the most effective teachers are the ones who are constantly striving to get better and help their students get better. Those teachers who stay up late grading papers. The teachers who give up their afternoons and free periods to give that student a little bit of extra one-on-one help, and spend evenings and weekends developing lesson plans and activities that don’t just teach the material, but make it come alive. And the teachers who see the potential in students even when the students themselves don’t see that potential.”

“In the words of one of my favorite poets, William Butler Yeats, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Teachers here today, and thousands like them, are surrounded every day by young people who will shape our future. But it takes a special person to recognize that. It takes a special person to light that fire, to raise our children’s expectations for themselves, and never give up on them no matter how challenging it might be.”
In addition to the president’s comments, Michelle Shearer affirmed the positive and necessary impact teachers can have on their students in the classroom when she said, “My students will tell you that I love to give pep talks, and Friday was their last one before their AP chemistry exam. And among other things, I said, you are problem-solvers. No matter how challenging the questions, have confidence, forge ahead, and make progress toward solutions.”

“Likewise in education, no matter how challenging the issues, we must be problem-solvers. And as we continue to debate ideas, allocate resources, and implement change, we must make progress in a positive direction and always -- always -- see the faces of our students.”

To read the full transcript from the ceremony Click Here

Monday, May 2, 2011

National Teacher of the Year Committed to Helping Underrepresented Students

We all remember those teachers. The ones who made us believe we could do more than we ever thought we could. While we wish we could honor all of those teachers, one teacher in Maryland is receiving one of the highest honors a teacher can receive—National Teacher of the Year.

Michelle Shearer is a chemistry teacher at Urbana High School. With over 14 years of experience, Shearer believes “there is an aspiring scientist in all of us.” She said she captures students’ attention by making real-life connections to scientific concepts.

Before teaching at Urbana, Shearer taught at the Maryland School for the Deaf where she offered, in American Sign Language, a course in advanced placement chemistry for the first time in the institution’s 135-year history. She wrote on her contest application that when she suggested to her students that they also take AP calculus, they asked, “Why?” She signed back, “Because you can.”

Shearer said she is committed to helping children who have traditionally been underrepresented in science, including those with special needs and minorities. She has worked with students with poor vision, dyslexia, dysgraphia, attention deficit disorder and Asperger’s syndrome in her AP chemistry classes.

Read more about Michelle Shearer at The Washington Post

Friday, April 29, 2011

Experimental Teaching Method Improves Instruction at Ohio High School

At Marion Harding High School in Marion, Ohio two teachers are experimenting with "inclusion" teaching, designed to educate students with learning disabilities in a regular classroom.

Math teacher Paula Thomas and Phil Carr, an intervention specialist, are co-teaching an Algebra I class in which traditional students and students with disabilities are taught alongside each other. The teachers share duties, including instruction and grading, and offer extra help to struggling students, regardless of whether they are among students with individual education plans.

Among the benefits to such an arrangement, Thomas said, is that they can double up in in-class intervention and plan lessons together. Carr said there are times when one of them would observe while the other would instruct.

Read the full story at The Marion Star

Could a similar method of “inclusion” teaching be effective in your school or district?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Classroom Blogging for Beginners

In recent years, blogs have become more than just an online hub for great cooking recipes and elaborate how-to lists. As teachers work to integrate technology into the classroom, blogging has taken its place as an effective teaching tool for instructing students. Initially, educators might be nervous or hesitant to implement the use of blogs, but with a few guidelines, a classroom blog can be a powerful teaching resource.

Yesterday, Marsha Ratzel, a National Board-certified teacher in the Blue Valley School District in Kansas, presented eight tips for teachers just beginning the classroom blog process. With everything from choosing a blog platform to monitoring comments and assuring parent cooperation, we are excited to share Ratzel’s helpful tips with you, our readers.

Marsha Ratzel's 8 Tips for Blogging in the Classroom

Monday, April 25, 2011

Will the Common Core Be the Key to School Improvement?

Recently, The New York Times published an article about schools that have begun implementing the Common Core Standards. Whether it’s through using more technology or instructing the students to “watch the movie” before they “read the book” for a change, adapting the Common Core suggests a curriculum that is more relatable, therefore helping the students to internalize what is being taught in the classroom versus rote learning of facts. Changing instructional strategies is an attempt to alter what teachers have “always done” to ensure students are even more prepared for college than they have been in the past.

One teacher at Hillcrest High School in Queens, New York, Ms. Giannousis, explained her experience with implementing the Common Core Standards, “It wasn’t about making things easier for the students, but about challenging them to experience a classic in a different way.”

How do you think the Common Core Standards will affect education in the U.S.?

Read the full article at The New York Times

Friday, April 22, 2011

PD 360 is a "Positive Tool for Principals" in Petersburg, Virginia

“PD 360 is a positive tool for principals. They feel empowered because they now have the tools they need to lead teacher focus and they are able to be PD directors themselves.” Gail Wade Staff Development Coordinator Petersburg City public Schools, VA

Petersburg City Public Schools (PCPS) is located in Petersburg, Virginia, along the eastern seaboard just 23 miles south of the state capital, Richmond. It is a small district with a student population of 4,630 in seven schools.

PCPS, like many districts, has experienced difficulties:

• PCPS did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for the 2009-2010 school year and had four Title I schools.
• PCPS did not meet full Standards of Learning (SOL) accreditation.
• PCPS had the highest dropout rate in central Virginia, with 19.2 percent of the Class of 2010 not making it to graduation. However, that number marked a sharp drop from 2008 when 31.1 percent of potential graduates dropped out.

PCPS Staff Development Coordinator, Gail Wade, was anxious to assist struggling teachers and thereby benefit students. She wanted a cost-effective single source that would provide many avenues of professional development (PD) for all educators. After sampling a free PD 360 trial, she quickly realized it was a perfect answer for the district’s PD.

Learn more about Petersburg's PD 360 Experience

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Collaborative Learning Improves Students' Reading Skills

It’s no secret that children learn at different rates and levels, and that’s without the racial achievement gap and learning disabilities. While districts across the country have implemented various practices to remedy the unevenness of learning in classrooms, two schools in Denver are using a technique called collaborative strategic reading to better understand reading—in particular for those learning English and students with learning disabilities.

With a student body of 40 percent English-language learners and 12 percent with learning disabilities, this technique is being put to good use at Merrill Middle School and Martin Luther King Jr. Early College. The strategy was developed by Janette Klingner, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She started the work in 1993 at the University of Miami, while working on the dissertation for her Ph.D.

"We really did develop it with English-language learners and students with learning disabilities in mind, and we've made changes to make it even more appropriate for them, but we've seen it helps anyone," Klingner said.

Read the full story at The Denver Post

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Students See the Benefits of a Community Effort in Indiana

There’s an old proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Educators at the K-8 Lincoln School in Evansville, Indiana couldn’t agree more. Lincoln is a “community school” that relies on ties between its district—the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation—and churches, social service agencies, nonprofit community groups, and other local organizations that have built a web of support to nurture schoolchildren across the entire district from “diaper to diploma.”

The school and community partners have also benefited from some unusual arrangements, such as a joint-purchasing agreement forged by Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel and district Superintendent Vince M. Bertram, who was hired in 2007. Through the agreement, the city government and the school district have streamlined the purchase of such disparate but essential products as toilet paper, gasoline, rock salt, and copy paper, saving both parties hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Partnerships have also helped the district meet the needs of some of its most vulnerable families.

With funding filtering in from the federal Full-Service Community Schools Program, other federal grants, and the occasional private donation, Lincoln has sustained itself as 1 of only 50 schools with a systemic community school strategy.

Read the full article at Education Week

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Educational Innovation: What does it look like?

“The ‘innovation’ that has happened in classrooms—mostly in the form of gizmos and gadgets—is not sufficient to produce the student learning required in the 21st century.” –Randy Shumway

In his article earlier this week, Randy Shumway (CEO of the Cicero Group) asserted that the school reform that has been taking place in classrooms across the country, is in fact, not reform at all. He states that, “Even big policy ideas, heralded as innovative by some reformers (including changes in the ways teachers are evaluated and compensated or the way students are assessed), remain largely "in the box" because they do little to rethink and restructure our schools.”

So the question remains, what does innovation look like? Is innovation necessary?

Read the full article in the Deseret News

Friday, April 8, 2011

From One Teacher to Another

Yesterday, Ryan Bretag, an administrator in Northbrook, Illinois and former teacher, wrote a letter to new teachers. Bursting with words of wisdom, Bretag’s letter is filled with advice ranging from keeping your door open, letting the world into your classroom, to growing as a leader in your school, district, and beyond. Although his letter may have been addressed to new teachers, it could be said that Bretag’s advice applies to all educators.

Read the letter

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Motivating Chicago Students Through Sports

Motivating students to learn is sometimes the greatest struggle a teacher can face in the classroom. While the curriculum can be interesting and integrate all the technology in the world, if it doesn’t capture the attention of the student, how much information will the student actually retain?

In Chicago, United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) is using an interest-based approach to academics by opening a soccer academy this fall for 575 kindergartners through eighth-graders.

With soccer the No. 1 sport in the Hispanic community, UNO organizers figured it could be a good hook to inspire kids otherwise prone to dropping out or not being interested in school, perhaps getting some on track for college sports scholarships.

"We have a tremendous amount of soccer talent within our community," said Juan Rangel, CEO of UNO. "Unfortunately, a lot of kids may have the soccer skills, but they do not have the academic background."

Learn more about the soccer academy at the Chicago Tribune

Is it effective to use external modes of motivation, such as athletics, to increase academic performance?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Growing Concerns Over Oklahoma's New Exit Exams

In the year 2012, high school seniors in Oklahoma will be required to pass four of seven end-of-instruction exams. While this requirement is causing anxiety among the class of 2012, Oklahoma isn’t the first state to require one or more exit exams in order for students to graduate from high school. In the 2009-10 school year, seven states withheld diplomas from students based on exit exams.

Another concern is how these exit exams will affect students of color and students from low-income families.

Read the full story at NewsOK

Do you think exit exams are a good idea? Are they effective for ensuring high school students are prepared for post-secondary education?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Crim Buddy Program Teaches Leadership and Integrates Students with Disabilities

Five years ago, Mark Staudt, physical education teacher at Crim Primary School in New Jersey, was teaching a class for students with severe disabilities and autism. While he was looking for a better way to connect with these students, he remembered a program he had heard of five years prior that paired older students with special needs kids, and he created the Crim Buddy Program.

Since the implementation of the program, students with disabilities have been able to be in classrooms with fewer restrictions and they feel more comfortable being around larger groups of kids. In the meantime, the older “buddies” have had the opportunity to learn more about leadership and empathy. Staudt may not have realized the impact of his experiment when he began, but it is evident that the program he started is improving the learning environment at Crim Primary School.

Learn more about the Crim Buddy Program