Monday, March 4, 2013

Individualizing the Curriculum

For this reflection, I chose the cooperative model. It is not one that I think would work best for ALL students, but it is intriguing as a model for individualizing the curriculum. In the cooperative learning model, presented by Glatthorn, Boschee, Whitehead and Boschee (2012), students are grouped in heterogeneous student team of four to five members that work together and help each other.  This model also includes an individual portion in which students work on tasks and receive instruction at their own level.

I believe this model would be successful for many students because they would be learning in small groups, from their peers in a safe and supported manner. If the teams were developed thoughtfully, with embedded team-building activities, the group could have the potential to accelerate faster than a traditional classroom model. Students who are more advanced in the curriculum would be challenged to explain and teach for understanding within in their teams. The students that were struggling would have the benefit of both a team of supported peers and an instructor.

If these practices were adopted at my school, there would be quite a few areas that would need to be changed. The first factor would be professional development for teachers in creating and fostering successful student-led teams. This is not a practice that occurs very often at my school, so teacher professional development would be a crucial first step, both in the areas of instructional practices and assessment.

The second area that would need to be looked at, especially at the high school, would be the GPA grading system, with its “every man for himself” philosophy. High performing, GPA conscious, students would either be frustrated that they would receive a “team grade” that did not represent their actual learning or would not be invested to work as a team because of the focus on individual grades. A standards-based grading system at the secondary would help to alleviate some of those issues for students.

Having been a part of highly-functioning teams (both educationally and professionally), I have seen the benefits this model. The engagement and learning much surpassed a traditional model, and the bonds within in this team extremely valuable. It would be my hope that experience could be replicated in student teams as the benefits would be great.
Glatthorn, A., Boschee, F., Whitehead, B., & Boschee, B. (2012). Curriculum leadership: Strategies for development and implementation. (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Friday, March 1, 2013


In working in different schools over the years I have seen co-teaching models were both highly successful and unsuccessful. From the outsiders perspective looking in on these classrooms, so much, it seemed, had to do with the personalities and personal relationships between the co-teachers. If the personalities meshed, it was obvious that they respected each other, enjoyed planning and teaching together and were able to communicate quickly and easy to adjust instruction to meet the needs of the learners. In referring to eight components of the co-teaching relationships (Gately & Gately, Jr., 2001), these successful groups were able to more easily move to the collaborative stage within each of the components, simply because they got along and enjoyed working together. Not to say that two teachers who get along will automatically be successful, collaborative co-teachers, but when you have a positive relationship and enjoy working together, the willingness to put the work in to becoming successful co-teachers in greatly increased.

In having witnessed successful co-taught classrooms, in which general and special education teachers not only planned and implemented instruction, but differentiated for the needs of all students, I am a big proponent for this model. In these successful co-taught classrooms, it was not apparent which students were special education students, or which students were completing alternative assessments. Both teachers supported all students and moved freely around the room helping students, providing instruction and accommodating as needed.  

As school curricula is upgraded for the 21st century, a co-teaching model would be a benefit for students. Some of the essential 21st century skills include collaboration and communication. These are very challenging skills for students. Special education and general education teachers, while teaching together, are provided the opportunity to model these skills for students on a daily basis. In addition, a curriculum that integrates 21st century skills is often student-centered and project-based. The additional supports that are provided in a co-taught classroom (for both the students and the teachers) help with the successful implementation of this type of curriculum.

As they say, “the best defense is a good offense”. For a school leader, in thinking about implementing co-teaching with in a school, the administrator should take great care in know the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of his or her teaching staff. Establishing teams of teachers that will mesh well will be important in setting up these teams for success down the road. Supervising and evaluating these teams would present a challenge for school administrators who include student data as a component in individual teacher evaluations. One strategy, might to evaluate the co-teachers as both a team (using student data and collaboration strategies) and individually (using observed instructional strategies and professional growth).

Gately, S., & Gately, Jr., F. (2001). Understanding co-teaching components. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33(5), 40-47.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Societal Influences on Curriculum

Some of the societal forces that influence curriculum today are the federal and state government regulations, the business sector and local culture and values. The federal and state educational regulations, with their direct ties to funding for schools, have influenced what, where and when curriculum is taught and assessed. Standardized testing resulting from these regulations has become the norm, and these tests have come to define how well schools are achieving their learning goals (Glatterhorn, Boschee, Whitehead & Boschee, 2012). The business sector influences school curricula today in that this group recommends the skills and knowledge that students will need to be employable in the future. The local culture and values of the community also have a strong influence on school curricula. Generally, it is the local school board who approves new programs or courses. The expectations, needs and wants of the community, who often play a role in supporting the school financially, have influence throughout the school in both positive and negative ways.

As the tides have shifted within our society, so have the philosophies and approaches to curricula within our schools. This can be demonstrated throughout history in the ways schools have adapted and changed over the last 120 years. During the period of great growth and scientific discovery at the turn of the 20th century, these values of learning about the world through rational and scientific thought were translated into the curricula of public schools (Glatterhorn et al., 2012). In our current era of “Modern Conservatism”, schools are both encouraged and mandated to standardize instruction and hold themselves accountable to a common national set of standards for all students. In our highly collaborative and connected world, through the use of 21st century technologies, students are not only required to master the academic standards but also learn how to work together across time and space to engage in collective learning.

While, constant assessment and improvement are key for positive change within any school curriculum, it is also important for school leaders to recognize when aspects of the curriculum are working well and change for the sake of change is not needed. School leaders might be proactive in avoiding this pitfall by staying current on the society influences that may impact a school, and be prepared to justify and defend the areas of the curriculum that are having a positive impact on student performance.

Glatterhorn, A., Boschee, F., Whitehead, B., & Boschee, B. (2012). Curriculum leadership: Strategies for development and implementation. (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Full Clinical Cycle: Post-Observation Conference

Overall, I think the post-observation conference for my full clinical cycle observation went well. The teacher I observed was very open to talking about her strengths and weaknesses and is eager to learn and improve her teaching practice. This positive, open attitude made the post-observation conference much easier to facilitate.

The conference took place in the teacher’s room during her prep period. In hindsight, it would have been better to meet after school so that the teacher would not have to rush to prepare for the next group of students coming in for class. I think the conversation would have been longer and more productive without this time constraint. We sat together at a table and the tone of the conversation was focused but friendly. I have a good collegial relationship with this teacher, so that relationship positively impacted our conference.

The main strategy I used to improve instruction was the use of questioning to allow the teacher to come to her own conclusions about her areas of improvement and strategies to get there. As I used our district evaluation form, she was very familiar with the examples of demonstrated teacher and students skills that the form asks the observer to look for. In each section of the form, I asked her how she demonstrated these skills or how she could enhance the lesson to demonstrate the skills that were not in the lesson. I clarified her statements with my observations and used my observations to prompt more in depth thought on the topics. For example, when discussing classroom management, I asked the teacher “How do you manage transitions in the class?” (I had observed her talking over the students to transition them from one activity to the next.) She stated that as these were AP students, they tended to get very into their group work discussions and she found it hard to transition them to the next activity as she thought she was interrupting their “flow”. She stated she felt that she never had enough time for the lessons. I discussed what I observed and we brainstormed some ways that she could keep to her agenda, some cues for the students when transitioning and how to how to incorporate some flexibility when the students were engaged and learning. Once piece that I could improve on in this area, would be to get more quotes from students on the topics that we were discussing. Additional quotes from students, especially these senior students, would have been great prompts for discussing teaching strategies and instructional areas for growth.

The primary supervisory behaviors I used were collaborative and non-directive. Although this teacher is fairly new, she is functioning at a high level of understanding and self-awareness of her teaching. I used the collaborative strategies for the areas of classroom management, instructional design and planning and used the non-directive strategies for the areas of curriculum content. The course I observed was Advanced Placement Language. In this curricular area, this teacher had much more expertise than myself, so this strategy worked best to assist the teacher in thinking about the lesson and the strengths and weakness that we both observed. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Room Arrangements

The building I work in is a Pre-K-12 building. In observing the various room arrangements it was interesting to compare the preschool to the 5th grade to the 8th grade to the high school classrooms. There was not one common classroom arrangement throughout or even within the grade levels.

In the lower elementary classrooms, there are some rooms with very few desks, and just a few tables for stations around the room. Most of these classrooms have a reading corner with a cozy rug, pillows and a rocking chair for the teacher to read to the class. Many of these classrooms share a common hallway between them with a sink, a restroom and storage cabinets. The teachers’ desks were in various locations throughout the rooms. Most of these classrooms have a bank of laptops on a counter against one wall, a mounted projector and a document camera on a cart near the teacher’s desk. Some of these classrooms also have classroom audio systems to amplify the teachers voice through the sound system.

Some of these rooms were loaded with decorations, artwork, themed posters and animal cages. Although fun, these could be distracting for some students. These early elementary classrooms with the teacher’s desk near the front, would be challenging to supervise staff because there is not really in a unobtrusive place to watch and observe. The tables and chairs are all so tiny and adult workspace is limited.

The upper elementary classrooms were mostly organized in rows of desks or by tables with four students to a table and student cubbies in the back of the classroom. Although the tables would help foster collaborative group work, it might be distracting for students to get books and supplies from their cubby each time they need something. The teachers’ desks were mostly in the corners in the front of the classrooms. Most of these classrooms had their books and resources on one side of the classroom and their “turn-in” baskets near the teacher’s desk. One interesting thing in the upper elementary classrooms were that many of the student chairs were replaced with stability balls on bases. These teachers have used their “box-top” money to purchase these balls for the students. It is interesting to peek in a room and see 20 heads bobbing up and down while the teacher is teaching, but many of these teachers claim the students are able to focus better on the balls. These rooms share laptop carts on wheels and charging carts for student iPads. These carts are mostly located in the back of the room. Observation or professional development would be easier in these rooms as there are more workable adult spaces and mounted projectors in every room.

The middle and high school classrooms are a mix of desks, long tables and grouped tables. Some rooms have students in rows, others have students in groups, while others have students around the outer edge of the room. In one English room I visited the teacher had the desks arranged in two groups on each side of the room, facing each other, with her desk in the middle on one end. She said that this arrangement seems to foster more active, lively discussions as most students can see each other face-to-face. These teachers also share laptop computer carts, so some rooms need space for this in the back of the classroom. In most rooms that do not have students in rows, observations would be easier as the observer could more easily see student behavior, participation and reactions without having to sit at the front of the room. Overall most teachers seemed to be aware of traffic patterns and positioned high traffic areas (printers, teacher’s desk, work turn-in/return baskets, computer carts) near the back of the room to minimize distraction.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Effective Leadership - Final Reflection

In starting this course, I really didn't know what to expect. I have taken other educational leadership courses in the past, and they were heavily steeped in theory and generally hard for me to transfer to my work as a then teacher. This course also provided a lot of leadership theories, but there was much relevant tie in with the real work of school administrators. The assignments, discussions and group work were valuable in providing a deeper connection to the material. The two topics that stuck out for me throughout this course were the idea of servant leadership and effectively managing change. Although there were many, many other ideas I could discuss in this final reflection, those were the two that impacted me the most throughout this course.
            Before starting this course, when I thought about effective school leaders, my mind would picture an outgoing, charismatic, passionate leader. One who inspires everyone he or she meets and is willing and determined to take on challenges with a “full steam ahead” attitude. As new school administrator myself, I found this idea challenging because that is simply not my personality. I am passionate about my work and not afraid to take on challenges, but I am usually able to accomplish more when I spend more time initially listening rather than acting. I am a very patient, kind person and I try very hard to listen to the concerns of others and then put structures in place which allow them to be successful. When I read the Jossey-Bass chapter by Thomas Sergiovanni on “Leadership as Stewardship”, I found my own leadership philosophies validated throughout this reading.
            Barth discussed the servant leader as the “head learner, engaged in the most important enterprise of the schoolhouse–experiencing, displaying, modeling and celebrating what it is hoped and expected that teachers and pupils will do” (as cited in Sergiovanni, 1992, p. 80). This style is not a command or even instructional style leadership. It is a way to empower teachers to better manage themselves, therefore aligning the work of all teachers with the school’s overarching goals. Sergiovanni (1992) also highlighted the concept of “power over” verses “power to” (p. 86). When administrators practice “power over” leadership, they set the rules and guidelines in which others must adhere to. The leadership power is solely in the school leader and the constituents are expected to follow the leader. In a “power to” leadership style, the leadership is established around shared goals and constituents are empowered to make decisions and design initiatives as long as they are aligned with the school vision and goals.
            This type of leadership makes so much sense to me. As a teacher with a former servant leader as a principal, I learned fast that this freedom and empowerment to take on challenges and make decisions was exciting and invigorating. I truly felt a part of the learning community and that my actions impacted everyone. This is how I want to lead others in my role as a technology director. I want the teachers I work with to feel excited about their work and realize the positive energy that can come from working together as a team towards common goals. After learning about the servant leadership style, I no longer picture that authoritative, take-charge personality when I think of successful school leaders. I now think of individuals who put the goals of the school above all else and work with their colleagues to achieve these goals through listening, modeling, encouraging, empowering and supporting others.
            The second issue in the course, one that I found more challenging, was the issue of managing change; both first and second order change as described by Marzano (2005). I not only found the idea of managing change daunting, but I also disagreed with Marzano’s (2005) assessment that second-order change is not incremental in that it is so out of the box it requires completely new perspectives. In our early work on creating a shared vision and school goals, I don’t see how second order change would involve radically new concepts if a shared vision is currently in place is a school. If that vision and accompanying goals are defining the work of the school, then even dramatic changes would still be viewed as incremental in achieving the goals of the school.
            In reading about these different types of change, my ideas on leading through shared decision making with strong and continuous communication were reinforced. If school leaders and leadership teams are able to communicate how a change (first or second order) will move the school forward in reaching its goals, then some of the fear, confusion and hesitation that can accompany change (Fullan, 2001) can be alleviated.
            As a technology director, school issues in educational technology drive my work and decision making. The pace of change with educational technology is ever changing is challenging component to negotiate. As decisions are made with the best data at the time, and then the “next big thing” comes along a few months later, it is important to understand that this is a part of the leadership process with educational technology. Communicating how decisions and purchases are being driven by larger school goals is very important in generating support for technology initiatives. I truly found the course work for this class to be beneficial in providing me the skills and insights to be a more effective educational leader. The challenge will be to keep these ideas in the forefront as my immense day-to-day work of school administration continues.

Marzano, R., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. [Kindle Version] Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Sergiovanni, T. (1992). Leadership and stewardship. In The Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership (2nd ed.). San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fullan, M. (2001). Understanding change. In The Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership (2nd ed.). San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Leadership Responsibilities - Self-Assessment

In self assessing my own strengths and weakness against the leadership responsibilities in the Marzano reading, I found that I do some things very well and have other responsibility areas to work on. Some of the definitions of the various responsibility areas differed from my own definitions, which provide a deeper opportunity for reflection in these areas. The correlation with student achievement was also an interesting perspective to explore and provided insight in how I define my role within the school. This perspective also helped me explore how I can have a greater impact on student achievement though the intentional development of these leadership responsibilities.

The improvement areas, as highlighted in the self-assessment were “change agent”, “monitor/evaluate”, “order”, “flexibility”, “visibility”, “situational awareness”, and “discipline”. Some of these areas I could have predicted before taking the self-assessment. For example, I know that I need to work on being more visible during the school day. I easily get caught up in the barrage of emails I get on a daily basis, and days seem to slip by while I work in my office on various projects. As Marzano, describes, interactions with students, teachers and parents throughout the school day are extremely valuable in conveying a message of engagement and involvement in the school. Much of my communication with these groups is electronic. My goal for this school year is to be much more visable in the hallways, classroom and school events. This will naturally lead to informal data gathering to inform my work.

The leadership responsibility definition of flexibility was different than my initial definition. I have always thought of myself as a flexible school administrator. I adapt my work to the meet the needs various stakeholders and I allow my perspective to change with additional information. According to Marzano (2005) flexibility is described as “the extend to which leaders adapt their leadership behavior to the needs of the current situation and are comfortable with dissent” (Chapter 4, Section 7, para 1). This comfort with dissent is a weakness of mine, therefore I found the responsibility of flexibility to be an area of improvement. Flexibility had a higher correlation to student achievement (.28) than other areas, so I do realize the importance of the this leadership responsibility and will work on improving this area of my work.

My strength areas included the areas of “outreach” and “culture among others. Both of these areas had higher correlations to student achievement, .27 and .25 respectively. Outreach, as defined by Marzano, includes the extent to with an administrator advocates for the school, to a variety of individuals and groups. As the director of technology, a large part of my role is advocating for funds for technology to enhance and differentiate student learning. This can be challenging, but also a very rewarding component of my job.

Marzano, R., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. [Kindle Version] Alexandria, VA: ASCD.