Reaction: Leading Safe & Effective Schools

Three articles this week:

Schacter, R. (2010). Discipline Gets the Boot, District Administration.
Witkow & Fuligni (2010). In-School Versus Out-of-School Friendships and Academic Achievement Among an Ethnically Diverse Sample of Adolescents, Journal of Research on Adolescence. 20(3), 631-650.

Ratner, Chiodo, Covintgton, Sokol, Ager, Delaney-Black. (2006). Violence Exposure, IQ, Academic Performance, and Children’s Perception of Safety: Evidence of Protective Effects, Merrill-Palmer Quarterly. 52(2): 264-287.

The thread for me this week was a sense of being overwhelmed at all the other factors that shape who students are before they ever walk into a classroom. We spend so much time and money developing and prescribing curriculum that never considers the factors of school discipline policies, violence in the community, parenting, or friendships. As Warren wrote last week,  “it is patently unreasonable to expect that [urban schools] alone can compensate for the effects of poverty and racism.” The basic requirement for safety in schools was also looked at in Bryk et al. (2010) Organizing Schools for Improvement that we read at the beginning of the semester. It left me with a feeling of amazement that anyone who is not middle class and white makes it through the educational system at all. Witkow and Fulgini (2010) and Ratner, Chiodo, Covington, Sokol, Ager, and Delaney-Black (2006) do give ways that children cope, whether through friendships or protection, the latter of which might come from a caring teacher at school, but they are still outside of any curriculum.

Continue reading “Reaction: Leading Safe & Effective Schools”

Wikipedia… or, Handing Over “My” Work to the Wisdom of the Crowd

Linked from

There are two weeks left of the semester. I took four classes this spring, so the end means lots of proposals and papers and group projects. One of my projects, as I wrote about previously, was to write an entry for Wikipedia. I chose to do “Distributed Leadership” because it didn’t exist yet and it’s a body of research that I wanted to get more familiar with for the work that I hope to do for my PhD. I moved it to main space last Friday. Here is a link:

The technical parts of Wikipedia were not daunting: click here, talk pages here, write drafts in the sandbox, click there, upload pictures to wikimedia commons first, make sure not to violate copyright, keep notes on changes. Easy enough.

The objective of the assignment was straightforward: Read all the research and summarize from a neutral point of view. This is quite different from past assignments, where you are meant to make a statement, be critical in reviewing prior research, and present a well supported argument why your statement makes more sense.

I learned a lot (and am still learning) through this process, so here are Wikipedia’s 10 Simple Rules and my reflections on writing my article: Continue reading “Wikipedia… or, Handing Over “My” Work to the Wisdom of the Crowd”

Reaction Paper: Arts Education

I like this visual, though it needs to be updated to a five petal flower with digital media arts! Linked from


Halverson, E., & Sheridan, K. (2014). Arts Education and the Learning Sciences. Chapter 31 in Learning Sciences. (p.626-646).

Halverson, E., Lowenhaupt, R., & Kalaitzidis, T. (under review). Towards a Theory of Distributed Instruction in Creative Arts Education. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education.

Arts educators and researchers seem to spend a lot of time justifying themselves and their work, trying to demystify what it is and its value. Halverson and Sheridan (2014) note that the “inability to objectively assess arts production is what has destined the arts to remain peripheral in schools” (p.638). Many teachers and administrators are unlikely to have experienced a strong arts program in their own education nor do they have training in this area. How many art teachers go on to become principals? Even those who believe in it may not know how to go about implementation. Personally, I know that I never identified as someone who “got” art class: I could never discern the rules of the game. For this reason, what I appreciated most about Halverson and Sheridan’s (2014) chapter regarding arts education and the learning sciences was that it made each component clear and understandable. I think there is still a leap to how instruction would be designed and assessed, but that is where Halverson, Lowenhaupt, and Kalaitzidis (under review) pick up.

The idea of distributed instruction definitely resonates with my experiences. As a science teacher, I mentored all my students through the science research process every year. I would act as both instructional designer, setting up deadlines and templates, and content mentor, answering questions, delivering mini-lectures, or recommending further resources on everything from wind turbine shape to bacteria incubation to oscillating chemical reactions. I felt like my varied science background was a resource, and I loved getting to learn with the students about all these different areas. The process was exhilarating and exhausting. Once I became technology coordinator, one of my favorite things to do was go into the science classes and serve only as mentor, engaging with students about their projects without worrying about how they were meeting requirements. I see a lot of potential for the idea of distributed instructional design, particularly in the personalized learning model as as way to understand what happens in practice and what that practice reveals about the designer’s conceptual model of teaching and learning.

Finally, I was thinking back to our early discussion about Discourses (Gee, 2001) with its relationship to identity, and thinking about conversations with leaders of schools that are adopting a personalizing learning model. Like the kids in art class who “get it”, it seems like some teachers seem to just “get it”: they co-teach and flex as needed in order to orchestrate student-centered inquiry all without formal training as to how to do this. These skills are increasingly seen as valuable and scarce, so if we want to shift both teachers and students into this way of thinking about learning, we need a way forward, a way that arts based education already knows. In particular, arts education addresses identity and culture, which is crucial through the lens of Discourses. Furthermore, Gee (2001) writes, “one crucial question we can always ask about identities of any type is this: What institution or institutions, or which group or groups of people, work to construct and sustain a given Discourse?” (p.111) We have different “institutions” within our buildings fighting to construct and sustain Discourses, with literacy and STEM currently in charge and arts at the periphery. I see the articulation of arts based education and distributed instruction as leading the way for how to prepare teachers needed for these alternative, in-school environments, rather than perpetuating the myth of the teacher or learners that just “get it.”

Reaction Paper: Teachers, Policy, CCSS, and NCLB Critique

Linked from

The readings this week were fascinating. I feel like the article on Teachers and education policy: Roles and models, by Croll, Abbott, Broadfoot, Osborn, and Pollard (1994) was illuminating in terms of helping me identify my own subconscious beliefs about policy and practice. I think I’ve always felt like policy gets written and then watered down all the way through to where it changes very little of daily practice, but never considered that one was explicitly antagonistic to the other. I conceptualized policy makers and teachers as completely separate, both the people who do it and then ways of doing it, though ideally they would be informed by each other. Furthermore, it seems to me that the “discretionary action by professionals” is part of the system, so it is the job of policy makers to design policies that afford the right outcomes rather than expecting practitioners to figure out what was intended. Figuring out my own assumptions first allowed me to process the other possible models but left me wondering how others intuitively see it.

Speaking of policies and implementation, I found the Gates Foundation Report, Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on Teaching in an Era of Change (2014) to be vapid. There was no demographic data collected about the teachers, though I suppose it can be assumed that they were predominantly white. The upshot of the report is that they have found that teachers who are engaged like the CCSS and think it will help their students. I think teachers will report positively simply because they are working and putting effort into them. They would probably do this with any curriculum in front of them. Also, the one line of questions that are specifically about the common core all seemed to be phrased positively, like, “Please tell us your opinion on how each of the following has changed, if at all, as a result of implementing the CCSS” such as “Students’ ability to read and comprehend informational texts”. It seemed to me, though I am clearly not a survey expert, that there was a positive bias in the questions themselves. Overall it just felt like Common Core propaganda.

Finally, the NCLB critique by Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2006) was compelling and resonated, again, with subconscious and unexamined assumptions. In particular, I am surprised at myself that I never saw the flawed assumptions of teaching as a transmission activity in the NCLB model because it seems so obvious after reading it. This also made me question my research stance a bit, wondering if a more constructivist or constructionist approach might be more appropriate for studying dynamic learning environments. I will say that I am a proponent of alternative certification programs and myself did not have pedagogical training before I started teaching. I learned what I know now through mentorship and a Master’s program while teaching. Right or wrong, I felt prepared to teach in a classroom and was glad for the opportunity to do it right away rather than having to pay for further schooling. If I had had to get a degree after my Bachelors before getting into the classroom, I would never have become a teacher. There are also valid critiques of our own teacher education program and whether they are staying current on the current skills needed by teachers. Alternative certifications allow schools to get good people in the door and train them the way they want them to teach.

Design, Learning, and Data, Oh my! … (or how not to make people be defensive)

Readings this week:

Argyris, C. (1991). Teaching Smart People How to Learn. Harvard Business Review, (May-June).
City, E., Elmore, R., Fiarman, S., & Teitel, L. (2009). Chapters 4-6. In Instructional rounds in education: A network approach to improving teaching and learning (pp. 83-131). Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Education Press.
Lieberman, A. (2000). Networks as Learning Communities: Shaping the Future of Teacher Development. Journal of Teacher Education, 221-227.

Design projects and data are not familiar language to educators, even though (hopefully most) teachers are literally engaged in design every day as they modify the local learning environment to fit the needs of their students. We rarely see it as such, though, as the emphasis is on students and their work in relation to the teacher’s design, not the reflection on our own thinking. This mirrors Argyris’ single-loop vs. double-loop learning. As Argyris notes, he was working with people who were “well-educated, high-powered, high commitment professionals,” which I think would describe a lot of graduate students in education. Argyris (1991) writes, “People can be taught how to recognize the reasoning they use when they design and implement their actions.” When faced with a design project that tests our thinking, where the likelihood of failure is high, fear creeps in.

It is through the very act of design, feedback, and failure that requires us to bypass our own interpretations because we’ve literally put our thinking outside of our heads. This act of dissociation of our emotional, judgmental selves from our practice is exactly what City et al. (2009) refer to as separating the practice from the person. Likewise feedback systems, whether they be user testing in design or observational notes in the classrooms, are what bring in the feedback, or data, on our design. When we can use the feedback to redesign, rather than defend, we can learn.

As we have heard in many readings this semester and again this week, professional community stems from “conversations about their work” (Lieberman, 2000), but clearly these conversations need data about practice, not about teachers, and the people conversing need guidance in using the data. City et al. (2009) refer to the “culture of nice” as an improvement-impeding norm, because it clouds the distinction between practice from person. People are unwilling to offer feedback for fear that it will be taken as criticism and elicit defensiveness, so they just avoid the conversation all together. The Instructional Rounds protocols offer such guidance for school leaders on how they help teachers in “learning to see, unlearning to judge” and offer clear expectations for how to discuss practice in a way that pushes people to think rather than defend.

On a more practical note, for the field work we are just beginning for the DRP class and on personalization in practice, I found many things helpful in the Instructional Rounds piece. At least for me, it will help me orient myself to conducting an observation: keeping it descriptive rather than evaluative, asking open questions to kids, not discussing with fellow researchers in the hallways but waiting for a time to debrief, and examining my own assumptions or biases about what good teaching and learning looks like.

Carnegie Summit Learning + Reaction 6

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If you had asked me about standardized tests 5 years ago, I would have vehemently dismissed them as the wrong direction for education. While I still resist the Fitbit model of constant quantification of progress and self, this week I heard and read about compelling ways that data can be used to build professional cultures, see and support individuals, and the design of better systems.

One of the sessions at the Carnegie Summit that I attended was a panel on Doctoral programs that embed improvement science into their curriculum, including the program at UCLA with Dr. Louis Gomez, whom we heard from a few weeks ago. He said two things that struck me. First, in working on problems the same way, you build organizational culture. This is echoed in Halverson (2010) “Over time, teacher concerns about teacher evaluation seemed to ease as the principal made a significant time commitment to help teachers make sense of the MAP data reports in terms of math instruction. The Walker principal used MAP data in faculty and staff meetings to create a common vocabulary for Walker teachers to discuss student learning.” (p. 141) To me, this is what data can do for schools when it is approached from a mindset of possibility rather than fear. Further, I heard more than one person at the conference remark that using data was allowing their teachers to have conversations about instruction never possible before. As Halverson quotes of the Malcolm school leaders, “The beauty of data is that we can have these conversations” (p.144). Second, Dr. Gomez stated that improvement leadership is social justice leadership, precisely because it builds common culture focused on improvement for all kids. It changes the system to yield better outcomes rather than treating the symptoms of a system that doesn’t work.

Continue reading “Carnegie Summit Learning + Reaction 6”

Pre-conference Reflections (or would that be PROflections?)

Let the learning begin!
Let the learning begin!

Here I am at the Carnegie Summit. What am I hoping to learn and come away with?

This reflection ends up just being more questions. This started last fall when I read the paper on Networked Improvement Communities, and it felt like it was a roadmap to how I want to work with educational systems. So I’ve come to the conference to learn more about it, hear what people are doing and what they’re thinking about, and find out how I can maybe get involved.

If I had to pick a content interest that I have read about and am interested in it would be the development of a strong teacher workforce, and how districts can use a framework like that to reflect on where they are focusing their resources to drive innovation. But in my role as a researcher, how can I work with districts and the improvement science model? What do improvement scientists need from researchers?

One specific aspect I want to understand are examples of measurement that practitioners are using other than test scores and aside from post-measures like retention rate or success rate. What can I measure in real time?

Sessions I’m looking forward to:
Pursuing Excellence: An In-Depth Study of the School District of Menomenee Falls
Preparing the Next Generation of Leaders as Improvers and Stewards of the Profession
A Powerful Engine for Change: Applying the Model for Improvement
From Aim to Action: Developing a Theory of Practice Improvement

Reaction 5: Accountability, Educational Research Methods, and Inquiry

Captured from Brian Reiser's paper cited below.
Captured from Brian Reiser’s paper cited below.

Feuer, M.J., Towne, L., &  Shavelson, R. J.  (2002) Scientific Culture and Educational Research. Educational Researcher 31(4) 4-14.

U.S. Department of Education (2003). Identifying and implementing educational practices supported by rigorous evidence:
a user friendly guide.  Available at /evidence_based.asp.

Reiser, B. J. (2013). What professional development strategies are needed for successful implementation of the next generation science standards? Paper prepared for K12 center at ETS invitational symposium on science assessment. Washington, DC.

Clearly Feuer, Towne, & Shavelson (2002) were at odds with the policy emphasis captured in the “user-friendly guide” by the Department of Education in (2003), though they were clearly open to increasing use of randomized, controlled trials: “Although we strongly oppose blunt federal mandates that reduce scientific inquiry to one method applied inappropriately to every type of research question, we also believe that the field should use this tool in studies in education more often than is current practice…. We have also unapologetically supported scientific educational research without retreating from the view that the ecology of educational research is as complex as the field it studies and that education scholarship therefore must embody more than scientific studies.” While they leave the field open for many different communities of inquiry, the DOE report narrows the focus onto just one. This narrowing of the range of inquiry, in my view, is short-sighted and extremely limiting in three ways.

First, as we learned in Organizing Schools for Improvement, change takes time. It often takes five years for a new program or community to be built and show results. There can be an implementation dip, where the disruption of change actually makes things worse initially. As we learned at Waukesha STEM this week, the first six months of their new idea of “connect time” was true chaos with teachers ready to get rid of it immediately. Now it is one of the pillars of the way they have changed to student-centered learning. Second, the narrowing of a focus to one kind of method as suggested in the DOE report means that there are fewer questions that can be asked. For example, there is no ethical way to use randomized, controlled trials to understand the experience of homeless students in schools. As Feuer, Towne, & Shavelson state, “The question drives the methods, not the other way around. The overzealous adherence to the use of any given research design flies in the face of this fundamental principle.” Finally, it is increasingly clear that a diversity of ideas drives innovations and solutions, and “the presence of numerous disciplinary perspectives (e.g., anthropology, psychology, sociology, economics, neuroscience) focusing on different parts of the system means that there are many legitimate research frameworks, methods (Howe & Eisenhart, 1990), and norms of inquiry.” (Feuer, Towne, Shavelson, 2002) We need multiple Discourses (Gee, 1990) in educational research.

The Department of Education report is meant to address the gap between research and practitioners. Feuer, Towne, and Shavelson quote the National Research Council that said, “Educators have never asked much of educational research and development, and that’s exactly what we gave them.” What I found compelling about Reiser’s (2013) paper on professional development for the Next Generation Science Standards was that it seamlessly wove theory and practice, describing the cultural shift to one line messages, giving examples of the way practice is now, and describing what it should be. For example, Reiser writes, about the “shift from learning about… to figuring out,” and “Inquiry is not a separate activity—all science learning should involve engaging in practices to build and use knowledge.” Further, when Reiser outlines the key principles for professional development, lists a series of recommendations, and includes practical examples, like the suggestion, “One fruitful way to engage teachers with records of practice is for teachers to analyze video cases of teaching interactions.” In the frame of distributed leadership, changing systems of practice happens through changing the routines, and this paper clearly brings research to bear on precisely what is being done in the classroom.

(Somewhat more philosophically, it is ironic that just as the Next Generation Science Standards are shifting towards an approach of describing phenomena first and then trying to explain it, while Department of Education clings to the old scientific model of inquiry that dictates rigid positivist methods.)

What are the implications for school leaders? I see the appeal of a one-size-fits-all, tried-and-true, what works solution, but I think most educators know that nothing with kids (or teachers, for that matter) works that way. Yet when faced with a field of educational research that seems to have a lot of internal conflict about what is considered “rigorous” research, what do you do first, on Monday, when the kids show up? I think this is why the ideas of design and professional community are appealing as a way of improving educational systems. Design, to me, is not about realizing one fixed answer, but rather is constant process of listening and testing, embedded in local context rather than seeking to minimize it. Similarly, focusing on professional community builds the capacity of people and context, rather than seeking to minimize them. Just as inquiry is not a separate activity when learning science or for educational researchers, it is not a separate activity for leaders, either.

Studs Terkel’s Working, a graphic adaptation by Harvey Pekar

IMG_3321 IMG_3320

This is a reaction paper written for a course on Education and Work…

Pekar, H., & Buhle, P. (2009). Studs Terkel’s Working: A graphic adaptation. New York: New Press

Of course the first thing I noticed was that they didn’t profile any teachers! But I think this actually says something about my reaction to the book. The visual form of a graphic novel made the stories very intimate, moreso than when I listen to something on This American Life, for example, because of the scene and surroundings. There were some that I could picture myself in. The pictures amplified the already intimate stories of individual and community struggles, frustrations, joys, anxieties, discord, desires. In particular, the chapter about Dolores Dante, the waitress, brought to life the environment, the juxtaposition of the job with customers. On page 76, you see the way she is positioned over the customers, visually manipulating them, paralleling her attitude of control. On page 85, the acrobatics or ballet of keeping the tray balanced is wonderfully represented.

The most heart-wrenching story for me was of the migrant boy, particularly this line: “The children are the ones hurt the most. They go to school three months in one place, then on to another. No sooner do they make friends, they are uprooted. Right here your childhood is taken away. So when they grow up, they’re looking for this childhood they have lost.” (p. 22) It is so easy as a teacher to forget the world a child faces outside your classroom, especially when as a teacher you personally have no experience of what they’re going through. One summer, I taught in a “catch up program” for kids in an old mill town in Massachusetts. There was significant family issues for many of them, and one of my students spent the mornings sleeping under the desks. The supervisor’s attitude was that if this is a safe space for her to sleep, then that is the best thing we can do for her.

Finally, the last visual that came through strongly for me was the image of the hand, particularly in the story of the organizer. This is a fairly obvious symbol, but powerful nonetheless. You see the comparison between the father that worked with his hands and the uncle who used his hands only to cut coupons. (p. 28) You can then see the hand cutting the coupons on the left and bills falling, beginnig the motion that then opens onto the pyramid on the opposite page. The hands are prominent on the pyramid, working against each other in pushing the pole or turning the machine of some kind. The pyramid with the Eye of Providence at the top, similar to the backside of the dollar bill. On the dollar bill, the pyramid sits under the mottos “Annuit coeptis” (he favors our undertakings) and “Novus order seclorum” (roughly, new world order). Literally, the working people are attempting to change the way the world works through collective efforts of the hands, but I think you could see their efforts as futile due to the arms at the top that hold the machinery of the world still. The arms come from the sides, with suit coat sleeves and tie tacks, one hand resting easily on the top, “College professors and management types…” on one sleeve and “They have the kind of power Eichmann claimed for himself.” Eichmann was one of the major organizers and logistics manager of the Holocaust. He was found in 1960 by Israeli intelligence in Argentina and convicted of crimes against humanity. Below the left arm, is written, “They have the power to do bad and not question what they’re told to do,” which was Eichmann’s defense in his trial. The images are powerful and draw you in, revealing layer after layer of symbolism and meaning.

Last year, I took a MOOC on Comic Books and Graphic Novels, taught by Profession Kuskin at University of Colorado – Boulder. Not only was it a great course: I learned so much, and it gave me the skills for reading a graphic novel and a profound appreciation for the medium. I’m not sure if they’re run the course again, but I would definitely recommend it!

How do we use information?

Reaction to the following articles:

Bryk, A. (2010). Organizing schools for improvement lessons from Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Excerpt from Gee, James Paul. (1990) Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses, Critical Perspectives on Literacy and Education. London [England]: New York.

Newmann, F.M., Carmichael, D.L., & King, M.B. (in press). Chapter 6. Authentic Intellectual Work: Improving Teaching for Rigorous Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin

How do we use information? This is a really broad question and might not seem on topic for this week, but I’ll get there. First, I returned to Chris Thorn’s “Knowledge Management for Educational Information Systems: What is the state of the field?” (2001) that we read last semester. He defines knowledge and it’s relationship to information and data. Data is facts, information is facts + context, knowledge is the facts + context + experience, judgement, intuition, values. (These are actually definitions from Epson, 1999, that Thorn cites.) There is thus a progression from data to knowledge of as facts are brought into a Discourse. Two different Discourses might take the same data and come out with different knowledge. Thinking about it in this way led me to think about what we have discussed the last two weeks about how administrators have the power to bring a policy into their Discourse (if they have established one, of course).

But returning to the question of how we use information, what I find so exciting about Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) is that it is an information gathering tool that seeks to measure what I would call the “good stuff” of teaching and learning: the conversations, the higher-order thinking, the student interest, social support. What’s more, the implementation framework actually establishes a Discourse around the use of the information, changing the way educators interact and centering the conversation around the empirically gathered information – not about thoughts, intentions, feelings, etc. Teachers are coached on how to see and understand the information that is already in their classrooms.

In a different turn on how we use information, Organizing Schools for Improvement uses data to show relationships in a way that I had never seen before. It was the first time I had seen a quantitative analysis of systems that even attempted to show synergistic effects, such as Figure 4.11 (p. 114), showing that schools strong on two supports did substantially better than those strong in just one or the other support. While I have struggled with accepting the use of math and reading scores as measures of “achievement,” I think the way it was used here has merit. Since the schools deemed “improving” were the ones in the top quartile, it does seem that this would represent genuine learning. It seems it would be hard to exclusively teach to the test and get into the highest quartile.

Continue reading “How do we use information?”