Saturday, October 7, 2017

Measuring the worth of a school

I sit in an office at Novi High School. Outside I hear the sounds of a marching band.

Today is the Novi High School Marching Band's Annual Fanfare. Marching bands from around the state come to compete against each other, demonstrating remarkable skills and providing quite a show.



It is a culture that I know little about. I was never in a marching band. I played in my school's band from the fifth grade through the 9th grade. But the practice thing proved to be a stumbling block and when I went to high school I did not pursue band.

Looking back on it, that was probably a mistake. Why?

What I have learned as I watch the Novi High School Marching Band is that it is a tremendously powerful and positive culture. It requires a ton of work - marching band camp, lots of practice, learning not only music but how and when and where to move. At times the director, and at times the students, get frustrated.

But through their efforts students learn the value of hard work, discipline, how every one must work together to accomplish a goal. Students learn the value of being part of something bigger than themselves.

What these students do is not measured on a test. What these students do does not get published in the paper. What these students do does not lead the news at night.

But what these students do is tremendously important.

It connects them to the each other. It also connects them to Novi High School. They build relationships with each other and with teachers and staff who push them to excel.

These students have a purpose, a goal, something that they can invest their time and energy in.

When measuring the worth of a high school it is important to remember that a test score is not the only, not the most important, and certainly not the single best factor to consider when deciding if a high school measures up.

Politicians pass laws that purport to be able to measure the worth of a school. Attendance, graduation rates, test scores. Those things are routinely measured and publicized.

I would suggest that there are many other ways to measure the worth of a high school. I would also suggest that being in a marching band may have a greater impact on future success than the performance on a state assessment.

So play on Maestro!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A kind surprise

Last Thursday I was headed home. It had been a good day.

But it was late. It was raining. I was ready to be home.

I started my car, wipers turned on, and then I noticed it. A bag. Under my wiper.

I stepped back into the rain, grabbed the bag, mumbled to myself, and sat back down in the car.

That's when I noticed what was stapled to the bag.

It was a gift. Inside the bag was a simple note. It started like this:

And suddenly the night was not as dark, the rain not as noticeable.

It was a simple gesture. But someone had to make the effort. Create the bag. Write the note. Take the time to find my car.

It was deeply appreciated.

In the book "The Seventh Most Important Thing" by Shelley Pearsall, Mr. Hampton is "building heaven." Arthur is assigned to help. Arthur reluctantly, grumblingly is assigned to collect seven things Mr. Hampton needs to build heaven. (It's a great book for families to read with their children in grades 4-8.) 

I used that book as the jumping off spot for our "Welcome Back" meeting with staff in August. What seven things do I need to do my job? What seven things help me as I work to build a great school district?

One of my seven things was kindness.

And on a rainy night, I found a bag, with a note, and a spirit was brightened. All because someone was kind to me.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

What about day two?

On the first day of the 2017-2018 school year, students eagerly entered our buildings.

My question is:

Did we give our students a reason to come back on day two?

I have confidence that our teachers gave our students a reason to look forward to day two. At times it is easy to forget that learning works best when we have a compelling reason to learn. Our students will be eager to learn if, every day, we can provide a compelling reason to invest their time and energy into the process of learning.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It's summer! Time to read!

It's summer!

Time for baseball, hot dogs, amusement parks, water parks, bike riding, vacations, swimming, fishing, . . .  The list could go on and on. 

One thing to add to the list is reading. Summer is a great time to read.

For students, summer reading is critically important. 

Richard Allington, a reading researcher, suggests that young readers can actually go backwards in the summer.  By the end of 6th grade this accumulated loss during the summer can create a reader who is up to 18 months behind where he or she should be. 

For the rest of us - we can be role models as we read in the summer. More importantly we can enjoy ourselves as we find great stories to entertain and inform.

If you are still hesitant - reading is actually good for you. Reading fiction makes you smarter. It increases your vocabulary and language skills and boosts your emotional intelligence. 

So really you have to read!

What should we read? I'm glad you asked. Here are four great choices. 

Technically these books were published for students in grades 4 - 8. But if you love great writing and engaging stories I would encourage anyone to read them. I enjoyed each of them.

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley. An all time favorite book. It is exceptional!

Miss Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson. A second all time favorite book. Again, exceptional!
Posted by John David Anderson. A just released novel great for middle school students. I loved it.
Posted by [Anderson, John David]

Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel. Story of friendship and learning about who you are. 
Pack of Dorks by [Vrabel, Beth] 

That should get you started.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Trusting numbers more than we should


Research has discovered that calorie counters on apps such as the Apple Watch and Fitbit are, for those of use trying to lose weight, not accurate. The report states:

Even when you're using a tech gadget to track calories out, the results are likely too high to tie to the amount you should or can consume.

Yikes! You mean those four minutes on the elliptical don't really burn 400 calories!

While this is both mildly amusing and annoying, how does this connect to learning?

Look at how I have rewritten the sentence about tech gadgets and calories.

Even when you're using a STANDARDIZED TEST to track LEARNING, the results are likely too high (OR POSSIBLY LOW) to tie to the RESULT TO ACTUAL GROWTH OR PERFORMANCE.

As a society, we have become enamored with test results. We have more data than we can possibly use.

That is true in schools. We give an assessment to identify a student's current performance. If they are below a predetermined threshold we, at times, progress monitor every week, every two weeks, every month to see if the student is improving. We then give a mid-year assessment to see what progress a student is making. We fret over decreases of a point or two and celebrate increases of a point or two.

We are driving ourselves and our students crazy!

We need to assess students. But let's do it reasonably.

Let's assess at the beginning of the year and the end of the year.

In between, let's trust the teacher to be able to identify if a student is making progress. Teachers sit down with students to listen, talk, ask questions, and, because they develop relationships with students and come to know them well, teachers know the progress a student is making.


Standardized assessments are clearly part of the process of coming to know if a student is making progress. But we have to also:

TRUST TEACHERS!

Teachers know more about their students than we are often willing to admit. Let's honor the knowledge and skill of our teachers and recognize that teachers can tell us a lot about whether or not students are learning.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What will we learn?

Yesterday - April 11 - Michigan's high school testing program began. High school juniors arrived at school, greeted by smiling staff,  eager to communicate that today will be OK. It appears that our Novi High School students were taking the day in stride.
In a few weeks students will receive results. In a few months schools will be judged based on the results of this assessment.

In the end, what will we learn?

It is important that we have a way to determine if our schools are doing their job. There is a reasonable assumption that our students will learn how to read, write, do math, understand science, and know about our place in the world.

Over the years we have decided that state assessments or nationally standardized assessments give us a good sense of whether or not our students have developed those skills. There is some debate about whether or not that perspective is justified, given how test results often break down along class, socioeconomic, or racial lines.   

In addition, others have argued rather passionately that other skills are important. Skills in collaboration, adaptability, imagination, and initiative, for example. Those skills are much harder to assess via a paper and pencil test.

So we are left with the question of what will we learn from our state assessments?

We will learn that some students do very well, most do well, and some need improvement.

These are things that, quite honestly, we knew before we gave the assessment. The results of this high school assessment will not be known for months, will have little influence in the classroom, and will not unduly shape our instructional practice.

What does influence our instructional practice? What teachers see every day in the classroom. Engaged, informed, committed teachers know how to connect with students, engage students in meaningful work, and pull and push students toward competence and then excellence.

I trust what my teachers tell me about their students more than what the state assessment tells me about the students in my district. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

What are we?

Duck or bunny?

Or both?

Can you see both a duck and a bunny?

This optical illusion has me thinking about schools.

Should schools individualize? Or is teacher-led instruction the most effective? Or is it a combination of individualization and teacher-led activity during each school day?

Should schools teach affective or non-academics skills? Skills in leadership, collaboration, communication? Or should schools just focus on academic subjects?

Should schools embrace technology? What would "embracing technology" look like? A computer in a student's hand every minute of every day? Or is technology a tool and schools should ensure access when needed? If technology is to be used when needed, how does a school help students learn to discern when technology is an appropriate tool?

Should schools do away with grade levels and age-based instruction? Or do grade levels and age-based instruction have a place? And if they do what is that place?

Should schools sort and rank students with grades? Or should schools do away with grades and focus on ensuring students can meet certain standards? Or are standards too restrictive and schools should instead focus on competencies that every student should master?

There are plenty of questions about schools. And almost everyone has an opinion. Where one person sees that schools should do "X", another person sees that schools should do "Y" and still another person sees that schools should do "Z."

Schools cannot do everything.

Schools cannot be everything.

While I do not know the perfect answer to what schools should be, I do know that schools should be important in helping our students learn to think.

Alvin Toffler once said:
The question is how do we help our students develop the skills needed to be successful in the complex world that we now find ourselves trying to navigate.