Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Aligning a Response to Intervention System with Required Teacher Competencies

In collaboration with a multidimensional team of stakeholders that includes parents or guardians, a crosswalk between the correlates of Effective Schools Research and tenets of an effective Response to Intervention (RTI) program allows RTI to become an efficient and effective system.  This promotes equity in quality within schools committed to the pursuit of learning for all.  While there is a danger to prescribing interventions in a limiting fashion, RTI anthologies have the potential for providing a clearinghouse of research-based and success-proven strategies and interventions.  
Subsequent alignment of the district's non-negotiable goals with individual school needs and experiences (Marzano & Waters, 2009) should expand rather than limit the district's clearinghouse of research-based and success-proven strategies and interventions.  Promoting such a clearinghouse of identified successes ensures professional development is available.  This optimizes access, review, and implementation of a range of interventions, thereby enriching teachers through defined autonomy.
The core competency required for effective implementation of RTI interventions is the ability to correctly collect, analyze, and utilize data.  For many prospective and in-service teachers, data equates to math.  Unfortunately, too many teachers are uncomfortable with mathematics.  To address this, we will eventually need to recognize this country's math scores are related to too many teachers being over reliant on the text book rather than proficiency in "thinking mathematically” (Edelmuth, 2006)
Therefore, Schools of Education and Alternate Route Teacher Preparation Programs need to ensure graduates are able to collect data, evaluate results, and be an honest consumer of the resulting data.  This becomes possible through better statistics and data analysis courses for prospective teachers.  Effective districts will need to complement this evolution through in-service professional development on collecting data, evaluating results, and being an honest consumer of the resulting data.
Frequent monitoring of student progress, and adjusting as indicated by results, is a correlate of continuous school improvement within Effective Schools.  This correlate requires teacher competency in collecting data, evaluating results, and being an honest consumer of the resulting data.  When teachers identify and prescribe an intervention, they often have difficulty accepting the need to change (adjust) if the prescribed intervention proves ineffective.  Too often the failure of the intervention is perceived a personal failure of the initial prescription, which can then delay the necessary adjustment.  For this reason, a district and school is well-advised to consider the following six ideas for successful development of an effective RTI system:
  1. Encourage participation by key stakeholders during planning and implementation.
  2. Elicit strong administrative support in staff development, instructional integrity, and data collection.
  3. Provide in-depth staff development with mentoring, modeling, and coaching.
  4. Begin follow-up trainings at the beginning of each school year.
  5. Distribute a manual outlining procedures and materials.
  6. Build Problem Solving Models including RTI into school schedules and the student improvement process (Lau, Sieler, Muyskens, et al, 2006).
Implementation of the effective RTI system can then begin.  However, potential problems will be omnipresent without administrative support and ongoing professional development.  The following core principles identify potential challenges for implementing RTI.   
  • effectively teaches each and every student,
  •  provides early intervention,
  • uses a multi-tier model of service delivery,
  • uses a problem-solving method to make decisions within the multi-tier model,
  • uses research-based validated interventions/instruction,
  • monitors student progress to inform instruction,
  • uses data to make decisions, and
  • uses assessment for three purposes: screening, diagnostics, and progress monitoring.
      Both pre-service and in-service teachers openly admit to the difficulty of monitoring student progress to inform instructional decisions.  The inter-relationship between the identified core principles makes the pursuit of a hierarchy subjective at best and futile at worst.  The correlate of frequent monitoring and subsequent adjustment drives the core principles for implementing RTI.  The ability to collect data, evaluate results, and be an honest consumer of the resulting data promotes the correlate of frequent monitoring and subsequent adjustment.  Teacher proficiency with data must therefore become a professional competency. 

To cite:
Anderson, C.J. (December 4, 2012) Aligning a response to intervention system with teacher
            competencies [Web log post] Retrieved from http://www.ucan-cja.blogspot.com/

Edmonds, R. (1979). Effective Schools for the urban poor. Educational Leadership, 37,
Lau, Sieler, Muyskens, Canter, VanKeuren, & Marston (2006).  Perspectives on the use of 
            the Problem-Solving Model from the viewpoint of school psychologist, administrator, and
            teacher. Psychology in the Schools, 43 (1), 117-127.
Marzano, R. & Waters, T.(2009).  District leadership that works. Bloomington, In: Solution
            Tree Press

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Correlation Between Positive School Culture and the Learning for All Mission

While school culture is evident in all schools, it is nevertheless, elusive and difficult to define (Hinde, 2002)  The difficulty of the quest is the reality that school culture is not static but rather shaped and reshaped through interactions with stakeholders, worldview perspectives, and reflective opportunities (Finnan, 2000).  Changing the prevailing school culture is both the most important and most difficult aspect of educational leadership (Barth, 2002).
Effective school leaders help shape the school's culture of learning for all by communicating the norms and values for high expectations as well as providing the tools for assessing elements supporting the school's purpose and mission.  The school’s culture needs to reinforce positive elements while transforming current negative areas hindering the learning for all mission.  The Character Education Partnership (CEP) believes character is an important attribute for a positive school culture.  The CEP posits two categories for defining character:
1) Moral character, as exhibited through high levels of kindness, honesty, and respect toward others. 
2) Performance character, as demonstrated by “perseverance, critical thinking, and commitment to quality” (CEP, 2012, p. 3). 
       Effective school leaders seek to adjust their school’s culture to create sustained school improvement by promoting the following three conditions: 
     1)      Measures of success and metrics for areas of improvement beyond mere test scores,
      2)      Comprehensive understanding of what entails “school culture" (p. 5),
      3)      Tools for developing and assessing the school’s culture and delineation of accountability for diverse aspects of the school’s culture (CEP, 2012).
      The principal, teachers, and parents are all school leaders needing to be available to shape a school’s non-negotiable culture (Peterson & Deal, 1998).  Collaboration is essential for developing systemic buy-in for promoting a school culture that drives sustained school improvement (Marzano & Waters, 2009).  Since “The public school establishment is one of the most stubbornly intransigent forces on the planet” (Marzano & Waters, 2009, p. 2), positive culture change needs new thinking, willingness, humility, collaboration, and a collective vision grounded in a clear mission.  The effective school leader and district leader must uniformly explicate a positive change plan to rally other stakeholders to collaboratively develop consensus and thereby effectively implement required change initiatives. 
Stakeholders will need to put the past in perspective and willingly embrace a new view of collaborative district and school leadership, which is a critical component of effective schools (Marzano & Waters, 2009).  The change begins with recognizing that although schools are loosely coupled by design, they can be tightly coupled in relation to non-negotiable goals and a culture for promoting student learning.  Therefore, the district office and its leaders need to guide the vision and consensus toward a district-wide culture based on “defined autonomy” (p. 8).  It is then essential to communicate this mission and the clear vision to both internal and external stakeholders, otherwise, change is slow or nonexistent.
The mutual responsibility of a district leader and school principal within a highly reliable district is to develop “a shared vision of what the school could be like (Marzano & Waters, 2009, p. 100).  This is directly related to the responsibility of superintendent’s leadership to “ensure collaborative goal setting” (Marzano & Waters, 2009, p. 94).  By working with the staff to develop a culture perceived by stakeholders’ to advance the new mission of learning for all within its school, the educational leaders develop a collaborative vision of what could be possible for the school. 
Therefore, “during collaborative goal setting, the principal’s role is twofold relative to this responsibility—to ensure that a meaningful, shared vision is constructed at the school and to ensure that the school-level vision incorporates the district-level vision as manifested by the nonnegotiable goals for achievement and instruction” (Marzano & Waters, 2009, p. 95).  Quoting results from Jenkins, Louis, Walberg, and Keefe (1994, p. 72), Lezotte and Snyder (2011) reinforce the most significant feature common to world-class schools “was their continual effort toward becoming “learning organizations with a commitment to continuous problem-solving and a sense of shared responsibility for improvement” (p. 67).  A consistent exhibition of a clear vision leading toward the desired mission, commitment by all to learning for all, and sharing the responsibility for success of the mission, certainly appears to be the minimal culture of an effective school.

To cite:

Anderson, C.J. (November 3, 2012) The correlation between positive school culture and the
            Learning for All mission [Web log post] Retrieved from http://www.ucan-cja.blogspot.com/

Barth, R. S. (2002) The culture builder. Educational Leadership 59 (8) 6-11
CEP (2012) Developing and assessing school culture: A new level of accountability for schools
            Retrieved from: 
Finnan, C. (April 2000) Implementing school reform models: Why is it so hard for some schools
and easy for others? Paper presented at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED446356).
Hinde, E.R. (2012) School culture and change: An examination of the effects of school culture
            on the process of change.  Retrieved from: http://usca.edu/essays/vol122004/hinde.pdf
Lezotte, L. W., & Snyder, K. M. (2011). What effective schools do: Re-envisioning the
            correlates. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Marzano, R. & Waters, T. (2009).  District leadership that works. Bloomington, IN: Solution
            Tree Press
Narvaez, D. (2010) Building a sustaining classroom climate for purposeful ethical citizenship, in
Lovat, T & Toomey, R. (Eds.), International Research Handbook of Values Education and Student Well being. New York: Springer.  
Peterson, K. and Deal T. (1998). How leaders influence the culture of schools. Educational
            Leadership 56 (1), 28-30.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Does Behavioral Theory Belong in Classroom Management?

      In theory, operant conditioning  (Skinner, 1953) is a learning process that involves an increase or decrease in the likelihood of a targeted behavior resulting from provided consequences.  Consequences can be either reinforcements or punishments.  While child-centered classroom management advocates such as Noddings (2001) and Kohn (2006), hold behavioral theories in disrepute, there is still a place for basic elements of behavioral theory when striving to develop a classroom culture of mutual respect, high expectations, and civility.  Few would argue that these tenets lay the foundation whereby constructivist, child-centered principles can then take hold to build nurturing learning communities aimed at helping students independently make good choices and develop self-management.    
      Educators should use reinforcements only when the expectation is to increase or minimally maintain the desired behavior.  By contrast, use a punishment only when the desire is to remove or mitigate an undesired behavior.  Anything else is fraught with possible unintended consequences.
      For positive reinforcement, the reinforcer should be seen as important, desirable, or relevant to those exhibiting the desired behavior.  Reformists such as Noddings (2001) and Kohn criticize behavioral theory for classroom management on this point because they don’t believe in reinforcing good behavior and punishing students for poor behavior, advocating that students should have more choices and opinions.  Yet even Kohn acknowledges structures and restrictions are acceptable if “they protect students, provide for flexibility, are developmentally appropriate, and lead to student involvement” (Arends, 2012, p. 206). 
      In this regard, using praise to promote understanding of high expectations, mutual respect, and civility is an important classroom management approach, especially for younger students needing to learn socially from those more cognitively or socially advanced (Vygotsky, 1978). Raising self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness are important tools for the child-centered approach.  Yet, is it possible to completely divorce classroom management from strategies grounded in behavioral theory?
      “Let’s see who else will quietly raise their hand to answer the next question.  Thank you for sitting so quietly and raising your hand.”  This simple strategy, grounded in behavioral theory, will quickly help develop a desired classroom culture based on high expectations, mutual respect, and civility.
      So how did behavioral theory get such a bad reputation?  Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?  Any theory aligned with training or “conditioning” animals is going to be problematic with parents.  Who wants to think their school is “training” children? 
     The concern with teachers using behavioral theory as the core of their classroom management is the likelihood a certain behavior will increase due to the presentation of something pleasant after the behavior.  The misuse of “punishment” based on the perception that yelling, humiliating, or embarrassing students initially works too often results in the increase in yelling, humiliating, or embarrassing students.  Good people can easily become bullies rather than teachers. 
      For this reason, anyone seeking to implement elements of behavioral theory into his or her classroom management should avoid punishment.  It is also very important to avoid confusing negative reinforcement and punishment.  They are different.  Negative reinforcement involves an increase in a behavior.  By contrast, punishment involves a decrease in a behavior (Amabile, 1985).  Because of the unintended consequences often resulting from the misuse of negative reinforcement, avoid this strategy too! 
      As an example, if a young mother closes the door when her child tantrums and experiences peace and quiet thereafter, she would be inclined to repeat the door closing strategy to thereby experience more peace and quiet.  Therefore, this is an example of negative reinforcement.  Notice that while the mother realizes increased peace and quiet, the increase in door closing whenever her child tantrums holds the possibility of unintended consequences related to the child's behavior.  Is there any effort to identify the cause of the child's behavior?
      How does this appear in the school?  If a teacher closes the door when a neighbor's noisy students are returning from recess and thereafter experiences quiet in her class, she would be inclined to repeat the door closing strategy to experience quiet whenever a neighbor's noisy students are returning from recess.  Therefore, this is an example of negative reinforcement.  Notice that while the teacher closing the door increases quiet in her classroom, the increase in door closing whenever her neighbor's noisy students are returning from recess holds the possibility of unintended consequences related to the neighbor's noisy students behavior.  Is there any effort to mitigate the behaviors exhibited by the neighbor's noisy students? 
      Too often, the result of negative reinforcement is the offending stimuli ends up shaping your behavior.  Educators should reflect upon how negative reinforcement can reinforce bad habits.  As a social constructivist (Vygotsky, 1978), the educator should recognize the ability to shape the offending behavior/stimuli to ensure high expectations, mutual respect, and civility within the class room and school.

Amabile, T. M. (1985). Motivation and creativity: Effects of motivational orientation on 

       creative writers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 393-399.
Arends, R.I (2012). Learning to Teach, 9/e. McGraw Hill. ISBN: 978-0-07-802432-0

Monday, September 3, 2012

Implementing Science-based Instruction to Promote Learning for All

Effective Schools Research identifies the following correlates are present in all cases of an effective school:
1.      Clear and focused mission
2.      Climate of high expectations
3.      Instructional leadership
4.      Opportunity to learn/student time on task
5.      Frequently monitoring student progress
6.      Safe and orderly environment
7.    Home-school relations (Lezotte, 1991)
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), reauthorized as No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2001), requires instructional leaders utilize strategies, approaches, and program initiatives that are scientific or research based and frequent monitoring to close identified achievement gaps.  Prospective teachers and in-service teachers both benefit from understanding the seven correlates of Effective Schools Research, which includes these two variables within an inter-connected system.  Given any system is a "network of interdependent components that work together to accomplish the aim of the system" (Deming (1993), institutes of higher education (IHE) and other teacher preparation programs should increase expectations for knowledge of systems and the ability to think systemically. 
Given the interdependency of the seven correlates of Effective Schools, school leaders must approach them with the view of implementing them all at once.  Thus, a clear and focused mission as well as strong instructional leadership is required to move the other interdependent correlates from being an ideal to effective practice.  Since Effective Schools Research demonstrates that a result of schools ignoring the interdependence among the seven correlates is slow progress, then without strong, respected instructional leadership that can help bring consensus for a clear and focused mission, confusion about how to incorporate all the correlates simultaneously would prevail.
An Effective School’s mission, grounded in the seven correlates for reform, would expect success regardless of socioeconomic status (SES) of its students.  Stakeholders would therefore need to make the interconnected seven correlates more powerful within its mission than the power of the low SES to deny opportunity.  “Effective indicates that a school, teacher, or district is doing the right job.  Based on our definition of an effective school, this term specifies that the school must attend to the twin policy pillars of quality and equity.  Effective schools research has shown that the practices among effective schools have consistently been found to be more alike than different” (Lezotte & Snyder, 2011, p 17).
Frequent monitoring for success is more than testing (Lezotte & Snyder, 2011).  States utilizing large-scale testing to make high-stakes educational decisions must ensure alignment between such tests and the state’s curricula or learning standards.  Alignment provides a fairer measure of student learning.  As states became increasingly reliant on large-scale educational assessments, experts began to explicate scientific–based guidelines for developing and implementing assessment and accountability programs (Baker, 2001).  “Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing" (1999) was jointly published by APA, the American Educational Research Association and the National Council on Measurement in Education.  Guidelines.  Forthcoming is a 2012 revision.  State test developers have since found the following standards useful:
·         Utilize tests only for their validated purpose.
·         Avoid making high-stakes decisions based on the results of only one test.
·         Align tests to the states' curriculum standards, so that teachers can prepare students to succeed.
·         Ensure tests only measure the academic domain of interest, without unwittingly emphasizing extraneous factors.
·         Adjust test sensitivity based on school quality differences.
Educational psychology links the science of psychology with educational practice and provides teachers with evidence-based knowledge to support their day-to-day decision-making in the classroom.  (Bohlin, Durwin, & Reese-Weber, 2009).  The science element of educational psychology involves formulating theories and conducting research on those theories.  All teachers should practice action research.  As both consumers of research and practitioners of research, it becomes important for pre-service and in-service teachers to understand guidelines for what constitutes reputable research.
·      Avoid using newspaper and magazine articles, as they are not research articles.
·       Avoid Internet searches using search engines, because they may not yield credible sources.
·     Find and utilize peer-reviewed articles in scholarly journals at a local university library.
·      Find and utilize peer-reviewed articles in databases such as ERIC and PSYINFO.
·      Bookmark websites of professional associations and monitor them for links to new education research.
·         American Psychological Association (APA)
·         Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) (Bohlin, Durwin, & Reese-Weber, 2009)
Since 2006, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) has been actively advocating for educators, policymakers, business leaders, families, and community members to work together on a whole child approach to education.  The whole child approach to learning, teaching, and community engagement has been grounded in the belief that “each child, in each school, in each of our communities deserves to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged” (ASCD, 2010).  These fundamental tenets have long been seen as essential for ensuring students become college-, career-, and citizenship-ready, a desired outcome of the Effective Schools Movement.
In order to effectively lead a school using a whole child approach to education, a principal needs to be “visionary; effective instructional leaders; active learners; and influencers within their staff and the community” (ASCD, 2010).  As can be expected, the Whole Child Approach to education promotes policies and practices aligned to support the whole child.  This requires a change in how adults currently work together to educate children.  Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) have emerged as perhaps the best, most agreed upon means of continual improvement in instruction and student performance.  PLCs are evidenced in a single school or online.  Models include study groups, action research teams, communities of practice, or conversation circles.  The essential focus of any PLC is for educators to work together, with a shared focus on learning and accountability to help all students learn at high levels.
Just as public schools needed to establish metrics for accountability of their teaching and learning mission, so too would institutes of higher education (IHE) and teacher preparation programs need to establish better metrics for measuring the competencies of their graduates, including knowledge of systems and ability to think systemically.  To address this, IHE and other teacher preparation programs must recognize the aim for graduating “instruments of systems change” rather than merely preparing individuals to administer curriculum.  Basile and Nathenson-Mej√≠a (2003) suggests the process for problem-based learning creates a healthy environment for reflection, discussion, and problem solving.  Their study illustrates how teacher candidates move from micro-reflection to self-reflection to macro-reflection resulting from a year-long engagement in a teacher education program within a professional development school.  Implications from their study suggest that problem-based learning is a valid process for the enculturation of teacher candidates to schools and to the profession of teaching.

Bohlin, L., Durwin, C., & Reese-Weber, M. (2009). Ed Psych: Modules. NY: McGraw-Hill.
Lezotte, L. W. (1991) Correlates of Effective Schools: The First and Second Generation.
Lezotte, L. W., & Snyder, K. M. (2011). What effective schools do: Re-envisioning the correlates. 
            Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Schmoker, J, (1999) The Key to Continuous School Improvement (2nd edition) ASCD

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Time to Prioritize: Educational Values Compared to Unlimited Texting and 57 TV Channels

In an age of questionable priorities should anyone be amazed that Colorado school districts excessing 20% of its teaching staff does not result in public outrage?  Massachusetts experienced similar cuts in teaching staffs during the 1990-91 economic recession.  Given such layoffs, would anyone question the exacerbation of the opportunity gap created by school budgets reliant on property taxes?
Related to educational values, should there be more outrage over what is happening in your district?  If you are satisfied with the level of layoffs in teaching and support staff, does the outrage then need to center on having too many staff for too long?  By contrast, do layoffs to teaching and support staff cause you to question how your school district will implement effective instruction?  In either case, should there by outrage focused upon forcing children's education to be victimized by politics?  Perception in the debate means a great deal.  This is why core educational values need to be reinforced and held accountable by measurable goals.  
It is a fact that we live in an age in which Consumer Reports identifies the average family paying $1800 annually for cell phone service and CNN reports many families spending $1200 per year for cable television.  Yet, people complain about property taxes being too high despite property taxes being the most common source of revenue for public education.  Is it ethical for local political leaders to focus constituent outrage on property taxes without focusing on how school funding is reliant upon this revenue stream?
We are spending hundreds of millions of dollars nationally to assess student progress, or lack thereof.  Given the wide disparity in average state expenditure per pupil, there is room for accountability in the debate referenced above.  For instance, in the 2003-04 school year, state's per-student expenditures ranged from a high of $13,338 in New Jersey to a low of $4,991 in Utah.  If New Jersey students were rated in the middle of the pack on NAEP testing would New Jersey residents have a legitimate complaint about the use of their taxes for school revenues?  By contrast, if Utah residents saw their students' NAEP scores merely average compared to other states on the NAEP list of scores, would anyone be surprised?  Unfortunately, the latter is more consistently true than the former, which should be supportive data for proponents of increasing public revenues for public education. 
Where does accountability fit into the funding debate considering ethical public education is evidenced by equity in quality (Ravitch, 2011)?  Lips (2006) suggests "we won't see widespread improvements in American education until we as taxpayers begin to recognize the costs of the current American education system and demand something better" (para. 12).  Do you believe it is important for all educational institutions to have measurable systemic and educational goals that are based on a "learning for all" mission grounded in a clear vision illiminated by solid ethics?  Will explication of the seven correlates for Effective Schools help all Americans become more willing to pay for a world-class public education?  Is this the next level of communication necessary to hold each other accountable for educational results beyond AYP test scores?    

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Why Does an Educational Change Leader Need to Develop a Learning Organization?

      As noted in the previous post, action research is a process in which educators systematically investigate instructional practices and techniques in order to improve their teaching.  As part of the process, the impact of a specific instructional practice on student learning is measured.  The results become the basis for educational planning, innovation, and effective decision-making.  Therefore, by utilizing action research, the educational leader increases development of the disciplines required to promote a learning organization. 
      Themes and theories identified in the literature in relation to the concept of a learning organization were developed from 1990-1999.  In addition to Senge’s (1990) systems model, Steiner's (1998) organizational learning model garnered a lot of attention.  The five primary disciplines of a learning organization were identified by Senge (1990) as: systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision and team learning.  By utilizing these disciplines, facilitating the learning of teachers and students, and transforming itself as part of a continuous improvement process, a school will thereby begin to exhibit the essential features of a learning organization.

      An effective change leader’s new role and additional responsibilities would be to support staff transitions throughout the change process.  This is optimized by helping build resiliency during change.  It is also essential for the change leader to willingly destabilize the system to promote innovation, provide workplace balance, and thereby create a learning organization.  Since this requires a change in the educational leader’s primary purpose, the creation of organizational structure that encourages a culture of learning (Senge, Kleinder, Roberts, Ross, and Smith, 1994) requires the right people becoming part of the organization.  Therefore, the role of an educational change leader needs to be much more proactive, inclusive, trusting, trustworthy, and supportive.  Being proactive will mitigate reacting to or worrying about conditions over which they have little or no control. 
      As a result, the proactive educational change leader is better able to focus time and energy on what can be controlled.  Covey (1989) identified the importance of allowing problems, challenges, and opportunities to fall into two areas--Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence.  Proficiency in this area allows the educational change leader to attend to the appropriate details within his or her sphere (Senge et al., 1994).  Ironically, the result can then be a school that is a learning organization prepared to promote learning for all!

Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. New

            York: Free Press
Senge, P.M. (1990). The fifth discipline. London ENG: Century Business

Senge, P. M., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R., & Smith, B. J. (1994). The fifth discipline

            fieldbook: Strategies and tools for building a learning organization. New York: