Monday, March 28, 2011

Session 3: We All Make Mistakes

I'm skipping over a few sessions. I didn't take much out.

Main idea: Great teachers create a culture of redemption in their own classroom.

Things I found interesting, but not necessarily that I agree with. My quick thoughts are in italics:

Homewood City Schools examined the teachers in their own district. After identifying the teachers who stood out, they created a list of five things that separated those teachers.
  1. Ability to question effectively with probing rather than evaluative questions.
  2. Planning, but not in a "weekly lesson plan" kind of way. The presenter phrased it as, "The daily grind of who has it, who doesn't, what do I have to do tomorrow to make it work."
  3. Clear learning goals that were shared by both the teacher and student.
  4. Relationships. Not caring friends, but focused on learning. 
  5. Culture of redemption. How they treat failure. 
The focus of the presentation was on number 5.

Again, like the McREL session I don't think there was anything surprising but it's nice to see these same things come up again and again.  Bryan Goodwin from the McREL session had a nice quote, "People ask what innovation is most needed now? Applying what we know."

It turned out this session ended up being on low-stakes, ongoing formative assessment. Not new for any regular reader of this blog so I'm going to skip the presentation and just focus on what interested me.

I found it far more interesting the attention to teacher quality in this tiny district. They had created a data warehouse even before NCLB went into action. I don't have the full list of what went in there but it included at least a dozen things. I caught SAT 9, DIBELS, teacher qualifications (degrees, SAT scores, experience, etc) and attendance.

The example she used was based on SAT 9 results. They took the student data from spring to spring and looked at growth. Then they found the teachers who were three standard deviations above the average. From that group, they then took only those teachers who managed to do it for three consecutive years.

Then they went into the classrooms and did observations, interviewed the teachers and students and found their five things.  I don't know how deeply this went, but I know to some degree they focused their professional development on these things.

I have to say I love this. I'm not saying you should base everything off SAT 9 results, although I'd argue that those same teachers would have kept popping up on whatever meaningful metric they used.

But I'm impressed that this district was focused on teacher quality and set about to figure it out. We get into these big arguments about how to measure teacher quality and we don't end up actually doing anything. They just went ahead and did it. It was the same lesson as the Apgar test. The measure might not be perfect, but it's better than the big nothing we had before. It wasn't punitive and they didn't tell teachers, "Anyone scoring below xyz is going to get fired." They also dug deeper with the interviews and put the data into context.

Takeaway: I don't think it's possible for me to stress how important it is for a district to do these sort of studies on their own teachers. I read a ton of research. I'm a fan. But one thing you always need to keep in mind is that context is everything. I can read about grit, or high expectations, or warm demanders or whatever comes up in the research but how this looks for your group of students is what matters.

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