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The McKinsey & Company released a report titled “Closing the talent gap: Attracting and retaining top-third graduates to careers in teaching.”  I’ll summarize the findings of the report:

  • The most effective factor in an effective school is the teacher – Duh.
  • The U.S. doesn’t have a systematic or strategic policy in place to attract and retain top-tier teachers.
  • Reform efforts, i.e. Race to the Top, focus (almost exclusively) on current teachers and their effectiveness, giving very little attention to recruiting future top teachers with strong academic backgrounds.
  • Singapore, Finland, and South Korea recruit 100% of their teachers from the top 1/3 of graduating classes compared to U.S. that recruits 23% from the top 1/3 (and 14% for high poverty schools).
  • Makes the assumption that top-tier teachers have a strong influence on student / school achievement

What best practices to recruit and retain top-tier teachers can we learn from other countries with high performing school systems?  The report detailed a few findings:

  • Admissions to their rigorous teacher education programs is highly selective
  • Some governments pay tuition, fees, and stipend for those selected – NICE!
  • Admissions monitors the market place, taking in less applicants as the job market tightens.  The benefit is increased job security.
  • More $$$ for teacher salaries
  • Increased opportunities for advancement and professional growth

What are your thoughts?

I spent yesterday guiding my students through the process of developing their belief/philosophy statement on teaching.  I participated alongside my students.  To spend a significant block of time to reflect on my values and beliefs regarding education, teaching, and learning, was quite refreshing.  I haven’t seriously reviewed my belief statement since I was student teaching.  I was amazed and inspired by how much of my teaching practice was reflected in my belief statement.  It makes sense though.  As I write in my book:

An education philosophy statement is the bedrock of any master teacher; it encapsulates the principles and beliefs you bring to your teaching, creating the foundation to guide your teaching practices.

If you haven’t review your belief statement, then I encourage you to reflect and answer the following questions:

  • What motivated you to go into teaching?
  • What values and beliefs would an ideal teacher have?
  • What are your beliefs about students, learning, behavior, respect, school systems, etc.?
  • What changes would you like to see happen in our education system?
  • What values do you want to model for the students inside and outside the classroom?
  • Of your beliefs, which ones are non-negotiable?

Interestingly, one of my students proposed a longer school year for a change she would like to see happen.  Then I asked the class if they would like a longer school year.  Eyes began to shift.  I reassured the students their responses would not leave this room.  Nearly 75% of the students raised their hands in favor or a longer school year.  Hmmmm…

If you are in the process of writing a belief / philosophy statement then read my post on Topics for Philosophy Statements, especially if you are have trouble writing one.

“Do we juggle too many things in education?”  “Are we trying to take on too many things in the name of school reform?”  I believe so.

Lately, I feel like education leaders are taking a shotgun approach to improving student achievement.  Shoot in any direction and hopefully something works.  However, research shows this approach doesn’t work.  In Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great, he describes that best performing organizations always focus on a doing a few things well.  These high performing organizations do this by hiring disciplined people who are focused on the organization’s mission, monitoring results, and striving for improvement.

Let’s take a step back and evaluate what we are doing.  Ask if this new initiative, reform, protocol, committee, study group, PLC, reading, training, or activity is REALLY going to impact student learning.  I propose we implement a few initiatives, practice it, evaluate the progress, reflect, refine, and get it right, then do too much, resulting in only scratching the surface of its potential on improving student learning.

“Can’t this be simpler?” 

I continually go back to where student learning mainly happens – the classroom.  I continually go back to the number one factor impacting student achievement – the teacher.  This is where the focus should be. 

Questions begin to flow…

With as much money being spent, why not hire (additional) professional development coaches that can systematically assess and provide feedback to classroom teachers?  Have the coaches visit all classrooms at least 2 twice a month and more for beginning teachers.  The coaches provide timely and targeted feedback, just like how we provide feedback to students (Marzano).  Individual action plans, aligning to building or district goals, can be drawn up, monitored, and reflected on throughout the school year.

Why not provide feedback as a means to professional development rather than taking on the negative tone of evaluation?   When did we – as educators – get to hate the word evaluation?  Why can’t we get an evaluation that’s less than perfect and be okay, knowing we aren’t perfect?  There is always room for improvement; why not focus on that area of improvement, so our students can learn more?

Why not have teachers observe instruction and “evaluate” curriculum in true professional learning communities, providing opportunities for teachers to discuss each others’ work in a respectful, constructive manner?

Why not video-tape our instruction, and receive feedback from administration, a colleague, or even a university education professor – thus helping bridge the gap between academia and our schools?

I couldn’t hold back.  For months I have been over hearing colleagues talking about Michelle Rhee, the Chancellor of Washington D.C. schools.  The word is she is bad.  She is out-of-control.  What is not spoken, but clearly understood is she (and what she represents) is a threat to the teacher unions.

I started to investigate this Rhee character, read her interviews, and reviewed the criticism against her.  I have to say that I appreciate her (and the Mayor Fenty‘s) courage to take BOLD steps to correct the failing D.C. schools.

Most people agree that schools need improvement, especially closing the depressing achievement gap between minority students and white students. However, not everyone is willing to put themselves out there to achieve it.  One admirable piece about Rhee is she is out there, and she has people talking and thinking.

There is no one quick fix to improve student achievement.  Anyone that says there is an idiot.  Rather there are a myriad of issues that need to be addressed to have any REAL reform.  I identified 4 major points that are needed for reform and that seem interwoven with what Rhee stands for.

Point 1 – Teachers are the catalyst for increasing student achievement

Teachers make a differenceAcademic research continually points to the teacher as one of the most effective ways of improving student achievement.  This seems to be central to Rhee’s approach to schools.  She wants to reward high performing teachers and get rid of ineffective teachers.  If she can do this in a transparent and accountable way, then why not?

Reform should be centered on professional development for every teacher.  For the (few) teachers that demonstrate poor performance, expectations need to be clear.  Those ineffective teachers will receive support, i.e. professional development and/or coaching, all of which is tied into an action plan.  If the teacher doesn’t improve, then they need to be counseled out of teaching.  Why do we tolerate incompetent teachers?

Point 2 – Unions need to take lead in school reform

I am in the teacher’s union.  I appreciate the organization and all the dedicated union representatives that spend their limited time looking out for my interests.

Yet, I am not thrilled about the union either.  If we are talking about education reform, then the union should be seen as a leader and innovator.  Right now, unions are not perceived as such.

Let me address tenure as an example of how misaligned the union is, especially in the effort of removing ineffective teachers.  In most states k-12 teachers receive tenure in 2-3 years.  Really?  In my school, this means that I got observed 4 times (twice a year) and then I have tenure!  That’s about 4-5 hours of observation, and I am on my way to tenure.  Interestingly, 2 of these 4 observations I knew exactly when my observer (principal) was coming to observe me.  The other 2 I knew which day, but not what period/hour.  Some teachers could put on the best performance for those 4 hours of observation and GET TENURE.  Let’s be honest.  Actually, you don’t even have to put on the best performance at all to get tenure.  And once tenured, it is very costly for school districts to fire tenured teachers.

It’s as if someone in business gets feedback 4 times in 2 years then gets a promotion.  That is ridiculous!

Unions need to be more flexible in removing teachers that don’t belong in the teaching profession, lengthen the time to tenure, and create better support networks for struggling teachers.

Administrators need to work with unions to lay out more effective ways to observe.  One way is to increase the number of times a formal observation can be done.  A teacher should be observed at least once a month, and hopefully more.

Point 3 – Principals need to purposeful and data-driven

Principals needs to be leaders, especially in the area of instructional strategy (tying back into point 1).  A poor performing teacher should not be able to become a principal.  It’s as simple as that.  How is a teacher that couldn’t manage their classsroom and student learning, do it for the entire school?

A principal should be purposeful, meaning he/she knows exactly what the mission and goals are they want to accomplish for the school.  Almost all decisions and communication should be driven from this mission.

The principal needs to have their mission and goals specific, measurable, and timely.  A principal must be able to evaluate their progress throughout the year and make the necessary adjustments to their strategies to improve the effectiveness.

Point 4 – Reform is not a tea party

My last point and one that is reinforced in the Rhee debate is that reform is not easy.  People get upset when change happens.  It takes a strong leader to follow through on their commitments and strategies, yet carefully listening to criticism for ways to improve.  Education reform is not going to be easy, as demonstrated in D.C., but we need to reflect who this will be benefiting if it does.  Also, who will suffer if we don’t try?  Who will suffer if we (teachers, administrators, unions, policy makers) don’t work together to try new ideas?

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A total of nine new books were added to the Teacher Recommended Books page.  These books were recommended via email by student teachers and experienced teachers.

One resource that I thought was beneficial was the ASCD SmartBrief.  It’s a free service that ” brings you the K-12 education news that really matters. (ASCD) editors handpick key articles from hundreds of publications, do a brief summary of each and provide links back to the original sources.”

Do you have a book you want to share?  Email us your book recommendations at eric@road2teaching.com.