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Monday, August 22, 2011

Embrace the Struggle

I'm stealing borrowing this title from my good friend, Dr. Gregory C. Farley.

As educators, we are continually confronted with new situations. Minimally, the start of each shool year brings us a fresh crop of students. Most of us, however, face changes more frequently. Our colleagues might move on to fulfill personal and professional goals, our district may implement a new curriculum or revise an entrenched program, the building principal could resign or be reassigned, and state and local mandates might require us to change everything we do. Regardless, the previous examples of change can easily disrupt our usual routines. How we react to change, however, will determine whether we continue to do all we can to get our students to achieve at their highest levels and continue towards fulfilling our vision.

Dr. Farley and I suggest that whenever educators are confronted with change we must Embrace, Adapt, and Enhancethe change. The type of changes we refer to here are those that we have little control over, for example mandates and directives. Philosophical differences aside, we must remember that most schools and districts follow a bureaucratic model and we are part of the organization. Depending on the initiative that is changing, we may have had the opportunity to have our voices heard, or more likely than not in the case of mandates and directives, what we think about the change just doesn't matter. In the latter case, we must put our philosophical differences aside and embrace the change. Once you get a consensus of your team to embrace the change, then you can tailor the change to best serve your students by adapting and enhancing it. This is our duty as educators, because as we know, most mandates and directives that arise from the state and federal level will do little to improve student learning.

So, as we begin a new school year, embrace the changes that lie ahead. Then, determine the best courses of action to adapt and enhance those changes to best meet the needs of your students.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Instructional Leadership Influence on Collective Teacher Efficacy to Improve School Achievement

My mentor from Rutgers, Dr. James R. Bliss, and I recently published a paper in the journal Leadership and Policy in Schools. This paper emerged from research that I conducted as part of the doctoral program in Educational Administration and Supervision at Rutgers. You can review the complete article online at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15700763.2011.585537

The following is a concise summary of our findings:

  1. Low concentrations of student poverty accompanied a greater perception of principals exhibiting the behaviors of the instructional leadership function, Supervise and Evaluate Instruction.
  2. Low concentrations of economically disadvantaged students accompanied high average achievement in language arts literacy in our sample schools.
  3. We found little evidence of a relationship between instructional leadership and collective teacher efficacy.
  4. Three principal instructional leadership functions, including Supervise and Evaluate Instruction, Monitor Student Progress, and Protect Instructional Time, were related with several indicators of school achievement.
  5. Collective teacher efficacy was related with all measures of student achievement that we examined.
  6. Collective teacher efficacy and instructional leadership were both positively related with school achievement. School SES, however, was a stronger predictor of school achievement than either instructional leadership or collective teacher efficacy.
  7. The evidence on one speciļ¬c instructional leadership function, protect instructional time, warrants further study.

This work provides more evidence for the continued strong influence of socioeconomic status on achievement. Please share your strategies for ensuring that your economically disadvantaged students learn at high-levels.

Friday, August 5, 2011

How to Increase the Utilization of Digital Technologies in All Schools

I wrote this post to participate in Leadership Day 2011, a call from Scott McLeod for educators to blog about what administrators need to do to increase the use of different technologies in their schools. To put it simply, as an evidence based practitioner, I need evidence to imply that regularly using different technologies will improve student achievement. The student achievement that reflects how I am evaluated as a principal and how teachers are evaluated in many districts. Translation...improvements on state accountability tests.

We all know the flaws associated with standardized state accountability tests, however, how will increasing our utilization of digital technologies in all schools help students perform better on the knowledge and comprehension type questions that dominate these assessments? I have had this conversation with friends and colleagues over the past several years, and I continue to debate the issue in my mind. I have no doubts that it is critical for us to expose all students to the different technologies that are available today. In addition, social media and blogging are outstanding means for both students and educators to continue their learning outside of the school house gates that both need exposure to. From an anecdotal perspective, I have witnessed the increased student engagement that takes place when teachers utilize different technologies with their students. At School #18, all of our teachers utilize different technologies with their students on a regular basis, however, to take the next step, we need more evidence to suggest that optimizing utilization of different technologies will improve student performance on the types of tests used by our district administrators to evaluate us.

At this point, the evidence from the research literature suggests the best approach to realizing these types of student improvements lies with direct instruction...drill and kill...teach to the test...you know the phrases. As a school full of evidence based, professional educators, and as our superiors continue to evaluate us based on our students' results on our state's accountability test, we need the evidence to suggest that increasing our utilization of digital technologies will improve student performance on these tests. So, my point with this post is to throw the issue into the hands of the instructional technology scholars at our nation's research universities. It is time for these researchers to generate the evidence. Until then, as an evidence based practitioner, my press for increased technology utilization is unlikely.

In closing, I will share a conversation I had with one of my superiors about technology integration. We were discussing the need for more evidence to connect technology utilization with student achievement when the conversation turned to improved student engagement. This administrator was debating the point that teachers who use technology have students who are more engaged in school. I agreed, but countered by asking where is the evidence to connect technology use to improved standardized test scores? The administrator could not provide any, but continued to make the point about student engagement. I asked the administrator if we made a full press with technology utilization, would we get a one year reprieve from test score accountability for taking the risk. The administrator responded, "absolutely not."

Scholars, please publish some evidence.