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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Don't Take the Easy Road

Today, I discussed the pursuit of advanced degrees with one of our certified staff members. This individual previously earned a master's degree in education and is considering the pursuit of yet more graduate education. I love that we have such dedicated professionals who continually learn and become better educators for our students. We discussed her goals as a public school educator, as well as other positions in schools that she envisions herself holding in the future. The conversation began with a discussion of taking a few additional courses that are required to earn a supervisory certificate and continued with talk about the pursuit of a doctoral degree. There is no doubt in my mind that this individual has the intellect, drive, and focus to earn a terminal degree, however, she was doubting herself and lamented about how difficult it would be for her to complete a doctoral degree. I told her of course it would be difficult, but if it was easy, then more people would earn them. This simple statement, which is a bit cliche, caused me to spend quite a bit of time today thinking about many different things in and out of education. My thoughts continued to focus on human nature and overcoming challenges.

For many people, it's enticing to take the easy road when faced with challenges that require more than ordinary effort to overcome. Most of us are confronted with these challenges on a regular basis, some more challenging than others, and how we respond is very telling about our individual character. A person's true character is often revealed only when challenged or stressed out of his or her comfort zone. It is extremely enticing to take the easy road when challenged, because one removes the challenge and justifies this decision in her or his mind by stating how difficult it would have been to overcome the challenge anyway.

As educators, we must be mindful of all of our decisions and lead by example, because we influence children's lives. Don't take the easy road, challenge yourself on a regular basis, and be the role model for hard-work and effort for your students to emulate. Share your experiences with them, and let them know how you choose to overcome challenges and difficult situations. I know you're probably thinking, "But these things aren't tested." I know they aren't, but it is, however, our duty as educators to remind our students not to always take the easy road. Individual effort and a strong work-ethic will allow our students to believe that they can overcome difficult challenges. When we emphasize these traits, we give our students the skills they need to succeed throughout life, not just on a standardized test.

Now, I just need to get our staff member to not take the easy road when the time comes for her to decide whether she will pursue a terminal degree.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Efficacy or the Egg?

Quick question. Which comes first, efficacious faculties or high-achieving schools? Maybe this post will help us find an answer.

Most of the scholarly work that I've engaged in includes inquiring about collective teacher efficacy (CTE). As a doctoral student at Rutgers University, I was intrigued by a paper written by Hoy, Sweetland, and Smith (2002) when they reported that CTE is a school level variable that can mitigate the strong influence that socioeconomic status (SES) continues to have on academic achievement. As part of my doctoral studies, I examined whether certain instructional leadership behaviors and tasks associated with the high school principalship influence CTE. I was hoping to find specific leadership traits related with high levels of CTE, however, in the sample of NJ high schools that I studied, there was little evidence of this. As inquiry is intended to do, these findings have caused me to continue to think about how principals can improve CTE to improve student achievement in their schools.

For a manuscript I'm currently writing, I examined the relationships between and predictive value of teacher degree status, student attendance rates, and prior mathematics achievement and CTE. I selected teacher degree status and student attendance rates because practitioners have a big role in improving these variables in their schools. They can encourage teachers to pursue and earn advanced degrees, and principals can do many different things to improve student attendance. Of course, all principals are hired with the expectation that they will improve school achievement. I selected prior mathematics achievement because student math scores are less sensitive to the influence of SES than language arts/literacy scores.

Can principals improve CTE by targeting teacher degree status and student attendance? In this analysis, teacher degree status, student attendance rates, and prior mathematics achievement are all related with CTE, and the relationships are quite strong. This suggests that as more teachers in a school earn advanced degrees, or principals hire teachers who hold advanced degrees, and student attendance improves, school CTE will also improve. Only prior mathematics achievement emerged as a predictor of CTE, though. This analysis leads me to infer that mathematics achievement will predict CTE, but prior evidence suggests that CTE predicts mathematics achievement. So, which comes first, improved mathematics achievement, or improved CTE? Is it efficacy, or the egg?

I have so much more work to do.


Sources:

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.

Fancera, S. F. & Bliss, J. R. (2011). Instructional leadership influence on collective teacher efficacy to improve school achievement. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 10, 349-370.

Goddard, R. (2002). A theoretical and empirical analysis of the measurement of collective efficacy: The development of a short form. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 62, 97-110.

Goddard, R. D., LoGerfo, L., & Hoy, W. K. (2004). High School Accountability: The role of perceived collective efficacy. Educational Policy, 18, 403-425.

Hoy, W. K., Sweetland, S. R., and Smith, P. A. (2002). Toward an organizational model of achievement in high schools: The significance of collective efficacy. Educational Administration Quarterly, 38, 77-93.

Leithwood, K., Patten, S., & Jantzi, D. (2010). Testing a conception of how school leadership influences student learning. Educational Administration Quarterly, 46, 671-706.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dads and School Leaders

Since reading a tweet earlier this month by Chuck Gardner (@charleswgardner) about his program to get dads more involved at his school, I've been thinking about how school leaders can promote the importance of dads in the academic and total development of all children. As you know if you've read some of my posts in the past, I am an evidence based practitioner who likes to examine and reflect on data before altering my practice or offering my thoughts on bridging the research-practice gap. So, although I know that dads do make a difference in children's lives from an anecdotal perspective (I am a father of two and principal at a K-5 school with approximately 500 students), I began my search for peer reviewed work on Twitter.

In true Twitter form, regardless of what Mike Francesa has to say about its utility, within a few moments Steve Constantino (@smconstantino) connected me with J. Michael Hall (@strongfathers). Before long, Mike Hall emailed me more than 15 sources to find peer reviewed dad research. This isn't a post about the importance of using Twitter as a PD tool, but this quick response and connection by members of my PLN to my simple query was astonishing and provides more support why all educators need to be on Twitter. Nevertheless, I've just begun to sort through the evidence, but the data are so important I felt the need to get this post out sooner rather than later.

The evidence clearly supports the need for a father to stay involved in his child's life. Father involvement, which is typically measured by the number and type of interactions that a father has with his children, is related with many positive outcomes, including cognitive development, emotional well being, social development, and physical health. As important, increased father involvement is associated with a decrease in negative child development outcomes, including delinquent behavior, substance abuse and drug use, and socioeconomic disadvantage. This summary supports the important role of fathers in children's lives, but how can school leaders use this evidence to improve our schools and learning for all students?

I don't think there is a simple answer to this question, but I know many schools offer programs that provide fathers with additional opportunities to increase their involvement with their children. As school leaders, we must continue to make the press to bring fathers into our schools and to provide them with more opportunities to remain engaged with their children. As educators, it is our duty to provide our children with the foundation to continue to build a successful life. The evidence clearly points to the importance of fathers in laying this groundwork. 

If you have a unique perspective on father involvement at your school, please share so we can help each other help our students to improve.

Sources:

Allen, S. & Daly, K. (May 2007). Father Involvement Research Alliance. The effects of father involvement: An updated research summary of the evidence. Center for Families, Work & Well-Being, University of Guelph.