Archive for the ‘Instruction’ Category

United States Behind Other Nations in Teacher Professional Development

February 11, 2009

Below is an excerpt from the executive summary of a report done by the National Staff Development Council. 

 Copies of the report are available online at The report summarizes a more in-depth research report, the complete version of which can be found at and at

Following are some examples of approaches to professional learning that provide lessons for states and the federal government.

•      In South Korea – much like Japan and Singapore – only about 35 percent of teachers’ working time is spent teaching pupils. Teachers work in a shared office space during out-of-class time, since the students stay in a fixed classroom while the teachers rotate to teach them different subjects. The shared office space facilitates sharing of instructional resources and ideas among teachers, which is especially helpful for new teachers.


Teachers in many of these countries engage in intensive lesson study in which they develop and fine-tune lessons together and evaluate their results.

• In Finland, teachers meet one afternoon each week to jointly plan and develop curriculum, and schools in the same municipality are encouraged to work together to share materials.

• More than 85 percent of schools in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland provide time for professional development in teachers’ work day or week, according to OECD.

In Singapore, the government pays for 100 hours of professional development each year for all teachers in addition to the 20 hours a week they have to work with other teachers and visit each others’ classrooms to study teaching. With the help of the National Institute of Education, teachers engage in collective action research projects to evaluate and improve their teaching strategies.

England has instituted a national training program in best-practice literacy methods, using videotapes of teaching, training materials, and coaches who are available to work in schools. This effort coincided with a subsequent rise in the percentage of students meeting the target literacy standards from 63 percent to 75 percent in just three years.

• Since 2000, Australia has been sponsoring the Quality Teacher Programme, which provide funding for curriculum and professional development materials used in a trainer of trainers model to update and improve teachers’ skills and understandings in priority areas and enhance the status of teaching in both government and non-government schools.

The experiences of these countries, the report says, “underscore the importance of on-the-job learning with colleagues as well as sustained learning from experts in content and pedagogy. The diversity of approaches indicates that schools can shape professional learning to best fit their circumstances and teacher and student learning needs.”



Conversation Themes – Teachers

May 2, 2008

Yesterday, I posted themes from conversations with parents.  Today, I am posting themes from my conversations with teachers.

I would encourage readers to comment.  Which of these themes resonate with you most?  Which of these themes do not resonate?  Why?  What would you add to the list?

If you are a teacher who took part in these conversations, is there something I missed or got wrong?

The overarching question I posed was: As a school district, how might we move closer toward our potential?Top of Form

Over arching theme:

Teachers are proud of what they are able to accomplish given the resources they have to work with.  They are concerned about the present as well as the future.

Most commonly mentioned issues:

Class Size (instruction time).  Teachers are extremely concerned on the impact of larger class sizes.  They list a number of ways in which larger class sizes will negatively impact their abilities to serve students.  Bottom line:  Teachers suggest that it is structurally not possible to close the achievement gap or stretch the high performers.  In effect, teachers say they are forced to choose between students.

High school teachers indicate that the total number of students they have in their combined sections makes it extremely difficult to have meaningful relationships with their students.

Also, teachers say they are, in essence, being asked to do more work in the same amount of time.

Technology.  Technology is an important issue to middle and high school teachers (it was not mentioned as often by elementary school teachers).  As one high school teacher said, “We are desperate for technology.”  There also are concerns about how difficult it is to utilize existing technology.

High school teachers, in particular, are able to enumerate many ways they would use smart board technology.  However, as Math teachers said at the last board meeting, laptops and projectors are the first priority.

Student Remediation.  Teachers express concern about the number of students who arrive unprepared for their grade level.  This concern is expressed at all grade levels.  It is most pronounced at the middle and high school levels.

Student Support.  Teachers are concerned about cutbacks in and/or the limited number of positions such as literacy teachers and counselors.    Teachers say that when students are not able to receive individualized attention when they need it the classroom environment is further compromised.

Equity.  Teachers at the higher income schools indicate that their work is far easier than at lower income schools.  “It changes everything,” said one middle school teacher.  Teachers at all buildings indicated concern about equity issues.  The equity issues they described focused primarily on teaching tools (e.g. technology, extra books, etc.)

Compensation.  Many teachers made it clear that they are looking at other school districts in the area.  The gap between St. Vrain’s base pay and that of nearby school districts is getting large enough that many teachers are willing to consider a change – though that’s not necessarily their first choice.

Prep Time.  Teachers indicate that they don’t have adequate time to meet in teams (especially vertical teams) and use assessment data to guide instruction.  Given this, some teacher question the merits of the number of assessments students are required to take.  If there’s not time to use the date, the teachers don’t gain any value added.  Other teachers see the assessments as highly valuable but say they need more time to make effective use of this data.  Teachers say, consistently, that they would like more PLC time to focus on horizontal and vertical team meetings to, as one teacher said, “Figure out how to make the curriculum we’re using work for my students in my classroom.”

Teachers would like the community to be more aware that other school districts provide far more prep time to teachers than does St. Vrain.

Vision?  Teachers in four of the five schools said they are unclear on the district’s long term vision.  They indicate that they are seldom part of conversations about the direction of the school district.  At the building level, many teachers recognize that principals are consumed with daily operations and have little time for big picture thinking.  At the district level, they indicate that they are hungry for more communications.

Schools I visited after the Public Policy presentations found the meetings to be extremely helpful.  People said those types of conversations are important to have on an ongoing basis.

Communications.  Teachers want to make sure people in leadership positions are doing the work that’s needed to convey the school district’s message and needs to the community.  They are concerned the stories about the good work in schools are not getting out.  They recognize that there is an important role for them to play in helping to communicate with the community. 

Discover Colorado

April 27, 2008

Discover Colorado: It’s People, Places, and Times is a text book written by Mathew Downey and Ty Bliss.  Ty is a teacher at Prairie Ridge Elementary School.  I am reading the book with my children.   The book is designed to do two things:  Help students learn about Colorado and improve their literacy skills.  This integrated approach to literacy and social studies is essential in our modern education system.

Another Glimpse Into the Future… Present

April 23, 2008

I have been corresponding with a friend recently regarding online education.  There are a growing number of online education options in the state of Colorado.

Perhaps the best known in Colorado is the Colorado Virtual Academy.  Douglas County School District has an online option.  In the St. Vrain Valley School District, Carbon Valley Charter Academy has the CVA Online Program.  The St. Vrain School District also allows students to take a small number of classes online – Mandarin Chinese is one example.

There are many more examples of online programs in Colorado and across the country.

I have had many, many hours of conversations with parents and teachers about education here in the St. Vrain Valley.  People are not clamoring for online programs.  It is only a small fraction of people who raise this topic.  People do think it is important to integrate technology into instruction but people are not anxious for more online instruction programs at the k-12 level.

Having said this, I am convinced that online instruction is going to transform education as we know it today.  It holds tremendous potential to help students accelerate their learning and to leverage teacher time.  It holds the potential to reduce costs for capital infrastructure (i.e. building school buildings) because students will be able to learn anywhere.

People are not clamoring for online instruction now but they will.  People did not did people clamor for laptop computers or in-car GPS systems, either.

How quickly will demand for online instruction grow?  How quickly will it transform education as we know it?  When I think about questions like this, I’m reminded of a Bill Gates quote regarding the internet.  He remarked about a decade ago to the effect of, “All the predictions about how the internet will change the world in 5 years are overblown and all the predictions about how the internet will change the world in 10 to 15 years are understated.”

I am equally convinced that there will always be demand for physical places – school buildings – that bring together students and teachers for face-to-face interaction.  I do a good deal of professional development.  More and more of it via web and phone.  But, there is just no way to replace face-to-face interactions.

What’s more, young people need opportunities to come together with peers as part of their development process.  Young people need opportunities to escape the controlling influence of their parents so they can stretch and grow.  It is an essential part of growing up.  And, parents need time away from their kids.  I’ll let parents tell you why.

Too often we allow ourselves to get bogged down by the tyranny of the “or.”  We think the world has to be this way OR that; rather than this way AND that.

Education in the future will be “online” much of the time.

Education in the future also will continue to be a physical place.

Other school districts are ahead of St. Vrain when it comes to offering online programs.  We need to become more diligent in investigating and implementing possibilities.  The good news is that many teachers already are experimenting with the possibilities.  The time for a bold step forward is ripening.

I’m not overly concerned that we’re not doing more yet with online instruction.  But we can’t be tentative for too much longer.

We won’t move quickly enough for some people within our school district and they will go elsewhere.  Many other people we will have to cajole to move forward each step of the way.  That is a normal part of the process of change.

I am excited and uncertain about what the future holds for education.  I imagine the possibilities our children have to learn anywhere, anytime to be enthralling.  At the same time, as Joe Mehsling said to me recently, “We have no idea what we’re doing to our kids.”  That’s because we’ve never done this before.

Not every generation must deal with the transformational change that we are experiencing today.  It’s unsettling.  But isn’t that the fun of it?

A Glimpse of the Future… Present

April 23, 2008

Earlier this month, the school district adopted new math curriculums and text books for middle and high school.  The teachers who were part of the process are enthusiastic about the new materials.  Part of the conversation with the school board revolved around the use of electronic resources.

I was struck when the math teachers described having “electronic lectures” on various subjects that students can use when they need more support on a particular topic and/or when they miss class due to an absence.  This is a glimpse at the future, which already is here.

Long term, we need to achieve productivity gains in education.  That is difficult in a people driven enterprise.  Electronic lectures is one way to leverage teachers’ time.  In effect, increasing the number of students a teacher can reach so their time is freed up to provide one-on-one or small group support to those students who need it.

I am scheduling meetings with people who know a lot more about how to use technology to leverage teacher time than I do.  This is part of my summer learning agenda.

Sandra Day O’Connor

April 22, 2008

Last Thursday, I experienced one of the perks of serving on the school board.  I was invited to attend a conversation with retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

I have had the privilege to meet a few people who hold (or have held) high office.  My experience is that people in these positions operate on a different plane than the rest of us – certainly I on higher plane than I operate.  That is certainly true of Justice O’Connor.  The confidence, optimism and get it done attitude are palpable.  She, and others I’ve met at this level, radiate a different type of energy.

It was a real treat to be able to meet her.

Justice O’Connor was in Boulder to speak about her efforts to renew a commitment to civic education in our classrooms.  Part of this effort includes an initiative known as Our Courts.  Justice O’Connor also is working with the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools.

Romeo & Juliet in WWI

February 19, 2008

I had a fun morning at Silver Creek High School earlier this month.  I sat in on an integrated English-History course taught by Jamie Neufeld and Justelle Grandsaert.  I want to thank Ms. Neufeld for inviting me to attend.

The morning I attended, students were acting out scenes from Romeo & Juliet set in WWI Belgium and France.  Ms. Neufeld and Ms. Grandsaert have put a great deal of thought into this course and assignment.  The criteria by which they evaluate students requires students to demonstrate they understand historical details of the period and the meaning of Shakespeare’s text.

What I observed is an example of what’s going well in our schools as well as challenges we face.

The students were terrific.  It was clear they spent time with the assigned material.  I noticed little things, too – the nuanced details in one of the stage performances; working in teams; the attentiveness and respect for one another’s performances; the courtesy of students who stopped by to tell me thanks for coming, and the normal high school tactic of angling for just a bit more time from student’s who may have been nervous about their readiness to perform.

Some of the students chose to video record their performances.  Some of these productions were complete with titles, credits and other production features.  The skills required to do this type of video production has nothing to do with English or History per se but are highly relevant.

In my consulting practice, client expectations for multi-media reports are growing.  A simple text report is no longer sufficient.  I am having to try to develop new skills (a challenge for someone who learned to type on a manual typewriter).  I am glad to see our students developing these skills at an early age.  This is the type of learning experience I hear parents say they crave for their children.

This also brings into focus one of our challenges.  It is my understanding that students used their own technology to make their video productions.  If a student comes from a family lacking a certain threshold of resources, they are excluded from such opportunities.

The teachers of the class are terrific, too.  A good deal of thought and planning go into a course of this type.  Beyond the content, I was impressed by the teachers’ rapport with the students.  I found the group of students to be highly respectful with a normal does of squirrelyness.  I was an instigator of orneriness when I was a student.  Now, I’m wound a little too tight and this normal energy sometimes gets on my nerves (how did that happen?).  Not Ms. Neufeld or Ms. Grandsaert.  They went with the flow without compromising on expectations.  I’m glad they are working in our classrooms.

In my conversation with Ms. Neufeld, she indicated that the integrated course led by two teachers opens up a multitude of possibilities that aren’t conceivable when working alone.

This observation points to another challenge we face – class size.  To maximize the benefits of a learning experience such as I observed requires the opportunity for detailed feedback – from teacher to student and students to students.  Individual and group discussion would be beneficial, too.

I did not count the students in this class.  I have since learned that it is more than 40.  If a teacher spends 5 to 10 minutes per student developing feedback (which isn’t much), that’s at least five hours of time for one assignment in one class.  As class sizes increase, the math is not complicated to conclude that detailed feedback becomes a challenge.

Perhaps class sizes don’t move the needle on standardized tests.  The size of a group does change the learning experience.

We have a choice as a community.  Will we provide our young people and our teachers with the bare minimum or will be provide the tools and the time to allow for rigor, creativity and fun so that we can stoke students’ passion for learning?

We have good teachers and students with great potential.  They are waiting to see what we decide.

Differentiated Instruction

January 29, 2008

I have had the chance now to attend two Accountability and Accreditation Committee meetings since being elected to the school board.  I have seen firsthand the efforts of teachers and principals to implement differentiated learning strategies.

These efforts begin with tracking data and creating tools to monitor the progress and needs of individual students.  Some of the tools I’ve seen are powerful.  For instance, a reading chart that lists students by name, where they are in relationship to grade level standards and the progress they’ve made the first four months of school.  Quickly, students aren’t data points but people who need to learn and grow.

The efforts I’ve seen being made in our schools are good.  It’s clear that many teachers and principals are busting their butts to better serve our children.  We need to do more.

Here’s the rub.  Most performance incentives – driven by state accountability reports and federal AYP requirements – are to elevate aggregate test scores.  There is a temptation to focus on a handful of children who are the cusp of crossing from partially proficient to proficient (or on the cusp of falling) as a strategy to elevate aggregate scores.  I’ve seen evidence of this happening in our schools, too.

These aggregate scores are statistically bogus numbers.  They compare this year’s third graders to last year’s third graders.  By the fluke of who walks in the classroom door a teacher may appear to have her or his worst year when they’ve actually had their best year as an instructor – and vice versa.

We will not make the progress we need to shift toward emphasizing differentiated instruction unless and until we align data and accountability incentives with individual student growth.

The good news is that efforts are being made at the state level to collect and organize data to track the year to year growth of individual students.  This will help schools that are doing a good job helping students advance – even if there aggregate scores are lower than other schools.  This will push schools dominated by naturally high performing students; they won’t be able to hide behind a High  accountability rating if individual student growth is inadequate.

Individual growth data will be important for parents, too.  If most children in a school are advancing by a year a more, except your child, then you know that you need to focus on your child.  If most children in a school are not advancing by a year or more, including your child, then you know you need to look for a new school.

The efforts beginning at the state level are good ones but we don’t need to wait on the state.  We can make changes in our own district, too.  Each year the board sets goals for the superintendent.   Historically, these goals include elevating the aggregate performance of district students.  I would like to see the superintendent’s goals include more emphasis on individual growth of individual students.  Parents, after all, can’t worry too much about aggregate students – they only exist in data.

I would love to hear from educators about their views on this topic and what types of incentives and support would be helpful to accelerate efforts to emphasize differentiated instruction.

K12 Online

November 14, 2007

Bud Hunt is an early adopter.  He’s figuring out how to integrate new technologies into life and work before most of us have even heard of them.

Bud is also a teacher.  This year he has taken on the role of teacher for teachers.  I am impressed by Bud the Teacher as he is known to his blog and podcast fans.

I am "auditing" a professional development course he is leading call K12 Online – Playing with Boundaries.  A group of 17 St. Vrain teachers are learning ways to leverage online tools when creating educational experiences for their students.

The St. Vrain course builds on an international, virtual conference cleverly titled K12 online conference.  Last night we gathered for a face-to-face session and listened in on the conference’s key note speech given from the Carolinas at a date and time I don’t know.  We joined participants from the UK, China and Wyoming – also on their own schedules.  Bud had asked for input for our course from colleagues around the globe using a tool know as Twitter.

We interacted directly and indirectly with people in unknown geographic locations.  The best part is we still got to go home and have dinner with our own families.

My take aways from last night (including ideas reaffirmed), in no particular order…

– We have barely scratched the surface of what’s possible when it comes to tapping technology to enhance learning.

– There are good and bad online protocal, "good ethical practices," as Bud described them.  I’m still learning which of these practices I might be violating – and doing well.

– Geography means a lot less than it used to.  The very notion of school "buildings" is going to be challenged far sooner than many of us imagine.

– Students will choose their own pace and hours for learning no matter what schedules we try to impose.

– The role of teacher will be far different in just a few years.  Teachers will shift from instructors to guides helping students direct their own learning.

– We still need face-to-face time to strenghten relationships.

– We still need quiet time, uninterrupted by technology, to reflect on what we’re learning and imagine what we might learn next.

We should be furious… at whom?

November 13, 2007

We must be more candid and talk more honestly about students who are below grade level.  We are turning our backs on these students if we don’t.

We have multiple schools in which more than half of all fifth graders are below grade level in math.  Do we have any reason to believe that they are prepared to succeed in middle school?  How long until these students drop out of school altogether.

It makes some people furious when a majority of students in a school are below grade level but the message is “everything’s fine” or “we’re making progress.”

Others of us choose to look the other way.  It is more comfortable to focus on students who are doing well rather than get exercised about students who are below grade level.

I agree with those who are furious.  We should be furious.  But that begs at least two questions: furious at whom?  And, how should we respond?

Should we be furious at principals and teachers who can’t seem to inspire or cajole students at their school to perform better?  Some people would like to publicly brand schools such as Spangler (the school where fifth grade CSAP math scores are lowest) as failures.

Let me ask, if all the teachers from Longmont Estates (where fifth grade CSAP math scores are highest) went to Spangler and vice versa, do you think student test scores at Spangler would go through the roof and scores at Longmont Estates would fall through the floor?  No one I know believes this.  Most people believe the scores at both schools would stay about the same.

I understand people’s frustrations that there is public silence about student performance at Spangler.  I wish that principals and teachers would be clamoring for significant changes to the system.  But, I’m not certain how a “scarlet letter” makes things better if there’s not public support for action.

Should we be furious with parents who don’t value education and who don’t show their children enough support?  I can understand some of this frustration.  It makes me mad.  But, I think we must be more honest about differences in family capacities.  It is ridiculous to think that a parent who had a bad educational experience themselves – or immigrant parents with multiple jobs as is common at Spangler – can provide the same level of support as well educated and “stay at home” parents.

We have to decide are we going to take a get tough approach with “slacker” parents or should we offer parents more help to support their children.  It should probably be a combination of the two.  There are some initiatives to boost parent capacities, but I can’t discern whether we have a system wide strategy.

Should we be furious with lazy and disrespectful students who don’t appreciate the opportunities they’re being given?  Again, I can understand this type of frustration.  It bothers me when students show disrespect.

We need to take a look at our retention policies.  We need to empower principals to be more directive about when a student is ready to advance to the next level.  We don’t do a child any favors by just letting them move to the next grade level.  We can’t be so deferential to parents who ignore advice.

But, I also know that a “do better or else” strategy will have limited impact.  And, in some cases, the get tough approach alone will simply drive up student dropout rates.

Here’s the thing.  The only strategies that consistently help low income students (and let’s be honest, that is who we are talking about) make academic gains are schools such as KIPP.  These schools extend the school day, week and year.  It is common for KIPP students to receive 60% more schooling than students at traditional schools.  If we were serious about supporting St. Vrain’s low income students, we would be clamoring for this type of school model.

Is there the political will to provide Spangler students – and other low income students – with more instruction time?  I hear more complaints than compliments when low income students receive a fraction of extra support let alone 60% more.

So, should we be furious with community critiques that complain about student performance but refuse to get behind strategies that are known to work?  I can understand frustrations toward the critics, too.

But, quite frankly, I think we all can look in the mirror and find fault.  As Martin Luther King often noted, he was less concerned about those who actively opposed civil rights and more concerned with those who knew civil rights were important but said nothing.

We aren’t going to make progress in supporting our children as long as we keep calling each other failures, liars, bigots, hypocrites and Pollyannas.   But, we’re also not going to make progress as long as we in the community sit silent and hope “those schools” will take care of the problems.

Name calling and silence breed unhealthy conditions.  Under these conditions people are prone to be deceitful, to make things seem better than they are or to ignore problems altogether.  There is a strong human drive to avoid conflict.

We must be more candid about what’s going on and what’s need to create change.  We’ve got to starting by toning down the rhetoric and breaking the silence. 

Our children need us to act like adults.