Ramblings - Using Internal Information LO11581

Sat, 28 Dec 1996 01:23:10 -0500

Recently, Rol Fessenden requested I expand some thoughts about using
internal information in education. I appreciate his kind invitation so I
will share some random observations and thoughts. (Reader beware, the
random becomes rambling at times, and may seem it will never end)

1. Those of us in education are a pretty decent group of people overall
who care very much and work very hard. Even most of our long-term
veterans care about the kids more than they are willing to show. Since I
entered the profession in1968, I have noticed that there is now a wealth
of research on effective teaching and schooling practices that was much
more limited in my early days. Also, teachers and administrators work
harder, and I expect longer hours, to get the work done. It is never

2. Teaching is a lonely profession... basically by choice. Teachers have
always been friends and collegues, but not collaborators. Most teachers
share ideas, plans, strategies with others if asked. But collaborating
together doesn't happen often, because it takes more time and energy than
just doing it by yourself.

Several years ago, a college professor, Larry Cuban, took a sabbatical and
returned to the high school classroom. He wrote that in order to keep up
with all the demands of a large number of students, more than one
preparation, and other job expectations he had to focus on being
efficient. I believe that the current structures and expectations in and
out of the school system encourage staff to focus on efficiency (i.e.
presenting material to students) rather than effectiveness (i.e. student

I taught for nineteen years, 5 team teaching using the turn teaching
method. We had very large classes, 2 teachers classes ranging from 50 to
110 in size. My colleague took the lead in planning and teaching one unit
and I took the lead on the next one. We took turns. Strength was very
well-planned material as I actually taught a half year of material in the
year as he taught the other half. We coordinated our work, but his
Ancient Egypt unit was his and my ancient greece unit was mind. We
assisted each other, but did not interfere with the others work. I
learned so much as a new teacher by working with a great veteran and not
being overwhelmed with new content to learn and teach.

The next three years I taught in a multi-disciplinary team-- social
science, english, science and music teachers working with a group of 90
students in AM and another 90 in PM. The first year we had a full time
associate. We met often and coordianted our teaching. We collaborated in
designing special units and grouping students. We worked very hard. We
found time by using our regular planning period for joint work, thus we
needed to do more planning and reviewing of student work at home. We also
met some evenings. It was exciting times working together.

The second year, staff cutbacks required that the full time associate
became a part time associate. She played a key role in organizing things
for us, but the level of collaboartion wasreduced. The thrid year, the
associate position was cut. We had no support. Next year, the team
disbanded and we all taught separately. No personality conflicts, but we
didn't have the energy to sustain,our joint work, so we let it slide away.

Teachers close the door and teach. Lonely.

3. Planning is a lot more interesting than evaluation. We are great
planners!!! I created interesting, viabrant lessons clearly focused on
learning outcomes and goals I wanted students to achieve. When I was
finished with the unit, I was already deeply involved in planning my next
unit. As I started teaching that unit, I was not interested in evaluating
at any deep level the quality of instruction in the previous unit. I made
notes of things that obviously didn't or did work, but no systematic
exploration and evaluation. I graded students so I could give grades.

4. The teacher's lounge is a refuge for grownups and adult conversation.
It is nice to talk to someone other than a teenager for forty minutes.
Given the structure of the work day, it is a nice place to share with our
friends what is going on in our personal lives or tell someone what just
happened to us in the classroom.

5. In Iowa in 1987, a law was passed that created a program that provided
state money for teacher pay or professional growth in programs developed
by local school districts. Today, this program focuses on "comprehenisive
school transformation" (or school improvement ), back then the focus was
on performanced-based pay (merit) or supplemental pay (extra for extra

6. After some benchmarking work, we decided that the best way for
teachers to improve their teaching, was for teachers to talk about
teaching. We learned this from Dr. Tom McGreal of University of Illinois.
We created two major structures to support this concept. One was the
expansion of our staff development program by offering a monetary
incentive for completion of courses and we intentionally created courses
about effective teaching and placed kindergarten and chemistry teachers in
the same course. Many of them were amazed at how much the other "type" of
teacher knew and what challenges they faced everyday in teaching.

We also created a peer observation program that was designed to look like
merit pay, but people received the little amount of money for doing it,
not what their score was. We had teachers observing other teachers,
engaging in respectful conferences, and learning from each other. funds
were cut and this part of program ended.

7. When it became possible to focus on school improvement, we changed the
focus of our program. We kept the staff development, but decentralized
much of the funds to schools. The funds were to be used to develop and
then implement comprehensive, long-range (3-5 years) school improvement
plans that contained the school's mission, shared beliefs, vision,
demographic data, other relevant information, an analysis of strengths and
areas of possible improvement based on evidence, and growth areas (goals)
to make the shcool better and result in increased student learning.

8. We trained all principals and 2-6 staff members from each school as
school improvement facilitators. We provided too much of a "cookbook-type
approach" to creat a school improvement plan and tried to blend
infacilitative behaviors that would allow and encourage wide input, but
FIRT YEAR AND THEY HAD SO MUCH PRIDE. Work on shared mission and beliefs
brought staff together. We surveyed staff and found widepsread and deep
support for plans.

9. Next year in November we mentioned that we plan to send "review teams"
of other school staff to visit each school once to engage in a
conversation about the school improvement process. It hit the fan. Fear
was abundant. Rather than view this as an opportunity to learn from each
other, people hunkered down and fought this checking up on them. We went
ahead with the teams and most review team members found it insightful and
school teams found the time they spent in preparing for the visit as
useful. The purpose of the review teams is to creat a structure that
causes reflection and conversation about schooling.

10. Our school improvement efforts are based on the concept that the best
way to improve schools is for school people to talk about schooling. In
our first 3 years, 1993-96, we have, IMO, broken down barriers to
school-focused conversations. We have been somewhat successful in getting
teachers and administrators, and to a lesser extent parents and community
members, to talk to each other about schools.

11. For whatever reason, the culture in education contains much fear and
worry. I know that exists in private sector also, but it seems that much
of our behavior is designed to ensure that someone does not "get us"
through some way. Maybe origins come from the days along time ago when a
teacher who was found to have unpopular beliefs, maybe political, was
fired. It happened and often. I believe those old days have
contaiminated today's education culture.

12. Many of the early plans focused on things other than student learning
and achievement. As we moved along, the plans focus more on students.

13. Many of our plans show a reluctance to measurement of achievement.
Most of us would rather process goals focusing on what we do than
performance goals that focus on results of our actions.

14. We are finding many who seem ready to move deeper levels. For some,
they desire not only to participate in conversations, but to be listened
to and have their ideas appreciated. Others are tired of talking and want

15. Annually, each school receives a database of all student success and
achievement information that has been collected. It includes normative
test scores (reported in percentiles), curriculum-based tests, attendance
records, suspension records, break-down of data by groups such
socio-economic level, ethnic & race, and gender. It is a rich source of
information. Only a few of the school improvement plan growth areas can
be connected to an analysis of the information in the data-base. We have
not been very successful in building capacity of staff members to engage
in conversations about the meaning of the data in the database. This is
an area, I believe, is essential for us to move to the next level.

16. The database is data-rich and overwhelming. Staff members need to
use strategies to convert this data into information that can be
comprehended and useful. Once people convert data to information, they
most powerful step is to convert this information into knowledge that we
act on.

17. My thinking and work recently has focused on how to structure
conversations that allow people to talk about meaningful things. PEOPLE
now part of all my work with others. I am now focusing on ways for people
to talk about data and make sense of it through conversations with others.

An example, last spring we surveyed teachers and administrators about the
school improvement planning process. We tabulated the results, and then
created "focus-like" groups who came together to discuss three key
questions designed to bring meaning from the data. While the stated
purpose was for them to help us make sense of the data, the unstated
purpose was for them to use the data and conversation as a way to reflect
on their own work.

When we ask them to reflect, they resist as they are to busy. People who
reflect as part of another task often feel rewarded by the oppotunity and
the reflection.

18. The five disciplines of a learning organization serve as a nice place
to anchor my thinking and planning to create meaningful structures in
organizations. Sometimes the natural resistance of the organization is
very discouraging. At this moment, I am encouraged.

What started out as a simple response to a simple question, has grown
beyond my expectations. This has been a cleansing and reflective act for
me. Right now, my current thinking and work is easier to be seen and
appreciated. I really know that I am on the right track. Isn't it
amazing that after 51 years of life, 29 in the profession, I have learned
so much and know that I have so much to learn and relearn yet.

If you read this, thanks. To all of you, may 1997 bring prosperity, good
health, and great joy to your lives. I will be away for a week to leave
the snows of Iowa to travel the sun of Arizona and visit my father. Being
away will be good for me.

David Wilkinson
School Improvement Specialist
Des Moines Public Schools



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