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Mark Gardner
Vancouver, WA
teacher thinker tinkerer dad
Interests: teaching, learning, teacher leadership, curriculum, assessment
Recent Activity
Exactly: we want teachers implementing AND we want teachers leading. Ideally, teachers lead the implementation of the policies that teachers lead the authorship of.
So true. Receiving feedback is a learned practice, and something that requires some reflection in itself. The book "Mindset" by Carol Dweck has made the rounds so much I worry that the message might get dismissed as cliche despite the value of what she discusses...but in the book she talks about how people with different mindsets receive feedback--and what a "fixed mindset" individual and a "growth mindset" individual does with that feedback. I've had to consciously check myself when I receive feedback, both positive and negative, for how I process it. That concept of mindset has transformed the way I look at teaching and learning as well as the way I think about TPEP.
Great work, Spencer--and I wish more and more teachers would get inspired to ask that same question: "why not me?" Teachers have the expertise to do far more than we often give ourselves credit for, and there are many opportunities for teachers to learn, explore, advocate... the tough part is finding time. Sometimes it is worth the effort to write those sub plans, though, even if being gone is more work than being present!
Even just sharing the roles you've grown into (or adopted willingly, or not so willingly) would be helpful!
Ultimately, this all would be moot if ESEA would just disappear. I have worked formally and informally with few different districts around this corner of the state with their implementation of TPEP, and all are adhering to the law but are approaching their local implementation and decision-making very differently--which is the double-edged sword that mandates such as the "must" are trying to prevent. Like the Common Core, the rollout in some cases has been botched, which in some cases has soured people on the new evaluation model despite its strengths, and this sourness is the result of policy decisions at the local level that may or may not be wise. My point: my concern is how effectively schools will read the "must." Thankfully, the "must" doesn't state a required proportion of our final evaluation that must be tied to test scores. Also, a wise reading of the law will reveal that even if state tests must be used, they will be but one of many data points from multiple measures by which a teacher monitors student growth. In that reading, you're right, probably not a big deal. A bigger problem is when either a handful of districts OR one major district such as Seattle implement unwisely and ruin it for everyone else. It is also a matter of principle, of course. Using test scores, particularly tests whose content and prompts have not really been explored, vetted, and refined (and there does not seem to be structures in place for the revision of the standards/test upon feedback from practitioners) is not particularly good practice. We may be delaying the conversation, which will perhaps give logic more time to prevail.
Linda, I totally agree. When we stand up against whatever policy or program we oppose, we have to make sure our arguments are the best arguments. I have to admit that my personal opinions on CCSS are far closer to "indifferent" than "passionate," mainly because of my context (high school English, where the CCSS is a shift from previous standards but not in a way that I believe is unreasonable). Elementary teachers and math teachers in particular, certainly have much more valid things to say in opposition to CCSS than I do--and THOSE are the voices that ought to be raised. I have no authentic voice, and in my opinion, very little place, in that particular argument--in a sense it is similar to non-educator policymakers making education policy: I have no right as a high school English teacher to presume to know what is best for my elementary-teaching colleagues. My relative indifference to CCSS in my classroom does NOT mean that others should be indifferent as well. We all must advocate from what we know toward what we think is best. Whether that means engaging at the building or district level to help influence curricular decisions or to engage at the local or national level to make broader changes there. Other issues, such as the new evaluation system, I am very well versed in and feel much more strongly about. Because that is something I am informed about, passionate about, and have influence around, I do engage at the building, district, local and state levels in trying to help shape how this new system is implemented. This is what we all need to do. Perhaps it was shortsighted of me to try to parse out just one part (the creativity and joy piece) of these bigger arguments. My message, about joy and creativity, was in direct response to what I hear among my own colleagues but also in response to other voices being posted online here and there about these matters. I find the joy and creativity argument to be passive and self-indulgent...and far to easy for the "powers" to dismiss as petty whining. Also, I've been thinking more about that idea of "serenity" as you raised before. The line "the serenity to accept the things I cannot change" is not the line that resonates the most to me in this context. Rather, the better line is "the courage to change the things I can." Teachers with the courage to "do" change rather than just talk about it will be the ones who can make the change they want to see. By that I mean I could sit and write on this blog until my fingers break off but it will do no good unless I go out and do something about what I care about (and I do, in my case, what I care about is ensuring that the system serves to help teachers grow as practitioners, not be bogged down with documenting their practice). It might not seem like it is possible sometimes, but I do think teachers can change the broader system for the betterment of our students--and it will not be easy, but it will take courage. It will be painful--what's the saying, if you stick your head out you're more likely to get your head chopped off? That takes courage. Linda, thank you for reading and engaging in a civil dialogue (what I perceive to be civil at least, I hope you're feeling the same) since in many other domains, the comments section is nothing but polarized polemics and ad hominem attacks. Civil dialogue is a lost art, but I believe is the critical for enacting lasting change.
Linda, I'm glad you can see my main point. However, I wasn't intending to compare "acceptance of CCSS" with accepting a cancer diagnosis, just giving the background for how that book showed up. And... I didn't say to accept with serenity... at the end I do call on people to make their voices heard and that we must argue against what we think is not best for education. (See the last two paragraphs of the post). No matter what, the first step in making change is figuring out what we are in control of and what we are not. I likewise agree that the standards are developmentally inappropriate in many cases. That argument is the argument policymakers need to hear. In fact, I agree with every policy point you make in your comment. In no way is my post asking teachers to just shut up and accept these :) but instead to make sure that we are arguing the right points when we stand in opposition of them. Ultimately, we need to make sure that our reasons for opposing whatever we oppose cannot be rooted in arguments around joy and creativity, which are wholly in our control. If our arguments include those points, it is far too easy for those in power to disregard everything we say.
So right. This not a raise. This isn't whiny teachers asking for more money. This is teachers justifiably asking for (1) what voters already said they supported for teachers and (2) eliminating de facto yearly salary DECREASES.
I'd be okay with eliminating early releases, late starts, etc., if they instead funded one LID day per month where students did not attend but teachers could engage in meaningful collaboration. Local bargaining agreements could then figure out what proportion of that time is taken up by district or building meetings, and what proportion is provided to teachers for collaboration. Actually, scratch that. We need what the other high-performing school systems in the world have: DAILY collaboration time. (1) reduce each teacher's overall student load, (2) increase the amount of preparation and collaboration time each day, and I'd bet the farm that the result is higher student achievement. We can write new standards and tests until our hands fall off, but nothing will change until the issue of time is addressed in a meaningful way.
I haven't begun digging into the details of the Thirty Million Words research, but I wonder if the key is the connection fostered (by language) between parent and child rather than the linguistic development itself? We teachers know that learning and growth occur best in an environment of good connections... No matter what, this line is key: "The most important thing non-teaching education stakeholders can do to support education in this country is to help parents help their children." This could easily be misinterpreted as the government nosing in on our parenting. The reality is that success in school starts at home, period. Those who overcome absent parents and home struggles are the wonderful exceptions, and sadly not the rule.
I'm with you on the priorities: I'd rather see class sizes reduced and more investment in high-poverty schools before I get my COLA. I'm just a few years from maxing out on the state salary schedule anyway, so the COLA will be even greater when I no longer am stepping due to experience. Every year of my career, I too have done side work, right now some months that amounts to a third of my total take-home pay in order to supplement my teaching income. (True, all this is to pay back my student loans and some poor credit-based decisions from my single days, but since those public schools I attended didn't make sure I understood interest rates even though I learned calculus... maybe I should sue?) Smaller classes absolutely do impact my students and their learning. BUT, paying a strong competitive wage to early service teachers so they don't burn out and turn away so quickly would certainly impact students. Better yet, pay them more, give them smaller classes, more collaboration time, and appropriate resources for professional development and we might just have the beginning of a solution.
This is great information. My big worry is that student growth percentiles LOOK like a very simple solution to anyone not directly involved with education. And since those are the people who make decisions about education policy, we need to inform them.
What a wonderful way to entice good people into the teaching profession. And the bonus is that no good teacher who wants to continue supporting his/her family will take on a challenging caseload of students, as that will result in data-driven public embarrassment of the kind that would drive a good, hireable employee into some other profession in search of a family wage and an iota of respect. I wonder if the Times could be sued for defamation (by individual teachers in a class action sort) if it were to make claims about teacher quality or effectiveness related to this decontextualized student data, the suit under the premise that partial information constitutes libelous publication. What if they were to also publish the names of the parents whose kids are associated with each teacher... after all, the education of children is a partnership. I wonder at the logic: will this "hold teachers accountable"? Will this inspire a crappy teacher to suddenly work harder? Or will it just further villainize and demean the profession to the point that the teaching force will only be full of quick-to-burn martyrs and babysitters cycling through a revolving door?
Thanks so much for sharing this perspective--ultimately, what I take away from this is bigger than how I can better work with students who have dyslexia. Rather, it is more about what our system has been and what we need to reconsider: as you point out, too often, we are deficit focused... we look for where kids fail and pour energy in to that instead of looking for ways for them to cultivate their strengths. I see the same at all levels of education, from the classroom to policy-making. It is easy to label a kid, a school, or a system as failing if we only adopt the perspective of what struggles or failures exist. We can always find those. Instead, as you point out, we need to harness the strengths each student, school, or system has going for it.
I like your loophole. I think there might already exist such language, though, where the current law (RCW 28a.405.100f) says that "student growth data that is relevant to the teacher and subject matter" can be used. Honestly, it would be easy to make the case that your third grade test scores are relevant to neither you nor your subject matter (since the standards for your subject matter are different from grade level to grade level). My worry is that when the law is opened up for revisions, some public-school-hating policymakers will jump on the opportunity to tinker with more than just a "can" to "must" shift.
The link again: My previous comment added the closing parenthesis to the hyperlink.
Tom, my curriculum is definitely fiction-heavy. The idea with common core and non-fiction/informational text at the high school level is to address roughly 30% literary text and roughly 70% informational text--but that is not for the English class, that is for the entire school day. The informational texts in everything from history and science to math and electives help to comprise that other 70%. (From a chart on this site: I freaked some of my colleagues out one time by casually mentioning that a kid's English class is only 1/6 of their day (17%) which meant that Science, History and Math needed to start teaching literature to make up that other 13%! That didn't go over well.
This is one of those domains where comparisons to the private sector don't work... my friends who work in other fields earn promotions, new positions, or have greater mobility as a result of their performance reviews. I'm not in favor of my evaluation being the key to higher pay, especially if my evaluation involves state test data. Your closing comments are right on: we need time to understand the system and how to make it work before we start making major decisions about what to do with whatever rating, data, or evaluation, comes out the summative end of the process.
Kristin, thanks for the link to the practice SBA site. This will be good food for conversation with my department/PLC this year.
For better or for worse, by the time they reach high school parents are often (not always) one extreme or the other: disengaged or hyper-engaged. Part of the disengagement might be that the parent now has to manage relationships with multiple teachers over multiple subjects (and we all often see multiple versions of that student's personality based on the content area, mix of kids, time of day...) The hyper-engagement is often due to this malevolent societally constructed pressure to get the best grades so kiddo can get into the best college and get the best job... and an A- on an essay in tenth grade English (even though kid's overall grade is a 98.7%) will cause the child to end up destitute, or worse, attending WSU instead of UW. I do believe that parents are valuable partners in their child's education. I appreciate the parents who promote self-discipline, model a consistent value of learning, permit failure, and who facilitate their students' success by fostering home routines that help reinforce the student accomplishing what is asked of them (i.e., regular homework or reading time, etc.). I appreciate the parents who accept reality about their child, warts and all, and want to work toward a strategies to help their child rather than expect me to dance while parent and kid maintain the status quo. I like the emails that read "I see a vocab quiz is coming up, my child hasn't being doing well so what ideas can I use to help him prepare?" That, to me, is far more meaningful and powerful engagement than when I get daily emails asking if junior can make up a three point assignment from ten weeks ago or that "my child deserves to retake all those vocab quizzes...he says you didn't prepare him." I'm not a principal, so I have no idea what that role demands in terms of parent contact--apparently quite a bit at the elementary level at least. I can see, though, how it would be something that could drive someone out of the job. The top two reasons I won't consider pursuing my admin credential are (1) I do not want to chaperone prom and (2) I don't think I could handle dealing with the power struggles that seem to emerge when dealing with parents.
So true, Tom, there are so many teacher leaders who have given the state of Washington more than they realize. It is constant work, and I have found from day one that, whether right or wrong, saying I am an NBCT when working with non-educators has elicited from them greater respect. True, all educators deserve respect, but those four letters help to earn it more quickly so we can do work that earns it for all of us.
I get you, Tom, but I am holding out hope that there will not be asinine mandates about how to USE that SBAC test data. If I teach a tested subject/level, I still want to be in charge of defining what "growth" looks like for my learners. I've taught intervention program classes or special education inclusion my whole career--and growth needs to be about appropriate change...movement from a point A to a point B... not about getting every one of my learners to an externally determined cut line that disregards what they come in capable or not-yet-capable of doing.
I would still rather see it be a local choice to use SBAC assessments in teacher evaluation, and since we haven't seen those in action yet, I'd hate to see it be made a "must" before we even get to try them out. Further, one thing that I value in the current law is that the teacher is credited with being a professional--part of our evaluation on student growth includes the quality of the goals we set and assessments we choose for our learners, because we know our learners. As soon as the "must" gets established, then there will be arbitrary growth numbers established (i.e., every kid in the state of Washington scoring an X at the formative SBAC must score a Y at the summative) when the law as is currently gives teachers the professional charge to set those goals based on what they know about the learners. Perhaps a middle about this: >All teachers can use classroom-, building-, district-, or state-based tools based on their professional discretion to assess achievement at multiple points in time (what the current law states). State test data may NOT be used to evaluate the performance of teachers in non-tested subjects or grade levels. >Teachers in tested subjects must use state test data (SBAC), if and only if the following conditions are met by SBAC: >>The assessments are capable of showing a change in student achievement on specific standards between two points in time during that teacher's contact with the student, >>The scope of change (growth) and skills/standards emphases assessed for classes or subgroups of students is wholly determined by the teacher...since it is the teacher who knows the most immediate needs students with whom he/she works; the "quantity" of growth shall not be mandated by the state nor tied to a evaluative rating (unless you want a bunch of less-than-ethical teachers to sandbag the formative assessment), >>Growth goals can only be set by the teacher, and only after baseline formative data is returned to the teacher from SBAC, >>Data from baseline or formative assessments is accessible to the teacher within one week [or some other SHORT time frame designated in the law] in order that action may be taken by the teacher to adjust instruction based on formative information, >>Summative data from assessments is provided to the teacher within the same time frame [one week] or before May 15th of a school year. If it is going to be in law, I'd like to see the law serve the STUDENTS and the TEACHERS, not the TESTING COMPANY.
drpezz, you are right. This is why when any talk of opening the evaluation law for revision is made, we are diligent and quick with proactive measures, not just reaction. There is a lot more right than wrong with the law is it currently stands (IMO), and if the door is opened to meddling, we HAVE to be there lest it get massively screwed up and I have to find a job outside of education.
Score Release: 11/20/2013 (Wednesday) for Take One! candidates; 11/23/2013 (Saturday) for new or retake candidates.