Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Always Learning

A few days ago I returned home after leading a summer teaching workshop to find one of my windows shattered, my jewelry scattered, and our TV missing. We’d been robbed.

After hours of police reports and vacuuming up thousands of shards of glass, it was hard not to feel angry, violated, and worried about repeat burglaries. But then I was reminded of a story told about Ronald Reagan, right after he’d been shot. He was on a hospital gurney being rushed into surgery when the lead doctor bent over him and asked, “Are you allergic to anything?”

Reagan took a deep breath, looked him in the eye, and said, “Bullets”.

It takes a strong person to retain a sense of humor in a situation like that. But it also reminds me that we all have the power to choose how we react to the events that befall us. Reagan chose not to succumb to fear, but instead took charge of the situation and put those around him at ease.

I choose to learn a lesson from that. I choose not to allow these burglars, whoever they are, to make me fearful or to think differently about our little house in the woods. I choose to retain my assumption of goodwill rather than fearing the worst of strangers. Instead, I choose to retain my peace of mind. To do otherwise would be to let them win.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What makes a great teacher? And how do we measure this?

Pay for performance has been all over the news in the past couple of years as politicians struggle to quantify what effective teachers do. While many people, teachers included, agree that workers who are more effective should be paid more, the sticking point in education has been in how we measure that effectiveness. Can we trust the “value added” measures currently proposed by many states and districts?

An article in the December issue of Educational Leadership entitled “Good Teachers May Not Fit the Mold” breaks down the research comparing “good” teachers with those who don’t quite measure up. To briefly summarize, the research indicates that good teachers possess:

verbal and cognitive ability – “teachers’ ACT scores exerted a larger influence on student achievement than did student poverty level, class size, and teaching experience combined.”
adequate knowledge of their content areas
knowledge of how to teach their subject areas (pedagogical knowledge) – “students…whose teachers had strong pedagogical content knowledge…were likely to gain a full year more learning than students whose teachers had weak pedagogical content knowledge.”

Just as interestingly, the author outlined what has NOT been found to be tied to student success:

traditional licensure or credentials – the only exception was National Board Certified Teachers, whose students showed higher achievement levels than non-NBCT.
advanced degrees – simply having a master’s degree or higher had no positive correlational effect on student achievement and in some cases even had a negative effect.
extensive classroom experience – after their first 5 years of teaching, there was little difference in teacher effectiveness based on experience.

All of the above are measureable characteristics that can or have attempted to be correlated to the effectiveness of teachers. Research has shown several other characteristics that are NOT measureable, however, and yet are linked with “good” teaching:

belief that all students can learn – the so-called “self-fulfilling prophesy”
belief in their own abilities – teachers who believe in their own ability to help a student tend to have students who succeed
ability to connect with students – “teachers’ warmth, empathy, and ‘non-directivity’ strongly correlated to higher levels of student participation, motivation, and achievement.”

How do we measure these last three qualities of teachers? Will they translate to higher scores? Can they reliably be measured through observations? I don’t know the answer. But it’s pretty obvious that times, they are a-changin’ – and the old method of paying teachers more because they’ve simply been teaching longer or have sat through more classes will no longer cut it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Head Injuries and Epiphanies

This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the bike accident that temporarily took away my ability to read, and permanently taught me a lesson. I wrote about it here on Reading Rockets the summer it happened. Grateful to have recovered and mindful of the lessons learned.

Monday, June 6, 2011