The Innovator’s Mindset Book Study – Week 3 (Chapter 3: Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset)

In week 3 of our book study, I’m exploring the 8 characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset. (Psst! It’s not too late to catch up on the first two weeks of our book study – Week 1 and Week 2)

One of my favorite things about this chapter is that it starts out with a short story about a teacher who left the classroom for a few years and upon her return was surprised at how much had changed. Not wanting to be left behind, she began reaching out and pushing herself out of her comfort zone to create new and meaningful opportunities for her students. Throughout the chapter, George returns to that teacher in applying one of the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset.

The eight characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset are: Empathetic, Problem Finders (love this!), Risk-Takers, Networked, Observant, Creators, Resilient, and Reflective. The characteristic that stands out most to me is that of being a risk-taker. While for a lot of people standing in front of a group of kids and talking can be very risky, most teachers do not have a fear of public speaking. Rather, it is much riskier to open yourself up to something you’re not comfortable with. For me this involves asking for feedback from teachers and staff on my professional development offerings and training sessions. It can be challenging and a bit scary to ask for feedback, especially from teachers with whom you don’t have much of a relationship. Being split among several buildings makes it hard to really build a meaningful rapport with teachers and it can be scary to ask for feedback. Of course, this constructive feedback is crucial for our own personal growth and can push us to improve and change – to innovate. George asks at the end of the chapter: “What risk might you take to change learning experiences?” For me this includes asking for feedback at every session, not just a few select meetings. Beyond that, it’s important to evaluate the feedback with an objective eye and take it as a way to grow. It can be hard to listen to feedback without immediately getting defensive or trying to explain our decisions. While some of that is a natural response, it doesn’t do much to push me to grow or improve.

The other characteristic of the Innovator’s Mindset that really resonated with me was that of Resiliency. No one needs to tell teachers that their job is difficult. We know it better than anyone. And it can get really hard to continue to feel positive and excited about your work when you are pulled so thin and stretched in so many different directions. The focus on testing and data has made creativity and innovation feel more and more challenging and out of reach. Teachers must be resilient in the face of these difficulties. By embracing the amazing things are kids are doing and seeking out meaningful learning opportunities for our students, teachers can practice this characteristic.

What about you? Which characteristic(s) of The Innovator’s Mindset resonates with you? 

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What risk might you take to change learning experiences?
  2. How might you create an environment that fosters risk-taking?
  3. How do you exhibit the innovator’s mindset in the learning and work that you do currently?

The Innovator’s Mindset Book Study – Week 2 (Chapter 2: The Innovator’s Mindset)

This week I’m focusing on a single chapter because there was SO MUCH that resonated with me and I didn’t want to have a post that was 1,000 words long! You’re welcome.

In this chapter, George defines what The Innovator’s Mindset is and provides some examples of this at work in schools. Borrowing from Carol Dweck’s work on the growth mindset, the Innovator’s Mindset “can be defined as the belief the that the abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed so that they lead to the creation of new and better ideas” (p. 33). It’s not enough to just believe that through practice and hard work one can get better, but that we use those increased skills to make something that is better than what existed before.

While I feel like this concept has been somewhat embraced in schools, I think its implementation has suffered. For too long, schools have been searching for “the next big thing” in education, the tool or resource that will be the magic bullet, raise test scores, increase student engagement, reduce behavior issues, etc. While there are certain tools that will resonate with students – for awhile at least – the “big thing” that will really change education is already in our schools. Teachers, support staff, and administration that believe our students have the abilities to succeed, to create, and to share with the world. These teachers and schools have cultivated an environment where creativity is encouraged, where students know they are loved and respected for who they are, where connections with the world are made as part of normal curriculum.

I’m not naive enough to think that this is an easy task. As a former classroom teacher, I remember how challenging it was to differentiate based on each student’s strengths and needs, how difficult it could be to maintain positivity in the face of political backlash and budget cuts, how the temptation to “get through” the curriculum instead of deepen discussions and learning opportunities was ever present. One of the most critical things I learned early on in my student teaching was that if I didn’t have a relationship with a student, it would be very challenging to get him or her to do anything. For some, this is a difficult understanding to reach. For me, it was second nature because that’s how I operate. While I will follow rules because that’s also who I am, I won’t be happy about it and I certainly won’t go the extra mile for someone whom I think doesn’t care about me or like me. Building – and maintaining – those relationships with students is key to cultivating the Innovator’s Mindset in our classroom.

The Innovator’s Mindset starts with empathy for our students. Equally important is the desire to create something better. If we are going to help our students thrive, we have to move past ‘the way we have always done it’ and create better learning experiences for our students than we had ourselves” (pp. 41-42).

Having seen George speak at a few conferences, a question he often asks is: “Would you want to be a student in your own classroom?” Such a simple inquiry, yet also incredibly powerful. If we are honest with ourselves and examine the types of learning experiences we are providing for our students, answering this question can be a bit of an eye-opener. I’ll end with a quotation that resonated with me:

Innovating in our schools requires a different type of thinking, one that doesn’t focus on ideas that are ‘outside the box’ but those that allow us to be innovative despite budgetary constraints. In other words, we need to learn to innovate inside the box” (p. 36).

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What are some examples of innovation that you have seen within constraints, both inside and outside of schools?
  2. What questions do you think are vital to understanding those whom we serve in education?
  3. If you were to start a school from scratch, what would it look like? (See my answer to this question).
  4. How do we take what we currently have to create a better education system for our entire community?

If…

Reading through the #InnovatorsMindset hashtag on Twitter, I came across this post – If I Could Build a School. Created as part of the Ontario School and System Leaders Edtech MOOC, the post really got me thinking. It’s pretty easy to complain about the things that are wrong with schools, bemoan the many challenges facing teachers and schools, be frustrated with all the things that are seemingly out of our control, etc. However, when thinking about how to change schools, it can be a much more challenging conversation.

If you could design a school from scratch, what would it look like?

My school would be open and welcoming from the very moment you enter – bright colors, soft flooring, lots of seating options and areas for collaboration. There would be student work throughout the school, highlighting the unique learning and various student cultures present in our building.

Our building would not have specific areas for learning specific things – i.e., “technology lab”, “classroom”, etc. Rather, students and teachers would have many areas to take their students to immerse them in learning. When you walked into my school, you would see students working in collaborative spaces throughout the building. iPads and other technologies would be integrated seamlessly into instruction. Students would be documenting and sharing their learning on their personal blogs. There would be many opportunities for formalized sharing – Google Hangouts, Skype with other classrooms, presentations, small group discussion. Makerspaces and “studio” space would be available for students to create and share their learning in myriad ways.

Our focus would be on building relationships and fostering a culture of support and collaboration. Students would feel safe, welcomed, loved, and supported. They would be inspired to learn, to ask questions, to create, and to build. Our school would not have bells and our schedule would not be a strict structure. Inspiration doesn’t happen in neat, hour-long chunks, so why would we force our students to learn and create that way?

Your Turn: If you could design a school from scratch, what would it look like? 

The Innovator’s Mindset Book Study – Week 1 Reflections (Intro & Chapter 1)

As I read the introduction to this book, I had a hard time not underlining the entire section as George laid out the reasons behind creating this book. I think many educators can relate to feeling frustrated in a lot of ways by the state of schooling today. Overwhelmed by mandates that sometimes don’t make sense, standardized testing, and data collection, I felt so frustrated. From the very beginning of my formal teacher education program, I understood the importance of relationships with students. Creating a culture of caring, creativity, risk-taking, and safety was always at the fore of what I did as a teacher. As the years passed, I began to feel frustrated by the emphasis on the student as a set of data points instead of a person with ideas, fears, wonders, dreams, and interests beyond what tests could measure.

While I am not working with my own classroom of students any more, I now get to see entire buildings of students and see a bigger picture of what a school is – and what it could be. This quote in particular stuck out to me:

Inspiration is one of the chief needs of today’s students. Kids walk into schools full of wonder and questions, yet we often ask them to hold their questions for later so we can ‘get through’ the curriculum.[…] We forget that if students leave school less curious than when they started, then we have failed them. (emphasis mine)

Just adding a bunch of technology isn’t going to magically change the way students are being taught. It’s crucial for teachers to embrace technology as a way to connect students to the world “out there.” We always talk about when students get “in the real world” as if schools are a  little bubble and the real world never impinges on our students’ lives. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Our students are facing some very difficult realities, many that I – as a middle-class white woman – could never truly relate to. Our kids are connected to others in many parts of their daily lives – their cell phones, social media accounts, etc. It’s unrealistic to expect that our students won’t want to use technology in a way the fundamentally changes the way they learn. Technology has fundamentally changed the way almost all of US learn. How many of you memorize phone numbers? I don’t, because my phone does it for me! If I can’t remember a particular detail or fact, I can quickly Google when an event happened. Our students do these things too, and we should foster a culture of innovation – where the focus is not on the facts but on evaluating, analyzing, and sharing how those things have influenced or impacted our world.

In my current role as a tech integration specialist, something I hear from teachers all the time is “what if _______?” I totally understand not being comfortable with something, and, as the “expert” in the room, teachers want to feel like they have the answers before they introduce something to their students. However, I push back with asking, “What do you do when a student asks a question you don’t know?” I think it’s important to model for our students how adults solve problems and figure things out. Besides, students love to be the experts and if they can show a teacher how to do something, it makes that kid feel very empowered. Instead of trying to control everything and preparing for all of the “what ifs”, what if we let go a bit and let our students lead, puzzle, tinker, struggle, and figure things out on their own?

Aside from the technological know how, many teachers are worried that their students will use technology inappropriately – looking up things that are not appropriate, communicating with others instead of working on an assignment, etc. While these are legitimate fears, I don’t think they are really any different than normal classroom management challenges. How do you ensure students are staying on task and are engaged in a lesson. Obviously rules and procedures are important, but more so is the relationship piece. If students feel valued and loved, respected and inspired, they are far more likely to behave the way they are supposed to. While safety online is important, it can’t be the only thing we talk about. I loved this quote from page 7 of the book:

We are spending so much time telling our students what they can’t do that we have lost focus on what we can do. Imagine that if every time you talked about the ability to write with a pencil, you only focused on telling kids not to stab one another with the tool. What would you really inspire in your students? Creativity? Unlikely. Fear? Almost certainly.

In thinking about practices that I consider innovative, I think about the fashion service Stitch Fix. Obviously this example is not education related, but it is a service that seems very innovative to me. Here’s how it works:

  • Create an account and fill out a style profile
  • Schedule your first “Fix”
  • In a few weeks, a package of five hand-picked items arrives at your doorstep. Your stylist chooses items based on your style profile as well as personal requests like a pair of skinny jeans or a handbag.
  • You try everything on, keep what you want, and send back the pieces you don’t. You check out online, providing feedback for both the pieces you keep and the ones you send back. The more fixes you get, the better they become as your stylist really becomes able to understand your personal style.

I consider this practice innovative because, as a busy professional, I don’t always have time to shop and look for things that are fashion-forward. This service makes shopping more fun because the items come to me! My stylist chooses items that are within my style, but sometimes pushes me outside of my fashion comfort zone.

The big question at the end of the Introduction is: Why do you believe schools need to change and what are the opportunities that lay in front of us? 
I believe schools need to change because our world has changed. The types of skills our students will need to be successful – nay they ALREADY need – cannot be taught through compliance and completing worksheets. Researching, analyzing, collaborating – those are the skills our kids need. Creating their own meaning through the guidance of curricular experts (i.e., the teacher, guest speakers, etc.) will create far more nuanced and thoughtful students. The ability to connect to the world around them is so powerful for students. We, the leaders of our classrooms and our schools, need to provide those opportunities for our students and guide them so they learn how to communicate in a digital environment.

 

What are your thoughts? Feel free to add them in the comments here. Questions to guide your thinking:

  1. Why do you believe schools need to change and what are the opportunities that lay in front of us?
  2. What is an example of a practice that you would consider to be innovative? How is it new or better than what you had before?
  3. How do you create opportunities for innovation in your leadership? In your teaching? In your learning? 
  4. What has changed in our world today that not only makes innovation easier to do, but necessary for our students?

 

 

 

The Innovator’s Mindset Book Study

Perhaps you’ve heard of George Couros. Maybe you heard him speak at ISTE. My Michigan friends had the pleasure of hearing George as the Keynote speaker at MACUL 2015. If you haven’t heard George speak, you’re missing out! Check out what people say about him here. 

As a teacher, building relationships with my students was always a key part of how I built community in my classroom. Providing students a safe space to share, learn, grow, challenge, and engage with the world is crucial to developing students who are thoughtful and prepared to solve problems in our world. George refers to this set of skills as The Innovator’s Mindset – a way to “empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity.” By reading his book, teachers and administrators can begin a discussion about how to create this culture in their classrooms and buildings.

I finally purchased a copy of the book and am so excited to start reading and sharing my thoughts. Would you like to join me? You can purchase The Innovator’s Mindset on Amazon. This will be a very informal “book club”, but each week I will post my thoughts and reflections on a few chapters and invite you to add to the conversation – in the blog comments and on Twitter using #InnovatorsMindset. Want to join? Sign up here.

I hope you will consider joining me! I’m planning to start posting my thoughts on the first couple of chapters next week.

P.S. I have a FREE copy of the book to giveaway to one lucky winner!

Social Media and Students

If you’re reading this blog, chances are pretty good you find value in connecting with and learning from others on the Internet. One of the easiest ways to do that is through social media channels. As an avid Tweeter, I cannot express how much Twitter has changed the way I learn and grow professionally. Through a variety of educational chats like #miched, I have connected with teachers and administrators throughout the country. Nothing is more powerful than posting a question and getting many responses within a few minutes. It’s so great to quickly see what kinds of learning and professional growth is happening in other places as well.

While many teachers utilize social media in their personal lives, many are reluctant or hesitant to include it in their instruction. Even though it’s one of the main ways our students connect with one another, teachers and schools often ban social media, blocking the sites at the server level, and monitoring students’ cell phone usage. Just like any distraction, students need guidelines and scaffolding to recognize how and when to use any tool. Kiddos can be distracted with a pencil – tapping out a rhythm, drawing or doodling when they’re supposed to be taking notes, writing to a friend instead of working on their math practice. As teachers, our job is to help students learn how to use technology as a tool and a support rather than just a passive distraction.

There are many great pockets of examples of how Twitter and Instagram are being used in classrooms across the country. Just recently, George Couros wrote a blog post about how Twitter allowed him to make a connection between a student, a teacher, and himself. It’s hard to imagine how this connection would have been possible without technology. Kindergarten students are engaged in learning on Twitter with help from their classroom teacher – and getting incredibly excited to connect with another classroom. This makes their learning so much more meaningful and personal.

Recently, I read an article from EdSurge – “Three Reasons Students Should Own Your Classroom’s Twitter and Instagram Accounts.” The author discussed three big ways that posting on these social media channels has changed her students and their learning. We know students must be good digital citizens, since they will have almost their entire lives captured and documented online. We must make learning meaningful and relatable, not just “Don’t post personal information because it’s bad!” Students need to learn about digital citizenship in an embedded, purposeful way. What better way to model, demonstrate, practice, and learn how to be good digital citizens than through a classroom Twitter or Instagram account?

In Michigan, there currently isn’t a law regarding the use of social media in schools. But, Representative Adam Zemke has proposed HB 4791 which would require districts to “adopt and implement a policy regulating social media interactions between students and school personnel.” While I believe this is forward-thinking in being realistic that social media channels are an integral part of how students today connect and communicate, the fear is that this type of policy may cause an undue financial burdens on schools. For example, if each district is allowed to set its own policy, each district will need to meet with legal experts to determine appropriate language, implications, etc. and this could cost a lot of money in legal fees. For cash-strapped districts, many might look at this and decide to ban social media interactions altogether. Schools across the state – not just those in struggling urban and rural areas – are being asked to do more with less. Penny pinching and belt-tightening has become a way of life throughout the state. I can envision an administrator who doesn’t understand the power of social media in empowering and engaging our students looking at the potential costs involved and deciding it’s not worth it.

Your Turn: What do you think? Should schools have a social media policy? What would yours include?

Lansing School District Participates in The Hour of Code

As both a Code.org National Affiliate and current Technology Integration Specialist, I made it my mission this year to provide leadership and support to schools throughout the Lansing School District in The Hour of Code. Working in partnership with our district’s marketing team, I was able to get some really great publicity for the district. I’m really proud of the work teachers throughout the district are doing. It’s more challenging than ever to be in the classroom, and so I appreciate teachers’ willingness to continually push themselves and their learning in order to create more meaningful educational opportunities for their students. You can read more about The Hour of Code week in Lansing Schools in this previous blog post.

Check out the nice piece in our district newsletter – The Bright Side.

Bright Side January 11 2016

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Wrong For Schools, Wrong for Michigan

Late this week, in the last voting session of 2015, the Senate sent Senate Bill 571 to Governor Snyder for his signature. Buried within the 53 page finance bill is a measure that will make it much more difficult for local schools and school districts to inform voters on proposed millages to support school systems.

According to MASSP, “The House adopted a floor substitute to a campaign finance bill that included this measure and took the legislation from 12 pages long to 53 pages at the end of a nearly 12-hour session.” The provision would bar local districts, schools, and ISDs from distributing factual and unbiased information for 60 days prior to an election. This includes mass mailings, TV, or pre-recorded phone messages.

Given the deep cuts to the School Aid Fund and the overall reduction in per pupil funding the last several years, millages are often the only way schools can bridge the gap between what they can financially provide their students and what their students actually need. Millages are one of the most democratic proposals citizens can vote on. Investing in the future of their city’s schools and students ensures that all will receive a quality education in a school that is safe and secure. Students will have access to technology that will support and enhance their instruction, and will be of the same caliber they will encounter in college and their careers. Millages often provide infrastructure support – improvements in lighting, classroom heating, wireless access, updated bathrooms, etc. These are things that have fallen by the wayside as schools have continued to see their budgets shrink due to a variety of factors – one of which is decreased funding from the state legislature.

A democracy thrives when its citizens are able to participate in the electoral process. An informed electorate was one of the key principles of the nation our Founding Fathers valued. They understood the importance of information when it came to choosing laws and policies that would guide our country. For the Republicans in our state to attempt to pass a law that is in no way good for students, for schools, or for the public as a whole, is reprehensible and despicable. Unfortunately, it is par for the course in the last few years. Taking away the ability for districts to be able to distribute factual and unbiased information around a millage means fewer people will be informed, and thus, fewer people will participate in the democratic process by simply choosing not to vote, or voting no because they don’t understand what it is they are voting for.

What’s even more appalling, is earlier this week, Republicans passed Senate Bill 13 that eliminates the ability to vote “straight ticket”. Proposed under the guise of allowing the electorate to be more informed, the Republicans fast-tracked this legislation through the House and Senate, designed to make voting less efficient and less easy. The electorate already voted on this, and over 60% of the population voted to keep straight ticket voting. This time, when the Republicans passed the bill, they attached it to an appropriations bill. Under Michigan’s Constitution, a bill that is attached to an appropriation is ineligible for referendum. So much for democracy in Michigan.

It is my belief that Senate Bill 571 is just another attempt to make it more difficult for public schools to operate in Michigan. Years of reduced funding and cuts to the School Aid Fund. An elimination of caps on charter schools. And now this. Where, pray tell, are schools supposed to get the monies they need to provide a high quality education for the students of Michigan. I am ashamed of the Republicans in our legislature.

I urge voters to contact Governor Snyder and ask him to veto this bill. It serves no clear purpose other than to make it more difficult for schools to offer a high quality education to its students. This bill is not good for schools, it’s certainly not good for students. The people of Michigan deserve better. Our kids deserve better.

Global Read Aloud

I first heard about the Global Read Aloud movement at ISTE. Josh Stumpenhorst showcased Pernille Ripp in his Keynote address. You can read more about the history of the Global Read Aloud here, but the jist is for classrooms to read a book and find another classroom to connect with. Teachers have the opportunity to recommend a book and then they vote on their top choices. There are generally several books to choose from at each grade level. For younger learners, there is often an author study with the option to read several picture books by the same author. Using Edmodo, Twitter, Skype, Google Hangouts, Padlet, and blogs, teachers find classrooms to connect with. It’s an awesome way to engage students in a read aloud that goes beyond your normal classroom discussion. Plus, students love seeing other kids in another part of the world and connecting with them.

This year, motivated by the awesome Keynote address Pernille gave at the Michigan Google Fest in September, I reached out to teachers at Lewton Elementary, a magnet school whose focus is on Global Studies and Spanish Immersion, to see if they would be interested in getting on board. As an incentive, I offered to purchase the books for the teachers. It was a small investment for a really valuable experience for kids. All three teachers who participated chose the book Fish in a Tree.

The author of the beloved One for the Murphys gives readers an emotionally-charged, uplifting novel that will speak to anyone who’s ever thought there was something wrong with them because they didn’t fit in.

“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”

Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions.  She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.

Source: http://www.amazon.com/Fish-Tree-Lynda-Mullaly-Hunt/dp/0399162593

So far, we have connected using Padlet with two classrooms – one in Australia and one in California. It has been really neat to have students learn from other students in other parts of the world. This week, we used Swivl to record students talking about their favorite part of Fish in a Tree so far. We will be sharing these video reflections with our friends in California and Australia. You can check out their reflections on our YouTube page.

We also have plans to connect via Skype with a 4th grade classroom in Colorado. I cannot wait for this! Last year, our 2nd graders Mystery Skyped with a classroom in Iowa, and it was a blast. I’m looking forward to seeing our older kiddos connecting over a shared experience.

Your Turn: Have you participated in the Global Read Aloud? How? 

 

Schools Are Not Businesses; Students Are Not Commodities

No one can argue that education has changed. Something that is pretty noticeable to me is this shift in focus on creating the best schools we can to spending money on marketing events to recruit students. This idea was sparked from a blog post written by a colleague – Todd Bloch. He spoke about how School of Choice has actually hurt many schools, particularly those in urban centers as the suburbs have more appeal for many families. Those who can afford to transport their students to a (sometimes) better school outside their district do so. What happens of course, is that local districts lose students, which means they lose money. This has, of course, set up an impossible situation for schools, who are already tightening their belts and cutting all the “fat” they can – and have been doing so for years.

More and more it seems to me that schools are operating like businesses. There are pockets of really innovative schools where students are emerged in technology-rich, critically focused, problem and project based learning experiences. Here, these schools are able to share what their students are doing every day via social media and other mediums. They don’t have to spend top dollar creating catchy slogans and commercials. Parents hear from their students how great their school is. They share this with other parents. Students are excited about school and tell their friends.

Unfortunately, the majority of schools are not utilizing this new way of teaching. In classroom after classroom, you still see students being taught to be compliant: walk in rows, don’t speak until called upon, make sure your packet is stapled and in the correct order, etc. We are still pushing students through each grade, often treating them as empty containers that need us (the experts!) to fill them up. It’s so similar to the same way we educated students 100 years ago. Why, when we don’t treat injuries, solve crime, communicate, etc. the same way we did 100 years ago, are we still teaching students that way?

Between the focus on standards, high-stakes testing, performance pay, evaluation confusion, and the myriad other challenges schools and teachers face, it can be difficult to redefine learning in a way that is meaningful for students. Why take a risk when doing so could potentially generate failure? Before, failure was okay and you learned from it. In today’s evaluation-driven schools, failing on a project could be the difference between effective and minimally effective. When it comes down to making hiring and firing decisions, those evaluations matter. A lot.

So what’s the answer? It’s a pretty big problem.

First, we need to reform the current School of Choice policy. You can read the official policy here, but there have been many negative impacts on schools, especially in terms of funding and creating budgets. Beyond that, students miss out on a comprehensive education as they are often going back and forth year after year. The impact on students of Michigan was the topic of a recent MSU study.

Secondly, if we can change the idea of School Choice, that will take some pressure off of schools to spend money on marketing campaigns, fairs, and giveaways that many times just get pitched, and really take a look at where money might make a difference for student achievement. Can we hire more coaches to help with literacy and math? Provide smaller class sizes for teachers to be able to work with smaller groups in a more effective way? Maybe we would have more latitude to be creative with scheduling to provide opportunities for enrichment, re-teaching, challenges for students above grade level, and non-traditional learning opportunities.

Teacher evaluation is also an area that needs to be cleared up. Right now there is no standard for evaluations. School districts were able to choose from a variety of models and the implementation of those models is still convoluted and not clear at all. Implementation of the same model can look vastly different across school districts. The state has not explained what student growth measure should be used for deciding the level of effectiveness of a teacher. This school year, 50% of a teacher evaluation is based on student growth. But it’s not clear what assessment will be used to measure that achievement – M-STEP? District assessment? Grade-level content assessment? It is unacceptable that teachers are held to a standard that is constantly changing. A complete lack of leadership and too much playing politics has led to an unsustainable situation where no one is clear on what the expectations are.

Lastly, I think it would be valuable for university schools of education to work to partner with area school districts to provide the same kind of on-the-job-training similar to doctors and residents in a medical program. I believe this will help new graduates be more prepared for the day-to-day “stuff” of teaching and will also be useful for universities and schools to share resources and access.

While these are not easy solutions and will involve a shift in how we view education at a lot of different levels, I believe it is crucial for education to shift if we are to truly change the focus, improve student engagement and achievement, and actually modify the types of learning students are involved in.