Monday, October 17, 2016

So goes the culture, so goes the company.

It is interesting how quickly you can see and feel the climate and culture of an organization. A person can get a feel of 'how things are done around here' the moment they enter the organization's doors. Unfortunately, some of us have been exposed to toxic cultures that you can see and feel. Toxic cultures encourage isolation and actively work to halt the advancement of the organization. When toxic behaviors are allowed to flourish, people tend to do things that are right for them, and not right for the organization.
In a weak culture, we veer away from doing "the right thing" in favor of doing "the thing that's right for me." - Simon Sinek 
It begins with the leader and what he or she is willing to tolerate. The leader can ignore, participate in, or actively seek out and address toxic cultures that may exist in our organizations. As Peter Drucker said, "culture eats strategy for breakfast." We could have the greatest plan for improvement, but if we don't address our climate and culture nothing will matter. When we actively address culture and climate our organizations become better.  When a culture changes from a place where people take something for themselves to a place where people love to come to work - it's a wonderful thing.
The more energy is transferred from the top of the organization to those who are actually doing the job, those who know more about what's going on on a daily basis, the more powerful the organization and the more powerful the leader. - Simon Sinek 
Building a strong culture and climate takes work and it doesn't happen by accident. There has to be commitment from the leader and also from the people within the organization. High levels of trust must exist between the leader and people within the organization. We have to actively seek out unfiltered feedback from people about our climate and culture. We can't expect to see things from the clouds. If we rely only on information fed to us instead of going down to see for ourselves, we may have a completely different perception than those actually doing the work. We all play a role in creating a positive climate and culture for our students, but the leader's role may be most important in changing the climate and culture within a school.
What you permit, you promote. What you allow, you encourage. What you condone, you own. What you tolerate, you deserve. - Michelle Malkin
So goes the culture, so goes the company...

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

We hosted Rick Wormeli. Here are my notes from the day...

We had a great day of learning for our staff yesterday. We hosted Rick Wormeli and his topic was on standards-based assessment and grading. Rick was able to provide clarity and continued to challenge our thinking. Here are the major ideas that resonated with me:

  • We should separate Advanced from our scale. You cannot be advanced on a standard you can only meet the standard. This should be reported separately. 
  • Don't falsify grades. We should separate behavior and homework from the grade. Responsibility, lateness, disrespect, and not turning in homework should not pollute the grade. These items should be reported separately. 
  • Section out your summative tests by the standard and actually label the standard or multiple standards that are being assessed throughout the assessment. Student may retake portions.
  • We need to become more evidentiary. Show me the evidence. Show me that you know the material. Be very clear and upfront with the evidence you are seeking. 
  • We have to approach each new learning goal like it is the first time the student has seen the content. 
  • Shrink the grading scale - review the 100 point scale. For example: A, B, C, D, (Remove the F) and ad No Evidence Presented or Not There Yet. 
  • Think of standards-based grading as a GPS - we reach the destination together. 
  • Never use group learning to grade one student. 
  • Allow redos and retakes on our Powerstandards. 
  • No Zeros. If it is important enough to assign then it is important enough to do. 
  • Formative assessment should be used only for descriptive feedback. Formative assessment should not be graded. 
  • No mention of quality and no judgement when providing descriptive feedback. 
  • You can learn without grades, but you can't learn without feedback.
  • Good feedback causes thinking.
  • Ego involving feedback does nothing to improve their progress on a standard. Feedback like good job, excellent, and smiley faces does nothing or may impede their progress. 
  • When feedback is descriptive and is not ego involving students do better. 
  • "It's what students carry forward, not what they demonstrated during the unit of learning, that is most in indicative of true proficiency." - Rick Wormeli
  • Nobody cares what you teach - they care about what students carry forward. 
  • "Nobody knows ahead of time how long it takes anyone to learn anything." -Yung Tae Kim
  • Repeat previously assessed items on future tests if they are Powerstandards. 
  • Assessment means to sit beside.
  • "A 'D' is a coward's 'F.' The student failed, but you didn't have enough guts to tell him." -Doug Reeves
  • Reiteration is a huge part of competence. 
  • Real time / Meaningful feedback is important to progress.
  • Review policies that may impede standards-based learning. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Ceramic Cup

I am reading Simon Sinek's latest book, Leaders Eat Last. It has been an excellent read on the topic of leadership. Sinek shared the following story that reminds us that it is not the position that gives leaders power, the people give leaders power. 
A former Under Secretary of Defense was to give a speech at a large conference. He took his place on the stage and began talking, sharing his prepared remarks with the audience. He paused to take a sip of coffee from the styrofoam cup he’d brought on stage with him. He took another sip, looked down at the cup and smiled. 
“You know,” he said, interrupting his own speech, “I spoke here last year. I presented at this same conference on this same stage. But last year, I was still an Under Secretary,” he said. 
“I flew here in business class and when I landed, there was someone waiting for me at the airport to take me to my hotel. Upon arriving at my hotel,” he continued, “there was someone else waiting for me. They had already checked me into the hotel, so they handed me my key and escorted me up to my room. The next morning, when I came down, again there was someone waiting for me in the lobby to drive me to this same venue that we are in today. I was taken through a back entrance, shown to the green-room and handed a cup of coffee in a beautiful ceramic cup.” 
“But this year, as I stand here to speak to you, I am no longer the Under Secretary,” he continued. “I flew here coach class and when I arrived at the airport yesterday there was no one there to meet me. I took a taxi to the hotel, and when I got there, I checked myself in and went by myself to my room. This morning, I came down to the lobby and caught another taxi to come here. I came in the front door and found my way backstage. Once there, I asked one of the techs if there was any coffee. He pointed to a coffee machine on a table against the wall. So I walked over and poured myself a cup of coffee into this here styrofoam cup,” he said as he raised the cup to show the audience. 
“It occurs to me,” he continued, “the ceramic cup they gave me last year . . . it was never meant for me at all. It was meant for the position I held. I deserve a styrofoam cup. 
“This is the most important lesson I can impart to all of you,” he offered. 
“All the perks, all the benefits and advantages you may get for the rank or position you hold, they aren’t meant for you. They are meant for the role you fill. And when you leave your role, which eventually you will, they will give the ceramic cup to the person who replaces you. Because you only ever deserved a styrofoam cup.”
The rank of office is not what makes someone a leader. Leadership is the choice to serve others with or without any formal rank.

Friday, September 16, 2016

PLC Norms

We recently developed a set of shared norms for how our PLCs operate within our schools. We are now in year three of weekly late starts for teacher collaboration and we felt that it was important to revisit our norms. I think our teachers developed a nice list of common expectations. I don't think we could have come to an agreement three years ago. It was only through experience that we were able to develop a common set of beliefs.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Measure 2 and its potential impact on schools.

On November 8th we will vote on those that will represent us in political office and also make some decisions on the five constitutional measures found on the 2016 ballot. There is one constitutional measure in particular that may impact your local schools. Measure 2 allows additional access to the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund for education related purposes. The fund was established in 1994 by the citizens of North Dakota and is maintained by the state’s oil extraction tax. The only time the fund can be accessed is if the Governor calls for state wide cuts to funding. It is a safety net for K-12 public education in the event of a revenue shortfall. The fund has been used two times since its inception, once in 2002 ($5 million), and most recently this year ($120 million). Currently the amount in the fund is approximately $600 million.

Key Facts:

  • The foundation aid stabilization fund is a locked asset and has only been used two times in 22 years. (2002 & 2016)
  • The measure allows for 15% of the state aid to K-12 Public Education to remain protected for the historical use of the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund (only to be used to make state aid whole in the event of a statewide budget shortfall). 
  • The principal balance above the protected 15% may be used for education related purposes. 
  • At 2016 levels, 15% equates to $300 million. This dollar amount will be protected for the sole purpose of K-12 public education in the event of a statewide revenue shortfall. 
  • 10% of the oil extraction tax revenue will be placed into the fund annually. This year (2016) that amount is approximately $150 million. 
  • Based on data from the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, it will take approximately $164 million more than the past biennium just to maintain the current level of funding.

2016 has been a challenging economic year within the state of North Dakota. Many state agencies received cuts due to the revenue shortfall. Thanks to the foresight of state leaders, public education was protected from cuts due mechanisms like the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund. The 65th legislative session may be a challenging one for our state legislators. If the state is unable to continue to provide current levels of financial support, this may result in local districts providing additional support. Based on projections, it seems that maintaining 15% within the fund should meet the needs if there are future revenue shortfalls. If Measure 2 passes it will be important to further define education related purposes for the excess dollars within the fund.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Individualizing PD through PLCs

We continue to revamp our Professional Learning Plan (PLP) for teachers. Each Professional Learning Community (PLC) completes the PLP at the beginning of the school year. The PLC guides their own learning through the format below. For the past two years, our Professional Development Committee has continued to tweak the PLP. The latest addition allows all PLCs to choose a peer observation option to fulfill the Observation and Integration of Learning component. I am proud of our work and the focus on making professional development more meaningful for teachers in our school district.

You can find the editable document within the Dropbox link above.