The Professional Educator

Monday marks the kickoff of American Education Week.  This is a week designed to shine the spotlight on the work of students, teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, custodians, cafeteria workers, and parents as it relates to teaching and learning.  It is a week of recognition, celebration, and honor. As a building, we will have visitors from the community spending time with us in classrooms, parents touring the building, and special performances of the National Anthem by some of our outstanding performing arts students.

Let’s talk today about what it means to be a teacher…You have all heard the story of what a teacher makes…but here is a cool video by Taylor Mali that truly says what a teacher makes!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5yg0u1MkDI

I will be delivering to staff donuts and coffee Monday morning – but more importantly I will be delivering to them their own business cards.  Yes, business cards.  That may seem odd, but I want my staff to know I view them as professionals – I want my community to know my teachers are professionals – I want my parents to know my teachers are professionals…professional educators.

What is a professional educator?  Is that different than a teacher?  Is it just another ‘buzz word’, a step toward a business model?  NO – not in my opinion.  I know the work of my staff, the hours they put in, the years of education they have accumulated.  My staff is not simply a teaching staff, my staff is a staff of professional educators.

As I go around on Monday to my staff, I will be thanking them not only for all the work they do, the hours they put in, but also for their dedication to the lives of young people.  Teachers do not put in the hours they do for a paycheck, we have all heard that before.  But did you realize that the average teacher pay in the United States, according to National Center for Education Statistics (2012), is $56, 069.  All teachers have a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree, and many have Master’s Degrees, we even have one with a Doctorate Degree.  Think about what is asked of these amazing men and women each and every day…

Expectations and requirements of teachers:

  • Bachelor’s Degree
  • Continual professional development (5 college credits or 70 hours of school PD every 5 years)
  • Pass certain exams to be considered “Highly Qualified”
  • Teach classes of, on average, 24 kids per class (in many cases 6 classes per day)
  • Grade homework, tests, quizzes
  • Plan lessons of high quality
  • Implement the Common Core State Standards
  • Supervise school events, dances, games, etc
  • Be aware of bullying, drinking, tobacco, and drug prevention
  • Monitor behaviors of all students
  • Be a role model
  • Call, email, text, etc parents about the work students are doing, or perhaps not doing
  • Be technologically savvy

This is only a beginning, a partial list, but you get the point – teachers are not what so many believe them to be – they are not the people who simply take summers off, don’t work weekends, nor are they less intelligent that those in the private sector…TEACHERS ARE BRILLIANT, MOTIVATED, DEDICATED, AND CARING YEAR-ROUND EMPLOYEES.

But this doesn’t fit on a business card – they are so much more than just the word “teacher” – so I have chosen for my teachers to put “Professional Educator” on their business cards.  After all, they deserve it!  They are professional, they are educators, they are in a word AMAZING, or maybe INSPIRING, but truly they are EXCEPTIONAL.  I am very proud of the professional educators I get to be with each and every day.  I am honored to work along side them, to support them, and to do everything in my power to help them be successful.  Below is one of the business cards I will be handing out Monday…I do hope my professional educators appreciate them and understand the sentiment behind them.  I believe very strongly in those two words…Professional Educator

  •  business card

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Create, Apply, Synthesize

Create, Apply, Synthesize – what do these three words have in common?  If you guessed they are all Level 4 verbs on the Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) chart, you guessed correctly.  Each of these are verbs that require students to extend their thinking, to dig deep into the minds and be meta-cognitive while going about the life of your average high school student.

Why then would I write about the DOK verbs in my blog?  Let’s be honest, it has been a while since I wrote anything in this blog – since July sitting poolside at the Jostens Renaissance conference in Phoenix, AZ.  The past few months have been hectic, harried, and extremely challenging.  But as I walked into Kris Comstock’s Junior English class here at Rock Springs High School on Thursday – it became apparent that the work we are doing, the efforts we are making to drive student thinking and processing to higher levels was beginning to provide dividends.

Mrs. Comstock has been with us at Rock Springs High School since before I was fortunate enough to be a part of this great staff a little over 7 years ago.  I have observed her classes many times, and seen students being creative and making posters, charts, and diagrams of people meant to be character analyses.  These are very good activities, and tend to push students’ levels of thinking.  But what I saw in Kris’ classroom yesterday was at a whole new level.  Perhaps she has done this before, but I was so very impressed with the student ownership of their learning, their ability to apply what they had learned to a new setting, and they level of creativity each student group showed in their presentations that I had to write about what I’d seen.

I asked the students if I could video their presentations, thinking I would post them to the school Facebook page (RSHS authentic) as a pat on the back.  But after watching the presentations live, I knew I needed to call special attention to the work of these 27 students and their classroom teacher.

I did post the videos on the Facebook page (they are too big to embed in this blog site) so below there is a link for you to watch all four groups.  The first group speaks about the over crowding of our high school, the packed classrooms and lunch room, the limited amount of time for lunch, and the hallways so full you can barely move.  I hear you Group 1-I may share this with the state facility folks when they visit us soon.  Group 2 sings an anti-bully plea (I apologize you can’t hear Alyssa’s voice very clear) that is an amazing statement about how each person is an individual and should be judged not on anything but who they truly are.  This really tugged at my heart strings and I so very much appreciate what this group had to say.  Group 3 signs a wonderful song (accompanied by Chyna on the guitar) about war, the unfairness, the individuals, and the families impacted by war.  Simply awesome!  And Group 4, not to be outdone speaks out through poem (unfortunately a couple members were missing on this day) also focused on the injustice of war.

To hear the students of this class, nearly all juniors in high school, speak out in protest of something they hold dear to themselves as unfair, unjust, or wrong made me think about what the world looks like to younger eyes.  It filled my heart with joy, my eyes with tears, and soul with hope.  We have amazing young men and women here at Rock Springs High School – and amazing men and women leading them in their classrooms.

Here is a link to our Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rock-Springs-High-School-authentic/201520586580763

A job well done…

 

Inspire others,
Darrin

Jostens Renaissance – the air we breathe

For the sixth time in my career I find myself at the Jostens Renaissance national conference. This year we are in sunny Scottsdale, AZ and have already heard from some amazing people who share the same passions that I do; a love of kids, a desire to help kids achieve at previously unseen levels, and a constant thirst for knowledge. This year is different, surely, as each year is. Maybe there is a different feel with different leadership from Jostens, but the message is still crystal clear.  For me, this conference is a time to recharge my batteries, to be reacquainted with friends I have made around the country through this conference, and to further my knowledge to better help all my kids at RSHS.  I was reminded today that kids are amazing; they all have talents, dreams, and desires and maybe, just maybe, if we give them the opportunity, and a little quality air to fan the glowing embers that are these passions they keep buried deep inside themselves, just maybe we might start a fire!  Thus – I say, we must give kids the air they need to breathe through Jostens Renaissance.

When he wrote “(t)he Yukon lay a mile wide and hidden under three feet of ice. On top of this ice were as many feet of snow,” Jack London was referring to the mountainous world of the Yukon he paints as a picture in “To Build a Fire”.  If Jack London had sat with me today in the sessions I attended, (‘New to Jostens Renaissance by Dwight Carter and Steve Woolf; Creating Meaningful Learning Environments by Kevin Honeycutt; and the keynote address by Erik Wahl) he might have used the same phrasing to talk about the hidden talents of today’s America teenagers who do not get the recognition they deserve, need, crave, and live for…the air they breathe.  Perhaps the air they breathe is filled with what Kevin described as his home life, one of abuse and poverty.  Possibly the air they breathe could be filled with the discouragement given to Erik Wahl by his 4th grade teacher, who told him he was not good at art because he didn’t color inside the lines. (by the way, he is a world-renowned graffiti artist who’s paintings go for big money)

What is in the air your students breathe?  Is it toxic, or is it the kind of air that brings nurturing to them?  Do your students hang on every word, or do words crush them and their dreams.   In my presentation today, I shared Jake Bugg’s song “Lightning Bolt” as an attempt to spark a fire with my audience.  (here is a link to the video I showed -  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3LftBBklNU ) Jake says in his song “Everyone I see just want to walk with gritted teeth, but I just stand by and I wait my time…But when I see the signs I just jump on the lightning bolt.”  My intent was to impress upon student leaders, and the adult leaders that accompanied them to the presentation, that leadership is about opportunity – seize the opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life.  You never know when the actions you take may just be the life-sustaining air they need to breathe.  This is my ‘lightning bolt’…What’s yours?

Thoughts on ‘Test Better, Teach Better’ Chapter 5: An Introduction to Test Building

Ok, so Popham gives us in this chapter the beginnings to building our own test items.  But he does so with a few, actually five, caveats.  This is a fairly short chapter, easily read, and quick with information.  I have summarized quickly below:

- Two types of possible test questions: 1) selected response – in which you choose the answer from a list (multiple choice or true/false) and; 2) constructed response – in which you provide the answer to the question via essay, short answer, free response, etc.

- Both types of possible questions have their pro’s and both have their con’s…we have heard them all, even prior to reading Popham’s list of +/-

- 5 big roadblocks in tests

1.  unclear directions

2. ambiguous statements

3. unintentional clues

4. complex phrasing

5. difficult vocabulary

* “(Y)ou’ll hopefully recall that the central mission of all such assessment is (1) to help you make valid inferences about your student so you can then (2) make better decisions about how to instruct those students.” (p. 69)

* “Never, never create a test just to be creating a test.” (p. 69)

* “Beyond the mission of making inferences about your students based on their test performances, there is no other reason to test those students.” (p. 70)

* “For every test that you create, review all items and directions from the perspective of your students.” (p. 70)

A good chapter, a quick read…now, hopefully you are up through Chapter 5 and ready for our meeting on Thursday.

 

Keep on reading,

 

Darrin

Thoughts on ‘Test Better, Teach Better’ Chapter 4: Validity, Reliability, and Bias

Chapter 4 of Popham’s book brings to light a few things that I doubt many of us consider when writing our own tests, giving a book written test, or prior to our state-mandated ACT administration.  Three primary areas for this chapter focus on the validity of a test (or more importantly the validity of the test-based inference), reliability of the test (can it consistently provide similar results), and bias (is there anything that offends or unfairly penalizes test takers).

I really like the idea of being able to ascertain the content-related validity of a teacher written exam by using content specialist to assess your assessment.  Again, as Popham states, you need not do this on every single exam you write.  I do feel this process has some merit when considering final exams and possibly even unit exams.  You want to ensure you are making quality inferences about your students’ ability when based on a teacher constructed exam.

Key points:

* “The chief method of carrying out such content-related validity studies is to rely on human judgement.” (p. 47)

* “Valid assessment-based inferences about students don’t always translate into brilliant instructional decisions; however, invalid assessment-based inferences about students almost always lead to dim-witted or, at best, misguided instructional decisions.” (p. 51) – don’t know how I feel about ‘dim-witted’, but point taken

* “A teacher who is instructing students from racial/ethnic groups other than the teacher’s own racial/ethnic group might be wise to ask a colleague (or a parent) from those racial/ethnic groups to serve as a one-person bias review committee.” (p. 58)

 

Hope you are keeping up…we have a meeting this Thursday and we will discuss Chapters 1-5 (I will post the Ch 5 blog later today or tomorrow)

 

Happy reading,

 

Darrin

Thoughts on ‘Test Better, Teach Better’ Chapter 3

Too many testing targets…that is what the author has titled this chapter.  In reality, this chapter focused on educational standards and the difficulties teaching and assessing too many of these standards.

As a classroom teacher, science as you all know, I was always one who felt quite strongly about their content.  Ask me what students must know about human anatomy and physiology and I will tell you – EVERYTHING.  Thus it was interesting to see the author discuss the challenge that is inherent in having content specialists identify the ‘must know’ essentials of a given content area.  I have watched this very thing for the past six or seven years play out during our spring curriculum mapping sessions.  I know I have asked departments to take deep looks at your content maps and identify targets that maybe could be moved out of the ‘proficiency’ target designation our district has chosen to use.  In talking with building department chairs the past few weeks, many of you told me you have agreed as a department on the specific content you must teach to mastery in specific courses.

We certainly have seen, in our own verbage, the prioritizing of standards the author described as ‘essential’, ‘highly desirable’, ‘desirable’.  We have done this work and, while some of you tell me privately you could trim/reprioritize further, we have moved this is more of a standardized direction as to what is to be taught.  But what about what is to be assessed?  Here is where the use of common assessments is essential. (be they formative or summative)

Truly the bulk of this chapter, to me, was affirmation of the work we have done with our curriculum mapping process.  But, as always, there are still a few powerful take-aways…

* “(m)ost citizens joyfully applaud the merits of any accountability strategy aimed at promoting students’ mastery of “demanding” content standards.  And yet, the two most important components of this accountability strategy typically malfunction.  The content standards are too numerous to teach, and far, far too numerous to test.” (p. 33)

*”Shallow coverage, almost by definition, will rarely lead to deep understanding.” (p. 33)

*”(i)f you use pre-assessments to determine what your students already know and can do, you’ll be better able to choose suitable instructional activities for those students.” (p. 35)

*”a whopping big difference between content standards that are simply sought and content standards that are truly taught.”

*”A content standard without an accompanying performance standard is like a play without a final act.  You can’t tell what the content standard really signifies until you know how students’ mastery of it will be assessed and, thereafter, until you know what sort of performance standard has been set on that assessment.” (p. 38)

Again, a chapter that reinforced a lot of the work we do-and shined some light on some things where we can keep getting better.

Keep on reading,

 

Darrin

 

Thoughts on ‘Test Better, Teach Better’ Chapter 2

I am struck immediately by the analogy the author uses to connect curriculum and instruction.  Identifying curriculum as the end and instruction as the means to the end is a clear mental image and gives another way to view the connection between teaching and learning.

How powerful were the three instructional payoffs described as dividends to testing?  I could not agree more with the benefit of having a 1) more accurate understanding of the final destination; 2) clearer explanations and; 3) more appropriate practice activities.

1.  More accurate understanding of final destination – self explanatory, if you know where you want students to be and you make it crystal clear for them, most likely they will meet you there

2.  Clearer explanations – I am finding the more I am clear with what I want from staff and students in my role as principal, the more clear explanation I can provide for you.  I know everyone appreciates when I am very clear in my expectations, and I see much better results from staff and students when I am clear.

3.  Appropriate practice activities – why would you spend time practicing something you have already proven to be proficient?  Certainly there is argument to be made for repetition (use it or lose it skills) that is valid, but when attempting to provide new skills, don’t muddy the water with practice that focuses on old material or distracts from the skill you are attempting to have your students gain.

I liken all three of these to being a coach and having game film on your upcoming opponent.  I know people don’t want to be ‘teaching to a test’, I get that and don’t want that either (see quote #3 below).  But how do we know how/what the test in the real world will look like for students when we don’t know what their world will entail.  Again, back to the coaching analogy – if I have film on my upcoming opponent, and I usually did, I would spend quite a bit of time analyzing the film for my opponents strengths and weaknesses, their tendencies in certain situations, and attempt to identify areas and situations where my team would be most likely to have success.  I had my athletes watch the film and analyze the same things I did – they were the ones who would face the test, why not let them see the test before taking it – it certainly increased the odds they would be successful.  So my time with my athletes focused on 1) giving them a clear understanding of what their opponent would most likely try to do based on strengths and weaknesses, tendencies and previous performance; 2) clear expectations of what they were to do in situations that would undoubtedly arise in the contest; and 3) drill, drill, drill on the specific skills they would need when the contest arrived.

I appreciated the question of “what kind of cognitive demands will be imposed on students…” and how the term cognitive demands was defined as the intellectual activities in which a student must engage.  This made me curious about the alignment of the assignments and assessments I had used in my classroom.  Did I have assessment and practice that aligned with each other?  Did I have instruction that aligned with the way my students would be assessed? What cognitive demands (think Bloom’s Taxonomy) did I put on my students?  I can tell you, probably I didn’t push much further than applying, and usually was at a base level of wrote memorization when it came to assessment.  If I did it over again, would I realign my assessment thinking with my instruction and practice?  Most definitely…

Powerful quotes:

#1  “For students to truly master this curricular aim, what must be going on inside their heads?” (p. 25)

#2  “A student who possesses generalizable skill-mastery will be able to apply that mastery in all sorts of in-school and out-of-school settings.” (p. 25)

#3  “A test is only a representation, meaning that teachers must aim their instruction not at the tests, but toward the skill, knowledge, or affect that those tests represent.” (p. 27)

My final thought here will be this – teachers must understand going in what a test (curricular end) will be asking for in order to best decide what instruction (means) to utilize to best arm students with the necessary skills they will be needing.

 

Keep on reading!!!
Darrin

Thoughts on ‘Test Better, Teach Better’ chapter 1

So having read the first chapter of Popham’s Test Better, Teach Better, I like the direction the book is taking in looking at assessment from both the student side and teacher side of the desk.  Popham states how well a teacher designs a test can very well affect how well material gets taught.  This reminds me of the approach taken in Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design, where the assessment is designed first and instructional planning follows to tightly align with the planned assessment.  This past fall, Mr. Mikkelsen and I had the opportunity to hear a speaker who was involved in the design of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  The most powerful statement he made was to say “the CCSS were never designed to be taught; they were designed to be assessed”.  This thinking ties is well with the model fromUnderstanding by Design and the beginnings of this book.

I like the four types of decisions that can be assisted by tests: 1) Decisions about the nature and purpose of the curriculum; 2) Decisions about students’ prior knowledge; 3) Decisions about how long to teach something; and 4) Decisions about the effectiveness of instruction.

There is mention of formative assessment (that which we have come to call Assessment for Learning), and I thought the chunking of an assessment into bits and spreading in through the class (item sampling as he refers to it) was something that could be of value and could even be done with students at the board throughout the room, reading passages from a book or play, or even sampling portions of project work.

I will be interested to read what everyone else found in this first chapter.  Obviously it is simply an introduction – I don’t expect a lot of meat and potatoes in this portion of the book.  But I do like what I am seeing so far…

 

Keep on reading…
Darrin

Concerns regarding December 21

Good morning, students and staff.  I want to take a little of your time today to share information regarding the rumors of potential acts of violence against students in Sweetwater County School District, and specifically Rock Springs High School.  I want you all to know that our SRO, Officer Frisbee, has followed up on every lead given to him, we have added extra police presence to assist in the investigation process, and have plans in place to do everything we can to keep all of you safe from harm.  We know that incidents like the one Friday in Newtown, CT are horrific and hit all of us deep down.  But the reality of our current situation is we have absolutely no credible threat that has come forward to this point.  Only rumor and Facebook postings about rumors have surfaced to this point.  As well, I want you to know we are fully aware of Friday December 21st being the end of the Mayan calendar.  We know the Mayan calendar has predicted the world will end on Friday.  This is a prediction and there is no factual, scientific or credible evidence to support this prediction.  Keep in mind there was a prediction last year that the world was going to end on May 21st, 2011 and again on October 21st, 2011…and of course neither happened.  We will get through this week together and all come back in January following our holiday break.

 

In light of all that is happening, and the fears that come along with it, we have decided to have a lock down drill, a practice run to make sure we are following and remembering our procedures.  This will happen today (Wednesday) at 9am.  When we tell you to go into lockdown, please close and lock your doors, turn off the lights, and get against the interior wall where you cannot be seen.  We will come around and check doors, then release everyone from the lockdown.  I anticipate no more than 10 minutes for the drill.  Please make sure to stay off your cell phones during the lockdown, as cell phones give off ambient light and can possibly be seen if a window is left uncovered.  Remember, this is ONLY A DRILL.

 

Again, along with my team, I am doing everything I can to ensure all your safety.  I know you feel uneasy and a bit nervous, and I do not blame you.  Events like those in Newtown, CT or Columbine, CO or Virginia Tech call into sharp relief that which we don’t want to think of, violence that occurs in our country and society.  But remember, you are surrounded by some of the best people in the world, Wyoming people.  I’m not saying it can’t happen, but with everyone being diligent and aware – and communicating with my administrative team and Officer Frisbee, we will make it through this coming Friday safe and sound.

 

Please know that I care about each and every one of you and will do my best for you…

 

Thank you – Darrin Peppard

Relevance

Across from my desk in my office I have a bookshelf loaded with all the same ‘best practice’ books owned by nearly all administrators.  Each of these books, while excellent in their own right, address a specific focus in education.  They don’t claim to be the magic bullet, they aren’t guarantees to the perfect school, and they don’t change instruction by themselves.  So what does make a difference?  What must be done to address our nation’s high school crisis?

I don’t profess to have all the answers, I am but another administrator working as hard as possible for the success of all kids.  However, there is one word I have found to be the most powerful in student buy-in, effort, engagement, and success.  RELEVANCE  Yes, relevance.

Why do we go to work each day?  We see the pay-off in monetary, social, and emotional benefit.

Why do kids go to school each day?  What is the pay-off for them?  Sure there is a social link, no question there, but what about the emotional and intellectual benefit?  Do our kids see that connection or do they simply go because they have to?  Here is where the relevance comes in…

We have all heard the question “When am I ever going to use this?” regarding math, or language arts, or any other fill-in-the-blank subject.  This is the challenge teachers face on a daily basis – how to make their curriculum relevant.

At Rock Springs High, we made the move three years ago to career and college readiness through the use of two career pathways.  Implementing the Health Occupations Academy connected well with many students who believe they want a career in the medical field.  Creating the Energy Resource Academy was essential in a community driven by natural resources and the energy industry.  These two academies have been very successful, with the primary reason for their success being teachers finding a way to take the current curriculum and making it relevant to their students.  The teachers deserve the credit for this work, it’s not easy, it’s time consuming, but it makes a difference in the lives of our students.

I state college and career readiness in a way I consider a ‘parting’ from the vernacular used by politicians.  My sincere belief is the term is used in a way that implies “if you don’t go to college, start your career in the vocational arts”.  I struggle with this, as I feel in today’s times students must have some form of post-high school education, whether that is a technical school, training courses, apprenticeship, or a number of years in a community college or university.  If they are not doing this, then we are talking about “job readiness” not career readiness.

How do you make the connection between school and that ‘pay off’ down the road for all students.  Putting them alongside adults already in the work world-adults who will tell students many of the same things we educators tell them, but from a different point of view.  Giving them the opportunity to take college level coursework while in high school-let them see what lies ahead of them while they still have the support network that is high school.  Put kids in positions to be successful by connecting them to the world they will enter soon while they still are in our world.

Just my two cents – but making education relevant for students, allowing them to see where all this theory and practice is actually applied to real life situations is the hook, the connection, the link between high school and real life success.

 

Inspire others,
Darrin