Category Archives: Teacher Effectiveness

Three Lessons From a Former Educator to Make Data-Driven Instruction (More) Simple

I began each school year as a teacher and eventually instructional leader with goals posted on the walls and highlighted in yellow on team documents. “+5% increase in English Language Arts proficiency.” “Growth percentile at 65 or higher.” But by November, I invariably felt overwhelmed. I’d often ask myself: “How exactly are my students doing? And what in the world should I do tomorrow?”

A reading teacher I know uses this data tracker to share growth on academic standards with her classes

Fortunately, for instructional leaders wrestling with how to spend precious time and achieve their goals, there is an approach that can help. If there’s one practice I could go back and infuse into my early days as an educator, it’s data-driven instruction (DDI). DDI, which describes using data to analyze student learning and determine next steps for teaching, helps instructional leaders prioritize teacher development while keeping the spotlight on student growth.

As a former teacher at KIPP* and director of curriculum and instruction at DSST Public Schools, I know that DDI is one of the most impactful systems a school can establish. And it doesn’t need to be complicated. 

My time as a summer fellow at Bellwether has led me to three clear lessons about DDI:

DDI doesn’t exclusively mean numbers.

Looking at student work can be a profoundly productive process for teachers and coaches. Grab a pile of papers from class, and see what students were actually doing. What steps did they take or not take? What does this tell you about how they were thinking? The simple act of discussing how a student solved a math problem or responded to a writing prompt can help a teacher know what to do to help students grow. What’s more, engaging in this discussion as a department team can lead to greater collaboration and alignment between different grade levels. 

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How Can We Extend the Reach of Great Teachers? A Q&A with Stephanie Dean on Opportunity Culture

How should we train teachers? How do we ensure that all students have access to great teaching?

Those questions are at the heart of many education policy debates. While it may be difficult to “raise the bar” on the teaching profession by erecting barriers to entry, recent studies show that teacher coaching and teamwork offer more promise as ways to help young teachers improve their practice and to create a real career ladder within the teaching profession.

Stephanie Dean

In order to find out more about how this work is going in schools, I reached out to Stephanie Dean, the vice president of strategic policy advising and a senior consulting manager at Public Impact. In that role, Dean is working with schools and districts to implement what they call “Opportunity Culture,” a way to re-organize schools into collaborative leadership teams.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Tell us about Opportunity Culture. What’s the theory behind it, and what are you hoping to accomplish?

Opportunity Culture schools create high-pay, high-impact teacher leader roles. The cornerstone role in Opportunity Culture schools is the multi-classroom leader. Districts and schools must begin with very careful selection and design. They are selecting candidates who produce greater-than-expected student growth, and they’re also looking for competencies that are needed to lead adults and students. That’s the selection side.

On the design side, a school team creates a staffing model and a schedule that ensures each multi-classroom leader — who continues to teach in some way — has time during the day to work intensively with a small team of teachers. This means time to analyze data, plan instruction with the team, observe and offer feedback, and model and co-teach. The staffing model keeps the team size small to ensure the multi-classroom leader is able to provide the level of high-impact leadership that’s needed. We’re talking about a team of 3-8 teachers, similar to the standard we see in other professions.

Two things happen in this type of school staffing design. First, the school gains a powerful group of instructional leaders. They’re powerful in the sense that a multi-classroom leader shares accountability for their team’s student learning outcomes. They know the students, they’re working with them in small groups, they’re analyzing data, and they’re in the classroom helping teachers. This model helps create a sense of “being in it together,” and ensures teachers on the team are getting relevant coaching every day to help move their practice along.

The second thing that happens in this model is that a career path emerges for teachers. Too often teachers are forced to leave the classroom to pursue advancement in their careers. We know many of those teachers would stay in classrooms if there were some way to advance.

Multi-classroom leadership means taking on an essential role in your school’s leadership team for a very large pay increase. A multi-classroom leader will see their influence spread to more teachers and students, and in return the average pay supplement they earn is $12,000. The range nationally (among Opportunity Culture schools) is from $6,000 to $23,000. Those stipends are funded out of existing school budgets, so they’re designed to last, creating a meaningful job and a meaningful pay increase. That changes the way the profession looks today and the way it looks to prospective teachers as well. Continue reading

The Power of Asset-Based Thinking for Native Students

During a phone call with our partners at the National Indian Education Association (NIEA), I used the word “impoverished” to describe some Native communities. I was politely corrected by Jacob Tsotigh, a citizen of the Kiowa Tribe and tribal education specialist at NIEA. Jacob explained that the word “impoverished” suggests Native communities are devoid of resources, and that using this word paints an untrue and incomplete picture of the complexity and value of Native culture.

He explained that while there is some level of poverty that exists for Native students broadly, characterizing Native students as simply impoverished misses the mark and diminishes Native cultural strengths. In a later conversation, Jacob told me:

Our Native people are not consumers, we’re not middle class, we don’t aspire to the American dream necessarily. We have a different set of values that permeate within our community. The essential value is that we are a collective. We believe that what we do as Tribal Nations reflects on the wellbeing of our families and communities — so if we don’t have the things that you do, we don’t feel ourselves as less than or deprived of. It’s not who we are.

2018 NIEA convention attendees via NIEA’s Flickr account

Jacob’s comment made me think more about why deeply understanding and respecting communities matters. In this situation, characterizing Native people only by their economic situation ignored the value that Native students bring to the classroom. This focus on deficits rather than strengths, a practice sometimes referred to as deficits-based thinking, is a common pitfall in many schools. This mindset leads educators see Native identity as a marker for failure, which puts students at an extreme disadvantage by making them less likely to garner high expectations from teachers. Additionally, given the fact that Native students encompass only 1% of the total population of public school-aged children, a focus on deficits can further isolate a group of students already dealing with invisibility.

Valuing Native students and their contributions requires a shift towards assets-based thinking, which encourages educators to understand and enrich the strengths of Native students to support their educational journeys. This requires getting to know Native students, and then working to share and amplify individual and cultural values, experiences, and perspectives — work that can improve cognitive processing in students.

Simultaneously, this approach creates an environment of mutual respect and reciprocal learning, where educators learn from the Native communities they serve and use this information to improve their classrooms for all students. For example, research has long supported the idea that Native students benefit from holistic and collaborative learning — a practice present in many Native cultures. This whole-child approach to education — one that holds health and wellbeing at the same level it does academics — is now taking off in schools around the country, proving we all have much to learn from our Native peers.

To be clear, educators shouldn’t ignore the challenges Native people face. NIEA education specialist Kurrinn Abrams, member of the Seneca Nation of Indians, explains that it is necessary to find a balance between addressing challenges and celebrating strengths: “Acknowledge the shared history and pain of Native people, but don’t use it to identify them.”

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Media: “NM’s $10 million bet on teacher recruitment” in the Albuquerque Journal

I have a new op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal about New Mexico’s recent teacher recruitment bills. The state struggles with teacher shortages, specifically teachers of color. Six in ten students of color will go through their entire schooling without having a teacher who looks like them. As you’ve read in Katrina Boone, Justin Trinidad, and Cara Jackson‘s work, that’s a BIG problem.

The state is investing $10 million in two new programs to address this shortage, but I argue that they’re divvying up their dollars the wrong way:

The bulk of this investment is going to the Teacher Preparation Affordability Act, which targets new prospective teachers. A much smaller amount of money is allocated to the Grow Your Own Teachers Act, which focuses on current education assistants. But this is the wrong way to divvy up the pot: The state should be banking more on current education assistants and less on prospective teachers.

Education assistants are the perfect population to recruit from to address teacher diversity and retention concerns. Nationally, paraeducators – like New Mexico’s education assistants – are more likely to be bilingual, born outside the U.S., and nonwhite than current teachers. And they’ve already demonstrated their interest in working in schools. This type of locally focused recruitment strategy isn’t new: Former Public Education Secretary Karen Trujillo, whose dismissal was announced last month, led one such program out of New Mexico State University. But the Grow Your Own Act is particularly promising; it could be the incentive that pushes education assistants into lead teacher positions. According to a recent survey of current New Mexico education assistants, the primary barriers to completing licensure positions are time and money. But if each education assistant enrolled in the program uses the full scholarship amount available to them, that’s only enough to prepare 17 new teachers. By way of comparison, last year, New Mexico had 740 teacher vacancies. The state needs to do much more to recruit teachers of color, and this plan isn’t it.

Read the full piece in the Albuquerque Journal.

This op-ed is part of a series on teacher residencies. Read Bellwether blog posts in the #ResidentExperts series here.

Exploring Pathways Into Early Education: Q&A with Kathy Glazer of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation

Early educators spend all day building baby brains, setting them up for lifelong learning. You would think, then, that they would be supported and paid accordingly. But, as you already know if you’re a reader of Bellwether’s early childhood work, that’s not the case. Early educators actually make less than animal caretakers and desk clerks

The early childhood field is exploring alternative pathways to better compensate and prepare early educators. One such pathway is an early childhood apprenticeship, like the Registered Apprenticeship initiative offered in Virginia. To understand how this apprenticeship operates, I spoke with Kathy Glazer, the President of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation (VECF), a key partner in the Registered Apprenticeship program.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Teachers from the ACCA Child Development Center in Annandale, Virginia are celebrated for their completion of early childhood registered apprenticeships at an event in Richmond in March 2019.

Let’s start with the basics. What is the registered apprenticeship and what is VECF’s involvement with it?

The Virginia Early Childhood Foundation leverages a partnership with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry to facilitate and promote registered apprenticeships for early childhood educators. The program allows early childhood employers — specifically, child care directors — to designate early educator employees as apprentices, or be apprentices themselves. 

Apprentices complete a sequence of coursework and on-the-job training based on an individualized professional development plan. They need to complete a certain number of coursework hours; they receive college credit for those. They’re also paired, one-on-one, with a veteran staff member who mentors them and advises their on-the-job training. It takes about two years to go through the program. 

VECF’s role is to facilitate and shape implementation of the apprenticeship program. We identify potential participants and leverage an existing state-funded initiative, Project Pathfinders, to cover the cost of the required college coursework (tuition, fees, textbooks, etc.) so that there’s no cost for apprentices or their employers.

What do apprentices get after completing the program?  Continue reading