Educators, How Does the Phrase”M-STEP Prep” Make You Feel?

My parents were educators for 30 years and now I’m in my 20th year in the profession. That means I have spent my entire life around educators. Educators of all different positions, in various districts, who carry countless philosophies. Throughout the year, I find myself in conversations with them and I there is one question I like to fire off to see what their stance is. It’s a question that we start to hear more and more around schools this time of year. 

download.pngHow does the phrase “M-STEP prep?” make you feel?

I’m partially asking how they feel about teaching to the big standardized test students in our state take each spring. I’m also asking if they put a higher priority on learning or test performance, as those aren’t always the same thing. I’m kind of asking how much time is spent varying from the curriculum to spend on components in the test that are not in the curriculum. I’m curious as to how much time their school or district spends on M-STEP preparation and what range I find in the responses. I’m also hinting a little bit at what direction they get from those above them and how they feel about it.

More than anything else, I’m asking if the educator is locked in an internal battle regarding the importance of standardized tests in today’s educational world.

The M-STEP matters. Let’s not be foolish. I know that student success on a standardized test shows a snapshot of what a student knows at that moment and that is important. The way the state broadcasts the scores of a district is a large part of how a district is measured. That matters. As a student gets older, their ability to perform on a standardized test means thousands of dollars and acceptance into universities. 

I’m convinced that learning matters more. Students can demonstrate learning in so many more ways than a standardized test can measure. The time spent preparing students to take the test can never be regained. I always wonder what type of new discoveries, questions that could be explored, or important content could have been covered instead of the M-STEP prep. When do we get to a point where what is covered in the curriculum aligns with what is on the test? Are we moving closer or further away from this? 

No right answer. No wrong answer. Just a lot of educators developing, thinking, reflecting, and wrestling with an internal belief system regarding what is best for their students.

So, educators, how does the phrase “M-STEP prep” make you feel?

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My Process for Providing Feedback Using 5D+

images-1.pngThis is my 4th year using the 5D+ teacher evaluation model with staff. I went to all of the training sessions when our district adopted the model. I spent one summer being trained at MASSP so I could go into other districts to train teachers and administrators on the model. Even with that experience, I am learning new things each year as I work to improve the process of supporting teacher growth.

One of the challenging pieces for me has been to come up with a system, a specific process, for giving teachers written feedback. Here are the steps that I am currently using. Step #5 below is what I’m going to expand upon in this post.

1. Approximately 20-minute observation with a running script.

2. Stay in the classroom to code, notice, and wonder.

3. Stay in the classroom to send the teacher an email about next steps in the observation cycle (The first 3 steps usually take me about 45 minutes).

4. The teacher responds to me electronically within 24 hours to my wonderings. I stress to them that their response should take no more than 10-15 minutes to complete.

5. I provide written feedback to the staff member.

6. We meet in person to discuss the observation.

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While all steps hold value in supporting teacher growth, steps #5 and #6 are where the action taken by the administrator can have a significant impact.  I am usually in my office as I complete step #5. Here is what I’m currently doing to provide the teacher with feedback that is most likely to impact their instructional practice.

* Close my office door and block out any interruptions

* Make sure I have the 5D+ instructional framework open and next to me. The vision statements and guiding questions really support my thinking

* I have 4 tabs open on my computer within PIVOT. One is the teacher responses to my wonderings. A second shows the feedback I gave in the previous observation. The third is the teacher’s growth plan and the last is the new feedback I’m about to provide.  I am constantly switching back and forth between those tabs as I decide on what feedback might be in the zone of proximal development for the teacher.

* As far as what I write, here is the format that has worked best for me.

– I thank the teacher for their thinking, reflection, and response

– I share my big takeaways regarding patterns in their overall practice or from this specific lesson. This usually is not tied to their 3-5 areas of focus.

– Finally, I give them 3 pieces of feedback, each tied to an area of focus. Sometimes it’s simply encouraging them to do something that is new to them or they are trying in a new way. It doesn’t always have to be a brand new suggestion or change. Other times it’s a directive and very clear. It could be a question for them to consider or ponder. When I read them back to myself, I always want to be sure they are manageable for the teacher and that I’m able to provide necessary support.

I wanted to take the time to share out some of that thinking and process because it did not come to me naturally. Feel free to call (616-340-9254) or email me (andygsecor@gmail.com) if I can ever be of assistance as you provide feedback to teachers. I’ve sat next to administrators as they’ve gone through the process of deciding what feedback to write and how to write it. Administrators have also asked me to sit in or film their post-observation meetings. If you have questions, a wonder, or advice on how you think I could improve my practice, feel free to contact me!

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“Where Does Average Exist in Your School?”

I am currently reading the book, Culturize, by Jimmy Casas. In the book, Casas asks the question, “Where does average exist in your organization?”  I immediately turned that into, “Where does average exist in our school?”

download-1.jpgWhen I read that question, it stopped me for a moment. I put the book down and thought about it. However, that isn’t a “think for ten seconds and respond type of question.” So, I picked the book up and started reading again. A few hours later, I took to Twitter and posted that question as it was still on my mind and I wanted to hear other opinions. Then, I asked it to our staff in a feedback section of my weekly update. Their responses furthered my curiosity. Now, 6 days later, here I am, and it was the first thing I thought about when I woke up this morning.

My thought process traveled two directions as I tackled this question. First, who wants to be average at anything? Is anyone signing up for the “Average Husband Club?” Do we gush with pride when our daughter tells us how average we’ve been as a father? School is no different. We do our best to share our positive stories and then work on the things we know that need to be improved. But in my 20 years in this profession, I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone say, “We are really average at that.” Should we be saying that?  Would it help for the average in a school to be labeled and understood?  Clearly, the thought of being average is not appealing to most schools or people in general.download-1.jpg

The other thought was, can a school really be great at everything? Is that realistic? Is having things that are average, normal? Isn’t there always going to be some average everywhere? Even if you get 20 things going in the right direction and they all seem great, will they stay great? Will any regress to average? I think that accepting something may be average and naming it as average are NOT the same thing.  

Back to the question, “Where does average exist in our school?”  I feel compelled to do something further to investigate this question as it relates to our school, my work, and even our profession. I’m confident in the way our structure is set up to improve average, but more interested to hear what various stakeholder groups feel like average is. In this case, I’m more interested in naming it and that process, than fixing it. 

1. I feel like there is great value in parents, teachers, and students being posed that question and listening to their responses. I am going to do that formally and informally. There is an honesty, transparency, and vulnerability in asking the question which I believe is an important message to convey. In addition, it’s not just about MY perspective. It’s about OUR perspective. I have already started my list, but it may look very different from someone else’s.

2. In the self-evaluation type of process, I’m hoping to come up with a list or patterns where different stakeholder groups believe our school to be average.

3. Share the list openly and honestly. 

I haven’t been in any organization where average wasn’t alive, somewhere, somehow, and for some amount of time. Thank you Mr. Casas, for asking a question that I think holds great depth and power. It’s not one that had been posed to me before but is one that has really made me reflect, think, plan, and act.  I wonder how other teachers would respond to the question or even the thought of the question, “Where does average exist in our school?”

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Educators: What defines success for your school?

Welcome to what may be the shortest blog post ever.  Those who read my posts know that I’m not the type of guy who thinks he knows everything.  At times, I just pose questions to see what type of thinking is out there or to get people to reflect.  Holiday break seemed like a pretty good time to do that.

About 5 months from now, we will be looking back on the 2017-2018 school year.  When looking back in June, how will you know it has been a successful year.  Let me go a step further and ask you to quantify it.  I’ll just pose my questions and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • How will you define whether or not your school has had a successful year?
  • How many measures will you use?
  • Do staff members agree to all of those factors?
  • How many of the measures are external and how many are internal?
  • How do you report out the level(s) of success that you have attained?

I have a strong belief that we too often allow external groups to evaluate and grade us as schools.  A standardized assessment turned into a color, grade, or number, certainly shouldn’t be the determining factor as that would undersell the valuable work done in schools on a daily basis.  Furthermore, what does someone in Lansing know about the strengths, challenges, and growth areas of the school I work at?  How do they know what our staff is focused on?  School improvement work is valuable and helps to focus our work, but certainly isn’t specific enough to what a school is working towards.  So, what is it?  What factors?  What formula?  What is success and how do you measure it?

I wonder how fellow educators would answer those questions.

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My 2017 MEMSPA Experience

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Each year at the “MEMSPA” state conference I go back to my room on Thursday night and take some time to really think about the first two days of the conference. The time allows me to process, ponder, reflect, and prioritize all that has been presented to me and all I’ve considered. There are a lot of thoughts to be sorted out. One of the things that stood out to me is the last few days is that I need to take more risks. I need to trust my gut and my instincts. One way to do that immediately is to be transparent and share my learning from this week that I normally keep to myself or share with selected others. I could write pages as I was influenced by so many and heard so many great things, but I wanted to hit on some big takeaways. I broke it down into 4 categories, made me think, things that inspired me, need to improve and things to implement ASAP.

Made me think – Right when I thought I was gaining ground on technology, this conference helped me realize that there are other options to think about. We need to consider increasing the use of technology in our school to include such options as Voxer, Mentimeter, Facebook Live, YouTube channel for parents to view instruction, Seesaw, and green screens. The team from Saline and their session on flexible seating made me realize it might be time to go with a big move and not just a few small moves. Conversations with Ken See, Scott Haid, and Kim VanAntwerp were so thought-provoking. We sat down to talk about one thing, but I left thinking about a dozen others. I greatly valued their perspective and time. Desk on wheels? How about a temporary office in the hallway or in a grade level wing? Something I want to think more about. Dan Butler and Allyson Apsey made me think about something I thought was a strength of mine, staff relationships. Their very specific ideas about how to improve in that area is going to be on the forefront of my mind during the drive home tomorrow.

Inspired – Regardless of content, when someone has crazy levels of passion about something in education, that inspires me. The two stories that Ben Gilpin told in his session about how went above and beyond to be there for his teachers inspired me.    Listening to Paul Liabenow talk about his passion for people inspired me. When I listened to Mike Domagalski talk about #MEMSPAChat, I got fired up. Jon Wennstrom and Allyson Apsey inspired me with how genuine they were and with their risk-taking. When I think there is something that is too out of the box for me to do, I think of the risks they take for the betterment of their teachers and students, and it inspires me to take another step. The professionalism and poise of our MEMSPA president, Jeremy Patterson, with all the hats he wears and responsibilities he has, inspires me. 

Need to Improve – Dr. Steve Constantino’s message was a bit of a slap in the face, but in a good way. My mindset surrounding engaging families needs to change. It’s not about events, it’s about process. It’s not about the percentage of families that come, it’s about who doesn’t. As he says, “we are really good at engaging families who are already engaged.” At Jamestown, we need to continue the work we’ve started with building relationships with our families that are least likely to become engaged.  By going above and beyond to build that relationship and trust, we can better find out how the partnership is best constructed. My session with Arina Bokas and a tablemate (can’t believe I missed his name) who shared some great thoughts cemented home those next steps in parent engagement. I also need to be less focused on my phone at work. Yes, there are times where communication comes to me that needs to be addressed right away, but it doesn’t need to happen at the expense of an interaction I may miss. I will get better at that.  

Implementation TimeThere are a few things that can go into effect right away. Something as specific as communication that is “Dear Families” instead of “Parents/Guardians” is a simple, yet important change to make. Continuing the work of our differentiated PD for teachers needs to happen and Marie DeGroot and I have some great ideas about how to keep improving it. Our staff needs to continue to partner with other schools and districts for lab classroom experiences that have mutual benefits. It’s a piece missing from our educational system and I just can’t figure out why. Finally, we always hear about building culture and relationships. The difference this week was the number of specific strategies that I learned to do just that. I will start two of them tomorrow and I can’t wait to see their impact.  

Make no mistake, this conference is full of learning. It’s a ton of information, processing, and collaboration.  For me, it’s not about refreshing or rejuvenating, it’s about GROWING. If I’m going to spend a couple days out of the building, I have to get better, immediately. I’m beyond excited to think, learn, and collaborate even further to see how these ideas can impact Jamestown students and staff.

MEMSPA Presentation Materials – “Differentiated PD for Teaching Staff”

I am fired up about differentiating professional development for teachers!  It’s a topic that I’m constantly researching and reading about. 

Here are the materials that Marie DeGroot and I used for our presentation at the “Michigan Elementary and Middle Schools Principal Association” conference in Traverse City this week.  This presentation was on differentiating professional development for staff by creating small group/cohort professional learning communities.  You may need permission for some documents, so just email me for that. If you would like any additional information or I can be of help in any way, please let me know.

Presentation Slideshow:  MEMSPA — Creating small group PLC’s for Teacher PD

Additional Documents: A Plan for Differentiated Teacher PD (1)

201718 PLC Meeting Calendar – UPDATED 81517

Previous Blog Posts: Differentiated PD for Teachers in a One Year Plan

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Teacher Evaluation: What Are the Students Doing?

OK, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the only one guilty of this and other principals who read this will be shaking their heads at how unskilled I am. I promise it’s not a habit, just a correctable error. I will admit that when it comes to teacher evaluation observations, sometimes I find myself watching more of what the teacher is doing than what the students are doing. Not always, probably not even often, but sometimes.  I need to keep working to change that and a couple observations last week helped me to recommit to that change.

Like many other principals, I’m in the heat of teacher evaluation season, which I love!  There are very few parts of my job more rewarding than collaboratively setting a plan with a teacher, observing them teach, and then supporting their instructional growth in specific areas throughout the year. Look, I love kids, it’s at the heart of why I do this job.  But that entire process of being side by side with teachers to improve parts of their practice over the course of the year, I eat it up.  Can’t get enough. Outside of keeping people in our building safe, putting a highly effective teacher in front of every student is my most important job. Regardless of what “research” you read, teacher evaluation can support the improvement of instruction in a school. You can cite whatever you want from whatever book you want, I can give you real-life examples. Lots of them.

Back to watching the teacher too much. The name on the evaluation document is that of the teacher, not the student. You meet before and after observations with the teacher, not the students. The teaching staff is trained in the evaluation model. A summative score is given to teachers, not students, at the end of the year. Maybe those are all my excuses but think about it. All of those things, as well as how teacher evaluation systems were set up in the past, point to the teacher. Thankfully, we are past the days of nit-picking each and every word the teacher says so we can tell them what words they should’ve said during our post-observation meeting. That is the structure that has a minimal impact on long-term teacher growth. A heightened focus on the student drastically improves the process. I’ve always known that and done that, but I can still get better.

Having been trained (and trained others) in the 5D+ evaluation model, I should know better. 5D+ puts a high level of emphasis on the shared ownership of learning between teacher and student. We are constantly talking about who is doing the talking, where the burden of cognitive work lies, and the student role in the self-assessment of their learning. It was actually back to back observations last week that helped me to refocus back on the student. The students were primarily working independently and it reminded me how many key observables I can pick up on if I focus more on the students.  During the second observation because of how much data I was collecting on the students, I realized that I had started to shift a little more towards the teacher.

My hope moving forward, starting this week, is to start student-first, as I should. There will be plenty of teacher observables, too. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to do those observations last week as they helped me to refocus and improve on something as important as teacher evaluation.

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