Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Eight Leadership Essentials

The beginning of the school year always renews my focus on how to improve my leadership skills.  Each year I critically analyze ways I can improve as well as what I feel I am doing well.  To my mind, we all have the capacity to lead.  It is through leadership that we  become catalysts for positive change. Once sustainable change takes hold, we will see the fruits of our labor in the form of transformed teaching and learning practices amongst learners and in ourselves. This cannot happen without effective leadership.

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In my own experiences and those of the individuals with whom I have connected through social media, I have witnessed patterns of behavior that, in my mind, capture effective leadership.  Leadership is a combination of art, science, and human nature. For some, it is an innate process; for others, it evolves and is refined over time.  We all have the ability to lead, although many choose not to lead.  There is also no perfect way to lead, as leadership strategies and practices need to adapt to the various dynamic environments in which leaders find themselves. 

Schools need individuals to establish a collective vision and put it into action to improve professional practice, whether that leadership comes from administrators or teachers or a combination of both. Schools cannot be successful if this does not happen, and the success of our students depends on how well leaders guide the majority to embrace meaningful change. Below are ten essential elements of leadership that I feel can effect change.

  1. Modeling: In my opinion, the best leaders model their expectations for their employees and peers.  The best leaders not only talk the talk, but they also walk the walk.  Don’t ask your employees or colleagues do something that you are not prepared to do.  Better yet, show them what the practice can and should look like in action.
  2. Not looking for buy-in: Effective leaders should not have to “sell” their employees and colleagues on a better way of doing things.  Intrinsic motivation is the most powerful force we have to initiate and sustain change.  Think about how you can get people to embrace a new idea, strategy, or initiative.  If you do this, the chances are you will have real results.  Start out by simply removing the words “buy-in” from your vocabulary.
  3. Providing support:  Support comes in many forms – financial, time, and professional learning opportunities.  The lack of any (or all) of these should never be an excuse to not move forward.  Support begins with adopting a “no-excuse” attitude and the resilience to always seek out solutions to the many problems that arise.  Support should also be differentiated.  As we have come to know with our students, a one-size-fits-all approach never works.
  4. Learning from failure: Everyone fails.  That is life.  The key point, however, is that failure is one of the greatest learning tools we have.  We don’t like it, but it should be embraced.  If leaders are afraid to fail, then nothing will ever change.  Leadership is all about risks and rewards.  With every risk there is the potential for failure looming around the corner.  Learning from our experiences—including our failures—empowers leaders to be fearless change agents. Admitting when we have failed actually inspires others.
  5. Transparency: Leaders’ decisions and actions are not challenged as much if those leaders are transparent. Effective leaders use transparency to assist with the embracement of change.  This is accomplished through a combination of communication, shared decision-making, consensus, debate, and social media.  In the end, all stakeholders should know why and how a leader made a particular decision and how that decision impacts the system. Transparent leaders to not micromanage, give credit to others when initiatives succeed, and take the blame things fail.
  6. Flexibility: Stubbornness and rigidity are clear indicators of a top-down approach to leadership. This almost always builds resentment and animosity towards change.  Leaders who are flexible listen to other points of view, bend when necessary, and are not afraid to change course if things are not going well.
  7. Resilience: Leadership is fraught with challenges on a daily basis.  There will always be people second-guessing, undermining, and ignoring decisions that are made.  Effective leadership requires something between having empathy and having a thick skin.  This results in resilience. Without resilience, one’s ability to lead effectively will be severely diminished.
  8. Never passing the buck: If you are—or want to be—a leader, you must always remember that there is no passing the buck.  When final decisions have to be made, they must be made with confidence, clarity, and decisiveness. 
The image below provides a nice summary of many leadership essentials.

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Obviously the image above and my list are not an exhaustive list, but rather a reflection based on experience and observation. What do you think are the essential principles of effective leadership that might fall outside of the list that I have provided?


By Barbara Jones, Los Angeles Daily News

POSTED: 09/17/13, 7:52 PM PDT |


LAUSD approves $113M budget to train teachers for Common Core standards

After debating nearly two hours and voting down a proposed compromise, the Los Angeles Unified board on Tuesday approved a plan for spending $113 million to implement a new curriculum — the same budget that triggered the resignation of the district’s instructional chief when it was rejected last week.

Over the last month, the board has been discussing the best way to spend state money to prepare educators, students and parents for the Common Core — the more rigorous math and English standards taking effect next fall. It settled Tuesday on a two-year budget that includes $25 million to elevate 162 teachers to coaching positions, where they would train other teachers in the new curriculum. There’s also about $15 million for teacher training and $10 million for summer school.



And as a result of concerns raised by the board in August, each school will receive $70 per student that it can use to address specific needs related to the rollout of the Common Core.

The board’s 6-1 approval, with former teacher Monica Ratliff dissenting, followed an 11th-hour effort by board member Steve Zimmer to craft a compromise that retained portions of the district’s plan, but also gave a nod to the teachers union’s request for more money for training and demands from parents that money be set aside to educate them about the new lessons their children will be learning.



His plan also included a daylong “convocation” next year to celebrate the launch of Common Core across the district.

After a lengthy debate, his proposal was defeated 4-3. Zimmer said later that he was disappointed his proposal hadn’t passed but that it had served its purpose of triggering a robust discussion of the Common Core plan.

“The goal was to create substantive debate, and that’s what we had,” said Zimmer, the board’s vice president. “The superintendent now has a budget, and instead of a conversation that was all over the place we had a discussion that dealt with qualitative and substantive issues.”



Zimmer also said he planned to bring back his idea to have some sort of recognition of start of the Common Core, which is being implemented in California and 45 other states.

Superintendent John Deasy said little after the vote, except that he would be moving forward with it as quickly as possible.

A week earlier, Deasy and his instructional chief, Deputy Superintendent Jaime Aquino, had met with resistance from the board when they presented the same budget proposal. On Friday, Aquino submitted his resignation, saying the board had been interfering too much in the day-to-day management of the district, which was threatening the progress made in boosting student achievement.



Aquino was not in his usual seat on the board dais during Tuesday’s meeting.

But the board appeared to be indirectly addressing his concerns during their discussion, with board President Richard Vladovic saying he was not trying to micromanage the administration with his suggestions about the budget and that members were simply “setting a direction ” in passing the spending plan.

After the meeting, United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher expressed concern that the new teaching coaches will be spread too thin, with 61 English and 61 math specialists to oversee training at more than 1,000 campuses.



He also accused the district of trying to train its teachers “on the cheap,” with after-school training sessions for which they’ll receive just a fraction of their regular pay. He backed Zimmer’s plan, which would have paid teachers more for attending full-day training sessions. In both cases, the training is voluntary and in addition to the weekly professional development sessions held at every school.

The meeting had been scheduled specifically to address the Common Core budget and began about 90 minutes past its scheduled starting time of noon. Vladovic apologized for the delay, saying the board had faced a weighty agenda for the executive session that preceded the meeting.



During the closed-door meeting, the board OK’d the promotion of district lobbyist Edgar Zazueta to the newly created position of chief of external affairs. Zazueta said he’ll continue to oversee LAUSD’s lobbying efforts in Sacramento while serving as Deasy’s community representative in Los Angeles. His new post pays about $146,000, a raise of $9,000 a year, he said.



Barbara Jones

Reach the author at or follow Barbara on Twitter: @LADNschools.


Dream Classroom Nets Independent Learners



By: Jennifer Klein

“Just because kids can make a Glogster, Power Point, or Prezi doesn’t mean they are capable of applying the information they have learned in new and creative ways and have become self-directed learners,” says Susan Fisher, a Program Specialist in the Professional Learning Department for Fulton County Schools in Atlanta, Georgia. She wants students to take over that leadership role as well as responsibility for themselves, not just incorporate “21st Century technologies” into their lessons.

Last year, as the talented and gifted department coordinator and lead technology teacher at Fulton’s Ridgeview Charter School, she began presenting regionally on blogging, e-portfolios, and other cutting edge topics. “Lightning struck me during one such event and before I could change my mind, I texted my principal with the ominous message, ‘I want to revamp everything and create a flipped, gamified, differentiated, inspired, and project based classroom for next year.’  Fisher spent the summer gamifying her entire seventh grade social studies curriculum, with the full support of her principal.

“I flipped my lectures using videos that I created or borrowed as well as web quests and missions to help kids learn the basic content at night so that I could ensure that our class time could be spent on differentiated and collaborative projects and activities. My game site, Collabornation, serves as the launching pad for everything. I kept asking myself, “What’s the best use of their time with me and with each other? That drove my teaching model. Lectures that would take me a class period to deliver take 10-12 minutes as a video to watch at home, recorded using an avatar with text to speech.  It limits the length and I get good sound bites.  The quizzes are embedded. Kids can learn at own pace, and peer tutoring can be a part of the classroom experience.” 

Fisher had all the desks removed from her classroom and replaced them with tables, each with an Internet connected computer, to encourage collaboration between groups of 3-5 students. The videos, projects, and gaming excite the kids and motivate them to push through the curriculum like they had never done before. “By the nine week mark I had already saved 23 academic teaching days and the scores on the same standardized tests from the year before were all equivalent or better on average!”  Projects such as creating political cartoons after research at home take life in the group setting.  The flexibility of the Inspired Classroom, in conjunction with the Flipped model, has allowed her to move away from the traditional linear, sequential, and lecture-based teacher model, instead filling the role of a facilitator who sets up a series of activities that lead the students as they learn on their own.  

She also created a differentiation site called ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ based on an existing model, and modified it to meet the needs of her course. The website allows students to pick from dozens of different project choices to earn points and demonstrate mastery of various teaching standards, addressing different levels and learning styles. The site lets students be totally creative with their projects, as long as they satisfy the rubric.  Projects include describing the apps on Osama bin Ladin’s phone and his daily schedule, or writing an Ottoman report card, or song lyrics, or building a new weapon. 

The time flexibility and teaching days gained enabled her students to participate in the Urgent Evoke Game created by Jane McGonigal and the World Bank Institute. “It has helped my students learn and really appreciate their role as global citizens. I even incorporated in my Collabornation site the Evoke game’s central themes: food security, energy, water security, disaster relief, poverty, pandemic, education, global conflict, and human rights. Who knew I could get such great results and emphasize higher order thinking and problem solving skills at the same time? I have truly created my Dream Classroom Model.”

Fisher says her biggest take away thus far is that others want to pigeonhole the success of her dream class model to just one of its components instead of looking at it in its entirety. “In reality, each piece enhances and plays off the other to change the paradigm — changing students’ expectations not to be spoon fed, and expecting interaction with classmates to be part of learning. Two important questions remain my guiding light to ensure that I am making student centered decisions instead of falling for easy answers and quick fixes: 1) What is the best use of my students’ face time with me and, 2) even more importantly now, with each other.”


Jennifer Klein, a principal in the PR firm JMK & Associates in Atlanta, Georgia, is a writer and media publicist focusing on education, sports, and the arts.  She frequently writes about newsworthy educational programs for Fulton County Schools, where she has held leadership roles as a parent and community member for the past 20 years.  Contact:


The proficiency debate goes round and round

September 13, 2013

Sending an e-mail to ed-reformers and asking for their two cents results in a many responses, as Michael Petrilli learned when he shared his article “The Problem with Proficiency” and asked, “Who’s with me?”

Here’s a small snapshot of the thoughtful, respectful, and fifty-eight-round (!) conversation that included forty-some opinionated edu-thinkers.

  • “I would argue we need a different accountability system,” writes Randi Weingarten. “One that :

1. Pressures all of us to do better, by shining the spotlight particularly on our most vulnerable children, and what we are doing to help them succeed;

2. Credits improvement appropriately;

3. Defines success (and frankly, proficiency) radically differently than by a test score; and

4. Includes accountability for what we value—and for managerial steps that must be taken such as the provision of supports, not simply outcomes.”

  • “The big question to me is not who holds the bag on the end of year test result, but how we transform the quality of daily work,” asked David Coleman, president of College Board. “How can teachers and students engage in excellent work on a far larger scale?”
  • Frequent Flypaper blogger Andy Smarick tunes in on the state aspect: “The entity that SHOULD be held most accountable, but is actually LEAST accountable, is the state. State constitutions empower/require state governments to ensure kids are educated. If we’re displeased with results, and the state is ultimately responsible, we need to hold state governments to account…meaning change how they organize the delivery of education.”
  • Suzanne Tacheny Kubach, executive director of the PIE Network, tied the conversation to Common Core: “Most intriguing, ‘standards’ don’t even make sense to parents as an idea unless you measure them. I wished we’d videoed those moments in the conversations: If you suggested having standards but no common tests, parents got mad. They literally pushed chairs back from the table or threw pens down to make their point. ‘You can’t say you have a standard if you don’t also measure it.’” (For another great read from Suzanne, check out Getting Back to the Head Nod on Common Standards.)
  • Checker Finn—calling the last (public) shot in “Let’s hear it for proficiency”—posited that in the real world, proficiency matters:

“All true—but not reason enough to abandon proficiency. Not, at least, so long as it matters greatly in the real world. Do you want the pilot of your plane to be proficient at take-offs and landings or simply to demonstrate improvement in those skills? (Do you want to fly on an airline that uses only “growth measures” when hiring pilots?)”

Alas, there was no final agreement on proficiency. I’m sure Mike would love you hear your view. (Tweet your thoughts to @MichaelPetrilli.)

Chehalem Elementary finds a way to get all parents involved in school

Parents squeeze into their children’s tiny desks in first-grade teacher Meryl Thornton’s classroom at Chehalem Elementary during back-to-school night. (Wendy Owen/Beaverton Leader)

Wendy Owen | wowen@oregonian.comBy Wendy Owen | 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter 
on September 16, 2013 at 1:57 PM, updated September 16, 2013 at 1:59 PM



It was a testament to the renewed importance Chehalem’s parents place on education.

Just two years ago, it was a struggle to pull in 25 percent of the families, said Principal Debbie Nicolai. Now, she gets 100 percent participation — even if she has to go to their homes.

“The start of the school year is the start of a brand-new life,” Nicolai said. “Every year is a do-over.”

The school staff decided that back-to-school night would be mandatory– not for the parents, but for the staff. They have to meet every parent and that takes an effort.

The school, on Southwest Davis Road near Schuepbach Park, has a rich diversity of students, who speak 19 different languages. About one-third are English learners, Nicolai said.

This year’s back-to-school night pulled in about 65 percent of the parents, Nicolai said.

Today, the school is holding a second, smaller back-to-school gathering at 3:30 p.m.

Nicolai will call those who don’t show up and will explain all the changes and send home information with the student. 

letter.JPGView full sizeAmanda Luman left a fun note for her first-grade daughter, Mikaila, during back-to-school night at Chehalem Elementary in Beaverton.Wendy Owen/Beaverton Leader

She and the classroom teachers will visit the homes of parents she can’t reach by phone.


“That is so powerful,” she said of the home visits, which she started last year.

“The parent knows the teacher cares, and the child is thrilled to have the teacher in the home.”

Chehalem has the added challenge of 60 percent of its students living in poverty.

Often, those Nicolai visits don’t have cars, are single parents and are embarrassed to visit the school because they don’t have a good grasp of English, Nicolai said.

“We will persevere until all families have the information they need to help their children have a successful year,” Nicolai said.

Thursday night, Nicolai and Chehalem’s teachers presented this school year’s changes, including a new report card that lists the specific areas within math, reading and writing where the student is succeeding or needs improvement.

They talked about the school’s focus on science, technology, engineering and math, the new science fair and the start of a Lego robotics team.

They alerted families to the continued move to incorporate the Common Core curriculum, which bumps academic rigor for all students, and asked parents for their help.

Chehalem developed a school-wide homework plan and asks parents to ensure their children read for 20 minutes each night, write for 10 minutes and practice math for five minutes.

“The skills are much more complex,” Nicolai said she tells parents. “This is not the same school we went to.”

With the smell of freshly baked cookies wafting through the halls — samples of this year’s fundraising cookie dough — parents visited their children’s classrooms and squeezed into the little desks.

Parents understood the importance of their attendance.

“It’s extremely critical to be involved in your children’s education,” said Kazeem Lawal, who has children in kindergarten and fourth grade.

Fifth-grade teacher Wendy Gould said the simple act of parents showing up makes a difference.

“It sends a strong message to students that ‘My parents care,'” she said. “They value school.”

— Wendy Owen


6 Ways Teachers Can Use Google Hangouts

  • By Bridget McCrea
  • 09/17/13

As director of technology for Groton-Dunstable Regional School District in Groton, MA, as well as a teacher of high school courses in digital and information literacy, Andrew Marcinek knows what it takes to effectively implement tech in the classroom. One of Marcinek’s recent discoveries is Google Hangouts, a free video chat service that enables one-on-one chats and group chats with up to 10 people at a time. For Marcinek, Hangouts provides a new way to connect students beyond the four walls of the classroom. Where students used to need permission slips and school buses to get that “out of classroom” experience, tools such as Hangouts (which educators can join simply by setting up a Google+ page and signing up for the Hangout feature) allow instructors to do all of the following tasks:

1. Broadcast and archive live sessions. This is one of Marcinek’s favorite ways to use Hangouts. As part of his high school “help desk” course, for example, Marcinek has students use the application to connect with attendees at an Association of Computer Technology Educators of Maine (ACTEM) conference. Since attending the conference in person was impossible due to scheduling conflicts, Marcinek set up a Hangout, developed a presentation with his students, and then broadcast the session live to conference attendees. “We were then able to use the application to archive the presentation,” said Marcinek, “and share it with others afterwards.”

2. Share screens and create collaborative demonstrations. As part of that ACTEM presentation, Marcinek’s class was able to share its computer screen to help demonstrate key points. Using the Google Drive suite of apps, they were also able to work collaboratively with attendees. They discussed a YouTube video directly through the Hangout box, for example, and then archived the interaction on a dedicated YouTube account for future reference.

3. Create live shows and talks for broadcast. Marcinek’s students have also used Hangouts to present bimonthly talks on educational technology and its impact on student learning. Students create scripts, configure sets, and manipulate camera angles to bring their shows to life. “Each student pitches a show to the team, writes a script for that 10-minute show, and then films it live via a Hangout,” Marcinek explained. The idea, he added, is to reach as many viewers as possible while connecting with “students and teachers globally to share ideas and make meaningful connections through this medium.”

4. Create two-way conversations in a digital format. Marcinek sees Hangouts as a good alternative to Skype or FaceTime. Whether the discussion involves an online video, a document, or a piece of literature, Hangouts promote conversation and—because they can accommodate up to 10 participants—brings a larger group in. Marcinek said, “People can easily ‘drop in’ and see what’s happening, interact with the group, and then save everything for later viewing.”

5. Develop rich online portfolios. Because they allow users to save and archive their online interactions, Hangouts also serve as a viable online portfolio tool for Marcinek and his students. “A teacher can create a channel and then develop a repository of videos, work, and presentations that’s accessible to others,” said Marcinek, who has taught kindergarten teachers how to leverage Hangouts in their own classrooms. If a student starts saving his or her work at age 5, Marcinek said, by the end of high school, “He or she can have a digital repository to use as a reflective piece and/or resume. That’s pretty useful.”

6. Leverage the application for professional development. Up next on Marcinek’s agenda: professional development sessions made easier, more accessible, and even longer thanks to Hangouts. The latter is especially critical for Marcinek, who recently found himself getting “cut short” by time constraints at a professional development presentation. The fact that some eager attendees weren’t able to make it to the session prompted the tech-savvy teacher to create a live, on-air event using the application. “I even had a few students come in and help me present the topic again online,” said Marcinek, who has more of these sessions planned for the near future. “I posted the link to Twitter and got an even larger audience as a result.”

To teachers considering Hangouts as a classroom tool, Marcinek said, “Make sure you have the WiFi capabilities to handle the streaming video.” Without that piece of the puzzle, he said the video chat service will quickly become more of a burden than a help. He added that the sign-up process is easier for schools that already use Google Apps for Education. Finally, he said, be sure to obtain permission from parents—a step that should be taken anytime new applications or sharing services are introduced into a K-12 classroom. “Because the videos are published to a broad audience on the web,” said Marcinek, “you want to be clear both with parents and the administration on exactly what you’re doing—just in case.”


About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at



Assessment and Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom

Carol Ann Tomlinson & Tonya R. Moon

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About This Book

Carol Ann Tomlinson and Tonya R. Moon take an in-depth look at assessment and show how differentiation can improve the process in all grade levels and subject areas. After discussing differentiation in general, the authors focus on how differentiation applies to various forms of assessment—pre-assessment, formative assessment, and summative assessment—and to grading and report cards. Readers learn how differentiation can

  • Capture student interest and increase motivation
  • Clarify teachers’ understanding about what is most important to teach
  • Enhance students’ and teachers’ belief in student learning capacity; and
  • Help teachers understand their students’ individual similarities and differences so they can reach more students, more effectively

Throughout, Tomlinson and Moon emphasize the importance of maintaining a consistent focus on the essential knowledge, understandings, and skills that all students must acquire, no matter what their starting point.

Detailed scenarios illustrate how assessment differentiation can occur in three realms (student readiness, interest, and learning style or preference) and how it can improve assessment validity and reliability and decrease errors and teacher bias.

Grounded in research and the authors’ teaching experience,Assessment and Student Success in a Differentiated Classroomoutlines a common-sense approach that is both thoughtful and practical, and that empowers teachers and students to discover, strive for, and achieve their true potential.

See the book’s table of contents and read excerpts.

Assessment and Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom

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About the Authors

Carol Ann Tomlinson, AuthorCAROL ANN TOMLINSON was a classroom teacher for 21 years, working with high school, preschool, and middle school students, as well as administering district programs for struggling and advanced learners. She was named Virginia’s Teacher of the Year in 1974. She is currently on the faculty at the University of Virginia, where she is William Clay Parrish Jr. Professor; Chair of Educational Leadership, Foundations, and Policy; and Co-Director of the University’s Institutes on Academic Diversity. Carol was named Outstanding Professor at the university’s Curry School of Education in 2004 and received an All-University Teaching Award in 2008. Her books on differentiated instruction are available in 13 languages. She works with teachers in the United States and internationally to develop classrooms that provide effective instruction for academically diverse student populations.

Tonya R. Moon, AuthorTONYA R. MOON is a professor in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. Her specializations are in the areas of educational measurement, research, and evaluation, and she works with educational institutions nationally and internationally on issues associated with educational assessments. She also works with school districts and schools on using better assessment techniques for improving instruction and student learning. In addition to her research and teaching responsibilities, she is the Chair of the University’s Institutional Review Board for the Social and Behavioral Sciences.

10 behaviors that’ll have you walking the talk of instructional leadership 
“In my visits to dozens of schools each year, particularly high schools, more often than not I find yawning gaps between what district documents (principal position descriptions and evaluation instruments, for example) and district and building leaders espouse and the behaviors building principals exhibit on a daily basis,” writes ASCD author Tim Westerberg. In a recent Inservice post, Westerberg presents 10 behaviors that principals should exhibit to move their schools from good to great. Read all 10.