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Blog: Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Our Vision For Technology Use in Leicester

A team from Leicester attended a Future Ready Summit last week to continue to plan for effective technology use in Leicester Schools. Maggie Lavielle, LHS English teacher; Jeff Berthiaume, Director of Technology and Innovation; Cate Calise, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment; and I joined other district teams from New England and beyond to explore our next steps to harness technology for more effective communication, engaging instruction, use of data for instructional decision-making, and professional development. Our plan is based upon the following vision for technology use in Leicester:

  • Students in Leicester Public Schools utilize technology to communicate, create, problem-solve, and collaborate.
  • Curriculum, instruction, and assessment leverages technology in order to provide the most engaging, effective, and personalized learning environment.
  • Through the use of technology, learning occurs 24/7 both inside and outside of the classroom and at each student's individual pace, both to meet rigorous standards as well as to explore individual interests.
  • Leicester schools provide technology, networks, and hardware to enable safe but open access to digital resources.
  • Leicester schools provide a digital environment that ensures privacy and security of data as well as the protection of students' identities while encouraging staff to use data to inform instruction, curriculum, and assessment.
  • Partnerships are leveraged to build global competencies and connect parents to their child's educational goals.
  • Leicester educators engage in contextual professional learning that builds competencies necessary to support 21st Century learning
  • The budget process and policies of Leicester Public Schools are designed to ensure continual improvement of the instructional experience of our students while being fiscally responsible to the taxpayers.
  • Leadership that supports 21st Century learning utilizes technology to communicate, create, problem-solve, and collaborate.

In addition to planning for our future, we reflected on the progress we have made over the past two years. With a bandwidth of only 10 Mb/s, access to the Internet was inconsistent in 2013. Wifi access was only available in certain areas of our schools. The filtering policy did not allow access to Google, YouTube, or social media. Since that time we have completely re-wired and added wifi access points for the LHS and Primary School, increased our bandwidth to 100 Mb/s, have added over 150 new devices, have improved access (though not yet adequately) at Memorial School and LMS, and have revised policies for filtering and the use of social media. Rather than pay for email service, we now use Google, along with its suite of tools, including Google docs, Google sites, and Google drive. Google drive, moreover, has reduced our reliance on internal servers for shared folders and backups. At the summit we did our presentation in style, using the "Back to the Future" theme to share our progress as well as our hopes for the future. To see our PowerPoint, use this link: goo.gl/lzCeNA .

Several teachers, including Maggie Lavielle, are early adopters of the Google tools and are using these tools in innovative ways in their classrooms. Strategies for moving this work to the next level will be woven into the revisions to our 3-year district improvement action plan, which will be presented at the June meeting of the School Committee then posted on our website.

Posted by Judy Paolucci at 6:36 AM | 0 comments

Blog: Sunday, March 29, 2015

Managing Complex Change

Schools seem to be in a constant state of change, yet when we compare some classroom practices with those of decades past, change hasn’t been truly achieved. Some attribute this to the belief that we set off in one direction only to be told some time later to move in a different direction. Teachers who have experienced this again and again learn to view new initiatives with disengagement. This too shall pass. Additionally, if we are being told to change then there must be some belief that what we are now doing isn’t good enough and this is an affront to the very core of our being. Most importantly, change involves the loss of current practice and any loss, especially one in which significant investments of time and learning have been made, is difficult. Again and again we fail to recognize the complexity of change, especially a change to a pillar of a culture, such as the education of our children.

Changes being advocated in Leicester Schools originate from a combination of three sources. First, there are quite a number of mandates that trickle down from the legislature and/or the Department of Education. Second, analyses of assessments and current practices against what research says about effective schools trigger school improvement efforts. Third, community needs, some of which were identified through the Future Search, generate goals for change. In any case, effective change can only result when five critical elements are considered. This model for complex change is based upon the original work of Ambrose (1987). Even when we are faced with a mandated change, it is our obligation to ensure that each of these elements is addressed.

[The model graphic could not be pasted into this blog but is available on this link: http://goo.gl/dountq]

The changes to educator evaluation began as a mandate. Each of the components of the Massachusetts system: frequent, unannounced visits with feedback; district-determined measures (DDMs, which are student assessments) to determine educator effectiveness; goal-setting; and student surveys are a major change unto itself. The change process involving the incorporation of DDMs has been difficult because a number of these critical elements were either ignored or were weakly instituted. VISION: What was the vision for using assessments in the evaluation system? Did we want teachers to use data more in instructional decision-making? Did we want evidence to punish bad teachers? SKILLS: Are we assuming that teachers already had the skills to develop common assessments that would be valid measures of teaching practice? Did we provide training on how to analyze the assessment results and did this training truly apply to all teaching areas? INCENTIVE: Did teachers believe that this work would lead to improvements? Did they know if or if not good results would be celebrated? Were they “afraid” enough of poor results that the incorporation of DDMs would “whip them into shape? RESOURCES: Were teachers provided enough time to work together to develop DDMs? Were enough examples given? Were technology tools developed to help with data analysis? Were funds provided for some ready-made assessment tools? ACTION PLAN: Was a clear timeline provided for the implementation of DDMs? Did everyone know who was responsible for what? It’s no wonder that we all felt confusion, anxiety, false starts, and frustration and that this change has been only gradual, at best. [Note that some of these questions are mine and others are questions I wonder if some are thinking.]

We now are embarking on the next leg of the educator evaluation system change journey: student surveys. Let’s get this right. The vision for using student surveys in Leicester, though not explicitly articulated, was developed by the evaluation committee. Student surveys will be used to generate data and feedback that the educator and evaluator can use for the goal-setting process. We will not apply survey results directly to assess the educator against the evaluation rubric, since survey data is not triangulated against other data sources. Instead, by using this feedback to set future goals, we respect our educators’ desire for continual improvement and nurture their skills at self-reflection. The surveys being used are aligned to the educator rubrics (student surveys) and school administrator rubrics (staff survey). We are participating in the DESE-supported administration done by Panorama education, so our surveys will be administered online, students and staff can respond anonymously, and our results will come back in a form that is easy to manage. Survey data on individual educators will be accessible by the individuals and by their evaluators but will be kept confidential. Let’s have no confusion.

By using the DESE model surveys, we did not need to spend time to hone skills on developing surveys but we do need to help educators evaluate the results to apply to their goal setting. Prior to getting our survey results back, we will share sample survey reports through a faculty meeting or half-day professional development time to model going from results to goals. We don’t expect every educator to have a goal specifically developed from the survey results. Instead, survey data will be one source of data upon which to develop goals. Let’s have no anxiety.

The district review process, ongoing visits to classrooms, and conversations with teachers and students reveal the exceptional respect students and teachers have for each other here in Leicester. I’ve been in faculty rooms in many different schools and have heard disappointment and disregard for students. Not in Leicester. Survey data, I am confident, has the potential to reveal more areas for celebration than focus of improvement. Where a focus of improvement is shown, we will tackle it, head-on. Let’s also promise to celebrate where this data shows our strengths. We will be surveying each year, so the evaluation of goals will not simply be based upon educator and evaluator perceptions; survey data will provide a means of proof for our efforts. Let’s have something more than “gradual” change.

By leveraging Panorama, the company DESE contracted to administer the model surveys, we are engaging resources to accomplish this goal. Let’s face it, all hands are on deck in Leicester; we don’t have extra staff to develop surveys, gather survey results from every educator, make charts and graphs, and return the data in a form that is easy to interpret. Let’s not have frustration.

Our plan of action is tight. The surveys will be administered in April. Training for survey interpretation and goal-setting will take place in May. Survey results will be returned before the end of the school year when the cycle for goal-setting is expected to begin again. Additionally, before the end of this school year, compiled survey results will be used to identify strengths and areas for school-wide improvements. Let’s not have false starts.

I believe that Leicester is already a leader in the state when it comes to implementing educator evaluation. With regards to the use of student and staff surveys for evaluation, let’s show the rest of the state how it should be done.

Posted by Judy Paolucci at 12:52 PM | 0 comments

Blog: Saturday, March 7, 2015

Don't Stop Talking!

Last month’s blog entry focused on a vision for student engagement, moving away from simply being “on task” to deep, intellectual engagement in learning. One of the sub-dimensions of student engagement, “student talk,” is worthy of a closer look. In addition to the administrative team’s (LTeam = Leicester Team or Leadership Team) grappling with observing and providing feedback concerning student engagement, Learning Walks, conducted by teachers and administrators, have been focusing on the quality of talk occurring in classrooms.

Learning Walks consist of 12-15 teachers and administrators visiting classrooms in a school, analyzing observational data, and participating in focused conversations on what was observed. The purpose of a Learning Walk is to provide the school community with a focus for continual improvements. The process is similar, in many ways, to structures put in place at Pixar Animation (the studio that produced Toy Story and other hits). Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, posits, "Companies, like individuals, do not become exceptional by believing they are exceptional but by understanding the ways in which they aren't exceptional" (2014, Creativity, Inc.)

When I started teaching in 1990, if my classroom was observed at all, the principal looked for silent students and an organized teacher lecture. Today, we know that passive students may be less of a challenge but may not always achieve deep learning. Successfully applying instructional strategies to improve the quality of talk in classrooms, especially student-to-student talk, will be problematic because each of us - students, parents, and teachers alike, have been encultured into what we believe schools should be like (quiet and orderly), teachers should be like (talkers), and students should be like (listeners). I’ve seen teachers encourage students to respond to each other’s ideas, but students are so used to providing responses to the teacher that, despite best efforts, they can’t seem to shake having the teacher serve as a conduit of the conversation.

No one expects model student talk in every classroom at all times, but data from Learning Walks can help us monitor our efforts to engage students over time. Observing classrooms where student talk is especially good is important and Learning Walks provide that, as do videos from the Teaching Channel, such as:

https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/students-learn-from-mistakes-ccssmdc

and

https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/proportional-relationships-issues-ccssmdc

Our hope for our improvement efforts, including the evaluation process, Learning Walks, Lesson Study, and other professional development experiences, is not to find fault or to look for problems, but instead to target efforts so that the hard work of teachers and students in Leicester can result in the deepest student learning. Like Pixar, we want to be where everyone else in our field aims to be.

[NOTE: My blog entries from the AASA conference are available here: http://ow.ly/JJw6A ]

Posted by Judy Paolucci at 4:49 PM | 0 comments

Blog: Monday, February 16, 2015

A Common Vision for Student Engagement

If we asked 10 educators observing the same classroom whether or not the students were engaged and what evidence supports their claim, we’d have 10 different answers. Students who are quiet and compliant are often thought to be engaged. For others, seeing students participating in an activity-based task, no matter how little thinking is involved, leads to a the high engagement classification. Through learning walkthroughs and leadership team meetings, we in Leicester are working on developing a common vision for student engagement. If we all understand the vision of our desired future, we are more likely to get there.

The term, “engagement,” has different meanings for different people but if we are to focus on the type of engagement that contributes to greater levels of student learning, we would need to ask ourselves these questions, developed by the Center for Educational Leadership at the University of Washington (Center for Educational Leadership: https://www.k-12leadership.org/about-us)::

  • What is the frequency of teacher talk, teacher-initiated questions, student-initiated questions, student-to-student interaction, student presentation of work, etc.?
  • What does student talk reveal about the nature of students’ thinking?
  • Where is the locus of control over learning in the classroom?
  • What evidence do you observe of student engagement in intellectual, academic work? What is the nature of that work?
  • What is the level and quality of the intellectual work in which students are engaged (e.g. factual recall, procedure, inference, analysis, meta-cognition)?
  • What specific strategies and structures are in place to facilitate participation and meaning-making by all students (e.g. small group work, partner talk, writing, etc.)?
  • Do all students have access to participation in the work of the group? Why/why not? How is participation distributed?
  • What questions, statements, and actions does the teacher use to encourage students to share their thinking with one another, to build on one another's ideas, and to assess their understanding of one another's ideas?

To assess engagement, we must attend to the level of intellectual work and who is doing that work; how the teacher uses structures and processes, what Himmele and Himmele call “total participation techniques,” to ensure that every student participates, as opposed to calling on students whose hands are raised resulting in one student participating at a time; and whether student talk embodies substantive, discipline-specific vocabulary and thinking. This is substantially more difficult than simply noting whether or not there are students who are causing disruption.

While administrators have been focusing on how to observe classrooms for student engagement, teachers have an even tougher job – identifying and employing practices that lead to higher levels of student engagement.

Today, there are a variety of resources available for teachers to learn techniques for improving student engagement from blogs:

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/strategies-getting-keeping-brains-attention-donna-wilson-marcus-conyers

to videos:

https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/student-engagement-language-arts

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8cHCXqt0xE

to books:

http://www.amazon.com/Total-Participation-Techniques-Student-Learner/dp/1416612947#

http://www.amazon.com/Productive-Group-Work-Students-Understanding/dp/1416608834/ref=pd_sim_b_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=1C44D1Z4PF8YS7ER59E6

Like musicians, artists, actors, athletes, doctors, and chefs, educators who continually learn and continually improve their practices are masters at their trade. Most importantly, they are the teachers every Leicester student deserves.

Posted by Judy Paolucci at 8:16 AM | 0 comments

Blog: Sunday, February 1, 2015

Improving the Libraries in our Community

Walk into a community’s library and you will find evidence of how that community values literacy. A community’s value of literacy, in turn, correlates directly to the success of its schools. Statisticians will say that causality is a hard thing to prove; is it good libraries that improve literacy or a value of literacy that ensures good libraries? Whatever the case may be, Leicester’s attention to its libraries in 2015 should be a resolution of each of its residents. There is something that each and every resident can do to ensure that our libraries are in a better place in 2016 than they are at the start of 2015.

The capital campaign of our town library is in full swing since the town library expansion project has moved up the State LIbrary Construction Grant list. When our library reaches the top of the list, we will only have access to the funds if we can raise our portion of the total construction costs. We already have raised over $7 million, but that last $1 million is proving to be elusive. Every bit helps. The Capital Campaign Committee is looking for both help and donations. Here are specific things you can do:

  • If you are interested in helping or donating, send an email to Suzanne Hall, Library Director, call (508) 892-7020, or send a donation to the library at 1136 Main St., Leicester, MA 01524. Make checks out to the Leicester Public Library Renovation Fund or use the PayPal link on the library’s website.

  • Buy a brick by pledging at least $200. Click here to Buy-A-Brick and support the Capital Campaign

  • When you shop at Amazon, Amazon will donate .5% of your purchases to the library. Go to Smile.amazon.com. Log into your account. Type “Leicester Library” in the search box. Choose Leicester Library Renovation Fund or Friends of the Leicester Library. Do your regular shopping. It’s that easy!

Our school libraries are also in need of attention. While I don’t recommend that we do everything in 2015, we should make a start. Libraries are the heart of a school and have evolved from those that parents and teachers have known as children. eSchool News has identified the top 10 most significant ed-tech developments of 2014 and school libraries (reinvented) are #1. Below are target areas for improvement over the long term:

Certified Librarians: In my career as both a teacher and an administrator I have had the pleasure of working with the best licensed school librarians and, consequently, understand the value of having professionals who know how to manage a library collection, nurture students’ love of reading, develop a K-12 research curriculum that connects to every classroom in the school, and work together with teachers on co-taught lessons. Working backwards from the senior project research paper expectations, Donna Good, the former Narragansett High School librarian, worked with English department teachers to figure out what students would need to learn and be able to do, grade-by grade, prior to working on this graduation requirement. Ms. Stuhr, Harrison Middle School librarian, helps students share their best books with others, promoting reading throughout the school (check out her website to get a taste of what goes on in this stimulating library).

Leicester has one certified school librarian, Mrs. Carrie Grimshaw, who works at the high school. Mrs. Grimshaw, new to our school, is doing a fabulous job, but she is just one person working at one of our four schools. For those who don’t know what a librarian does beyond checking out books, consider that since starting in Leicester this August, Carrie has been:

  • Co-teaching library database lessons to students utilizing the databases that the school purchases as well as free databases available from Mass Libraries and the Boston Public Library. Students learn to register for a BPL ECard so they will be able to access databases from home.

  • Updating and revising the library website.

  • Creating a Charging Station so students can charge their phones or other devices.

  • Surveying the students with a library raffle and using their book preferences to help with ordering new library materials.

  • Updating the Library Space by adding new book displays and young adult posters to create a fun and inviting space for students.

  • Networking with other library media specialists through a SWCL meeting and membership in the Massachusetts School Library Association.

We have terrific teaching assistants at the Primary and Memorial Schools who use the library for story hours for elementary students. There is neither time nor expertise to develop the libraries into true resources for our schools.

Improved Library Collections: The annual funding allocation for each school in Leicester is approximately $2,000, compared to upwards of $10,000 in similarly-sized schools. We can improve our collections without adding a single cent of funding by throwing out old, ragged, out-dated books. Yes, you heard me right…. throw them out. Perhaps the best guide for culling library collections comes from the Texas State Libraries and Archives Commission (see this link). Culling collections adds to the appeal and reliability of the library’s collection. If we buy $2,000 of new books but those books are shelved between hundreds of ragged, old, unappealing books, students simply can’t find the flowers among the weeds. Some of those “weeds,” moreover, are socially irresponsible and politically or factually incorrect.

Improved Facilities: The facilities study identified the need for improved library facilities, among other facilities needs. Libraries should be comfortable, engaging, and inspiring. A long term solution to our facilities needs will not be attained in 2015, though we can take steps to improve the functionality and aesthetics of our libraries.

I’m seeking help for improving our school libraries but I’m not asking for funds for certified librarians, improved collections, or new facilities. These, I hope, will come later but I know for FY16, our town cannot add these resources and stay within the 2 ½ tax levy limit. I have a couple of volunteers lined up to help cull our current collections. We'll see what we can accomplish before asking for more volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact me by email, paoluccij@lpsma.net.

Please do at least one thing for Leicester libraries. Volunteer. Donate. Identify Leicester as a donation recipient when you buy on Amazon. Help cull our library collections. Show Leicester’s value for literacy.

Posted by Judy Paolucci | 0 comments
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