Reflecting on five years in the district office

Five years ago, I made the transition from classroom teacher to district administrator.  Last year, I shared a four year reflection and it only seemed appropriate to share another annual reflection.

First, a summary of the action items I aspired to work towards last year around this time:

In no particular order...

Continue attending the quarterly area curriculum director meetings (Develop existing relationships and strengthen new ones)
I attended all four meetings this year in our area.  During the first meeting, a fellow curriculum director had a familiar facial that I knew very well: a desire to change the world in one year, but not knowing exactly how to maneuver the paperwork and wade through the acronyms well enough in order to stay ahead.  I invited this person to spend a few hours away from the office a few weeks later to share templates, ideas, success and struggles, and those other types of conversations about curriculum and assessment that curriculum directors get excited about!  A new professional relationship was gained and others were strengthened through these meetings.  My only regret is not following up with this rookie colleague more often to see how things are going on at her schools.

Seek out a leadership role in the area special education director meetings (Deeper learning in this area.  Consider finding an informal mentor)
I failed in finding an informal mentor, however I successfully co-facilitated an area special education director meeting this spring.  My co-facilitator and I have plans to continue these meetings next school year.  Dates are on the calendar!

Spend several hours observing and reflecting with district administrators in a similar role around Iowa.  (Establish a more formal learning community, face-to-face or virtual)
Major failure.  We have a Google+ Community setup around teacher leadership, but it didn't happen.  I appreciated the opportunities to network with district administrators around the state at the Iowa ASCD Curriculum Leadership Academy in April, however this was a one time event rather than an ongoing occurrence.  I plan to volunteer at the Iowa ASCD Summer Conference at the new curriculum directors' breakfast in order to meet fellow directors from around the state.

Pursue central office academic literature describing validated practices of central office administrators. 
Winner!  The longer I work in this role, the more I am realizing I need to pour into principals so that they can pour into their teaching staff. As I think about the Iowa educational context, I see others around me in a similar role: central office administrators in school districts with 1100 to 2500 students who may or may not have been principals themselves, trying their best to support principals' instructional leadership in a non-evaluative way. Through an early educational database search, I have read over twenty-five studies.  The urban central office administrators described in these studies typically play a dual role: supporting and evaluating site administrators. I have a hunch a gap may exist in the literature capturing the perspectives of folks like me: smaller district office administrators supporting principals' instructional leadership in a non-evaluative context.  It may turn into a dissertation topic!  Even if it doesn't, this academic literature exploration has been beneficial for me thus far.

Finally, I wanted publicly state how much I am excited for the upcoming school year.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses and I'm grateful the administrative team has allowed me to grow during the past five years.  Our superintendent is moving to a larger organization and I'm excited to learn under a new leader.  I'm also jacked to work alongside our district's first instructional coach cadre.  I've often felt my reach in the central office is limited in some areas.  I believe the teachers a committee has selected for this cadre are all well qualified and eager to learn.  I anticipate they'll push my often cautious outlook on systems change and I believe I'll look back one year from now and realize how little I really knew about instructional leadership.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I am thankful for a virtual friend of mine, Bill Ferriter, whose writing continually pushes me and most recently reminded me that blogging really does matter.  #whyblog

Doctoral program: 12 month update

Nearly one year ago, I started a third graduate program.  During the past twelve months, I've completed eighteen (18) hours of coursework, a combination of research methodology at core doctoral classes.

While courses such as "Models of Professional Development" have been intriguing, I've learned the most from the three research methodology courses.  

Research Design was a solid overview of well, research design.  I learned about theoretical frameworks, ethics when engaging in human subject research, critiquing research methodology, and this thing called mixed methods research design.  The instructor was well organized, supportive, yet challenged my thinking about educational research.

Quantitative Research Methods was the course that came easiest to me in the program so far.  If one were to examine my undergraduate transcript, it would be pretty obvious a calculus-based statistics course was the one I struggled with the most.  It was only fitting my principal asked me to teach an introductory statistics class to high school students for six years.  One and two sample hypothesis testing made sense in this graduate course, because I learned from many mediocre attempts facilitating these same ideas with teenagers.  Ironically, the course left a bit of a foul taste in my mouth.  Quantitative research methodology seems to me so distant from the action.  Crunching numbers is not currently my idea of meaningful educational research.

Qualitative Research Methods was by far the most interesting course in the program so far.  Our professor was really into ethnography and in turn our primary task was to integrate ourselves into the culture of a virtual world.  After a long write-up of our data collection, analysis and conclusions, the professor asked my group and several others to make some serious changes with a quick turn around.  For some, the timing was not idea.  For me, it was a 48 hour opportunity to figure out areas of qualitative research methodology, specifically theoretical frameworks, I had a false sense of mastery.  To make a long story short, this course was filled with trials and successes, but throughout the semester I feel I grew tremendously as a consumer and critic of educational research.

Cohort Camaraderie
Whenever colleagues or family ask me about my experiences as a distance education doctoral student, my immediate reaction goes something along the lines of "I'm thankful to do most of my coursework after 9pm and on the weekends" in comparison to driving to class in the midst of Iowa winters.  I enjoy putting my son to sleep and then getting after coursework rather than missing this time due to commuting.  

Another response I often share with inquisitive minds is the uniqueness of classmates in multiple timezones.  Most recently, my group work has consisted of a guy in California and another in Georgia.  The three of us have an ongoing texting thread in which we clarify assignments, coordinate our group work and keep up on each others' personal lives.  We established a routine of using a three way conference call while working collaboratively through Google Drive beginning around 9pm CST.  

Our entire cohort continues to share class questions and personal updates through our closed social media community.  About ten of our twenty one cohort members continue to participate actively in this online community.

Looking ahead to years two and three
Beginning this summer, the coursework emphasis will change a bit.  Because I was able to transfer in twelve elective credits in educational leadership, I will continue taking two courses per semester.  During three consecutive semesters, we will be taking a "dissertation mentoring course" in which we'll learn about the dissertation process and write the first three chapters.  This leads up to summer 2016 in which we'll each (hopefully) defend our dissertation proposals on campus.  

In year 3, we will continue to take a core doctoral class in addition to dissertation research hours.  If all goes well, I will collect data summer 2016 and write it all up fall 2016 and spring 2017.  Defending in early April 2017 is an ambitious dream.  I'll keep you updated during the next two years!  

(A start to) a Standards-Based Grading Literature Review

A while back, I started a personal log of every standards-based grading article I read.  It has turned into a publicly available document growing each month as new articles and dissertations are discovered and published.

It feels like it could be a nice gift for any graduate students currently starting a literature review on standards-based grading.


Static link:

NTY pretty much sums up the struggles of math education

Pi does deserve a celebration, but for reasons that are rarely mentioned. In high school, we all learned that pi is about circles. Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference (the distance around the circle, represented by the letter C) to its diameter (the distance across the circle at its widest point, represented by the letter d). That ratio, which is about 3.14, also appears in the formula for the area inside the circle, A = πr2, where π is the Greek letter “pi” and r is the circle’s radius (the distance from center to rim). We memorized these and similar formulas for the S.A.T.s and then never again used them, unless we happened to go into a technical field, or until our own kids took geometry. (Emphasis mine)

"Why Pi Matters" - New York Times, March 13, 2015

Standards-Based Grading: Converting to Letter Grades [VIDEO]

In my experience and observation, teachers and systems have used one of three systems when converting standards to letter grades in a standards-based grading environment.

In the video above, I suggested each standards to letter grades conversion method has its own limitations, however they also bring with them specific strengths.

Strengths and limitations when considering the Marzano Method

  • Some student information systems or grade books may not allow teachers to average standard scores and in turn the teacher would need to do this calculation and override the final grade.
  • One limitation of this method is that a student can have a poor understanding of a concept (standard), however it does not dramatically affect the overall letter grade and in turn a grades-driven student may not be driven to continue learning the concept.
  • Although a broad scale was illustrated in the video (3.00 - 4.00), it could easily be further broken down to include plus and minus letter grades (i.e. 3.00 - 3.25 = A-).  The conversion scale parallels many schools' grade point average scale.  For some buildings/districts, this may be helpful in communication with parents while in others in may create additional confusion.

Strengths and limitations when considering the Convert to Percentages Method
  • Because this method uses total points and percentages, this method probably plays the best with many student information systems and grade books.  
  • One limitation of this method is that a student can have a poor understanding of a concept (standard), however it does not dramatically affect the overall letter grade and in turn a grades-driven student may not be driven to continue learning the concept.  
  • I'm going out on a limb and believe this method may be the easiest for parents and students to understand due to their experience with traditional grade books.  
Strengths and limitations when considering the Piecewise / Logic Function Method
  • I have not yet seen a student information system or grade book that allows teachers to create this type of standards to final grade conversion, therefore it will take a teacher manually calculating the grades or utilizing a spreadsheet to do the calculation.  In turn, final grades will likely need to be manually overridden by the classroom teacher.
  • The teachers I have spoken with indicate this method helps grades-driven students focus more on their current weaknesses and less on a percentages/averages game.  
What other strengths and limitations have you experienced with these three methods?

What other standards to final grade calculations have you used?  

Feel free to add your experiences in the comments!