Mar 23, 2013

Improving the School District

Principals: Our schools need head teachers, not managers. All of the principals should strive to support teachers in all areas, especially instruction. They should be required to stay up on education research and best practices. A principal must share a clear vision and goals, use multiple observations throughout the year to guide teachers the specific goals, and provide opportunities for the staff to tackle the goals together.

Staff development: If hours are required, the SD opportunities must be relevant, practical, and leveled. Ideally, PLC's at the campus level would replace all staff development requirements. Although the district could continue to provide opportunities, teachers would be better served by meeting in PLC's.

Testing: Professionally, I understand the importance of formative assessments--I use them to guide my instruction. The state test is not a formative assessment--neither are the benchmarks. They are summative assessments, ending sections of the scope and sequence. They do not guide our instruction because our instruction is planned and we're flying to accomplish everything--no, they simply steal time from our instruction. Right now, teachers are simply preparing students for a test--they are avoiding technology use, in-depth projects, and the creation of innovative lessons. While there's no way to avoid the state test, we should focus on instruction, trusting teachers to use formative assessments along the way.

Expectations: In regards to assignments, homework, and grading, the district must push its principals to raise their expectations. Too often, students are asked to complete low-level assignments, which lack rigor. Grading should reflect true, deep understanding--not the ability to find words for blanks. If that truly happened, we would not need silly benchmarks--we would know that teachers are preparing students for anything.

Professional respect and opportunities: Teachers are treated like big kids. The administration feels like it has to dictate everything. If the district is doing a poor job at hiring new teachers, it might think that total control is a good idea, but it deflates the quality teachers. It's time to give teachers respect. From respectable salaries to improved benefits to growth opportunities, teachers should have something for which to work. Working at a recognized school is not a motivation. Hoping for a 2% raise is not a motivation. Having a few extra iPads in the classroom is not a motivation. When a state or district engineers the improved prestige of the teaching profession, it will see an improvement in the district--from quality of instruction to quality of applicants. 

Paperwork: Elementary school teachers have a tremendous amount of paperwork (school forms, RtI, TELPAS, SpEd, etc.). When should we complete it? If our conference times are used for conferences and paperwork, when do we plan and grade? Does a district want quality lessons or completed forms? Unfortunately, it wants both, and teachers are left to spend their own time or their family's time to do those things. Teachers are resenting the system and no one is listening. The states and districts simply pile more and more on the teachers. Each grade level or groups of grade levels should have a manager, someone to process paperwork, plan schedules, and deal with anything else that distracts teachers from lessons and instruction.

Based on their priorities and decisions, one can only assume that the decision-makers are completely out of touch, using teachers as cannon fodder, insignificant and replaceable. And they continue to rewrite improvement plans, purchase savior programs, and motivate with threats--over and over and over. They continue to try everything under the sun, except improving the initial training of teachers and the significant compensation of teachers now. One has to wonder why they make the money.

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