Saturday, February 23, 2013

Collaborating About How to Collaborate

Through collaboration, ideas can be shared, new and better strategies can be developed, and problems can be solved. However, too often do we create opportunities and environments for our educators to "collaborate" with each other in order to solve problems and make improvements within a school system, without offering any training and support on how to effectively collaborate.

For example, during staff meetings and other professional development sessions, we congregate everyone into a single room with tables formed into groups and we say, "Here are the problems ... now, let's go figure it out!"

While we celebrate a shared vision and value collaboration, educators are often not taught how to effectively collaborate and work together to achieve a common goal.  Moreover, we create these same collaborative learning opportunities for our students without properly teaching them effective collaboration skills needed to be successful.  Yes, some students figure this out by trial and error, but I believe that we should be providing more practice and support for our students when putting them into collaborative settings.

My argument is that educators (and students) need more professional development regarding how to effectively collaborate, before they can begin to successfully collaborate with others.  In my research, I have compiled reliable information that offers best-practice strategies and skills needed for implementing effective collaboration.

Prerequisites for Collaboration

In order to collaborate, there are certain prerequisites that need to happen before effective collaboration can key place. Below are some essential elements that first, need to be in place:
  • Reflecting on your personal belief system: How much do you value sharing ideas? Examine your belief system to see if you have tolerance toward changing your standards in your classroom.  (I recommend reading Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck to develop a growth-mindset) 
  • Refining your interaction skills: First, you need to develop effective communication skills which include listening, attending to nonverbal signals, and asking questions and making statements in clear and nonthreatening ways. Secondly, you need to have interaction-process skills which include conducting effective meetings, responding to resistance, resolving conflict, and persuading others. (I recommend reading To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink)
  • Contributing to a supportive environment: Administrative and staff support, teachers’ effort to contribute to collaborative atmosphere, and the availability of time for collaboration.  (I recommend reading Transforming School Culture by Dr. Anthony Muhammad)

Fundamentals of Collaboration

There are particular fundamentals that need to be understood in order for collaboration to work effectively. These fundamentals need to be understood and accepted by all members on a team.
  1. Collaboration is voluntary. You decide to participate. 
  2. Collaboration is based on parity. Teachers who collaborate must believe that all individuals’ contributions are valued equally. 
  3. Collaboration requires a shared goal. Teachers tend to collaborate only when they share a goal. 
  4. Collaboration includes shared responsibility for key decisions. Teachers divide work and share decision making about the activities they are undertaking. 
  5. Collaboration includes shared accountability for outcomes. If teachers share key decisions, they must also share accountability for the results of the decisions. 
  6. Collaboration is based on shared resources. Each teacher in a collaborative effort should make an effort to contribute some type of resource.
  7. Collaboration is emergent. True collaboration will emerge as teachers are more experienced at
Communication Skills Needed for Effective Collaboration

Communication is arguably the most important part of collaboration.  It is imperative that each member considers effective communication skills and practices these skills when collaborating.
  • Use knowledge of frame of reference to foster effective collaboration.
  • Recognize that shared problem solving begins with the understanding that there are many “right” answers for addressing student learning and behavior. 
  • Develop effective strategies for listening.
  • When someone shares a concern with you, avoid the temptation to offer advice immediately.
  • As much as possible, focus your interactions on observable information.
  • Use collaborative language; that is, ask questions that encourage others to speak.
  • Monitor how much you talk.
  • If you have a disagreement with a colleague, address it as soon as possible and in a straightforward manner. 

Establish Collaboration Norms

Agreeing on collaboration norms is critical to the success of the team.  Without them, teams can often get frustrated or feel like some members are being treated unfairly.  Here are a few recommended norms to establish when collaborating:
  • Everyone would be allowed to voice their opinion.
  • One person would talk at a time.
  • Everyone would listen to what others had to say.
  • Everyone would be respectful of each other even when we disagreed.
  • A solution would be reached that everyone could agree upon.

Six-Step Problem-Solving Process 

After the norms are established in a collaborative team, it is important to apply the Problem-Solving Process in order to generate successful solutions to problems.
  1. Identify and Select the Problem
  2. Analyze the Problem
  3. Generate Potential Solutions
  4. Select and Plan the Solution
  5. Implement the Solution
  6. Evaluate the Solution

Moving forward, my goal is to help build capacity in my students' and educators' ability to effectively collaborate by implementing these strategies.  Only then, can ideas truly be shared, teamwork be facilitated, and problems be solved.

  1. Collaboration: A Must for Teachers in Inclusive Educational Settings:
  2. Problem Solving Process:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

If Education is a Symphony, Let's Toot Our Own Horns!

Picture Source: 
No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it. — H.E. Luccock

Symphony, as Daniel Pink describes, is the ability to put together the pieces.  It is the capacity to synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair.  It is the ability to spot trends, draw connections, and discern the big picture (Pink, 2005).

Here is my big picture of education—my landscape if you will.  My philosophy is that my students are your students, and your students are my students.  As an educator, I feel like we have a collective responsibility to do what is best for all students.  In reality, we as educators are all teaching the same students—the leaders of tomorrow—that will eventually be taking over for us when we retire.

We should all think of ourselves as co-learners.  We can all learn something from each other.  And we should be proud of what we can individually contribute.  However, if we don’t put ourselves out there—if we don’t take creative risks, and share our experiences—then we could be potentially impeding the learning and experience of others.  So, let's keep an open-mind when learning, sharing, and collaborating because after all, it is for the good of our students … our future leaders!

I truly believe that each of us has something unique and valuable to contribute to the field of education.  And if we each share and learn from each other, then we will have successfully synthesized our individual strengths and talents into a symphony—"a whole whose magnificence exceeds the sum of its parts" (Pink, 2005).

As educators, let's create an educational symphony.  Let's toot our own horns to the same song.  Let's celebrate and share those unique qualities and talents that we all have.  Because ultimately, all of us, are smarter, than any one of us!  And together, we can achieve greatness!

  1. Pink, D. H. (2005). A whole new mind: why right-brainers will rule the future. New York: Riverhead Books.

Culture Shock

Picture Source:
Sadly,  performance-based accountability is creating a toxic learning environment among educators.  It is creating a culture of competition, rather than a culture of collaboration.  The worst part is the fact that it has happened so fast.  So fast that many of us feel as if we are experiencing culture shock!

A Competitive Culture

As we continue to teach in the Age of Accountability, educators are becoming more competitive by trying to out-perform their colleagues in order to yield the highest test scores.  Moreover, teachers are resistant to sharing their successes because they want to be the ones to receive high marks on their evaluation and they want the credit for student achievement.  In contrast, other teachers are afraid to reach out for help because they don't want to look like a failure. Somehow, the mentality has shifted from the success of our students, to the success of my students—from our success, to my success.

For some reason, when teachers get recognized for their success, it seems to threaten others.  So, instead of working together and collaborating with each other, we seem to isolate ourselves, thus reaffirming the competitive culture.

In his efforts to bridge the gap between standards and achievement, Richard Elmore eloquently describes how accountability can often cause of a competitive school culture:

"One of the strongest social norms among school faculty is that everyone is expected to pretend that they are equally effective at what they do. However, most people who work in schools know (or at least claim to know) who the “good” teachers are. Teachers themselves will, under the right circumstances, talk candidly about who the strong and weak teachers are reputed to be. Teachers, who threaten this pretense, either by publicly distinguishing themselves as expert teachers or by being singled out as a model within their schools, may have to pay a price in social ostracism" (Elmore, 2002). 
"Yet the entire process of improvement depends on schools making public and authoritative distinctions among teachers and administrators based on quality, competence, expertise and performance. If everyone is equally good at what they do, then no one has anything to teach anyone else about how to do it better. Thus, educators’ pretense of absolute equality is a major impediment to improvement and a significant factor in determining the capacity of schools to engage in effective professional development." (Elmore, 2002). 

A Collaborative Culture

I would argue that some teachers are perceived better than others because of this competitive environment that has been created.  In a competitive culture, teachers worry about who is best.  In a collaborative culture, teachers worry about how to meet the needs of students, best.  I personally believe that we all should reach out to each other and collectively celebrate our successes with the hope to learn and grow professionally from one another, in order to best prepare our students for their future.

You see, I truly believe that each of us has something unique and valuable to contribute to the field of education.  And if we each share and learn from each other, then we will have successfully synthesized our individual strengths and talents into a symphony—a whole whose magnificence exceeds the sum of its parts (Pink, 2005).

Below are a few of my favorite quotes regarding teamwork and collaboration:

  • It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed. —Napoleon Hill
  • Not everyone can be an expert at everything, but everyone can be an expert at something. —Unknown
  • Individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work. —Vince Lombardi
  • No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it. —H.E. Luccock
  • The secret is to gang up on the problem, rather than each other. —Thomas Stallkamp
  • In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.  —Charles Darwin
  • Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results. —Andrew Carnegie

Final Thoughts

Let's help to transform our schools from a competitive culture, to a collaborative culture. Let's help to foster a high productive working environment for our teachers and a cultivating learning environment for our students, by simply learning, sharing, and working together for the good of our students.  Let's experience a new culture shock by transforming our competitive cultures back to collaborative ones!

  1. Elmore, R. F. (2002). Bridging the Gap Between Standards and Achievement. Washington DC: Albert Shanker Institute.
  2. Peterson, K. D. (2002). At Issue: Culture. National Staff Development Council.
  3. Pink, D. H. (2006). A whole new mind: why right-brainers will rule the future. New York: Riverhead Books.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Art of Teaching

Image created by Bradley Lands
In the age of accountability in education, there are lots of factors that are out of our control.  I am suggesting that we as teachers need to focus on the factors that we can control.  More importantly, we need to focus on improving those factors that we can control.

In my reflective practices in education,  I have discovered that we cannot change the whowhatwhen, and where of education.  We cannot change who we teach, what we teach, when we teach, or where we teach.  In other words, we cannot change our students, our content, our schedule, nor the location of our schools.

However, there are two important factors that we can change.  We can change the why and how of education.  Put simply, we have control over why we teach and how we teach.

Why we teach

Every teacher has a storya reason for teaching.  These stories make us uniquely effective as teachers.  We all have different reasons or motivation for teaching, but it is important to remember those stories, in order to influence the decisions that we make in our classrooms.

In order to do what is best for students, I would argue that teachers must revisit why they are teaching in the first place.  By asking this question, I believe that teachers will see the big picture of education, which will ultimately help them become  better teachers.  I personally teach in order to make a positive influence in the lives of my students and to help prepare them for their future as global citizens in the 21st century.

To change why we teach is simply a matter of mindset.  Dr. Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset, argues that "what people believe, shapes what people achieve." "For twenty years", she says, "My research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life”.

For example, Dweck has divided people into two categories"fixed-mindset" and "growth-mindset".  She has found that teachers with a "fixed-mindset" believe that their intelligence is “fixed” no matter what they do; whereas, teachers with a "growth-mindset" believe that their intelligence can “grow” with time and effort. In other words if teachers have a "growth-mindset" then they believe that their human qualities, such as intellectual skills, can be cultivated through effort.

So, what does this mean?  If teachers have a "growth-mindset" then their philosophy of education can ultimately be shaped from their learning experiences.  Simply put, the reasons why we teach can change based on what we believe via learning, sharing, reflecting and growing with other educators.  This is essentially something that we as teachers have control over.  In other words, we have the ability to change our intrinsic motivation for coming to school each and every day.

How we teach

What I find interesting is the fact that our philosophy of educationthe whyactually influences our instructionthe how.  What's nice about instruction, is that we as teachers have autonomy over how we teach.

Research will tell us that when people have voice and choice over their work, they are naturally more productive.  Providing employees with autonomy, or independence and freedom over their work has proven to increase personal satisfaction and productivity.  In his extensive research on motivation, Daniel Pink reveals, "The science shows that the secret to high performance isn't our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third driveour deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to make a contribution”.  In other words, people are mostly motivated by their natural ambition to engage in meaningful work where they have control over how they complete their tasks.

To change how we teach is simply a matter of instruction. We as teachers are empowered to teach in a manner to which we believe will yield the greatest learning experience for our students.  And based on what we believe to be true about best-practice teaching will greatly impact our instructional strategies in the classroom.

For example, some teachers prefer to integrate the arts into their instruction; whereas others prefer to integrate technology.  Some teachers implement project-based learning; whereas others implement the "flipped classroom".  Bottom line, the type of instruction that a teacher uses is completely up to her.  And most of the time she will directly align her instruction to her pedagogical beliefs.

Moving forward, I urge teachers to continue to research best practices, to explore their potential, to learn from each other, to share with each other, and to grow as professionals. Only then, will we be making the best decisions as to how we teach our students that will maximize their success in academics, and in life.

Final thoughts

I truly believe that the art of teaching resides in the why and how of the teacher.  Combining the reason why one teaches with how one teaches can truly produce a masterpiece in the classroom.  And yet these masterpieces are uniquely different, but equally magnificent due to the power that each of us have to control why and how we teach.

In conclusion, we each have the power and opportunity to create our own masterpiece.  Thus, by continuing to learn and grow, we can discover new inspiration, new materials, new tools, and new techniques that will help us paint an authentic representation of what teaching looks like to each of us.

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My Internal Conflict with Education

  1. Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
  2. Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Internal Conflict with Education

Picture Source:
As an Instructional Technology Coach who is passionate about teaching and learning, I keep trying to inspire, motivate and support my teachers to engage in best and next practice teaching strategies.  However, I often find myself running into the same problem—teachers are hungry for it, but they end up starving themselves.

By way of introduction, this is my internal conflict with education that I share with so many other teachers:

 "Do I teach in a way that will maximize my students' success on standardized test scores, or do I teach in a way that will maximize my students' success in life?  I wish I could do both, but I feel like I can't."

The Situation

The Accountability Movement [No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Teacher Evaluations] is heavily influencing our decision-making in the classroom.

If one were to look at our current state and national standards, one would notice that they are predominantly content-based.  This means that our education system values "knowledge" more than any other aspect of learning in terms of achievement and success.  The fact that our education system values "knowledge" over all else, is a bit scary, because most of the information that students are required to know on standardized test can easily be found by performing a simple Google Search in a matter of seconds.  This can't be the key to a successful future for our students.

Let's take a look at the International Baccalaureate's Learner Profile:

  • Inquirers
  • Knowledgeable
  • Thinkers
  • Communicators
  • Principled
  • Open-Minded
  • Caring
  • Risk-Takers
  • Balanced
  • Reflective

Nowhere in our state and national standards are any of these other learner traits mentioned, valued, or assessed.  The "Knowledgeable" trait seems to be the our only concern.  Some might argue that "Thinkers" might be valued and assessed, but only minimally in my opinion.  Furthermore, not only is the content that we are teaching Google-able, but we are only using the lowest level of Blooms Taxonomy in order to assess our students learning and understanding of this content.

For example, think about the types of questions on a typical standardized test.  Too often are students asked to regurgitate facts such as who, what, when, and where.  These questions ask students to recall information, which is categorized in the "Remembering" level of Bloom's Taxonomy.  Sometimes, students are asked questions such as "Why?" which is the next level, "Understanding".  Rarely, are students ever tasked with application questions where they have to take what they have learned and apply it to a new problem, situation, or context.  And "Application" is only the third level of Blooms Taxonomy out of a total of six where each level becomes more challenging than the former. The other three levels are rarely touched in standardized tests.  Why?  Because those types of questions are far more difficult to assess and are extremely time consuming.

The Problem

The real challenge is to implement best-practice teaching, while yielding high test scores.  This is essentially what all teachers want to do.  However, this is a double-standard, because the theoretical does not match up with the practical.  For example, today's best-practice instruction mostly includes nonroutine tasks—creative, conceptual, innovative, collaborative right-brain tasks—whereas yielding high test scores today includes routine tasks—sequential, analytic, algorithmic, rule-based, left-brain tasks. [1]  The problem with routine tasks, is that this type of work has become easier and cheaper to send offshore or to automate from advances in computer technology.  Therefore, routine work has become less valuable and less important in advanced economies like the United States. [1]

So, teachers are continually faced with an internal conflict: "Do I teach in a way that will maximize my students' success on standardized test scores, or do I teach in a way that will maximize my students' success in life?"

From my experience, I have found that teachers naturally want to do what is best for kids.  Teachers crave the autonomy to be creative, but they feel like they can't because of the overwhelming pressure that they feel to "cover" all of the content that their students will need to know for the tests.  Being creative and innovative requires risk-taking, subjecting oneself to vulnerability, and flexibility of time and resources.  All of these things create a level of uncertainty that is uncomfortable and intimidating for teachers.  So, what usually happens is we default back to "safe" teaching that is consistent with the practices of our colleagues and the alignment of our pacing guides.

We say we don't teach to the tests, but ask anyone what their school's goals are.  I bet they will tell you that their school's goals are to raise test scores to meet Annual Measurable Objectives (APO), or Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), particularly in specific "under-achieving" subgroups.  These goals influence our daily decisions in the classroom.  Especially, since teachers are evaluated based on their students' scores on standardized tests.

So, when teachers want to try something new, to be creative, or to simply do what is best for students, they will often choose do what is best for themselves, and what is ultimately best for their learning institution.  This action solidifies their job security and their school's reputation.  However, it's not our teachers' fault ... it's the system's fault.  Our teachers are merely victim's of the system, which consequently underserves our students.

My Action Plan

The reality is that we can't make standardized tests go away.  Not yet anyway.  So, my goal is to implement or develop a method of instruction that satisfies my internal conflict.  An innovative approach to teaching that will foster both student success on standardized tests, and student success in life.

You might also like

The Art of Teaching

  1. Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Connecting Career and Technology to Education

Surprisingly, as a previous Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher, I have noticed that there is a huge disconnect between what science knows and what workplaces and schools do [2]. This blog post is my effort to make these connections more clear by providing research on the topic, examples in the workplace, and suggestions to align our schools to the most innovative learning and working environments.

The Science

Daniel Pink has done extensive research on what drives or motivates us as human beings to lead productive and successful lives.  Pink argues that, "The science shows that the secret to high performance isn't our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive--our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to make a contribution" [2].  In other words, humans are most productive when they are intrinsically motivated--when the joy of the task is its own reward.  And humans are intrinsically motivated when they are provided with an opportunity for autonomous work, to reach mastery, and to understand the purpose of their work [2].

In the Workplace

There are many careers and occupations that are applicable to autonomy and self-directed work, but let's take the famous artists Michelangelo, Picasso and Van Gogh for example. "Nobody told them: "You must paint this sort of picture. You must begin painting precisely at eight-thirty a.m. You must paint with the people we select to work with you. And you must paint this way" [2].  Daniel Pink believes that, "Whether you're fixing sinks, ringing up groceries, selling cars, or writing a lesson plan, you and I need autonomy just as deeply as a great painter" [2].

20 Percent Time

It's evident that we are naturally more creative and more productive when we have control over our work. One of the most innovative strategies to increase production in the workplace is to allot for "20 Percent Time".  This "20 Percent Time" is an initiative in place at a few companies in which employees can spend 20 percent of their time working on any project they choose [2].

The best-known company to embrace it is Google, which has long encouraged engineers to spend one day a week working on a side project. In a typical year, more than half of Google’s new offerings are birthed during this period of pure autonomy [2].  Some Googlers use their "20 percent time" to fix an existing product, but most use it to develop something entirely new" [2]. Google News, Gmail, Google Talk, Google Sky, and Google Translate are just a few of the projects that have been created on "20 percent time".

FedEx Days

"Created by the Australian software company Atlassian, these one-day bursts of autonomy allow employees to tackle any problem they want--and then show the results to the rest of the company at the end of twenty-four hours.  Why the name?  Because you have to deliver something overnight" [2].  Get it? Atlassian offers "FedEx Days" to its employees once every quarter in order boost productivity from self-directed projects. This is a very interesting work strategy that more and more businesses are beginning to explore.

Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE)

The brainchild of two American consultants, a ROWE is a workplace in which employees don't have schedules. They don't have to be in the office at a certain time or any time. They just have to get their work done.  For example, while many enterprises are off-shoring work to low-cost providers overseas, some companies are reversing the trend by beginning what's known as "home-shoring" [2].  "Instead of requiring customer service reps to report to a single large call center, they're routing the calls to the employees' homes. This cuts commuting time for staff, removes them from physical monitoring, and provides far great autonomy over how they do their jobs" [2].  Interestingly, "Productivity and job satisfaction are generally higher in home-shoring than in conventional arrangements--in part because employees are more comfortable and less monitored at home" [2].

In the Schools

Pink suggests that too often, "We're bribing students into compliance instead of challenging them into engagement" [2].  Simply put, control leads to compliance, whereas, autonomy leads to engagement. In order to foster intrinsic motivation in our students, Pink recommends that we as teachers should allow our students to have autonomy over the four T's: tasktimetechnique, and team [2].

Pink recommends that teachers should ask themselves these three questions when giving assignments [2]:
  • Am I offering my students any autonomy over how and when they do this work, and who they work with?
  • Does this assignment promote mastery by offering a novel, engaging task (as opposed to rote reformulation of something already covered in class)?
  • Do my students understand the purpose of this assignment? That is, can they see how doing this activity contributes to the larger enterprise in which the class is engaged?

The Connection

By definition, "Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that play consist of whatever a body is NOT obliged to do" [2].  When autonomy is provided to both employees and students, it makes the work seem more like play, which leads to greater intrinsic motivation and higher productivity.

Furthermore, we need to be challenging our students to engage in more nonroutine work--creative, conceptual, right-brain work that can't be reduced to a set of rules [2].  This is because routine work--work that can be reduced to a script, a spec sheet, a formula, or a set of instructions--has become easier (and often cheaper) to send offshore, or to automate via computers [2].   As a result, such algorithmic, rule-based, left-brain work has become less valuable and less important in advanced economies, such as the United States [2].


To accommodate to the demand of our global economy, we as teachers need to be providing our students with more opportunities for nonroutine work, where students have voice and choice over their task, time, technique, and team.  For example, my middle school has created a "fun learning experience" (FLEX) block where students are allowed to work on self-directed projects for one hour each day.  This FLEX-ible block is very similar to Google's "20 Percent Time", only our students are working an hour every day, as opposed to working one full day out of the week.  Some of our students' projects have included creating a weekly school e-Newsletter; producing Public Service Announcements on important topics regarding health and safety; and entering in several national competitions including Google Doodle, C-SPAN StudentCam 2013, National History Day, Verizon App Challenge, Science Fairs, and more.

During our FLEX block, I have observed my students displaying more intrinsic motivation to succeed at these projects in addition to demonstrating a higher level of creativity.  I attribute these findings due to the fact that our students do not receive a "grade" for their self-directed projects.  I believe that removing grades, coupled with having full autonomy over their projects, subconsciously tells them that their activities are more like "play" as opposed to "work".  I have even noticed my students achieving a state of "flow" when they are living so deeply in the moment and feeling so utterly in control, that their sense of time, place, and even self have melted away [2]. 

Final Thought

Ten years of employment data has discovered that the largest gains have been in jobs that require “people skills and emotional intelligence, imagination, and creativity" [1].  Furthermore, it has been determined that in the future, "There will be plenty of work not just for inventors, artists, and entrepreneurs but also for an array of imaginative, emotionally intelligent, right-brain professionals, from counselors to massage therapists to schoolteachers to stylists to talented salespeople" [1].

In closing, let's model our classrooms to reflect these innovative work environments that are yielding both personal satisfaction and high performance.  Let's empower our students to have more autonomy in their learning and encourage more right-brain, nonroutine work to best meet their needs and ultimately prepare them for the 21st century workplace!

  1. Pink, D. (2005). A whole new mind: Moving from the information age to the conceptual age. New York, NY: Riverhead Books. 
  2. Pink, D. H. (2010). Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. Edinburgh: Canongate.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

My Relationship Status with Data is "It's Complicated"

My relationship with Data goes way back.  We have had some good times, and some bad times, but it is officially time to set aside our differences and begin to work things out.  Let me explain.

As a math and science person at heart, I particularly find inquiry, research, and data very interesting and exciting.  However, I only find it exciting and interesting when I personally believe that my inquiry and investigation is meaningful and authentic and will help me to diagnose problems, or help me to solve problems that have already been diagnosed.  Participating in data analysis and statistics to which I find to be a waste of time, does not excite me, naturally.

Our Problem

While I find statistics to be a very powerful tool, I truly feel that statistics should be used appropriately for things that matter.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines statistics as “a branch of mathematics dealing with the collection, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of masses of numerical or quantitative data”.  The key words to highlight in this definition are numerical and quantitative.  I find that numbers are often not the best way to assess learning.  I personally value qualitative data over quantitative data because I believe that qualitative data helps to paint a more detailed picture of the information gathered.

In other words, I often feel that Data has a warm, subjective human side which is qualitative in nature, but can also portray a more cold, objective, quantitative side. This split personality is not helping our relationship.

As an educator in today’s society, I find it disheartening that so much of our time and effort is spent on analyzing state standardized test data.  I honestly do not believe that state standardized tests are an accurate measure of student learning and understanding.  I find that they are mediocre at best.

To help me elaborate, I will borrow a sample of text from the book Shaping School Culture.  In their efforts to shape school culture,  Deal & Peterson (2011) argue that:

Scores on standardized tests are becoming the only acceptable evidence that students are learning what they need to know.  The narrow gauge of achievement tests captures only a small slice of what students take away from their time at school.  As a result evidence of success is spotty, tied at time to ethnicity or socioeconomic standing that students bring with them rather than important learning that may be taking place.  The cry for tangible evidence and the relative lack thereof undercuts confidence or faith in schools.  Over time it erodes teachers’ belief in their ability to make a difference.  What they once hoped for in a career falls victim to a constructive version of what education means.

In my opinion, having teachers analyze state standardized test scores (to which we are ill-equipped to do effectively, unless we receive proper training and support) to guide our instruction is truly a broken system.  I find this to be a broken system because I find the data to be extremely unreliable due to Campbell’s law.

Campbell’s Law states that "The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor" (Wikipedia 2013).  In other words, having both high stakes and high validity is not possible. When there are high stakes, data becomes unreliable.  We simply can't have our cake, and eat it too!

Therefore, even in our best efforts as educators to analyze state standardized test scores effectively and accurately (as our current education system values so much) we are simply making decisions based on unreliable data which has not proven to significantly help student achievement.  Analyzing state standard test results might prove to increase test scores, but I have yet to find evidence that supports increased test scores correlate to increased student achievement and success.

By focusing our attention only on “content knowledge” we are lacking to foster and evaluate 21st century workplace readiness skills such as creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.  We are failing to assess and evaluate student inquiry, research, application, and innovation.  We are too focused on the “content” that students are learning. What's worse is the fact that we are currently operating on a broken system to evaluate this “learned” content.

My Proposed Solution

I do feel that data analysis is a very important part of teaching and instruction in order to create differentiated learning opportunities for our students so that we might best meet their individual learning needs.  However, we need to stop focusing on analyzing standardized test scores and start analyzing other data collected inside and outside of the classroom such as our own authentic assessments, formative assessments, observations, conversations, and student reflections, etc.

Keep in mind, that I did not say that we should abolish analyzing state standardized test scores.  I am simply suggesting that we need to have more focus on other types of assessments and data collection to help us paint a broader and more detailed picture of our students' learning and understanding.

In closing, while we will not be able to completely disregard the data from state standardized tests, we can collectively start focusing our time and energy on the types of data that are best for our individual students, and not what is best for our individual institutions!

Relationship status update ... back "In A Relationship" with Data.

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