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Lead from the Start: November 2009

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Learning Studio

When I walk into a classroom these days I feel like I am walking into a dance studio. I am the only one who isn't moving, learning, expressing, struggling or stretching and as a result, find myself sticking out like a sore thumb. For one, my clothes are too clean. And generally, a clipboard and pen now accompany me. I stand by the door observing, trying not to reflect on how much I'm interrupting by simply doing nothing.

I am enjoying my new job as a Child Development Specialist for Head Start, and some days I feel like I am really making a difference. Like last week, I was able to show a novice teacher how to negotiate the power struggle with a boy who kept pushing. I told her, "He wants to be told no. He wants you to love him by saying no. He wants to know that you won't let him float away." A little modeling on how to connect, some reflection, some follow-up the next day and she was teaching again with a new friend.

I get the feeling that teachers want me to see perfection when I enter their classroom. But there's no such thing as a perfect pre-k class. When I was teaching everyday, my classroom felt a lot like a studio. What happened there was imperfect, unfinished, and always a work in progress. I worked with an instructional assistant so I always had a "partner" to bounce ideas off of, to make sure I wasn't too far off the mark. Now I am by myself when I am "working."

I walk into other teacher's studios. I know they can't be sure how to interact with me. I am a supervisor and I am also too familiar with the imperfections of the classroom. Working in a preschool classroom is one of the most primal experiences you can have in education. I am talking body fluid primal. I am talking pure joy, pure rage, pure uncertainty, cultures clashing, towers smashing, tricycles crashing.

The children shed crocodile tears, Daddy arrested tears, and give me back my doll tears all in a couple minutes. Who am I to judge this chaos but, it's my job.

I could always tell how comfortable a visitor was with this primal experience by how far they came into my classroom. Another pre-k teacher might make it all the way back to the dramatic play area. Most, especially principals and school board members, never made it past the line-up line. The energy, chaos, joy, and terror, stopped them like a moat of tears. It was shallow, but who would want to get their feet wet in "real" teaching when they could just as easily not muddy the waters of their ideals with the human drama and primal experience of real pre-k kids.

I am trying to negotiate this role of supervisor. I wear the micro-politics of my role as a supervisor like a sports coat that is too small. I can see how tight it is, how it doesn't quite fit, and I wonder, does the teacher I am talking to think it doesn't fit either?



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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Chattering Classes Meet The Psychometric Qualities of Performance Pay

I just read an excellent post on Bridging Differences about using test scores for teacher evaluation. My favorite part was this...

"And then there is the fundamental problem, as all psychometricians warn us, that tests should be used for the purpose for which they were intended, and not for other purposes. In other words, a test of fifth grade reading tests whether students in the fifth grade are able to read material appropriate for children their age. It cannot then be used to determine whether their teacher was good or bad."
Testing validity depends on the test actually being used to measure what it was designed to assess.
I keep coming back to the idea that teachers don't go into education for the paycheck so why do, as Diane describes them, "the Chattering Classes" keep thinking that giving a mediocre teacher a couple extra bucks is going to make them a better teacher?

Tying student test scores to teacher pay is meant to increase teacher "performance" but what we are trying to do is increase student learning. If we had similar accountability to the banking industry we could still teach whatever wanted as long as we demonstrated the goal has been achieved ie "learning". But, we are more concerned about the test score than the learning that is meant to be demonstrated by the test. As an NBCT, I am totally for accountability and high levels of learning and teaching but until we develop a support structure for accomplished teaching from teacher prep to master teacher whatever we put in place will really evaluate how we support teachers not their effectiveness. Besides, there are plenty of economists who have studied how money is not an effective motivator in any profession and actually distracts from the goals of a profession. This approach focuses us on the gaming the system ala Enron and Bernie Madoff and not the goals the test scores are supposed to represent. Student Learning.

Maybe if the student test scores reflected actual learning instead of students ability to pass a test, teachers would be behind this type of reform. In the meantime, if we want to evaluate teaching lets start with evaluating their practice instead of how well their students can pass a test.

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