Friday, November 7, 2014

The Merits of Arizona's New Standardized Test - Principles of Principals

On November 3, 2014, behind the distractions of the mid-term elections; the Arizona State Board of Education approved the RFP from SAGE Testing Company for full implementation of the AzMERIT for Spring 2015.

If you're a parent, student, or employed in education you need to know some things about this test.

In it's entirety, the test is computer based.  Instead of asking your child to select the correct graph from a menu of choices, they will be asked to create a graphic representation on their own.

Admittedly, it's a much DEEPER look into applied knowledge.  

Utah took the test last school year with startling results.  Less than half tested proficient.

Less than half.

Either it's a distilled look at UT children's abilities, or the results are skewed by rapid implementation of new standards, new measures of accountability, and new testing protocols.

Is Arizona ready?

District's who were preparing, have had a minor shift in preparation towards the new test. They will see drastically reduced performance ratings.

Public schools who weren't prepared will see scores will below the State's lower averages.

In either case, Arizona is already performing below Utah's (and the nation's) average.  

Are your school leaders having a dialogue with you about what to expect? They should.

Schedule an appointment. Ask questions. Go here to take a sample test and see what our kids are in for. 

Take my advice, it's worth much more that you paid.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

2.5 Solutions for Superintendents - Principles of Principals

Hier semain, we addressed three point five solutions for school boards that would help sustain meaningful reform.  Today, we tackle the school executive, the superintendent.

The school superintendent.  All at once the educational ambassador to the community, and the policy advocate to the stakeholders.  It's a tenuous post, often held only for a short time - but all the same, quite influential.  While the $ is contextually high, and by that I mean higher than a principal, yet considerably lower for job a-likes in the private sector, the average 2.5 year stay impedes sustainable reform.  Sup's have narrow windows of opportunity.

Don't be distracted...focus!
They say that all a superintendent needs is a majority board, and they get to keep their jobs.  Bullocks.  What a red herring.  A very loathsome way to regard the role of an educational executive.  And yet, private sector executives face the same conditions.  Just ask me.  I'll tell you.  But perhaps some other time.

Besides the archaic board majority, what other tenants of leadership embolden the District CEO?  What else can one do to keep sustainable reform on the radar?

Here are 2.5 solutions for maintaining sustainable and meaningful school reform:

  • Make sacrifices - I'm not speaking of ones that proffer one's career on the altar of moral high ground, or of picking a ditch to die in.  I'm suggesting that a Superintendent needs to know when and how often to say NO.  Use the district's mission and vision as the foundation for no-making.  If it's not an aligned fit, it's a NO.  If you're not prepared to say no, you don't belong in this role.  At all.
Do you see what I see?

  • Focus - not the myopic variety.  I mean the version of focus that wins back-to-back championships.  As a wrestling coach, we focused on three moves, and became so expert in those 3 things, we couldn't be stopped.  A mentor of mine used to tell me, "Go fast to go slow, pick two things and work tirelessly for 3 years on those until you achieve mastery."  That's focus.

Who's behind the mask?
  • Reward innovation - this takes serious and courageous humility.  I think most leaders take this for granted.  They have external and internal dialogue that goes, "We need creativity, we need out-of-the-box thinking".  And yet when it really comes down to it, when someone doesn't think or do like the boss, buckle up butter-cup.  It's the rare leader that rewards someone for thinking differently than they do.

I went easy on the Superintendent's.  I have my reasons.

Take my advice, it's worth way more than you'd pay for it.


Next week we're bellying up to the table with principals. Where the rubber meets the road.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

3.5 Solutions for School Boards - Principles of Principals

Last week we tossed some wet blankets on the school reform fire.  Stirred the pot if you will.

In the spirit of TNTP's recent request for more solution-oriented dialogue, versus ad-hominem attacks, we're going to work with the embers we have, beginning with the most powerfully elected body in the United States.  The School Board.

You heard me correctly.  At the true grass roots level, there's not a more influential group of people than a school board.  In all their diversity of membership and governance, they select leaders, respond to community needs, and sometimes follow policy...but I digress.

To be brief in writing, here are 4.5 solutions for school boards who want to sustain school reform measures;

  • BE AUTHENTIC - In a recent LDS conference talk, Dieter Uchtdorf told an anecdote about lemon juice. In it, this person robs a bank believing no one can see his face.  You see he applied lemon juice to it, believing it would hide him.  Too often Governing Boards are at the gates ready to embrace whatever lemon juice that's being sold to hide the challenges they face (see what I did there?).  There's no such thing as lemon juice hiding our faces - and it's up to the Board to hang a lantern on our problems and go about solving them with transparency.
  • ASK QUESTIONS - Seems simple enough, except that I've sat through dozens of board meetings where agenda time is given to tout empty accomplishments, and listen to elected officials go on and on about why they're so proud of the district.  Inquiry is necessary for progress.  Boards should ask the District Executives one question every single agenda item, "Is there better way to do this?"  That question changed this leader's life.

  • REWARD INNOVATION AT ALL LEVELS - By asking if there's a better way to do something, the Board invites answers to that question.  When something is rewarded, we statistically increase the likelihood of seeing that behavior again.
  • USE DATA WHEN MAKING DECISIONS - Our friends at TNTP report that districts who ignore the value of great teaching do so at their own peril.  The business-as-usual of rewarding teachers at decades-old salaries furthers teacher shortages.
Take my advice.  It's worth much more than you paid for it.


Next week we dive into solutions for Executive School Leadership...still waters run deep!

Friday, October 10, 2014

3.5 Lies of School Reform - Principles for Principals

Lies.  That's a heavy word.  But I mean to get your attention - after reading, I invite you to decide if they're lies or if you've just been the billions of tax-payer dollars.

I've been out of the education game since March, but I'd love to get back in to stir things up a bit.

Not quite long enough for the searing memories of 2 hour meetings and 300+ hours of Learning Observation Instruments (LOI's).  Never you  mind the looks of terror on my colleagues' faces when they forgot to enter them; neigh dear reader...the looks of horror on my staffs' faces when they came in for the post-observation final score.  They wanted to know "How did I do?".

We just wrapped up my 9 yr. old daughter's parent-teacher conference.  15 minutes of "here's how she's doing" followed by "thanks, see you soon."  In my son's words, lame sauce compared to what they could be.

Anyhow, The Lovely and Talented Mrs. Sharp and I ventured home, and I noticed her touching her temples and asked if she had a headache.  She looked at me, and said, "I keep thinking about what they said about the red folder.  The red folder.  Not about concepts or projects, or inquiry.  The red folder."

That got me thinking...about what's trending in our public halls of education.  

  • I linked a ground-breaking study by The New Teacher Project - read it.  Their blog follows up that study with some striking news.
  • During an interview I was thrown a bucket of ice cold reality when they told me that the job for which I was applying is essentially ineffective in practice.
  • The general public really has no idea what's going on in schools, as evidenced by one current candidate for State School Superintendent in Arizona.  Don't get me started.
Folks, I'm here to tell you.  When it comes to school reform, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.  Here's why;

  1. School reform doesn't work - you heard me correctly.  A 15 year study of Title I/No Child Left Behind/ESEA reforms points to just 6% of schools receiving those funds actually demonstrated sustained improvement.  Six percent.  In other words, the schools that were doing well, still do well.  Those that don't, with rare exception, still don't.  That's what I was told in my interview (which I'm embarrassed to say was my worst one on record).  It's also what I know having worked in inner-city schools for 17 years.
  2. Teacher evaluation reform doesn't work - ouch.  It has little to do with the teachers. I happen to know that, with rare exception, most teachers are professionals who make incredible things happen.  The trouble is, as TNTP points out, we're expecting them to learn a system that doesn't necessarily improve quality, it improves compliance.  They're focused on their own red folder.
  3. Charter schools are a passing fancy - nothing could be further from the truth.  They are here to stay.  They have it figured out, and they have the advocacy/resources to multiply like the Borg - minus the creepy costumes.
   3.5 Things will work out - not for district schools, they won't.  Not unless leadership are            willing to unequivocally admit that they need to;
  • get out of the way, or
  • replicate success, and
  • stop focusing on the red folders (compliance over quality).
By writing this piece, I've indicted some of my own claims to professional success as fallible. Truth is, despite incredible results, they only lasted a short time.  I've also indicted people I love and respect.  Good leaders, who are watchful of their own red folder rules change so they can keep up with compliance, and frankly keep their jobs.  I repeat, it doesn't work.

This is a Teancum moment for me.  

I choose to put the good of the children above my network and my profession.  Folks, we have to dig deep and recognize that there are credible solutions out there.  BASIS, Great Hearts, Osborne, Expeditionary Learning, Athlos (and I'm sure there are more - I have no financial interest in any of these organizations, I do personally and professionally vouch for their track records) can all be replicated.  In fact, they're giving it away!  It's not a secret!

Take my advice.  Trust me, it's worth way more than you've paid for it.

Dr. Sharp

More next week on the rigorous and relevant solutions to school reform. For a preview, go here and keep high expectations in mind.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Running with My Dad - 3.5 Principles of Principals

As a youngster of 9 or 10, I decided that I wanted to join my Dad, and his running partner Steve, on their jogs.  I fancied myself capable, and they were kind enough to indulge me.

My Dad, for his bit, had completed the erstwhile running bible by Jim Fixx, and had added the complete Rocky (cue the music) workout wardrobe to his exercise paraphernalia.  Dad was all grey sweats, oatmeal & raw eggs. Committed to personal fitness. I was hooked.

Our first jaunt took us outside the Aspen Glen trailer park, down a fairly steep, paved grade, and on to the gravel shoulder of Highway 82 towards Aspen (more on this in an upcoming post).  I pedaled my stubby legs as hard as they would go in an effort to keep up.

Easily distracted by passing traffic, actually afraid I was going to die of a burst lung or at the bumper of an oncoming Chevy Vega, I fell forward - hands out - into the cinders.  The meat grinder of runners and cyclists alike.

Barking your hands on the cinders is no bueno.  My Dad heard me go down, stopped and turned back.  I remember him saying to me, "You're hurt, but not badly.  We can go back or we can finish.  It's up to you."

Skin peeled back on the palm of one hand and scrapes on the other - his words resonated with me, and I decided to finish.

My hands throbbed the entire time.  Blood trickled to my outstretched finger tips, dried, and told the tale of the now determined young runner.

Once back at the trailer, I had the honor of listening to my Mom give my Dad an "I told you so" speech while he washed gravel bits out of my hands under cold water.  I felt amazing.

So, here's the skinny.  3.5 things leaders should know;

1.  Clothes - fashions will come and go.  It's the heart that matters.
2.  Distractions - be aware, but never focused, on the cinders and Vegas.
3.  Falling - eventually you'll fall.  Scrapes happen.  Get up, clean up, drive on.

3.5.  Finish - the real or imaginary line of completion holds personal triumph.

I'd give almost anything to run with my Dad again.  The pleasure of that day taught me so much - as do the days you have as a leader.  What a gift.

Take my advice.  It's worth way more than you paid for it.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Field of Vision - A Principle of Principals

I thought I knew how to shoot a rifle.  I mean, I grew up hunting.  I received my first BB gun, a Red Rider, at the age of 5.  I was taught then and there how to shoulder the weapon, raise the site, look through one (dominant eye) and place the front site on the target, squeezing the trigger...and click, the BB ricocheted into my teacher's eye...hence the reminder to wear eye protection.

I graduated to a .22 single shot, spring loaded, rifle, then to a .30-06 for deer hunting, always creating a field of vision that focused one eye on the target.  I was a moderate marksman...nothing to brag about, but I could target and shoot.

I entered Army Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, summer of 1999. Hollywood has yet to capture what goes on there, suffice it to say, I was WAY out of my comfort zone.  Anyway...

Basic Rifle Marksmanship takes up the bulk of instruction during training.  The Army is good at a lot of things, but perhaps their hallmark is task analysis.  The step-by-step process of accomplishing any task.  They've mastered this, and can teach almost anyone from any background how to be successful.  Even me.

My instructor, Drill Sergeant Kelch, upon handing my me weapon - which I lovingly named Frank Black - he cautioned me and others, "Those who think they know about marksmanship, are wrong.  I will change your field of vision, and you will learn to target successfully."

Okay.  I was about to make some big changes in years' worth of instruction, and become an expert marksman, able to target and shoot transitioning points, in a fixed time, with fixed resources, with 100% accuracy.  As follows...
  1. Both eyes should be open.
  2. Site by looking through the front bore sight into the target.
  3. Be gentle.
  4. Breathe.
Both eyes open?  Yep.  It immediately expands your vision, adding a periphery that allows you to anticipate and automate your actions to address the next fixed point.

Sighting into the target?  Of course.  That's your reference or objective, and it demands intentional focus.

Gentle and shooting don't go together do they?  Yes, they do.  A clean, well-cared for tool is far more capable of operating efficiently than one carelessly tossed about and taken for granted.

Of course you have to breathe!  Yeah, but did you know that in rhythm, it syncs up your head/heart/body to optimize coordination, and accelerate performance? Deep breath in to sight, slow exhale and gently squeeze...the effect is incredible.

Principals, keep both eyes open, look through your data to the individual teachers and students who need your help, take very good care of yourself, and well...breathe.

Take my advice. It's worth way more than you paid for it.


Monday, September 1, 2014

5.5 Principles of Principals

At present, I'm out of work.  Long story,  and we don't have time for it here.  I've been thinking, a lot, about the things I miss about working in schools, and sort of "if I had it to do again" approach.  I believe I will get another shot - I'm very good at what I do, and I believe in second chances.  

Take note...

  1. Kindness - being a school leaders is more stressful than you think.  I've been in and out of the mix enough to know the difference between job stress and principal stress.  Be kind to yourself.  Deliberately schedule time out.  Eat the foods that heal your soul and your body.  Breathe.
  2. Breakthrough - on the advice of someone I admire, I attended The Breakthrough Coaching lead by Malachi Pancoast.  Changed my whole way of looking at resource management, secretaries, and clarified my role as a principal.  Do yourself, and your colleagues a solid favor, go.  Establish a life & a career.
  3. Situational Awareness - be advised, there's a number of different ways to run a school AND a district.  Are you planning on staying a while?  If yes, then research the way it's done around here.  If no, then still research the way it's done around here.  This is your current employer and you inked a deal with them.  Give them all that you have.  Be present.  For now, this is your home and everyone else is your competition.
  4. Marketing - like it or not, you're responsible for your school's internal and external brand.  The culture, traditions, flow, energy of your school is the internal brand.  How your stakeholders view your school is the external brand.  Perception is reality and you will have to work hard to maintain or build excellence in branding.  
  5. Asking for help - the rugged individualistic principal is a dinosaur...extinct.  Join your local association.  Build a cadre of colleagues that are like-minded but also willing to call a spade a spade.  Invite someone to mentor you and meet them for breakfast, on your dime, once a month to check in and learn.  Engage your family and friends, pray, meditate, consult and research.  You can't do this alone.
     5.5.  Happiness - is an obligation.  It requires gratitude, perseverance, and therapy/medication.    

So there's a reflective bit of advice that will help you build sustainable habits in your role as a school leader.  Take my advice, it's worth way more than you paid for it.