Sunday, August 27, 2017

Standardized Testing in a Personalized Learning Environment: Not A Good Marriage

From a series of tweets inspired by #leadupchat on Saturday, August 26, 2017.

We are discussing having a personalized learner centered environment when our effectiveness is decided in a standardized way, yet we have become a profession so held hostage by standardized testing that student and teacher voice has been silenced, in my opinion. Make no mistake. I'm all for accountability and ensuring we measure our effectiveness, but why do it in a standardized manner? Essentially, we agree that students need a variety of ways to learn & master content, yet we give them one way to show that. There's a continuous conflict between standardization & innovation/personalization. You can't have it both ways. Think about that!

If we truly value learning over teaching,let's change the way we assess effectiveness of our schools to align with that. We've essentially made the assessing of schools about the educators and not about the students. The focus seems to be on which educators & schools are "failing" instead of the students who aren't learning.  What if we talked about the consequences of students not learning instead of the consequences for schools with failing labels? How is measuring a school's success relative to another school's success personalized? That's standardization at its best. If the finish line is the same regardless of where you start the race,then it seems fairly logical to assume some won't make it. The way we currently asses schools says it doesn't matter where you start. The finish line is the finish line. Get here or be a failure.

When we boil down the profession and it's worth to a few of the 180 days, it's not hard to see why we have a teacher shortage. We certainly ought to be held accountable for our work! While we're at it, can we invite some other entities to the accountability party? On my guest list would be quality housing, quality healthcare, quality economic development, quality access to jobs and transportation. I mean it's too bad articles like these: How Free Eyeglasses Are Boosting Test Scores In Baltimore-Politico Magazine don't come w/ school report cards. I wonder if it might build understanding. Instead of looking for the root causes, which could be as simple as eye glasses,when students don't perform we attribute their failure to bad teachers & ineffective schools. The work we do as educators is too complex to boil it down to a series of absolutes. Yet,we do just that. One big test, once a year, to determine the overall quality of a school and its' teachers.

We label without context, we make success relative to other schools instead of individualized, & we standardize the way we determine effectiveness. While we are labeling, or grading, schools, let's share the fun with others. What if we graded our communities & polices that support access to quality healthcare, housing, and economic development, and their implications on communities? Let's also grade lead content in water (❤️to Flint), air quality that causes chronic asthma, and mental health access. Ever take a look at where landfills are located? Guess where? In our poorest communities. Read Jonathan Kozol's work and then look in your own community. You might end up surprised but you shouldn't be. Our poorest kids go to school in the poorest conditions & live in the poorest environments. As educators we can provide the best quality educational experiences inside the school building, but we can't change or control factors that surround their lives & impact their learning outside of the school building. However, there are some who can-policy makers.

If we're going to improve learning for ALL students it's going to take more than us. Educators can't do it alone. We need & want the help. We welcome you to take a deeper dive into why test scores are so varied among schools, why some communities are in a constant struggle.  We ask that you that you look for the root cause. Let's go beyond the classroom, and not to excuse it from responsibility. Watch this: Nadine Burke Harris: How childhood trauma affects health | TED-Ed Perhaps, it will help you understand that teachers are up against bigger challenges than simply having the right resources, the right curriculum, the right support, and the right work ethic. It's about so much more! There is a great conundrum of factors that impact a child's learning, but there are no ratings for neighborhood air quality, access to quality healthcare, food security, access to mental health services, or the like on the school report card. It's simply an assessments of absolutes. Either you made it across the finish line or you didn't, and if you didn't, no one cares about why it could be taking you a little longer, or what obstacles you faced that perhaps those you're being compared against did not, or resources others had access to that you did not, or support others had that you did not. It's real simple. You pass or you fail. Except, it's not simple at all.

It's more than teaching, it's about a quality life. When we improve the quality of life for all students, we can improve their learning too. Please don't get confused. We're not asking to be alleviated of our responsibility. We welcome it. It's why we CHOSE to be educators. We're simply asking that you join us in our efforts. What can be done differently? Well, if you must know...

Start by respecting our profession. Treat us like we are valuable-not a profession of those who couldn't do, and so we taught. We matter. We're important. Elevate our profession in your words, policies, and actions. Affirm those who choose to teach by paying us a respectable wage, and telling stories like this one: Special ed teacher surprises her student with graduation cap and gown, tears ensue.

You see, we are more than a test score, and so are our students. We are more than a school report card, and so are our students.  Stop defining us with your narrow measure of success. We are educators. We do more than make a difference. We change lives and we're sharing the stories of what is happening inside our classrooms and buildings on this #imagesofed hashtag.

So-when you see the good that we're doing in this world, share it in every way. Maybe, a word with condition, just maybe, more folks would choose to teach. Maybe we'd have a teacher surplus if those outside of the profession shifted the narrative from positive to negative. Perhaps the teacher shortage is related to how we've been treated, perceived, and critiqued. Want to know what's happening in schools? Go see. Be like Sen. John Kennedy: Senator from Louisiana spends summer recess substitute teaching in home state

I'm determined to ELEVATE, HONOR, and CELEBRATE our profession. Our work is too important. It's more than noble. It's more than service. It's spiritual. It's soul satisfying. It's necessary for living and thriving. It's humanity at its best. That's why I'm an educator!

Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!


Friday, August 25, 2017

To Find Transformational Leaders, Transform The Way You Think About Leadership

# To Find Transformational Leaders, Transform The Way You Think About Leadership

Proven. Experienced. Hard nosed. Decisive. Direct. Demanding. Fearless. Those are the words I've heard others use to describe their idea of a transformational leader. Often when an organization is broken, we are quick to look for people who are willing and have proven themselves to lead an organization to success. While that's highly commendable, I beg to differ in that it's not the only considerations that should be given when searching for a true transformational leader.

When we examine the practices of those we see as having the ability to successfully lead, it's important to note the contributing factors that played a vital role in their success. Simply put, having been successful once, doesn't make you a transformational leader. In fact, it's not about having been successful multiple times, or even experienced. There are, at least in my mind, some key considerations that should be taken into account when selecting a leader to transform a broken, perhaps disjointed, maybe dysfunctional organization whole and thriving again.

Consideration 1: Prior success does not guarantee future success.

It's critically essential to identify the context and circumstances under which that person was successful as a leader and to determine if the troubled context and circumstances align with the leadership opportunity before them. In other words, consider the resources, tools, support structures, etc. that were present and/or contributed to the leader's success. A simple example would be that being proficient at playing basketball doesn't make you a star tennis player. The context is different. The objective of the game is different. The tools are different. The support needed to improve your game is different. The way you win is different. It's the context of how your athleticism is used that makes you successful. Context matters. Don't ignore it.

Consideration #2. It is not enough to be eager. It is not enough to be equipped. You must be both.

In considering folks for transformational leadership opportunities we are often in a place where we perceive the ideal candidate as one or the other. We tend to think, "This is so difficult that it will require a person who has a deep desire to be here". We give credence to the need for a will to be present over the need for the skills, practices, and behaviors that are needed to truly transform what is said to be broken. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to hear folks express that because the organization is so broken the anticipated leader must be highly skilled. Their ability to do the job is ultra important. I contend that you must have both if you wish to be a transformational leader. You must be eager and you must also be equipped. One without the other is too one dimensional to really make a difference in what it is you are trying to change. The complexity of the situation or organization you are trying to transform also requires a complex skill set. We do no justice to the job of transformational leadership by boiling it down or characterizing it in a single handed manner.

Consideration #3: In a situation of transformational leadership, some skills matter more than others.

It's no secret that leadership involves the ability to use multiple skills given the context of a situation. While some situations may call for the leader to execute stellar emotional intelligence, other situations may require a more technical skill set. At any rate, transformational leaders are different in that they are able to recognize and prioritize the skill set most needed to bring success back to the organization. They don't see themselves as having to be highly skilled in everything all the time. Instead, they are able to determine which skill they need to highlight to move the organization forward, and that changes given the context, circumstances, tools, and resources available.  For example, a staff that has had a high degree of turnover at the leadership level requires a great deal of more emotional security than a staff who's had relative stability in leadership. This means that the leader must be keen in the area of emotional intelligence at the onset of becoming the leader. He or she must pay close attention to the emotional needs of those members, and quickly capitalize on building trust.  In this given context, building trust is more imperative than technical ability. Once trust is present, the leader can then focus on ensuring that he or she is modeling the technical ability needed to change outcomes, and influencing the improvement and talent of  those who do the work on the ground level.

What seems to impair our ability to identify transformational leaders is that we tend to generalize leadership. Leadership isn't general at all in my opinion. In fact, how you lead and why you lead, is extremely contextual. If we can give consideration to these elements mentioned here, we can improve our ability to identify and select transformational leaders who can truly change what is broken.

Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Because Our Children Are Watching Us

I'm distraught by what I see happening in our world. I'm heart broken to see that at the peak of my adulthood, we are in a societal war with hate, bigotry, and divisiveness. I've always quietly made my stances known-with my words and mostly my actions. I practice love and openness, knowing my life might be the example someone needs to resolve the hate, prejudice, or ignorance they knowingly or arguably-unknowingly carry.

I'm determined to be the light, but I cannot be that light by being silent about what I am seeing, hearing, and have experienced first hand. What's happening on a national political level is on display for all the world to see, but my experiences with racism and bigotry aren't new. As an educator, I've had some pretty unfortunate and painful experiences with racism. From being told by an employee that her resignation was due to my being "colored", from being publicly referred to as a "token", to being asked "are all the black principals as smart as you are?", to being given a memoir authored by a school board member and told, "the N word is all throughout because that's just the way I grew up" as a way of preparing you for reading his published work. There are no words that I can string together that can articulate the pain and hurt that stem from multiple experiences such as the ones shared here. In fact, until this point,  it has been a rare occasion that I've shared some of these experiences with my closest friends.

What I can tell you is that having experiences like this, changes a person. You quickly come to realize that for some individuals, it is terribly difficult for them to see you. They don't see a person. They don't see a scholar. They don't see a passionate educator who wants to make a difference for all children. I'm not sure what they see, but whatever it is it incites ignorance and an unconscious behavior that highlights that which they don't understand, and perhaps, don't care to understand. I'm not always certain if it's willful ignorance or unconscious covert racism and bigotry. What I am certain of is that every time I have an experience like this, I feel something that hurts and affirms for me that there is so much work for us left to do in our world. I must be the light.

It is true that we often fear what we don't understand, but if fear is an illusion, then is the lack of understanding due to a lack of courage?  So I am watching the courage of others in times like these and I am wondering what keeps others from speaking out on what seems so clear to me-hatred is alive and well in our world. Perhaps it always will be, but I am eternally committed to exhibiting a love and acceptance of all people, even if they don't accept me. What I also know is that understanding of those who are different than you goes far beyond tolerance. It's about appreciating the differences in others but recognizing that humanity is the common thread. It's about entering into an authentic relationship with someone who is not just like you and brings a different perspective to situations based on their experiences, and seeking to understand. It's about understanding that being graceful in the face of this kind of treatment requires a great deal of strength, courage, and resolve that I didn't even know I could have. You live and you learn. You learn that some of us are here to bear the burden of helping others develop a better understanding of those who are not just like them. You reach deep and you find the courage you need to keep being the light in the face of it all. You do it because it's the right thing to do, and our children are watching us.

I cannot sit idly and not speak out about these things. As educators, and moreover as human beings, we have a responsibility to show courage because our children are watching us. When we are silent about the things that matter, we send a most powerful message. Perhaps a message that is more powerful than saying anything at all. We communicate what we think and what we believe by as much of what we aren't willing to say as we do by what we say or do.

If we believe in our hearts and soul, in the things we'll stand by when we meet our maker, in what we want to be held accountable for at the pearly gates, then we must never be silent about hate, bigotry, or ignorance. The experiences I've shared here aren't the only ones that I've had, but they are some of the ones that have forever changed me and helped me come to know that I can only be a light in this world if I am willing to shine bright.

I'm willing. Will you join me?

Until next time, be you, be true, be a hope builder!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Inspiration Has No Expiration Date: Why We Celebrate The Start of Every School Year #imagesofed

This week I had the privilege of attending several back to school celebrations in districts throughout our great state of South Carolina. It was truly an honor to be a part of the joy, excitement, and fun as we celebrated the start of a new school year. I noticed an interesting common theme too. In every school district I visited, I saw and more importantly, I felt the dedication, commitment, positive energy, enthusiasm, joy, and excitment of teachers and educators who have the heart for this work and are ready to work as hard as they have and need to in order to change the lives of young people. We celebrate the start of the school year, because we know that inspiration has no expiration date. It is something we all need and we need it everyday.

I'm determined this year to not let that inspiration expire. I will keep this feeling of excitement and education going by honoring those who do this work. This year, I am ready to do my part to elevate our noble profession, which I've had the opportunity to be a part of for nearly 20 years. We have a tendency as educators to blend in the background, to let others speak for us, to keep our heads down and our hands steady, doing the work quietly.

We need to do things differently.

We need to be the authors of our own narrative. We need to tell our own stories. We need to invite others to see what it is we are doing, the commitments educators are making, the sacrifices educators make daily, the hours, that extend far beyond the last bell of the school day, that educators are putting in to make education a quality and effective experience for the children we serve.

We need to elevate our profession, by demanding respect for it in our words and in our work.

We are in a powerful and noble profession. We have the power to change lives and for some reason, lots of the folks who are telling our stories aren't the ones who are writing it.

We have to change that. We have to change it NOW.

There are teachers shortages all across this country. There are more vacancies than there are teachers available. There are fewer students choosing education as their field of study. We need great teachers and we need them NOW. We need people, in and outside of the profession, to understand that our work is hard, heart work. It is work that changes obstacles to opportunities. It is works that makes what seemed impossible, possible. It is work that turns potential into reality. It is work that improves the quality of life for others. It is work that matters-for everyone. WE all benefit from every child receiving a quality education. It needs to be seen as such, treated as such, and respected as such.

Because our work is so hard, and difficult, we must never underestimate the need for inspiration. We are educating students by giving them the knowledge, skills, and experiences they need to thrive in a changing world, but we are also developing human beings who we all share a common future with-who could be the EMS worker who rescues you from a car accident, who could be the firefighter who responds to your call, who could be the CNA who brings you your medicine in the nursing home, who could be the doctor who performs your surgery, or the lawyer who represents you in the courtroom, or the bus driver of your grandchildren, or the cashier at the checkout. We are critical in the development of this world's future. We must not forget that, and we cannot allow others to treat our work with any less respect than it deserves.

We are educators. We change lives.

Every time I interact with a great teacher this school year, I am going to make it known. I'll share it on Twitter, on this blog, on my website #leadershipwithlatoya, in every platform I have because I want everyone to know why our profession is honorable and needs to be elevated. My challenge to educators and non-educators everywhere is this:

Join me in ELEVATING the teaching profession NOW. 

Let's make a commitment to not allow that beginning of year inspiration we always feel expire by telling our own stories, inviting others to see the work we are doing, sharing what it means to be an educator and letting others know they'd be more than lucky to be a part of such an honorable and noble profession.

We'll use the hashtag #imagesofed to show the world that we are doing great, courageous, honorable, hard, heart work because our children our counting on us-all of us- to help them change their lives.

I don't know about you, but I'm excited!

Until next time, be you, be true, be a hope builder!