"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." WB Yeats
Author: Jeff Nelson
Fife School District
37 years as an educator.
16 years teacher
3 years assistant principal
12 years principal
6 years Assistant Superintendent
BA, Washington State University
MAEd, Washington State University
Previous member of AWSP Legislative Committee
Previous member of UW Tacoma PEAB, Administrative Certification
Established and maintained Fife’s first website for 7 years
Present work includes establishing the first Teaching/Learning/Innovation department in the Fife School District. Examples of responsibilities include: teacher/administrator professional development, assessment, TPEP, curriculum/materials review, 24 credit requirement, technology levy leadership, teacher/administrator bargaining.
Initiatives underway in Fife, as a result of new TLI Department: AVID, OER, Curriculum and Materials reviews, Student Perception Pilot with CSTP, Google Expedition
Cofounder of Educational Internet Communications, LLC. Marketed and sold one of the first online grade checking programs in the US. Consulted with Seattle Educational Internet Company for 2 years.
“The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” (Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning, by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani)
Thinking about our students and the world and time ahead for them. Revisited the great book by Spencer and Juiliani, with that awesome quote above. Reminds me of another idea. Teaching doesn’t automatically mean taught. Listening isn’t learning. And once learned…sometimes it needs to be unlearned and relearned. Communication and transportation, for example. Getting items from the store. Virtually anything, given the pace of change. What was learned 2o years ago…needs to be unlearned and relearned in many cases. I used to use the rotary phone to call my friend Greg every night to do our algebra homework. Kids now use Google Hangouts to virtually meet, share, discuss, and learn. In junior high, I used to use the payphone, with a quarter, to call my parents, let the phone ring twice, and hangup, so they would come pick me up from wrestling practice. Now…my kids text.
What have you unlearned and relearned lately? I bet more than you imagine!
Sitting at home, enjoying the last day of vacation, I began to ponder the topic for my Monday morning blogpost. As usual, I didn’t have a great idea right off the bat. But as usual, something popped up that just smacked me in the head. And the smacking this time came from the majority of our principals, as they were sending out their weekly messages to staff and parents. I was overwhelmed by their thoughtful, insightful, and motivational writing; gearing everybody up for the return to school.
I thought I’d share some of their words.
The principal at Endeavour Intermediate School, grades 2-5, is Amy Mittelstaedt. Amy’s message to her staff is here. She wrote beautifully about opportunity. She talks about what she is reading and what she is learning as a result of her reading. Powerful message and powerful professional learning modeling!
“The passage I’m sharing with you is something that resonated with me and I thought that I would share as I am reflecting, learning and growing in my professional and personal goal setting for the upcoming 2020 year.
The following is from the book, (Relentless, 2019, p. 32, Author, Hamish Brewer).
“You get to choose your attitude. You own it. Your attitude is your responsibility –no one else’s. Before you go through the doors of your school each morning, think about the opportunity that you have each and every day — the reason why you wanted to be a leader and educator. If you are not thinking about the opportunity, then you are focused on the obligation of a j-o-b, and that is where average lives. If you are leading and teaching for opportunity, you are on fire!”
Mark Beddes is the principal at Surprise Lake Middle School. Mark and his staff are currently occupying half of a school, as their new school is being built right next to the old one. Sounds like a nightmare, middle school kids? Tight quarters? Not at SLMS. Not with Mark and the SLMS Team. They are rockstars. Here’s part of why. Check out Mark’s message to the staff. Again, models his reading and shares! Podcasts, fellow bloggers, avid twitter user. Wow! In his words to his staff, Mark shares and models like crazy!
“Here are some of my favorites I have come across. If you love learning about our profession check out this great article on 2019 education research highlights. If you read just one of the articles linked in here, you won’t regret it! If you prefer a little more personal reflective piece about how education has changed in the last decade, check out this great blog from Katie Martin. If quotes are your thing, check out this post by George Couros. Or, maybe you had a tough break and you just can’t get your mind straight. I know some have had to deal with personal loss, sickness, family issues, or surgeries. This article is for you.”
At our high school, we are fortunate to have Brandon Bakke. The link on Brandon’s name goes to the school Twitter account, because I think Brandon and his team did a brilliant thing. They’ve shared access to that account with a number of people, because a high school always has millions of things going on, and one person can’t be at everything. Although Brandon sure seems to try. Brandon is an absolute marvel as a leader. Clear, decisive, supportive, and always on the go. He is that which successful high schools need. A high school person. He lives, loves, and breathes high school. And he knows he needs to take breather every so often. And he did this last break…and shared that idea with his staff. A hugely important message to all teachers, including high school teachers.
The final principal I’m going to share in this particular blogpost, in the interest of time and space, is Mark Robinson. Mark is the principal at our junior high school. In fact, he’s the principal that took over for me when I moved to the district office. Mark is doing more, different, and better things with the staff and kids than I did. And I couldn’t be more proud of him. Check out this beautiful piece of writing to welcome back his staff. Another leader sharing his learning. Mark is searingly honest, which serves his staff so well. Here’s part of that honesty.
“I also find myself reading any and everything about lessons we’re learning about child development… amount of screen time… how to help teach resilience… how to treat all moments with your kids as special… I warned you. I’ve been a bit wistful.
One of the reasons I find myself enjoying reading is the discomfort difficult discourse creates. When we are honest with ourselves and each other, we create opportunities for growth. Don’t we ask that of our students in the moments we ask them to learn something new or different? For educators, examples include deciding that we will read a book even if it’s not our jam. We will try that new instructional practice even though it’s different from those we have mastered. We will work on tasks that are outside of our comfort zone because we know the act may be important. We will decide NOT to write off that student who has perpetually made our professional life difficult these past few weeks. We will try new things.”
It’s hard to imagine a great school without a great principal. And our good fortune is that we don’t have to imagine. We’ve got ’em.
Thanks all. Our kids’ lives are so much richer because of you.
Consider this idea from Dave Burgess, “I consider it one of the most important parts of my job to constantly expose myself to the high quality thinking of other people. It challenges me, it keeps me current, and it provides me the raw resources necessary for creative alchemy.”
Never apologize for not standing still. Never apologize for reading, thinking, learning, or leading. Our work with and for kids is too important. Too life changing and life saving. Don’t dim your light to make others feel more secure.
We are very lucky to have Mr. Keith Hannah as our District Instructional Technology Facilitator. The fact that he is also a National Board Certified Teacher and an ISTE Digital Citizenship PLN Leader are bonuses for our district, our teachers, and most importantly, our students.
This morning, he sent an email to all of our secondary teachers, inviting them to go on an adventure with him, as he offers this learning opportunity: Bring the World to Your Classroom with Google Expedition. This invitation struck me as the very definition of innovation, as described by George Couros. “I’m defining innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new) or “iteration” (a change of something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of “new and better,” it is not innovative.”
Creating opportunities for kids to see and experience vast resources, “From Mount Everest to the Louvre, there are over 900 VR Expeditions in the Expeditions app for you and your class to explore,” is something new and better, it is, by definition, innovative
If you haven’t ever watched kids, or adults for that matter, experience VR or AR Expeditions, do yourself a favor. It is a thrilling experience for all involved!
Caught this brilliant tweet below from the inspiring Aaron Hogan. Aaron is a monster educator who wrote a book titled Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth. I highly recommend this book.
His cool idea is detailed above. My immediate thought was, “Man, principals should do the same thing!” And I was fixing to adding my searing insight, when I noted that Aaron had already beat me to it by adding his own comment. Oh well, great minds and whatnot.
As a principal, I would literally run over the school building in my mind to make sure I had touched base with each teacher/staff member each day. I didn’t always make it out to all, but the simple exercise helped me. I tended to drift to the staff members I had known and worked with for decades. An odd choice, but a comfortable one. Realizing that I hadn’t talked with a particular educator in a couple days, caused me to scoot on down and just check in. Not to observe, not to get a kid. Just see how the teacher was doing.
As we rightfully focus on kids and their needs, we can simultaneously focus on the educators on the front lines, taking care of the kids and their needs.
Our talented Director of Teaching-Learning-Innovation has our educators in the middle of an awesome #FifeTwitterSmackdown. Thank you Elaine Smith!
Today’s prompt is “Who was your favorite teacher and why?” Such a cool question to ask teachers. Choosing one favorite teacher is a rugged chore.
Here are three of mine and why.
Stewart Elementary School was a tiny school when I attended, starting in 1967 or so. One classroom for each grade level. I had the same teacher for 1st and 3rd grade. Mrs. Mary Rawlings. For some reason, I can bring to mind many memories from that long ago time. She was a wonderful teacher. I loved when she read to us especially. Brilliant. At one point in my 3rd grade year, I promised to buy her a fur coat. Not sure why, but there you have it. Probably because I loved her. Fast forward 20 years, I’m teaching away as a middle school teacher. A kind looking, slightly older woman, slid into the classroom and took a seat in the back. She didn’t look too threatening, so I just continued on with my schtick. Eventually I asked if I could help her. And she said, “No, I’m just here from the school, to observe.” Oh ok. “What school?” “Stewart Elementary.” I about fell on the floor. She was my beloved Mrs. Rawlings come to see me teach. Wow! And she mentioned the fur coat. That part of the equation hasn’t come to pass, but how cool is it that she found one of her millions of students to swing by and say hi?!
My other two favorite teachers were both from high school. This is not to slight my junior high teachers. I had some fantastic junior high teachers. And this is also not to slight my own dad, who was one of my teachers. He’s just in a different category altogether.
Mr. Jim Taylor was my senior year AP English teacher. AP was in its second year at my high school at the time, and the English class was the only AP offering. Mr. Taylor was hands down brilliant. A searing sense of humor. A depth of intellect. He oozed intelligence. And ooze was one of his favorite words. One time I was popping off to impress my dudes in the class. He called out, “Nelson, your face.” “What about it?” I retorted. “We’re going to have a class discussion.” Well that pretty much just shut me down completely. The last thing I wanted to do was to hear my colleagues discuss my face in class. Yikes. I didn’t realize how much I had modeled my teaching self after him until after he had passed away. I ran into his wife at a grocery store. She and I were also close. I had done my student teaching with her, just before being hired as a teacher. She is a monster teacher, gifted in her own right. Anyway, she was acting very strange and distant. I asked her if she was ok. And she said, “It hurts too much to be around you. You remind me so much of Jim.”
And finally, Mr. Ken Edmonds. Mr. Edmonds was a great teacher, but where he had the largest impact on me was as a coach. He was the jv wrestling coach. He made a point of coaching all the kids, not just the superstars. He saw potential and through a combination of toughness and compassion, moved you forward as an athlete, but more importantly, as a young adult. My favorite thing about Mr. Edmonds is his greeting anytime I see him. He acts like there is no one else in the world he’d rather see and greet than you at that moment. That is a good technique, and one I bring to action as often as I can.
We are all the result of the combination of our influences. I am lucky to have the influential teachers I’ve had in my life.
Our superintendent met with me recently to talk about my professional growth goals. One of my goals is to closely, uncomfortably, and necessarily challenge my own biases and understand my privilege. A colleague recommended the two books below. I’ve finished So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo and am about a third of the way through Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving.
Why, at this point in a 36 year career, is it important to examine biases, prejudice, and privilege? Because to do better work as a leader, a learner, and communicator, I need to understand from where I come, from where my thinking and opinions come, and challenge them. I know I can do better.
A couple of quotes that are guiding my thinking and learning now.
“Ask yourself: Am I trying to be right, or am I trying to do better?”
“Yet I don’t believe that avoiding all potentially upsetting conversations serves anyone.”
“Right through my senior year of college, life exposed me mostly to other versions of myself and the customs and traditions I considered normal.”
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” -Anais Nin
“Privilege is a strange thing in that you notice it least when you have it most.”
Can’t get that idea/quote out of my head this morning. Part of the line,
“Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.“
Which is all part of the entire poem:
Our Greatest Fear —Marianne Williamson
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, Our presence automatically liberates others.
Why do we play small sometimes? Or often? Convenience? Fear? Laziness?
Let’s check ourselves and let our lights shine. The kids and our colleagues deserve our best light.
We have 4 district strategic goals. These goals were developed through a series of interviews and meeting with 13 different groups and over 150 people. The goals center around: Academic Excellence, Transition Readiness, Parent/Family/Community Engagement, and High Quality Work Force.
I will now brag on our educators in the area of Parent/Family/Community Engagement. I might also mention how modeling practice pays off.
Our Director of TLI asked everyone in the department to develop an aspiration for the year. My aspiration has been the same for two years. To get our leaders to write more, as a means of reflection and learning. And I take the point in this effort by writing a blog. This is my 141st blog post since I started. Practicing what I preach.
We don’t have any building leaders doing blogs just yet. Still hoping on that one. But we absolutely have building leaders writing. All of them. And just got word from one of our principals that her teachers are now writing as well. Sharing good news and information from the school and classroom.
All of this serves the Parent/Family/Community Engagement strategic goal literally by definition! We are engaging with all of those groups. We are NOT working in isolation. We are telling our story. We are being transparent.
Congratulations to all of our gifted educators for doing this work!
John Hattie’s organization, Visible Learning, has synthesized findings from over 1600 meta-analyses of over 95,000 studies, involving 300 million students. This is not an inconsequential body of work. They have published a document called ‘250+ Influences on Student Achievement.’
A score of .40 is considered a ‘hinge point’. That is, anything above a score of .40, has a positive impact on kids’ achievement. Doing virtually anything will have an impact, but the idea is to find that which has the biggest bang for the buck.
There are some very negative things on the list. For example, retention. Holding a kid back has a score of -.32. Yes…a negative score. Another negative whomper is boredom. -.47. Ouch. Depression checks in a -.26 and anxiety at -.44. I bet 5 bucks that absolutely no one is surprised by the fact that these items have a negative impact on kids’ achievement.
On the flip side, there are some things that really work to help kids. In the teacher area, number one is ‘teacher estimates of achievement’, with a score of 1.29. That is huge. How a teacher thinks a kid is going to do. Remember, .40 is the hinge point. RTI, for example, has a score of 1.09. One of the reasons we do RTI things.
The number one thing we can do, in the area of ‘school’ is Collective Teacher Efficacy. Score of 1.39. The biggest impact item of the 250+ items. And it’s something over which we have control. Something we can do.
Collective Teacher Efficacy “refers to educators’ shared beliefs that through their combined efforts they can positively influence student outcomes, including outcomes for those who are disengaged, unmotivated, and/or disadvantaged. When educators share the belief that they can influence student achievement, regardless of some of the difficult circumstances faced in schools today, the results can be very powerful. In fact, research shows that collective efficacy matters more in relation to increasing student achievement than the neighborhoods where students come from and their level of income.” (Donohoo/Katz, 2019). “Collective teacher efficacy proved greater than three times more predicative of student achievement as SES, double the effect of prior achievement, and more than triple the effect of home environment, and parental involvement.”
We recently asked our principals this tough question. “Do you think the teachers in your school believe that, through their combined efforts, they can overcome just about anything going on in a kid’s life?” If the answer is yes, they likely have collective teacher efficacy.
If we start a sentence with, “Kids these days,” or “Man, the kids we have now, whew, they are different and have more needs than when I started,” as reasons kids can’t achieve at higher levels, the sense of efficacy is gone. The belief is not there. “Teams who lack collective efficacy become preoccupied by constraints, show significant reduction in the goals they set, and lower their efforts.” The statement, ‘kids are different or have different needs’ very well may be true. But they’re the kids. We’re the professionals. It’s our job to make changes, to do something different. It’s not the kid’s job to adjust to our needs. It’s our job to adjust to his/her needs. One place to start is our beliefs. Beliefs about how a kid can do. Or beliefs about what we can do.
We are working on collective teacher efficacy, starting with our building leaders, starting with a crystal clear understanding of its definition. What it is and what it is not. It is not just sharing beliefs. It is not working together collaboratively. Both good things, but not collective teacher efficacy. Another definition of what it is, “The judgements of teachers in a school that the faculty as a whole can organize and execute the courses of action required to have a positive impact on students.” (Goddard, Hoy, and Woolfolk, 2004)
We talk about and work on 3 things in our district.
These 3 things overlap, mesh, weave, intersect, layer, and so on each other all over the place. A rich and fertile ground for growth, learning, conversation, and challenge.
We know what works for kids. We know what doesn’t. We can control what we can control. Let’s continue to work on the shared belief that through our combined efforts as educators, we can overcome just about anything going on in a kid’s life, and positively influence student outcomes.