"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." WB Yeats
Author: Jeff Nelson
Fife School District
36 years as an educator.
16 years teacher
3 years assistant principal
12 years principal
5 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.
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.
“Today, isolation is a choice educators make.” George Couros
I started as a middle school teacher in 1984. 36 years ago. I got my keys, my plan book, a classroom, and the kids. No induction. No professional learning. No books about teaching. No PLC. No PLN. Obviously no Twitter or any other social media platform. Didn’t have a computer. Took attendance on a little slip of paper that I hung outside the door. I had a chalkboard, a movie projector (the clackity clackity kind), and a podium.
Isolation had commenced and I didn’t even realize it. In fact, something worse happened. My next door neighbor was generally described as the most negative teacher in the building. He couldn’t get to me fast enough to begin to poison my young teacher heart and soul.
Then I found my buddy Dave. Another first year teacher. We clung together, designed work together, grew together, and fended off the negative teachers that wanted to feel better about themselves by reigning us in. Dave and I chose not to be isolated. But it was tough. Our goldfish bowl was very small.
A teacher’s goldfish bowl now can be an ocean. Twitter, for example, provides on-demand, in the moment, professional learning, completely centered on a teacher’s choice of learning. George Couros brought that message home with a resounding bang. Literally to remain isolated now, as a teacher, is an absolute choice to do so.
And the amazing educators in Fife are choosing to not be isolated. Here are a few examples:
“I know what I know. That’s all I know. I don’t want to know anything else,” is a mindset at which one arrives in one’s career at some point. Or some people do. I know I did. Took awhile, but I got there through a lot of hard work and closing of doors, windows, and any other entrances that would have challenged me to grow and learn. I had a pile of excuses, starting with the moldy chestnut of ‘not enough time.’
Then, because I got a new job that included the word ‘innovation’ in the title, I used Google to find out what that word meant in the context of education.
I found George Couros. And his thinking, words, challenges, and ideas found me. The doors, windows, and entrances were blown wide open. And the learning and growth poured in. And continue to do so to this day.
Last week, we hosted George Couros at our first professional learning day of the year. He spoke with and worked with over 200 of our amazing educators. It is very safe to say that he did the same thing with the educators. Want proof? Check out the hashtag #togetherweRfife on Twitter. He told everybody, “Go out and make a video about your learning today. One rule, I won’t help you. Figure it out for yourself.” Then he invited me to watch what was happening. Teachers sought out other teachers, worked solo, but ALL got busy. The results, the videos, were amazing!
So thank you George, thank you Fife educators for a simply wonderful day of learning!
I don’t know what I don’t know. I know that. And I can’t wait to know more.
In two days, we will be welcoming George Couros to our district. Anyone who has ever glanced at this blog or many of my tweets will know that I generally become a star-struck teenager when I talk about George. His writing and thinking have changed the course of my career. Period. I cannot wait to have him meet, work, and talk with our amazing educators.
Prior to our gathering with George, we have a full morning of professional learning opportunities from many of the aforementioned amazing educators. Couros said, “Do you know who teachers tend to listen to? Other teachers. If we are open to learning with and from others, we will realize and value the wisdom that exists in all of our schools. The experts in education might be on the other side of the world, but they are for sure down the hallway. We need to tap into one another.”
We are tapping into one another with full vigor. But let’s face it. It takes guts to stand up in front of your peers and share. Kids are way easier. I am so appreciative and thankful for the great response we got from our teachers willing to step forward and lead learning with each other.
But I’m also a little nervous. And I’m enjoying being a little nervous. Our Teaching-Learning-Innovation department will also be presenting in full force, with multiple sessions. And I’ll be doing 3 of those sessions. Two on taking the plunge into twitter and one on using tweetdeck for twitter chats. I love the little graphic below.
Twitter has also changed, enriched, and amplified my thinking and career. I’ve seen tweets from educators saying that twitter saved their career. That’s a pretty amazing statement, and I can’t wait to help anyone interested get going in the twitter learning world!
Yesterday I spent some time at our primary school, grades Preschool-1st. We’re building a new elementary school in our district and our architects were meeting with our amazing teachers to get insight and feedback on design.
As I was waiting between groups, I saw this beautiful exchange between two kids.
“Will you help me tie my shoe?”
That was the entirety of the exchange. Can you help me? Sure. Bam. Into shoe tying position they went, with the little girl paying absolute attention so she could learn.
This exchange between kids was so simple and sweet. One kid needed help and asked for it. Without hesitation the other kid gave the help.
Reminds me of a couple of things. I remember when our own kids were little. The rules for playing with another kid were also simple. You’re a kid, I’m a kid, let’s play. Reminds me of the George Couros’ line, “If students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.”
Made me wonder where the willingness to ask for help in learning goes sometimes. Maybe not even ask for help in learning. Maybe just being open and willing to continue to grow and learn.
Anyway, as I had the chance to share this beautiful picture, the reaction was identical. Colleagues were moved. And it’s what moves us that I’m calling out. A simple request for help. And immediate support offered.
If an educator leaves a career less curious than when they started, we have failed.