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8/16/2017

Redesigning the Senior Year

By: Steve Gratz

8-16-17-Steve-road-2.jpgMy wife is a school counselor at Worthington Kilbourne High School, and we have interesting discussions on preparing students for their transition from high school. I’ve been an advocate for graduating students to something (i.e., college remediation-free, in-demand jobs,  apprenticeship programs or the military) rather than simply graduating students from high school. In addition to both being employed in education, my wife and I enjoy riding our tandem bicycle. A couple of weeks ago, we spent several days riding our tandem in the Lake Tahoe Region on the California side. If you’ve never been to Lake Tahoe, you’re missing out.

During one of our tandem rides several years ago, we were discussing graduation options for students. The context for the discussion pertained to the state changing the school year from days to hours. Because of this change, many districts were struggling to add electives so students had more options for courses during their junior and senior years. I remember asking my wife how she would counsel a student on her caseload who has interest in becoming a registered nurse. Aside from the graduation requirements, she would recommend that the student take additional math and science credits and take advantage of Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) — this was prior to the days of College Credit Plus. I remember following up with questions about encouraging students to attend the Delaware Area Career Center, and she responded with the all too familiar response how students didn’t see the career center as a pathway of their choosing. Our discussion focused on establishing courses at Worthington Kilbourne High School that allowed students to earn industry-recognized credentials in in-demand pathways.

When I came to the office the next Monday, I suggested to Jamie Nash, the associate director in the Office of Career-Technical Education, that we needed to design courses for seniors only, where they could earn industry-recognized credentials in in-demand pathways. Jamie worked with other staff in the office and created a new program that grew into the Senior Only Credential Program. The Senior Only Credential Program was designed to complement, and not compete with, our traditional two-year programs at our area career centers. The Senior Only Credential Program can be offered as a career-technical education (CTE) program where the course can receive supplemental funds to operate the program or outside of CTE. If it is conducted outside of CTE, the school would not receive supplemental funds, but the credentialing program could be offered earlier then the senior year. Regardless of which funding structure is utilized, the course can be taught by a professional under the 12-hour temporary teaching permit. The 12-hour temporary teaching permit can be issued to a non-licensed individual who holds at least a baccalaureate degree with a major in the subject to be taught or has significant experience in the industry sector.

Since the inception of the Senior Only Credential Program, its utility has continued to evolve. Days to hours has come and gone, and the original demand for the program has changed to where today, the Senior Only Credential Program is a viable option for students to graduate and serves to mitigate risk as students enroll in postsecondary education.

8-16-17-College-competion.jpgResearch indicates that 36 percent of students attending public colleges or universities graduate in four years. While the number does increase to nearly 58 percent after six years, the completion rate for students attending Ohio public colleges or universities isn’t stellar. Today, students who earn industry-recognized credentials prior to graduating from high school can use the credentials to earn college credit and for gainful employment while they pursue additional postsecondary credentials and degrees. Furthermore, earning industry-recognized credentials in in-demand pathways can serve to mitigate the risks associated with pursuing additional postsecondary credentials and degrees. We know that sometimes life gets in the way, and if postsecondary students need to take some time off from their studies, they know they can use the credentials they earned in high school to help them get in-demand jobs in Ohio until they can return to their studies. Additionally, those students who are successful and graduate on time can use the credentials to help pay for their postsecondary education.

Just last week, I visited with Tom Johnson, mayor of Somerset, Ohio, and with Randy Leite, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Professions at Ohio University, about opportunities in health sciences in southeastern Ohio. I shared with them how school districts could implement a credentialing program in the health sciences for several credentials including, but not limited to, phlebotomy, medical assistant, and state-tested nursing assistant for high school students. Randy immediately added that students graduating with these credentials could continue and become registered nurses with one additional year at Ohio University and preferably continue to earn bachelor of science degrees in nursing.

Today, students have many options where they can earn industry credentials — a pathway that was typically completed at the career center. Students can earn credentials not only at their area career centers, but also at their local high schools through credential only programs, at area community colleges through College Credit Plus (see Stark State’s Learn to Earn Program) or even through work-based learning using Credit Flex.

Redesigning the senior year, or even the entire high school experience, takes major commitment from school leaders, faculty and staff. Fortunately, there are great examples of this work taking place throughout Ohio. I am familiar with the work at Fairport Harbor, Perry Local, Marion City, Akron City and Cleveland to name just a few. On Oct. 24, 2017, the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Educational Service Center Association are holding another career pathway network meeting to help school districts learn how to develop enhanced career pathways and more meaningful partnerships with business and industry leaders in their communities. This will be a great opportunity for school leaders to learn from their colleagues about redesigning the senior year or even the entire high school experience.

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8/10/2017

A Great School Year Starts with Knowing Your Students

By: Virginia Ressa

ThinkstockPhotos-477634708.jpgHappy New School Year! My colleague and friend, Stephanie Donofe, ended her blog last week by wishing everyone a happy new year. I thought it was perfect — that’s exactly how I feel at the start of a new school year. It may not be Jan. 1, but you’re starting anew: redecorating, buying supplies, planning lessons, organizing resources. It is a fun time of year, as long as the weather doesn’t turn too hot.

One of the most interesting aspects of a new school year is meeting your new students. They may not be new to the school, you may know of them from your colleagues or even have data in a file, but you don’t truly know your students until you spend time with them. There are lots of “interest inventory” tools out there to ask the students about themselves. Some of these are probably a lot more useful than others. Do you really need to know Johnny’s favorite food? Maybe, but I bet there are questions you could ask that would reveal a whole lot more about your students and their lives than asking for their favorite foods. Maybe it would help to ask students about what comes “easy” to them and what things they consider “challenges.” I saw a set of writing prompts that asked “would you rather” questions like, “Would you rather be really tall or really short?” or “Would you rather live in the city or the country?” These types of writing prompts also are great conversation prompts and could elicit important details about students’ lives, their interests, fears and more.

In Ohio, we have a very diverse student population. Almost 3 percent of our students are learning English as a second language. That might not seem like a lot statewide, but it is significant if those students live in your district. Students with disabilities make up 14.5 percent of our population and are learners in classrooms across the state. The most startling of the statistics I looked at today is the percent of our students who are economically disadvantaged: 49.9 percent. That’s half of our 1.7 million students living in households struggling to meet their financial needs, which we know has many repercussions. Part of those students who are economically disadvantaged are the 1.2 percent who are homeless; that is 20,185 homeless students in Ohio. Right now, Ohio is experiencing a record number of students needing stable, out-of-home care as a result of the current opioid epidemic.

When we meet our new students, especially those new to the district, they don’t come with signs on their foreheads that tell us what their needs are. We have to work hard to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to understand what their environments are like when they leave our schools. I don’t say that to sound depressing — I promise, I’m not here to spoil your new year. I bring up these issues because it is essential for teachers to learn about their students so they can better meet students’ needs. This is not an easy task, and we often unintentionally revert to applying stereotypes and making assumptions. In such a diverse state, making assumptions about who our students are is definitely not best practice and reminds me of my mother’s admonition about the result of making assumptions (do you know that one?).

I’d like to share with you a personal story that isn’t all that pretty. When I began teaching, I was working in an urban alternative school with “at-risk” students. As a history teacher, I thought it would be fun to start the year off by making timelines of our own lives. I created a sample on the board with details of my life, then I asked my seventh-graders to draw a timeline of their lives. I wanted them to go back before they were born and include their parents and other family members on their timelines. There was one student who just would not get to work. As a new teacher, I felt that if I let him “get away” with that, it would set a precedent for the year. So, I urged him to get to work a couple of times. I tried changing my tone from friendly to stern. Still nothing on his paper. I set a consequence, threatening to send him out of the room if he wasn’t going to participate. He made the decision to leave the room himself and cursed at me on the way out. What I found out when I talked with him later was that he didn’t know much about his family or when or where his parents and grandparents were born. Because I never asked him why he wasn’t working, I didn’t understand his behavior or his learning needs. I was naïve in assuming this would be a “fun” activity for all my students. I hadn’t considered the complicated emotions it might elicit because I didn’t yet know my students.

That’s a hard story to share so publicly. I have to remind myself that it was many years ago, and I was very young. But that’s not an excuse and doesn’t make my naïveté okay. What helped to make things right was the frank and honest discussion my student had with me about his life and the apologies we exchanged as we both pledged to ask rather than assume.

As you meet your new students, remember that there are many things you don’t yet know about them. Ask lots of questions, provide opportunities for them to share their experiences and lives with you and their classmates. Share some of your own personal stories, even your strengths and weaknesses. Take the time to stop and think before you assume anything about a student. A student may be learning English for the first time, but she also may be proficient in reading and writing one or more other languages — she already has strong literacy complex thinking skills that you can foster. A student receiving free lunch may have a more stable home than the student who comes in with a full lunch box every day. The student identified as having a learning disability is likely able to achieve at the same rate as his peers if provided the right supports.

I encourage you to embrace the diversity of your classroom by getting to know your students and avoiding making assumptions about them. This is a lesson I learned the hard way — I hope this is a time when you can learn from another teacher’s mistake.

Have a very Happy New Year! 

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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8/4/2017

A Year on Pause: A Very Personal Perspective on Personalized Learning

By: Stephanie Donofe Meeks

HAPPY-NEW-YEAR-8.jpgHello, everyone! You last heard from me more than a year ago, as I was in a car accident last summer. It was of the lucky-to-be-alive magnitude kind of car accident, and I am so grateful to be back at work now. This year on pause gave me time for some deep reflection during my recovery process.

In particular, I was struck by the parallels between personalized learning and my recovery. At the hospital, the trauma team used a set of protocols for unconscious victims to establish and triage my injuries. Based on this thorough assessment, the team determined I had broken both legs, among other damages. The assessment was extensive, and the trauma surgeons began treating the breaks immediately, using typical treatments for typical fractures. My right leg, however, was not a standard break, so alternative methods were used for my situation. If the team had done what it usually does for a fracture, I would not be walking today.

Lying in bed healing for two months and then recovering for another eight, I had a lot of time to think. The idea of my personalized treatment had me thinking about personalized learning and what it really means. I could overlay my situation to exactly how personalized learning can help students succeed. Some students respond to the typical and usual methods of instruction and succeed. Some students do not and need other strategies to achieve success. Most students have areas of strength and areas of challenge in learning. For example, standard teaching methods may work with them in social studies but not in science. I think too many times we look for a single-point solution in education…one tool or resource that will work for everyone…and that just is not the case.

Digital tools can assist, but they are not the only solution. Multiple solutions can be used to support multiple needs. In addition, a small set of tools can be applied differently to personalize learning for students. Perhaps you utilize online resources; do all students use them the same way? If you think of your resources as currencies, how will you spend them? This could include time and space—something as simple as a different room arrangement or a different structure for in-class time can help personalize learning for students. What are resources you have that can be used differently? How can standard assessment protocols be used to personalize a learning plan?

I did not recover alone. I had a team of support, from the initial trauma team to the physical therapy team, as well as an alternative therapies team. They were so willing to look for solutions for me to walk again; they never gave up looking for solutions, even ones they had not tried in the past. In education, we have many kinds of teams. How do we best utilize our support systems to personalize learning for all? What are the first steps that you can take to help personalize learning for students?

With the start of a new school year, we have the opportunity for a new beginning, new thinking and new planning. NONE of us can predict the future—but with the right tools and planning, we can be ready when it comes. HAPPY NEW YEAR—make it awesome!

Next up in the series…using a framework with a team approach to personalize learning.

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7/27/2017

GUEST BLOG: Ohio’s In-Demand Jobs List: Preparing Your Students for Successful Careers — Emily Modell, Governor's Office for Workforce Transformation

By: Guest Blogger

ThinkstockPhotos-638787162.jpgOne seemingly insurmountable challenge that students and their families face is determining where to start when researching, and ultimately pursuing, a career. Students today have so many options, pathways through which to pursue opportunities, and qualified individuals to look to for advice. What they don’t always have, though, is an abundance of data to help guide that decision-making process.

Educators and parents — as you work diligently during the summer months to prepare your students for success in the upcoming school year, consider Ohio’s In-Demand Jobs List as your resource to keep track of the current and projected hiring needs of your students’ future employers.

Ohio’s workforce needs are evolving quickly due to emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, drone technology and autonomous vehicles. Chances are, you already know and think about this on a regular basis. As some of the most influential individuals in the lives of Ohio’s youth, you have the power to help prepare the next generation for the changes they will inevitably see in their lifetime.

The effort to prepare our youth for a dynamic workforce environment must be collective — by reaching into our communities and collaborating, we can ensure that our youth have access to resources of all kinds to reach their career and life aspirations. Schools and businesses across the state are collaborating to build a workforce prepared for in-demand jobs.

One real-world example of a business with a workforce need collaborating with a school district is the Marion City Schools and OhioHealth partnership. When OhioHealth built a new healthcare facility in Marion, they realized they did not have enough nurses, lab technicians and medical assistants to support the doctors. OhioHealth collaborated with Marion City Schools to create a career pathway program that prepares high school graduates to work in these fields.

Jon Smith, a Marion Harding High School English teacher notes, "Our job as educators is to prepare our students the best that we can to move forward when they leave our building, and in many communities across America, credit accrual is just not enough and students need something more. The idea behind the career pathways initiative is going to be crucial to the development of better students and, therefore, better communities across our state and our country.”

Recognizing the need for collaboration and leading by example, the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation partnered with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and employers across the state to release a list of more than 200 of Ohio’s top occupations.

Ohio’s In-Demand Job List was created using data and input from the following sources:

  1. Results of a survey sent to more than 2,100 businesses in Ohio, asking them to forecast the top five most critical hiring and certification needs over the next one, three and five years;
  2. Ohio labor market information;
  3. Job posting trends and data from OhioMeansJobs.com;
  4. JobsOhio regional forecast.

The In-Demand Jobs List aims to provide insight for all stakeholders into the current and evolving needs of Ohio employers so that students, parents, educators, workforce professionals, legislators and employers alike can be aware of workforce needs. For teachers, it can help guide classroom instruction and provide opportunities to link lessons to workplace skills. For counselors, it can help guide career counseling discussions; for administrators, future decision-making; and for parents, curiosity and learning at home. While we cannot predict what’s next, we can take steps together to prepare the next generation for success now and in the future.

Emily Modell is the Outreach Coordinator at the Governor's Office of Workforce Transformation. You can reach her at Emily.Modell@owt.ohio.gov.

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7/20/2017

Respect and Enjoyment: The Keys to a 58-Year-Long Teaching Career — Staff Report

By: Guest Blogger

Any seasoned professional can talk about how he or she has grown over the course of a career, but Ohio teacher Bob Weidner has an especially lengthy career to reflect on. Weidner recently retired after 60 years of dedicated service. He spent two years of his career in the U.S. Army and the remaining 58 teaching high school.

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Bob and Rachel Weidner with Senators Beagle and Hackett

Athletics were a major part of Weidner’s life and were one of the main reasons he wanted to teach. In high school and college, he played football and baseball and ran track. As a student athlete, he idolized his coaches. He wanted to teach so he could coach and be the same great role model to his students that his coaches were to him. So, after his time in the U.S. Army, Weidner began teaching and coaching at Newton Local School District. He then spent the next 35 years teaching and coaching football at Beavercreek City Schools. He believes coaching allowed him get to know his students better and fostered the mutual respect that he believes to be critical to successful teaching. After more than 35 years of teaching and coaching, many people might consider a well-deserved retirement. Weidner, however, spent 20 more years teaching at Troy Christian Schools.

Weidner recalls that on his first day of teaching, he was nervous and forgot what lesson he was planning to give. Thankfully, his professors had given him some advice on what to do in this situation. Following that advice, he simply told the class that he would try again the next day. In the following days, he prepared by writing the lesson on the chalkboard in advance.

Now, an undeniable classroom veteran, he can offer wisdom to new teachers. “You have to enjoy what you do, and you have to be sure you’re the boss…They have to have respect for you, and you have to respect your students,” he said. The respect his students had for him was clear on the two occasions the class valedictorians cited him as their most influential teacher.

Over the years, Weidner taught primarily biology but also covered physical education, health and anatomy classes. Even though the classrooms and subjects changed, some things never did. “Kids are kids,” Weidner said. “They haven’t changed any. I enjoyed them at every level.”

Weidner takes pride in the accomplishments of his former students who went on to work in fields related to the courses he taught. “I had several that were doctors and some that were in pharmacy. That always makes you feel good.” Weidner says although he didn’t have a favorite subject to teach, he did have a few standout classes. He noted, “I don’t know if it was the courses that were enjoyable or the kids I had in class.”

Becoming inspired to teach and coach is certainly admirable, but what exactly is it that inspires someone to dedicate so many years to teaching? For Weidner, the answer is the pure pleasure of teaching. One might even consider Weidner living proof of the adage, “time flies when you’re having fun.” “I just enjoyed teaching and enjoyed the kids, and it just felt like one contract after another and all of the sudden, it was 60 years,” he said.

After 60 years, the teacher who forgot his lesson on the first day of school is still humble. He said he did nothing special except, “Teach for a long time and coach for long time.” Now, he is receiving a lot of attention. The Dayton Daily News wrote an article about him and the Ohio Senate honored him. Here at the Ohio Department of Education, we think that 58 years of impacting students’ lives in the classroom is something special. Congratulations, Mr. Weidner!

— Staff report. Have an inspiring story you would like us to tell? Send your story ideas to Toby.Lichtle@education.ohio.gov.

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7/6/2017

The Educator Standards Board: Promoting Educator Quality

By: Julia Simmerer

Ed-Standards-Board-1.jpgI would like to take this opportunity to highlight a group of Ohio educators that produces critical work in support of the teachers in our state and the quality education they provide to our students. If you haven’t heard of the Educator Standards Board, you’re not alone. So, I want to share some insight into the board’s members and the good work they do.

(L-R) Educator Standards Board members Jeannie Cerniglia, Jeff Cooney, Jeff Brown, and the Director of the Department’s Center for the Teaching Profession, Julia Simmerer. Photograph property of ideastream®

The Educator Standards Board’s mission is “to collaboratively promote educator quality, professionalism, and public accountability on behalf of the students and citizens of Ohio.” The Educator Standards Board is a recommending body to the State Board of Education and primarily develops and maintains sets of educator standards designed to ensure our state’s high expectations of educator quality are met. Here is some of the work the Educator Standards Board has accomplished thus far:

Tasked with duties that impact nearly every level of an educator’s work, a heavy burden lies on the Educator Standards Board to address the needs of all of those involved in Ohio education. Therefore, the very structure of board membership is designed to reflect the many groups that comprise our multifaceted field of education.

The Educator Standards Board is comprised of 21 voting members. Ohio law specifies that the board’s membership include individuals currently employed as: school district teachers (with representation from several student age groups, as well as from a chartered nonpublic school district); school administrators; a member of the Parent Teacher Association; and individuals employed by institutions of higher education that offer teacher preparation programs, with representation from private and state universities, as well as community or technical colleges. The State Board of Education appoints members of the Educator Standards Board nominated by teachers’ unions, educational associations that represent teachers, administrators, parents, school board members and institutions of higher education.

As you can see, it is true stakeholders who build the foundations upon which we identify the rigor necessary to be a school educator or administrator in Ohio. I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to attend many Educator Standards Board meetings and see the impressive work that the board produces. I believe that not only does the work of the board benefit its diverse membership but, additionally, everyone who has had the chance to work with and observe the board, myself included, has grown from the experience of hearing from so many different perspectives. If you ever happen to meet current or former members of the Educator Standards Board, thank them for their work toward ensuring a high-quality education for the students of our great state.

Julia Simmerer is senior executive director of the Center for the Teaching Profession at the Ohio Department of Education, where she oversees the implementation of policies and programs that support Ohio’s teacher and leader corps. You can learn more about Julia by clicking here.

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6/29/2017

Learn from Everything: A Conversation with Leadership Expert Mark Sanborn

By: Steve Gratz

ThinkstockPhotos-518815488-1.jpgLeadership is key in business and in education. Those of us in education understand the critical importance of the education leader in every school district and school building. While contemplating this blog post, I wanted to focus on the importance of leadership regardless of the industry and your position within that industry. As a result, I decided to reach out to my friend and leadership guru, Mark Sanborn, and ask him a few questions.

Mark and I have been friends since the 1970s and lived together as members of Alpha Zeta fraternity at The Ohio State University. Today, Mark is an international bestselling author and noted expert on leadership, team building, customer service and change. You can learn more about Mark at his website.

During my career, I have had the opportunity to be a personal coach to more than 200 individuals. A vast majority of these individuals have gone on to secure leadership positions, not only in education but also in industry. With the shared passion for leadership, I decided to ask Mark a series of questions on being a leader and leadership. Although the questions I asked Mark are fairly broad, they are transferable to those of us in education.

1. If you were beginning a career today or were still early in your career, what would you do differently? What advice would you give to those in that stage of life today?
Happily, I wouldn’t do anything differently. My strategy those many years ago is valid today: try lots of things. Get as much diverse experience as possible. More often than not, we find our true calling through experience — trial and error — rather than contemplation. You don’t find out which foods you like by thinking about them but by trying them. The same is true with career strengths, likes and dislikes.

2. What is the greatest change you've seen in the workplace since you began your career? Does that change the way you lead today? If so, how? 
The greatest change is the complexity of business and life. We’ve always faced change and challenge, but technology has been one of many factors that has dramatically increased complexity. We are deluged with information. Nobody can know everything there is to know nor even hope to keep completely up to date. That means leaders need a carefully designed learning strategy that includes trusted experts and sources to help fill in the blanks, the things we don’t know.

3. What three words might people use to describe you as a leader? 
The more accurate answer would come from those who have experienced my leadership, but based on feedback I’ve gotten, those descriptors would include erudite, intense and funny. I invest much time in thinking and learning (hence erudite). I’m very focused on what’s important (hence intense). People who don’t know me well would be surprised to find I’m a prankster who finds the humor in almost everything (hence funny).

4. You seem to write a lot about your experiences with others and what you learn from them, such as you did in “The Fred Factor.” What would you hope people most learn from you and your work?
I hope people learn how they can learn from everything they do and observe. That’s how I was able to extract good ideas and lessons from my encounters with my postal carrier Fred Shea. G.K. Chesterton said, “The world will never lack for wonders, only wonder.” If we stay interested, curious and engaged with life, we can keep continually learning and growing.

5. What is the hardest thing you have to do as a leader? What have you learned that has helped you in this area? 
One of the hardest things I’ve done as a leader is let an employee go who was a good person and conscientious employee but not the right fit for the job. The person didn’t have the skills or demeanor to succeed in the role that was required. Employers and employees need to recognize that all jobs are role specific, and being good isn’t enough if the employee isn’t the right person for the job. I’ve learned the importance of clarifying what is needed in a position and to determine if a possible candidate is just a good employee or the right employee for the job.

6. What one business or leadership book would you recommend to young leaders, besides one of your own, to help them in their leadership?
There are many excellent books on leadership, but I’d suggest “Good to Great,” because Jim Collins does a great job of showing how the leadership piece fits into the bigger organizational puzzle. I like his take on Level 5 Leaders and that his book is based on quantitative research.

7. What motivates you personally to get up in the morning? What is it that keeps you pushing for more personally or professionally? How do you continue to find inspiration in life? 
For me, it comes down to faith, family and friends. Those three aren’t the icing on the cake — they are the cake. If you are clear in your beliefs and care for the relationships that matter, the rest follows. After that, I am about combining purpose and profit. Making money is easy, but making money by being of larger service and benefiting others is a blessing. I feel fortunate in my work to be able to do both.

I encourage you to reflect on the questions I asked Mark and think about how you would respond to the questions. This would be a great activity to share with other school leaders in your district.

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6/14/2017

There’s More than One Way to Scramble an Egg

By: Virginia Ressa

ThinkstockPhotos-466406260.jpgI like to think of myself as a “lifelong learner,” but my husband keeps finding ways to challenge this notion. Do I really want to learn about classic '70s rock music? I’m fairly sure I could have lived without learning how to tile a foyer — though it did turn out pretty well. A while ago, he was watching cooking shows, finding recipes for “us” to try out. I was game for trying new recipes. I’m a pretty good cook, but my repertoire is definitely limited.

In the course of our mini adventure through cooking shows and new recipes, my husband told me about a video of Gordon Ramsay demonstrating how to make the perfect scrambled egg. Wait. I know how to scramble eggs. I’ve been scrambling eggs since I was a teenager. It’s simple, and there really is just one way to make scrambled eggs…right?

As adults, there are some things we’ve been doing for such a long time or so often that we have come to believe there is just one way to do that task, and we already know how. Teachers often think about their classrooms and instructional practices this way. We know what works, so we keep using the same methods over and over. Once we have found a practice that works well, we recreate it with each group of students with the underlying notion, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But is your method for teaching addition using buttons as manipulatives the only way to do it? Is it the most effective? What if you talked to other elementary teachers and asked what their best practices are? Maybe there’s another method that might also work well?

I eventually acquiesced and agreed to watch the video on scrambling eggs. I found out that there are, indeed, other ways to scramble eggs. There was Chef Ramsay using a pot instead of a nonstick frying pan. He had a spatula but not the flat kind I use to make eggs; he used the rubber kind that I mix things with. The most surprising part of his technique was the addition of crème fraiche. I was incredulous — I had never heard of anyone making eggs this way. I immediately got out the eggs, butter, a small pot, the spatula that Ramsay said to use and a container of sour cream (turned out I was all out of crème fraiche). I don’t know if I had set out to prove Ramsay wrong or if I was really intrigued about a new way of scrambling eggs. Of course, the eggs were really good. Light and fluffy, with a bit of a rich flavor added by the sour cream. Not only was Ramsay right, so was my husband. I had to swallow my pride and admit that there is more than one way to scramble an egg. Now, almost every Sunday, I make really good scrambled eggs for our brunch. I’ve experimented with some variations, like sour cream, and have found some small changes that work for me. I’m just confident enough to think I can improve on what Ramsay does.

When we think about our personal and professional lives, there are probably dozens of these types of everyday things we do that we would never consider doing differently. We have routines that we build into our classroom expectations because we think they work well. How do you help students get ready to leave the classroom? Do they wait at their desks for the bell? Do you have them line up along the tape on the floor? Here is a video from a teacher who uses music to focus her students on lining up for lunch. This is probably much more effective than the rush of middle schoolers I had waiting to push the door open and run to the lunchroom. Beyond classroom management, we also become comfortable with how we teach content. How do you teach the basic concepts of your subject area? Do you use a set of graphic organizers every year? Could you integrate technology to make the use of graphic organizers more effective? My point is simply that there are always other techniques to consider. Find out what your colleagues are doing. Check out the Teaching Channel for videos of all types of classroom practices. Take time to think about the teaching and learning happening in your classroom and how you might experiment with new ways of doing things that have become accepted practice.

If we are going to profess the benefits of being lifelong learners to our students, we need to be willing to be lifelong learners as well. I rewatched Ramsay’s video this morning and saw that it has more than 22 million views. Maybe we have more lifelong learners in our midst than I thought. In case you are feeling the need to learn how to do something differently, here’s an article from The New York Times with a series of videos about how to wash your hair. Yes, there is more than one way to wash your hair.  

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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6/2/2017

Superintendent's Blog: STEM Students Offer Solutions to the Opioid Crisis

By: Paolo DeMaria

Last fall, I invited Ohio’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students to join the conversation about one of the biggest problems facing our state — the opioid crisis. I worked with the Ohio STEM Learning Network to issue a design challenge for students. I asked them to come up with innovative solutions to opioid abuse in our state. I know that Ohio’s youth are a great source of creativity and brilliance. So, I was not surprised when more than 1,200 students responded to the challenge and came up with hundreds of possible solutions.

On May 18, Battelle hosted the Opioid Solutions Showcase, where some of the best ideas were shared. These included a pill bottle that could be programmed to limit medication doses and an app that allowed concerned family members to track the whereabouts of a person struggling with addiction. I was really inspired by these young people. In the video, I interviewed a student team from the Dayton STEM Academy. The team created a piece of legislation that addresses the opioid crisis. The project is a fantastic example of how STEM education is so much more than rigorous coursework in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is actually about project-based learning that allows kids to apply the skills they learn from a variety of classes to real-world problems.

Paolo DeMaria is superintendent of public instruction of Ohio, where he works to support an education system of nearly 3,600 public schools and more than 1.6 million students.

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5/25/2017

GUEST BLOG: Finding the Balance - Amy Harker, Perry Local Schools

By: Guest Blogger

Perry-20Tout8.jpgPerry Local Schools, located in Northeast Ohio, is a small, rural district with a mission to inspire all students to achieve personal excellence, pursue world-class standards and become self-directed lifelong learners. We want all students to leave Perry Local Schools with hope and a skill set to be prepared for life. Authentic learning experiences are key to helping our students become workforce ready. To reach this goal of readiness, we are creating personalized learning opportunities for our students to ensure they have the tools necessary to be successful. At Perry, we want to find the right balance of traditional education and evaluation measures, along with authentic experiences, that have a performance-based assessment component. Student voice and choice play a key role in helping students have an awareness of their learning and understanding of their strengths and areas of growth.

We want our students to be able to answer the following questions as they navigate through their educational journeys:

  1. What are my strengths and interests?
  2. What do I want to be?
  3. How do I get there?
  4. Will I be successful once I get there? 

Pathways at Perry, spearheaded by Todd Porcello, Perry High School principal, shows the educational pathways available at Perry High School. In addition, we began a Learning Through Internship course that provides real-world career experiences, along with building employability skills. Our Virtual Career Center has the information for parents, students and community partners. High school teacher Rita Soeder has worked to ensure that the course guides students toward career readiness. Robert Knisely, the principal at Perry Middle School, has led his school to ensure the students have a balance of academic, behavior and career skills. The scope and sequence is found here: Middle School Pathways to Success.

In order to move forward with authentic learning, we need to have assessment systems in place that will support authentic learning initiatives. Working toward that balance, Perry Schools has been part of two grants that focused on competency-based education.

First, we are part of the consortium (Perry Schools, Cleveland Heights-University Heights City Schools, Kirtland Local Schools, Maple Heights City Schools, Orange City Schools and Springfield City Schools), through the Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County, that received a grant from the Competency-Based Education Pilot to create an innovative and scalable competency-based assessment system. Knowing that students must leave our schools with the abilities to learn at deep levels, pursue personal passions and strengths, and build skills to be career ready, we have been working to establish an assessment system that will capture components that standardized tests do not. Stanford University’s Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE) supported this effort throughout the year. Perry Local has begun the implementation of our learning Six Practices for Self-Directed, Authentic Instruction (adapted from the Buck Institute and SCALE) and aligned it with the Formative Instructional Practices, which include the following:

  1. Setting a Clear task — focus, clarity and coherence; [FIP 2]
  2. Proficiency rubric clarifies expectations, measures progress and supports feedback/goal setting; [FIP 2/4/5]
  3. Relevant, challenging issue/question-connecting curriculum through life skills in real-world, worthwhile work;
  4. Student agency: voice, choice, decision-making and growth mindset; [FIP 5]
  5. Learning is personalized to student strengths and interests; [FIP 5] 
  6. Exhibition: product is critiqued by public/experts to include clear feedback. [FIP 4]

One of the goals of our work with the Competency-Based Education Pilot grant is to have more valid, varied and richer measures of student learning. We have paired that with creating authentic learning experiences that are vetted to meet rigorous criteria for measuring the learning objectives. During this grant period, two cohorts of teachers received professional development, where our teachers created performance tasks in four content areas. We learned methods and components that are included to ensure that these types of tasks ask students to think and produce to demonstrate their learning. These tasks could be authentic to the discipline and/or the real world. We learned about the four types of assessments but concentrated on three: curriculum-based, on-demand and constructive response.

A highlight of our consortium team’s work included a critical dialogue between higher education institutions and K-12 districts to understand each other’s work, so we can begin to align and transition our students as they matriculate to postsecondary work. 

As we looked closely at our instructional practices, we wanted to include not only content (cognitive learning), but also to begin to intentionally teach life competencies (noncognitive factors). Our second area of work for this year is collaborating with seven school districts (Perry Schools, Chardon Local Schools, Fairport Harbor Exempted Village Schools, Mayfield City Schools, North Olmsted City Schools, Olmsted Falls City Schools and Wickliffe City Schools) to identify, define and determine how to monitor and evaluate life competency skills (otherwise known as noncognitive factors, 21st century skills or employability skills). The district’s cohorts of 10-12 teachers worked with Camille Farrington, from the University of Chicago and EdLeader21, to identify, define and build the strategies of “how” we can embed life competencies into our instruction. In addition, using information gathered during the EdLeader21 Professional Development and the Competency-Based Education grant work, we are creating our graduate profile.

Three years ago, we began Authentic Learning Personalized for Higher Achievement (ALPHA), which is a twist on learning how to do the project-based learning process. This project not only provides instruction in the process, it is a collaborative between school districts where students are teaching students about project-based learning with teachers participating by having the process modeled for them. This is a great way to begin a slow introduction of project-based learning.

Career mentoring is an articulated plan from grades 5-12 that allows students to explore interests and passions; take assessments, interest inventories and job skill identifiers; and find a career pathway(s) for selection of coursework.

Personalized Learning at Perry Schools highlights the details of our ALPHA project and our career mentoring program, along with additional information on our Life Competency Grant work, which are just a few ways we are working to individually tailor the learning process for our students.

Amy Harker has been an educator for thirty-one years. Currently she is the Director of Student Services and College and Career Readiness at Perry Local School District. In 2017-2018, she will assume the role of Northeast Regional Career and Innovation Specialist. You can contact Amy by clicking here.

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