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12/1/2016

Reflecting on Our Practice: Teaching Behavioral Expectations

By: Virginia Ressa

The new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) places strong emphasis on evidence-based practices. The intention is that educators should use practices that have been proven to be effective through significant research studies. For example, in October I wrote about effective feedback which has been shown through multiple studies to improve student achievement. We know this practice to be highly effective in making learning goals or expectations clear to students. Being clear about learning expectations helps students focus and provides them with goals to work towards.

As we begin our transition to ESSA, I suggest we think about putting together two highly effective, evidence-based practices. Through Formative Instructional Practices (FIP) professional development, teachers find the value of using clear learning targets to teach academic knowledge and skills. Ohio schools use Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), a proactive approach to improving school climate and culture that is evidence-based. PBIS helps schools establish positive expectations and classroom rules for student behavior. When we put FIP together with PBIS we have FIPPBIS… I’m just kidding we do not need an acronym or fancy name to implement effective practices. When we put them together we have evidence-based practices we can apply to the teaching and learning of behavior.

Here is a great video on teaching students how to speak respectfully to their classmates from the Teaching Channel!

Putting two practices we know are effective together – clear learning targets and behavioral expectations – would lead to the use of clear learning targets for teaching behavioral knowledge and skills. We could go beyond just posting “rules” to creating and sharing learning targets that would lead students to be able to meet the expectations of the rules. For example, we often post rules that are broad or even vague: “Complete classwork on time.” We expect students to meet this rule because we agreed on it as a class. And then, what happens when they don’t meet the rule? Students are often punished for not meeting classroom rules – a phone call home, maybe missing recess or detention.

But, what if we changed how we think of classroom rules? What if we thought of them like we do academic standards? When we have an academic standard we want students to meet, we make that standard clear to them and provide steps they can take towards mastery of the standard. If our expectation is for students to understand the causes of the Civil War, we would break that down into smaller steps, provide learning opportunities, assess student understanding and reteach if necessary. We can do the same thing with classroom rules.

Going beyond the posting of rules to breaking them into smaller behavioral learning targets can help us teach students how to meet the rule. We take the time to teach students academic content they don’t know, so why not take the time to teach students how to behave in a school setting? For instance, in order to complete their classwork on time, students need to know exactly what we mean – we need to make the expectation clear and possibly break it down into smaller steps. How do you make sure you complete your classwork on time? First, students need to know what “on time” means. Is it when class ends? What time does class end? Next, students need to practice budgeting their time and break large tasks into smaller steps. Students may also need to practice starting their work on time. Understanding and practicing these components will increase students’ ability to meet the behavioral expectation.

When I reflect on my time teaching middle school, I remember struggling with students not following rules. I thought my rules were clear and I even engaged students in writing the rules. After learning about PBIS, I realized that my rules were negative and included “don’t do” or “no” to this or that. Clear learning targets could have broken down vague and ambiguous rules into smaller, clearer expectations.

Take a minute to think about the rules in your classroom. Are your students meeting the rules? Are they stated positively? What if you thought of the rules as standards and taught students how to meet them? Could you increase students’ ability to meet the expectations in your classroom and school?

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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1/10/2017

Reflecting on Our Practice: Setting Goals

By: Virginia Ressa

As a new year begins, many of us set goals for improving ourselves or accomplishing something we have always wanted to do. Yet, so many of these New Year’s resolutions end up unfulfilled. I’ve asked myself, year after year, was I not committed enough? Did I pick the wrong goals? Did I not try hard enough? Did I just get lazy or distracted?

Research tells us that setting clear goals that are “SMART” is important to our success. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. Though the acronym can be defined multiple ways (the A can be attainable or achievable), the big idea is that we set goals that are clear and within our reach. When we set a goal that is too far beyond our current ability it is likely that we will lose our focus and commitment before we meet the goal. Is running a marathon a realistic goal for you? Or should you start with the goal of running a 5K?

video1.jpgWe also need to know exactly what we are working toward – goals need to be clear and specific. “Get more exercise” is vague and can’t be tracked and measured. A more specific goal would be: “Build up to exercising three times a week by the end of March.” That is more specific, measurable, time-based and likely achievable.

You’ve probably already guessed where I’m going with this line of thinking – we can apply this same to setting goals with students. “Do better in math” is not the same as “earn an average of 80% correct on math facts practice sheets.” When we help students set goals that are specific and measurable they are more likely to achieve those goals. One of the most effective strategies is to make learning intentions clear. When learning intentions are clear, students understand what the expectations are and can track their progress towards those expectations. Consider our math facts example: a student who improves from 50% correct to 65% correct on their practice sheets can see progress and know they are moving in the right direction. If the goal had simply been to do better in math, the student would have seen some progress but without the benefit of knowing what the measure of better would be. Has she met her goal at 65%? Does she need to get 100% correct to be better? This confusion is akin to our adult who makes a resolution to get more exercise – there is no clear goal to tell them when they are successful.

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As with every teaching practice or strategy we talk about, this one is not fool proof and will not work in every situation. However, it is a strong guideline to keep in mind when setting goals. If we want our students to be successful and meet high expectations, we need to be clear with them about what success looks like and what those high expectations are. Otherwise they are muddling through a vague set of criteria, trying to do better, not knowing if they are improving and lacking a clear destination.

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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3/7/2017

Superintendent’s Blog: Putnam County Districts Collaborate to Engage Students

By: Paolo DeMaria

On Monday, State Board of Education President Tess Elshoff and I had the privilege of visiting four districts in Putnam County. Although they are small, the districts — along with all the districts throughout Putnam County — are collaborating with one another to improve student engagement and student preparation for their future success. The Putnam County Educational Service Center plays a key role in facilitating all of this great collaboration. The students are taking exciting and relevant courses that are preparing them to go down any number of paths after high school — to college, to other postsecondary training or right into in-demand jobs. I saw 3D printing capability being used at Kalida High School and a garden gazebo designed by vocational agricultural students at Leipsic High School. I heard original music composed by a student and played by the band at Columbus Grove High School. These are fantastic examples of project-based learning and other strategies to engage the young minds of students. While at Ottawa-Glandorf High School, I recorded a conversation with a fantastic teacher, Mrs. Holly Flueckiger. We discussed how hands-on teaching and learning has benefited her and the students in her Human Body Systems, Anatomy and Bio-Medical classes. See our conversation here:

You can see more of our visit to Putnam County at twitter.com/OHEducationSupt. You can also follow State Board of Education President Tess Elshoff at twitter.com/Tess_Elshoff.

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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3/9/2017

Reflecting on Our Practice: Collecting Evidence of Student Learning

By: Virginia Ressa

I feel like I really know and understand something new when I’m able to create an analogy that represents the new concept in different terms. There’s a fancy word for that — analogical thinking. This month, I’ve been thinking about how we collect accurate evidence of student learning through an analogy with the changing of seasons.

ThinkstockPhotos-507302242.jpgIt’s March, and spring is on its way! As far as I can tell, it seems to be arriving early. How do I know that? Well, I know the vernal equinox is around March 20, because I learned that years ago. But beyond my recollection of the date, I know what spring in Ohio looks and feels like, and I see evidence all around me. I see bulbs starting to sprout up in my garden bed and the grass beginning to green. I haven’t needed my heavy winter coat in a week or so, and my gloves have been forgotten. Have you seen the trees starting to bud? Did you notice how much later the sun is setting?

These are all small pieces of evidence that we take note of as we wait for spring to start. Some of the evidence might be formal, like the meteorologist reporting changes in high and low temperatures. If we slow down and take notice, there is a great deal of informal evidence available, like the changes I see in the plants along the path where I walk my dog. There also is some dubious evidence of spring’s arrival that comes to us via Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day and misleading evidence in the form of a March snowfall. If we really want to be sure that spring is coming, we can put into place a plan to document the changes we see over time, with the hope that we’ll see those changes come together by the equinox as we expect.
 
Watching students learn and grow is remarkably similar to watching the seasons change. We set goals of what we want them to know and be able to do and then observe their progress toward those goals. As teachers, we know that some of the most valuable evidence is gathered informally by listening to students talk through problems or noticing their use of new vocabulary. We don’t always document this growth, but we see it happening and respond accordingly. Once a new word becomes a regular part of conversation, we might introduce more challenging words as students work toward the learning goal. We also can collect formal evidence — pieces of writing, completed math problems, responses to critical questions — and document student progress using rubrics or other grading methods to record where students are in their learning. We work hard to make sure our students are on track to reach their learning goals in the time we planned, but sometimes they get there faster than we expected and other times it takes longer — just like spring arrives late some years (hopefully not this year!).

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In this video from FIP Your School Ohio, Mr. Cline shares and shows
how he uses clear learning targets in his Grade 7 Math classroom.

Evidence of student learning isn’t always straightforward and accurate. Sometimes we are confounded with unclear evidence delivered by characters like Punxsutawney Phil — which is likely a sign that it’s time to reassess. Maybe a group assignment misleads us into thinking all of our students have mastered a concept. A homework assignment may come back showing evidence of a parent’s understanding rather than the student’s. Our students may become confused during a unit of study and all of a sudden it’s snowing in March. Each of these pieces of evidence are worth considering and responding to. You might want to have the student complete an individual assignment to double check his or her understanding. Rather than rely on homework, an in-class activity may give you more accurate evidence. And if it starts to snow, you may need to go back a couple of steps and reteach the content that caused the confusion.

You don’t need a weather station to know spring is coming, and you don’t need lots of formal tests to know your students are learning. Evidence comes in many forms — from informal to formal — you just need to be a careful observer. If you’ve set clear learning targets with your students, you can look for those telltale signs of growth as you work toward the goal. And, remember, if you run into a groundhog or spring snowfall, take the time to reassess to make sure you’re all headed in the right direction.

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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5/11/2017

Superintendent's Blog: Our Thank You on This Teacher Appreciation Week

By: Paolo DeMaria

Ohio is blessed with fantastic teachers. Many of them have been in our K-12 classrooms during this National Teacher Appreciation Week, teaching our children the knowledge and skills they’ll need for success in higher education, careers, and future learning and life.

Each day, they greet their children with smiles and energy and help them discover the joy of learning. They care for their students and nurture hope and enthusiasm.

Take Dustin Weaver at Chillicothe High School, for example. This English teacher’s passion for making learning engaging and positive is one of the many reasons the State Board of Education named him 2017 Ohio Teacher of the Year. Dedicated to continually improving, Dustin invites his colleagues to critique his videotaped lessons as they work together to hone their teaching skills. Dustin exemplifies teaching excellence, and he’s not alone. As teacher of the year, he simply shines light on the outstanding work thousands of Ohio teachers are doing each day to make a difference in their students’ lives. Does anyone deserve our gratitude more than these committed men and women?

I congratulate and thank these professionals for their hard work, their dedication and for serving such a vitally important purpose. I’m grateful to them, because the hard work they do means successive generations of Ohioans can live prosperous, satisfying lives and keep our communities, state and nation strong in the future. We need our teachers. Thank you – all of you – for what you do. Happy National Teacher Appreciation Week.

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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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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10/12/2017

Forgetting About Friendship: Making the Best of Your Teacher Teams

By: Virginia Ressa

GettyImages-504875442.jpgImprovement efforts, like the Ohio Improvement Process (OIP), have advocated for a move away from teachers working autonomously toward participating in teacher-based teams. The goal of teaming is to provide a forum for teachers to share ideas, collaborate, learn from each other and, ultimately, better meet the needs of students and improve student achievement. However, just like putting four middle school students in a group does not necessarily result in collaborative learning, assigning teachers to a team does not always result in effective collaboration.

I worked on a team of five dedicated middle school teachers. We met once a week during a common planning period. What did we do with all that time? It’s hard to say. Some days we focused on one student, inviting a parent or guardian to join us. We talked a bit about students’ work. For instance, who was and wasn’t doing homework, who was falling behind, who needed a phone call home or to see the guidance counselor. We planned field trips, dances and other special events. We shared stories and laughed about the crazy things students do in middle school.

More important is what we didn’t do. We didn’t bring our lesson plans to the table for feedback. We didn’t plan collaborative, interdisciplinary lessons. We didn’t share assessment data to determine student needs. We didn’t talk about instruction or about trying to improve our instructional practices.

Since my tenure in middle school, I have learned a lot about the value of working in teams to analyze practice and collaborate on finding solutions. As teachers, we know that using evidence of student learning can help us plan instruction that meets the needs of students. However, we often shy away from, even avoid, discussing assessment data and instruction with our colleagues. I know this isn’t true of every team of teachers, but it is a barrier for many.

Why is it so hard for us to share our data and solicit feedback from colleagues? During my research on teacher-based teams, I read quite a few reports that suggested some very thoughtful factors contributing to this barrier. I think you’ll quickly recognize some of these:

  1. Lack of trust: “What if a team member tells my principal about a mistake I made?”
  2. Fear of criticism: “What if the team thinks my lesson plan is really bad?”
  3. Fear of failing: “My students might not score as well on the assessment as students in other teachers’ classes.”
  4. Desire to work autonomously: “I’d rather just work by myself — I have my own style.” 

These are all valid concerns and could undoubtedly get in the way of collaboration. Experts suggest many solutions. School leaders could conduct trust-building activities and provide more training, or teams could utilize discussion protocols to keep conversations positive. There are a plethora of team-building solutions. Go ahead and do a Google search for “building collaborative teams.” I got more than 3 million results. In other words, we are not at a loss for solutions. Though it is hard to find a solution before you’ve clearly defined the root causes of the “problem.” Why do we distrust each other? Why do we fear criticism and critique? Does it really matter whose students perform better?

Through my research, I found that one of the reasons we struggle with collaboration actually is very simple: We want to retain their relationships and friendships and fear that having critical discussions about instructional practices will be too contentious and possibly endanger those relationships. We don’t all teach the same, and when we discuss instruction, especially lessons plans we have personally created, critical dialog is likely to offend someone. I might offend the department chairperson who makes key decisions about scheduling and distributes resources. I might offend my friend who teaches next door to me. Then there is the first-year teacher who I want to encourage and not discourage. Part of working in schools is creating and maintaining relationships, but we often avoid critical discussions of pedagogy, assessment and student achievement to preserve those relationships.

The glitch is, when teams avoid conflict, they miss out on the benefits of cognitive conflict and the learning it produces. Researchers have found that in their efforts to maintain harmony and “get along,” teams avoid any real discussion of differing opinions or divergent thinking (De Lima, 2001). Unfortunately, without dissent and divergent thinking, we suppress creativity and innovation.

Let’s go back to Google. This time try Google Scholar and search for “forgetting about friendship” (use the quotation marks). As you will see, researchers have been looking at the role of friendship in professional learning communities and teacher-based teams. It turns out, I think a little ironically, that our efforts to maintain harmony and create friendships are actually getting in the way of collaboration and learning. In order for practice to change and reforms to take hold, we need to go beyond comfortable conversations and get used to difficult conversations that challenge practice. Conflict and debate are inherent to social interaction and promote change; teacher teams are no different (De Lima, 2001). 

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The Teaching Channel provides video resources for teachers including this one showing an effective teacher team in action.

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.


References

De Lima, J. A. (2001). Forgetting about friendship: Using conflict in teacher communities as a catalyst for school change. Journal of Educational Change, 2(2), 97-122. 

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Last Modified: 6/1/2016 4:16:44 PM