October 2017 Articles

10/26/2017

GUEST BLOG: Getting Off to the Right Start: Preventing Bullying in Your School — Jill Jackson, Ohio Department of Education

By: Guest Blogger

GettyImages-483374624.jpgOff to a great start is the theme the Ohio Department of Education is promoting for schools and students throughout Ohio. To prevent and address bullying behavior, we are promoting four strategies that create a positive school climate and a safe and supportive teaching and learning environment in Ohio schools. Promoting a positive school climate, along with implementing bullying prevention practices will help staff members, students and families be off to a great start this school year.

The first strategy is for every district and school to have an Anti-Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying policy that outlines how schools identify bullying behavior. An active anti-harassment, intimidation and bullying policy ensures all staff members, students and parents know how bullying behavior is defined and addressed in your school. School staff members should be trained to respond to bullying behavior when it occurs.

Second, school staff members should be trained to recognize and respond to bullying behavior. The Department requires educators to take Safety and Violence Prevention training every five years. This training gives school staff members skills to recognize, reach out and refer potential problems before they escalate. The Safety and Violence Prevention Curriculum reminds school professionals of the important role they play in the early identification of critical issues affecting students. It also attempts to raise school staff members’ awareness of the warning signs for mental, emotional and behavioral problems among students and advises educators on ways to reach out to these students and refer them to appropriate assistance. Through identifying student needs and providing appropriate interventions, educators can ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to succeed at school.

The third strategy to support your school community is to implement a schoolwide safety plan. Using the PBIS framework and schoolwide safety strategies, all school employees, social workers and mental health partners can create a culture of respect to prevent bullying behavior. Positive school climate and bullying prevention practices are the product of a school’s attention to fostering trust and safety; promoting a supportive academic, disciplinary, and physical environment; and encouraging and maintaining respectful and caring relationships throughout the school. Feeling safe and supported at school is fundamental to success for staff and students.

Finally, to address the individual needs of students, we recommend the development and implementation of a Student Action Plan. Bullying behavior undermines a student’s sense of security and distracts from a student’s ability to be successful in school. A Student Action Plan provides students involved in bullying behavior (either the target or perpetrator) with supports before, during and after the school day, as well as interventions for identified behavior needs.

October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, prepare to be off to a great start by promoting a positive school climate and bullying prevention practices this school year. This will promote healthy relationships, school safety, increased school attendance and greater academic achievement. October is a good time for administrators and staff to discuss how they can update their anti-bullying policies and practices to make them even more effective. Explore the tools available here, including a nine-minute video, the Department’s Model Anti-Bullying Policy and a guidance document that outlines everyone’s role in addressing student incidents and strategies for developing individual Student Action Plans.

Jill Jackson is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education where she leads the Department's anti-bullying efforts. She can be reached at Jill.Jackson@education.ohio.gov.

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10/20/2017

Let’s Stop with the Labels

By: Steve Gratz

GettyImages-124680662.jpgI’ve been involved with education on multiple levels for 35 years. I started teaching in 1983 as a teacher of agriculture. If you recall, in 1983, a presidential commission released the report Nation at Risk calling for significant changes to the educational system. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, we saw a steady decline in the number of students enrolling in vocational education as there was a greater emphasis placed on academics and college for all. At the time, schools considered students either in a vocational track, college prep track or general studies track. This was the first time I remember the adults showing great concern over what column we put the tally in as we “tracked” students.

As a beginning teacher, I worked hard to recruit students to enroll in our vocational agriculture program. At the time, to receive funding from the state, districts could serve only 48 to 60 students. This was to ensure that our vocational agricultural teachers had the capacity to manage their laboratories and to conduct the required number of home visitations throughout the calendar year.

When I started teaching, many of my students were “placed” into my program as guidance counselors determined that certain students were not college bound. I invested a lot of time during my first few years of teaching to increase the rigor of my program by emphasizing the embedded academics in the competencies that were part of my course of study. I did this as I had to change the perception of the program so ALL students were welcome, including those planning to attend college.

Paralleling this work was a movement across the country called AgriScience. With support from the agricultural industry, AgriScience became the rage as it demonstrated how schools could teach and reinforce academic content through technical education. My good friend, Brad Moffitt, and I were both AgriScience Teachers of the Year in the mid-1980s because of our early adoption of the initiative. I remember students earned science credit because of the embedded science standards throughout the program. Brad and I quickly tried to separate ourselves from traditional vocational agriculture programs by capitalizing on the ground swell of support for AgriScience. Looking back, I was adding yet another column in which to place the student tally. I fought hard to separate our program from traditional programs as I perceived we were different.

This wasn’t the first-time education experienced the merging of academic and technical education. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, which in turn led to our first STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) crisis. Sputnik triggered a federal response, the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), since many said that our public schools and colleges were doing an inadequate job teaching math and science.

"This Act, which is an emergency undertaking to be terminated after four years, will in that time do much to strengthen our American system of education so that it can meet the broad and increasing demands imposed upon it by considerations of basic national security…Much remains to be done to bring American education to levels consistent with the needs of our society. The federal government having done its share, the people of the country, working through their local and State governments and through private agencies, must now redouble their efforts toward this end." -Dwight D. Eisenhower

Education and educators continue to fight over which column to record the student tally. Today many of those columns are labeled with CTE, STEM, STEAM, Career Pathways, etc. and schools play the tally game with programs like High Schools That Work, FutureReady, etc. Again, I share this because I believe those of us in education spend too much time concerning ourselves with which column we place the tally. At times it seems we argue amongst ourselves which column (read initiative) is best for schools and students.

In education, we have numerous initiatives in motion at any one time. We can integrate some of these programs into current educational practices while layering others on top of current work. I think it is great that schools have options and that school leaders can choose the best options based upon the wishes of their community, but we need to coordinate.

Because of my education at Apollo Career Center, I was a trained as a certified mechanic. I built quite the inventory of tools to ensure I had the correct tool for the job. When I began a new repair, I rarely used the same set of tools as the previous one because each was unique and required a personalized approach. The same holds true for education. All educators need a toolbox that they can use to help personalize the education for ALL students. That might mean mixing up the tools and combining curriculum from various tracks. We need to limit our desire to narrowly label an initiative as appropriate for one track or another, because we need to personalize education for each student. Too much effort is spent on getting the tally in the right column. We need to redirect that effort into blurring the lines and doing what’s best for ALL students.

Dr. Steve Gratz is senior executive director of the Center for Student Support and Education Options at the Ohio Department of Education, where he oversees creative ways to help students in Ohio achieve success in school. You can learn more about Steve by clicking here.

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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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10/5/2017

ENCORE: There’s More than One Way to Scramble an Egg

By: Virginia Ressa

Editor's note: This blog was originally published on June, 14 2017, but some things are so good they deserve another look! We are re-running the post so everyone gets a chance to read this staff favorite.

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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