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Chapter 2: Aligning the System

Lisa Carter Solution Tree Press ePub

Most educators first learned about the birth of our nation’s system of public schools in their Foundations in American Education 101 class in college. Among other things, we learned that Horace Mann was credited with founding the first public schools in America. These schools were created on the fundamental belief that everyone was entitled to a free and appropriate education. The idea of educating everyone was an awesome task.

When the first public schools were created in this country, roughly half of the population made a living through agriculture (Economic Research Service, 2000). Children were often expected to work alongside adults on the family farm. Therefore, the school system would have to be designed to cause as little interference as possible with the farming schedule. The schedule that seemed to cause the least disruption to this way of life had students beginning the school year in the fall, after the final harvest. School would remain in session until early spring, when the children would again be needed on the farm for the planting season. Thus, the school calendar included 8 or 9 months of schooling with 3 or 4 months off during the summer.

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Big Idea Four: Redesign and Align Time for Learning

Lisa Carter Solution Tree Press ePub

Several years ago, I enrolled in a technology course because I was interested in learning how to use Microsoft Office PowerPoint presentation software. A colleague and friend of mine decided to participate in the course with me. At the time we enrolled, my friend had far more background knowledge about the computer than I, and he told me that he had already experimented a little with PowerPoint. Not surprisingly, he quickly became skillful using the software. Although I learned as well, it took me more time, more practice, and a very patient instructor. Eventually, however, I also mastered the basic PowerPoint software and learned to use the program effectively. Thank goodness the instructor recognized that my colleague and I had different learning needs for both time and instruction.

If I had tried to keep up with the pace of my friend, I would probably not have been very successful. Had the instructor moved the course along at my friend’s pace, not allowing me the time I needed to master the more basic skills, I would not have been able to keep up. Chances are that I would have fallen behind, eventually becoming frustrated and just giving up, thinking it was too difficult for me to learn. On the other hand, I suspect that my friend would have become frustrated and bored if he had to wait for me to catch up while the instructor worked only on the more basic computer skills that I needed. It would not have been fair to my friend to make him sit and waste his valuable time waiting for me to learn.

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Chapter 5: Aligning Assessment

Lisa Carter Solution Tree Press ePub

How do teachers determine that students have learned those things we expect them to learn? Assessment plays a critical role in the Total Instructional Alignment process because it helps us determine what essential learning students have mastered and where they need to go next in the learning process. All too often, assessment results are reviewed briefly and then condemned to a filing cabinet. This data, however, can provide valuable information about student progress and the effectiveness of instruction. It is time that student assessment data comes out of file drawers and into the light of day where it can help students learn.

It is important to understand that there are actually two ways to view assessment. One view is that the primary purpose of assessment is to assist in what is known as the “sort and select” mission of the school. Those who embrace this function place a heavy emphasis on using test scores to grade, rank, label, and track students, sorting them into homogeneous groupings based on test scores. The other view is that the primary purpose of assessment is to help us gain important information about student learning so that we can adjust instruction to meet individual student needs. The Effective Schools research by Lawrence Lezotte and his colleagues shows that highly successful schools view assessment as a tool that allows them to gain valuable information about where students are in the process of learning—not as a tool to sort and select students. This information is used to adjust the instructional program to meet the needs of individual students. In fact, Lezotte identifies “Frequent Monitoring of Student Progress” as one of the seven correlates of effective schools. By definition, “In the effective school student academic progress is measured frequently through a variety of assessment procedures. The results . . . are used to improve individual student performance and also to improve the instructional program” (Lezotte & McKee, 2002, p. 207).

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Conclusion: Leadership and the Five Big Ideas

Lisa Carter Solution Tree Press ePub

I once heard someone say that if you think you are leading, but turn to discover there is no one behind you, you are probably just out taking a walk. It does little good for those in leadership positions to forge on if they do not have the support of those they are leading. Successful implementation of the Five Big Ideas presented in this book will involve changing the way a school does business. From our own experience, most of us have come to realize that true and lasting change in education is never easy. It requires hard work, effort, and commitment on behalf of leadership. The Effective Schools research defines instructional leadership as a key component for the strength of any school (Lezotte & McKee, 2002). Strong leadership must directly relate to the primary mission of schools—learning for all. Leadership for learning requires leaders who can establish clear and positive direction and transform their schools into organizations where all students are able to succeed.

Without effective leadership, it is very unlikely that any school can experience the kind of lasting change proposed by the Five Big Ideas. Leading the school transformation process will require courageous leaders open to new ideas and willing to seek creative solutions, who persevere even when times get tough. Most important, it will require leaders who can visualize and effectively articulate the big picture of the school transformation process to all stakeholders. Without a compelling vision communicated clearly from the very onset of school transformation, it may be difficult to convince others to come on board and support the process. In the past, many educators have experienced change as passing initiatives that start out with good intentions but eventually devolve into fruitless efforts that yield minimal results.

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Big Idea Two: Create a Totally Effective Learning Environment

Lisa Carter Solution Tree Press ePub

Several years ago, I learned a lesson about the importance of a supportive environment the hard way. I had a small water garden in my front yard, which was home to several beautiful koi fish, water lilies, dragonflies, and an occasional frog or two. This little environment had established itself over the years and evidently was extremely conducive to small pond life. It was a joy to watch the pond thrive, see the beauty of the lilies, and watch the dragonflies return day after day to their established home. One day, after a long dry spell, I noticed that the water level in the pond was low. I added some house tap water to fill the pond to the correct level. I was unaware this new water contained chemicals that were not supportive for pond life. The fish soon died, the flowers followed shortly thereafter, and the dragonflies went away. When the environmental conditions in my backyard pond were no longer supportive, they actually became destructive, and the result was disastrous.

People are also very sensitive to their environment as they work to implement programs and processes. In a supportive environment, individuals thrive, grow, and produce good things. In an environment that is not supportive, they may often have difficulty performing even simple, everyday tasks. Instead of helping to support our well-being and success, poor environmental conditions impede our effectiveness. With positive conditions, it is easy for people to focus on the successful implementation of even the most complex processes.

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