Will Future Ready Make a Difference?

Posted by Stephen Vaughn on February 26, 2016

Future Ready logo with question mark overlaidMany superintendents of school districts in California have signed the Future Ready Pledge. Many of those districts have begun the process of evaluating the “readiness” of their districts for the future by using the great tools that Future Ready provides. They have developed plans to implement the suggestions generated from the surveys and tools. In some cases, districts have dedicated resources, including funds and people to implement and monitor their progress. However, even with doing all of this, I contend that it won’t be enough to make a significant difference for most school districts. Here is why.

There are still too many barriers to the implementation of an effective plan to be truly Future Ready. The first barrier is the existing employee contracts. Usually, most school districts have contracts that restrict and limit the process for staff development, as well as the evaluation process and the time that employees are in contact with students. The second barrier is the time constraints imposed by the transportation of students. This limits the options that are available for integrating training. The third barrier is the culture of autonomy that exists in most districts. Because most teachers still teach in isolation, they can ignore many of the requirements needed to have a 21st Century instructional program and no one will be either aware of it or able to do anything about it. The last barrier I will mention is the current tenure system. This system makes it very difficult to dismiss teachers who do not have the ability to implement an effective Future Ready program.

I recognize that there are a few districts that are making great strides, but the truth is most districts aren’t radically better than they were five years ago in terms of implementing a Future Ready program.  And I would submit that even in the case of districts that are doing well, the reasons why are tenuous and progress could end if a few things changed, such as the leadership of the district, the leadership of the associations, or the economy.

What do you think? Share your thoughts by clicking “Leave a comment” or by using the “Leave a Reply” form—you’ll see one or the other below this post.

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Common Core Too Much for Special Ed Students?

Posted by Stephen Vaughn on July 28, 2013

Boy looking up at palm
Source: teachprimary.com

On the surface, some educators might think the higher level thinking skills needed to be successful on the Smarter Balanced Assessments are too much to ask of special education students, but I propose those higher level thinking skills are just what special education students need.

Here’s why:

 

Reason 1

The Common Core Standards will motivate special education teachers to expect more of their students than ever before. We are all familiar with the research related to high expectations and learning. Simply expecting—and believing—a student can and will learn something has great positive impact on the student’s progress. I have seen this first hand. By the same token, as an administrator of special education programs, I have seen teachers limit student progress because they thought the student could not handle harder work or curriculum.

Reason 2

The adaptive nature of the Smarter Balanced Assessments will help special education students take the test in a successful manner. Shorter testing time and correct levels of questions will help special education students do their best. Typical standardized tests frequently do not show correct levels of academic progress of special education students because the tests are too long.

Reason 3

Synthesizing, analyzing and transferring knowledge are done by most special education students every day, though they may not be doing them very well. They make judgments about people, events and things. They make decisions to act or not to act all based on these skills. The Common Core will force educators to create opportunities for special education students to acquire and practice these higher level thinking skills. Helping them use these skills in a more effective manner will help them be better people and learn more.

What do you think?

What do you think? Will educators be able to leverage the demand for higher level thinking skills required in the Common Core without demanding too much?   Click below and leave a reply with your thoughts.

 

 

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A Tablet Isn’t a Silver Bullet

Posted by Stephen Vaughn on February 22, 2013

NO silver bulletI know lots of people have mobile devices, and I know most of them wonder, “How did I ever live without this thing?”  I have my iPad and I like it, too; it’s a great tool.  Unfortunately, like other great tools, in the hands of the incompetent, it can be nothing more than an expensive toy, even a tool of destruction.

I have firsthand experience with this. Last year, my district deployed iPads to all certificated employees for use in their special and alternative education classes. We had full-day mandatory trainings. We provided access to some online training as well. For most people this level of training appears to have been enough to get them started on using their mobile technology effectively, but not everyone.

Most of the teachers are using their iPads for instruction of small groups, as assistive communication devices, or as individual reinforcement of prior learning.  However, I’m still finding teachers who either lock the iPad away—they say they’re afraid the iPads are going to get broken—or they’re just using them for games to pacify students. In these cases, it would be better if the teachers didn’t have the iPads in first place.  They’re either using them as crutches or not using them at all.

As you can guess, my point is: it’s not the quality of the technology that matters; it’s the quality of the teaching that counts.  We are continuing to work with these teachers to help and encourage them make better use of the technology at their disposal.

My motto: never buy technology at the expense of effective teacher training.  What do you think?

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Fishing for Apps

Posted by Stephen Vaughn on March 31, 2012

99 cent fishI’m guessing you may have heard the Chinese proverb:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

I contend this advice is applicable today as it relates to selecting and using apps for mobile devices such as tablet computers and smartphones.  If you do a search of “apps for teachers” or “special education apps” you get thousands of hits.  Many of those links connect to someone’s personal list of “recommended apps.”  That’s okay, but I think it is too easy, and subsequently ineffective.

A foundational element of learning is that every learner is unique.  If that is true then it is the responsibility of effective educators to get to know their learners and find just the right resources to help them.  Here is where the power of 100,000 apps comes in.  With that many choices out there, surely some exist that are just the right resources to help each learner. However, if we simply place our trust in someone else’s recommendations, someone who doesn’t know our specific students, then we’re just shooting in the dark.  What to do?

Rather than offering a Top 10 or Top 100 list, I think it is more powerful to help educators become skilled at determining the effectiveness and quality of apps for themselves.  Teachers should explore just how individual apps fit individual student needs—or not.  There are some good rubrics in the public domain that can serve as a place to start talking about quality.  Going through the process of evaluating apps together (or any other type of resource, for that matter) helps a group of educators have fidelity to the common core values of the school and helps everyone be a better educator. Having a discussion about an app always involves considering how the app could be used.  Hearing what someone else would do or does with an app will help expand everyone’s thinking.  When this happens, not only are educators learning to fish, they are fishing together.

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The Teacher Makes the Difference

Posted by Stephen Vaughn on April 11, 2011

Teacher with studentsMaybe we have given technology too much credit.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love technology as much as the next guy, but I think the overall impact of technology on learning is controlled by one factor that has nothing to do with technology.  The teacher makes the difference.

I realize I may be stating the obvious here, but I think the education world has lost sight of this.  For years, I have seen programs and technologies promoted as “teacher-proof” when the truth was the good teacher was “program-proof.”  No matter the adopted materials or technology, the good teacher teaches well.

I believe there are two characteristics that are the foundation of being a good teacher.  The first  is being smart. I read that the majority of teachers in the United States come from the bottom 20% intellectually of those who attend college. I don’t know if that is true, but I do know there are many teachers who care deeply about children, who have a true desire to teach and see students learn, who are dedicated and hard working, yet who are mediocre teachers at best because they just don’t have the mental capacity to handle the complexity of the task.  A coach I know once said about basketball players, “You can’t teach seven foot; a player either has it or doesn’t.”

Good teachers make quick, correct decisions on the fly. They break complex concepts down into learnable parts, and they synthesize ideas together to make themes. They see interactions and connections where others with less intelligence don’t see anything.  Maybe school districts should get serious about making the teaching profession more appealing to the smart people of the world so more of them will decide to be teachers.

The second characteristic that makes up the foundation of a quality teacher is character. I have heard it said that there can be “no correction without relationship.”   I would expand that today, “There can be no teaching without relationship.”

Again, I may be stating the obvious, but someone isn’t getting this. I know many teachers who frankly have limited or questionable character.  What I mean by character is a person of integrity, a person who is honest, a person who puts others’ needs first, a person who is stable, a person who respects others.  You can probably think of a great teacher right now who matches that description. You knew they cared about you and you were willing to do what they said, even when it was hard or not what you wanted to do.

I believe we have diluted our expectation of character in teachers today.  Our system tolerates wrong behavior.  Let me give you an example.  A few years back, I had an attorney tell me that he wasn’t sure a school district would prevail in a dismissal case in which the teacher was charged with buying drugs for middle school students and having engaged in sex with them.  The attorney was uncertain these would be sufficient grounds for dismissal!

I have frequently seen the “rights” of teachers override the “rights” of students.  That is a big problem, but it is not the worst part of this lack of character. The worst part is the erosion of trust, especially the students’ trust. People don’t learn from people they don’t trust.  I think Margaret Wheatley was right: relationship is the only thing that matters, especially when it comes to learning.

So our challenge is not simply to find and purchase the best technology for our schools.  We have to make sure we put it in the hands of teachers who are smart, of strong character, and who can build positive, trusting relationships with their students.

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