More Cowbell – The Education Edition

MoreCowbell

I Got A Fever

Saw this meme on Facebook a week or so ago and since then have heard “more cowbell” at least three times. The meme is meaningless if you never saw the SNL skit. Hilarious! We were at a field hockey game last week toting our Temple University cowbells when a university administrator standing beside us said, “There’s no such thing as too much cowbell!”

Of course, like most things, I thought about thus statement in the context of education. I know, I’m a nerd. But think about what the cowbell signifies. Cowbells are the joy! When you here a heavy, clapping cowbell you know there is a celebration. A hero in our midst. A fan trying to muster the last bit of energy for his or her team.

Education needs more cowbell!

I have made it one of my goals this school year to bring the joy; bring the fun everyday. When I am having fun and enjoying my work I fell like I am better at my job. People tend to connect more with people who are bringing the enthusiasm to work. It has benefited me to relax the facade of the expected principal and take ‘selfies’ with the kids, interrupt their class to get them a little wound up. The staff seems more at ease when they see the real me and know that when its serious we will be serious. Making connections and building relationships makes it easier when you have to have the unpleasant conversations.

So in education, what is the cowbell?

In my reflection, the cowbell is the times that you relax a little and not only enjoy your job but genuinely enjoy your students.The cowbell is the times that you celebrate the achievements of your staff and your kids. The cowbell is the times that you remember to ask your staff about their families or things you know that are going on in their lives. The cowbell is the sincere, straightforward ‘thank you’ to staff and students for making this place a great place to work. The cowbell is calling parents to tell them their kid didn’t something wonderful.

Cowbells cannot be disingenuous

If you have ever heard a cowbell, you know when you’ve heard it. You know what instrument makes that sound and it is clear and unmistakable. It’s important to keep that in mind no matter what your cowbell is. Everyone knows when they are not hearing a cowbell. They know when you are blowing wind up their skirt.

Does Education Have a Fever?

I don’t know if I have that answer but if it does, I know the prescription!

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Are Teacher Interviews Better Than a Coin Flip?

Interviews are a poor indicator of success. Why not abandon this expensive, old-fashioned practice and just hire the next person who walks in the door?

Read more: http://www.inc.com/margaret-heffernan/hiring-recruiting-forget-interviews-hire-anyone.html#ixzz39FFS1eyG

Wow! Can that really be true when we are talking about teachers?

After posting my previous blog post, The Status Quo, I received an email from a long time reader of the blog with some challenging follow up. He’s that kind of guy who like to keep me on my toes. In his email he questioned the effectiveness of the interview in hiring new teachers. A great point and something that I have struggled with for several years.

As I responded to him, I have had mixed success with the interview process. I have been on teams that hired candidates who did exceptionally well in the interview and the faltered in the classroom. I was on a team as an assistant principal when we made the decision to hire a candidate based on her classroom experience although she had a terrible interview. That teacher eventually resigned rather that be let go. I also was on a team that brought in a candidate to teach a lesson to a live class. She was ten minutes late, her lesson was barely adequate and the principal decided to offer her the position anyway. For the next year she took a tremendous amount of our time and eventually her  position was eliminated y the superintendent.

If you are going out to the web to look for ways to make the interview more relevant to hiring teachers, good luck. Most everything out there is based on business models which aren’t always the same. In business there is more upward mobility and a first year candidate doesn’t necessarily need the same skill set as a 25 year employee. In teaching everyone needs the same set of basic skills. In business your turnover rate is probably hire than in education. At least in my district, we hire with the intent that this is a long term relationship. Those two differences bring about some challenges in education that we don’t always see somewhere else.

Looking through the web I have managed to mine a couple of ideas that could improve the hiring of teachers. First, applicants will be at their best in the interview. They will anticipate your question and have a prepackaged response. I try to cut through that by asking some questions that will take them out of their comfort zone. I thought of that idea after reading through some supposed Google interview questions. I wouldn’t get away with those questions but I have come up with some questions that make the candidate think on their feet: Tell us something that we wouldn’t know about you from reading your resume, What book do you think everyone on the staff should read?, What are your three favorite books/movies/TV shows of all time? These types of questions allow the team to know if the candidate is a fit personality and culture wise. In my opinion, 60-70 percent of the selection process is based on whether the candidate is someone with whom the staff and I will want to work.

Secondly it is important to look at performance over promises. This is probably more difficult in hiring teachers than it is in the business world. When you are hiring someone to fill the same position over a long period of time, you may be looking at very young candidates and trying to compare them to candidates who have several years of teaching experience. How do we level the playing field? How do we determine performance data for candidates who really haven’t performed yet? I approach this in two ways. First, talk to anyone that you or the team knows that may have some experience or knowledge about the candidate. Sometimes candidates will come with glowing resumes but there is a question about why they don’t have references from important resources. At times we will have connections with other districts that can give us some off the record insight. Second, in the second interview we like to do a performance based activity. In my tenure, the teacher candidate teaching the panel scenario has never gone well. In the last few interviews we have done we have asked teachers either to prepare a presentation to the board or a group of teachers to promote an idea that they have or we have asked candidates to develop a lesson plan including certain components based on a category that we give them. For our last interviews for a fifth grade teacher we gave the following scenario prior to the interview:

 

1.       Create a plan for a fifth grade lesson on some component of figurative language. The lesson plan should be thorough and include a technology component using BYOT. A typical ELA period would be one hour. It is also important to note that only 1 in 3 students typically has their own device.

 

2.      Typical class size in the District is 20 students. Since our ELA classes are homogeneously grouped, prepare the lesson as if you are teaching the middle group. The PSSA scores in this class usually range from low Advanced to low Proficient and include both students with IEPs and 504s as well as students in the Title 1 program. Special Education students may be experiencing Learning Disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorders or Emotional Disturbance. Title I students are either experiencing difficulties in fluency or comprehension.

 

3.      Submit the lesson plan by Tuesday, July 15th via Google Drive and share withjkuhns@greenwoodsd.k12.pa.us. Please do not share a link.

 

4.      You will not be teaching the lesson but be prepared to defend the lesson plan based on Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching.

 

5.      You will be expected to lead the panel through the BYOT component. Panel will have various devices with internet access.

 

6.      The interview should last no more that 45 minutes. Questions about your lesson plan should take 15-20 minutes as should the technology walkthrough. The remainder of the time may include additional questions or discussions.

The team felt that this scenario allowed us to see whether a candidate had the skills to create an appropriately rigorous lesson, the ability to integrate technology, and knowledge of using differentiation. Those were all things that the team felt were important.

All of this being said, We won’t know maybe for a couple of years how successful we were. Sometimes I wonder if we put too much time into this process when we may be better off choosing at random or flipping a coin. I don’t know.

I’d love to hear from others about how they handle the hiring process with teachers. What kind of questions do you ask? Have you considered alternatives to the traditional interview?

Trust Me ;)

“Integrity has no need for rules.” -Albert Camus

This week the graduate program led us to the topic of trust in the workplace. In my estimation there probably couldn’t be a timelier subject for educators. Not sure that it is the same everywhere but trust is no where to be found in the Pennsylvania Department of Education. I had an unfortunate conversation last week with a teacher in our building. Noticing that the implementation of the PA Common Core Standards had been pushed back a year, he wondered if it was due to the new teacher evaluation and PDE thinking it may not be fair to evaluate teachers on an assessment that contained new content. I laughed out loud. I wish I would have held on to some of that naivete that allowed me to think that PDE had the best interest of teachers and schools at heart. I say it was unfortunate because I probably should have held back but I didn’t. I assured him that if PCC was pushed back it had nothing to do with teachers, it probably had to do with money. I had lost my trust in my “employer.” Not that I work directly for the PDE but don’t all of us answer to their mandates?

I don’t believe my distrust is misplaced. Recently the Bureau of Assessment  the long arm of the PSSA, determined that beginning this year, all teachers who administer or proctor the standardized assessment will be trained by a computer module that will be completed online. This job was previously completed by the building principal or school assessment coordinator. Apparently there is no trust in the way that was being completed. (Read: we are all cheaters or at best half-assed at our jobs). In addition we received a communique from PDE telling us exactly how we must discipline our students if they are caught with cell phones during the PSSA or the Keystone Exams. You know, because if they don’t tell us, we don’t have the capacity to use our common sense. They don’t trust the administrators who are responsible for the results.

One more, just for good measure. Currently in New York and California administrators must undergo “calibration” training sessions in order to assure that there is interrater reliability when using the Framework for Teachers. Oh, how I wish I was kidding. It’s coming to Pennsylvania too if it is not already here. You should read the article in the link. I don’t think I can explain it any better.

I know what you’re thinking: “What’s so bad about making sure that everyone is seeing the same thing?” Well, the problem is that we do this everyday. We have a vision for our school and believe it or not we work hard to make sure that we have the best schools that we can have. We definitely don’t need a non educator telling us how it should be. Bill Gates is an extremely intelligent guy but he never spent a day with 30 teacher and 500 kids. He is the hero of calibration. And we feel like the trust is gone. 

I could go on. Tom Corbett’s assault on PSERS not to mention education funding in general. Michelle Rhee’s, another non educator, report card for public schools. Jeb Bush’s Cheifs for Change, Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top and his RESPECT Project. Corbett is the only teacher in the group and the knew pretty early that he couldn’t do the job. There’s not even any indication on the PDE website indicating that Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis ever taught. But why does that matter, Arne Duncan never taught.

Trust? Trust who? It does make sense to rebuild education from the outside. I would want a lawyer telling my doctor how to improve my health and the doctor would be a great help in expanding the mechanical capacity of my mechanic. I think the dentist should critique the local cop during a ride along or may he can go with the fire company. 

Like my grandfather used to say, “You can trust a dog to watch your house but you can’t trust him to watch your sandwich.”