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57 Articles Categorized in "Professional Development"

Tom | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Professional Development | February 23, 2014

NEA President is Concerned about Common Core Implementation


070309 Petco 2By Tom

As you may have heard, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel had some sharp words to say about the rollout of the CCSS. He called the implementation “completely botched.” His assessment is apparently based on feedback he’s received from NEA members over the past year. There’s no way to interpret this as anything other than a major blow to proponents of the Common Core. The NEA – our nation’s biggest teacher organization – has been one of the strongest supporters of nation-wide standards and has consistently pledged to use classroom teachers as “ambassadors” to spread support for CCSS.

I certainly can’t speak for all NEA members, but I can speak for myself. When I first started teaching, thirty years ago, standards were effectively hidden; curriculum companies seemed to know what students should know and be able to do at each grade level and they used that information to write and publish textbooks. Teachers were simply consumers; we used what they wrote and didn’t ask too many questions.

There was an attempt in the early 90s to create a common national set of standards, but it was defeated by conservatives who argued for local control over education. Each state subsequently began to write and implement its own educational standards.

Then came 2001. With NCLB, our lawmakers decided that every school had to get every kid “up to standard” within twelve years, something not even Finland could ever achieve. Making it even more ridiculous was the fact that by that time every state had its own standards and assessments. Actually, some states didn’t even have standardized assessments.  

As the sanctions required by NCLB began to loom large, Obama became president. He decided to use the threat of those sanctions as leverage for his own reform agenda, which included the Common Core. Not surprisingly, 45 states and DC signed on, partly because they liked the standards, but partly because they wanted a waiver from NCLB sanctions.

As a teacher, I embrace the standards from an instructional perspective. The standards themselves make sense; they’re narrower and deeper and for the most part seem developmentally appropriate, at least from my perspective. But what really appeals to me is the fact that they’re (mostly) national standards. Not only will curriculum publishers have more consistent targets, but it opens the door for collaborating at a scale never imagined before.  

But with the standards came the assessments. When I first started scrolling through the fourth grade SBAC language arts assessment, I remember thinking, “Wow, this will be challenging for my students. But I’m sure there will be support and with that support I’ll be able to get my kids to achieve something remarkable.” And in my state and my district, that support has started to materialize. We’re focusing on CCSS-related instruction in district professional development time, and I hooked up with an awesome training in an instructional model called Literacy Design Collaborative.

But there’s a problem. The implementation of Common Core and its attendant assessments are unfortunately occurring while teacher evaluation is undergoing a major shift. Teachers are, for the first time, being assessed in part on the basis of student growth; student growth which is – or soon will be – measured by brand-new assessments based on a brand-new set of standards.

Teachers are, quite predictably, freaking out over all this. It’s one thing to change the standards and the tests used to measure those standards. It’s another thing altogether to use those tests for teacher evaluations before teachers have a chance to fully delve into those standards and understand what the assessments are actually demanding from our students.

That’s exactly why Dennis Van Roekel is calling for a “course correction.” It’s a simple request to slow things down to a manageable pace. Let us get to know the standards. Let us understand the tests. And then, down the road, maybe we can use those tests as part of teacher evaluation. Or maybe not. But to press on both fronts right now is counter-productive. The only way to ever successfully implement the Common Core is to get teacher buy-in.

And the only way to insure that the Common Core is not successfully implemented is to alienate those same teachers. And that seems to be what’s happening. 

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Professional Development, Social Issues | December 19, 2013

Common Core: Irony, Commerce and the Clock


File52a4a9f585e15By Mark

For English Language Arts 9-10, Common Core standard #8 for Informational Text is this:

Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.

I thought of this when I read a rant recently about how Common Core required education about safe sex rather than abstinence. This was the same week I read two different assertions: one claiming that Common Core specifically outlawed the teaching of cursive, the other claiming that cursive was now required. A few weeks ago I was lectured by a parent about how Common Core was forcing kids to just memorize a list of facts and spit them back on a test. My school year this year started with a colleague upset at the required reading list identified by the Common Core State Standards for high school English.

A seven-second Google search enabled me to "evaluate the argument and specific claims... assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient" and "identify false statements." 

1. Common Core does not address issues of sex education...

2. Common Core does not address handwriting or cursive in the standards...

Rob | Education, Education Policy, Mentoring, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | November 27, 2013

Beginning Educator Support


By Rob

The top priority of the Quality Education Council Report is to “Make Progress Toward Ample Funding for Basic Education.”  The QEC recognizes many “non—basic education programs to be essential for providing critical services for students” – including funds for professional development.  A little further down the list of priorities is support for the recruitment, development, placement, and retention of educators who are culturally competent and possess skills and competencies in language acquisition.

That’s what I do.  I am part of a team of six Instructional Mentors who oversee the novice teacher induction program.  But funding for our position does not come from the state.  


CSTP--Staff | Education, National Board Certification, Professional Development |

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants - Gratitude from an NBCT


The following is a guest post by NBCT Shelly Milne who serves as the teacher librarian at Cashmere Middle School. Shelly is the current president of the Washington Language Arts Council, and this summer she was part of a team that created and presented a 4-Day Common Core Jump Start for Washington Educators. 


In August my grandson, Dylan was preparing to start kindergarten. His family had just purchased a new house. Since they were busy with renovations, I was lucky enough to get to take him to buy school supplies. Dylan and I strolled enthusiastically down the school supply aisles at Target filling our cart with paper, glue sticks, pens, and the promise of a year filled with new discoveries. As we filled the cart, it occurred to me that after twenty-six years of teaching, I was just as excited as Dylan to start the school year. Instead of getting bogged down with many challenges facing today’s educators, I looked forward to the promise of a year filled with new discoveries just like Dylan starting his first year of kindergarten.

However, before I achieved my National Board Certification eight years ago, I was feeling isolated and powerless in my profession. A feeling I wrote about at a writing retreat funded by the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession.  At the writing retreat and other professional development activities I attended after I certified, I finally felt like my voice mattered. I also realized that there were others who had gone before me on this NB journey who were ready, able, and dedicated to helping me develop my leadership skills. When I made the shift from feeling powerless to feeling empowered and supported, everything in my world changed.

Last spring as I organized my professional growth experiences for my Renewal Portfolio, I reflected on the many leadership opportunities that marked my growth as an educator since becoming National Board Certified in 2004.  As I put my renewal portfolio together I asked myself an important question, “What made each of these experiences so beneficial to my professional growth?” One answer bubbled to the surface. These professional growth opportunities had provided me with the chance to learn, grow, plan, collaborate, stretch, work, and create with talented, dedicated, forward-thinking professionals. More than anything else, I concluded, as I reflected on my eight years as an NBCT, I was grateful for the people I had worked with and the opportunities presented to me.

It’s for that reason that I’ve already started encouraging my daughter, a first year teacher in Washington, to start planning when she will begin her National Board Portfolio.  Teachers need support and inspiration to grow and the National Board network provides members with both. Sir Isaac Newton knew that when he stated, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” I want my daughter and other young educators in Washington to have the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of innovators in education just like I was able to do. The National Board provides a support network that encourages growth, leadership, innovation, and reflection.

In this season of gratitude, I would like to thank all of the giants who have made this journey so meaningful to me. Thank you to all of you who have sent me an email about an opportunity available for NBCTs! Thank you to all of you who sat beside me in in-service classes and shared your ideas, hopes, and dreams! Thank you for organizing events, making travel arrangements, presenting, and planning. I would like to express my gratitude for educators who have inspired, led, and pushed me to reach higher, dream bigger, and see further. As I enter the next ten years as an NBCT, I am mindful of the giants who paved the way for me and aware of my responsibility to provide inspiration, insight, and hope for the next generation of NBCTs in Washington State. 

Maren Johnson | Mentoring, National Board Certification, Professional Development | November 17, 2013

The National Board Wait


by Maren Johnson

The Wait. It can be stressful. One National Board candidate-in-waiting said a few days ago: "Just rip the band-aid off!" A renewal candidate emailed his thoughts in the week before renewal decision release--here's his exact quote: "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagggghhhh!"

It's a bit like Christmas Eve, but you don't know what kind of present you will be getting in the morning. All across the country right now, National Board candidates are waiting for score release, the day they find out if they certified, or did not certify yet.

National Board Certification has a cycle. First candidates make the decision to pursue the rigorous certification--it's extraordinary professional development, but also a lot of work! The next phase of the cycle? Completing a portfolio based on a set of national teaching standards. Finally being able to hit "submit" on the ePortfolio is a big moment. Taking the assessment center exercises can be intense, and often happens near the end of the school year. The shared experiences throughout this cycle contribute to National Board teachers having something of a group identity--when meeting for the first time, they know they have a background in common!

We are now in the waiting portion of the cycle. The wait is a unique time. A few years ago, in the last few weeks of waiting to find out if I certified, someone pointed out to me that adults don't always get as many opportunities for anticipation as kids do--and waiting to find out the results of National Board Certification is one, so try to enjoy the period of anticipation! It wasn't bad advice.

Then, of course, the ever-cheerful candidate support providers weigh in with a chirpy, "It's a three year process!" And it is a three year process. And while it may sound trite, simply submitting a complete National Board portfolio is in and of itself a huge accomplishment--it's almost impossible not to develop as a reflective practitioner just by pursuing certification. Candidates who do not certify the first time face disappointment, but often those who decide to continue a second or third time report even greater professional growth. Score release is a time to congratulate those who certify. It's also a time to support those who do not certify in providing more evidence next time if they wish to continue.

So there is a cycle, and with National Board 3.0, that cycle is going to be changing. What will that look like exactly? Well, we should be finding out more this upcoming year. For the moment, however? Let's put our thoughts towards the candidates, the individuals who have worked so hard this past year. Good luck to all those current candidates-in-waiting!


Maren Johnson | Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Science | November 3, 2013

Zombie Brains, Talk Moves, and the Next Generation Science Standards!


Brain in hand
By Maren Johnson

The zombies' odd, shambling gait, and their need to hold their arms straight out in front in order to maintain balance?  That's indicative of damage to the cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for motor coordination.  The zombies' hunger, and thus their unrelenting urge to chase and eat humans?  Clearly a problem with the hypothalamus, the appetite control center of the brain—the zombies just don't know when they are full! And all that zombie rage? Oh yeah, that's originating in the amygdala, apparently overactive in the case of zombies.

I started the lesson by giving students a chance to surface their prior knowledge: students wrote answers to the questions, "How do zombies look different from humans?" and "How do zombies behave differently from humans?" We then discussed their answers as a group. I was a bit floored by the response. Students who rarely participated were eager to share, and these students knew A LOT about zombies. All that zombie knowledge gathered over the years from movies, TV shows, books, and video games? Now the students had a chance to share it in an academic setting. They also wanted to know more about the biology involved!

Many of the students were wildly excited about this science lesson.  My choice of words here is deliberate--in one of my class periods, it was a bit, well....wild. Students talking all at once, to me and to each other—they were on topic but almost no one could hear anyone. How to contain the chaos yet still direct that positive energy towards learning?

Maren Johnson | Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Science | October 12, 2013

Little Red Marbles and the Next Generation Science Standards

Photo Oct 11, 2013, 11:09 AM

by Maren Johnson

"Atoms are little red marbles too small to see," responded one of my students when I asked what he knew about atoms. I teach biology, so while atoms are important, we don't talk about them every day, and it was near the beginning of the school year. I asked a few clarifying questions to figure out what he actually meant.

No, he didn't think atoms were LIKE little red marbles, he actually thought they WERE little red marbles, that is to say, little round hard things colored red. Where did he get this idea? Well, to be honest, probably right here at school! We frequently use models at my school to teach about atoms. There's a few demonstration models up to the left created by the crafty physical science teacher at my school. Down to the right you can see a model of a neon atom constructed by one of my chemistry students.

While use of those models results in a lot of understanding, it can also can result in some misconceptions, especially when taken too literally!

Maren Johnson | Education, Education Policy, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | October 1, 2013

CSTP celebrates the big 1 - 0 ! Now where are those talking points?



by Maren Johnson

We’ve got something unique here in Washington state in terms of education organizations that work with teachers.  Yeah, we have some great districts, state education agencies, unions.  In addition to all that, here in Washington, we’ve got an independent nonprofit with a focus on teaching—and that organization, the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession, is celebrating its ten year anniversary this month!

So what does CSTP do?  Just a few of the activities:

Community Dialogue and Advocacy.  What’s different about CSTP advocacy training?  No talking points provided!   Whether online or in person, CSTP advocacy training gives teachers the opportunity to develop their own messages for their own audiences, whether that audience is local, state, or national.  At an advocacy training before a recent legislative session, one teacher, a tad frustrated, asked, “Where are the talking points?”  The facilitator’s response: “The talking points will be better if you, the teachers, develop them!”

The communication is not just limited to speaking—writers’ retreats (and this blog!) have given educators the opportunity to develop writing skills.

Teacher Leadership. Very frequently, in K-12 school cultures, the term “leadership” is used interchangeably with the term “administration.”  The Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession has worked to expand that definition with the development of the Teacher Leadership Skills Framework.
The NBCT Leadership Conference, one of CSTP’s signature events, has been a launchpad for many newly certified NBCTs to not only hone leadership skills, but also to develop their own personal network of statewide teacher leaders. 

CSTP doesn’t just strengthen the teaching profession, CSTP strengthens individual teachers.  One teacher recently said, “There’s a whole lot going on besides what is going on in my own little classroom, and CSTP helps me learn about it.”

Research.  CSTP commissions research to help all sorts of agencies and organizations better understand teaching and learning, as well as support for teaching and learning, in Washington state classrooms.

And hey, the audience for all this is definitely not limited to teachers!  CSTP pulls together instructional leaders of all sorts in work such as helping train and support the Instructional Framework Feedback Specialists for our new state teacher principal evaluation system.  In another example of working with administrators and teachers across the career continuum, CSTP developed a module designed to help principals better assist new teachers in their buildings. 

Advocacy, leadership, and research?  It’s been an amazing ten years.  So where is CSTP going in the next ten?
Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | September 20, 2013

Growth, Part Three: Growing Others


File5234868add499By Mark

One drum I beat constantly is that if we want education reform to work, teachers must be the ones empowered to not only implement the change, but to be the ones who design it.

I often hear about "layers of bureaucracy and waste" in school districts. The comments under the news website articles about education tout the inefficiency and top-heaviness of school systems. That is perhaps the case in some places. Over the last few decades, instructional coaching has been in fashion as a layer somewhere in limbo between classroom teacher and building administrator. In tight budgets, these positions are often the first to go, since their impact on students is not always so obvious and traceable.

To some, coaching or being a TOSA (like I am for .4 of my day) is a stepping stone out of the classroom into administration. That's fine, but I believe that for most of us in that role, it isn't a means to some personal ladder-climbing end. For me, having no aspirations to be in administrative leadership, coaching or TOSA-ing is about supporting classroom instruction.

Logic and research both prove that of all the factors within the control of a school, the one with the greatest impact on student learning is teacher pedagogical skill. If this is the case, the potential power of teacher-leaders in coaching or TOSA roles cannot be understated. With so many demands on building administrators for everything from student discipline to recess duty to teacher evaluation, it is very easy for the difficult and time-consuming work of improving instruction to get unintentional short shrift. In too many cases, efforts to improve instruction manifest as hastily assembled sit-and-get powerpoint assaults or the spending of inordinate amounts of money to fly in some expert to talk at teachers for a day or two about decontextualized theory and the next new curriculum to buy. Missing are the intense and reflective one-on-one probing conversations that demand not only time but strong relationships that likewise require time to develop.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Books, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development | September 17, 2013

Growth, Part Two: Open to Learning


By Mark

About a year ago I was sitting in a training, titled "Common Assessments, blah, blah, blah" (I can't remember the title).

But it was in that session that I remember, for probably the first time if not in my career then in a long time, actually learning something I thought I could use. Hence, this facebook status update:

Esd training

I had just finished my tenth year of teaching, and was about to embark on my eleventh and begin referring to myself as "mid-career."

In reflection, it obviously wasn't that I had never been exposed to quality professional development. (Well, maybe...) The change, though, happened in my head. Suddenly, I was at a point in my career where I was mentally ready to learn. Seeing a new strategy was no longer a threat meaning that "the way I teach is wrong." Rather than feel obligated to accept and apply everything the trainer offered, I realized that even walking away with the tiniest applicable nugget was a success.

It was really at that moment that I finally began to grow as a teacher. It started by simply becoming open to learning that challenged me, rather than only being open to learning that already fit into my current view of myself and my practice.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Professional Development | September 14, 2013

Growth, Part One


File523486ab2d024By Mark

If you say the word too many times, it starts to sound funny (like if you say "moist" or "pancake" too many times and they start to sound strange...maybe that's just me). It seems like every sentence in my professional life includes that word "growth" in one context or another. Student growth scores, Professional Growth Planning, proficiency growth scales...

I like it. It does something more than grades or labels once did: talking grades and labels felt so static and permanent, talking growth is talking movement. Where I used to talk to kids about "bringing a grade up" (in other words, struggling to move something beyond themselves) now I find myself talking to students about developing their skills and growing toward proficiency. There is a real difference. 

I attribute this directly to my professional and personal learning about the new teacher evaluation system. 

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | August 21, 2013

Test Scores and Teacher Evaluation: Now What?


File521431c138930There are few things worse than being fired up and not knowing what to do next.

That is where I find myself with the recent discussion about student growth, teacher evaluation, and the federal government. (Chances are you've already read a little about this from me, Tom, Maren and Kristin.)

But here's where I get stuck. It is easy for me to sit here at my desktop and engage in discourse with my peers about how misguided is the federal position on using one-shot test scores to evaluate teachers. In discussion here, on facebook, on other blogs, and even in old-fashioned face-to-face conversation, I've discovered that there are a lot of very intelligent people talking about this issue. (CSTP even noted that the traffic on this blog has spiked by a couple thousand pageviews in the last few days alone.)

For other issues, I've known to whom to go: my local leadership, state legislators, and so on. With this one, though, I truly don't know what to do next. Conversation needs to continue, for sure. At some point it needs to translate to action, or else this is all just a bunch of cached webpages.

Brainstorm with me, if you will: What can you and I do next? Who do we talk to? Is there hope? And what do we do once we've ignored the people who answer "no" to that last question?

If nothing else, let's keep the conversation going--and invite others to join in.

Maren Johnson | Life in the Classroom, Professional Development | June 9, 2013

The Post-Game Show: Three Things I learned this School Year

Photo Jun 9, 2013, 7:50 AM

by Maren Johnson

We're teachers. That means whether we end the school year battered and bruised, or triumphant and victorious, we generally don't have reporters following us around on the last day of school asking us about the highlights in student learning for the year. Replays of key moments in our classroom game are not usually publicly rebroadcast for analysis by a panel of color commentators.

Our post-game show is a little different. If we want to reflect on the school year, we're going to have to do it on our own. I checked out my schedule for the period immediately following the end of the school year: there's some professional development, a conference, and quite a few bargaining sessions. Other teachers have similar activities.

What's missing from this end of school line-up? Reflection. It really is. There is no time specifically pencilled in at any of my own particular meetings (as far as I know!) for looking back on the school year. That's interesting. I think the reflection is implicit--many of the meetings include check-ins, debriefs, annual reports, and the like--but explicit individual (or group) reflection is not generally an agenda item.

So how will I tell the story of my school year? Well--I don't want to forget about it--each year is remarkable. I've told several of those stories here on this blog, but a few of my stories from school this year are just going to have to remain at school ;)

Some things I learned this year, in no particular order:

Maren Johnson | Education, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Science | May 13, 2013

Student (and teacher) Engagement: Increase the drama!

Photo May 11, 2013, 4:04 PM
by Maren Johnson

The audience will not tune in to watch information. You wouldn’t, I wouldn’t. No one would or will. The audience will only tune in — and stay tuned in — to watch drama.

~David Mamet, playwright and screenwriter

I don't usually get my teaching tips from television screenwriters, but I thought the above quote was worth some thought. If drama has a wide definition--let's say drama is a story resulting from human interactions--then adding drama to our teaching is definitely a way increase student engagement--the "tuning in" that David Mamet talks about above.

Our students often aren't here for the information, they're here for the drama. The students frequently find that drama in the actions of their peers. One of our jobs as teachers? Try to create that drama in our subject matter and class activities. Is drama necessary for learning? No, but it sure can help. Some ways to create that drama? Building teacher-student relationships, and including stories about content matter and school.

Last week at my school, a teacher sent out a link to an inspiring (and dramatic) Rita Pierson video on teacher-student relationships. Some teachers discussed it at lunch, a few other teachers commented by email. Teachers engaging other teachers, all right.  Another example: also last week at my school, a teacher announced "Staff Spirit Day" with the theme of "Hey, I went to college!" We were to wear our college sweatshirts and tell students positive stories about our college experiences.

No college sweatshirt being handy, I donned my high school FFA jacket--yeah, that's right, vocational agriculture all the way. I was part of an amazing high school FFA team--we competed in nursery landscape contests across the state and even made our way to nationals in Kansas City.

The FFA jacket I wore last Friday prominently featured the name of my high school, a neighboring school district to the one in which I now teach. As I was sharing stories of high school and college, one of my current students reminded me, "Ms. Johnson, my grandpa was your high school biology teacher!" Sure enough, which meant that my teacher-student-teacher relationship with this family now spanned two school districts and several generations! Good, we've got some human drama.

This high school biology teacher, as I described to my class, was a colorful character, a former Marine who was able to do push-ups with one arm while suspending himself between two student desks. He brewed coffee in his science prep room and gave us worms to dissect. He retired with the graduating class: the students proclaimed him the "Senior senior."

Maren Johnson | Education, Professional Development | April 29, 2013

Inappropriate Jokes and Student Teacher Evaluation


I had an outstanding student teacher this year. It was a positive experience for both of us: some lucky school in our area will be very fortunate to have her as their new science teacher. Hard working, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable, she makes the future of the teaching profession look bright!

We don't often get student teachers in our school because of our relatively rural location somewhat distant from college or university teacher education programs. When we do get student teachers, they frequently are completing online certification programs. For prospective teachers in rural areas, or for those who move during their education or need to continue working to support themselves, online learning is often the only option. My student teacher completed an accredited online program with a strong presence in our state.

My student teacher excelled in the classroom. Her clinical supervisor, a retired teacher from our area, provided helpful and supportive feedback, and was definitely an asset to the student teacher's development. The online program's student teacher evaluation system, however? More than a little funky.

Maren Johnson | National Board Certification, Professional Development | February 24, 2013

National Board cohort goes on a Road Trip


by Maren Johnson

We set out in a big red van with a fiery primary school teacher at the wheel. Watch out! This teacher sometimes uses her van to haul her miniature horse, but today, she hauled us, the local National Board cohort. Our destination? WEA Home Stretch, an opportunity for National Board candidates to give and receive feedback on an entry and prepare for the assessment center exercises. The intrepid candidates from our local cohort have only a short time left before their final deadline.

We picked up a math teacher hanging out alongside the highway and we were on our way. Oops, we're missing the band teacher, but not to worry, we finally found him on the ferry. We drove over hill and dale, canal and bridge, and then set sail on the 6:25 am boat across the Puget Sound.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Professional Development | January 12, 2013

Reading, Thinking, the Media and the Truth


I teach 9th grade English so one of my Common Core State Standards reads like this: 

Informational Texts: Delineate and evaluate argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.

I usually focus most on this standard when examining logical fallacies portrayed in advertising as part of my propaganda unit during the teaching of Animal Farm. The kids quickly see the illogical and unsupported claims about toothpastes, beauty products, diet pills and any number of other too-good-to-be-true product pitches. When the validity of the reasoning only takes a moment of critical thought to deconstruct, they get good at it. When claims are presented that "seem" valid on first blush, though, the kids have a hard time decoding the nuance of falsehood behind the presumptive truth.

The route information takes nowadays is more like the game of telephone than ever before, with information being stripped, twisted and de-contextualized until it emerges at the end of the line as a statement whose meaning is a completely different message than the original referent. Thus, our challenge is not to help students spot the obviously fallacious reasoning, but to have their radar on for the subtle (and I believe, often intentionally manipulative) misinformation, misguidance, incompleteness, or writerly interpretation that portrays itself as truth and fact.

This was already in my mind when I read this seemingly innocuous passage in an article about teachers:

Maren Johnson | National Board Certification, Professional Development, Science, Weblogs | January 6, 2013

Writing about Teaching


Way back, when I signed up to be a teacher, and a science teacher at that, I never imagined the amount of writing I was going to be doing. Yes, I expected to write some curriculum, student assessments, and the like, but I never really contemplated writing about teaching.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, National Board Certification, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | December 9, 2012

The Time to Do the Right Work


Ship in a bottleAs a writing teacher, one of my greatest struggles involves getting kids to understand the writing process. Writing can be frustrating, arduous work. Understandably, then, when a kid puts the last period on the last sentence in the last paragraph, the impulse then is to put down the pen or click "print" and pass that piece on to the teacher.

As adults, we know that the last period is not the finish line, and that often the toughest work begins when the writing is "finished." The act of meaningful revision--the analysis of effectiveness, the cutting and splicing of sentences, the refining of vivid vocabulary--that formidable work often makes the first stages of writing seem simple. We know, though, that the difference between mediocre and exceptional comes with the time invested in revising, polishing, and refining. It is hard work. It is the right work to do, and it takes time. If that work is skimped upon or shirked, the end product will not have achieved its full potential.

When I had the opportunity to present to the Gates Foundation last week, the other presenters and I never met ahead of time to coordinate our message--yet the same point resonated loud and clear: the new evaluation system is the right work to do to improve teaching, schools, and student learning. 

And the corollary to that point: doing this work will take time.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, National Board Certification, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | December 8, 2012

The Right Work


As some of you might have seen on Facebook, this past Thursday, December 6th, I had the privilege and opportunity to offer a short presentation and serve on a discussion panel for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Education Pathways meeting.

IMG_1558In the audience were names attached to some of most important and influential groups in public education in the state of Washington--and beyond, since also present were Ron Thorpe, President and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and Washington's own Andy Coons, who serves as the Chief Operating Officer of NBTPS. Walking into a room with leadership from OSPI, the Gates Foundation, the Association of Washington School Principals, CSTP, and numerous other organizations, I was quick to feel intimidated. After all, my main thought during my drive to Seattle was about whether my ninth graders were behaving for the sub--nothing quite so heady as the future of statewide policy.

My comfort zone is much more intimate with much clearer roles: When I walk into my own classroom, I am the expert, I am the authority. It's not that I wield power like a tyrant over my domain, but to those fourteen- and fifteen-year olds, I am the voice they are to listen to, heed, seek for advice, and learn from. I am the teacher: what I have to say matters.

In my eleven years of teaching, as I've ventured little by little into the world of education policy, there are many times when I find myself in a room filled with nicely pressed suits (and me wearing my one pair of decent slacks) feeling just the opposite way as I do in front of my classroom. I think to myself: I am just a teacher. Will what I say matter?

Travis Wittwer | Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | December 6, 2012

Rigorous Teachers


By Travis Wittwer

I typically do not post on other posts. However, a post from Education Week caught my attention and shares a great deal of what I hope for Washington when I think of its future as an education state. 

The AFT (American Federation of Teachers) has an ambitious plan and I can get behind much of it.

I found myself nodding my head to was the call for rigorous, and consistent standards in teacher training programs. It is good for students and Washington because everyone gets a stronger teacher. It is also good for the teaching profession because it raises the quality of teachers which will raise the respect the profession gets.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development | November 11, 2012

What I need to change


SharpenerWe are in transition.

As a "Marzano" district piloting forward toward implementation of the new teacher evaluation system, I am coming face to face with the kinds of expectations that are going to rattle my paradigm. The instructional frameworks OSPI allowed us to choose from do not represent dramatically different approaches to teaching or schools of thought about how teaching and learning should take place. What the frameworks do establish, though, are specific "research-based" teaching strategies that emerge as valued and therefore expected, since they are named in the evaluation scales against which I will be measured. In Marzano, a few stand out to me: learning targets, performance scales (rubrics), and students tracking their own growth against those scales.

I agree that these are solid instructional strategies: they just haven't always been a consistent and practiced part of my repertoire. 

Now they are going to be--or else.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Books, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | October 20, 2012

The Mindsets


FWhen I was an undergraduate, I loved having the opportunity to choose whichever courses interested me. Outside of my major, I took everything from calculus to photography to sociology. I also took advantage of another benefit offered: the option to take courses "pass/fail." I engaged this option whenever there was the chance that I would earn less than an "A."

At the time, I justified it from a financial standpoint. I had tuition and housing scholarships which required a certain GPA: a "C" would harm my GPA, but a "P" had no effect on it and I'd still earn the credit. However, in hindsight, I see that this behavior was a sign of something I'm only now starting to understand: my transcript was my identity.

Recently at an after-school meeting, one of our building associate principals shared an article summarizing the work done by Carol Dweck of the Stanford University School of Psychology. The gist: while it is not absolute, there are generally two "mindsets" into which people can be classified--the "fixed" mindset and the "growth" mindset. 

A person whose disposition is in the "growth" mindset will relish challenge, recover from failure having learned and applied critical lessons, and "end up" in a different and usually better place from where they "start out."

In college, I was clearly of the "fixed" mindset.

Mark Gardner | Current Affairs, Education, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development | October 9, 2012

The Job


File5074c0e3670deI was sitting in a conference in another state last week when the conversation got heated.

We had just listened to a very well executed presentation about how to improve assessments so that they minimize the "chance for student error other than not knowing." We'd heard about PLCs and how to make them work. We'd heard about the power of shared assessment rubrics and the value of examining student work. We'd all drunk the kool-aid and sat smiling, basking in the glow of new learning with all its potential for impacting student growth. 

Then reality began to crash in. My colleagues from another district (in that other state) began to recognize the vast gulf--the chasm--between the promise of this ideal about which they'd learned and grown excited, and the real resource and personnel limitations they knew they'd face upon arrival back home.

How are we supposed to do this? They pleaded. We're already so busy doing everything else we have to and we don't even have time to do all that--and now there's more?

The answer was obvious:

Janette MacKay | Assessment, Education, Elementary, Professional Development, Social Issues | October 3, 2012

Teacher Fever



I woke up in the middle of the night, and knew something was wrong. I was cold, hot, shaking, queasy, everything ached. I stumbled into the bathroom to find a thermometer and wait…


yup. A fever. Now it’s definitive. I’m sick.

Like somehow I didn’t know that until after the little number popped up on the thermometer.

Well, it’s probably just a little virus, or something I ate. Uncomfortable, unpleasant, but not serious I consoled myself as I curled up on the floor by the toilet where I would be spending the next few hours.

A temperature tells us our immune system is working. It’s fighting off the weakness in the body and in a day or two, we will be well again. Most fevers don’t send us running off to the doctor. Unless they persist…

A fever tells us something is wrong. But by itself, it doesn’t tell us what is wrong or how serious it might be. It takes a while to figure out if you need to call in sick, or check into the hospital.  Just get some rest, or run expensive tests using big humming medical equipment. These are the thoughts running through my head at 2am on the floor of the bathroom.

What does any of this have to do with teaching? Well, since I’m home sick today, I’m sitting here looking at my school’s MSP scores from this past year. We, like many schools, seem to have a bit of a fever. Our scores aren’t where we’d like them to be. They certainly aren’t terrible, but they’ve declined two years in a row. I guess you would call that a fever in reverse.  Anyway, it appears that we’re a bit under the weather. However, the numbers that I’m looking at don’t tell the whole story. It’s a small school. A few kids having a bad day are enough to change our scores from one year to the next. Listen to the staff conversations about this, and we all have an idea what caused the trouble. But what we don’t have is expensive medical equipment that can give us a definitive diagnosis. All we have is the number on the thermometer.

Do we need more professional development to help improve our instruction?

Or new curriculum?

Or a new intervention program?

Or new technology?

Or stronger anti-poverty initiatives?

Or maybe a better thermometer?

Maybe the one we have is broken.

After all, in the past few years we’ve changed our test from the WASL to the MSP, and then changed the administration of that test from paper and pencil to computer based. It’s hard to compare year to year using an inconsistent tool. Looking at National Assessment (NAEP) scores from the past ten years, our 4th grade state scores have remained relatively unchanged.  It doesn’t seem to matter what we do: which curriculum we adopt, which diagnostic test we administer, which RtI model we embrace. The scores have not wavered in the past decade.

According to the Flynn Effect, we are getting more intelligent over time. If that’s true, then seriously, why aren’t our test scores rising?

I’m not saying we can’t or shouldn’t do anything to try and raise student achievement. On the contrary, I think we need to do even more…way more…to figure out how to level the playing field, provide meaningful, appropriate instruction, and assess it in ways that aren’t skewed by politics. If after a decade this fever has persisted, it seems like it’s time to do more than just keep taking our temperature over and over.

Maren Johnson | National Board Certification, Professional Development | September 18, 2012

Hope and Fear: New National Board Candidates


by Maren Johnson

Hope and Fear: New National Board Candidates

One of the projects I am most excited about this year is facilitating a group of National Board candidates. We have never actually had a National Board cohort in my district before (we are a bit small and rural), but this year we have a healthy sized group--Whoo-hoo!  Even a teacher from a neighboring district is joining us.

We started our first meeting with a "Hope and Fear" protocol for setting group norms that I got from one of the expert National Board trainers in our state.  Participants individually wrote their hopes and fears for the National Board process, shared them, then together came up with norms that would help facilitate the hopes and prevent the fears.

Rob | Education, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | August 23, 2012

Sparrow vs. Goose


By Rob

One of my favorite summer activities was playing fetch in the park with my dog.  After the pooch was worn out we’d sit in the grass and I’d marvel at the swallows that arrive by late morning.  These birds would swoop, dive, bank and turn.  It was dizzying to see how quickly they’d change directions and commit to a new path.

Mark Gardner | Current Affairs, Education, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development | August 11, 2012

Building Trust


3d_moviesThese last few days I've been immersed in a professional experience that has shifted my direction as a teacher: how to use video as a means for facilitating my own and my colleagues' professional growth.

To use video observation successfully, one key is to look objectively at a video of classroom practice and identify critical teacher actions and student actions that are observable--and to note or record these observable actions without evaluation or judgment. Instead of watching teachers and thinking "I like how they did that" or "that is not a good assignment," my attention shifted to noticing the actions without judgment: "The teacher waited while the student revised his own incorrect verbal answer" or "The student recorded her thoughts on a continuum to self-assess."

Judgment is not forbidden, it just isn't first. By identifying the "observables"--the objective concrete details of teaching and learning--I can build a better foundation for evaluating what I can use to improve my own practice and what specific actions can do this. This all got me thinking.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | July 30, 2012

Realigning to Common Core


File7011343695826By Mark

This summer, I've been participating in a book study about challenges in implementing Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts. In that spirit, I sat down today to look at my scope and sequence for the classes I teach (Freshman English Lit and Comp). All along I've been saying to myself and others that this whole Common Core Standards shifting is no big deal: we're already doing that work, it's just a matter of identifying in those standards all the things we already do--we won't really have to do much that is "new."

As it turns out, this whole process really made me rethink what I teach and how I teach. I found that there were many standards which were addressed, reinforced, and assessed in basically every single unit of the sequence. I also found a few standards which never appeared more than once, buried as a footnote in some broader unit. More concerning: some of the projects and assessments that I and my students enjoy the most were supported by only tenuous connections (at best) to the standards. 

This coming school year, I anticipate that many of my posts will reflect my process with the Common Core. Interestingly, when I try to characterize my feelings, the first word that pops into my head (however irrational this may be) is the word mourning. Some of those projects that kids seem to connect with so well lack strong connection to Common Core, even if they are the tasks that former students still recall to me ten years later. No matter how much I, or they, love the experience, these are the things I really need to examine and honestly assess whether they belong in my classroom under my new expectations.

As I try to help other teachers make this transition to the new standards, I need to remember that word that popped into my head. As I encounter resistance, I need to remember that isn't just about being "opposed to change." I need to remember that the first reaction when you are told to do something new might not actually be a reaction to that which is new, but rather a quick and confusing pang of loss for something deeply enjoyed that no longer seems to fit. 

Rob | Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Social Issues | January 25, 2012

The Bill That Shifts The RIFs


Each spring the uncertainties of student enrollment, teacher transfers or retirement, and funding make budgetary predictions difficult.

To remain financially sound some districts send out pink slips to the newest teachers. In no way is this ideal. These teachers face uncertainty about their employment future. Some of the district’s best teachers, who happen to be new hires, may not have their contracts renewed.

New legislation, yet to be introduced, may change how districts respond to RIFs. Instead of RIFs base on level of experience they may be based on a teacher’s evaluation relative to other teachers.

This bill, I assume, is in response to schools being unable to retain effective teachers when they are forced to lay off staff.

In 2009-2010, 3% of Washington’s teachers were given RIF notices. 87% of those teachers were recalled. Evidence does not suggest that the best and brightest young teachers are losing out to ineffective veterans.

Still, this idea is compelling. Shouldn’t the best teachers be the last ones to be laid off? Yes. If only it were that simple.

Distinguishing between the best and the worst teacher in a school may not be that difficult. But it is much more difficult to distinguish between the second and the third worst (one may keep their job while the other may not).

New evaluation systems are expected to have different criteria for novice and experienced teachers. Is a good novice teacher more effective than an average experienced teacher? Who wins in this RIF race a teacher with five years of solid student growth and one recent year of poor growth or the second year teacher with two years of average growth?

What are the recall rights for a RIFed teacher?

When the art program is cut can somebody determine the relative effectiveness between a high school and elementary art teacher?

The idea, keeping the best, is elegant. Implementing this idea? Not so much. Since relatively few new teachers actually lose positions this law is unlikely to result in an improved teaching force.

I'd like to see lawmakers put their efforts elsewhere. If lawmakers want to address the problems related to RIFs they should fulfill their paramount duty and fully fund education. And they should allow local school districts the time and space to implement the new evaluation criteria. Many stakeholders came together to put this evaluation model in place. Rolling out this system will be challenging. Rolling out this system while simultaneously addressing the complexities of a new model for RIFs seems unwise. But I'm no lawmaker...

Rob | Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Mentoring, National Board Certification, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | December 29, 2011

A New Role


By Rob

Some time ago I was struggling to set up procedures during my literacy instruction.  I was attempting to meet with a guided reading group while the reminder of my class was engaged independently in a meaningful activity.  For some students the “independent” activity was a too challenging and they needed support.  For other students it was too easy and they were finishing early.  Other students had difficulty remaining on task and caused disruptions.  These are the challenges of a novice teacher.

All things considered I was doing pretty well but I knew it could be done better.  But I wasn’t sure how.  I was building the boat as I was crossing the ocean.

I spoke with some other teachers and we shared the same struggles.  After I confided in my principal I found this “struggle” reflected in my evaluation.  Prior to that evaluators found little to criticize.  I regretted opening up my practice.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Games, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Social Issues, Teacher Leadership | December 6, 2011

The Four Point Scale.... again.


Elephant-clockBy Mark

I sat at a table with two other teachers, two building administrators, and the top two admin from the district office. We'd spent the better part of an hour sorting through the assessment rubrics and frameworks associated with the new teacher evaluation system mandated through legislative action in Senate Bill 6696

Silence settled on us all at once. The weight of what we were examining suddenly became overwhelming. 

Like so many things in education, the ideas and philosophies behind this new evaluation system (in brief: a shift from the binary satisfactory/unsatisfactory on a menu of teacher behaviors to a four-point continuum of evaluation using as many as sixty individual descriptors of teacher practice) we could all agree were sound, necessary, and powerful both in terms of evaluation and potential professional development.

But as we began to picture how it all could transition from philosophy to action, the beast began to be revealed.

Travis Wittwer | Current Affairs, Education Policy, National Board Certification, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | November 23, 2011

What NBCTs Mean for Washington


As our way to recognize and celebrate the National Board score release this weekend, our NBCT/Bloggers shared a bit about what being a National Board Certified Teacher has meant for them, and for our state. The process of becoming National Board Certified involves hundreds of planning hours and demonstrating best practices in teaching. Those who recently certified had an additional stress of a delay in score results due to a computer server glitch.

With the glitch solved, and over a thousand new NBCTs to join them in Washington state, we offer our congratulations and invite you to read on and be inspired by what our bloggers have said about how being National Board Certified is making a difference for teachers in our state.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | November 11, 2011

The Four Point Scale


CRW_3531By Mark

Senate Bill 6696 has put into motion changes in the way teachers are evaluated.

First... the relevant language of the bill (from the link above):

Evaluations. Each school district must establish performance criteria and an evaluation process for all staff and establish a four-level rating system for evaluating classroom teachers and principals with revised evaluation criteria. Minimum criteria is specified. The new rating system must describe performance on a continuum that indicates the extent the criteria have been met or exceeded. When student growth data (showing a change in student achievement between two points in time) is available for principals and available and relevant to the teacher and subject matter it must be based on multiple measures if referenced in the evaluation.

Classroom Teachers. The revised evaluation criteria must include: centering instruction on high expectations for student achievement; demonstrating effective teaching practices; recognizing individual student learning needs, and developing strategies to address those needs; providing clear and intentional focus on subject matter content and curriculum; fostering and managing a safe, positive learning environment; using multiple student data elements to modify instruction and improve student learning; communicating and collaborating with parents and the school community; and exhibiting collaborative and collegial practices focused on improving instructional practice and student learning. The locally bargained short-form may also be used for certificated support staff or for teachers who have received one of the top two ratings for four years. The short-form evaluations must be specifically linked to one or more of the evaluation criteria.

Here in southwest Washington, ESD 112 is leading a group of districts who are beginning the process of adapting and implementing the evaluation procedures described in this bill. Of course, the first step is a careful reading of relevant parts of SB 6696. 

There are two elements of the language above that I like in particular. To begin, there's this:

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Professional Development, Social Issues | August 18, 2011

New Standards


Checklist By Mark

At the end of July, Randy Dorn announced that the state of Washington has adopted and will begin transitioning to application of the Common Core standards for English Language Arts. I head back to my classroom next week to start unpacking and really getting down to work preparing for the school year, but I'm having a problem seeing how this shift in standards should affect my planning and implementation.

And, based on the emails that have filled my spam folder for my school email address, there are an awful lot of businesses looking to cash in on this standards changeover... so many emails in fact, that the persistent cynic in me wonders whether this change to CCSSO Common Core standards isn't more about supporting textbook and software manufacturers than it is about promoting learning. When I see on the changeover explanation that the "system will include...

  • optional formative, or benchmark, exams; and
  • a variety of tools, processes and practices that teachers may use in planning and implementing informal, ongoing assessment. This will assist teachers in understanding what students are and are not learning on a daily basis so they can adjust instruction accordingly.

...I hear the cha-ching of cash registers and start thinking about all those emails trying to sell me matierals "perfectly aligned with Common Core Standards to guarantee student success on major assessments."

It probably isn't all about lining the pockets of curriculum mills, but when I look at the standards and the timeline that OSPI posted (more on that below), I do wonder really what is going to change... and I don't mean that in a futile, cynical way. I mean it like this: don't these standards just communicate what we should have been doing anyway under the old standards?

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | December 1, 2010



By Mark

This video was emailed to me by a colleague...if you have a few minutes and are willing to maintain a sense of humor, it's worth a look:


Now, I wouldn't post this if I was just trying to be subversive or funny. In any satire or parody, there is always a kernel of truth (heck, sometimes a whole cob of truth). 

I truly enjoy authentic collaboration. In fact, I believe that my freedom to collaborate is actually what has kept me in education this long--if I were isolated in my own classroom all day with my only human contact being with 14-year-olds (who some contend are not quite yet human beings) I don't think I'd have lasted.

Because I get to collaborate and actually team-teach in my current assignment, I have grown as an educator and my satisfaction in my job has grown as well. There is something powerful about working closely with a like-minded educator or team of educators who share common philosophies, attitudes and dedication to increasing student learning. We challenge each other, support each other, and learn from each other. I am a better teacher because I have collaborated. My students perform better because I have collaborated.

Alas, like so many fads in education, Collaboration has become a four-letter-word to some, and I think it is in no small way due to the kinds of situations parodied in that YouTube video above.

Mark Gardner | Education, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | November 17, 2010

Why I Teach


FqCgbp By Mark

November is a notoriously tough time for educators. The honeymoon of the first quarter has faded. Holidays, late starts and homecoming interrupt our best laid plans and the hacks and sneezes of the masses make the classroom sound more like an infirmary.

By now, the first few rounds of big projects and essays have left their treadmarks on my backside, and I've survived the first few rounds of angry parent phone calls and meetings as six- and nine-week grade reports have gone home.

In those gray clouds and cold winds there has to be a silver lining. If there weren't why else would we be in this job? 

A while back on the InterACT blog, Kelly Kovacic offered ninety seconds that summed up her reason for teaching, and it got me thinking about the reasons I teach as well.

I know that the right answer for why I teach does include something about making a difference in the lives of children or having the joy of watching the lightbulbs come on when they finally get it. It's also about the kind words and notes like the profound message Kelly writes about. For me, though, there's yet another dimension to why I teach. I work in a profession where every single day, I get to not only practice my favorite hobby but also help engage others in it as well.

Simply put, I get to think.

I've always loved thinking. I cannot imagine a world without it (though reality television might be a fair representation of such a world), and it boggles my mind that there are people who can ever just sit in silence and not think. I am always doing it. In the car, walking down the hallway, during staff meetings. The wheels are always turning, and my mind is always wrestling with something--sometimes profound, sometimes profoundly mundane. 

To me, teaching is thinking. As I present that lesson, I'm watching their faces--are they getting it? How can I tell? As I circulate during work time, I'm eavesdropping on the group a few desks away--what are they saying when they suspect I'm not listening? What are they learning? How are they thinking?

Sure, I am proud when my students make progress because of something I did or shared. Sure, it is nice to hear through the grapevine nice things that older students tell their younger sibs about how much they learned from me. But those ego strokes aren't enough to keep me coming back. Every day my mind is exercised, stretched, and challenged. I guess that's also called learning, since that exercising, stretching and challenging is exactly what I strive to get my students' minds to do as well.

No, I don't teach because I'm trying to save the world. That's just a happy by-product. I teach because I can imagine no more challenging mental avocation (for my tastes, at least). I teach because every minute of every day it makes me think.

In the pit of November, we all ought to take a moment to remind ourselves why we teach. And it's okay if, like mine, your reasons are as much about you as they are about your students.

Tom | Education Policy, Professional Development | July 22, 2010

Whose Profession Are We Developing?


I heard a sad story the other evening. It was during the annual NSDC conference here in Seattle, and a bunch of us were gathered for dinner downtown after the first day. A colleague began to describe the teaching career of her young niece, who had dreamed of being an educator since she was eight years old. Her first year had gone well; she had been paired with an excellent mentor who had been very supportive and helpful. A mentor who then moved on to work with the next first-year teacher. Now, after five years in the classroom, my friend's niece wanted out. She was lonely, wasn't getting any feedback and was concerned that she just wasn't any good at teaching. She was looking for a new career.

Me being me, I didn't think too much about it. In fact, I had a hard time relating to the young lady's problem. I had no mentor during my first year, and it seemed like I learned everything on my own, without a whole lot of support from anyone. My principals have generally left me alone, which is pretty much the way I like it.

But I'm an idiot.

And it took world-renowned cultural anthropologist Jennifer James to make me realize that this story was more important than the interrupted career of one frustrated teacher. James was the keynote speaker at breakfast the following morning, and part of her lecture was on the differences between my generation (I'm 48) and that of our younger teachers. 

My generation attended grade school in straight, quiet rows of desks. When our young teachers were in grade school, they sat around in cooperative groups at tables of four. We did our high school homework all alone in our rooms. They did their high school homework in study groups. We did our college homework all alone in our rooms. They went through college, including education classes, in cohorts; learning together and supporting each other.

My generation taught their generation how to work together. We encouraged them to collaborate, helped them form study groups and cohorts, taught them how to give constructive feedback and how to support each other.

Then we hired them to teach in our classrooms, gave them a mentor for a year, and left them all alone with a group of kids. For good. Well, not completely; every now and then we take them out and send them to two-hour workshops so that they'll learn something new.

Mark Gardner | Education Policy, National Board Certification, Professional Development | January 26, 2010

It's not (just) about the bonus


338qMr  By Mark

Let me begin by clarifying the title of this post: I am beyond appreciative that Washington is one of the states in the union which recognizes the achievement of National Board Certification by awarding an annual bonus to NBCTs. I am eternally grateful for that bonus...and I feel, no I know, that I earned it. I know I am an infinitely better teacher than I was because the process helped me reflect, analyze the effectiveness of my instructional decisions, and examine with a more critical eye whether my students are learning what they need to learn.

But let me trace the ripples caused by the Washington legislature's decision to reward my efforts (and the efforts of hundreds of other NBCTs). While some may see that as just a change in my paycheck, it is much, much more than that.

The first ripple? Earning the bonus meant I could quit my job. My night job, that is. Oh, and my weekend job, too.

Luann | Professional Development | November 15, 2009

Accountability and Reason, In Action (but not any longer.)


IMG_1444 by Luann

A few years back, some colleagues and I  previewed a new way to look at student work with my colleagues.  I learned more, brought the practice into my classroom, and saw significant, steady growth in my students approach to learning and study habits.  We all learned more, I was given the opportunity to offer this as professional development in my district. Those of us who worked together to implement this practice in our classrooms and departments saw student gains in achievement and engagement. Those of us who made honest use of this practice did, anyway.......but not any more.  Why not?

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Social Issues, Teacher Leadership | October 30, 2009

What makes schools work


Gear mechanism on antique steam powered grain combine, Woodburn, Oregon, photo by Mark By Mark

It's a question I and my teammates get often: "Why don't they do this for all freshmen?"

About seven years ago, some administrators with a clear vision saw a need in our building: far too many tenth graders weren't actually tenth graders. By credits, they were still ninth graders.  Far too many kids were not on track for on-time graduation...or even graduation at all. These administrators had an idea of what they thought would help solve this problem. So, they attended conferences and did some initial research.

Then, those administrators with a clear vision did something that I fear is unfortunately rare, but has made all the difference. 

They identified the problem.

And then they trusted teachers to figure out how to best solve it.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Education, Education Policy, Mentoring, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | September 9, 2009

Growth by Association: One good teacher makes a difference


Pd_small_pencil_sharpener By Mark

Nearly every training and inservice repeats the same mantra: we must increase student learning. So we get shipped off to learn about a new strategy or a new tool or a new curriculum. We meet about goal setting and analyzing student data and impact on student learning. We are constantly doing extra in an effort to better the service we provide our students.

All that extra work, and it turns out there is something out there which has delivered a measurable impact on student learning, and it doesn't involve a special training or new curriculum.

Kim | Current Affairs, Professional Development | May 17, 2009

Is Seniority Best Practice?


This past week, our district was not exempt from the RIF’s that have been making the news in education.  We are losing four young, bright first-year teachers who have brought enthusiasm and innovation to their jobs.

In the background are some more “veteran” teachers who have refused to change with the times. In spite of the changes in society and technology, they teach the same way they have taught for years, holding on to their jobs out of habit rather than passion. They move through the curriculum by rote, paying little attention to whether or not the students are responding. Their evaluations haven’t been top notch, but their jobs are safe.

Then there are a few teachers who simply don’t get it. They want to be “friends” with the kids, or they care more about the content than the kids. The discipline referrals coming out of their classrooms are numerous and would be unnecessary with better management. Their evaluations haven’t been top notch either, but their jobs are safe.

I know that this is a very, very difficult question – especially in these hard economic times. (Maybe the question should be, "Is the State making the best budget decisions right now?" - but that's a different discussion.) However, with all of the pressure being put on teachers to meet professional standards through reflection and best practices, shouldn’t the teachers who are doing that have some advantage?

Kim | Education, Mentoring, Professional Development | April 2, 2009



A recent article printed in the Christian Science Monitor covered the issue of teacher training ( The key controversy is that ”Some policymakers say the focus needs to be on improving traditional education schools, which produce 4 out of 5 teachers in the United States. Others are strong advocates of so-called alternative models designed to streamline entry into teaching for exceptionally talented students or mid-career professionals.”

As I sit through yet another sound bite for differentiating instruction based on the needs of my students, and as I am being asked to contemplate taking part in an alternative academy for low-performing ninth graders next year, I marvel again that we, as educators, don’t practice what we preach. Why should we expect every prospective teacher to flourish under the exact same training? We certainly don’t expect that from the kids in our classrooms.

CSTP--Staff | Professional Development | March 29, 2009

Professional Development and Baseball


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By Tom

My family and I are down in Arizona this week, trying to dry out from a ridiculously wet winter. Coincidentally, our beloved Mariners are in the exact same place! So we went to a Spring Training baseball game today for the first time, and frankly, it was a little weird.

Now we've been to a lot of Mariners games. But this one was different, and at first I couldn't quite get a handle on it. It wasn't so much the weather, which was perfect; like Seattle in July. It certainly wasn't the fact that the Mariners were getting creamed; God knows we've seen that often enough. No, it was something about the way the players went about their business. They were working, but differently. Their attitude wasn't what I'm used to seeing when I watch pro baseball, yet there was something oddly familiar about it.

Travis Wittwer | Professional Development | March 19, 2009

NBPTS and Washington Teachers, a great match



Clickity-Click, tap….tap….tap, Click, CLICK, tappity-click. That is the sound of Washington teachers finalizing their portfolios for National Board Certification.

The process of National Board Certification involves 4 lengthy portfolio pieces, a combination of analytical and reflective writing; video submissions; documented accomplishments; and instructional materials. Additionally, there are 6 assessments on content knowledge at a testing center.

Travis Wittwer | Assessment, Books, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Mathematics, Mentoring, National Board Certification, Parent Involvment, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership, Web/Tech, Weblogs | February 7, 2009

Stories from School now on Twitter!

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Do you want to receive your Stories from School posts through Twitter? Now you can . . . . 

Travis Wittwer | Education, Education Policy, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | January 19, 2009

Collaboration, not Isolation


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Some days I feel like Sisyphus, carrying the same basket of laundry upstairs just to have it end up downstairs to be washed, or picking up toys just to have them appear on the floor as if a godly punishment for hubris. Again and again, day in and day out. Some days are better than others. However, this week, it was especially Sisyphistic.

Yep, that’s right. I just used that adjective. Check it out on Google in a month and see if it has caught on with the teenagers, “Hey Jennifer, you are looking totally Sisyphistic with your physics textbook.”

Anyway, I do have a point. And an education point at that. It goes like this . . . 

CSTP--Staff | Current Affairs, Education, Professional Development, Social Issues, Teacher Leadership, Web/Tech | January 5, 2009

Increase of Online Courses in School


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I have to admit, I have a bias here. I feel comfortable around technology and use it for education and social learning. I teach two online courses and use technology in my classroom for podcasts, vidcasts, and instruction; my students use technology as well for more than word-processing. So when I saw that Michigan was leading the way in online courses, I had to read the article, oh, and by the way, the article is online. 

CSTP--Staff | Education, Life in the Classroom, National Board Certification, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | December 31, 2008

The Return to Teaching


I am again looking forward to the classroom. I feel like it was long ago when I was there. I miss the interactions between students, watching young people make meaning of the world around them. I miss the opportunities to improve compassion and skill and purpose. I miss working with teachers who, by default, are amazing people with amazing talents to impact the learning of children.