Teacher Appreciation Week, part 3 of 4

Hard-Work

Teacher Appreciation week is Monday, May 1 – Friday, May 5, and National Teacher Appreciation Day is officially Tuesday, May 2, 2017.

Wow–what a crazy week it’s been! Thursday night we sent all the kids home for a long weekend, but I remained at school until about 8:45. Then yesterday, on our day “off,” I was right back in the office at 6:00am and finally took off for the night around 7:45pm. Here’s the thing: I wasn’t the only one working yesterday. Almost the entire staff gave up part of their day off to sacrifice their own time for students. Teachers were…

  • Giving practice AP exams so that students would have the best possible chance of earning some college credit in that class.
  • Prepping for AP practice exams (so they could come back in on Monday’s day off to work with students).
  • Supervising “Saturday” detention.
  • Working on the schedule for next year to ensure that students get as many of the classes that they’ve asked for and ensuring that teachers have time to work collaboratively as a team–an enormous factor related to teachers’ wellbeing.
  • Prepping for the art extravaganza next week.
  • Prepping for Senior projects next week.
  • Straightening up the classroom that got away from them last week because they devoted all of their free-time to students.
  • Creating lesson plans for next week.
  • Coaching.
  • Chaperoning prom and after-prom.

These are the things I was able to confirm for sure. Who knows how many other things were happening throughout the building that I didn’t even know about.

Great teachers are the hardest working people I’ve ever known! But it’s not the hard work that creates stress, burns them out, and leads to high attrition rates in education. It’s actually…

(Stay tuned–final part of the series next Thursday. Here is an informative read to peruse between now and then: Teacher Shortage Crisis Getting Worse.)

Cheers!

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Teacher Appreciation Week, part 2 of 4

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Teacher Appreciation week is Monday, May 1 – Friday, May 5, and National Teacher Appreciation Day is officially Tuesday, May 2, 2017.

Last week I began a bit of a discussion around teacher turnover, staff wellbeing, and upcoming Teacher Appreciation Week. I noted my passion for finding ways to positively impact the system by promoting the wellbeing of teachers.

Although the idea of teacher wellbeing has been on my mind now for about six years, it wasn’t until this past September that I found myself inspired to pursue this as part of my dissertation. A professor of mine flipped a switch inside of me when he started class last semester noting for us all some of the the recent statistics and trends in schools. The statistics that most captured my attention:  50% of teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years, and more than 50% of teachers have less than 2 years of experience. Yikes!

So I started to do a little digging–anecdotally at first, and then with some more empirical research. The result was a fairly lengthy paper, but here are few highlights:

“…Riggs (2013) notes that “overall job dissatisfaction” is one of the primary reasons that teachers choose to leave the profession. The American Federation of Teachers conducted a Quality of Worklife Survey in which teachers revealed that their enthusiasm for teaching had dropped from 89% at the start of their career to only 15% in their present placement (American Federation of Teachers, 2015, p. 3). The research of Markow and Pieters (2012) further amplifies these points, demonstrating that “Teacher satisfaction has declined to its lowest point in 25 years and has dropped five percentage points in the past year alone, from 44% to 39% very satisfied. This marks a continuation of a substantial decline noted in the 2011 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher; teacher satisfaction has now dropped 23 percentage points since 2008 (p.45).”

…One of the most obvious and oft-cited symptoms that creates job dissatisfaction and leads to turnover is stress. Spilt (2011) notes that teaching is one of the most stressful professions (p. 458). Riggs (2013) echoes this assertion noting that teachers who leave the teaching profession often cite individual stress as their reason for their decision to move on.

…Other than job dissatisfaction and stress, “High rates of teacher turnover are of concern not only because they may be an outcome indicating underlying problems in how well schools function, but also because they can be disruptive, in and of themselves, for the quality of school community and performance” (Ingersoll, 2001, p. 505). Thus, while teacher turnover is a serious concern that does disrupt the quality of school performance, turnover is not the problem. It is a symptom of more serious issues that exist beneath the surface.

…Richard Ingersoll, a former high school teacher who chose to leave the profession, says, “One of the big reasons I quit was sort of intangible. But it’s very real: It’s just a lack of respect” (Riggs, 2013, p. NA). Interviews with other teachers who chose to leave the profession revealed that they also cited intangible reasons such as “work-life balance” for their decision to abandon teaching (Riggs, 2013).

As you can see, stress and “wellbeing” play an obvious role in this teacher attrition crisis that we’ve experienced in our nation. Sadly things have only gotten worse in the years since some of this research was first published. So what is to be done then???

Well, I suggest that there are a number of root causes driving this issue of teacher turnover (and the related problems of lower student achievement, higher drop out rates, increased mental health problems, etc…). Some of these root causes are within our circle of influence, while others are beyond our immediate control. But I do believe that schools, districts, and communities have the power to make a positive impact on these problems by addressing the wellbeing of teachers. …and some recent studies are beginning to support this idea. More on that next week.

Cheers!

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Teacher Appreciation Week, part 1 of 4

teacher appreciation

Note: Teacher Appreciation week is Monday, May 1 – Friday, May 5, and National Teacher Appreciation Day is officially Tuesday, May 2, 2017.

There have been so many things on my mind lately, and I have so much that I want to say to you all. There are topics I could discuss that will be of benefit to me…other topics that could benefit our students…and a few things that could even benefit our parent community. So, what I would like to discuss over the course of April is going to benefit all of us–because it will benefit our TEACHERS. That’s right: I want to talk about our teachers. By extension, I believe that this will benefit our students, our parents, myself, and our entire school community.

So let me begin this series by declaring that this is a topic of great importance to me. Throughout my career, schools and districts have claimed that they want to do what is best for students …best for students …best for students. We invest billions of dollars as a country seeking to do what is best for students. We develop curriculum, design initiatives, conduct research, invest in mental health programs, write policy, pass laws, and increase taxes (except in Douglas County of course).

Yet for all of our efforts to do what is best for students, we forget about the very people who spend the most time with them each day and who have an enormous influence in their lives: OUR TEACHERS.

Great teachers are the hardest working people I’ve ever known. They are up at 5:00am getting ready for the day. They are on their feet all day engaging students as best as possible, never taking a break–even to use the restroom. They stay late working with students and spend money out of their own pocket to buy things for kids. They arrive home late and stumble in the door in the evening. They grab a bite to eat before they sit down to return emails, grade papers, read a periodical about teaching/education, then start planning the most rigorous lesson they can think of for the next day. If they’re lucky, they get about 7 hours of sleep before doing it all over again (but let’s be honest: it’s usually about 3-5 hours of sleep during the week).

Okay, okay: I know what you are thinking. You are thinking of the worst teachers you’ve ever had. And I will admit that I have “learned” from and worked with some teachers who try to get by doing the bare minimum. There was even a time early in my career when I thought it was okay to sit at my desk while students worked, left school by 3:30, didn’t take anything home with me, and often didn’t grade papers for a week or two.

But most teachers don’t try to just “get by.” So I will say it again: great teachers are the hardest working people I’ve ever known.

But what do we do for them? We pay them poorly. We invest very little (certainly not billions) in their professional development. We don’t write policy or pass laws for teachers. We don’t care about their mental health or whether or not they are burned out. Instead, we suck them dry and then wonder why they leave the profession for something else.

In fact, the consequences have truly been disastrous. Next week, I am going to share with you a portion of a paper that I wrote last semester. It dives into the problem of teacher turnover in our schools and leads into the concept of teacher wellbeing. In fact, that is the topic I have chosen to pursue for my doctoral dissertation: wellbeing. I want to examine how schools and districts might prevent teacher turnover by protecting and promoting the wellbeing of teachers. (And in the past year, I have started receiving very strong support to pursue this topic–both from my doctoral colleagues and from professors at the University of Colorado Denver).

I believe that by investing in the overall wellbeing of our teachers, we will vastly increase the success and achievement of our students (both now and in the future). I am going to speak a little about that in the coming weeks. Next week: more on the increasing and alarming problem of teacher turnover in American schools (actually–all around the world), and what we can do about it.

Cheers!

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Advice from Jimmy the Bartender

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Periodically, I read Men’s Health at night before I go to sleep. There is an interesting page I look forward to reading in each issue titled “Jimmy the Bartender” that is devoted to reader’s questions. Although I don’t always agree with Jimmy’s advice, for the most part he seems like a fairly wise old fella’ who understands human nature.

This past weekend, I came across the following advice from Jimmy:

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I share this with you to remind you of the following:

  1. Our kids are still kids and need our guidance, direction, and protection. Our experience with life and the mistakes that we’ve made (and hopefully learned from) can be great nuggets to help guide them in their journey. Be sure to take time to talk to your teens about the dangers of social media and help them learn appropriate ways to manage those tools.
  2. To that end (re: setting boundaries and using discretion with social media) SkyView is hosting a FREE showing of Screenagers for our parents on Tuesday, April 11 at 6:30. You can RSVP through the Thursday Wire.

If you have not yet had a chance to read some of my previous blogs regarding social media, please take a second to do so. And we very much look forward to having you join us for Screenagers on April 11.

Cheers!

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My Spring Break

spring break

I’ve been asked several times by students, staff, and even parents what I plan to do with my Spring Break. Well, as you can imagine, breaks don’t come cheap and there is still always something to be done. So with that being said, here is what is on my “To Do/Must Do” list for Spring Break (and this is in no particular order):

  • Play my first round of golf this year check
  • …and a round with Tara & Corbin check
  • Climb Devils Head still closed for the season 😦
  • Ride my motorcycle check, check, check
  • Take my wife out on a date check, check, check
  • Aerate and fertilize our lawn check
  • Fertilize our 12 trees check
  • Replace the fuel pump on our car check
  • Replace the cam sensor on our car check
  • Change the oil on our car check
  • Rotate the tires, change the oil, and detail my wife’s truck check
  • Record and post my presentation for my Strategic Systems Improvement class check
  • Write at least 10 pages of my lit review (for my dissertation) check (but still needs significant  editing)
  • Write at least 10 pages of my annotated bibliography (for my dissertation) half-heck (6 pages)
  • Finish and submit my quantitative research critique just not enough time during break 😦
  • Finalize the SVA high school state testing/proctoring schedule check
  • Begin ’17-’18 scheduling check (…but still a long way to go)
  • Clean out my email inbox (frightening!) check
  • Attend St. Patrick’s Day get-together with staff check
  • Job fair check
  • Attend baseball game at Manual check
  • Prepare for Graduation Committee Meeting, Grade Committee Meeting, and Marketing Committee Meeting check, check, check
  • Make elk summer sausage for staff check
  • Have coffee with my mentor in Houston this week 😦
  • Have coffee with my coach called away on business 😦
  • Do a site visit for a friend/colleague check
  • Complete and file tax return maybe next weekend–still have until Apr 15

So next time you see me, feel free to ask me about something on my list. I’d be happy to have you hold me accountable. But don’t forget to review your own list and to hold yourselves accountable too (7 Amazingly Productive Things to do Over Break; How to Have a Productive Spring Break).

Cheers!

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“This is that time of the year!”

…a tinselly, glittery time. Long distance calls to uncle and aunt, …

No, no: not that time of the year. Sorry. That time of the year is still a long way off. I mean, it’s that time of the year when we do our state testing.

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Yes, it’s true that we need this data in order to “look good” to the state, to prove that there is a reason to have a SkyView Academy, and to demonstrate that we are meeting a need in this district. But let’s be clear: this is not just about what this means to the state. Oh no… this is about much, much more.

First, this is a great opportunity to show off how GREAT we are doing at SkyView–to demonstrate to our stakeholders, our prospective families, and our surrounding community just how successful we have become! There are two primary ways that our success is measured: achievement and growth. Yes, it helps when our students score very well on the exams we take, but it also helps us to demonstrate that students are growing. By demonstrating that students of all abilities are growing and moving forward, we are able to demonstrate that SkyView is a strong academic institution.

Second, this is a tremendous opportunity for us to collect some data that not only demonstrates to others that we are growing, but also informs us how to grow and improve, thus better educating students and preparing them for the future. And to be honest, this is the most important reason for all of our students to participate in the “state” testing. This is some very valuable, longitudinal, norm-referenced data that helps us to improve instruction.

With that being said, let’s consider some popular questions regarding spring testing…

“But doesn’t all this testing take up a ton of time and cut into instructional time?”

Not really. In fact, at the high school we will be completing all of our spring testing in just two days (April 10 & 11)! And for sophomores and juniors, the total amount of time will require less than one day! Seniors will have no testing required of them on April 10 and 11. Let’s look at it another way…

If we were to equate an entire year (365 days) to a long walk from SkyView Academy to San Francisco, CA, then the amount of time that students spend each year receiving in-class instruction would essentially be like walking from SkyView to Glenwood Springs. Out of all the instructional time we have each year, the amount of time spent on “state” testing would be like walking from SkyView Academy down to the Krispy Creme at 470 and Quebec!

If you’re still not convinced, then let me put it to you this way: on average, a high school student spends more time on their Smartphone each day than they spend on state testing for the entire year!

What tests will we be taking? …when?

Freshmen will be taking the PARCC test. The math portion will be Monday, April 10 and the ELA portion will be Tuesday, April 11. Last year we scored very well! I am confident that we will knock it out of the park again this year (did you catch that pun), but we need to increase participation.

Sophomores will be taking the PSAT on Tuesday morning, April 11. This is very valuable data that we will compare to their PSAT scores next fall (and it will help us prepare for the PSAT/National Merit next fall).

Juniors will take the CMAS (science only) on Monday morning, April 10 and then take the SAT on Tuesday morning, April 11. I hope I don’t need to convince you to take the SAT. But the CMAS is also important–this is a great opportunity to get some much-needed science data to connect with our enormous science fair success (not to mention it’s a perfect way to warm up for the SAT the next day).

Seniors will not have any testing on April 10 & 11. Instead we have planned a senior trip for them (more details will be forthcoming).

What if I want to opt out?

Well, quite frankly, that is an option. I do, however, feel that it is the wrong decision to opt out of any testing. You will be robbing SkyView of some valuable data and jeopardizing either our achievement or growth numbers, thus preventing us from getting better. So simply put, opt-outs hurt SkyView. If you are considering opting out of testing, I am sincerely asking you to reconsider and to take one for the team (the SkyView Team).

If students do opt out, they are still required to attend school that day. Absences during state testing (opt-out or otherwise) will be unexcused.

I completely understand why and how you use this data. I get it–and I’m in! But I want to see this data too. When will I see the results?

PSAT and SAT results will be released fairly quickly to schools and students in June. CMAS and PARCC results will be released to schools next fall–in turn, we should be able to have that data to you sometime before Parent/Teacher conferences. At that time, we will also share out what we have learned, including areas of strength and areas for growth.

Anything else I need to know?

Nope, not that I can think of. Just know that we want all of our high school students to participate in testing–both for their own benefit and for SkyView’s. More information will be forthcoming in the weeks to follow. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to myself or Paula Harrison our assessment coordinator.

Cheers!

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FYI…

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How about something less-intense this week: just a couple of quick updates…

SCREENAGERS

We have been approved to bring Screenagers to SkyView Academy! Mrs. Worley and I are discussing dates and finalizing our contract with the company. We will be able to have one viewing for parents (stay tuned for a date and time), and we will be able to show Screenagers to all of our MS and HS students! Dates and times will be forthcoming.

GRADES COMMITTEE

In response to feedback from parents, students, and staff, we are taking steps in the high school to examine our grading policies and procedures. Specifically, we will be examining the pros and cons of weighted grades and/or a plus/minus system. To that end, we are organizing a committee that will include myself, 4 high school staff members, 3 high school students, and 2 of our parents. If you are a parent interested in objectively examining grading practices, please be sure to read the HS Items at the bottom of the Thursday Wire for more information about this committee.

NOTE: This is not to imply that we will necessarily change anything. Maybe we will…maybe we won’t. At this point we simply want to gather information and then examine how well that information aligns with our mission and vision at SkyView.

PARENT/TEACHER CONFERENCES

Parent-teacher conferences are just a couple of weeks away. As a reminder, this is valuable time for us to connect with parents and students who are struggling and need a “check-in” with their teacher. Consequently, we will be approaching conferences differently this semester.

  • Teachers will invite parents to schedule a conference at a specific time on Thursday, March 9 from 1:00-6:00 or Friday, March 10 from 8:00-10:00.
  • Next Wednesday, March 1 teachers will send invites and a link to those parents/students with whom they need to meet. Parents/students will simply click the link and find an available time to meet with the teacher. If you receive an email from a teacher, it is highly recommended that you make an appointment to see them.
  • If we need to meet with the parents/student as team (to include several teachers, the counselors, and the principal), next Wednesday you will receive an email from one of the counselors requesting a meeting on Friday, March 10 between 10:00am-12:00pm.
  • If your student is performing well in all classes, we invite you to start the weekend early.  🙂  I hope that your student is receiving positive feedback and encouragement throughout the year–keep up the good work! We want to use P/T Conferences to focus our attention on those students who need additional support.

More details on conferences will be forthcoming next Wednesday.

Cheers!

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