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Paperless Part 2: HOW I Went Paperless and What I Use

In my previous post (Part 1: Why I went Paperless–There had to be a better way), I explained what motived me to go paperless and my specific goals. I also showed you a picture of my office. This is my computer desktop; just as neat and again, I did NOT clean it up for this article. I have one folder on my desktop with two or three active documents. How can I have such a neat office and computer desktop? Because everything is digital and in its place to reduce stress and increase productivity.

Note: throughout this article you will find links to sample screen shots to illustrate how the applications are used.

My Mac Desktop

It was not easy to change deeply ingrained habits. For my entire life I have handled paper. Over the years I developed a workflow that, well, worked-for paper. My process was familiar and comfortable. But, my workflow was developed around paper and filing cabinets, not digital communications and mobile devices.

Adding to the difficulty is the fact many people still operate in both the digital and analog worlds. I receive much unwanted paper in meetings, at conferences, and in the mail. And I receive an ever increasing avalanche of digital documents and communications.

Everything was jumbled together. Projects consisted of paper documents, digital documents, emails, and websites. Meeting notes were on legal pads with followup communications in email. Finding, producing, sharing, and consolidating information from the paper and digital worlds was becoming increasingly complex and frustrating.

The struggle was not convincing myself that I needed to go paperless. The struggle was finding the right combination of software and hardware and designing an easy to manage workflow that worked across platforms without unnecessary overlap and complexity. The struggle was also forcing myself to abandon old habits and create new ones.

After much trial and error, I can confidently declare that I am now happily and productively paperless. I can also assert that short of an apocalypse, I will never go back to using paper.

The information below is a summary of the tools I use and my workflow. I am not attempting to provide a step-by-step guide for these tools. Instead, my propose is to offer a model and way of thinking about these tools and workflow so that you can adapt them to your situation, needs, and preferences.

Hardware

For years I was a diehard PC and Windows user. My software and workflow revolved around the Wintel platform, including Microsoft Office. I have switched to Apple hardware and for most, not all, document production and communication I rely on cloud-based services such as Google. The reasons for the switch are explained below.

But—and this is important—this series of articles are not intended to promote one platform over another; one can be equally successful in moving to a paperless workflow using the Wintel platform. It is not necessary to switch to the hardware and software applications I have listed below. There are equally, and perhaps in some cases, better services and applications from other companies. The key is understanding what is needed to go paperless so that you can choose the best combination of hardware, software, and services to meet your needs. For me, after years using Windows software, I have switched to Apple and Google hardware, software, and services.

I use the following hardware: Macbook Pro Retina, iPad with a Logitech FabricSkin Bluetooth Keyboard Folio, an iPhone 5 and a Fujitsu scanner. I chose to move to Apple hardware because I became convinced that for my purposes they are more reliable and require less work to maintain. Because the hardware and software are designed by the same company they work seamlessly together. Apple support is rarely needed and is excellent in those rare instances when it is needed. Support is readily available by phone or from the local Apple store. The fact that the hardware is beautiful and pleasant to use is a bonus. I want to again emphasize, however, that for others the Wintel platform may be better.

Applications and Services

The following list is not comprehensive; it is a summary of the major applications and services I use for the majority of my work. For each application I will provide a brief reason for the selection and how it is used. Later I will share how I use the applications for my workflow.

Document Creation

Frankly, before switching to Apple and Google products I was nervous. Being a Microsoft and PC power user, I was concerned that I would lose the power and flexibility that I needed to get my work done. I was apprehensive that I may not have access to the best software and that I would have trouble integrating my workflow with colleagues and friends who were on the Wintel platform.

My fears proved to be unfounded. I didn’t lose anything—in fact, I gained a great deal. Whereas on the PC/Wintel platform I was restricted to Microsoft, Windows-based, and Google products, on the Apple platform I had access to every application made for all three platforms: Microsoft Office for the Mac, Apple’s iWorks and iLife application suites, and Google’s applications and services. I also had access to any Windows-based software I needed to run by running Virtual Box or Parallels on my Mac. In other words, I have the best of all worlds.

What surprised me the most is that I found myself not needing or wanting to use Microsoft products (except for the occasional complex Excel spreadsheet) or other Windows-based applications. I have found wonderful, and often superior, substitutes for everything I used on my PC. I have nothing against Microsoft. They sell arguably the most feature rich professional office software on the planet. If your work requires the production of complex spreadsheets and text documents, you cannot beat MS Office. I found, however, that for 95% of my work, I did not need the complex or advanced features. For those few (and they become rarer by the week) projects that require advanced features, I can fire up MS Office for the Mac and do whatever I need to do.

Google Apps (Documents, Spreadsheets, Forms, Drawings)

Google offers a full suite of products and services. You can find a comprehensive list here. Google’s applications provide the basic features most people need but they lack some advanced features. There are several advantages of using Google Apps (note: Microsoft’s Office 365 suite and SkyDrive offer similar features but I have found their collaboration capabilities to be less capable than Google’s). The apps are free or very low cost, they are always up-to-date, you do not have the overhead of maintaining and supporting the software, and most importantly for workflow, you can collaborate and share documents without the need to constantly send attachments in emails, although you can if you desire. For a good comparison between Google Apps. versus Office 365 click here. The author is a bit biased toward MS but it is a good comparison.

I use Google Apps (Documents and Spreadsheets) for creating basic documents, collaboration, and sharing. I also use them when I need to collaborate with people outside of the school. Google applications are my no frills, workhorse applications.

Apple Pages and Numbers

I use the Apple’s Pages application when I want to produce a slick, professional looking document or newsletter to send to others. I also use Apple Pages for all text-based presentations that I give. By saving the presentation as a Pages document in iCloud, I can easily access it on my iPad for my many speaking engagements. iCloud keeps both versions in sync. I may draft the document in Google Docs or ByWord on my Mac (for example, I wrote the draft of this article using ByWord: more on the reason for this below) and then pasted the content into Pages for polishing. I use the Drafts application when taking meeting notes on the iPad.

I use Numbers when I want to produce a basic but well designed spreadsheet with visually informative and appealing charts. Numbers is a good application but lacks many of the advanced features found in Excel.

Word and Excel for the Mac

Surprisingly, I no longer ever need or desire to use MS Word. I can open any Word document I receive in an email in Pages or Google Docs. I find MS Word to be a feature rich but bloated with a complex and distracting interface. Excel is unquestionably the most capable spreadsheet program you can buy. I use Excel when I receive an Excel spreadsheet from others. I also use it when I need to produce or work with a complex spreadsheet. There are times when there is no substitute for Excel. In those instances I fire up Excel for the Mac.

ByWord

Modern word processors can be distracting because they tempt one to fiddle with formatting the text. This creates distraction when you need to focus on your words–and just your words. This is why I use ByWord. It is a beautifully designed minimalist application that does two things extremely well: it enables you to write free of distraction and it syncs with your other products through iCloud and/or Dropbox. Click here for a screen shot of a draft I created for a blog article.

I have ByWord on my Mac, my iPad, and my iPhone. I can immediately begin work on a draft document whenever I have a few undistracted minutes, e.g., on the plane. Because it is minimalist in design, it also uses less battery power enabling me to work longer when I don’t have access to a power outlet.

Once the draft is finished in ByWord, I export it as an RTF or HTML file to Google or Pages for finishing. It can also be exported as a Word or PDF document.

Apple Keynote

Keynote is a fantastic application for producing compelling, fresh presentations. It is powerful and feature packed but easy to learn and use. Because it uses iCloud to sync seamlessly with the Mac and other iOS devices, I can produce a beautiful presentation and then use my iPad for the presentation. This is perfect for traveling to conferences. I produce the presentation on my Mac (you can also produce them on the iPad but the iPad version is a bit more limited), sync it to iCloud, and leave the laptop at home. At the conference, I connect my iPad to a projector and use my iPhone as the remote. Simple, light, and fast. And, if I make revisions to the presentation en route to the conference and make additional revisions after the presentation, all of the changes are synced to iCloud. When I open my Mac, the revised presentation is ready for me. This same process works with Pages and Numbers.

Keynote also syncs seamlessly with iPhoto and iMovie. Consequently, you have a simple and consistent way to add beautiful photos and compelling videos to your presentations and everything is always in sync and available across all of your devices.

Document Sharing and Archiving

Google Drive

Google Drive does three things extremely well: It is the access point for all of your Google applications and documents, it archives and saves your documents automatically, and it is the platform for collaborating on and sharing your documents. Google Drive also enables you to create, edit and save documents offline (using Google’s Chrome browser) so that you do not need an Internet connection to get work done. Once you are back online, Google Drive automatically saves and syncs your documents.

Evernote

Evernote serves a very specific and useful purpose. It is my primary repository for document archiving, retrieval, and sharing when I do not need to work on them. The distinction between Google Drive and Evernote is important. While there is overlap, e.g., both programs save, archive and sync your documents and information, Google Drive is best for “living, active” documents. Evernote is best for static reference material.

For example, any work related document that is being worked on, or that ever may need to be worked on by others, is in Google Drive. Letters, policy manuals, spreadsheets, schedules, etc., fall in this category and are on Google Drive.

Receipts, research articles, articles from the internet, User Manuals, and any other static document that is used for reference are in Evernote. I also store important personal documents in Evernote, e.g., insurance papers. That way, if there is a fire I still have access the critical documents. Although I could store these in Google Drive, Evernote is better at quickly capturing information from the web on your laptop or mobile device. It is ideal for quickly searching to find just what you need. If you have a Business Account with Evernote, you can also create a Business Library of reference material for employees, e.g., Technical How-To articles from the IT department, Employee Manuals, etc.

Communications and Calendaring

I average over 1,200 business emails each month (not counting personal emails). I also receive many phone calls and text messages. Efficiently managing and curating this flow of information requires the nimbleness of a ninja and the discipline of an Olympic athlete. It also requires the right tools.

I have tried just about everything available. I spent years on Outlook (including SharePoint) and was very comfortable with the program. It is powerful and designed for the enterprise. For the same reasons I have stated above, I decided that it was time for a change. As a school, we no longer wanted to be in the email and server business. We wanted our IT staff to focus on supporting technology integration in the classroom, not on managing email, SharePoint, servers, and antivirus software.

With our move to Google products, we also adopted Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Hangouts (for video-conferencing), Google+ (which we use for business related social media interaction), and a host of other applications that are integrated and cloud-based. As a consequences, we spend far less time (and money) managing email and calendars and we are able to integrate document creation and sharing with all of our digital communications. This enhances productivity, saves money and gives us capabilities that would otherwise be too complex and time consuming to manage.

I have vacillated between using Gmail and Google Calendar in the browser (Safari and Chrome) or using Apple’s Mail and Calendar applications (or 3rd party applications). After experimenting with many options, I have settled on Apple’s Mail for email and BusyCal for my Calendar application. While there are advantages to using the browser version of Google products, the overall hardware and application integration on the Mac and iOS devices is better when using Apple’s applications or well designed third-party applications like BusyCal. I have also found, after spending time to master it, that Apple’s Mail program is very powerful making it easy to process an overflowing inbox quickly. BusyCal is beautifully designed and powerful. It has a built in to-do system and a menu icon that drops your calendar into view as needed and then retracts it when you are finished. This saves valuable screen space and is one less window to manage.

For meetings and collaboration that do not require a face-to-face meeting but do require live communication rather than a torrent of emails, I use Google’s powerful Hangouts video-conferencing application. You can conduct a simultaneous video call with 10 people and share Google documents and/or your desktop during the call. It is a powerful program and is free. There is also an iOS application for Google Hangouts enabling you to place video calls from your iPhone or iPad when traveling.

Phone Calls

Going paperless works great for handling phone calls. My administrative assistant takes messages in a shared Google document titled “Dr. Mosbacker’s Messages.” Each morning she opens that document and enters the date. During the day she records the messages and return phone number. This document is an open tab on my browser. When I am ready to return calls, I click on the browser tab (from my Mac, iPad, or iPhone) and have all of the information I need. I can then make notes of the call in this same document and mark the call completed when I’m finished. If I ever need to find that message, person’s name, or contact information, I can search the message document from any of my devices. No paper, everything is archived and searchable. Click here for a screen shot of my messages.

Note Taking

I have a lot of meetings and I have to take a lot of notes. I want to do so in meetings without coming across like a geek. There are several challenges in taking digital meeting notes.

If you use paper, you are not paperless so you have to retype notes you need to keep (or scan them). You can’t efficiently share paper notes, and they are not immediately connected with your other documents and communications.

If you use a laptop in a professional meeting you can come across as geeky in some settings. The clacking keyboard is distracting and the screen puts a barrier between the attendees. And you are tempted to multitask (check email) rather than giving the attendees your undivided attention.

I have found the iPad to be the solution. It is light, is not distracting nor especially geeky, has long battery life and provides several note taking options not typically available on the laptop. You can type your notes using the silent virtual keyboard, you can use an iPad case with built in bluetooth keyboard (my preference), or you can handwrite your notes using a stylus with a note taking application like Notability. The best method will depend on the person and circumstances.

My objectives are to use as few applications a possible, produce digital notes, have them safely archived for future reference, and have an efficient way to delegate and keep up with tasks flowing from the meetings.

After much experimentation and no small amount of frustration, I have found a very effective and efficient system that meets my objectives. This is far simpler then it may sound but essentially I use and application called Drafts in combination with TextExpander—this program is reason enough to use a Mac!

As indicated above, I use ByWord for writing drafts of larger documents, e.g., a blog article, chapters in a book, etc. For meeting notes I use Drafts. It automatically saves your work and syncs it to your other iOS devices. It is distraction free, does not require much power, and works great on the iPad and the iPhone. When combined with TextExpender one can open Drafts and with a few quick keystrokes have TextExpander drop a meeting template into Drafts and you are ready to go.

One of Drafts most compelling features is the ability to send your meeting notes with just one click to Evernote, an email, Dropbox, OmniFocus, Twitter, Facebook, as a TextMessage and a host of other applications and services too numerous to list. You can also use “Open in” to export a draft to any other app installed that supports importing text files. Click here for an illustration.

You can type quietly on the iPad using the bluetooth keyboard case. After you have completed your meeting notes, including to-do items for yourself or others, you select each item and send it to OmniFocus (more on OmniFocus below) or Evernote (my preference because then all of my meeting notes are archived in the appropriate project notebook). For example, I have an interview template in TextExpander. Prior to the start of the interview, I open my iPad, fire up the Drafts app., and open the interview template with TextExpander. When the interview starts, I discretely take my notes in Drafts using the embedded template. After the meeting is over, with one click I send the notes to Evernote for archiving. No paper. No filing. And, I can always access these notes on any device, anytime, anywhere. I can also share my interview notes with my administrative assistant or others as needed.

Project Management

Finding THE project management tool has been my biggest challenge. For my purposes, the ideal project management application would:

  • Work on all of my devices.
  • Be powerful and flexible without being overly complicated.
  • Be developed and supported by a company that I trust and was confident would be around for a long time.
  • Integrate tightly with my other major applications (Google Docs, ByWord, Drafts, Gmail, Apple Mail, BusyCal, and Evernote).
  • Enable actions and viewing of projects, tasks, and documents by project, date, person, or context.
  • Alert me when projects were coming due, were due, or were late.
  • Give me the ability to create tasks or projects directly from emails, Drafts, or Evernote without copying and pasting.

OmniFocus does all of this and more. The capabilities will be briefly illustrated in the next article in the series but suffice it to say that OmniFocus integrates all of the above features into one powerful yet relatively simple product. That is no small feat! Click here for a sample screen shot.

In my next and final post (Part 3: Workflow–putting it all together) in this series I illustrate how I use the hardware and software to create a paperless workflow. I will also provide diagrams illustrating how the workflow works for emails, paper documents, and meetings.

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How and Why I Went Paperless and How You Can Too: Part 1–There Had to Be a Better Way

This is my office.

Paperless Office Mosbacker

I did not clean it up for this article. I now function without paper. I’ll never go back to paper and I believe if you give this a try you won’t either. 

I am sharing with you why I went paperless and how I did it with the hope that you too will discover the increased productivity and reduced stress that I have found by changing how I do things.

To make reading easier and faster, I am writing this article as a series in three parts:

Part 1 Why I Went Paperless: There Had to Be a Better Way (Includes my goals)

Part 2 How I Went Paperless: What I Use (My hardware and software)

Part 3 Workflow: Putting It all Together (Includes workflow diagrams)

Part 1: Why I Went Paperless–There Had to Be a Better Way 

I lead a large school on two campuses with 200 employees, nearly 2,000 students, 1,200 families, and with a multimillion dollar budget. I also have many complex projects in process simultaneously. For example, as I write this we are designing a new science and math building, preparing for a large capital campaign and continuing the rollout of our 1:1 computing program that we call  Learning Unleashed. And of course there are the daily operational issues covering personnel, academics and curriculum, parent and student issues, athletics, facilities, admissions, finance, marketing, and a host of other day to day matters.

Adding to the mix are my family responsibilities, teaching adult Sunday School, teaching a graduate course as an adjunct professor, conference presentations, and my personal goals such as completing a book and writing this blog. I have many balls in the air, thousands of documents, and even more emails (over 1,200 work related emails per month), phone calls, meetings, and messages to manage.

I was finding it difficult to quickly locate what I needed when I needed it and even more difficult to manage the combination of paper and digital documents and communications related to projects and day-to-day matters. I knew that there had to be a way to consolidate all of this information so that I could be both more productive and less stressed. Going paperless has helped me achieve those goals.

Although being more productive and less stressed were my primary goals, there were also many secondary but important goals motivating the change. Here is my list of goals that explain why I forced myself to go paperless.

  • Increase productivity by being able to find any document or message from any device, anytime, anyplace.
  • Have one central “inbox” for everything that I receive so that I can quickly process it.
  • Become more efficient by speeding up my workflow.
  • Improve the ability to collaborate with my colleagues and associates anywhere in the world.
  • Have automatic backups of all of my documents, communications, research, and books in the event of hardware failure, fire, or natural catastrophe.
  • Be able to take notes in my many meetings and instantly have them saved and available for retrieval and sharing as needed.
  • Be able to easily convert meeting notes into tasks for myself or others.
  • Manage people and projects so that nothing falls through the cracks and to ensure that I am on top of all projects.
  • Manage my calendar and schedule so that it does not manage me.
  • Have an archive of all documents and communications for future reference should they be needed for projects or legal matters.
  • Reduce the cost of printing, filing, and mailing.
  • Eliminate filing cabinets and free up space.
  • Reduce paper to be more environmentally responsible.
  • Have a clutter free low stress work space.

 In part two of this series I will explain how I went paperless and what hardware and software I use.

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Let’s Make Our Schools More Thrilling and Beautiful

Excited

Cruising at thirty thousand feet and intensively absorbed in my work, I was startled by the sudden outburst of fearful crying from a three year-old little girl frantically running down the aisle of the big jet. Her brown eyes were wide with fear and her face wet from the tears cascading down her cheeks. Somehow she managed to leave her seat without her mother’s notice. Disoriented and scared she stumbled past row after row of strangers unable to find her mother in the sea of unfamiliar faces. As a father of three daughters and the “pawpaw”of a little granddaughter, my heart went out to her. Although prudence dictated otherwise, I wanted to leap from my seat and pick her up to comfort her.

My heart also goes out to teachers and school leaders who, like that little girl, find themselves disoriented, perhaps even a little intimidated and frightened by a strange and constantly changing world. This is a new experience for most educators.

School work has historically been comfortable and predictable. It has been observed that if you took a teacher from the early 1900s and dropped her into most any classroom today she would hardly skip a beat. She would find a board at the front of the room (albeit it may be electronic) and neat rows of students waiting for her to speak. There would be some new things, a computer on the teacher’s desk and a copier down the hall, but fundamentally things would look and feel much like they did at the beginning of the 20th century.

This predictability is giving way to uncertainty created by the relentless currents of cultural, economic, and technological change. Nothing in our schools is untouched. Whereas schools have historically been islands of relative tranquility, teachers and school leaders are now feeling uncertain about their roles and methods amid the changes invading their schools. We feel the seismic vibrations of shifting cultural norms beneath us. And we are confronted with the ever quickening pace of technological innovation that is reshaping the way we work, communicate, and entertain ourselves.

Like the girl on the plane, these cultural and technological changes can cause us to become disoriented, feeling overwhelmed, even frightened. The familiar is giving way to the new and the strange. That which once seemed like bedrock—steady and predictable—now feels like quicksand.

Consider the Internet and mobile technology. In their just released book, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations, and Business, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen summarize how the Internet and mobile technologies are fundamentally reshaping our lives and institutions.

The proliferation of communication technologies has advanced at an unprecedented speed. In the first decade of the twenty-first century the number of people connected to the Internet worldwide increased from 350 million to more than 2 billion. In the same period, the number of mobile-phone subscribers rose from 750 million to well over 5 billion (it is now over 6 billion). Adoption of these technologies is spreading to the farthest reaches of the planet, and, in some parts of the world, at an accelerating rate. By 2025, the majority of the world’s population will, in one generation, have gone from having virtually no access to unfiltered information to accessing all of the world’s information through a device that fits in the palm of the hand. If the current pace of technological innovation is maintained, most of the projected eight billion people on Earth will be online …

As global connectivity continues its unprecedented advance, many old institutions and hierarchies will have to adapt or risk becoming obsolete, irrelevant to modern society. The struggles we see today in many businesses, large and small, are examples of the dramatic shift for society that lies ahead. Communication technologies will continue to change our institutions from within and without. We will increasingly reach, and relate to, people far beyond our own borders and language groups, sharing ideas, doing business and building genuine relationships.

If you substitute school for institutions and businesses in the above quote it reads, “As global connectivity continues its unprecedented advance, many [schools] and hierarchies will have to adapt or risk becoming obsolete, irrelevant to modern society. The struggles we see today in many [schools], large and small, are examples of the dramatic shift for society that lies ahead.” No one wants to become obsolete and irrelevant.

There is a sense in which the students sitting in front of us, or if we are an administrator, the young teachers in front of us, are strangers. They live in two worlds, not just one. They live in the physical world and in a virtual world. And they know nothing of our educational experience, one that relied on the teacher, the librarian, and the encyclopedia for information.

Our students are growing up in a world where everyone is, or soon will be, connected with each other. They carry the world’s information in the palm of their hand. If they need extra help, they don’t “need” to ask the teacher-they can text a friend, video-chat with an expert, or watch remarkably well constructed tutorials on Khan Academy. If they need information, they “Google it.” Teachers are needed for other things but they are not needed for delivering information.

How should we respond as Christian educators? With courage not fear, with optimism not pessimism, with excitement, not dread; with a vision for the future, not with a nostalgic longing for the past. We should respond with creativity, vigor and innovation, not with the mechanical and routinized habits that have become so comfortable but are increasingly arcane and irrelevant for our students.

Carpe Diem This is not Pollyannaish happy talk. The ability to seize the day, to courageously and creatively adapt one’s teaching and leadership to the opportunities before us and to the needs of our students,—not to our needs and preferences—is firmly rooted in God’s sovereignty, his commands, and his commission.  Continue Reading…

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How to Make Your “Pig” Fly

How to Make Your “Pig” Fly

Pig fly

Have you ever had an idea for the future of your school but others aren’t buying it?  I hope so.  Leaders who are leading and not merely managing focus on the future, asking “what should we be doing to prepare our students for their futures, not our present?”  Leaders do not maintain the status quo, they create a new normal.

Thinking carefully about what is and what might be requires attention to the present and to emerging trends.  It requires an open and agile mind.  It requires the ability to hold fast to our first principles and worthy traditions while having the courage to innovate.  Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria recently challenged faculty and alumni to embrace both tradition and innovation:

We must have the conviction to hold fast to the many traditions that have defined us for so many years: the case method, our residential campus, our focus on a transformational learning experience. At the same time, we must have the courage to innovate. Because today’s traditions were, in fact, innovations in their time.1

Your idea may look like an eagle to you.  To others it may look like a pig.  What do you when you are having a hard time getting the “pig” aloft, when you “pig” is stuck on the runway?  What do you do when others do not embrace your ideas for change?  

Here are a few practical suggestions that will help you maintain your vision while bringing others along.   I have borrowed some of these ideas (in quotations) from Krippendorff’s excellent article “How To Stick With It When Your Ideas Are Ahead Of Their Time.” 2 

  • Be prayerful.  One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 16:9: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”   We should plan and work hard to see our plans realized but God is sovereign.  He may redirect us to an entirely different end or may direct us to the same end but along a different and unexpected path.
  • Guard your motive.  Be sure that your motive is holy.  We must remember that we were created for one primary purpose, to glorify God.  Everything else, no matter how worthy, is secondary.  Make sure that your ideas are not about you or your school but rather how others may “see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
  • Listen.  Not all of our ideas are good.  Good ideas often need modification.  Even if our ideas are excellent, we need to listen as a matter of respect to others and to understand their fears and concerns.  One of Steven Covey’s Habits of Highly Successful People is to “seek first to understand and then to be understood.”  This is a derivative of the biblical injunction, “be quick to hear and slow to speak.”
  • Keep it simple. “Usually when an innovator sees the world is going to change, the logic behind the change is obvious … The world changes all the time. It’s easy to see it is going to happen. What distinguishes innovators from the rest of us is not that they see farther into the future; it’s that they take action. While “experts” bring up complicated logic to explain why things will not unfold as the innovator thinks, the innovator just starts moving. Jeff Bezos saw that the Internet was going to change retail, so he left his job at the high-tech investment bank D.E. Shaw, and started selling books online … So don’t over think…outthink. When your logic is complicated it means you don’t understand. Think until your logic becomes simple, then act.”
  • Keep believing. “Remember that an innovative vision is usually inconsistent with prevailing logic and beliefs (otherwise it is probably not that innovative). It may be inconsistent with practices and rules … Steve Jobs, for example, knew it just made sense for record labels to distribute content digitally, so the iPod and iTunes became the natural net to capture this future.” It seems so obvious now, now that digital music is common. But it was not obvious before Steve Jobs pushed ahead with innovation. It takes time for other to catch up. Many “will not get it” until after the fact. So, don’t give up-keep believing, keep pushing forward. “Albert Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Great innovators stay with their visions longer while others get distracted or disillusioned.”

Do you have any “pigs” sitting on the runway?  They can fly!  It just takes prayer, humility, handwork, and patience.  Don’t give up–keep innovating.  Our students’ futures depend on it!

References

1. Nohria, N. (2012, January 1). Priorities. hbs.edu. Boston. Retrieved October 27, 2012, from http://www.hbs.edu/dean/priorities/

2. Krippendorff, K. (2012, May 31). How to stick with it when your ideas are ahead of their time. fastcompany.com. Retrieved October 27, 2012, from http://www.fastcompany.com/1838871/how-stick-it-when-your-ideas-are-ahead-their-time

 

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How do I get the most out my HS teacher evaluations?

A School Success Excellence grade

Q – How do I get the most out my HS teacher evaluations?

A – Ask your students!

Guest post by Dr. David Balik 

I’ll never forget when one of my doctoral professors warned us as a cohort that we’d better have a dissertation topic that we’re really interested in, so that when “the going gets tough” and we’re grinding our way through the writing and the research, the level of interest and excitement we have towards our subject matter will carry the day, and help keep us going. After ditching my first topic because it didn’t meet the aforementioned litmus test, I continued to search for a meaningful topic that would actually add something to the over-all “conversation” in education today. I soon realized that it was right under my nose!

Three years ago, along with the support and guidance of my Superintendent (Dr. Barrett Mosbacker), I developed a “Student Feedback Survey” that we determined would be carefully incorporated into our Faculty evaluation process, at the high school level. Part of this decision was driven by my reading and research on teacher evaluations, and their relative uselessness where instructional improvement and student learning were concerned. Case in point: the Department of Education recently released data that shows 96.8 percent of teachers and 93.8 percent of principals evaluated received satisfactory or “proficient” ratings. While most teachers and principals across the country received a state ‘satisfactory’ rating, officials – including the Secretary of Education – say that means there’s something wrong with the evaluation system used to rate them. One spokesman said, “It is very difficult for me to rationalize how a state can have virtually 100 percent of educators evaluated as satisfactory when, based on the statewide assessment, one-in-four students are scoring below proficient in reading, and one-in-three are scoring below proficient in math.” What’s more disturbing, based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), more than half of our 4th and 8th grade students are scoring below proficient in math and reading. I believe these results are a clear indication that our current evaluation system is in major need of change. Herein lies the problem…. across much of the United States, the system of teacher evaluation is old and outdated, and does not accurately assess or evaluate teachers in such a way as to truly promote better instruction and improved student learning.

Teacher ratings are most commonly associated with student evaluations at the college or university level. Student evaluations can be used in both formative and summative systems (Peterson, 2000). That distinction is critically important because the two goals require different techniques and personnel. Student evaluations are formative when their purpose is to help teachers improve and enhance their skills. This seems to work especially well when used during a semester to determine what practices are working well and which are not, to pinpoint needed changes, and to guide those changes. Student evaluations are summative when they are used to assess the overall effectiveness of an instructor, particularly for tenure and/or promotion decisions.

The use of student rating evaluations in assessing teacher performance has received considerable attention in the literature for many years. They began in the 1920s, when Harvard students published assessments of their professors’ effectiveness. The first published form for collecting student ratings, the Purdue rating scale of instruction, was released in 1926.

Important, useful, and reliable data about teacher performance can be obtained through student feedback. Students are good sources of information because they are the objects of the instruction, have closely and recently observed a number of teachers, have the subjective bias of students, and benefit directly from good teaching.

According to Peterson (2000), “seventy years of empirical research on teacher evaluation shows that current practices do not improve teachers or accurately tell what happens in classrooms. Administrator reports do not increase good teachers’ confidence or reassure the public about teacher quality” (p. 18). Peterson (2000) goes on to assert that teacher evaluation as presently practiced does not identify innovative teaching so that it can be adopted by other teachers. Despite these obvious and long-standing problems, many schools continue to rely on principal reports.

Common sense suggests that the most effective form of student evaluation for formative purposes would include ongoing assessment combined with teacher response over the course of a semester or year. There are several studies that explored the impact of student feedback with consultation on teacher performance, student attitudes, and student learning. For instance, two different meta-analyses conducted by Cohen and L’Hommedieu, Menges, and Brinko (1990) indicate that teachers who received mid-term student ratings feedback and peer or administrative consultation showed significant improvement in teaching effectiveness. In a more recent study (Hampton & Reiser, 2004), final student rating results revealed significant differences in favor of the assessment/feedback/assessment model on teaching practices, ratings of teaching effectiveness, and student motivation. Similarly, a study conducted indicated that feedback with consultation provided statistically significant changes in the overall effectiveness of instructors.

Research also shows that students of teachers who received feedback and consultation demonstrated more positive attitudes than students whose teachers did not receive feedback and consultation (Hampton & Reiser, 2004). They found that teachers receiving student feedback and consultation had higher ratings from their students in relation to how interesting their subject area was thought to be. In another study at a large university that addressed the ratings of 263 teachers, different treatment groups showed significant differences in personal interest towards courses. Furthermore, teachers in the feedback and consultation group were rated higher according to the overall value of the course.

Today, student evaluation is being promoted by the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and led by more than a dozen organizations, including Dartmouth, Harvard, Stanford, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, and University of Washington, Educational Testing Service, RAND Corporation, the National Math and Science Initiative, the New Teacher Center, Cambridge Education, Teachscape, Westat, and the Danielson Group.

            Partnering with nearly 3,000 volunteer teachers in six school districts around the country, the MET Project is based on three simple premises:

1.     when feasible, an evaluation should include students’ achievement gains,

2.     any additional components of the evaluation (e.g., classroom observations, student feedback) should be demonstrably related to student achievement gains, and

3.     most importantly, the measure should include feedback on specific practices that can support professional development.

Launched in 2009, the preliminary findings of the MET project stated

any measure of teacher effectiveness should support the continued growth of teachers, by providing actionable data on specific strengths and weaknesses. Even if value-added measures are valid measures of a teacher’s impact on student learning, they provide little guidance to teachers (or their supervisors) on what they need to do to improve. Therefore, the goal is to identify a package of measures, including student feedback and classroom observations, which would not only help identify effective teaching, but also point all teachers to the areas where they need to become more effective teachers themselves. (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2011, p. 5)

            Students in the MET classrooms were asked to report their perceptions of the classroom instructional environment. The Tripod survey, developed by Harvard researcher Ron Ferguson and administered by Cambridge Education, assesses the extent to which students experience the classroom environment as engaging, demanding, and supportive of their intellectual growth. The survey asks students in each of the MET classrooms if they agree or disagree with a variety of statements, including “My teacher knows when the class understands, and when we do not”; “My teacher has several good ways to explain each topic that we cover in this class”; and “When I turn in my work, my teacher gives me useful feedback that helps me improve.” 

            The goal is for students to give feedback on specific aspects of a teacher’s practice, so that teachers can improve their use of class time, the quality of the comments they give on homework, their pedagogical practices, and their relationships with their students.

            Despite the work of the MET project, the vast majority of the research on student evaluations has been done at the college and university level. Even so, research on the impact of midterm feedback to instructors is almost nonexistent (Mertler, 1996). In an exhaustive literature review of these studies, Finley and Crawley (1993) found that about 80% of studies concern higher education. Less research has been done at the high school level (Peterson, 2000; Smith & Brown, 1976; Traugh & Duell, 1980), and even less real application of this method occurs in high schools (Levin, 1979). Hanna, Hoyt, and Aubrecth (1983) stated that student evaluations at the high school level have been largely neglected. That is why initiatives like the MET Project, and this study are critical to research of high school students.

Teacher evaluation is an integral component of a teacher’s professional career. Nevo noted that evaluations are usually perceived as a means to control, motivate, and hold accountable teachers, including firing them for poor performance. He also concluded that evaluations have the reputation of being harmful rather than helpful to teachers.

            Current evaluation methods are seriously flawed. The system relies often on untrained evaluators lacking time, expertise, and resources needed to accomplish the task. Most current teacher evaluations serve only a summative function and thus have little effect on professional development. Many researchers recommend methods providing better feedback to meet this formative function.

            Student evaluations are not the only basis for instructional improvement, but they are a cost-effective, readily available technique that provides a unique perspective–that of the education consumer. As Cashin mentioned “… extensive review of literature indicates that in general student ratings tend to be statistically reliable, valid, relatively free of bias, and useful, probably more so than any other form of data used for teacher evaluations”. Therefore, when properly constructed and administered, student ratings can provide valid and reliable data for both formative and summative purposes.

            Teachers exposed to student feedback should understand how it can provide a valuable and useful review of their present practices, and a basis for modifying those practices to improve instruction. 

 

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When Schools Go to War

Guest Article by John C. Littleford , Senior Partner, Littleford and Associates

Images

When Schools Go to War

Recently, a client sent this Consultant the following note. 

“Gentlemen:

Over the last several days, we have learned that certain “concerned” members have organized a group with the intention of removing some or all of the Board. We have further learned that this group has sought members’ signatures to call a General Meeting, the sole purpose of which is to remove the Board. The formal removal of a Board is a method used when board members or the Board as a whole have committed egregious acts, failed to fulfill duties or have fallen into a conflict of interest.  Clearly, none of these are the case.

Though the Board has achieved many successes this year, especially in the areas of finance, fiscal management, control and governance, it continues to be plagued by the effects of seemingly unpopular policy changes in the dining room.   Perhaps we changed too much too quickly, and should have communicated the vision more effectively. But, I assure you we forged ahead with the best of intentions.  Though I believe we did an exceptional job delivering our mission statement, it appears it is no longer an accurate statement of our purpose.

The “Concerned Members” say it themselves: “no problem with the core operation.”

Unfortunately, these feelings have been further fueled with gossip, rumored terminations, misinformation, and accusations of micro managing. Though we could refute every allegation, what would we achieve?  Members have likely heard enough and just want not be mired in a political debate. 

A General Meeting to remove the board is an extreme remedy to deal with this matter. No one has done anything egregious. So, to avoid an otherwise divisive and confrontational General Meeting, and in the best interests of all, I hereby tender my resignation.” 

What School is this? It is actually a Country Club Manager responding to the events noted above. But this Consultant has seen similar letters throughout the world coming from heads of schools to their boards, and often responding to “concerned parents” or “concerned alumni” or “concerned faculty.” 

A few years ago, these kinds of “concerned” notes might appear on the bulletin board of the faculty work room, but increasingly they appear on the Internet, in blogs, some of which are vicious in tone. Or they may appear simply as an e mail “blast” to the entire board or entire parent/alumni community. I have seen one on the inside community page of a local newspaper where disgruntled teachers took out an ad to attack the administration and board.

Lessons Learned

There are messages in the letter above that have equal relevance to schools as well as other organizations, profit or nonprofit. 

The “concerned” members’ tactic is an old one. Often the “concerned” parties do not sign their names so we cannot ascertain whether there is a strong movement afoot or there are simply one or a few disgruntled individuals.

The “General Meeting” reminds this Consultant of the Annual General Meeting (AGM) that takes place in many schools in Canada and worldwide.  These can be simple, sparsely attended sessions, which is actually a good thing.  A crowded “annual AGM usually means trouble as some angry group of parents and/or staff is attending for the purpose of berating or overthrowing the board or school leadership.

Managing constituent relations is a key responsibility of school and other nonprofit leaders and their boards.  Not managing them well leaves to frequent board turbulence which spills over to the school or the nonprofit.  The same holds true for the leadership of for profit companies.

The comments about pace of change in the letter above are key and on target. Many new heads are fired early in their tenure because they change even the seemingly most minor procedures or policies too quickly, often at the board’s insistence.  When the new head has not yet built up enough “political capital” to institute some basic and often needed changes, the rank and file faculty will become riled, feeling that the new leader does not understand the mission, culture or traditions. The comments from the manager above about healthy governance and a healthy fiscal structure can mean little to those most attached to “the way we have always done this.” 

One new Head of School arrived to find a mascot that in his mind was a throwback to an earlier time and symbolic of historic rivalries. In even suggesting a change or the thought of one, she ignited a firestorm. Her good intentions were not respected and she was criticized for being an outsider who did not understand the local culture.  

The letter above illustrates two out of the three reasons that heads/directors are “fired”:  managing the type and pace of change poorly (even if the board demands the change); and becoming the “scapegoat” in an incident that simply takes over the life of the school or entity.  The third reason (and the most common one) is a lack of institutional memory on boards due to frequent turnover of trustees which could have played a role in the case above as well.

How to Avoid the “War”

Schools go to war with themselves, when the well intentioned highly emotional board members or constituents, who cannot listen openly to another usually broader point of view, wreak havoc. In our previous Newsletter, entitled “Who Fires the Head” we talked about a case of a long term Chair and Head. The head was in danger after the Chair was forced out in a skillfully orchestrated coup d’état.  The person who engineered that result has now resigned from the Board, leaving the Board a healthier place and the Head with possibly a longer tenure. That board member had often manipulated parent opinion to further his own goals which I am sure he felt were aligned with the best interest of the School. 

Annual sessions on board governance can help avoid these problems. Many schools assume that they only need governance training if they are in trouble and that “generative” think is the next new horizon in board governance. In this Consultant’s experience governance training for all boards needs to be annual and “generative” thinking on the highest strategic level can only occur when boards are truly wise enough and mature enough to rise above the petty issues that so often challenge our schools and boards. Even the oldest, wealthiest schools with some of the most powerful board members fall into these traps of not knowing how to manage constituent unrest or perceived unrest. 

Here is one final piece of advice: always have at least one to three CEO’s of publicly held companies on your board. They tend to have the training to see the larger picture and have a more long term strategic vision. Most of our boards are dominated by good hearted, well intentioned and successful lawyers, financiers, accountants, marketing and HR people, but they do not have even one CEO of a large publicly held company. This speaks again to the key role of the committee on trustees/policy committee, which is the most important committee of any board (and includes the functions of board development and nominations as part of its role). 


Guest Article by John C. Littleford , Senior Partner, Littleford and Associates

When Schools Go to War

Recently, a client sent this Consultant the following note. 

“Gentlemen:

Over the last several days, we have learned that certain “concerned” members have organized a group with the intention of removing some or all of the Board. We have further learned that this group has sought members’ signatures to call a General Meeting, the sole purpose of which is to remove the Board. The formal removal of a Board is a method used when board members or the Board as a whole have committed egregious acts, failed to fulfill duties or have fallen into a conflict of interest.  Clearly, none of these are the case.

Though the Board has achieved many successes this year, especially in the areas of finance, fiscal management, control and governance, it continues to be plagued by the effects of seemingly unpopular policy changes in the dining room.   Perhaps we changed too much too quickly, and should have communicated the vision more effectively. But, I assure you we forged ahead with the best of intentions.  Though I believe we did an exceptional job delivering our mission statement, it appears it is no longer an accurate statement of our purpose.

The “Concerned Members” say it themselves: “no problem with the core operation.”

Unfortunately, these feelings have been further fueled with gossip, rumored terminations, misinformation, and accusations of micro managing. Though we could refute every allegation, what would we achieve?  Members have likely heard enough and just want not be mired in a political debate. 

A General Meeting to remove the board is an extreme remedy to deal with this matter. No one has done anything egregious. So, to avoid an otherwise divisive and confrontational General Meeting, and in the best interests of all, I hereby tender my resignation.” 

What School is this? It is actually a Country Club Manager responding to the events noted above. But this Consultant has seen similar letters throughout the world coming from heads of schools to their boards, and often responding to “concerned parents” or “concerned alumni” or “concerned faculty.” 

A few years ago, these kinds of “concerned” notes might appear on the bulletin board of the faculty work room, but increasingly they appear on the Internet, in blogs, some of which are vicious in tone. Or they may appear simply as an e mail “blast” to the entire board or entire parent/alumni community. I have seen one on the inside community page of a local newspaper where disgruntled teachers took out an ad to attack the administration and board.

Lessons Learned

There are messages in the letter above that have equal relevance to schools as well as other organizations, profit or nonprofit. 

The “concerned” members’ tactic is an old one. Often the “concerned” parties do not sign their names so we cannot ascertain whether there is a strong movement afoot or there are simply one or a few disgruntled individuals.

The “General Meeting” reminds this Consultant of the Annual General Meeting (AGM) that takes place in many schools in Canada and worldwide.  These can be simple, sparsely attended sessions, which is actually a good thing.  A crowded “annual AGM usually means trouble as some angry group of parents and/or staff is attending for the purpose of berating or overthrowing the board or school leadership.

Managing constituent relations is a key responsibility of school and other nonprofit leaders and their boards.  Not managing them well leaves to frequent board turbulence which spills over to the school or the nonprofit.  The same holds true for the leadership of for profit companies.

The comments about pace of change in the letter above are key and on target. Many new heads are fired early in their tenure because they change even the seemingly most minor procedures or policies too quickly, often at the board’s insistence.  When the new head has not yet built up enough “political capital” to institute some basic and often needed changes, the rank and file faculty will become riled, feeling that the new leader does not understand the mission, culture or traditions. The comments from the manager above about healthy governance and a healthy fiscal structure can mean little to those most attached to “the way we have always done this.” 

One new Head of School arrived to find a mascot that in his mind was a throwback to an earlier time and symbolic of historic rivalries. In even suggesting a change or the thought of one, she ignited a firestorm. Her good intentions were not respected and she was criticized for being an outsider who did not understand the local culture.  

The letter above illustrates two out of the three reasons that heads/directors are “fired”:  managing the type and pace of change poorly (even if the board demands the change); and becoming the “scapegoat” in an incident that simply takes over the life of the school or entity.  The third reason (and the most common one) is a lack of institutional memory on boards due to frequent turnover of trustees which could have played a role in the case above as well.

How to Avoid the “War”

Schools go to war with themselves, when the well intentioned highly emotional board members or constituents, who cannot listen openly to another usually broader point of view, wreak havoc. In our previous Newsletter, entitled “Who Fires the Head” we talked about a case of a long term Chair and Head. The head was in danger after the Chair was forced out in a skillfully orchestrated coup d’état.  The person who engineered that result has now resigned from the Board, leaving the Board a healthier place and the Head with possibly a longer tenure. That board member had often manipulated parent opinion to further his own goals which I am sure he felt were aligned with the best interest of the School. 

Annual sessions on board governance can help avoid these problems. Many schools assume that they only need governance training if they are in trouble and that “generative” think is the next new horizon in board governance. In this Consultant’s experience governance training for all boards needs to be annual and “generative” thinking on the highest strategic level can only occur when boards are truly wise enough and mature enough to rise above the petty issues that so often challenge our schools and boards. Even the oldest, wealthiest schools with some of the most powerful board members fall into these traps of not knowing how to manage constituent unrest or perceived unrest. 

Here is one final piece of advice: always have at least one to three CEO’s of publicly held companies on your board. They tend to have the training to see the larger picture and have a more long term strategic vision. Most of our boards are dominated by good hearted, well intentioned and successful lawyers, financiers, accountants, marketing and HR people, but they do not have even one CEO of a large publicly held company. This speaks again to the key role of the committee on trustees/policy committee, which is the most important committee of any board (and includes the functions of board development and nominations as part of its role). 


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How to Enhance Teaching and Learning at No Extra Cost

How to Enhance Teaching and Learning at No Extra Cost

Change is hard, even dangerous.   Attempts to change the behavior of others or an organization’s deeply entrenched practices will run headlong into active and passive resistance, if not outright hostility.

Acutely aware of the difficulty but confident in the rightness of the cause, we embarked on changing the school’s traditional schedule.

This was no small undertaking.  The schedule had been in place since the school’s founding.  Various school constituencies had a stake in the current schedule.  The prevailing consensus was, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”  And arguably, it was not broken; “We were doing just fine, thank you very much.”  Classes were full.  Faculty and student retention rates routinely stood at 94-95%.  We had a 100% college admission rate.  The senior class was routinely awarded millions of dollars in college scholarships and our ACT/SAT scores were high and rising across all tested disciplines.  Complicating the problem was a lurking skepticism about school “reform.”  In the U.S., too many educational fads had come and gone, creating a “this too shall pass” cynicism.  This was particularly true concerning “block scheduling,” which carried with it negative connotations, mostly deserved.

So why mess with a good thing?  Because, as Jim Collin’s points out, “Good is the enemy of great.”  We were good but we were convinced we could do better.  The choice before us was clear; we could rest competent and content or press toward our goal of creating a Christ-honoring world-class program that propelled teachers and students to higher levels of achievement.  We chose the latter.

I am happy, and frankly relieved, to share that the new schedule has exceeded our expectations.  It is an Extended Period (EP) schedule, not a block schedule.  This is an important distinction.

What Is an Extended Period Schedule?

The Extended Period Schedule is a hybrid of a traditional schedule with features of block scheduling, but without the drawbacks.  Teachers start at 7:30 each day.  This new schedule has three components:

  • Traditional seven period days on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays
  • Two days of Extended Period Instruction (EPI) and
  • A late start on Thursdays.

Monday  (traditional schedule)                 8:00 a.m.     3:00

Tuesday  (traditional schedule)                 8:00 a.m.     3:00

Wednesday  (EPI)                                           8:00 a.m.     3:00

Thursday late start & (EPI)                         9:00 a.m.      3:00

Friday  (traditional schedule)                    8:00 a.m.      3:00

Why the Change Was Made

We changed the schedule to provide students with more hands-on, active, engaging, and collaborative learning opportunities.  Extended periods provide more time for practicing writing and editing skills (essential for college success), for interactive science labs, for learning how to work on collaborative projects (also an essential skill for college and work), and for integrating technology into teaching and learning.  Extended periods provide time for more variety, more creative instruction, and more practice resulting in richer learning experiences and deeper learning.  In short, extended periods enhance teaching and learning by giving teachers and students time to think, not merely digest information.  Students move about and work in teams.  And, as our Learning Unleashed program (1:1 computing iPad program) is rolled out, students move from learning to use technology to using technology to learn.

The Extended Period Schedule also includes a late start Thursday.  The Thursday late start provides time to train teachers to work in teams to create integrated, creative, and engaging lessons that include the appropriate use of technology.  Teachers are also engaged in technology and pedagogical training on Thursday mornings.  The late start on Thursday also provides extra time for students to complete homework assignments, work on projects, and study for exams.

How the Change Was Made

Change is hard but not impossible.  To increase the likelihood of success and to ensure that the change was systemic and enduring but not cosmetic, we implemented a four-pronged strategy: Education, Communication, Training, and Accountability.

Education

Our first task was to break through a comfortable mindset rooted in academic and geographic isolation.  Too often administrators and teachers are isolated from developments in the world.  This is particularly problematic for Christian schools where staff and students can be culturally isolated, existing in a marginalized Christian bubble.  We may catch a glimpse of world affairs through the news but understanding the deeper implications for our students requires more information and deeper analysis.  It requires constant exposure gleaned by “being in the world.”

We began several years ago to heighten the awareness of our faculty about how the world has changed and the implications of those changes for our students.  We demonstrated through reviewing international test scores, movies such as Two Million Minutes and quotes from leading industrialists, technologists, and economists that our students now compete against the best students in the best schools anywhere in the world.   Here is but one example:

 With the ability to make anything anywhere in the world and sell it anywhere else in the world, business firms can ‘cherry pick’ the skilled…wherever they exist in the world. Some third world countries are now making massive investment in basic education. American firms don’t have to hire an American high school graduate if that graduate is not world-class. His or her educational defects are not their problem. Investing to give the necessary market skills to a well-educated Chinese high school graduate may well look like a much more attractive investment (less costly) than having to retrain…a poorly trained American high school graduate.1  (Neef, 1998)

This was not a one time presentation. Multiple presentations in a variety of venues were made over several years.  This “set the table” or “set the mindset” for further discussion.

Communication

Communication was sustained, accurate, and careful.  The communication that occurred over several years was intentional and followed a logical path.  The communication did not start with the end in mind (e.g., Extended Periods), it began with deepening understanding of the fundamentals of Christian education, the place of the Christian school in culture, a deeper understanding of what it means to think Christianly, the shifting context in which our school operates (a globalized, technological, always connected world), an increasingly diverse and competitive educational marketplace (traditional public schools, charter schools, private schools, Christian schools, homeschooling, and online schools), the rise of Asia, and the fall of the U.S. from the top-tier of academic performance relative to the rest of the world to the middle or lower tier relative to the industrialized world.

Language was also important.  We made a decisive distinction between being “world-class” and being “worldly.”  We differentiated between being excellent and being elitist.  And, we used terminology that was accurate yet benign.  For example, we realized early that many of our teachers and parents would confuse our new schedule with block scheduling.  Although the EP schedule had a few elements common with a block schedule, it was not a block in the traditional sense.  It was also more than a traditional schedule.  What to call it was the question.  Although not creative, we choose to call it an “Extended Period” Schedule because that is what it is; it extends the period from approximately 50 minutes to nearly 90 minutes, extending the time teachers have to engage students in deep learning and collaboration.  Language is important.  It must be accurate while avoiding negative connotations.  Because the language we use is important, it must be planned and intentional.

 Training and Accountability

Our greatest fear was that teachers would lecture to students for 90 minutes.  We knew that if that happened our students would be bored to death, our academic goals would be undercut, and our parents frustrated.

We also knew that habits die hard.  The only way to ensure that extended period teaching was more than an elongated lecture, we provided practical training coupled with constant supervision and accountability.  We began the training process two years ago by approaching the matter indirectly.  With a desire to improve student learning and anticipating an extended period schedule, we devoted two years of training to how the brain learns.  The training included books (e.g., How the Brain Learns and teacher written responses to the contents of what they read.  We also hired outside experts to train our teachers on the science of how the brain learns AND on how to teach based on this science.

In addition to this foundational training, we also hired four Christian professionals with extensive experience teaching in extended periods from two other Christian schools.  They spent two days with our teachers showing them how to create lesson plans and how to teach the effectively in extended periods.  This practical “hands-on” training was just “what the doctor ordered.”  While the training on brain research laid the pedagogical foundation, this practical “how to” training is what finally created the “mind shift” we were looking for.  We noticed a discernible level of “buy in” and even enthusiasm after this training.  The theoretical was married with the practical and a new perspective on teaching was conceived. We started out with worldview, the goal of developing a world-class school, and the study of cognitive science and ended up with the creation of actionable lesson plans.  We moved from theory to practice, from presentation to application, from “this too shall pass” to “I can and want to do this.”

Training, however, in the absence of accountability is a bit like throwing jello against the wall and hoping it sticks.  Notwithstanding initial enthusiasm, most of it slides off to the floor.  Training is the same way.  To put teachers through a day or even a week of presentations is unfair to them and does not change practice.  Practice changes practice.   This means that teachers must practice what they are being taught at the time they are being taught and from that point forward.  There is no going back.  The application of training to teaching is not an option, it is an expectation, a requirement.

This means that teachers must be held accountable to incorporate the training in the classroom.  The only way this can be done is through direct observation, the requirement of artifacts to demonstrate application, and through evaluations that measure consistent classroom application of training.  Anything short of these measures will result in minimal, spotty change, if any.  Without this level of accountability, we foster the “this too shall pass” attitude that plagues so many schools.

On the observation side, the junior and senior high principals and the Director of Curriculum and Instruction (DOCI) spend most of the day on Wednesdays and Thursdays reviewing EP lesson plans and observing every classroom.  They offer help and advice but also look for compliance. It has been said that “what gets measured gets done.”  While we would love to think that everyone is intrinsically motivated to do what is asked, the truth is that all of us need accountability, administrators no less than teachers and students.  If something is worth investing time and money in, it is worth monitoring and evaluating.

The Cost

Some change can be expensive but most change costs very little in money but a great deal in thought, hard work, and even courage.  Aside from the purchase of books and honorariums for our trainers, there is little cost associated with our change to extended periods.  But, there is a potentially huge payoff in student engagement and learning.  Low cost combined with significant gains in the quality of teaching and learning creates a high Educational Return on Investment (EROI) and increased marginal value for our parents.  Everyone benefits.

The Results

Although it is too early to have data to measure the results, I can share that all of the anecdotal feedback from students, parents, principals, and teachers has been positive, in fact, more positive than we expected at this early stage.  This is a tribute to professional, gracious, and hardworking teachers who deeply care about students and about doing a superior job.  It is also attributable to extensive Education, Communication, Training, and Accountability.

Change is hard and risky but it is not impossible.  With vision, planning, and hard work, undergirded by prayerfulness and a love for staff and students, we can create change that changes the lives of our students.

What have you changed lately?

 

Reference: Neef, D. (1998). The knowledge economy. Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann.

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