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Creating a Climate of Possibility for Latino Youth February 19, 2014

Posted by latinoschoolleaders in Common Standards, Principal Effectiveness.
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By Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, Assistant Principal, Glendale Middle School, NILSL Fellow, NCLR

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I recently watched Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk on school leadership for the fourth time. Each time I understand more deeply and clearly the role of a school leader. Robinson says the “real role of leadership” is to create a climate of possibility. As I reflect on student populations like the one at the school where I am a leader, there has not been a climate of possibility for most students for many years. Our diverse population of refugees, children of refugees, new immigrants, children of new immigrants, English learners, and generations of under-served students need us to create that climate of possibility.

Our students need schools that provide an education that is individualized and personalized. At Glendale Middle School in Salt Lake City we work to create varied personalized programs or projects that “hook” our students to their learning so that they can see the purpose and possibility. What is more culturally relevant for a student than working on a project to improve one’s own community or making a movie about a current issue at school?

School leaders must also create a climate of possibility for their teachers. Students have been conditioned into believing that they cannot achieve at high academic levels, as have many teachers. They too believe that their students are not able to achieve at high academic levels. If teachers and students alike do not believe it is possible, then it is not possible. Our job is to create a system to support teachers to know what is possible and to develop the heart, the will and the skill to make the change necessary for our Latino students and English learners to achieve at high levels.

In addition to creating a climate of possibility is the necessity to create a well run system that insists on high quality instruction and assessment, and the use of data to drive instruction, intervention and professional development. The Common Core State Standards are a rigorous tool to focus teachers and students on high expectations. Forbes Magazine’s list of The Eight Characteristics of Effective School Leaders mirrors what is possible and what our students need: high expectations, relentlessness, personal development of every student, rich opportunity within and out of the classroom, partnerships with parents and the community, and rigorous data analysis.

As we continue the work to create climates of possibilities for our students and teachers we may find ourselves achieving things we never would have expected.

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Go Slow to Go Fast February 19, 2014

Posted by latinoschoolleaders in Principal Effectiveness.
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By Kevin Myers, NILSL Fellow, NCLR

NILSL_Feb14_blogpic1Students walk into a classroom with an innate trust in teachers. They trust teachers to educate, to support academically and emotionally, and they trust teachers to guide them through a year of overall development. With all of the different facets of teaching and the pressure of testing accountability bearing down on them, balancing the needs of all students is a difficult undertaking. To be effective, teachers need to juggle many different tasks, countless student needs, and hundreds of varying resources.

When working with populations of students with a high percentage of English learners, maintaining focus and balancing all of these plates at once is even more important. It’s easy to get lost in the myriad of “To Dos” that pop onto a teachers task list, but I believe there are important strategies that teachers need to use on a daily basis to ensure that they are effective with their English learners and with all of their students. In order to maintain that innate trust students have in educators, we must initiate frequent checks for understanding, provide meaningful and immediate feedback, and build relationships with kids.

As the kids pile through the classroom door, a million different cues and must-dos run through a teacher’s head. Attendance, Do Nows, passing back work, classroom procedures, correcting behavior, and starting a lesson are all thoughts zooming around in a teacher’s mind, colliding with each other and creating a lot of internal chaos. When this happens to me, I like to think back to something I heard during an Inquiry by Design professional development session. The trainer said to the class, “You need to go slow so you can go fast.” This seems like a paradox at first, but in actuality, it’s wonderful advice! When all of the tasks and stresses of teaching start to collide, it’s imperative for teachers to take a breath and slow down. One strategy for slowing down is to plan frequent checks for understanding into a lesson.

NILSL_Feb14_blogpic2Kids need for teachers to focus on the lesson and what is currently being taught, not what else still needs to be done during that period. When teachers use strategies like Think-Pair-Share, Thumbs-Up/Thumbs-Down, or evaluating an idea by showing a number of fingers (1-4 seems to be effective), kids have time to process what is being taught during the lesson. By intentionally taking the time to pause and check in with students, teachers are ensuring that kids are ready to move on to the next step. When the kids are ready to move on, teachers won’t have to spend stressful minutes going back and re-teaching. If teachers take time to make sure kids are with them through checks for understanding, they will definitely be more effective with all students, including our English learners.

With a million things on our minds, it would be easy for an educator to get bogged down in the stress and the obligation of everyday work. But if we peel back the curtain to get a glimpse of the reason we all got into this field, we will see the students. We all want to be effective educators so our kids can be successful, and if we take the time to go slow- to check for understanding, to provide feedback, and to build relationships- we will be effective indeed.