Sunday, February 27, 2011

Are We Focusing Too Much on Leadership?

I have recently been spending a lot of my limited free time watching various TED Talks.  According to Wikipedia, TED (an acronym that stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design) is a global set of conferences curated by the American private non-profit Sapling Foundation, formed to disseminate "ideas worth spreading."  TED Conferences have been occurring since 1990 and until recently the speeches and disucussions led by leading thinkers have been limited to the exclusive group of attendees.  Since 2006 the talks have been made available to view for free online.  There are currently over 700 TED Talks available online from speakers spanning all walks of life including Malcolm Gladwell, Robert Ballard, the founders of Google, Bill Clinton, Billy Graham, and hundreds more.  You can access the TED Talks website HERE.

The TED Talk I watched this morning was only 3 minutes long.  It was about the process of starting a movement by a man named Derek Sivers.  Before reading on, please take three minutes to watch the video:

I found the video and Mr. Sivers analysis to be fascinating.  I have always been interested in human behavior. As a sociology major at Iowa State I loved to study the way people act and interact and the reasons behind these actions.  

There are a few key observations that I took away from this video.  

Leadership (at least as it is often defined) may be over glorified.  Yes, all great change starts with a leader.  Someone has to have the courage to stand up and say "lets try something new."  It takes insight, knowledge, and bravery to lead.  But what would leadership be without any followers?  Mr. Sivers describes the importance of what he calls the "first follower."

"The first follower is what turns a lone nut into a leader." 

Mr Sivers goes on to describe the importance of being a "first follower" and how being the first follower is an under-appreciated type of leadership.  It is the first follower that makes it okay for others to join in the movement.  Consider this - have you ever seen a single person stand up and give a standing ovation?  I know I have.  Have you ever seen only 2 or 3 in the crowd stand up?  In all of my experience I have never seen such a thing.  Either only one stands up, or eventually, the entire audience joins in.  The first follower is what makes all the difference.  

Leadership has long been a buzzword in education.  We profess to want everyone to be leaders.  I have long claimed to want to cultivate leadership in both teachers and students.  We all want our children to grow up to be leaders.  Books on leadership dominate the Amazon best seller list.  

When is the last time you read a book on "followership?"  In our society we look down on the idea of being a follower.  But if we truly were a school, community, or nation full of nothing but leaders - how inefficient would that be?  One cannot lead without followers.  

According to Mr. Sivers, follower is not a bad word.  It takes a lot of courage to lead, but it takes nearly as much courage to be a first follower.  Casting your lot and joining in a movement before it becomes the "accepted" thing to do is not easy.  I would even argue in some ways it is easier to be the "shirtless dancing guy" rather than the first one to say - yeah, I am with the shirtless dancing guy and you should join us too! 

The "first follower" is extremely important for a number of reasons and leaders need to ensure they are welcoming those first followers and embracing them as equals.  As he says, future followers will emulate the first followers more than the original leader.  

Maybe we need to reexamine our definitions of leading and following.  Maybe we need to become better at, as Mr. Sivers puts it "finding the lone nut that is doing something great, and having the guts to be the first one to stand up and join in."  


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Short Takes: Standards Based Assessment and Reporting

Hello All,
I have neglected this blog in recent weeks. Almost a month has passed since my last blog post. (Why do I suddenly feel like I am in a confessional?) February is a month that can get away from you in a hurry! Between snow days, ITED's, and the changing sports seasons; if you blink, you miss it!

I wanted to touch on a topic that has been in the news quite a bit recently - the idea of Standards Based Assessment and Reporting (SBAR), sometimes called Standards Based Grading (SBG).

SBAR represents a shift in the way students are assessed. Rather than resulting in a letter grade of A, B, C, D, or F; SBAR refers all learning back to a predetermined group of standards that are developed for each course. These standards often correlate with state and national standards like the Iowa Core Curriculum. Parents and students are aware of the standards ahead of time and teachers use multiple points of evidence to determine how fully each student has progressed toward mastery of each standard. Progress toward mastery is usually reported as a number (from 1-4) or a descriptor (like Beginning, Developing, Secure, or Exceeds). In some ways it is similar to the use of a rubric in assessing a student project. The standards are laid out ahead of time as well as descriptive information that guides students in understanding what a 1, 2, 3, or 4 "looks like." In a true standards based environment, at the end of the reporting period (ex. quarter or semester) there is no letter grade issued - The report that parents receive contains a list of the standards as well as information as to which level of mastery the student has attained. In most SBAR systems, behavior and learning are assessed separately. The idea being that by the end of the course, we expect all students to be at a Secure level in these 10 (or whatever the number is) standards. Some may reach that level much sooner, some may take longer, but the amount of time they take to get there is secondary - the goal is to get all students there.

SBAR has been in the news in Iowa recently because of the Waukee School District's decision to move toward this type of assessment and reporting in both of their middle schools. The decision has not been readily supported by many. Many parents are concerned about what they see as a significant shift in the way their kids are assessed and in the way their progress is reported.

Common parent concerns have been that this represents a dumbing down or easing of academic rigor. There have also been concerns that the "real world" often uses letter grades to assess and schools should as well.

Let me be clear - I am certainly not an expert in Standards Based Grading. I have only begun to truly learn about the practice this year. However, the more I learn about it the more sense it seems to make.

Most of us have jobs in which we are evaluated. How many of those evaluations are boiled down to one simple letter? We have an evaluation process that we use in the Okoboji School District to evaluate teacher effectiveness. It is based on the Iowa Teaching Standards. You can find those eight standards and their benchmarks HERE. Every three years (for continuing teachers on a professional license) a teacher is observed several times, and their performance is compared with these Standards. The goal is for teachers to reach mastery level of all eight standards. A summative evaluation is written which describes their progress toward mastery of these eight standards. If a teacher is deficient in one or more of these areas, an assistance plan is developed that targets improvement in the identified areas of need. Progress is measured and noted and future decisions are based on the results of the plan. Most teachers interviewing for a job will reference the standards and during their first two years of teaching they are required to create a portfolio of evidence that they have met the standards.

Does this sound familiar to you? It seems to me we are already doing SBAR in the evaluation of teachers. I know if I tried to issue a single letter of A-F and call it my "summative evaluation" of a teacher, it would never be allowed. It would be decried as subjective, incomplete, and vague...and they would be absolutely right. If Standards Based Assessment and Reporting is good enough for a decision that affects the future of someones employment, their livelihood, and the security of their family...shouldn't it also be good enough for sophomore biology?

Just a thought...

(Bloggers note - SBAR is taking hold mainly at the middle school because of the absence of concern about the idea of "credits" and college admissions that is a very real issue at the high school level. There have been NO talks of moving to a SBAR system at Okoboji High School. The thoughts and ideas in this entry are just to stimulate thought and conversation and are NOT indicative of an imminent shift in assessment and reporting procedures at Okoboji High School....just some good things to think about.)

I leave you with this final note about standards based assessment: I once heard someone talk about how in most classrooms you could get a poor grade on the tests but do great on homework and still pass. The speaker related that they were glad flight school did not work that way. They said if someone could get an A on takeoff and flying but a D on landing, they should not get a C+ in flight school. I, like the speaker, am glad that flight school has always used Standards Based Assessment and Reporting. :-)

Have a GREAT week!