Weekly Thoughts 3-10-15

Proposition S

Our tax levy increase ballot is explained by Chris on a public site (not a Wright City R-II site): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sDY-SEvCoE . Note that anything we send out as a district will not have the vote yes language, just informational. I just wanted you, as a leader, to be aware of the informational portion of this PPT. If you live within the district, please feel free to vote how you wish. Please vote.

Quote of the Day

"Kids are different today. They view content as a commodity" - from my notes of at the National Conference on Education. I didn't catch who. It is an interesting mind shift that has occurred.


IL is on Thursday. I believe the agenda was created in some other folder, not in the IL folder. You may have to do a search on it.

Few items that will be discussed:

  • Improvement Plan for next year (evaluation system)
  • Curriculum (textbook) requests for next year

Next Week

Spring Break!

I hope you recharge. I will attend a Federal Programs workshop and sit in on an IPI-Technology training in Sullivan next week. I hope to report out good things to you soon!

End of the Year Movement

I track where folks move to. When you hear where someone lands for next year, please let me know. Thank you!


TOY has been sent...thank you for that! The SSOY process starts when you return. Please complete by April 6th if at all possible.

March 28th

Busy day in the district. Warren County Health Fair is held at our HS from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. This is a hugely attended event. Bring your kids...my kids have loved it every year. Later that night is Blue and Gold, an auction dinner for scholarships for our kids. $50 per person. Jill is putting together some tables if you are interested. Jenn and I will be there...it is always a fun night. I usually buy some silent auction item or two...the live auction tends to be out of my price range. Feel free to come and just enjoy. Hope to see many of you there.


I had the pleasure of sitting in on interviews with some of you yesterday. I was struck by how good the lot of you are...and how stark of a difference that is to what I saw in 2008 during similar interviews. The Wildcat Leadership is something to be amazed by. Thank you for your collective talents! Our kids are benefiting from it.

Articles via Marshall Memo

  1. “Humility, Will, and Level 5 Leadership: An Interview with Jim Collins” by Michael Brosnan in Independent School, Spring 2015 (Vol. 74, #3, p 34-38)

  2. “7 Things Every Kid Should Master” by Susan Engel in The Boston Globe, March 1, 2015

  3. “Self-Regulatory Climate: A Social Resource for Student Regulation and Achievement” by Curt Adams, Patrick Forsyth, Ellen Dollarhide, Ryan Miskell, and Jordan Ware in Teachers College Record, February 2015 (Vol. 117, #2, p. 1-28)

1. Jim Collins on School Leadership

In this Independent School interview, editor Michael Brosnan questions Good to Great author Jim Collins about the principalship. Some highlights:

Schools’ big-picture mission – Based on his work analyzing businesses, social-service agencies, schools, and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Collins says, “I happen to believe that the single most important investment we can make as a society is to get as many kids as possible to a strong starting point for adult life by the end of high school.”

Unit-level leadership – One revelation for Collins at West Point was the critical importance of what he calls “unit-level leadership” – which in schools is the role filled by the principal. This level of leadership is especially important in challenging times. He compares the way we evaluate a mountaineering guide on an easy trail versus braving a howling storm on the side of K2. “There,” he says, “whether you are an exceptional leader or an unexceptional leader is going to be exposed. This turns out to be true for all organizations facing challenges, including schools.”

Three keys to greatness – To be exemplary, Collins says, an organization must meet these criteria: (a) Getting superior results relative to its particular mission; (b) Having a unique impact on the world, such that people would truly notice its absence; and (c) Enduring over time, through multiple cycles of leadership. “If your school or organization or company cannot be great without you as its leader, it is not yet a great enterprise,” he says. “In order to be great, you have to render it not dependent on you.”

Building clocks versus telling time – Collins and his colleagues like this metaphor. Time-tellers are go-to people with the right information and all the answers, but everyone is dependent on them. “For more sustainability, great leaders realize that they have to build a clock that can tell the time long after they are gone,” says Collins. “The leader’s real task is to think about how he or she builds the clock.” That means enduring values, a clear mission, organizational structures and procedures, competent people, and a culture that keeps everyone’s eyes on the prize and allows the organization to weather difficult times.

Simultaneously preserving the core and stimulating progress – Another important leadership trait is the ability to develop and execute a set of Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) that are in synch with the organization’s values and mission but take them to the next level. “This is the yin and the yang of organizations,” says Collins, “and they play off of each other constantly. The core comprises essential values and purpose… The stimulating progress part doesn’t mess with those values. But it does look at ways to improve on their delivery. It’s about looking forward – about doing new stuff, doing things better, doing big things, and even looking beyond one’s tenure.”

Level 5 versus Level 4 leadership – Level 4 leaders are, deep down, all about themselves, their ego, and their careers. Ninety percent of the time, Collins says, the people who successfully transform struggling organizations are Level 5 leaders. They share two characteristics: they’re almost always from inside the organization, and they are seldom charismatic. “The tendency is to think you need someone with a proven track record,” says Collins. “Most great leaders grow into becoming great leaders. They don’t start out great… Usually it’s someone who doesn’t try to draw too much attention to him or herself. It’s about the enterprise. It’s about the school, about the kids… They have high levels of humility and will. All their ambition and drive are channeled outward into a cause or a company or school. It truly is not about them. It’s not about how they look to the public. Not about their career. Not about the power or the money. It’s about the cause or the mission. And they have the utterly stoic will to do whatever it takes to succeed for the sake of that cause.”

Intelligent innovation – It took nine years of research for Collins and his colleagues to realize that the key to successfully weathering difficult challenges was not being innovative but finding the innovations that are empirically validated – in other words, what will actually work in the situation. “When a company or an organization is in trouble,” he says, “it has to ask a central question: Is the reason we’re in trouble because our recipe no longer works and we need to completely change it, or is it that we’ve lost discipline with a recipe that, in essence, still works? More often than not, it’s a matter of getting the discipline back. But you have to know the answer to this question for your organization. And you have to be right.”

The essence of leadership – Collins doesn’t believe there are important generational differences in leaders. Styles of communication and specific ideas may change with each new cohort, he says, but the fundamentals remain the same. In his time at West Point, Collins stumbled upon what he believes is a beautiful definition of leadership: Dwight Eisenhower said, Leadership is the art of getting people to want to do what must be done. Collins likes all three parts:

  • Great leadership is an art.

  • Leaders have to know what must be done, which is not always obvious.

  • It’s not about getting people to do the right stuff, but getting them to want to do it.

    “I believe that we need legions of Level 5 leaders in our schools,” Collins concludes. “My sense is that the up-and-coming generation of leaders has the Level 5 capacity to spark the entire education system to go from good to great. I am increasingly inspired and impressed by the young leaders I meet. Let’s get out of their way and let them lead!”

“Humility, Will, and Level 5 Leadership: An Interview with Jim Collins” by Michael Brosnan in Independent School, Spring 2015 (Vol. 74, #3, p 34-38), no e-link available

2. Measuring What Matters Most in Schools

In this article in The Boston Globe Magazine, Susan Engel (Williams College) wades into the debate about standardized testing with an arresting statement: the tests U.S. students are taking don’t measure what really matters in life. But Williams isn’t for banning all tests. Rather, she says, we should assess what we value most in order to get objective feedback on how schools are doing on their most important job. “We need an empirical snapshot of a school,” she says. “By approaching assessment this way, we’d free up students and teachers to do more meaningful work.”

Here’s her list of seven high-level educational outcomes, which she believes can be ascertained through sample testing:

Reading – The goal should be “the ability to read an essay or book and understand it well enough to use the information in some practical way or to talk about it with another person,” says Engel. This won’t happen unless students are reading on a regular basis, using books and other texts for pleasure and information, and continuously developing their grammatical complexity, vocabulary, and thinking ability. What’s the best way to measure all this? By analyzing random samples of students’ essays and stories.

Inquiry – Young children enter school with a natural “disposition to inquire,” says Engel. However, she continues, “One of the great ironies of our educational system is that it seems to squelch the impulse most essential to learning new things and to pursuing scientific discovery and invention.” Maintaining childish inquisitiveness and curiosity should be a major goal of schools, and the best way to keep track of progress is keeping track of the number and quality of questions a child asks in a given period of time – Can they be answered with data? How does the child go about getting answers? And how persistent is the child when answers are hard to find?

Flexible thinking and use of evidence – College students are assessed on their ability to think about a situation in several different ways, says Engel. Why not get this information on K-12 students and use it to fine-tune the curriculum? Kids might be asked to respond to a prompt like this: “Choose something you are good at and describe to your reader how you do it” or “Write a description of yourself from a friend’s (or enemy’s) point of view.”

Conversation – “Teachers are given scant training in how to encourage, expand, and deepen children’s conversations,” says Engel, and notes that economically disadvantaged children are less likely to hear and be part of rich conversations at home. How can conversational skills be assessed? By listening in on children’s chats, it’s possible to code:

  • The length of exchanges and turns taken;

  • How many of these turns are in response to what was just said;

  • How attuned each speaker is to what the other person is saying and thinking;

  • Number of agreements and disagreements.

  • Variety and depth of topics;

  • Points of view articulated;

  • Amount of information exchanged.

“If teachers knew that their students’ conversations were valuable and that they and their

students were being measured by their conversations,” says Engel, “they might get more help learning how to scaffold or enrich children’s talk.”

Collaboration – “One of the most robust findings in developmental psychology is that kids learn how to treat one another by watching the way adults treat them and treat each other,” says Engel. “The habits of kindness and teamwork need time, effort, and attention to develop.” She believes that teacher training programs, professional development, and administrators need to be more attentive to this hidden curriculum and measure the levels of helpfulness and mutual support within the student body and faculty. For example, some popular students lord it over their cafeteria tables while socially isolated students don’t know where they can sit.

Engagement – The educational philosopher Harry Brighouse believes that one of the most powerful cognitive skills children can acquire is the ability to remain focused on something for 20 minutes at a time. Engel says schools should look for this ability and work to get all students to at least that level of engagement. This means frequently observing everyday classroom activities and seeing if teachers are providing opportunities for students to become fully absorbed in and energized by specific activities.

Well-being – One way to measure if the six preceding elements are in place is asking students questions like these:

  • How often do you enjoy being in school?

  • What are you working on? Does it interest you? Do you care about it?

  • Do the adults in this school know you?

“7 Things Every Kid Should Master” by Susan Engel in The Boston Globe, March 1, 2015,

http://bit.ly/1x8hCYY; Engel can be reached at sengel@williams.edu.

3. School Climate as a Major Factor in Student Achievement

In this Teachers College Record article, Curt Adams, Patrick Forsyth, Ellen Dollarhide, Ryan Miskell, and Jordan Ware (University of Oklahoma) report on their study of school climate and its impact on student achievement in 80 elementary and secondary schools in a large urban district. They compared schools that controlled student behavior and regulated performance through external contingencies (rules, punishments, and rewards), and schools that worked to create a self-regulatory climate emphasizing student autonomy, competence, and relationships. The researchers hypothesized that a school with a self-regulatory climate would lead students to be “metacognitively, motivationally, and behaviorally active learners” who would “act volitionally toward academic goals and possess the inner agency to control academic efforts” – and that this would result in improved academic achievement.

What did they find? Schools with a self-regulatory climate produced significantly higher student achievement in mathematics. What were the key steps in achieving this kind of climate? These schools successfully orchestrated four interacting elements:

Collective faculty trust in students – This was measured by faculty responses to questions like, “Students in this school can be counted on to do their work,” “Teachers believe students in this school are competent learners,” and “Teachers in this school trust their students.”

Collective student trust in faculty – This was measured by student responses to questions like, “Teachers are always ready to help at this school,” “Teachers at this school really listen to students,” and “Teachers at this school are good at teaching.”

Students’ perception of a strong academic emphasis – This was measured by students’ answers to questions like, “This school has high expectations for student achievement,” “Teachers in this school encourage students to keep trying even when the work is challenging,” and “Teachers in this school place an emphasis on understanding school work, not just memorizing it.”

Self-regulated learning – This was measured by students’ responses to items like, “I arrange a place to study without distractions,” “I get myself to study when there are other interesting things to do,” and “I remember well information presented in class and textbooks.”

The researchers found that self-regulated learning correlated .96 with student trust in teachers, .83 with academic emphasis, and .66 with faculty trust in students. The bottom line: “Schools organized in ways that build collective trust and emphasize academic excellence can regulate student learning in ways that leverage the natural capacity of students to flourish… A self-regulatory climate establishes predictable and cooperative interactions through shared influence and risk taking, reducing the dependence on external controls that constrain behavior and undermine autonomous action… Schools with high collective trust and strong academic emphasis can use these conditions to their advantage as they implement new curricula, assessments, instructional technology, and other improvement strategies”

The researchers found this was true for students of various racial/ethnic and economic groups. They believe these factors create a “virtuous cycle” that improves achievement and helps students overcome weak entering academic skills.

“Self-Regulatory Climate: A Social Resource for Student Regulation and Achievement” by Curt Adams, Patrick Forsyth, Ellen Dollarhide, Ryan Miskell, and Jordan Ware in Teachers College Record, February 2015 (Vol. 117, #2, p. 1-28), http://bit.ly/1Gz985p; Adams can be reached at Curt.Adams-1@ou.edu.

No Trivia This Week