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The bi-monthly resource for Texas ASCD members

Leadersof Learners


August 2011

Vol. 4, Issue 4

Using Assessments to Improve Teaching and Learning

12 Passion + Objectivity = Energy


Case Study: Crucial Skills Training Cuts Grievances in Half and Builds Common Language

Leadersof Learners

August 2011

Vol. 4, Issue 4


Features 3

Using Assessments to Improve Teaching and Learning by Dr. Thomas Guskey


Passion + Objectivity = Energy

by Dr. Barbara Gideon


Case Study: Crucial Skills Training Cuts Grievances in Half and Builds Common Language


2011 SouthWest BLC Photos

In Every Issue

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Calendar of Events Texas ASCD Membership Application President Janis Jordan, Ed.D. President-Elect Al Hambrick, Ph.D. Vice President Carl Key Secretary Virginia Cotten Past President Ellen V. Bell, Ph.D. Yolanda M. Rey, Ph.D. Executive Director

August 2011 Leaders of Learners

Texas Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (Texas ASCD) is a nonprofit educational organization that improves learning through supporting all educators and school children of Texas in their educational endeavors. Leaders Learners is an official journal of Texas ASCD. If you 2 News andofEvents

have comments concerning Leaders of Learners, please send them to Opinions expressed in this publication are not necessarily the opinions or endorsements of Texas ASCD or our membership.


Using Assessments to Improve Teaching and Learning by: Dr. Thomas R. Guskey

In this first chapter of From Ahead of the Curve: The Power of Assessment to Transform Teaching and Learning, Dr. Guskey addresses the complex question, “How do we make assessment results useful?” Data from large-scale assessments are usually used to rank-order schools and students for the purpose of accountability. But do these assessments succeed in improving student learning? The author argues that assessments must become an integral part of the instructional process to help teachers improve their instruction or modify their approach to individual students. The assessments best suited to guide improvements in instruction and student learning are the quizzes, tests, writing assignments, and other assessments teachers administer on a regular basis in their classrooms. Dr. Guskey highlights three important ways teachers need to change their approach to assessment to improve student learning: Use assessments as sources of information for both students and teachers; follow assessments with highquality, corrective instruction; and give students second chances to demonstrate success.

performance drawn from large-scale assessments will help focus educators’ attention and guarantee success, especially if consequences are attached to the assessment results; however, large-scale assessments, like all assessments, are designed for a specific purpose—to rank-order schools and students for the purposes of accountability, and some do that fairly well. But assessments designed for ranking are generally not good instruments for helping teachers to improve their instruction or modify their approach to individual students.

Policymakers and legislators at the state and national levels Students take these assessments see assessments as at the end of the school year, most instructional activities essential for change. when are near completion. Teachers

Large-scale assessment programs provide the foundation for nearly every modern education reform initiative. Policymakers and legislators at the state and national levels see assessments as essential for change. They believe that good data on student

August 2011 Leaders of Learners

do not receive the results until many months later, and by that time their students have usually moved on to other classrooms with different teachers. Finally, the results teachers receive usually lack the level of detail needed to target specific improvements (Barton, 2002; Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Kifer, 2001). The assessments best suited to guide improvements in instruction and student learning are the quizzes, tests, writing assignments, and other assessments teachers administer on a regular basis in their classrooms. Teachers trust the results from these assessments because they relate directly to instructional goals


use assessments as sources of information for both students and teachers, 2) follow assessments with high-quality corrective instruction, and 3) give students second chances to demonstrate success. What makes these changes in approach so difficult, however, is that each change compels teachers to depart significantly from the practices they experienced as students. In other words, teachers must think about and use assessments differently than their teachers did. in the classroom (see Guskey, 2007). Plus, results are immediate, relevant, and easy to analyze at the individual student level. However, to use classroom assessment to make improvements, teachers must change both the way they view assessment and the way they interpret results. Specifically, they need to see their assessments as an integral part of the instructional process and as an essential element in their efforts to help students learn. Despite the importance of assessments in education today, few teachers receive much formal training in assessment design or analysis. A survey by Stiggins (1999) showed, for example, that less than half the states require competence in assessment for licensure as a teacher. Lacking specific training, teachers often do what they recall their own teachers doing: They rely heavily on the assessments offered by the publishers of their textbooks or instructional materials. When no suitable assessments are available, they construct their own in a haphazard way, with questions and essay prompts similar to those their teachers used. They treat assessments strictly as evaluation devices, administering them when instructional activities are completed and using them primarily to gather information for assigning students’ grades.

Making Assessments Useful For assessments to become an integral part of the instructional process, teachers need to change their approach in three important ways: They must 1) August 2011 Leaders of Learners

Use Assessments as Sources of Information for Both Students and Teachers Nearly every student has suffered the experience of spending hours preparing for a major assessment, only to discover that the material he or she studied was different from what the teacher chose to emphasize on the assessment (see Guskey, 2006). This experience teaches students two unfortunate lessons: First, they discover that hard work and effort often do not pay off in school because the time and energy they spent in preparation for the assessment had little or no influence on the results. And second, they learn that they cannot trust teachers (Guskey, 2000b). These are hardly the lessons responsible teachers want their students to learn. Nevertheless, this experience is a common one for students because many teachers still mistakenly believe that they must keep their assessments secret. As a result, students come to regard assessments as guessing games, especially from the middle grades on. They come to believe that their success in school depends largely on how well they can guess what their teachers will ask on quizzes, tests, and other types of assessments. Some teachers even take pride in their ability to out-guess students. They include questions about isolated concepts or obscure facts just to see if students are reading carefully. Generally, teachers do not include such “gotcha� questions maliciously, but rather they do so often unconsciously because 4

such questions were asked of them when they were students.

student learning are simply extensions of those same goals and standards.

Classroom assessments that serve as meaningful sources of information do not surprise students. Instead, they are well-aligned extensions of the teacher’s instructional activities. Such assessments reflect the concepts and skills the teacher emphasized in class, along with the criteria the teacher provided for how he or she would judge student performance. Ideally these concepts, skills, and criteria are also aligned with state, provincial, or district standards. Students see these types of assessments as fair measures of important learning goals. The results of the assessments facilitate learning by providing essential feedback on students’ learning progress and by helping to identify learning problems (Bloom, Madaus, & Hastings, 1981; Stiggins, 2002).

Instead of teaching to the test, teachers are more accurately “testing or assessing what they teach.” They recognize that if a particular concept or skill is important enough to assess, then it should be important enough to teach. And if it is not important enough to teach, then there is little justification for including it in the assessment.

Critics sometimes contend that this approach to assessment is “teaching to the test,” but this is not necessarily the case. We have to ask, “What determines the content and methods of teaching?” If a test is the primary determinant of what teachers teach and how they teach it, then they are indeed teaching to the test. This occurs frequently today in schools and districts where student performance, as well as that of teachers, is judged by the results of a single large-scale assessment. However, if desired learning goals or standards are the foundation of students’ instructional experiences, then assessments of August 2011 Leaders of Learners

The best classroom assessments also serve as meaningful sources of information for teachers. Assessments provide teachers with specific guidance in their efforts to improve the quality of their teaching by helping identify what they taught well and what needs work. Gathering this vital information does not require sophisticated statistical analysis of assessment results. Teachers need only make a simple tally of how many students missed each item on the assessment or failed to meet a specific criterion. Figure 1 shows an example of this type of assessment analysis. State assessment results sometimes provide similar item-by-item information, but concerns about content security and the cost of developing new questions each year often make assessment developers reluctant to offer such detailed information. Once teachers have tallied their students’ results, they can pay special attention to trouble spots where large 5

numbers of students made errors (in the example in Figure 1, items 7 and 8, and criterion 2 of problem #1). When reviewing results, the teacher must first consider the quality of the item or criterion. In other words, is the problem with the instruction or is it with the assessment? Perhaps the question is ambiguously worded or the criterion is unclear. Perhaps students misinterpreted the question or the instructions. Whatever the case, teachers must determine whether or not these items and criteria adequately address the knowledge, understanding, or skill they were intended to measure.

students. Occasionally teachers respond, “Don’t students have significant responsibilities in this process? Shouldn’t students be expected to display initiative and personal accountability? And besides, if they don’t get it, that’s their fault, not mine. I’m here to teach, and they’re here to learn.” Indeed, teachers and students share responsibility for learning. Even with valiant teaching efforts, we cannot guarantee that all students will learn everything excellently. In fact, only rarely do teachers find items or assessment criteria that every student has answered correctly.

Using high-quality corrective instruction is not the same as reteaching, which often consists simply of restating the original explanations louder and more slowly.

If teachers find no obvious problems with the item or criterion, then they must turn their attention to their teaching. When as many as half the students in a class answer a clear question incorrectly or fail to meet a particular criterion, it is not a student learning problem— it is a teaching problem. Whatever strategy the teacher used, whatever examples were employed, or whatever explanation was offered, it simply did not work.

Analyzing assessment results in this way means setting aside some very powerful ego issues. Many teachers may initially say, “I taught them. They just didn’t learn it!” But with further reflection, most recognize that effectiveness in teaching is not defined on the basis of what they do as teachers. Rather, it is defined by what their students are able to do. If few students learned what was taught, can it be said that the teaching was effective? Can effective teaching take place in the absence of learning? Certainly not. Some argue that such a perspective puts too much responsibility on teachers and not enough on the August 2011 Leaders of Learners

There are always a few students who are unwilling to put forth the necessary effort, but these students tend to be the exception, not the rule. If a teacher is reaching less than half of the students in the class, the teacher’s method of instruction needs to improve. And teachers need this kind of evidence to help target their instructional

improvement efforts.

Follow Assessments Corrective Instruction



If assessments provide vital information for both students and teachers, then it makes sense that they do not mark the end of learning. Assessments must be followed by high-quality corrective instruction designed to help students remedy whatever learning errors identified with the assessment (see Guskey, 1997). To charge ahead knowing that certain concepts or skills have not been learned well would be foolish. Teachers must therefore follow their assessments with instructional alternatives that present those concepts in new ways and engage students in different and more appropriate learning experiences.


Using high-quality corrective instruction is not the same as reteaching, which often consists simply of restating the original explanations louder and more slowly. Instead, the teacher must use approaches that accommodate differences in students’ learning styles and intelligences (Sternberg, 1994). Although teachers generally try to incorporate different approaches when they plan their lessons, corrective instruction extends and strengthens that work. Students who have few or no learning errors to correct should also participate in enrichment or extension activities to help broaden and expand their learning. Materials designed for gifted and talented students are an excellent resource for such activities. Developing ideas for high-quality corrective instruction and enrichment activities can be difficult, especially if teachers believe they must do it alone. Fortunately, they do not have to. Colleagues are some of the best resources for developing teaching strategies. Structured professional development opportunities can help teachers share strategies and collaborate on teaching techniques (Guskey, 1998, 2000a). Faculty meetings devoted to examining classroom assessment

August 2011 Leaders of Learners

results and developing alternative strategies be highly effective. District-level personnel collaborative partnerships with local colleges universities are valuable resources for ideas practical advice.

can and and and

Occasionally, teachers express concern that if they take class time to offer corrective instruction, they will need to sacrifice curriculum coverage. But this need not be the case. Initially, corrective work must be done in class, under the teacher’s direction. Efforts to involve students in corrective instruction once per week or during special study sessions conducted before or after school rarely succeed (see Guskey,1997). In addition, teachers who ask students to complete corrective work independently, outside of class, generally find that those students who most need to spend time on corrective work are the least likely to do so. For these reasons, early instructional units will require more time, typically an extra class period or two. However, as students become accustomed to this process and realize the personal benefits it offers, the


teacher can drastically reduce the amount of class time allocated to corrective work and accomplish much of it during review sessions or with homework assignments. By not allowing minor errors to become major learning problems, teachers better prepare students for subsequent learning tasks, and thus less time is required for corrective work (Whiting, Van Burgh, & Render, 1995). For this reason, instruction in later learning units usually can proceed at a more rapid pace. By pacing their instructional units more flexibly, most teachers find that they need not sacrifice curriculum coverage to offer students the benefits of high-quality corrective instruction.

Give Students Second Chances to Demonstrate Success To become an integral part of the instructional process, assessments cannot be a one-shot, “do-or-die” experience for students. Instead, assessments must be part of an ongoing effort to help students learn. If teachers follow assessments with high-quality corrective instruction, then students should have a second chance to demonstrate their new level of competence and understanding. This second chance determines the effectiveness of the corrective process while also giving students another opportunity to experience success in learning, thus providing them with additional motivation.

Some teachers express concern about the fairness of giving students a second chance and point out that, “Life isn’t like that.” They describe how a surgeon does not get a second chance to perform an operation successfully and a pilot does not get a second chance to land a jumbo jet safely. Because of the very high stakes involved, each must get it right the first time. But how did these highly skilled professionals learn their craft? The first operation performed by that surgeon was on a cadaver, which clearly allows a lot of latitude for mistakes. Similarly, the pilot spent many hours in a flight simulator before ever attempting a landing from the cockpit. Such experiences allowed these professionals to learn from their mistakes and improve their performance. Similar instructional techniques are used in nearly every professional endeavor. Only in schools do students face the prospect of oneshot, do-ordie assessments, with no chance to demonstrate what they learned from previous mistakes.

“All educators strive to help their students become lifelong learners”

Writing teachers have long recognized the many benefits of a second chance. They know that students rarely write well in their initial attempt. So these teachers build into the writing process several opportunities for students to gain feedback on early drafts and then to use that feedback to revise and improve their writing. Teachers of other subjects frequently balk at the idea—mostly because it differs from their personal learning experiences.

August 2011 Leaders of Learners

All educators strive to help their students become lifelong learners, and to develop learning-to-learn skills. What better learningto-learn skill is there than learning from one’s mistakes? Mistakes should not mark the end of learning; rather, they can be the beginning. Some assessment experts argue, in fact, that students learn nothing from a successful performance. Instead, they learn when their performance is less than successful, for then they can gain direction about how to improve (Wiggins, 1998). Other teachers suggest that it is unfair to offer the same privileges and high grades to students who require a second chance as we offer to those students who demonstrate a high level of learning on the initial assessment. After all, these students may simply have failed to take responsibility or prepare appropriately for the assessment. Certainly we should recognize students who do well on the initial assessment and


provide opportunities for them to extend their learning through enrichment activities. But those students who do well on a second assessment have also learned well. More important, their poor performance on the first assessment may not have been their fault. Maybe the teaching strategies used during the initial instruction were inappropriate for these students, but the corrective instruction proved more effective. If we determine grades and give special privileges (for example, honor roll membership) on the basis of performance and these students have performed at the same high level, then they certainly deserve the same grades and privileges as those students who scored well on their first try. A comparable example is the driver’s license examination. Many individuals do not pass this examination on the first attempt. On the second or third try, however, they reach the same high level of performance as others did on their first attempt. Should these drivers be penalized for not showing appropriate responsibility or being inadequately prepared? Should they, for example, be restricted to driving in fair weather only? Should they be required to pull their car over in inclement weather and park until the weather clears? Of course not, because they eventually met the same high performance standards as those who passed on their first attempt. The same should hold true for students who show that they, too, have learned well. The critical issue is this: What is the purpose of a grade? Is the purpose to punish students for not providing the teacher with precisely what was expected on the first try? If so, then a low grade due to inadequate performance in an initial attempt may be justifiable. If this is indeed the case, however, then the teacher must make this purpose clear and must be prepared to defend this purpose to everyone involved—students, parents, school officials, and others. On the other hand, if the purpose of the grade is to provide an accurate description of how well students have learned, then a different outlook is

August 2011 Leaders of Learners

required. In this case, what students know and are able to do become the basis of the grade, rather than how or when they learned the information. From an educational perspective based on what is most helpful to students, this is clearly a more sound, defendable, and equitable position.

A Familiar Process Using assessments as sources of information, following assessments with corrective instruction, and giving students second chances to demonstrate their learning may seem unfamiliar at first, but most teachers already do these things when they tutor individual students. If the student makes a mistake, the teacher stops and points out the mistake, then he or she provides the student with immediate feedback on the error. The teacher then re-explains the concept or understanding in a different way to help the student remedy the mistake. Finally, the teacher asks another question or poses a similar problem to ensure the student understands before moving on. The challenge for teachers is to use their classroom assessments in similar ways to provide all students with this sort of individualized assistance. Successful coaches use exactly the same process. Immediately following a gymnast’s performance on the balance beam, for example, the coach explains to her what she did correctly and what could be improved. The coach then offers specific strategies for improvement and encourages her to try again. As the 9

athlete repeats her performance, the coach watches carefully to ensure that she has corrected the problem. Teachers who see their classroom assessments as the same type of demonstration of learning can help their students use the results to likewise improve their performance. Successful students typically know how to take corrective action on their own. They save their assessments and review the items or criteria they missed. They rework problems, look up answers in their textbooks or other resource materials, and ask the teacher about ideas or concepts they do not understand. Less successful students rarely take such initiative. After looking at their grades, they typically crumple up their assessments and deposit them in the trash can as they leave the classroom. Teachers who use classroom assessments as part of the instructional process help all of their students do exactly what the most successful students have learned to do for themselves.

A Vital Component Using classroom assessment to improve both teaching and student learning is not a new idea. Nearly 40 years ago, Benjamin Bloom showed how to conduct this process in practical and highly effective ways when he described the practice of mastery learning (Bloom, 1968, 1971). And despite the relatively modest change required to implement the process, extensive research demonstrates that it can have exceptionally positive effects on student learning. A study by Whiting, Van Burgh, and Render (1995) representing 18 years of data gathered from over 7,000 high-school students showed mastery learning to have a remarkably positive influence on students’ test scores and grade-point averages, as well as on their attitudes toward school and learning. Another field experiment conducted in elementary- and middle-school classrooms showed that the implementation of mastery learning led to significantly positive increases in students’ academic achievement and self-confidence (Anderson et al., 1992). Even more impressive, a comprehensive, August 2011 Leaders of Learners

meta-analysis of the research on mastery learning concluded: Few educational treatments of any sort were consistently associated with achievement effects as large as those produced by mastery learning. . . . In evaluation after evaluation, mastery programs have produced impressive gains. (Kulik, Kulik, & Bangert-Drowns, 1990, p. 292) Some researchers even suggest that the superiority of Japanese students in international comparisons of achievement in mathematics operations and problemsolving may be due largely to Japan’s widespread use of instructional practices similar to mastery learning (Nakajima, 2006; Waddington, 1995). Research evidence also shows that the positive effects of mastery learning are not limited to cognitive or achievement outcomes. The process yields improvements in students’ confidence in learning situations, school attendance rates, involvement in class sessions, attitudes toward learning, and a variety of other affective measures (Guskey & Pigott, 1988). This multidimensional impact has been referred to as mastery learning’s “multiplier effect,” which makes it an especially powerful tool in school-improvement efforts. Assessments are a vital component in our efforts to reform and improve education. But as long as we use them only as a means to rank schools and students, we will miss out on their most powerful benefits. We must focus instead on viewing assessments in a different way, considering assessments for a broader array of purposes, and changing the way we use assessment results. As teachers, we must improve the quality of our classroom assessments to ensure that they are well-aligned with valued learning goals and state or district standards. When teachers’ classroom assessments become an integral part of the instructional process and a central ingredient in efforts to help students learn, the benefits of assessment for both teachers and students will be boundless. Article References and Author Bio continued on page 11



Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112.

Anderson, S., Barrett, C., Huston, M., Lay, L., Myr, G., Sexton, D., & Watson, B. (1992). A mastery learning experiment (Technical Report). Yale, MI: Yale Public Schools.

Kifer, E. (2001). Large-scale assessment: Dimensions, dilemmas, and policies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Barton, P. E. (2002). Staying on course in education reform. Princeton, NJ: Statistics & Research Division, Policy Information Center, Educational Testing Service. Bloom, B. S. (1968). Learning for mastery. Evaluation Comment (UCLACSIEP), 1(2), 1–12.

Kulik, J. A., & Kulik, C. C. (1989). Meta-analysis in education. International Journal of Educational Research, 13(2), 221–340. Kulik, C. C., Kulik, J. A., & Bangert-Drowns, R. L. (1990). Effectiveness of mastery learning programs: A metaanalysis. Review of Educational Research, 60(2), 265–299.

Bloom, B. S. (1971). Mastery learning. In J. H. Block (Ed.), Mastery learning: Theory and practice. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Nakajima, A. (2006). A powerful influence on Japanese education. In T. R. Guskey (Ed.), Benjamin S. Bloom: Portraits of an educator (pp. 109–111). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Bloom, B. S., Madaus, G. F., & Hastings, J. T. (1981). Evaluation to improve learning. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Sternberg, R. J. (1994). Allowing for thinking styles. Educational Leadership, 52(3), 36–40.

Guskey, T. R. (1997). Implementing mastery learning (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Stiggins, R. J. (1999). Evaluating classroom assessment training in teacher education programs. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 18(1), 23–27.

Guskey, T. R. (1998). Making time to train your staff. The School Administrator, 55(7), 35–37. Guskey, T. R. (2000a). Evaluating professional development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. Guskey, T. R. (2000b). Twenty questions? Twenty tools for better teaching. Principal Leadership, 1(3), 5–7. Guskey, T. R. (2006). It wasn’t fair! Educators’ recollections of their experiences as students with grading. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco. Guskey, T. R. (2007). Multiple sources of evidence: An analysis of stakeholders’ perceptions of various indicators of student learning. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 26(1), 19–27.

Stiggins, R. J. (2002). Assessment crisis: The absence of assessment for learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(10), 758–765. Waddington, T. (1995). Why mastery matters. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco. Whiting, B., Van Burgh, J. W., & Render, G. F. (1995). Mastery learning in the classroom. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco. Wiggins, G. (1998). Educative Francisco: Jossey-Bass.



Guskey, T. R., & Pigott, T. D. (1988). Research on groupbased mastery learning programs: A meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Research, 81(4), 197–216.

About the Author Dr. Thomas R. Guskey is a distinguished service professor of educational assessment and evaluation at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky. Formerly with the University of Kentucky, he served as director of research and development for the Chicago Public Schools, and was the first director of the Center for the Improvement of Teaching and Learning.

Meet the Author at the 2011 Texas ASCD Annual Conference Dr. Thomas Guskey will be a Keynote Presenter at the 2011 Texas ASCD Annual Conference in Austin, Texas. Be sure to visit the Solution Tree bookstore in the exhibit hall to find out details about Mr. Guskey’s book signing! Click here to learn more.

Reprinted with permission. From Ahead of the Curve: The Power of Assessment to Transform Teaching and Learning, edited by Douglas Reeves. Copyright 2007 by Solution Tree Press. All rights reserved.

August 2011 Leaders of Learners


Passion + Objectivity = Energy by: Barbara Gideon

I recently read an article by Jane Dunnewold, who is a fabric artist, on the topic of creativity. Being an educator, my thought immediately compared the artist’s process to the work we do in schools every day. As we prepare to begin a new academic year, I ask you to consider this equation: Passion + Objectivity = Energy. Tension exists between being attached to, and in love with what you are doing/making, versus being rigorous and honest with yourself about the outcome/product/ process. No passion? You lose interest. No objectivity, and what you do isn’t very good. Where is the energy in your school or classroom? How do you renew the Passion that brought you into education every year? What must you do for yourself? How can you create situations that reignite others? Upon reflection and with Objectivity, what are the successes around you and what do you want to do a little better? In this age of accountability and continuously rising standards, what practices do we need to keep and what needs to be refined or just thrown out? How do schools and the people who inhabit them balance Passion and Objectivity? Sometimes it feels that we lean in one direction or the other and become out of balance. You can feel it in the Energy. Listen to that intuition and respond. Here is a Top Ten list of things to consider that address both Passion and Objectivity as you plan the opening of 2011-2012.

August 2011 Leaders of Learners

Top Ten things you can do now that cost nothing! 1. What ceremonies, rituals, and interpersonal exchanges keep the Passion alive at our school? Plan them and mark the calendar so they are not forgotten! 2. Who tells the best stories? Be sure to include a tale of a teacher who made a difference, a student who succeeded against tremendous odds, or any other personal narrative that awakens our passion for education. 3. Greet people, smile, and call them by name- learning is personal and it only happens one student at a time. 4. Tell the good story of your school success- go to a civic group, meet at a church, invite the local realtors to meet in your library and use this as an opportunity to show off your students and spread the good news. Nobody else is as good as you are in establishing your school’s good reputation and reminding folks of it- don’t be afraid to toot your own horn! 5. While you have an audience, use a few minutes to begin to teach them about STAAR- one good way is to show sample questions on a time line from TABS, to TEAMS, to TAKS, to STAAR. TEA and your Region Service Center have excellent materials to help. 6. Are your teachers ready to prepare students for STAAR? What do they know? What do you know? How can you all learn? What adjustments must be made? 12

7. Review your curriculum- does the written match the taught and the tested? How could you find out? 8. Consider spending a day or even just a few hours as a student in your school- shadow an average student. How does it feel? Are you excited or are you bored? What does your experience tell you about learning? 9. What is the level of thought evidenced in classrooms? Look closely at the verbs in the TEKS, does the instruction match the level of rigor called for in the standard? 10. Are teachers and administrators talking about teaching and learning? Where is the dialogue

happening? Who is involved? What students are successful? Who is not successful and what are the adults in the school doing differently to help them? How can the Energy of these important conversations be improved? Do they need more Passion? Do we need to be more Objective? May your school be filled with passionate educators who work fearlessly to see that every student learns every day. Only you can determine the exact proportions of each, but remember, Passion + Objectivity = Energy.

About the Author Barbara H. Gideon, Ed.D. is currently on the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin in the Department of Educational Administration and is working to prepare future school principals in the UT Collaborative Urban Leadership Program and is a Texas ASCD Board member. She is a former Executive Director for Curriculum and Instruction and High School Principal.



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Join us in Austin for the 2011 Texas ASCD Annual Conference! The 2011 conference theme is “Bridging the Future to Now” and will focus on embracing the challenges of change, fostering creativity and innovation, and delivering engaging curriculum, as well as other timely topics. There will be five unique special sessions, more than 30 diverse concurrent sessions, and keynote presentations by five of the nation’s top thought-leaders: Rick DuFour Debra Pickering Douglas Reeves Alan November Thomas Guskey

Register online at

August 2011 Leaders of Learners











Crucial Skills Training Cuts Grievances in Half and Builds Common Language

INDUSTRY: EDUCATION The San Antonio Independent School District provides a comprehensive instructional program and related services for approximately 55,000 students from prekindergarten through 12th grade. This includes a college preparatory curriculum, Magnet programs and specialized schools as options for middle and high school students, career and technology education, bilingual education, special education, and a variety extracurricular opportunities.

THE CONTEXT Much has changed in the United States since the nationwide adoption of compulsory public education in 1918. What began in modest one-room schoolhouses has evolved into a complex educational system, subject to multiple forms of regulation, scrutiny, and financial pressure. Delivering quality education requires ongoing interactions between teachers, principals, administrators, school boards—and, of course, students. Each intersection between these groups or individuals represents an opportunity for effective collaboration or counterproductive conflict. And in the charged context of current legislation like No Child Left Behind, it is now more crucial than ever that these interactions succeed. THE OPPORTUNITY Organizational culture develops gradually, sometimes accidentally, and can be tough to change. “Problems were bubbling up to us,” explains Dr. Robert Durón, Superintendent of Schools at the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD), in reference to frequent principal-teacher conflicts. “[The problems] were rooted in conversations and confrontations going badly, and we recognized there was a gap in the development of our principals.” Administrators, such as Durón and his cabinet, often learned about problems only after formal grievances had been filed, and usually when it was too late to help defuse the conflicts. Toni Thompson, Associate Superintendent, describes such grievances as being not only costly procedural burdens and “very time consuming,” but also as “a distraction for the principal or administrator.” This culture of frequent, unproductive conflict was exacerbated by increased accountability requirements recently imposed on principals. “We went through this process where we required our principals to ‘hyper-monitor’ teachers in the classrooms,” explains Dr. Durón. “But [the principals] needed help confronting teachers about the gap between what they expected to see and what they actually saw in those classrooms. That wasn’t happening.” “The principals acknowledged to us that they were kind of stuck with poorly perform-

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ing teachers,” says Betty Burks, Deputy Superintendent. But because the parties lacked the capacity to manage crucial conversations, Thompson explains, they resorted to blaming “their condition, the state of the campus, or the employee organization,” occasionally taking complaints directly to the school board, which only compounded the administrative headache.

cial Skills, in addition to special Saturday sessions, the leadership team trained “conceivably every department” within the district, including high school athletic coordinators and department chairs. THE RESULTS


The school district has seen grievances drop by more than 50 percent since instigating their training programs. Toni Thompson says she feels the principals “By and large, are more comfortable talking through conflicts than they have been in the past… They have a toolkit they can use to navigate some of those challenging issues more effectively.”

Durón and Burks discovered the book Influencer— a companion volume to the VitalSmarts bestsellers Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations— and, as they quipped, “got influenced!” Durón explains, “I was really impressed with Influencer. Once I read it, I bought it for everyone. Shortly after, we learned about the other VitalSmarts courses, Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations, and decided we wanted to get trained.”

Simultaneously, principals and administrators have engaged in crucial conversations that resulted in a 160 percent increase in recommendations for termination of employees on probationary contracts—a significant accomplishment for an organization that had been saddled with a history of poor performance. Summarizing result of SAISD’s new crucial outlook, Thompson says, “we either help the employee grow, or go.”

Durón, Burks, and Thompson used Title II professional development funds to receive Crucial Conversations Training and were themselves certified as trainers. Determined to disseminate the best practices they had studied and rehearsed, the leadership team returned to the school district with an ambitious program that would train more than 350 people between 2009 and 2011. “The fact that our superintendent would take time from his schedule to train these skills spoke volumes to our staff,” says Burks. “They knew we were really serious, not only about the content and process, but also about the expectation that they would also need to learn, develop, and use these same skills.”

Superintendent Durón concedes that, ultimately, the training program is self-serving because dealing with fewer grievances saves his team time. But further, the Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations framework has helped him have conversations with principals about their own accountability. He explains that when principals approach him for advice on handling low-performing teachers, he says, “You’ve been trained, let’s talk about the training.” Rather than “reinventing the wheel” with every new conflict, the SAISD leadership team can now point to the shared framework, which positions them as coaches rather than referees, and helps them model the behavior and skills they learned.

Starting with principals, the training quickly gained popularity and was requested by assistant principals and others. “We identified key department leaders from transportation, food service, curriculum, and instruction,” explains Thompson. Dedicating regularly scheduled staff meetings to Cru-

Toni Thompson describes the “Aha! moment” of introducing Crucial Conversations Training to the district’s police lieutenants—a department where stiff protocol typically trumped discussion. After thanking her for the invitation to attend the training, a lieutenant acknowledged, “There is a lot we can

Ultimately, the SAISD leadership team determined that the grievances were only manifestations or symptoms of a deeper problem.

learn from this that will help us have better conversations with people that report to us.” Seeing the training courses spread across organizational boundaries has pleased Thompson, who cites the police force as just one of several diverse groups “who walk away saying, ‘this was really worthwhile, this is going to help me be a better leader.’” At SAISD, training alone isn’t enough to sustain and deepen the organization’s crucial skills. “Dr. Durón speaks to the principals every month at a district-wide principal meeting, and consistently weaves Crucial Conversations and/or Crucial Confrontations into his message for improving classroom instruction,” says Burks. “As superintendents, we are always talking about these skills. We also expect the principals to talk about them and coach and reinforce their staff.” What began with an effort to simply reduce grievances has evolved into a powerful shared vocabulary and framework that helps unite and guide the entire San Antonio Independent School District. Summing up the experience of the SAISD, Dr. Durón concludes, “If you want to change the culture of an organization, you have to change the conversations.”

RESULTS AT A GLANCE: tESPQJOHSJFWBODFTUIBU previously clogged the administrative system. tJODSFBTFJOSFDPNNFOdations for termination of poor performing employees. t*NQSPWFEDPSQPSBUFDVMUVSF where teachers, principles, and leaders have productive dialogue and hold their peers accountable to high educational standards.

About Crucial Conversations® Training—Whenever you’re not getting results, it’s likely that a crucial conversation is keeping you stuck. Whether it’s a problem with poor quality, slow time-to-market, declining customer satisfaction, or a strained relationship, if you can’t talk honestly, you can expect poor results. About Crucial Confrontations® Training—Enhance Accountability, Improve Performance, and Ensure Execution with Crucial Confrontations Training. Equip participants with a straightforward, step-by-step process for identifying and resolving performance gaps—those unpleasant realities standing in the way of organizational success. Both courses infuse classroom time with original video examples, structured rehearsals, and intense class participation. Crucial Conversations Training delivers a powerful set of influence tools that builds teams, enriches relationships, and improves end results. Crucial Confrontations Training delivers a hands-on problemsolving approach for enhancing accountability, improving performance, and ensuring execution.

August 2011 Leaders of Learners

© 2011 VitalSmarts. All Rights Reserved. VitalSmarts, the Vital head, Crucial, and Crucial Skills, and Influencer are trademarks and Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations are a registered trademark of VitalSmarts, L.C.

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August 2011 Leaders of Learners


CALENDAR OF Events September Sept. 26-27, 2011 5-Day Math Academy Northside ISD

November November 1-2, 2011 Curriculum Leadership Academy IV Austin, TX

October Oct. 30 - Nov. 1, 2011 Texas ASCD Annual Conference Austin, TX

June June 18 - 22, 2012 2012 Southwest BLC Dallas, TX

The 2011 Southwest BLC in Pictures! To see all the pictures form the Southwest BLC, click here.

August 2011 Leaders of Learners


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August 2011 Leaders of Learners


August 2011 Leaders of Learners  
August 2011 Leaders of Learners  

Texas ASCD's bi-monthyly academic publication