Category Archives: teacher training

The measure of a good teacher

There was a lengthy discussion on The Diane Rehm Show the other day: Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness. I didn’t hear the entire show but it’s a topic I am interested in, having been a teacher, so I will go back and listen to the whole show this weekend.

Of course I have to note the panel of “experts” was made up of a senior fellow from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a professor of business from Columbia Business School, the chief of human capital (hey, that’s what they call him, maybe “personnel director” is too boring?) for Washington, D.C. Public Schools and a teacher. Actually an ex-teacher; she taught for four years and departed the profession.

I’m not sure why these “expert” panels rarely have teachers who have been teaching 25 years. Or a principal from a large public school with entrenched teaching staff. The big-name university and foundations have plenty  of brain power, but teachers who work in schools every day have more practical experience, insight and insider knowledge.

But it’s an interesting discussion because measuring teacher performance is not easy. Training teachers is not easy either because the classrooms teachers teach in vary widely.

The show mentions test scores as measure of teacher effectiveness. Most people not in the government bureaucracy consider test scores just one small part of the measure of student learning. So how can test scores be any more effective to evaluate teacher performance?

I have a vivid memory from one of my first years teaching middle school. I was sitting with my team of sixth-grade teachers and we were talking about rumors about paying teachers based on student test scores.

One of my teammates slammed her grade book on the desk and exclaimed, “I’ll be damned if my pay is going to be based on how (name of student) does on a test!” The student she named was a very low performing student, mostly because he had zero interest in anything going on in school. His parents were getting a divorce, so he got all kinds of attention from both of them when he did poorly at school.

Have a listen. Let me know what you think.

Daniel Friedman


Band camp for teachers

Jazz at Lincoln Center Band Director Academy. Photo: Elizabeth Leitzell.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Band Director Academy comes to Mesa Center for the Arts from Jan. 5 to 7. The program, now in its 12th year, brings band directors together to discuss and learn about jazz education techniques.

Think big band rehearsal techniques, teaching improvisation and rhythm section techniques — all led by some of the country’s foremost jazz educators.

Faculty members include Marcus Printup, educator and trumpeteer for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Also musicians/educators from Northern Illinois University, Michigan State University and Sun Prairie High School in Wisconsin.

The academy emphasizes hands-on learning and techniques that can be immediately applied to the classroom. It includes classes, demo sessions with a student big band, jam sessions, topic discussions and a faculty concert. Even a screeing of the film “Chops,” a documentary about one high school band’s experience with the Essentially Ellington Festival.

Typical class topics include directed listening, voice leading for better harmonic improvisation, transcribing, vocalization and internalizing rhythm in jazz, motivating a young improviser and a cultural approach to teaching improvisation.

All academy events take place at the Mesa Arts Center, located in downtown Mesa at 1 East Main Street. Registration fees have been underwritten by the Boeing Foundation, so the full two-and-a-half day academy costs just $99.

Click here for additional information about this and other education/outreach programs, or to register for the program. Or call the Mesa Arts Center box office at 480-644-6500.

— Lynn Trimble

Schools tackle sexual harassment

Valley teacher using Sanford Harmony Program with her 5th grade students

A recent study by the American Association of University Women reports that 40% of students in grades 7-12 have experienced some form of sexual harassment. One local progam aims to reduce that figure by working with youth before harassing attitudes and behaviors develop.

The “Sanford Harmony Program” at Arizona State University hopes to reduce all forms of student harassment by teaching young boys and girls to interact and engage each other through early intervention in schools.

They’re convinced that one key to reducing sexual harassment is making sure male and female students spend time together rather than becoming segregated into same sex groups. Parents don’t always recognize the value of encouraging friendships with peers of both genders.

“Kids tend to separate by gender in preschool,” according to Bridget Gaertner, an assistant research professor in the ASU School of Social and Family Dynamics, which is home to the Sanford Harmony Program.

Gaertner is also a Gilbert mother of seven children ages one to 20, and says she’s seen children as young as kindergarten-age exhibit harassing behaviors. It grows more common, she notes, by the time children reach the late elementary school years.

But there’s much teachers and parents can do to be proactive, shares Gaertner. Start by assuring that boys and girls have ample time together, which helps them understand, communicate and empathize better with people of all genders.

Model appropriate behaviors in the home. Talk with your children about what is and isn’t appropriate. Suggest your school adopt programs that reduce the likliehood of sexual harassment between students. Encourage your child to establish friendships with same sex and other sex peers.

Avoid teasing your child about opposite sex relationhips, cautions Gaertner. Parents who chide young children about having a boyfriend or girlfriend add gender to the mix in ways that tend to separate and alienate the sexes. “This makes it hard,” reflects Gaertner, “to normalize male/female relationships.”

The “Sanford Harmony Program” has worked with several schools — including community preschools in Central Phoenix and middle schools in the East Valley — to increase and improve positive interactions between male and female students.

Teachers and parents who’d like to learn more about the Sanford Harmony Program can click here for additional information and resources.

— Lynn Trimble

Unified Sports brings athletes and partners together

When Special Olympics Arizona refers to Unified Sports they mean students with intellectual disabilities (the athletes) training and competing with students without intellectual disabilities (the partners) to create a culture of inclusion between the two student populations.

Athletes and partners play a basketball game at Raymond Kellis. The partners are in the colored jerseys.

Yesterday, PE teachers from all the Peoria Unified School District high schools came to Raymond Kellis High School to be trained in the Unified Sports curriculum written by Deb Randazzo, the Unified Sports coordinator for Special Olympics Arizona.

Mick Clements, Project Unify manager, was there to instruct the coaches in how to build teams of athletes and partners. He says the coaches will look for students who want to be coaches and/or enjoy working with students with intellectual disabilities. The partners may be skilled athletes who will serve as mentors to the athletes, sharing and teaching skills, or they may of similar athletic ability, training and assisting in parallel with the athletes.

The Peoria PE teachers learned how to build teams and facilitate the athlete/partner relationship. “The utopia is to play as a real team,” Clements says. Partners learn to facilitate the athletes’ participation in the sport either as competitors or as athletes in training, depending on the skills of the athletes.

I watched a basketball game with partners and athletes on the court as part of a special ed PE class at Kellis high school yesterday. The partners were adept at being the catalysts of a good basketball game. The grabbed rebounds when shots went wide and either passed the ball back to the same team for another attempt or, if the shot went way wide and was destined to go out of bounds, they  threw it down court to the opposing team.

Partner Anthony Eberhardt, in the green jersey, keeps the game moving.

Athletes took all the shots and scored all the points with the partners moving swiftly and deftly, seemingly at all points of the court simultaneously, to keep the ball in play, and the game lively. Not that the partners weren’t having a great time leaping for rebounds and modeling excellent basketball skills. Clearly they were having as much fun as the athletes.

Partners go up for a rebound.

The Peoria District is the first in the nation to establish a Unified Sports curriculum for class credit. The coaches who came to Raymond Kellis yesterday will start the program at their schools either in August or next year. Students at Raymond Kellis, Liberty and Ironwood high schools will be able to register for Unified Sports taught by Special Ed/Adapted PE teacher Deborah Taylor in August. Unified teams will have the opportunity to compete in Special Olympics Arizona Area and State Games. —Dan Friedman

Metro Tech/ASU Writing Center opens

A new Writing Center in the library complex at  Metro Tech High School in Phoenix is giving students a leg up on their writing skills.

The center, created in partnership with Arizona State University, is a learning experience for all as the Metro Tech students get advice from ASU students, many of whom are studying education or journalism and benefit from the teaching experience.

Three days a week, students are welcome to visit the center, where they receive help either in a one-on-one setting or with a small group of other students. English teachers will help students set up appointments and obtain passes to the center.

Metro Tech students who visit the Writing Center have the chance to work on all types of writing, from essays and literary analyses to journal writing and memoirs, all skills they will be able to use when they leave high school and enter college or the working world. Those thesis statements won’t write themselves, but with help from the Writing Center, students will learn how to make them stronger and more convincing.

The program was developed by ASU Downtown Faculty Head of Languages and Cultures Barbara Lafford, Ph.D., English Education Professor James Blasingame, Ph.D. and Metro Tech Assistant Principal Evie Cortes-Pletenik to give students extra attention that English teachers may not necessarily have time to give.

During my freshman year at ASU, I was told by my English teacher that if I wanted the chance to raise my grade on an essay I had written, I would have to go to the Writing Center at ASU before resubmitting it. Needless to say, as a future writer I was not pleased about this. But I went.

The tutors were ASU students, not much older than myself. They broke down my essay into different parts so I could try and make my point more clear, instead of being overwhelmed by worrying about the whole essay. I don’t remember what kind of grade I got once I reworked the essay, but I finished the class with an A.

I imagine Metro Tech’s Writing Center works much the same way. Even people who plan on writing for a career sometimes need a little extra help fine-tuning their skills. It can be very helpful to have someone else critique an essay. Often writers get so attached to the way they have written something that they may not realize there is a better way.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll one day be reading the blog of a Metro Tech student to get your education news. — Veronica Jones

Hands-on experience for aspiring teachers

Photo courtesy of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

The Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University is offering a program called iTeachAZ in partnership with school districts around Arizona. The program allows future educators to switch back and forth between their roles as teachers and student as they get the hands-on experience essential for success.

Aspiring teachers are given the chance to work and participate fully in Arizona’s school districts. The supervised program provides the experience teachers need to gain master’s degrees and enter the field while giving them the opportunity to create relationships with staff and administrators at schools where they may someday work.

Anyone who already has a bachelor’s degree and who is interested in the elementary school teaching world is encouraged to get more information and join the program.

The next information session, for the Deer Valley Unified School District, is at 5pm Tuesday, April 12, at Mirage Elementary School, 3910 W. Grovers Ave. in Glendale.

For more information, call 623-258-9431 or visit the ASU site.

The future of education in Arizona

Jim Rice, John Huppenthal, Gabriel Trujillo and Sybil Francis.

Phoenix Country Day School hosted a panel discussion on the future of education in Arizona on Wednesday night. John Huppenthal, our newly elected state superintendent of public instruction, was there, along with Sybil Francis, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for the Future of Arizona; Jim Rice, Ph.D., program administrator for the Rodel Foundation of Arizona and Gabriel A. Trujillo, principal at Trevor G. Browne High School.

The topic? How the educational system must change in order to meet the needs of Arizona’s children.

There were a lot of empty seats in the audience, which is surprising, considering the scope of the discussion and the importance of the educational system to anyone, whether they have children or not. There were probably about 150 people, including members of Boy Scout Troop 340, who were in the second row to take notes and absorb information to earn a communications merit badge.

Boy Scouts in Troop 340 from St. Thomas the Apostle School in Phoenix attended the panel discussion to communications merit badges.

Francis started out saying education had to change to fit the needs of the students. “We are not going to meet the future by doing what we have done in the past,” she said. “We cannot keep doing what we have been doing, educating in the same way, with the same structure that we’ve been using for the last 100 years, and think it’s going to take us successfully into the next 100 years.” Expectations of the school system have changed and a high school education is not sufficient for today’s job market. (A hundred years ago, just an elementary education was enough.)

Our schools are still organized on the industrial model, Francis added, meaning that schools treat all students coming in the same way: grouped by age, with students in each grade learning the same thing at the same time. Students are treated like widgets to be turned out uniformly.

When I was taking education classes from 1991 to 1993, professors at ASU said essentially the same thing. And that was in the pre-Internet world. I attended this event hoping to hear something new — something that had changed significantly in nearly two decades since I first decided to become a teacher.

But the topics discussed on Wednesday were pretty much the same as those discussed in my education classes in the early 1990s. High school graduation rates are what they were in 1970. Reading and math proficiency need to be increased. Parent involvement in their children’s education is essential to student success. We need to reorganize schools to meet the needs of modern students. And of course funding and teacher compensation is still an issue.

At far right is PCDS Assistant Head of School James Calleroz White who moderated the panel discussion.

Trujillo was optimistic. “I believe that…we are at the dawn of a new age brought on by competition and open enrollment,” he said. “A possible Renaissance Age is upon us if we embrace change.” Change will be hastened because public schools will have to compete with online education, alternative schools and school-within-a-school models.

Rice, who was in the Alhambra district for 39 years, says the biggest catalyst for student performance is parental involvement, regardless of funding or the amount of technology in the schools. The bottom line, he said, is that parents must work with students and teachers to support the education of their children. He also advocated focusing on positives.

“We need to start sharing what is going on in our good schools,” he said. There are pockets of innovation that do work and those innovations need to be spread to other schools.

I was interested in what John Huppenthal had to say, since he is our new superintendent of public instruction. He talked about the thousands of research reports he reads and the analysis of test scores and data he sifts through, looking for “breakthrough” ideas to improve education. He hasn’t found many.

“There’s a huge cloud of dust in education when it comes to research studies,” he said. “One of the painful things was to realize there was research about research. And the research about research said that 95 percent of the research wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.”

He is convinced technology will bring breakthroughs, though he admitted that research doesn’t indicate that educational software will offer that breakthrough. I couldn’t help thinking about all of the software packages I saw when I was teaching and the millions of dollars spent on them.

I talked to Huppenthal after the panel discussion ended. I asked him when he thought the changes the panelists described might occur, and when the successful innovations of specific schools might hit the public schools as a whole. He said gains will be realized in the next seven or eight years and that two years worth of educational gains will occur in one school year, in what he called “Education 2.0.”

And what will drive this huge gain in efficiency? Huppenthal believes competition with charter schools and private schools will drive the public schools to innovate and improve to keep their enrollment up.

So we still have to wait. Not what you want to hear if your child is entering high school this year, but encouraging for parents whose young children are just getting started. Unfortunately, large systems move slowly.

Changes the panel talked about included:

• Organizing schools to meet the needs of individual students.

• Preparing students with the academic and/or trade skills suitable for the realities of the job market they will face.

• Training and paying teachers to drive innovation. Teachers must approach a classroom full of kids with a wide range of different tools and skills.

• Compensation for teachers must not be based on teaching a certain number of students or the number of years teachers have survived in the system. Compensation models should be driven by progress made by students based on where they started. A teacher with a high school freshman reading at the fifth grade level and progressing to an eighth grade reading level in one school year would be rewarded for that student gain, not penalized because the student was still reading below grade level.

Huppenthal believes in running schools like successful businesses, with an emphasis on efficiency and performance.

Trujillo believes that “it’s not necessarily the amount of money we’re throwing into public education, it’s where we’re throwing it. Can we honestly continue to sit here and not talk about the fact that hundreds of thousands of students across our state do not have access to pre-K, kindergarten and preschool programs?”

When kids don’t have the benefit of preschool and pre-K instruction, they are lagging behind on their first day of school. That leads to “huge inequities in educational product,” he said. His recommendation?  “Pour a little bit more money into the educational starting line.”

It’s hard to argue that the “one size fits all” approach to education is inadequate in meeting the learning needs of individuals. But as any classroom teacher will tell you, meeting individual needs is a massive undertaking dependent on so many variables that theories and systemic movements are merely debate topics when faced you’re faced with a classroom packed with 30 to 40 students, all at various levels of aptitude and with individual learning styles.

It would have been interesting to hear what a few teachers with 25 years of experience in the classroom would have added to the discussion Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, the people who would be actually implementing the changes in the educational system, and bringing innovation to the individual students, are often not included in these kinds of discussions. — Dan Friedman