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MIFGASHIM  July 2009

MIFGASHIM July 2009

Subject:

Mifgashim Volume 8 Issue 85

From:

Lee Buckman <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Wed, 15 Jul 2009 14:25:02 +0300

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

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text/plain (159 lines)

Mifgashim Volume 8 Issue 85


Contents:

1.	Lookstein Podcast:  Growing in Subject-Matter Knowledge

2.	Marshall Memo: What Are A Principal’s Highest-Leverage Activities?


~~~~~~~~~


1.	Lookstein Podcast:  Growing in Subject-Matter Knowledge

While a teacher does not need to be the world's expert in their subject matter, the more 
you know and understand, the better you'll be able to teach. Here are some things 
teachers might do over the summer to grow in knowledge of their subject. This week's 
Classroom Teaching episode can be listened to at www.lookstein.org/podcasts/.


~~~~~~~~~


2.	Marshall Memo: What Are A Principal’s Highest-Leverage Activities?

In this Education Week article, former Boston principal Kim Marshall invites readers to try 
a forced-choice exercise: If a principal wants to improve the quality of teaching and 
learning, which three of these activities will have the greatest impact?

-	Observing and evaluating full lessons, preceded by a pre-conference with each 
teacher and followed by a detailed write-up and post-conference;

-	Systematic walk-throughs of the entire school, focusing on specific target areas 
(the quality of student work on bulletin boards, for example);

-	Mini-observations of three to five classrooms a day (five minutes per visit), with 
face-to-face follow-up conversations with each teacher;

-	Quick “drive-by” visits to all classrooms every day to greet students and “manage 
by walking around”;

-	Collecting and checking teachers’ lesson plans every week;

-	Requiring teacher teams to submit common curriculum-unit plans in advance, and 
discussing them with each team;

-	Having teacher teams use interim assessments of student learning and monitoring 
how they use the data to improve instruction and help struggling students.

Not an easy choice! But there isn’t enough time to do justice to all seven in the super-
hectic world of the principalship. Which three add the most value to the quality of 
teaching and the achievement of all students?

Marshall starts with the four items on the list that he thinks have less impact: “During my 
15 years as a principal,” he writes, “I had increasing doubts about the efficacy of 
evaluating and writing up classroom dog-and-pony shows, looking at lesson plans that 
were often works of fiction, and doing walk-throughs and superficial drive-by classroom 
visits that didn’t reveal much about whether observable acts of teaching were producing 
actual student learning.” Marshall then makes the case for the three that he believes have 
the greatest impact on teaching and learning:

• Interim assessments with follow-up – “When teacher teams look at high-quality 
assessments of student learning (at least every nine weeks),” he writes, “the professional 
conversation shifts from how good their lessons were (which is usually debatable) to 
whether students actually learned.” Principals can spark this kind of teacher discourse by 
insisting on common assessments, scheduling time for teachers to score and discuss 
them immediately after students are tested, and holding teachers accountable for 
following up.

• Unit planning – “When teachers work together to plan multi-week curriculum units (the 
Civil War, the solar system, ratio and proportion),” Marshall writes, “working backwards 
from state standards, ‘big ideas,’ and unit assessments, the result is more thoughtful 
instruction, deeper student understanding, and, yes, better standardized test scores.” 
Principals can spur on this process by providing the training, support, and time that 
teacher teams need to work this way.

• Mini-observations – “When principals make frequent, unannounced supervisory visits to 
all classrooms,” says Marshall, “(having a measurable goal is vital; mine was five a day), 
they are using an efficient sampling technique and are far more likely to be able to 
answer several key questions: Are teachers on track with the curriculum? Do students 
seem to be learning? Which staff members need closer attention and support? Who 
deserves special praise?” Conventional supervision and evaluation often misses the point, 
Marshall argues, and is seldom respected by teachers. “A much better use of a principal’s 
time,” he says, “is making a few brief classroom visits a day and being sure to catch 
each teacher within 24 hours for a candid conversation about what was happening, what 
each ‘snapshot’ says about pedagogy and student learning, and how things are going in 
general.” 

Marshall contends that “Principals who make it their business to focus on interim 
assessments, unit plans, and mini-observations really know what’s going on in classrooms 
and have powerful leverage as they work with teacher teams. And building the capacity 
of teacher teams is crucial. When teachers work together to achieve specific, measurable 
goals for which team members are mutually accountable, that’s truly the engine of 
student improvement… In short, these three activities are a far more efficient use of a 
principal’s time than struggling to improve one teacher at a time via lesson-plan 
inspection and infrequent, tedious classroom write-ups, or by cruising around the building 
seeing a lot and changing very little.” 

Marshall hastens to add that principals should be visible throughout their schools to “show 
the flag,” should take visitors and colleagues on occasional walk-throughs to get the 
overall picture and look for specific items, should glance occasionally at lesson plans, and 
should conduct in-depth lesson evaluations when necessary and required by the contract. 
“But principals shouldn’t be under any illusions that these activities provide much bang for 
the buck,” he says, “except when the dismissal of an ineffective teacher is at stake.” 

All this sounds logical, but few principals are spending their time on the three highest-
value activities. Why not? “Because it’s profoundly countercultural in most schools for 
administrators to pop into classrooms unannounced, ask teams for unit plans, and require 
teachers to give common assessments and use the results to improve instruction,” says 
Marshall. “Many teachers are in the habit of planning at the last minute, have gone for 
years without authentic conversations with their principals, and have fallen into what 
Grant Wiggins calls the educator’s egocentric fallacy: I taught it, therefore they learned it 
– and if they didn’t, it’s because of last year’s teachers, neglectful parents, hip-hop 
culture, and other factors outside my control.”

How can principals change a culture like this and focus on the highest-leverage activities? 
They need to believe these activities will produce results, they need real self-discipline to 
push back against all the competing activities and distractions, and they need courage. 
“Instructional leadership is all about minimizing activities that don’t contribute to teaching 
and learning, and focusing relentlessly on those that do,” Marshall concludes, “even if 
there’s some initial discomfort and push-back. This kind of leadership will continuously 
improve the quality of teaching, promote collegiality and a deep sense of efficacy among 
teachers, and close the achievement gap that is the shame of our schools.” 

“What’s A Principal To Do? When You Can’t Do It All, What Are the Highest-Leverage 
Activities?” by Kim Marshall in Education Week, September 20, 2006 (Vol. 26, #4, p. 36-
37), no e-link available, but the text of the article is available on the Marshall Memo 
website:
http://www.marshallmemo.com/about.php (scroll down)


The Marshall Memo is a weekly digest of important research in K-12 education. Individual 
subscriptions are $50 for the school year at http://www.marshallmemo.com.

__________________________________________________________________________
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The Mifgashim List is a project of
The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora,
The School of Education, Bar Ilan University

The Center encourages you to become a paid member and
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