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MIFGASHIM  December 2015

MIFGASHIM December 2015

Subject:

Mifgashim Volume 8 Issue 356

From:

Lee Buckman <[log in to unmask]>

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Wed, 30 Dec 2015 04:58:49 +0200

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Mifgashim Volume 8 Issue 356


Contents:


1.	Five resolutions for Jewish day schools in 2016

2.	Teens and disbelief

3.	Teens today:  Sleep isn’t the gateway, but the impediment, to dreams

4.	Who spoke and still speaks Aramaic?

5.	Sixteen books for educators in 2016

6.	Three ways of getting student feedback to improve your teaching

7.	Marshall Memo: The Vital Importance of Schools’ Professional Working Conditions


~~~~~~~~~


1.	Five resolutions for Jewish day schools in 2016


Writing on the Avi Chai blog, the PEJE Atidenu project director Dr. Harry Bloom offers five bits of advice that promote day school sustainability.

a.      Generously thank the devoted Jewish day school Board members for their countless hours of selfless service. And, give them the gift of governance training so that their time is most wisely spent and their impact magnified. We certainly need their focus on what matters (day school sustainability and Head of School support, in particular) and their brainpower, financial support, and advocacy!

b.      Research and implement tuition-setting policies that make our schools accessible to the vital middle-income families who do not feel comfortable participating in the financial aid process because they make healthy incomes but still cannot fully afford day school. Create policies and procedures that reflect realistic percentages of income spent on tuition, the realities of schools’ marginal costs, and the incremental benefits of filling empty seats.

c.      Set energizing—dare we say inspiring?—long-term goals for our schools based on a thoughtful analysis of their environments, what our schools are doing well, and what they need to do better. Design plans to accomplish these goals, and use the inspiring goals and plans as magnets to attract lay leadership talent and donors. People love to support a winning organization, or, next best thing, an organization poised to become one! A school without an energizing future vision will simply not get the needed support.

d.      Implement proactive—not reactive—student recruitment and retention processes that enable our schools to go on the offensive. Identify, cultivate, and attract mission-compatible families and students without assuming they will be automatically delivered by “feeder” institutions or voluntarily show up to an open house. There is a definite method to this, as taught in the Atidenu program, and no school can afford to be passive given the stark realities of the world of the Pew Report.

e.      Build endowments for the future while also maximizing annual fundraising. There was a great deal of progress in endowment building among day schools in 2015, but it is still the sad truth that only a small fraction of schools have significant endowment funds available to generate income to offset expenses and not place the whole burden on tuition-paying families. 

Read the original and complete post at http://avichai.org/2015/12/five-new-years-resolutions-for-the-jewish-day-school-field/.


~~~~~~~~~


2.	Teens and disbelief


Rabbi Moshe Benovitz, the managing director of International NCSY and the director of NCSY Kollel, analyzes the struggles that today’s teenagers—whether graduates of yeshivot, day schools, or public schools—have with fundamental Jewish beliefs.  In an article entitled “Conquering Disbelief in Our Students and Teenagers” in the August 26, 2015 edition of the Orthodox Union magazine,  he writes:

We need not prove the unprovable. Not only because of the paradox in such a pursuit, but because proof and decisive arguments may very well be unnecessary. Furthermore, in-depth discussion of complex philosophical quandaries will never appeal to the masses of students — doubts or no doubts — and can very easily succeed in raising more questions than answers.

….What is needed is giving reasons to believe rather than absolute proof of the veracity of belief. This entails two distinct elements. First, to give sufficient motivation for the inevitable leap of faith that will be required. And second, we must succeed in making our narrative at least highly plausible, if not axiomatic.

….It will not be necessary to conclusively demonstrate the authenticity of the biblical narrative, but it is surely imperative to communicate its great likelihood. We must arm the next generation with the arguments that dispel the notion that believing in a Sinaitic transmission is naïve or absurd. We may not be able to introduce them to incontrovertible evidence of God’s existence, but we must convince them that they are not crazy for believing that they can talk to Him. 

No one wants to be taken for a fool. And no one wants to give up wealth and pursuit of certain pleasures for no good reason at all. But if we can provide compelling enough reasons and incentives to justify the sacri¬fices entailed in a religious lifestyle, we may ¬ find a generosity and willingness previously hidden from view.

Read the complete article at https://www.ou.org/life/inspiration/conquering-disbelief-in-our-students-and-teenagers/


~~~~~~~~~


3.	Teens today:  Sleep isn’t the gateway, but the impediment, to dreams
 

In the July 29, 2015 edition, NY Times columnist Frank Bruni reflects on Denise Pope’s recent book “Overloaded and Underprepared,” a book about today’s over-stressed teenagers.  Entitled “Today’s Exhausted Superkids,” Bruni’s article laments that today’s students are so concerned about the status-obsessed race to the top that schools now must incorporate sleep education into the curriculum.  Gone are the days that students had a hard time waking up for school; today’s problem is that it’s nearly impossible to lull them to sleep.  It’s not uncommon for today’s high school students to get only five hours of sleep per night.

Bruni writes:
 
Smartphones and tablets aggravate the problem, keeping kids connected and distracted long after lights out. But in communities where academic expectations run highest, the real culprit is panic: about acing the exam, burnishing the transcript, keeping up with high-achieving peers.
I’ve talked with many parents in these places. They say that they’d love to pull their children off such a fast track, but won’t the other children wind up ahead?

They might — if “ahead” is measured only by a spot in U-Penn’s freshman class and if securing that is all that matters.
But what about giving a kid the wiggle room to find genuine passions, the freedom to discover true independence, the space to screw up and bounce back? Shouldn’t that matter as much?

“No one is arguing for a generation of mediocre or underachieving kids — but plenty of people have begun arguing for a redefinition of what it means to achieve at all,” wrote Jeffrey Kluger in Time magazine last week. He noted, rightly, that “somewhere between the self-esteem building of going for the gold and the self-esteem crushing of the Ivy-or-die ethos, there has to be a place where kids can breathe.”
And where they can tumble gently into sleep, which is a gateway, not an impediment, to dreams.

Read the full article at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/29/opinion/frank-bruni-todays-exhausted-superkids.html?emc=eta1


~~~~~~~~~


4.	Who spoke and still speaks Aramaic?


Columbia University liguist and author John McWorter examines the near extinction of spoken Aramaic, the lingua franca between 600 and 200 BCE in Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia, Persia, and India.  In a September 10, 2015 article in the Atlantic entitled “Where Do Languages Go to Die?,” the author explores the factors that account for the decline of the once-popular language that united a large number of distinct peoples across a vast region.  The tenuous state of the language can be seen from the various names it goes under. 

McWorter writes:
In many historical sources, the language is referred to as “Chaldean,” after one of the Aramaic-speaking dynasties that ruled Babylon when it was the glittering center of Mesopotamian civilization between the seventh and the fourth centuries B.C.E. Because a Syrian dialect of Aramaic is especially well-preserved in writing and is still used for Christian liturgy in the Middle East, Turkey, and even India, one also hears often of Syriac. Some modern speakers of Aramaic call their variety Assyrian, others Mandaic.

Aramaic and Hebrew had an affinity with one another as McWorter explains:
The two languages are part of the same Semitic family, but still, when the Book of Daniel switches into Aramaic for five chapters because Chaldeans are being addressed, it’s rather as if Cervantes had switched into Italian in Don Quixote for the tale of the Florentine nobleman. So dominant was Aramaic that the authors of the Bible could assume it was known to any audience they were aware of. Hebrew, for them, was local. Aramaic truly got around—even to places where no one had ever actually spoken it, in the form of its alphabet, on which both Hebrew and Arabic writing were based. By the time the Persians won the next round of Mesopotamian musical chairs in the 500s B.C.E., Aramaic was so well-entrenched that it seemed natural to maintain it as the new empire’s official language, instead of using Persian. For King Darius, Persian was for coins and magnificent rock-face inscriptions. Day-to-day administration was in Aramaic, which he likely didn’t even know himself. He would dictate a letter in Persian and a scribe would translate it into Aramaic. Then, upon delivery, another scribe would translate the letter from Aramaic into the local language. This was standard practice for correspondence in all the languages of the empire.

Aramaic prevailed even during the Hellenistic period at least in Judea.  McWorter notes:
After Alexander the Great conquered Persia in the fourth century B.C.E., for instance, Greek, itself an exceptionally complicated language, eventually edged out Aramaic as Eurasia’s lingua franca (though Aramaic held on in places like Judea…). 

To read the rest of this intriguing brief history, go to http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/09/aramaic-middle-east-language/404434/.


~~~~~~~~~


5.	Sixteen books for educators in 2016


Author, book reviewer, and former elementary school principal Peter DeWitt posted on Education Week’s December 27, 2015 blog a list of 16 recently published books he recommends to educators.

Visible Learning Into Action (John Hattie, Deb Masters, & Kate Birch) - For full disclosure, I work with John and all three authors are colleagues and friends. Hattie has written some of the most popular academic books ever, and I truly value his research, which is why this book is at the top of the list. When I'm on the road doing Visible Learning trainings I often get asked, "Where do we start?" Visible Learning Into Action helps leaders and teachers understand where they need to begin, because each case study offers a different school's journey through the VL process.

Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education (Sir Ken Robinson & Lou Aronica) - It's Sir Ken Robinson. I'm still not sure whether I like his amazing TED Talks or insightful books better. He weaves in research, thought-provoking information, and an amazing sense of humor into this book, which will be a top-seller for many years. I love books that will be relevant for decades and this is one of them.

Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected (Jim Knight) - For the next full disclosure, I work with Jim Knight as an Instructional Coaching trainer. I have long valued Jim's coaching style and have been on the receiving end of it as well. Jim practices what he preaches and I have an inordinate amount of respect for his work and who he is as a person. This book is well worth the time and will not only enhance your relationships at school but also at home.

Uncommon Learning: Creating Schools That Work for Kids (Eric Sheninger) - Eric has been a friend for a few years and I loved his first book. There is no sophomore slump here, and it is filled with great ideas for teachers and leaders. Eric was a building leader, so he understands the need to keep it real and make it practical. He does that very well in this book. Someday perhaps uncommon learning will be a bit more common.

Engage Every Family: 5 Simple Principles (Steve Constantino) - Steve is someone I met a few years ago. Lots of people talk about how to engage parents, but Steve has been actually doing it for decades. Constantino is a superintendent in Virginia, and he writes with a hard-hitting yet humorous style. Full disclosure #4 is that I wrote the forward because I am a huge fan of Steve's work.

The Tech-Savvy Administrator: How do I use technology to be a better school leader? (Steven Anderson) - There are a few books on the list that involve technology, but I have long valued Steven's approach to the topic because he was the director of technology and now works with tech companies and schools. Plus, this is a book in the ASCD Arias series, which are short-form practical books that leaders can read in one sitting.

Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and Systems (Michael Fullan & Joanne Quinn) - Michael Fullan should be on a Top 10 ... or 14 ... list every year, especially with the book The Principalship that he released a couple of years ago. Coherence is equally as good. Fullan is internationally known for his work in systems thinking. In Coherence, he and Quinn keep their message practical and research-based, and this book will help leaders improve their practice. It helps streamline where our energies should be placed.

The Power of Questioning: Opening Up the World of Student Inquiry (Starr Sackstein) - Starr used to write guest blogs for me, and I quickly saw that she needed her own space to communicate with readers. She writes the Work In Progress blog for Education Week Teacher and I reviewed The Power of Questioning. It is a very well-written book that will inspire many, many teachers. Starr is truly student-centered and this book hits the core of who she is as a teacher, and offers steps for other teachers to take to meet that same goal.

The Innovator's Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity (George Couros) - George is a passionate speaker and has been inspiring leaders and teachers to think differently through his Principal of Change blog for a few years now. The Innovator's Mindset has hit the ground running and when you read it you will be inspired by George's passion for education and kids.

Evaluating Instructional Leadership: Recognized Practices for Success (Ray Smith & Julie Smith) - This book was one of the best books on leadership that I read in 2015. Ray and Julie are colleagues through the consulting I do for Visible Learning, and this books brings together a great deal of research as well as decades of practice that they both had as teachers and leaders. We often talk about evaluating teachers but spend little time talking about how to help evaluate leaders. Smith and Smith do it well.

What Connected Educators Do Differently (Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, & Jimmy Casas) - Todd Whitaker has been a major influence for me ever since Sharon Lawrence, my former assistant superintendent (and predecessor as building principal), gave me What Great Principals Do Differently back in 2006. Todd is a friend, but he also has a way to offer very practical insight with a humorous style. He brought in Jeffrey Zoul and Jimmy Casas, both of whom are amazing school leaders, to help him offer additional insight with this book.

Hard Conversations Unpacked: The Whos, the Whens, and the What-Ifs (Jennifer Abrams) - This book by Jennifer Abrams comes out in a month, and I reviewed this one as well. Abrams focuses on a very important topic, which is how we communicate with our colleagues. I think we all have been in schools where teachers don't talk to one another because of something that happened five years ago, and Jen offers practical steps on how to communicate so we don't have to ignore our colleagues.

Leading Collaborative Learning: Empowering Excellence (Lyn Sharratt & Beate Planche) - I would read anything from Lyn Sharratt, and this book is no different. Sharratt and Planche offer practical steps on how leaders can lead collaborative learning. Collaboration is something we talk about often but it's not done to the degree it could be in schools, and Sharratt and Planche show us how to meet that goal.

Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era (Tony Wagner & Ted Dintersmith) - It would be easy to just say read this book because Tony Wagner is one of the authors, but educators should read this book because Wagner and Dintersmith tell a very important story about our educational system, and everyone can learn from it. I love books that provoke a great deal of thought and this one certainly meets that criteria.

Rethinking Multicultural Education (Edited by Wayne Au) - When I was a young teacher working in a city school in 1997 I picked up Rethinking Schools and I have been a big fan of their work ever since. They made me feel as though they understood what I was seeing as a teacher, and helped me become a better teacher due to the resources they offer. They explored issues that other publishers wouldn't touch, and they did an awesome job every time. This book by edited by Wayne Au is in a long list of other publications, but I think it will be your favorite for a long, long time.

The STEM Shift: A Guide for School Leaders (Ann Myers & Jill Berkowicz) - We have been talking about STEM for many years, and Myers and Berkowicz address the topic beautifully through philosophy and practical steps based on decades of experience. For full disclosure (#5 or 6) I was in, and graduated from, the Sage College of Albany doctoral program with Jill and Ann was one of the founding members. I have a great deal of admiration for both of them and have learned a lot through our conversations in the program and those conversations that have taken place over the last five years since I graduated. Myers and Berkowicz write the Leadership 360 blog for Education Week, and if you like the blog, you will love this book.


~~~~~~~~~


6.	Three ways of getting student feedback to improve your teaching


In her July 21, 2015 Edutopia post, Teacher and IT Integrator Vicki Davis describes ways in which teachers can improve their teaching and lessons using student feedback.  At the very least, teachers can learn which lessons flopped from the students’ perspective and what students liked and disliked (or like and dislike, if feedback is solicited midyear).

Here are three ways she gathers feedback:

1. End-of-Year Focus Groups
I end the year with students in a circle. I turn on the audio recorder in Evernote to capture the conversation, which goes something like this.

I'm so proud of what you've done this year and how you've improved. Today we have a focus group. [Explain what a focus group is.] I need you to help me set my goals to improve this course for next year and to be a better teacher. Will you be honest so that I can improve? I'm recording this in Evernote so that I can listen to the conversation again this summer.

First of all, what did we learn that you loved this year? [Each student answers. We go around the circle for every question.]
What were the things we learned that you liked the least?
So what is the most boring thing we did the whole year? Do you have any ideas for making it more interesting?
Is there anything you wish we'd had more time to do?
Was there anything you wish we'd done more of?
How about ______? What can I do to improve that? [This is where I insert specific initiatives.]

My final purpose is a quick review of what we've learned. You can feel as if you've done nothing the whole year when you're tired on the last day. I want them to leave me with their impression of the whole year in their mind so they (and I) are positive about the effort we've put in since September.

2. End-of-Year Survey
I do an anonymous end-of-year survey as well (particularly if a class was reticent in the focus group time). You could adapt this and send it to parents for feedback. I do this in Google Forms and like to use open-ended answers for several of the questions.

This survey is more focused on finding the things I may need to improve in a personal way, because kids may not want to say those things in front of their peers. Questions might include:
•	Is there something you wish I knew about this class that would make me a better teacher?
•	Is there a habit I need to work on improving to be a better teacher in the future?
•	Is there something you wish that you could have told me this year?
•	Is there anything good you'd like to leave as an encouragement to me?
•	Name one small thing I can do to be an amazing teacher.

Instead of getting bogged down in the details, I'll take the answers and paste each one into a text file. Then, I'll paste them in Wordle to see trends. If I need to read each answer, I will, but I usually wait until summer when I'm more rested.

3. Anonymous Notes
I always make a point to tell every student that they can type or write their feedback and put it on my desk any time. I suggest that you invite anonymous notes, because sometimes students want to tell you important things but don't want to be a "snitch." That's why the last day of the year is the best time for this type of note -- no repercussions and total honesty. One year, I found out that some kids had been dishonest, and the next year I changed how I administered a certain test to end cheating.

Just keep anonymous notes in perspective. I have received one from an angry student. It was vitriolic! These things happen. Learn from it if you can even if it is to know that many kids are angry. Hurting people hurt people but I’m still glad they can give me feedback.

Why You Must Reflect and Improve
Students are what we do. They are the center of our classroom, not us. However, as a teacher, I am the most impactful single person in the classroom. Honest feedback from our students will help me level up.
I've been doing this for more than ten years. Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I cry -- and sometimes I'm mortified. But I can honestly say that every single piece of feedback I've received has made me a better teacher. And great teachers are never afraid of having or inviting hard conversations. This is one of best practices that has helped me to be a better, more excited teacher every year.

For more, read http://www.edutopia.org/blog/student-feedback-improves-your-teaching-vicki-davis


~~~~~~~~~


7.	Marshall Memo: The Vital Importance of Schools’ Professional Working Conditions


In this article from the Albert Shanker Institute, John Papay and Matthew Kraft (Brown University) say that researchers and the lay public aren’t paying enough attention to one of the most important factors in effective teaching and learning: professional working conditions. “We treat teachers as if their effectiveness is mostly fixed, always portable, and independent of school context,” say Papay and Kraft. “As a result, we rarely complement personnel reforms with organizational reforms that could benefit both teachers and students… Put simply, teachers who work in supportive contexts stay in the classroom longer, and improve at faster rates, than their peers in less-supportive environments.”

These are some of the key environmental factors identified in recent studies of effective schools:
-   The quality of relationships among professionals;
-   A school culture characterized by trust;
-   Opportunities for collaboration among colleagues;
-   Supportive and responsive school leadership;
-   A fair teacher-evaluation system that provides meaningful feedback;
-   Effective professional development;
-   Academic and behavioral expectations for students;
-   Consistent order and discipline;
-   Student support services to attend to students’ social and emotional needs;
-   Efforts to engage parents.

Conversely, the high turnover that is common in struggling schools is largely a factor of poor professional working conditions, say Papay and Kraft. In one Massachusetts study, teachers working in schools with poor working conditions were three times as likely to say they were thinking about transferring out as teachers in schools with positive environments.

The people with ability to affect almost all the environmental factors are principals, say Papay and Kraft. “They are the ones who establish these organizational supports and build school-wide cultures. Hiring principals who have the ability to identify organizational weaknesses, establish school-wide systems to support teachers and students, and galvanize the collective buy-in and involvement of all teachers is a central lever for improving the teaching and learning environment.”
 
“Developing Workplaces Where Teachers Stay, Improve, and Succeed” by John Papay and Matthew Kraft from the Albert Shanker Institute, May 28, 2015, http://bit.ly/1M628Qm; the authors can be reached at [log in to unmask] and [log in to unmask]

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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