Owning Up

One of the reasons I like blogging so much is because it helps keep me honest.  If I have an idea for a project or practice, I like to write about it in this public space because it makes me feel beholden to you (whoever you are) to see it through.  It provides some extra incentive for me to follow through, and a little extra incentive or motivation is always appreciated!

In January, I challenged you to get out of your classroom and observe your colleagues at least once a month from January to May.  I even said I would try to do it twice a month.

I did not meet my goal.

In fact, I fell way short.  This is not to say I didn’t conduct general observations as part of my job; rather, I didn’t get to conduct many additional ones as outlined in that blog post from January.

Ordinarily, this is the part where I would analyze my own actions or inaction, and determine what I could do differently to improve this for next time.  I started off well enough, sitting in on a basic skills Algebra class, but if I’m honest, it came down to there not being enough hours in the day.  I pride myself on always being able to find or make time for these things, but in a rare occurence, I just wasn’t going to be able to do it without neglecting other, more time-sensitive or higher-priority items.

So maybe this is a Seinfeldesque blog post about nothing, but I thought it important to at least come correct and own up to my inability to meet the challenge I set for myself and others.  If nothing else, it’s what I would expect of my students.

Every New Beginning Comes From Some Other Beginning’s End

Just a quickie blog post, but one I am excited to write: I have accepted a new position for the upcoming school year.  In what will be a significant (but very welcome) professional change for me, I will be working with students in grades 4-6 as a school psychologist; as many of you know, my primary professional experience up to now has been at the high school level.

I am very excited about this new opportunity for many reasons, not the least of which is the move from the secondary to intermediate level.  While I liked working in high schools over the last eleven years, working with younger students has been on my mind for a few years now, and I’m thrilled to be able to realize that goal this coming September.

I’m very much looking forward to a new set of professional challenges and rewards.  Between starting two new jobs (I’m also teaching my first graduate class this summer, in a teacher certification program) and a doctoral program, the next few months are going to be ones of great change and, as far as my growth and efficacy as an educator is concerned, great opportunities for learning and reflection.

Personalizing Learning in Public Education

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about New Jersey’s pilot program for Personalized Student Learning Plans, defined in the New Jersey Administrative Code as “a formalized plan and process that involved students setting learning goals based on personal, academic, and career interests, beginning in the middle school grades and continuing throughout high school with the support of adult mentors that include teachers, counselors, and parents” (NJAC 6A:8).

The original plan was for PSLPs to be piloted in sixteen school districts throughout NJ over 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, but I’ve since learned that the pilot program has been extended through the end of the 2011-2012 school year.  In August 2010, the state released its initial findings (PDF), which I’ll summarize here.

The 2009-2010 Evaluation Report (linked above) cites eleven major findings from last school year and six major lessons to take into the current one.  I’ll just highlight a few:

Findings

  • Buy-in and support are crucial: Findings 6, 7, and 9 all address the significance of not only teacher buy-in, but also demonstrable support beyond “lip service” from principals (or, I imagine, any school administrator) to the success of a local PSLP program.  The report noted that the schools that most effectively implemented the PSLP program all had strong training programs for staff and students, adequate resources, and regular opportunities to meet, voice concerns, and collectively problem-solve.  One example that pops up a few times in the findings is an aspect of personalized education to which I alluded in this post from February – the flexibility of the school schedule.  Principals who were perceived to be supportive were also those who allowed for flexibility in both the school schedule and staff scheduling.  It makes sense; if we are going to truly personalize learning experiences, it has to be in for a penny, in for a pound; no half-stepping here.
  • Technology is key: Hate to say “I told you so”, but Finding #2 noted that the vast majority of schools in the pilot program used some sort of web-based program as part of the PSLP process.  If this is the direction in which NJ schools are heading, for better or for worse, teachers and other school staff are going to need to get comfortable utilizing online tools.
  • We need a point man: Or woman!  From the report: “School representatives reported that PSLP programs require substantial coordination and planning, and agreed that without someone acting as the central coordinator in each school, PSLPs would be difficult to implement.”  The report stated that of the 16 pilot schools, only three used teachers as their PSLP coordinators (administrators and guidance counselors seemed to be the positions of choice for this job).  I’m of two minds about this: on one hand, it doesn’t make sense to me to burden the teachers – who are already adjusting to entirely new professional environment with trying to meet the individualized needs of all these students – with this additional paperwork.  On the other hand, as the ones with the most daily contact with the students, they’re the ones who know them, their goals, and their progress best.  Maybe the paperwork needs to be handled by an admin or support personnel with regular input from the teachers.  Which, of course, means building regular meeting times into the weekly schedule (see first bulletpoint above).
  • Despite challenges, initial reports are favorable: Findings 10 & 11 indicated that a significant majority of polled staff members felt that the first year of the PSLP pilot program had a positive impact on students, and that they would recommend the PSLP process to colleagues in other districts.  The Evaluation Report acknowledges that a single year is not enough time to gauge all the potential pros and cons of this program, but upwards of seventy percent of educators polled felt that the program had a positive impact on student-teacher interactions, help-seeking behaviors, motivation, and engagement, among other things.  Seventy-three percent of teachers and one hundred percent of program coordinators polled said they would recommend PSLPs to other schools in their districts.

Lessons

No need to bulletpoint here; I think it’s sufficient to say that the lessons primarily drive home the absolute necessity of staff training prior to the start of the PSLP implementation as well as having principals who walk the walk in terms of supporting the initiative by providing more than just verbal support for the program.  No big surprises here.

Looking Ahead

Despite this report being published in August 2010, I wasn’t aware of its existence until midway through the current school year.  Now that I know the state is publishing these, I’ll be keeping an eye on the PSLP site toward the end of summer to see what more the 2010-2011 Evaluation Report has to say.  I am concerned about the logistical headaches a poorly implemented PSLP could create, but I am more hopeful about the potential for good this could hold if done right.

If you’ve read the document (go do it; it’s only 5 1/2 pages), what about the findings/lessons stand out to you?  Has your school or state implemented something similar?  Is NJ on the right track with this project?