Road Map to the Top

Gas Station MapThere’s no shortage of idioms and expressions about the need to know where you are going. Lewis Carroll said something like, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there” – a remark echoed in “Any Road” on George Harrison’s last [posthumous] record. Except for the most carefree among us, most of us are working diligently, if not frantically, to get to a better educational place.

We all have a lot on our plate: Standards, Data, Practice, and Culture all have to change and have to change at the same time [now]. For Standards, this means the Common Core, and soon enough, Next Generation Science. For Data, this means common formative and interim assessments. For Standards, this means APPRs for teachers and principals. For Culture, this means we simply have to change the way we do business – that actual, honest-to-goodness “co-laboring on the right work” has to become our fundamental operating system. Each of these four areas is a heavy lift in their own right. To try to do all four simultaneously is a monumental task that will require Herculean efforts on the part of each and every educator. The four are so interdependent, however, that to look at them in isolation could lead us off in different directions. So, we must make sure that they are interconnected and that they do all point in the same direction: students ready for their future in the 21st Century (College, Career, and Citizenship readiness).

To get “there” from “here” is quite a journey. Until the app is developed or address ready to be entered into the GPS, we’ve developed a good, old-fashioned road map to lead us to that destination. Our RTTT Road Map can be used to point you to your destination and it can be used to locate yourself in order to know where you stand in relation to your destination. We’ve already found it useful while working with districts to help them plot their course and, when necessary, to double-back a little ways in order to make sure that they are ready to move ahead.

Race to the Top Roadmap

Click to view larger

Our Race To The Top Road Map, while certainly not perfect and certainly not appropriate for all contexts, might help you on your journey. Unfold it, locate yourself, and take off. Good luck!


OCM-Responsive Classroom® Blog-The Rules

Teacher with KidsDuring the first six weeks of school we democratically create rules with students.  There are 4 specific steps to this process and guidelines for doing it most effectively with students.  All ideas on how to do it are great as long as they fall into the following guidelines.

Creating Rules with Children:

Hopes Dreams

  • Students think of their own ideas for their individual hopes and dreams
  • Students select on “most important” hope and dream that is realistic, relevant, and respectful of themselves and others
  • Students have a way to share their most important hope and dream with their classmates
  • Hopes and Dreams are recorded in some way so they may be referred to throughout the year

Rule Generation

  • The Teacher gives children the opportunity to think of and share their own ideas for rules
  • Many more of the ideas for rules come from the students than from the teacher(s)
  • Students are encouraged to brainstorm a list of many possible rules
  • The teacher records student’s ideas for rules using the students’ own words and phrasing

Rule Consolidation

  • The teacher plans a way to help students rephrase negatively stated rules in positive ways
  • The teacher provides a way for students to categorize the many rules into three to five categories (ie. Care for Self, Others and Environment)
  • Students will have opportunities to discuss the properties of each category
  • Students decide on the wording of the final three to five rules (one for each category) within the teacher’s guidelines

Rule Posting

  • Students have input into creating the final posted list(s) of rules

In RC I (revised) we spend a lot of time generating ideas for doing each of these steps with children.  How did you introduce the concept of Hopes and Dreams and Rules with your students?  Did you use literacy as a way to springboard into the conversation?  What instructional strategies did you use for any or all the steps? Did you have a theme for your Hopes and Dream?  If so, what were they?  Share a picture!  How did you incorporate technology?  How did you incorporate academics in the process?  Please share your ideas so others can grow!


ISLLC Win-Win… Win!

ScalesSo, you’re trying to help principals, or principal evaluators, or principal-candidates understand the ISLLC Standards:

  1. Setting a widely shared vision for learning
  2. Developing a school culture and instructional program conducive to student learning and staff professional growth
  3. Ensuring effective management of the organization, operation, and resources for a safe, efficient, and effective learning environment
  4. Collaborating with faculty and community members, responding to diverse community interests and needs, and mobilizing community resources
  5. Acting with integrity, fairness, and in an ethical manner
  6. Understanding, responding to, and influencing the political, social, legal, and cultural contexts.

Maybe you do an overview of the six standards and then ask your audience to try to makes sense of them graphically. Sooner or later the conversation shifts to using the ISLLC Standards for evaluation — and how to collect evidence of the Standards. A natural activity would be to have the participants generate lists of the artifacts and other sources of evidence for each of the Standards. That’s a logical approach and not unlike one I’ve employed in the past. What do you get when you do this? You get a cacophony of potential artifacts — and everyone reaches for a 4″ three-ring binder in which to collect all this stuff and which will eventually accompany the other three-ring binders in the vinyl library.

We can do better! We can use the ISLLC Standards for school improvement and not just evaluation. A colleague, Dawn Shannon from Broome-Tioga BOCES, showed me how to use the ISLLC Standards in a way that can guide school improvement initiatives and provide a scheme for growth-producing feedback and evaluation.

Here’s how: Rather than collecting all sorts of evidence about all sorts of efforts, the principal and superintendent (or supervisor) should identify an initiative for the school year (yes, this overlaps with the goal) and use the ISLLC Standards to guide, follow, and evaluate the success of the initiative/goal. The evidence that is collected, therefore, is centered (and authentic) on the initiative. The initiative will benefit from the analysis and application of the ISLLC Standards and the evidence will be collected for proposes of evaluation. This is a win-win situation! We can comply with the APPR regulations while also helping principals with their authentic initiatives and goals.

This is a much better alternative to just collecting binders full of evidence that is disconnected — the shotgun approach to evidence collection. Instead, follow an initiative (and improve the initiative) while collecting evidence. Along the way, monitor the progress of the initiative with the ISLLC framework. It can be a trifecta: growth-producing feedback for the principal, evaluation for the regulations, and initiative improvement for the school. Win-win-win!


Let’s Get Physical… Physical

BusI heard a rumor the other day. I heard that the new school year had begun. Can’t be, I thought. Summer just started, right? So, I decided to see if there was any truth to it. The next morning on my way to work, I paid attention to my surroundings, and sure enough…no rumor. I saw the school busses. I saw the crossing guards. I experienced the heavier traffic. I saw all the children walking and riding their bikes home from school and the playgrounds overflowing with happy, excited little people after school. Wait. Hold up. That last part isn’t true; that was what I had imagined in my mind’s eye. Where were all the kids? Why weren’t they outside jumping rope, playing tag or FourSquare, picking up a game of baseball or kickball? Riding bikes? I have a hunch it had something to do with a remote, a joystick, and a screen.

It’s no secret that we, as a country, are getting bigger (and, not in a good way). The latest obesity statistics (released in January 2012) indicate that approximately 17 percent, or 12.5 million, U.S. children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese. Not overweight. Obese. That number has tripled since 1980.    These children are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol (risks for cardiovascular disease); insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes; asthma, sleep apnea, and other breathing problems; joint aches and pains; and heartburn. These are no longer just “grown-up” health issues. Not to mention that these young people are often targets of bullying and at a greater risk of social and psychological problems (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Sometimes those scars don’t heal.

So, what can we do to help our youth when we are overburdened with responsibilities, in an economic crisis, and bombarded by fast-food marketing shoving dollar menus down our kids’ throats?


We need to educate our parents and extended families, children, colleagues, teachers, administrators, and elected officials about the absolute necessity of physical activity! Homo sapiens have come a long way, but our genetic code still reads that we are hunters and gatherers. “From an evolutionary perspective, our brains developed while working out, walking as many as 12 miles a day (Medina, 2008)   The U.S. Department for Health and Human Services released the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans in 2008. This is what it says: “…Youth can achieve substantial health benefits by doing moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity for periods of time that add up to 60 minutes (1 hour) or more each day. This activity should include aerobic activity as well as age-appropriate muscle- and bone–strengthening activities.” We can do this! One hour is not equal to 12 miles, not even close. We’ve got a good start with P.E. classes in some districts, but, even though children in grades K-6 are mandated by New York State to receive 120 minutes of physical exercise per week (K-3 meeting daily), there are often obstacles that prevent that from happening on a consistent basis, or ever.

Girls RunningWe need to find creative ways for kids to move every single day! Infuse brief bouts of physical activity into classroom lessons. This does not count as NYS mandated minutes (unless approved by NYSED), but it will get kids engaged in their learning processes. It will make them more alert. It will help them retain what they are learning. Renowned Harvard professor of psychiatry, John Ratey, authored, SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain and he likens exercise to “Miracle Gro” for the brain! (Spark is based on the successes of a school district in Illinois that implemented a Learning Readiness fitness-based P.E. program…more on that next Blog entry!) Physical activity can also help reduce anxiety and depression.

And, do I have the attention of school personnel??? Research shows that exercise is positively correlated with greater academic achievement! Yes, it’s true. And, it’s free. In these turbulent times of academic reform, physical activity is an incredibly valuable resource and viable solution that is sadly being overlooked. Instead of cutting P.E. and recess (kudos to Meachem E.S. in the Syracuse City School District for reinstating recess!) to make more time for ELA and math, we should be making sure that physical activity is being infused before, during, and after school to build one of children’s most important muscles—the brain!—which in turn can help kids get the most out of ELA, math, and other lessons.

So, start a morning jogging program for your students. Instead of selling candy bars to pay for field trips, bring back the dance-athon. Ride bikes with your kids (don’t forget your helmets!). Revise your district’s Wellness policy to require brief bouts of physical activity in the classroom that complements your lessons (no reinventing the wheel here.) Enter your school in the International Walk-to-School Day event on October 3rd Get something going, anything.

Spread the great news about physical activity…it’s no rumor.


How I spent My Summer Vacation…

By Renee M. Burnett, Auddie Shippee Mastroleo, and Jill Fendt

Spending a week in a hotel during summer sounds like a great vacation, right? Well, we did, but it wasn’t a vacation. In August, the Network Team traveled to Albany and received training from Core Knowledge and Expeditionary Learning, two contractors for NYSED’s new P-5 ELA modules.

ReneeThe K-2 modules (soon to be known as the New York Language Arts or NYLA) are being developed and supported through Core Knowledge. The modules presented at the training consist of the Core Knowledge Listening and Learning strand, focusing solely on the read-aloud experience for students in these grades. The domains that are currently available for each level are as follows:

Kindergarten Nursery Rhymes and Fables; Plants; Stories
First Grade Different Lands, Similar Stories; Fables and Stories; Fairy Tales
Second Grade Fighting for a Cause; Fairy Tales and Tall Tales; Cycles in Nature; Greek Myths; Insects; Charlotte’s Web I; Charlotte’s Web II

More domains will be added in the first few months of the 2012 fall semester as they become available.

Districts have the option of adopting, adapting, or referring to these modules as they examine local curricula and alignment to the Common Core. A key consideration for teachers and schools at the K-2 level is to recognize and act on this opportunity to scrutinize how read-alouds are executed. For example, a district, school, or team may ask the following questions:

  • How are the texts for read-alouds chosen?
  • With what purpose are read-alouds conducted?
  • Are current read-aloud practices based on what research tells us is best practice?
  • Is the text meeting the demands of the rigor required of the Common Core?
  • What extension activities accompany our read-alouds to provide repeated exposure to the concepts and vocabulary under study?
  • What resources (both professional and classroom) are available to us for read-alouds?
  • What training will teachers need to implement or support effective read-aloud instruction?

Capitalizing on the listening comprehension of our K-2 students is time well-spent. It builds and enriches the content knowledge of our students; and who doesn’t think that is a good idea? Anyone?


AuddieExpeditionary Learning (EL) was awarded the task of creating a Common Core aligned ELA curriculum plan for grades 3-5.  These curriculum plans focus on one portion of ELA instructional time:  an hour long block of whole group instruction.  Each module in the plan further focuses on several Common Core and Race to the Top tenets:

  • Text complexity demands which increase over the course of the year and reflect the high level of complexity required of the Common Core
  • Students engaged in close reading of short and extended complex texts with a decreasing degree of teacher support
  • Text-dependent questioning techniques which illicit text-based evidence in students’ oral and written responses
  • Short and extended research opportunities
  • On-going and embedded formative assessment within the units for practicing data driven instruction
  • Increasing interaction with informational texts while building knowledge in the content areas.  The curriculum topics for each grade level are as follows:
Grade 3 Module 1:  Becoming a Close Reader and Writing to Learn: The Power of Reading Around the World
Modules 2A & 2B (choose one):  Researching to Build Knowledge and Teaching Others: Adaptations and the Wide World of Frogs;  Researching to Build Knowledge and Teaching Others: Explorers and Countries around the World
Module 3A & 3B (choose one):  Considering Perspectives and Supporting Opinions: Staging Stories; Considering Perspectives and Supporting Opinions: Animals in Folktales, Myths, and the Real World
Module 4:  Gathering Evidence and Speaking to Others: The Role of Freshwater around the World
Grade 4 Module 1:  Becoming a Close Reader and Writing to Learn: Native Americans in New York
Modules 2A & 2B (choose one):  Researching to Build Knowledge and Teaching Others: The Hardship of Colonial Times and How Electricity Has Changed our Lives;  Researching to Build Knowledge and Teaching Others: Interdependent Roles in Colonial Times
Module 3A & 3B (choose one):Considering Perspectives and Supporting Opinions: Important Roles during the Revolutionary War;  Considering Perspectives and Supporting Opinions: Simple Machines
Module 4:  Gathering Evidence and Speaking to Others: the Leadership of Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and DeWitt Clinton
Grade 5 Module 1:  Becoming a Close Reader and Writing to Learn: Stories of Human Rights
Modules 2A & 2B (choose one):  Researching to Build Knowledge and Teaching Others: Field Guides to the Amazon;  Researching to Build Knowledge and Teaching Others: Inventors and Inventions
Modules 3A & 3B (choose one):  Considering Perspectives and Supporting Opinions: Sports and Athletes’ Impact on Culture; Considering Perspectives and Supporting Opinions: Balancing Competing Needs in Canada
Module 4:  Gathering Evidence and Speaking to Others: Natural Disasters in the Western Hemisphere

Currently, EL has made available through Module 1, Unit 1 (which includes 9 lessons) for each grade level.  Each module will have three units for a total instructional time of eight weeks per module.  EL plans to create six modules out of which districts will choose four to adopt, adapt, or refer to in their own ELA curriculum plan.


JillAs of today, the math modules are still not up on the Engage NY site, although  Kindergarten is now there. It would be a good idea to look at how they formatted the module since all modules will be in the same type of template. The link for this module is: There is also a link to see an overview of the modules PreK-5. This link is: All modules are going to have the theme of “A Story of Units” and while these modules are not mandatory, they will be extremely helpful when planning lessons. A Story of Units was created to teach the logical, sequential story of elementary level mathematics using the best in instructional design. The lesson plans and the corresponding materials reflect the six instructional shifts required to teach the Common Core Learning Standards. The goal of A Story of Units is to build students’ understanding of units from the concrete to the pictorial to the abstract as they move, seamlessly, from grade to grade.

One of the strategies that is going to be found from Kindergarten and throughout the grades is the bar model, which helps children to see the part-part-whole of a problem and will also be very useful when solving word problems. When used consistently throughout the grades, it will help students when they begin algebra later on.

While fluency is one of the shifts and students are expected to know their facts quickly, this does not mean to take class periods practicing facts. The concepts of facts needs to be taught deeply so that students truly understand what 6 + 7 equals and how it relates to 13 -7. Fluency activities should be done in a variety of ways (such as games and mental math activities), in which all students are actively involved and are able to learn from their errors.


Do not pass Go, Do not collect $200!

Monopoly CardStop! Before you do any more work on Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) implementation, make sure that your staff first understands the six shifts that have to occur prior to any CCLS work. The shifts have to be understood before any other CCLS work because it is the only way that the CCLS has any chance of making a significant difference in our schools and classrooms.

A close analysis of the six shifts (the shifts for ELA are detailed in this past edition of NTnews) indicates that some profound and significant changes are necessary in our curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Most significantly, we have to rethink the balance between fiction and nonfiction we ask our students to read and write because we have to rethink our orientation toward our students’ future and away from the adults’ past. Our obligation (and purpose for existing as an institution) is to prepare young people for their future. A consideration of their future indicates a paramount need for skilled interaction with informational (nonfiction) text. Adults, especially in their work, but also in their personal lives, interact with far more nonfiction than fiction. Of course, fiction provides a great richness and pleasure to our lives. Nonfiction, however, occupies all of our work and a good portion of our personal lives, too. As a result, we have to shift the balance of fiction and nonfiction in our schools.

Our primary classrooms have to use more nonfiction informational texts as students learn to read. As students grow older, informational text must be more prominent in intermediate classrooms as students make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. At the secondary level, students must write and closely read authentic texts in each and every content area. This does not include textbooks – they are not particularly authentic. Secondary teachers will have to identify the authentic texts of their discipline and use these in their classroom, teaching students how to read, write, speak, listen, etc. in their content area. If secondary teachers do this, students will learn the material more deeply and permanently as well as be better readers and writers.

These shifts are foundational; the shifts have to occur in order for any subsequent curriculum and assessment work to be productive and meaningful. Stop! Before going any further with curriculum and assessment you have to make these shifts. Then, and only then, can you pass Go.


How to Ride an Elephant

Ride an ElephantIn his remarks at the 2011 Network Team Summer Institute, Commissioner King held up a book about change that he referred to at several points during the institute. The book was Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath. I dutifully noted the title, but it wasn’t until a few weeks later that I got around to reading it. I’m glad I didn’t wait too much longer.

Now we all know that there is no shortage of books about change and leadership – our bookshelves are full of them. If you are like me, some of those books influenced your practice; some didn’t. I like Switch and I think it has influenced my practice. Basically, it uses an analogy previously described by Jonathan Haidt in his bookThe Happiness Hypothesis: the elephant and its rider.

The rider, in the metaphor at the center of the books, sits atop a big elephant. The rider (which represents the rational part of human behavior) uses knowledge and reason to guide the elephant – sort of like a leader of a big system. The elephant represents the emotional part of human behavior. Our emotional side is governed by instinct and short term needs. If you can picture a rider perched atop a great big elephant you can get a sense of the struggle the little rider has to steer the big elephant. Most of the time, the elephant is going to go where it wants to go! The challenge is for the rider to persuade the elephant to go in a desired direction to a desired location. A reluctant elephant won’t get anywhere. A directionless leader won’t get the elephant/rider pair anywhere, either. Of course, both the rider and the elephant need each other for this to happen. Working together is not enough, the Heath brothers caution. What also must be clear is the path to take.

With a clear path the rider can know where to lead and know how to avoid spinning her/his wheels. With a clear path the elephant will encounter fewer obstacles and distractions. Of course, if you know where you are going you are a lot more likely to get to your destination.

If you think about our present situation it’s easy to identify the rider and the elephant. The rider is the reform agenda – the rational places we have to go. The elephant is our present system and status quo – comfortable and reluctant to change. The rider has to work with the elephant. In our roles as educational leaders we have to make sure that the path is clear to both the rider and the elephant. Not always easy to do – but absolutely necessary if we are to get our elephant and rider anywhere. Toward the end of chapter 1 in Switch, the Heath describes their framework which they suggest can get us through any change situation:

  • Direct the Rider. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity, so provide crystal-clear direction.
  • Motivate the Elephant. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. The Rider can’t get his way by force for very long. So it’s critical that you engage people’s emotional side—get their Elephants on the path and cooperative.
  • Shape the Path. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. We call the situation (including the surrounding environment) the “Path.” When you shape the Path, you make change more likely, no matter what’s happening with the Rider and Elephant.
So, as you move ahead, make sure you take care of all three components if you want change to happen. Oh, and in all your spare time, you might want to get Switch and give it a read. I think you’ll like it.