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"Belligerent indifference"--. What better terminology is there for professionals who persist in leadership and teaching practices that are not working? We can only jolt them into a moment of extraordinary discomfort with this simple but profound question: "Is it working? 


Thoughts for Administrators


Reminiscent of the advertising slogan, “Where’s the beef?”, can you identify classroom and homework activities that have no academic nutritional value?  To what extent do you jealously guard the quality of time students spend both in the classroom and after school, engaged in authentic activities that represent “rigor and relevance”? Have you completely eliminated what Mike Schmoker calls “the coloring curriculum”—cutting, pasting, coloring, and spending hours on various forms of poisonous “poster projects”, projects that rob students of the time they should be spending reading, writing and critically thinking and analyzing ideas?

To what extent do you demonstrate “cutting age theories of instructional and transformational leadership?”
                   (Linda Darling-Hammond


To answer that question, reflect on how you encourage authentic reading across all domains, promoting in-class writing and discussion, the foundation of Common Core State Standards. Are you promoting “Readicide” in your schools, where students report “they have no time to read”, and defer to summary programs like Spark Notes in order to survive classes? To what degree do your teachers assign “difficult” books for homework followed by mind numbing “comprehension questions”? All stakeholders should read this book:


readicideREADICIDE: How Schools Are Killing Reading And What You Can Do About It. Author Kelly Gallagher describes:


Read-i-cide : The systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools. Reading is dying in our schools. Educators are familiar with many of the factors that have contributed to the decline — poverty, second-language issues, and the ever-expanding choices of electronic entertainment. In this provocative new book, Kelly Gallagher suggests, however, that it is time to recognize a new and significant contributor to the death of reading: our schools.



In Readicide, Kelly argues that American schools are actively (though unwittingly) furthering the decline of reading. Specifically, he contends that the standard instructional practices used in most schools are killing reading by:

• Valuing the development of test-takers over the development of lifelong readers;

• Mandating breadth over depth in instruction;

• Requiring students to read difficult texts without proper instructional support;

• Insisting that students focus solely on academic texts;

• Ignoring the importance of developing recreational reading;

• And losing sight of authentic instruction in the shadow of political pressures


The Common Core State Standards are an antidote to these poisonous practices. Your attention and respect for CCSS Standards and your ability to convey the shift on increased reading IN-CLASS, and infusion of more IN-CLASS analysis of informational text is critical to CCSS implementation. This list of questions based on Ben Levin’s How to Change 5000 Schools? were designed to direct your focus on “what matters most”. http://www.hepg.org/hep/book/93


How Do You?

Recognize the disruptions for students in need and ensure equal access to the curriculum?

Recognize and analyze a rich and engaging formal and informal curriculum in class and for homework?

Recognize and encourage strong personal connections between students and adults?

Retain positive relationships with parents by maintaining transparency and integrity?

Recognize when a teacher has high expectations for all students and believes they can achieve standards?

Provide the support to guarantee all teachers have a broad repertoire of best teaching practices and that they craft and effectively implement them on a daily basis?

Ensure that the curriculum design is based on the best way to assess student understanding, and that the activities leading up to that assessment are engaging, purposeful and motivating?

Ensure that the teacher effectively uses data and feedback to improve both student and staff learning?

How do you guarantee a well-designed curriculum? See this Video on Understanding By Design: Grant Wiggins


Help Teachers Create Positive Mind Sets

Because the CCSS requires “intentional teaching”, it is critical that teachers increasingly assume more responsibility for delivering a more expanded repertoire of teaching strategies. Like fitting a key into the locked brains of learning, some strategies “fit” better than others. To help your teachers, principals must encourage a positive teaching “Mind Set”:

1.    Teachers being responsible; don’t blame the kids
2.    Teachers as Change Agents more than facilitators
3.    Teachers gaining feedback about their effectiveness & progress
4.    Teachers need to challenge, more than “do your best”
5.    Teachers who welcome error, and build trust among peers in classrooms
6.    Teachers who see assessment as informing them more than kids
7.    Teachers as Evaluators (of themselves more than of students)

Principals must be resilient in expecting teachers to self evaluate their progress: what works, what doesn’t work; what are the gaps, strengths, then “jolt them (teachers) into a moment of extraordinary discomfort with this simple but profound question: "Is it working?” This self-awareness driven by a common perception of progress, delivered in a supportive environment, could forever lead a teacher toward a positive trajectory of exceptional teaching.

Mr. Goodwin, McRel Researcher, proposes that administrators focus on “what matters most”: guaranteeing challenging, engaging and intentional instruction. Three “touchstones”, something educators can use to gauge the merit and value of their endeavors, should guide each administrator in supporting teachers as they seek to renew and reinvent themselves.

1.    Do my stated expectations for students reflect a growth mind set for their learning?
2.    Would my students characterize me as a warm demander?
3.    Am I clear with every lesson what I want and why I’m using a particular type of instruction?

Mr. Goodwin also encourages school districts to model themselves after  “high reliability organizations” such as airlines, nuclear power plants and oil refiners—any mistake can have disastrous consequences.  These organizations  “put in multilayered fail-safe systems, characterized by a clear commitment to error-free performance, standardized routines and expectations to insure error-free, day-to-day performance, and finally, a healthy obsession with failure (continually looking for ways to address error patterns).”

  Help Teachers Create “Visible Learning”

In John Hattie’s definitive book, Visible Learning, A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement, he presents an exhaustive meta-analysis of educational strategies where teachers can now gauge not only the relative effectiveness of almost every educational intervention under the sun, but they can compare these interventions on an absolute scale of “effect size.” Mr. Hattie identifies a statistically valid “hinge point” of .40. “Anything above this effect size has more of an impact than just a typical year of academic experience and student growth.” (Wiggins)  Hattie points out “…in education most things work, more or less.” He found the ones that tend to work best, and therefore, those are the ones more worthy of a teacher’s time.

See his slideshow presenting the data:
John Hattie: Tomorrow’s Schools, The Mindsets That Make A Difference In Education:




Interventions with .7 or above

1.    Student self-assessment/self-grading
2.    Response to intervention
3.    Teacher credibility
4.    Providing formative assessments
5.    Classroom discussion
6.    Teacher clarity
7.    Feedback
8.    Reciprocal teaching
9.    Teacher-student relationships fostered
10.    Spaced vs. mass practice

Help Teachers To Understand and Implement Formative Assessments

This is an area where many teachers lack expertise. If you investigate the AAMPup “Measure Performance” page you will find many helpful “.7 and above” and FREE links to HOW to implement formative assessment. In addition, on the “Reading and Discussion Page”, you will find many strategies and “slide shares” on how to promote classroom discussion. The graphic below defines the critical attributes of performance assessment, a tool you can use with your teachers.

Graphic from: Rigorous Curriculum Design: How to Create Curricular Units Of Study that Align Standards, Instruction, And Assessment, Larry Ainsworth http://tinyurl.com/9j979z2


Seek Out Effective Professional Development Programs and Resources to Inform Your Practice As An Administrator


This is mostly our fault, not the fault of teachers. Over time, we created what Kim Marshall calls “an emptiness in the professional relationship between teachers and school leaders”. The institutional muscles—the willingness to monitor, critique, and confront when necessary—which are so vital to improvement in every other profession, have atrophied. Leaders long ago made their peace with this arrangement (Evans, 1996; Elmore, 2000).



Leadership Books and Programs

There are countless books on administrative leadership and programs, resources available on the Publisher Link on this website. Three resources and programs to consider

 1.    Professional Learning Communities:  The Solution Tree:  Virtually all research documents the critical importance of organizing teachers in  “communities of continuous inquiry and improvement”, where they meet to enhance their effectiveness as professionals to improve student achievement.  The Solution Tree has long been a leader in this movement, providing books, videos, speakers, events and online courses.  http://www.solution-tree.com/


 2.    The Thoughtful Classroom, Making Students as Important as Standards, Thirty Years of Practice.  Thirty-five Years of Research. One Professional Development Program That Really Works.   Although many states have teacher evaluation programs, New York State invested in this program, one that provides the needed administrative leadership and one a N.Y Superintendent named “The holy grail of professional development programs. This extensive rubric requires establishing Professional Learning Communities and defines an administrator’s role in providing effective leadership for all-school change.  See the nine minute staff video on this website which explains how using this program has resulted in schools reporting moving from the lowest performing in their districts to the highest:  http://www.thoughtfulclassroom.com/index.php?act=prodev


3.    Preparing Principals for a Changing World: Lessons From Effective School LeadershipLinda Darling Hammond focuses on administrators’ vital role in creating successful schools. This book is based on two premises: “high-quality teaching and learning for all students depend substantially on effective school leadership—that is, leadership that promotes and sustains learning gains for students, teachers, schools, and districts. The second premise is that American schools are hindered in providing effective education for all students, in part due to a lack of supports for developing such leadership.”  Reading this book, you will learn how eight schools solved this problem.   http://tinyurl.com/8konxvv

Leadership-Administrator’s “Moral Imperative”


“If administrators did their jobs, education could be fixed TOMORROW”:  (Schmoker)


What lever is going to be powerful enough to usher in the new era? That lever involves a radical revisit to the moral purpose of public schools. Moral purpose writ large is much more comprehensive than we might have imagined. It is impossible to have moral purpose on a large scale unless we recast the role of the principal as chief operating officer in transforming schools and school systems and, hence, the moral imperative of school leadership. (Michael Fullan: The Moral Imperative of School Leadership) 


With the dawning of Common Core State Standards in 2014 (http://www.corestandards.org/), administrators will be responsible for mobilizing all teachers, parents and students towards understanding their intersecting, critical roles in working with you to ensure a fundamental shift in education: high-yield teaching methodologies in all classrooms, the enhancement of learning for all students, shared responsibility for literacy development across disciplines and the development of authentic assessments. Parents, teachers and students need to be active participants as you lead them through this historic transition. This will require unprecedented level of integrity and transparency from administrators and an equal amount of courage to “do what you know is right.”

Despite the fact that many districts have implemented remarkable research-based, capacity-building projects, currently many schools support weak teachers, weak programs, and idiosyncratic “teacher created” curriculums, resulting in an alarming number of students not sharing a reliable, verifiable curriculum. This stagnant condition demonstrates what Bryan Goodwin calls

Right Focus+Poor Execution=Limited Effects

Lack of implementation of respectable programs can be labeled “surface-level cases”. "Surface-level cases" are those where what is being proposed sounds good and contains all the right concepts, where leaders can talk a good game and even mean it, but where the ideas never get implemented with consistency or integrity."  (http://www.michaelfullan.ca/)

With the increased demands for sophisticated teaching delivery systems required by the Core Curriculum State Standards (CCSS), school districts must find what Michael Fullan calls the “simplexity” of teaching--finding the smallest number of high-leverage, easy to understand actions that unleash stunningly powerful consequences such as those researched by Robert J. Marzano in Classroom Instruction That Works? (http://tinyurl.com/yp7c6c).

Mr. Goodwin, McRel researcher and author of the ground-breaking book, Simply Better: Doing What Matters Most to Change the Odds for Student Success, reflects on what should be our national mantra:

Create high-performance school cultures. Effective schools insure high-quality learning experiences in every classroom. At the same time, they develop a culture of high expectations for learning and behavior, which is an even more powerful predictor of student success than socioeconomic status. Develop data-driven, high-reliability district systems. High-performing school systems put data systems and processes in place to insure consistently high-quality learning experiences for all students and follow established procedures for providing real-time responses to student failures. 

See the attached pdf file, a powerful summary of his book, which celebrates professional learning communities and reaffirms the importance of promoting teacher effectiveness.


In Mike Schmoker’s Results Now, How Schools Can Achieve Unprecedented Results, he recognizes the “buffers” that impact an administrator’s leadership. (http://tinyurl.com/d24764t)

 “The buffer, the inviobility of the classroom, keeps all of us--communities, administrators, and teachers--from coming to terms with this stark reality of schools, despite unlimited damage it has inflicted on children and learning. … It prevents us from seeing how much better instruction could be, in almost every school.


“These buffers result in the following alarming statistics:

1.    "Classrooms in which there was evidence of a clear learning objective”: 
 4 percent
2.    "Classrooms in which there was evidence of higher-order thinking”: 
3 percent
3.    "Classrooms in which non-instructional activities were occurring": 
35 percent


“Schools will not improve until the average building leader begins to work cooperatively with teachers to truly, meaningfully oversee and improve instructional quality.” (Schmoker)


“We can create the most effective generation of leaders ever by redefining and simplifying leadership around the core concepts of professional learning communities. But no one can lead in an environment where differences in practice and learning outcomes are ignored or trivialized. No one can lead effectively where constructive feedback is regarded as an invasion of privacy, an affront to professionalism.” (Schmoker)

Your “moral imperative” as an administrator is to no longer “turn a blind eye” to ineffective and idiosyncratic teaching strategies, and in place of “belligerent indifference”, demonstrate the courage to face the brutal facts, demanding at least “basic instruction” in every class. Linda Darling Hammond defines this as leadership to “enhance your teachers’ abilities to provide powerful learning: guided by a thoughtful curriculum with clearly defined learning goals, well-designed scaffolds, ongoing assessment and rich informational resources.” http://tinyurl.com/8zp3vaa
That means all your teachers AAMPup their teaching: align to objectives, actively teach, choose from a wide repertoire of research-based engagement strategies, use multiple assessments from a suite of tools, (both formative and summative--with an eye towards encouraging student mastery), and increase the level of reading, writing and discussion in the classroom.

Our students and out nation, can no longer suffer from the slow, glacial movement of change. You must be the catalyst, the change agent, one who ignites a passionate fire in the hearts of your teachers and students, an eternal flame of life-long learning.

My apologies to all the countless authors and researchers who have informed this website (Schmoker, Reeves, Marzano, Kagan, Dufour’s, Ainsworth, Fullan, Reeves, Wiggins, Linda Darling Hammond etc), as I only scratched the surfaces of their magnificent bodies of work. As an administrator, many of these books should be not only be in your library, you should also profoundly understand the vision of these “game changers” and seek effective implementation models to mobilize your school. See Publisher Resources