Thursday, August 27, 2015

Five levels of leadership

Teaching is a form of leadership. A teacher leads a class the same way a leader leads a group. This point has been driven home over and over as I read leadership books. Our purpose is to transfer information and skills. Our students are there to learn with huge variations in motivation- they are not being paid, some are bored, some do not see any point in future learning, some participate because it is the expectation and some soak up everything, eager to incorporate one more idea or skill into their system.

John Maxwell has written many books on leadership, some of which I have read in the past. His easy to read style, liberally peppered with anecdotes and quotes holds the ring of truth. The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential lived up to the potential I anticipated. Mr. Maxwell views leaders as occupying one of five stages that form a pyramid with most leaders in the bottom level-1 and very few at the pinnacle, level 5. Each stage is predicated upon mastery of the previous stage. What I found intriguing was his assertion that a leader can be on different stages in relation to different people. His stages are:
  1. Positional leaders- they have rights since they were assigned the role of leader. People follow these leaders because they have to.
  2. Permission leaders- they build relationships. People follow these leaders because they want to.
  3. Production leaders- they get results. People follow these leaders because of what the leader has done for the organization.
  4. People Development leaders- they reproduce leaders. People follow these leaders because of what has been done for them.
  5. Pinnacle leaders- they have respect. People follow these leaders because of who they are and what they represent.

In the permission stage, leaders must develop relationships with their teams. Know what motivates each of them and help them individually achieve their goals. If a leader cannot connect with a team member, he cannot reach this stage. This is perhaps why we say that in a good organization, a manager has no more than 15 direct reports. You cannot know a person without time to individually connect. In schools where a principal has 50 staff members to supervise, it is unlikely that he will move far into this stage with the majority of his staff because of time. The challenge becomes how not to show favorites with those people the principal does form deep connections with. I really liked the idea that the leader must show the team each and every day that they are valuable to the leader (p.93). This is not done with a pay check. It is done by providing reinforcement in a personally meaningful way to an individual.

In the fourth stage- people development, I found many interesting insights. Many principals feel they are at this stage- they are the curriculum leader and staff developer for their building. They need to empower team leaders to do their jobs well so that the principal can take a supporting role that requires less time and energy. There are, after all, only so many hours in a day. My first important point was that maturity is the measure of an individuals ability to "think beyond yourself" (p.196). A leader cannot be selfish they must put others first. It cannot be: I am the best, but I am helping others be their best. Ego must be checked at the door. At level 2 a leader needs to learn about identifying weaknesses and sharing them in a productive way. This stage further refines that vulnerability and points the focus outward rather than inward.

Related to maturity is trust. A level four leader must trust others AND engender trust in himself. Many other leadership books emphasize the need for trust in groups. When a group member is concerned that individual hard work and success will be subsumed by the leader and failure attributed to the team, risk taking is minimized, people do not feel safe and ultimately will abandon the team. A level four leader takes responsibility for shortcomings rather then for success. The team did it right; I am the reason there were problems. This mindset is difficult for many to conceive, but is critical in developing people.

Maxwell identifies the four C's of  leadership potential:
  • Chemistry- can you work with the person? certain people gel and others make sparks. People will work well with people they like. Developing people takes time and energy. It needs to be focused on people you get along with. (p. 205)
  • Character- strong relationships are only possible with trust. mentoring requires trust. A person lacking character will not be a positive part of a mentoring relationship. (p. 205-6)
  • Capacity- not all people are capable of the same things. Natural gifts do exist. Ability to manage stress, skill sets to get things done, creative thinking, gathering followers and team building, and positive attitude all contribute to capacity. An individual's capacity may be very different in different settings. An NFL football player and team captain may be a lousy school teacher and departmental team leader. (p. 206-7)
  • Contribution- people are able and willing to contribute more than expectations. They make others work harder. (p. 207)
When selecting people to develop to higher levels of leadership, look at their four C's and pick wisely. Spending time and energy on people development is a must- make it worthwhile.

The last point that Maxwell brings out is to leave a positive legacy. He believes that as soon as you accept a leadership role you need to determine what you want your legacy to be, work towards it, and refine it as you grow. If your legacy is to teach your entire team to learn new teaching strategies to meet the changing needs of students, then that is what you work for. If your legacy is to raise test scores no matter the challenge, then that is your life's focus. If your legacy is to be the best teacher a school has had then that is your goal and you will never move to great levels of leadership.

Maxwell's message is that you can grow your leadership potential. You can choose to increase your influence on others by developing skills. This is true in the classroom, where you mentor all students, but might take on a couple of special ones and truly  work to influence their individual lives in a positive manner. It is also true in the administrative offices. Selecting and grooming future leaders is the role of administrators as well. If it is done well, an administrator's work load is actually reduced because a teacher leader can be delegated tasks.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Stuttering and oral reading fluency

A couple of years ago I was at workshop on using Fontas and Pinnell reading system. An important component of this program is oral reading to assess whether a student should move to the next level. I asked what to do about a student who stutters. He may be able to read at a much higher level than oral reading might indicate. The presenter had no idea. In light of my research focus on fluency, I thought I should look into this question. It is particularly important since many districts include measures of oral reading as a predicator of advancement and determinate of receiving remediation.

ASHA, the professional organization for speech pathologists, looked into this question and prepared a paper on it. They released a paper and made a series of presentations revealing their thoughts. A summary of the research is found at: Oral Reading Fluency in School-Age Children Who Stutter. A powerpoint presentation of the research is available at Oral Reading Fluency Measures & Accommodations for Students who Stutter. A quick teacher-friendly version of the information is found at: Quick: talk Fast & Don't Stutter. Kathleen Scaler Scott's handout for teachers, Stuttering and Reading Fluency: information for Teachers is a simple explanation of recommendations as well.

The long and short of the answer is that for students who stutter, their oral reading fluency rate may need to be tested through an alternate manner. A speech pathologist should be consulted in determining how such modifications should be made and an IEP or 504 plan should contain verbiage clarifying the expectations of the student in regards to such assessments. This could mean anything from testing only silent reading fluency, having the fluency assessment completed by someone familiar with the oral speech of the student without being timed, to no modifications depending on student stuttering characteristics and the student himself. This is particularly important to consider carefully because stress tends to increase stuttering. A student who is aware that performance on the oral reading fluency determines reading group, progress advancement or grade advancement, is going to be under stress.

Of importance to consider is that stuttering is not the only language disorder that impacts oral reading fluency. Among these disorders are oral motor disorders and voice disorders. When testing oral reading fluency, teachers must consider all parts of the student that could negate the validity of the score. For those students, practitioners need to individually consider how valid the assessment results are based on multiple measures of performance.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Data- Driven Dialogue

I picked up Brue Wellman and Laura Lipton's book Data-Driven Dialogue: A Facilitator's Guide to Collaborative Inquiry because it sounded interesting- yes, I am a nerd. It goes along with a MiraVia workshop by the same name. Having read it, I think the workshop sounds valuable and would enhance the material that was presented.

The book contains 6 chapters. Chapter 3 presents a model for collaborative inquiry. Chapter 5 presents tools to use in group settings. These are the two critical components.

The model for collaborative inquiry has three major stages: activating and engaging, exploring and discovering, and organizing and integrating. In activating and engaging involves establishing connections with the group- if it does not exist-, identifying predictions and assumptions about the topic, refining questions that you seek to answer and identifying learnings presented to the group- potentially identifying what data needs to be gathered. Exploring and Discovering involves analyzing data. Identifying things that pop-out, patterns and trends, surprising results and what else needs to be explored. The third phase is generating theories. This involves either making inferences and identifying additional data that needs to be examined or collected to confirm inference or exploring solutions that result from the conclusions and identifying data that needs to be collected to confirm or refute conclusions. Then the system cycles again.

This sequence allows for a structure of dialogue that will maximize group productivity. Chapter 5 follows with tools and techniques to implement each step. The tools for teams are collected from a variety of sources- some from business team training, reading comprehension and teaching organization. These tools include descriptions, templates and instructional pages. It would have been helpful if they also included vignettes of their ideas in action. Presumably their workshop is full  of role playing, videos and or sample descriptions to fill this role.

The concepts reviewed through the book are valuable to team leadership in general and groups considering data in specifically. Although it presents great information, it does require lots of analysis. Someone skilled in presentation and group management might find the information more accessible in its current form.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Destifying secondary inclusion

At a conference, Paula Kluth said that she could tell how inclusive a school was by counting the number of ways to sit in the building. She was thinking that an inclusive school would have a traditional chair and desk system but also standing desks, ball chairs, beanbag chairs and such. While providing many ways to sit shows flexibility and acceptance of student differences, it could minimize the idea of how pervasive inclusion should be. This could be especially true at the high school level.

Lisa Dieker wrote Demystifying Secondary Inclusion: Powerful School-wide & Classroom Strategies in order to help schools move beyond inclusive seating. At the high school level, inclusion is difficult because the depth of content knowledge is often beyond what special education teachers can bring, multiple general education teachers per student, scheduling concerns where co-planning time is often limited, and curriculum requirements often expand beyond what on-target, general education students can master in the given time. Compounding the difficulty is students with disabilities who have struggled for years trying to grasp the content and having Swiss cheese background knowledge, frustration induced apathy or adult dependency. We need to find effective ways to reach and teach these children. Ms. Dieker addresses this problem.

The book is structured around a series of components of effective inclusive programs:
  • Celebrating the success of all students
  • Developing Interdisciplinary collaboration
  • Implementing effective co-teaching
  • Establishing active learning environments
  • Implementing effective instruction
  • Improving grading
Overall her message is that inclusive schools collaborate as an institution with common behavior guidelines and consequences across the entire program, celebration of all students success- even if it means creating new methods for celebrating in areas such as improvement, consistency, or effort, and creating standards based grading in which effort and compliance are divorced from content grades, multiple means of assessment are used and individual objectives are evaluated for progress rather than a single grade for a subject area.

One area where I really found value in her work was the idea of a co-planning lesson plan. She does not include a sample in the book- a serious flaw- but sells them instead. This website has a lesson plan that I imagine is similar to what she has imagined. It has sections for the responsibilities of each adult during the lesson and an area for modifications and adaptions that need to be made for specific students. This could encompass students with disabilities (ex. use of a speech-to-text device to write an assignment in the back of the room where the noise will be dulled), for struggling students (ex. pair Jimmy with Susie to be sure they check each others planners), for students encountering temporary issues (ex. allow Mike to use a scribe because of his broken arm), or gifted students (ex. use the alternate reading passage).

I also liked her idea of classifying the information as must know, nice to know and extra. This enables special education teachers to help modify materials to focus on the must know while other students are asked to learn a larger number of the  nice to know information. I have worked with many teachers who struggle with prioritizing information or who assume that students can figure out what is important. Unfortunately, novices (i.e. students) are terrible at identifying what to focus on. They need masters (i.e. teachers) to tell them exactly what is critical for them to learn. Telling kids what they need to know is not cheating- it is helping them prepare for the assessment and hopefully the world beyond your classroom.

This book has many practical suggestions for adapting instruction and environments to meet the needs of an increased number of learners. Critically, the author does not assert that all students are best served in the general ed. setting. She advocates a range of services based on the needs of the students. This book is a handy reference for a teacher or school trying to better incorporate students with special needs into the mainstream.

The book is easy to read with big font. It does, however, have multiple typos. She has some stories describing how some ideas were implemented, but more vignettes would have been appreciated. Telling people to "vary questioning techniques" (p. 54), for example, would be much clearer if a sample instructional conversation were detailed. An extensive appendix of books about kids with disabilities is included. This could be a great resource for helping develop understanding amongst nondisabled peers and self-acceptance among disabled ones.