I hope you’ll read and possibly share my latest Op-Ed for the Amarillo Globe News:
Here is the link to the op-ed I did for the Globe News:
As a parent and an educator, I know the power of words. Words can speak of promise and possibility, but they can also be used to demoralize. If you are in Amarillo ISD, you know that I refer to our students as scholars. To me, a “scholar” is a life-long learner. A scholar possesses a growth-mindset. When we label our students as scholars, they might see themselves a bit differently, but I know I definitely do. Students must be able to read, write, calculate and learn what is set before them. Scholars must be empowered to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors. In AISD, we teach the student and we nurture the scholar in every child. We speak possibility and our actions match our words. It’s our job and we take it seriously.
I have two daughters. I remember teaching them how to ride a bike and how to drive a car. I knew the importance of positively focusing on the knowledge, skills and concepts they’d need to do both well.
It didn’t make sense for me to label, compare or rank them. What made sense was to encourage them as they practiced. It made sense to check for understanding, add more information or practice, and then go again. The stakes were high. Riding a bike or driving a car are things one will do for life. I didn’t have to label, grade or rank my girls in order to motivate them to do better. Because of the importance of both tasks, it was my job to ensure they knew the rules of riding or driving and that they could do it all well. They needed encouragement and practice. They didn’t need to be ranked and compared to every other kid learning to ride a bike or drive a car.
As educators, we know the work that we do to educate our scholars is high-stakes. It’s not high-stakes due to the STAAR or any other test. It is high-stakes because (just like parents) we know that if our children are going to have the knowledge, skills and concepts necessary to graduate prepared for success beyond high school, then it’s up to us to provide the encouragement and practice they’ll need to do so. We fully understand that our schools are about the academic education of those we serve, along with the social and emotional parts of learning and being in community with others.
Too many of our legislators have a fascination with labels and rankings for our schools. Over the years, our schools have been labeled names like Exemplary and Recognized or even Met Standard or Improvement Required.
Unfortunately, the rhetoric fed to those who represented us in the 84th legislative session by Bill Hammond, President and CEO of the Texas Association of Business, and others was:
Every six weeks, our students get a report card that is easy to read and understand. Everyone knows what an A means and everyone knows what an F means. Why shouldn’t schools be graded once a year using the same A-F system?
So, here we go again. Part of House Bill 2804 required that our Commissioner of Education determine a new A-F system for Texas. Though we’ve been in school since August, we’ve not known what we’d be “graded” on until TEA released that information on Dec. 1. On Friday, Dec. 16, they released a lengthy document (you would need about 14 pages for each campus) to show how the 36+ areas which will comprise our “grade” will be boiled down into “provisional” grades for each Index 1- 4. Please note that the data set is based on 2015-2016 data and that some areas where we will be graded do not have data sets yet because we haven’t collected those numbers in Texas before.
So, while it’s easy for Mr. Hammond to say, “Everyone knows what an A means and everyone knows what an F means,” he is not correct.
In Amarillo ISD, we use data from a variety of sources so we can check how we’re doing related to criteria and so we can continuously improve. We have growth mindsets, not fixed. We value the opportunity to learn from our efforts and improve on them daily. Adults and students use data everyday in our schools to collaborate with each other about specific areas to celebrate as well as to design the next steps necessary for improvement. We already use many of the data sets listed in the A-F system, but we use that data as a way to help individuals know what the next steps for improvement are, not as a way to label and to rank.
I visit campuses at least once a week. I often sit with our scholars as they proudly tell me about their individual data notebooks, data sheets or goals. I have never had one of our scholars tell me that he or she is an “A” student (or any letter grade for that matter). Instead, our scholars tell me what they know and what they are working on based on the individual instruction and assessments we give them. We encourage their practice throughout the entire year. We don’t use the state’s two or four hour test as a label or identity for each of our scholars.
We have a commitment to “high stakes.” You see, high-stakes to us means we are entrusted with people’s most precious possession, their children. Our parents, community members and business leaders expect us to welcome each scholar who enters our door with a promise so that they can graduate with a plan. Last year, leaders in our community helped us develop our Profile of a Graduate. They told us it is important for our AISD scholars to be empowered to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors. They did not say they wanted every child to get an A on a report card. In fact, we never talked about grades or report cards. In the State Board of Education’s report titled, “Texans Speak” people across the state stated they are tired of our schools and our children being defined by a once a year test. Our community agreed.
I am not opposed to a fair accountability system. I am opposed, just like educators across the state, to the notion that all of the individual work we do with our scholars can be boiled down to a system designed to rank entire campuses. While those who are legislating for “school choice” want to say that everyone knows what an A is and what an F is, in this provisional or preliminary system they don’t. As I am typing this right now, I don’t even know what an A or F is… and I really don’t know what a B, C or D means.
I’ve read Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. I know that Hester was not ordered to wear a solitary letter as a way for others to encourage her. It was not meant to motivate her to do better. The letter she was told to wear was meant to label and shame.
When I taught my girls to ride a bike and to drive a car, I didn’t label them or compare them. I did just like we do in our schools. I taught them the knowledge and skills necessary. I provided lots of practice with encouraging and honest feedback. We didn’t stop until they mastered the task.
I didn’t decide on a test date where I stopped all instruction and said, “Here’s your grade. I’m sorry you didn’t learn as fast as your sister who earned a better grade.”
Also, as a parent and now as a superintendent, it would be silly for me to think that my children’s efforts or even grades in school could be simplified to one overall grade for the entire year.
So, what do you say to people in the grocery store or at church after the labels for your school are posted in the media? First, become familiar with our A-F fact sheet. Then, I suggest that you share how you use data in your classroom as a way to identify strengths and weaknesses and help scholars learn what they need to know to be successful. Explain how you use assignments and assessments throughout the year, not just a once-a-year standardized test, to develop a whole picture of each student. Talk about the academic, fine arts, athletic and other opportunities your school provides to grow scholars into thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors… just like our community wants us to do.
Of course, our schools will dive deep into learning more about the data used in the grade calculations because that’s what we routinely do. But, you also know—as someone who works with and cares about each individual scholar in AISD—that we aren’t going to rank or label our schools or our scholars based on a provisional, oversimplified state-imposed system that does not provide more resources or support for the work you do each day. In AISD, we are more than a label. We are more than a grade.
This is an email I got from Linh Vo. I asked her if I could share her email on my blog and she gave me permission. I bet you’ll enjoy her words as much as I did.
Dear Sir or Ma’am,
My name is Linh Vo. I am a sophomore from Palo Duro High School, part of Amarillo Independent School District.
I am writing this email to share the story of my English teacher, Mrs. Aduddell, who taught me in freshman year.
She is a remarkable person, very loving, attentive, and intelligent. She impressed me so much that I once told her that I know I will never forget her.
My first impression of her was that she was a very organized and relaxed person. Unlike other classrooms, she decorated her classroom like it was her home. She painted it blue and green, which are very calm colors that help students relax and learn comfortably. She grew plants in there as well.
I was an immigrant and did not speak fluent English. Very often, people asked me to repeat myself. To make mistakes in front of others constantly and consciously, it felt horrible! It was not very easy to find a person patient enough to listen to my slow English, but I did find those people. One of them is now my best friend, the other was Mrs. Aduddell. She allowed me time to find the correct word, and always responded kindly and wisely.
On my birthday that year, I expected no one to wish me a happy birthday. I did not have lots of friends. It was also not my family’s tradition. But Mrs. Aduddell surprised me with a flower origami and a small bracelet. Turned out she wrote all of her students’ birthdays in her calendar and prepared gifts beforehand. They were very simple but it was the first time anyone paid attention to my birthday; it was a pretty memorable moment.
Gradually, I became fond of her. Mrs. Aduddell has that kind of vibe that make people around her calm and happy. She is my role model. I have learned a lot from her.
This year, I made a watercolor portrait of Mrs. Aduddell for Thanksgiving (I have attached below her picture and my painting), and she is drawing me back as well. I am looking forward to receive it!
Thank you for reading,
I read an article about Tim Tebow recently. You might know Tebow as the first college sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. Maybe you remember him as the NFL quarterback with the lowest passing completion rate in the league.
In the article I read, he shared how easy it was in life’s tough moments to question who he really is. He said, “When my NFL career was crumbling, at times I’d wonder…am I the person who won the Heisman Trophy? Or am I the person who has been told over and over by so-called analysts that I can’t throw?”
I am always honored to visit our AISD campuses. I know how diligently everyone works to meet and exceed our mission and our vision for our scholars. From custodial and cafeteria staff to secretaries, substitutes, assistants, teachers and administrators, everyone is doing Heisman Trophy worthy work daily. At our ESC offices, from purchasing to print shop and everywhere in between, it’s pretty awesome when we all know we win each time a campus prepares students for success beyond high school by empowering them to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors. Check my twitter feed to see examples of #AISDinnov8ive campuses/staffs across our city.
And then comes the new A-F rating system. While we knew that a new rating system was on the way (it was approved in the 84th legislative session as a part of the lengthy HB 2804), we didn’t know exactly what we’d be rated on until a few days ago. You might note that we won’t know the methodology for this new system until Dec. 16. You can read more here: TASA. I highly recommend that everyone read these Talking Points.
Superintendents and educators across the state were disheartened that A-F made it into HB 2804. Unfortunately it did and now it’s time for “provisional” A-F reports to be shared with legislators on Dec. 30, districts on January 4 and the public on January 6. As educators who value each of our schools and our scholars, I believe that it will be hurtful/harmful for us to buy into these ratings too quickly. I just can’t yet see how the long and complex A-F List of Indicators released on Dec. 1 can be boiled down into one, simplistic letter grade. I’m scratching my head regarding the fact that we won’t know the methodology for our “grades” until Dec. 16, and we’ll need to attempt to explain all of this to our scholars and their parents on Jan. 6, when we just learned the grades two days before.
As I shared last week with principals, there’ve been groups who have speculated what schools and their grades might look like. To be honest, every speculative look I’ve seen has run along the economic lines of the school population. When we see the methodology on the 16th, I’m hoping everyone who has been running these reports will be wrong. A rating system that targets poverty schools with poor grades is not good for anyone, especially the scholars and teachers in these schools who work diligently each day to prepare every student for success.
If you follow sports at all, you probably remember that while in the NFL Tim Tebow was often criticized or ridiculed for his beliefs. So in the article I was reading, he went on to talk about identity. Was he labeled a successful college quarterback or was he an NFL failure? He stated, “While I may have gotten hurt, disappointed, or frustrated by the negative side of life’s equations, my foundation didn’t have to change.”
As we see the labels come out with this new rating system, I want to remind you that our foundation doesn’t have to change either. Our identity isn’t (and should not be) determined by the political rhetoric and maneuvering placed on us by others in Austin. To the contrary, our identity is in the extraordinary work we do in Amarillo classrooms everyday, in the difficult obstacles we overcome, in the individual lives and futures we change one scholar at a time. We know your children enter our schools with a promise for a better tomorrow, and we want them to leave with their own plan for a successful future. Who are we? As teachers and as parents, I encourage you to find your school’s identity based on your own experiences at a campus and not on an oversimplified grade or label placed on us. Just like we all know to be true of our own children, we are all so much more than just a grade. Be proud because we have reason to be… together we are AISD.
Each time I visit a campus, I am reminded about how YOU help our scholars turn their can’ts into cans and their dreams into What’s Your Plan? Please watch this video to feel really proud and inspired by our partnership with No Limits No Excuses and to view information about the wonderful app created just for our scholars.
I get to see your handiwork, but THE WORLD needs to hear about the positive impact of your #AISDinnov8ive work. Please see the information below. Send in your stories. Send in a colleague’s story.
We are #IAmTXEd and we #AISDinnov8. Our scholars are empowered to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors. They are empowered by caring educators who turn can’ts into cans & dreams into WHAT’S YOUR PLAN?!
TEA Seeks Uplifting Educator Stories
TEA is launching a statewide social media campaign, #IAmTXEd, to tell the remarkable stories of Texas educators. The agency is seeking stories that:
Educators may email their stories (about 300 words) and a photo (or two) that visually captures the story to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include the campus and district. TEA will choose a story to share statewide each week via TEA social media accounts using the hashtag #IAmTXEd.
I had a insightful visit with a teacher late Friday afternoon. Mostly I listened and reflected as she reminded me about the work of teachers. As she spoke regarding her scholars’ data, she teared up with stories related to their lives at home, as well as their academic/social/emotional struggles and celebrations at school. She said, “My students aren’t only numbers. They are names.”
Don’t get me wrong. This teacher wasn’t complaining about her job. She wasn’t bemoaning all of the many responsibilities of being a teacher. She was really sharing her heart about the work required of our professionals as they support our scholars.
Just like I call our students “scholars,” I also refer to teachers as “professionals.” There are lots of dictionary definitions of what constitutes a professional, but my favorite definition is:
So… this year Amarillo ISD has a new vision. Of course, our mission has always been to graduate every student prepared for success beyond high school. We know that. It’s been in our hearts for a long time.
But, my Friday conversation with that teacher brought our vision to my mind. Amarillo ISD empowers our scholars to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors. I hope we do the same for our professionals. Our scholars and our professionals must be empowered to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors.
No bones about it… AISD is fearlessly moving into 21st century learning. #AISDinnov8
I recently attended an event at Pantex. One cool thing about going to anything at Pantex is that they are going to take your cell phone and your Apple Watch away from you. It’s nice to be free from distractions. I should try it more often. But, that’s not what this blog post is about.
Today, I’m with my daughter because she gave birth to a precious baby girl on August 26. By the way, August 26 is Women’s Equality Day…which I thought made Aria’s birthdate double cool. But, that’s not what this post is about either.
Anyway, while at Pantex, I heard them say several times, “Mission first. People always.”
Right now, I’m thinking it’s pretty special that the mission of Amarillo ISD is to graduate every student prepared for success beyond high school. And, as a Lolli*, I am pretty thankful that AISD’s mission, and OUR HEARTS, demonstrate MISSION and PEOPLE all in the same sentence.
But, mostly, I am shamelessly using this blog post so you can see a picture of my granddaughter AND to note that she’s swaddled in a wrap by “Blankets & Beyond.” Blankets and beyond…isn’t that what we do? We wrap our arms, resources, plans, actions, etc. around our scholars so when they leave us they are prepared for success beyond.
Mission first. People always. Blankets and beyond!
*I’m Lolli and Randy is Pops. Lolli and Pops are a team… and far too young and hip to be called granny and gramps. Ha!
I won’t be able to sleep tonight. Even though I really don’t have a “first day of school” like teachers do, I still get that fluttery feeling in my stomach and my mind will race with the possibilities of a new year.
I’m on Cloud 8 just thinking about tomorrow.
#Advoc8 for our scholars.
#Appreci8 our colleagues.
#Educ8, just like you were born to do!
For years our mission has been to graduate (shall I say #gradu8?) every student prepared for success beyond high school.
This year, our vision is to empower our scholars to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors. Because I believe in the power of educators, I know individuals and school communities will #initi8 opportunities for our scholars to #particip8 in the kind of educational experience that grows 21st Century scholars.
#Celebr8 tomorrow and this year. #AISDinnov8! What’s Cloud 9 when one can be on AISD’s Cloud 8?
I’m an unapologetic, eternal optimist. I believe in the power of education, and I’m honored to work with a school board, district, and campus staffs who endeavor tirelessly so that our scholars graduate prepared.
Graduate prepared? Prepared for what?
The mission of the Amarillo Independent School District is to graduate every student prepared for success beyond high school.
In AISD, we have defined this as “What’s Your Plan?” Before a student graduates from one of our high schools, we understand that it is our job to ensure that every (yes, we mean every) scholar has a plan. The plan can include a university, two-year college, the military, an apprenticeship or a job with a pathway for a living-wage career. These plans belong to our scholars, but, at the same time, we are instrumental in helping create each plan with “success beyond high school” at the top of our minds.
Last year, district-level staff and high school principals convened a team of approximately 65 community members from different businesses, churches, and neighborhoods to develop AISD’s “Profile of a Graduate.” Of course, these involved citizens wanted our students to be able to read, write, do math, etc., but, as is tradition in our Amarillo community, they expected more than just the foundational content that every school district should provide. They understood that the success of our students beyond high school also translates into the economic success of Amarillo. We need folks who are thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors in order to keep our city and our economy strong.
As AISD educators, we honor our commitment to ensuring our students graduate with a plan of success beyond high school. And, with our community’s help, AISD scholars will learn to think, communicate, collaborate and contribute in a more intentional way.
When I see the discontent on the national or political scene, I can’t help but believe, via our calculated efforts, that our scholars will create solutions from problems; they will design new paths around what now appear to be roadblocks. I’ve heard it said that everyone needs a champion. While there are equity and opportunity gaps in our world, I see this school year as the ideal time to bring a renewed spirit and focus on foundational academic work, as well as an aspirational emphasis on innovation. We will be the champion for every child.
I’ve always been intrigued by Apple’s “Think Different” campaign. While Apple refers to those who push the human race forward as the “crazy ones,” in AISD, we believe that thinking differently isn’t crazy; it should be acknowledged and rewarded in formal education.
If you know me, you also know that every school year I choose one word, mostly for personal inspiration, but also for purposeful focus. This year’s word is INNOVATE. In Amarillo ISD, adults and scholars alike are empowered to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors. I believe we’ll have the courage to innovate as we view our curriculum though the lens of a 21st century learner. According to the United States Department of Labor, 11 of the 15 fastest growing occupations from 2014-2024 will require some level of postsecondary education. It’s imperative that our scholars graduate with a blueprint that they’ve mapped, practiced, revamped, and celebrated since kindergarten.
Our scholars will be prepared to graduate with a plan…a plan for success beyond high school…a plan to pioneer new solutions to old problems…a plan to think, communicate, collaborate and contribute…a plan to be that next champion for Amarillo.
Here’s to the innovative ones–because the people who are innovative enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do. #AISDinnov8
This article was also printed in the Amarillo Globe News on August 21, 2016.