Friday, September 29, 2017

Administrators!! Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Every year, the Principal’s Office participates in a 360 evaluation process.  An online performance survey is sent to the faculty and staff on a random administrator for feedback.  The survey is anonymous and asks various questions about our communication, leadership, and ethical character.  Last year, someone wrote on mine:

“Jen might benefit from teaching a class at Brebeuf, as her more regular encounters with students in the classroom could give her a whole new appreciation of the teachers she evaluates, as well as these teachers’ unique challenges in the classroom”

This statement really stuck with me.  This is a very fair suggestion but I didn’t know how on earth to make it happen.  And then we had no teacher for our Newspaper Publications course.  Okay anonymous commenter – challenge accepted!

**side note – I have never taught Newspaper Production in my life.

Tweet by @jdferries

Going back into the classroom, albeit for one class, was the best decision I’ve made since leaving the classroom 10 years ago.  I work with bright, talented, witty students in a hard-core project-based learning environment.  We use industry standard software (InDesign), write in various formats (news, op ed, sports, reviews), podcast, engage in social media, and all the great ed tech, student-centered buzzwords I’ve been writing on evaluations to others for years.  The class is led by student editors who do the heavy lifting of daily routines.  We have a large, open classroom functioning much more like an old-fashioned news room.  

And some days … it kicks my middle-aged butt.

Eight weeks in to the school year I’ve learned:

Living in a bell schedule again is hard
Every administrator I know accepts being late to meetings just happens.  Guess what?  You can’t be late for class!  Those teenagers will call you out faster than your own mother!  Your school have a tight tardy policy?  Just try and write up a 15-year-old for being late to class the day after you yourself was late…. Not cool.

Changes in the schedule really do mess things up
As administrators, all kinds of great ideas walk into the office that will disrupt the school day.  I fall under the “Let’s do it! What a cool experience that will be!” bandwagon.  And maybe it is worth it – but I have learned the hard way that too many altered schedules (and last minute changes) really is frustrating for classroom teachers and students.  We need to do better at discerning our somewhat whimsical time shifts.

Online grading is time consuming
I now know the joy of watching the spinning wheel of death while the online grade book tries to load.  It’s real.  It’s frustrating.  Teachers have a right to complain.

Designing meaningful lessons enhanced with technology is hard too
I teach a tech heavy course with a seriously concrete product at the end… and I have trouble sometimes integrating technology in meaningful ways.  If your school is like mine and incorporates a lot of walkthroughs – seeing deep integration is not going to happen every moment of every day.  Deal with it.

Kids surf the web every chance they get
Just like adults do in staff meetings J If your school’s evaluation has any check box about 100% of students being on task with their technology – delete that now!  I actually am fine with a little surfing – it’s natural and gives everyone a little break to reset.  I do step in when it’s causing a ruckus (four 15-year-old boys huddled at a desk snickering draws my attention every single time).  Otherwise I let them decide how to best use the allotted independent work time.  Can’t wait until my office mates come through for my walkthrough!
In short – like online trolling – it is so easy to be critical behind the safe walls of an evaluation form.  But the classroom is a real, living, messy place.  I challenge more admins to get back in the classroom, see what it is really like day-to-day and then reflect on evaluation documents and processes.  You will get serious street-cred from your faculty, hone your own skills, meet some really cool young people, and learn a lot about what teaching is actually like now-a-days.  It’s different from the last time you were here – trust me!

And I'm not just talking K-12 here... even higher education is testing these waters!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Faculty Formation: Yes, This Is For All Types of Schools!

One of the great joys of my day-job is running the first and second year faculty/staff formation program.  The good people at Merriam-Webster define formation as “the art of giving shape to something.”   So we meet as a cohort once a month to read, reflect, discuss, articulate, and shape ourselves according to our Jesuit heritage and our Brebeuf mission.

Yes, friends, it’s going to get a little Catholic Jesuit deep here… but the big ideas are still valid in ANY educational setting.  I would even go as far as saying critical to all settings – and quite noticeable when missing.

Claim Your School’s Mission
“Brebeuf Jesuit, a Catholic and Jesuit School, provides an excellent college preparatory education for a lifetime of service by forming leaders who are intellectually competent, open to growth, loving, religious, and committed to promoting justice.” (full mission and core values are here… it’s worth a look).

As my debate teaching husband would say:  Name It (a Catholic and Jesuit school); Claim It (provides an excellent college preparatory education for); Prove It (a lifetime of service by forming leaders); Conclude It (who are intellectually competent, open to growth, loving, religious and committed to promoting justice). 

It Starts With Orientation
I start with our two-day orientation program.  Day One is what I call “The Nitty Gritty” day… how to print stuff, online gradebooks, location of bathrooms, get keys… all that day to day stuff.  Day Two is “Mission and Identity” day.  I start with a brief introduction to the Society of Jesus and Jesuit education.  We then explore and catch new educators up to some of our of cura personalis initiatives (student stress lately) and then send the new faculty and staff off to the Freshman Day of Service activities with our Community Service Director.  Immediately claiming who we are… and how we are operate in our Catholic Jesuit learning environment.  

Formation Cohorts
For two years, all new faculty and staff are required by contract to participate in what we call the Magis Program.  Yes, you heard me… required by contract.  Everyone but Buildings and Grounds (who are welcome but schedules are hard to coordinate).  These cohorts serve two main purposes: they create groups of supportive colleagues in new setting and they act as personal learning cohorts on topics of mission and identity.  The structure of the program starts with information (Context), moves to practical application (Experience), then to Reflection (Retreat), one to deeper dive (Use) and finally to a capstone project (Evaluation).  Whhaaaaa… the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm is the structure of the formation program.  Craziness J

Structure Your Program Based on Your Mission, Teaching Paradigm, or Educational Foundation
Shape the mission of the school through its teachers and staff.  Make the mission alive in all aspects of the workings of the school and watch the awe and wonder begin.  Seriously… and it might even increase test scores!  

Here’s our program at Brebeuf as example.

First semester focuses on larger issues of Jesuit education and history.

Second Semester focuses on practical life in a Jesuit school.  The main objective being taking the theory/history into daily practice.

  • The Classroom/Workplace as Holy Ground
    • “The Classroom as Holy Ground” by Kevin O’Brien, SJ. From America  May 26, 2003.
    • “Unfinished Houses” by John McLoughlin from America July 21, 2014
    • Discussion topics: Church;  Prayer (Individual, Communal, Spiritual Exercises) ; What is Holy Ground
  • Care of the Person
    • “Cura Personalis” by Peter-Hans Kolvenback, SJ.  From Review of Ignatian Spirituality, Number 114.
    • “Care and Concern for Each Individual Person” Excerpt from Characteristics of Jesuit Education (JSEA) page 9 Original found at
    • “Choosing to Care” by Katy Ridnouer.  From the book Managing Your Classroom with Heart 2006 pg 9-18.
    • Discussion topics with Student Panel: Cura Personalis – what it is and isn’t; how care is lived in action

Reflection : 
All faculty and staff are required to participate in the Midwest Province retreat “Ignatian Themes” the summer after the first year of employment.  This is a 2 day retreat.  All funding for travel and registration is covered by the school.

Year Two is a deeper dive into the theory and practice of Jesuit education and the formational documents of the Jesuit Schools Network (formerly Jesuit Secondary Education Association).
  • Context and Reflection on Ignatian Themes Retreat Overview
    • “Four Hallmarks of Jesuit Pedagogy:  Prelection, Reflection, Active Learning, Repetition” by Ralph Metts, SJ.  From JSEA.
    • All of the IPP readings are on the JSN website .
    • Veteran Faculty Speaker

  • Experience
    • JSEA Foundations “The Preamble"
    • Key Questions:
      • What techniques do  you use to install a sense of awe and wonder in your students/interactions?
      • What techniques have you seen another use?
      • What tensions/balance do your students/constituents struggle with?  How do you offer experiences to guide them to an Ignatian response? (see paragraph 11)
    • Veteran Faculty Speaker
  • Reflection
    • “Foundations: Reflections on the Educational Principles of the Spiritual Exercises” by Robert R. Newton.
    • Look at various forms of reflection (Examen, journaling, prayer)
    • Key Questions:
      • Review of Spiritual Exercise and relationship between Retreatant – Director – Creation and how it related to Teacher – Student – Knowledge
      • The purpose of Jesuit Education “the knowledge, the love and service of God.”
      • Why is reflection so key to learning?
      • How do we engage the affect elements of learning?
    • Veteran Faculty Speaker
  • Action/Evaluation
    • Read “A Fire the Kindles Other Fires” from GC 35
    • Culturally Responsive Teaching (see handout from St. Ignatius San Francisco).
    • Key Questions:
      • How do we live this mission in action in our school?
      • How do we live a compassionate response to the world, community, students, families?
      • What frontiers are you called to?
      • Review Ignatian Identity Review and how used to move school to Action/Evaluation
      • Review the Five Steps of IPP Handout
      • Intro the application project for the next 2 months

Participants are then charged to work with a mentor on intentional use of the IPP in their classroom or workspace.  This is the reflection they turn in to “graduate” from the program.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Rethinking Faculty Evaluation and Professional Growth

Full disclosure.... using this post to process an idea.  So if you are inclined to discuss - feel free to comment.  If you work with me  - don't panic.  My ruminations below are all in the idea stage!

Here we go :-)

Our current faculty evaluation system here in Indianapolis is about 10 years old.  In true Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm (IPP) fashion, the time has arrived to move into the evaluation stage. Is the process serving faculty needs?  Is the process encouraging the kind of growth we anticipated?   To give you content, our current evaluation program looks like this:

This model is built on the foundations of Marzano, Downey, Wiggins and McTighe.  Through a series of standards and indicators, evaluating administrators and faculty discuss successes and failures in the classroom... culminating in a year end meeting.  Evaluating the process, we find a weakness in meeting needs of new and experienced faculty - both who are lumped in same process.  We find that formal observations and informal walkthroughs work well for early career teachers who are new to our methods and expectations.  The indicators and focused discussion builds a foundation for them.  However, we are not seeing the growth process with mid-career faculty.  Veteran faculty quite frankly know the elements of day-to-day teaching but do not feel challenged to really innovate. In an nutshell, our challenge has become less one of evaluation (Are you doing your job?) and more one of professional growth (How can you better develop your craft?).

As Jesuit educators we a challenged by the 1st Principle and Foundation “…we show reverence for all the gifts of creation and collaborate with God in using them so that by being good stewards we develop as loving persons in our care of God’s world and its development…”  As a public school educator I might have translated this to say “My gifts and interests are meant to be shared and I choose to share with my students so they can grow and care for the world.”  However you interpret – a challenge as an educator is to recognize and articulate professional gifts and limitations.  Once gifts and limitations are articulated, then a professional begins to desire opportunities for growth.  

Great, Jen… but what does this have to do with faculty evaluations in schools??

What if we separate evaluation from growth in our processes?  This is not all my idea… The IndependentSchool Management firm thinks the idea of separating is possible and even preferred. Taking a page from higher education tenure processes - what if we ask the deeper questions regarding life as a scholar?  Can I as faculty articulate my identity as a scholar?  What do I offer to my department/university that is unique to my gifts?  I strongly feel we should be having this conversation in K-12 to focus on growth rather than simple evaluation.

Taking this idea into my school context,  we create an evaluation around the Profile of an Education Educator plus some basic professional expectations to create an evaluation to quickly communicate “meets/does not meet” expectations for employment in our schools.  (For those wondering, Brebeuf Jesuit operates with year-to-year at-will employment agreements).  Maybe it could look like this:

Meeting expectations communicates that a faculty member has a job next year
(barring anything unexpected with enrollment and finances).  With evaluation out of the way, then faculty and supporting administrators could focus on the real work necessary for improving our learning experiences – professional growth.  Setting goals that stretch teaching methods, innovate assessment and just plain energize the classroom away from the fear of “will I have a job if this fails?” So, instead of checking the "do you lesson plan effectively" indicator, I am asking:

  • What is your personal identity and mission as an educator?
  • Why do you hold these values?
  • How do you values support the mission of Brebeuf Jesuit as we develop students God-given talents as a responsibility and act of worship?
  • How do you express your mission within your department?
  • What do you need to bring these desires into the classroom?

Diving into the questions above through a process of self-reflection, dialogue and action might lead to deeper professional growth.  Growth that would encourage my desire that all our faculty discover the classroom as a place of awe and wonder and not just a paycheck.