During a celebration at one of our schools, a close friend and colleague presented me with a copy of The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, by Parker J. Palmer. Although I had read the book nearly a decade ago, I decided to re-read it. I’m so glad I did! I was reminded that good teaching cannot be reduced to method and technique alone; rather, at its core good teaching originates from the identity and integrity of a quality teacher.
Good teaching comes in various forms but good teachers seem to share an important trait: they are truly present in the classroom, deeply engaged with their students and the subject they teach. The very best teachers bring their personality, along with their narrative and passion, into the classroom. On the other hand, less effective teachers tend to distance themselves from students and their subjects. It's resisting this urge to distance ourselves that requires massive courage. Palmer writes,
"As good teachers weave the fabric that joins them with students and subjects, the heart is the loom on which the threads are tied, the tension is held, and the fabric is stretched tight. Small wonder, then, that teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart -- and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be. The courage to teach is the courage to keep one's heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that teacher and students can be woven into the fabric of community that learning, and living, requires."
Weber School District is filled with extraordinary teachers who exemplify great courage (by Parker Palmer’s definition) every day! Because of that, educators have tremendous influence on the lives of young people. There is no more noble achievement than that -- to positively impact others. Our entire district team of teachers, support professionals and administrators show great heart each day by inspiring students toward greatness and I want each of you to know how much I appreciate your commitment to children and your professionalism in your work. It is, simply put, "The Weber Way!" Because of your heroic efforts, we mark another successful school year!
The Heart of a Teacher
Someone once sarcastically said that the perfect school was the one where students haven’t yet arrived. I don’t believe it. I think the perfect school is the one where all of the children are present—with all of their issues, drama, attitudes, insights, passion and energy. So, as we begin this new school year I think we move closer to perfection as the students return! Now, add caring teachers, dedicated support professionals and inspired leaders and you have a place where astounding things are accomplished.
Many years ago, my wife and I attended a play at a local community theater in which one of my language arts students, Fantasia Darling, was playing the lead role in The Story of Helen Keller. Fantasia performed spectacularly and we were so proud of her. During the play, I was moved by the patience of Helen’s teacher—Anne Sullivan. Helen Keller was unruly, disobedient and an extremely reluctant learner. Through gentleness, patience and perseverance, Anne provided an environment that allowed Helen to trust her teacher enough to begin learning. Ultimately, Helen exceeded everyone’s expectations! Consider Helen Keller’s words, “The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Sullivan, came to me.”
What qualities did Anne Sullivan possess that permitted her to succeed with even the most difficult of students? Let me suggest five important traits that characterize Anne Sullivan--as well as every extraordinary teacher:
I love the poem, “The Heart of a Teacher.” The first two stanzas introduce a teacher with heart:
Heart of A Teacher
by Paula J. Fox
The child arrives like a mystery box
with puzzle pieces inside
some of the pieces are broken or missing
and others just seem to hide.
But the HEART of a teacher can sort them out
and help the child to see
the potential for greatness he has within
a picture of what he can be.
As we begin this new school year, I express sincere appreciation to every teacher, support professional and administrator for the quality of your heart and the influence you have on young people.
Choice and Opportunity
In an article published in the October 2013 issue of Harvard Business Review, when people in an experiment were shown two DVD players, 32% indicated they would buy one of the brands, while 34% said they would buy the other. However, when subjects were shown a single DVD player, only about 10% said they would buy it. According to the researcher, Daniel Mochon of Tulane University, retailers should bear in mind that consumers dislike having a single option. Even if they find a product appealing, they may be unwilling to buy it unless they can consider alternatives.
In Weber School District it is our goal and vision to offer as much student and parent choice for education as possible. Weber Innovation High School is part of that vision. This fall, Weber Innovation High opened its doors offering secondary students in grades 9-12 an opportunity to personalize their education through a unique combination of digital curriculum, magnet programs, concurrent/college classes, IVC (interactive video conferencing) classes, and a focus on development of the natural artistic and creative nature of children. Students move at their own educational pace without the limitations of traditional classroom pacing and are encouraged to pursue one of three pathways by their junior year:
With the cost of post-secondary education looming as the nation’s next financial crisis, the more we can assist our students in earning college credit while in high school (at a much lower cost) the better. Last school year alone, 2,283 WSD students earned 16,087 university credits! One hundred seventy-two students attended the Ogden Weber ATC, 365 CTE (Career and Technical Education) pathways were completed and 113 students completed work-based learning internships. All of these opportunities help create brighter futures for our students. Weber Innovation High provides one more choice to enhance the school district’s opportunities available to the young people attending school in Weber District.
Language Immersion, Advanced Placement and Concurrent Enrollment, Online Education, STEM Education, Weber Innovation High School, Early College, ATC Program Access, and Early Intervention Education are just some of the choices in education offered in Weber School District. More choice leads to more opportunities for our students.
Webb’s Depth of Knowledge and Karin Hess’ Cognitive Rigor Matrix
This year, Weber School District has a professional development focus on Webb's Depth of Knowledge (DOK) and Karin Hess’ Cognitive Rigor Matrix (CRM). Webb’s DOK provides a vocabulary and a frame of reference when thinking about our students and how they engage with the content. The Hess CRM offers a common language to understand "rigor," or cognitive demand, in assessments, as well as curricular units, lessons, and tasks.
Webb developed four DOK levels that grow in cognitive complexity and provide educators a lens on creating more cognitively engaging and challenging tasks.
DOK Level 1: Recall and Reproduction
Recall of a fact, term, principle, concept, or perform a routine procedure Tasks at this level require recall of facts or rote application of simple procedures. The task does not require any cognitive effort beyond remembering the right response or formula.
DOK Level 2: Basic Application of Skills and Concepts
Use of information, conceptual knowledge, select appropriate procedures for a task, two or more steps with decision points along the way, routine problems applying 2+ concepts, organize/display data, interpret/use simple graphs
DOK Level 3: Strategic Thinking
Requires reasoning, developing a plan or sequence of steps to approach problem; requires some decision making and justification; abstract, complex, or non-routine; often more than one possible answer or approach
DOK Level 4: Extended Thinking
An original investigation or application to real world; requires time to research, problem solve, and process multiple conditions of the problem or task; OR non-routine manipulations, across disciplines/content areas/multiple sources
Source: Depth of Knowledge with Karin Hess
For classroom teachers, an important question is one of practice: how do we create rich environments where all students learn at a high level? One useful tool, Karin Hess’ Cognitive Rigor Matrix, can help teachers meet that challenge. Descriptors in the CRM provide educators a more sophisticated lens to systematically guide the creation of more cognitively engaging and challenging tasks. To access the desired Hess Cognitive Rigor Matrix click on the subject area below.
By now, each school has received their 2015 SAGE results and had opportunities to carefully analyze the data. Out of 27 grades and subjects tested, Weber School District experienced growth in 24. District-wide, English Language Arts proficiency (grades 3 - 11) raised by 2%, Math (grades 3 - 11) by 5% and Science (grades 4 - 11/12) by 3%. Especially notable was the growth in high school mathematics performance from 2014 to 2015. Proficiency levels in Secondary Math I raised 15 percentage points and those in Secondary Math III raised by a commendable 25 percentage points.
We're proud of that steady growth in student achievement and believe it is powered by our three primary drivers:
That broad, comprehensive learning experience can be illustrated by the following secondary school results:
Our whole child focus is supported by such elementary programs as:
We're proud of the many excellent opportunities provided for young people throughout our district. Further, we're convinced that Weber's whole child approach is the right thing to do for young people. With that said, we also recognize that we operate in a testing and accountability environment where our success is frequently judged by student performance on assessments. While our student achievement increased on SAGE tests this past year, Weber School District still lags behind the state average. Additionally, our graduation rate is slightly below the state average. We acknowledge that we have room for continued progress in these areas.
Our great challenge is to sustain a whole child philosophy while demonstrating a greater awareness of the external expectations associated with the testing and accountability model. Across the country, some schools and districts have attained higher test scores at the expense of a full, rich and comprehensive learning experience for children. We're committed NOT to do that! Developing the organizational capacity to maintain the whole child experience and demonstrating a heightened awareness of the external expectations associated with the testing and accountability model is what I call THE WEBER WAY.
To achieve our goal, I would like each teacher to consider the following suggestions:
Teachers, as you meet together in PLCs, I invite you to talk about how you might incorporate one or two of these proposals into your classroom instruction. I believe that wise and thoughtful teachers can implement these suggestions without sacrificing that broad, rich learning experience we want for every student. In doing so, we're meeting the needs of children, as well as the external expectations of school success. And, we're doing it THE WEBER WAY!
I express my deepest appreciation to every member of the Weber School District family. Your enormous commitment to children is exceptional! You have my highest respect and admiration.
Each year Weber School Foundation kicks off the holiday season with its annual Christmas Tree Jubilee to raise money for special needs students in Weber County. Through the efforts of the foundation board and countless volunteers of all ages and walks of life, over $400,000.00 will be raised to increase educational opportunities and enhance the lives of special needs students. Educational adaptive devices, lifts and wheelchairs, adaptive playgrounds and equipment and many other devices are the types of items provided to those who desperately need them in order to attain educational and life goals.
In addition to the Weber District Foundation’s great work, our schools actively participate in providing benefits for others where it is needed. Some of the great things our students, staff members and wonderful communities are doing for others this holiday season include:
All of these efforts give our students the opportunity to serve others and to realize the satisfaction of helping fellow students and community members. Even in times when the economy has been a challenge, our great communities have always given of their means to the numerous charitable projects. We thank all for that great love, kindness and generosity and wish everyone a happy holiday season!
Marked for Good -
In his book, Eight Habits of the Heart, noted entrepreneur and Pulitzer-nominated author, Clifton Taulbert, wrote about his childhood growing up on the Mississippi Delta. Taulbert recalled, “High expectations were commonplace in our community. They fueled our dreams. They were bigger than all of us--collective dreams worked out individually. The adults in our community told us daily that we were of value and that big things were expected of us. Even now I feel compelled to do my best! In spite of legal segregation, racism and poverty, they believed in their children. Those foundational people took a giant leap into a world we could not yet see but one they knew awaited us. They told us that we were ‘marked for good’ and we believed them.”
As educators, we serve in a role similar to the “foundational people” of Clifton Taulbert’s childhood. Think about those who helped build high expectations in your life. It may have been a teacher, family member, coach or advisor. In each case, it’s as though these key individuals were able to see something within us that we were not yet able to envision. As a result, their words inspired and lifted us through periods of personal doubt and discouragement. To this day, I still pay tribute to and honor those vital people who helped convince me that I was “marked for good.”
Recently, I received a note from a grateful mother whose son had been struggling in school. “Then,” this mother states, “Mr. Newbold entered my son’s life. He always speaks positive to my son and tells him that he can do math. Mr. Newbold welcomed my son to come early and stay late to work with him until all homework was made up and he began passing tests. More than giving my son a second chance, Mr. Newbold restored my son’s pride in his scholastic abilities.” My favorite part of the letter is this unique closing, “My son keeps checking to make sure that I’ve sent this e-mail because he thinks Mr. Newbold is an ‘awesome dude and we should tell his boss.’”
Each fall, the PDK/Gallup Poll conducts a national survey to assess the public’s attitudes toward schools. When asked in their latest poll to identify the most important measure of a school’s effectiveness, 81% of parents responded, “The percent of students who feel hopeful about their future.” In other words, they want their children to understand and internalize that they’ve been “marked for good.” I invite each of you to set young people’s sights on a world they may not have yet fully imagined. Help them see their bright future and the contribution they can make to our community, country and world. The generation of children in our schools today has definitely been “marked for good.”
In Support of Support!
Every morning between approximately 6:30 and 8:30 a.m. 31,325 students across Weber County walk out of doors and head out to school. At school they are welcomed by the most caring, well-trained administrators and teachers in the country.
Getting our students to school and supporting them in their learning is an enormous task and behind the scenes there is an army of dedicated support personnel that makes the experience of school in Weber District an inviting, safe and enriching experience. To get a feel of the value of the work provided by support staff it is good to consider exactly what they accomplish each day:
We are very grateful for the dedicated professionals that make up the Weber School District Classified Employees and Educational Support Staff. They make the educational experience of our students one of opportunity and support for achievement. Through a dedicated and persistent effort, these great Weber District personnel,make our children’s lives brighter!
Have you found yourself saying, “I can hardly believe it’s April” or, “I can’t believe it’s the last quarter of school.” Time seems to be flying by so quickly. My next thoughts turn to all of the things that need to happen before the end of school. Among all of the important things going on, teachers and parents need to remember they have great influence as they encourage their students to be persistent and finish the school year strong. Persistence is essential to success, and the more of it you display, the more you will accomplish. It is persistence that will allow you to make the most of your ability.
“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”
– Newt Gingrich
“Great beginnings are not as important as the way one finishes.”
– James Dobson
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is to always try just one more time.”
– Thomas Edison
“Continuous effort - - not strength or intelligence - - is the key to unlocking our potential.”
– Winston Churchill
“Energy and persistence conquer all things.”
– Benjamin Franklin
The concept of perseverance brings to mind the story of the 1980 Winter Olympic hockey team. Team USA embodied the growth mindset and continuous effort we strive daily to build in the students of Weber School District.
In the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, the USA hockey team was represented by a collection of young college kids, some with pro hockey aspirations. Under the guidance of their coach, Herb Brooks, the young American athletes became a fast, well-conditioned and cohesive team. Brooks knew how dangerous his team could be. He also knew that many of their competitors were underestimating his team’s potential and had mostly written them off as a medal contender. Brooks would use this miscalculation to his team’s advantage.
In order to make it to the medal round, the USA team had to fight hard in each match. They won their opening game against Sweden. This was a significant win, since USA had not beaten the Swedes since 1960. Next, the Americans dominated a strong Czech team by winning 7-3. Team USA continued their way through the bracket by winning their next three games, ultimately positioning them for the first medal round against the Russian team. In a very tense game against the Soviet team, the well-conditioned USA team held off the Russians and won 4-3. They finished strong in what became known as the Miracle on Ice.
Today, more than 30 years later, most people believe that this unlikely victory resulted in a gold medal for the USA. It did not. The win over Russia put Team USA through to the next round where they went on to defeat Finland and win the gold. In six of the seven games played, the USA team had to come back from a deficit to win. They truly embodied the spirit of belief, persistence, and passion. And, they definitely finished strong!
We often refer to the Weber Way in our district. We believe in educating the whole child. Teaching our students to be positive, persistent and to finish strong is whole child thinking. These life skills are necessary for a successful future. We want to thank educators and parents as we all work together to support students and ensure success by fostering a spirit of persistence, perseverance and continuous effort.
Work Worth Doing -
With less than one month remaining in the 2015-16 school year, it is surprising to realize just how quickly this year has gone. I congratulate each of our students, teachers, support professionals and administrators on a successful and productive year. Thank you for your significant work and effort. Certainly, it has made a positive difference!
Earlier in the school year, I invited everyone in our district to rise to a challenge I termed, “The Weber Way.” That challenge entails maintaining a whole child focus, which places an emphasis on providing a rich and comprehensive learning experience for all children, while demonstrating greater awareness of the outside expectations associated with the testing and accountability model that permeates schools throughout our nation. I asked teachers to develop a renewed focus to teach the Utah Core Standards, allow all students to participate in interim SAGE assessments to familiarize them with testing formats and ease test anxiety, and take advantage of more instructional time by spiraling the curriculum and teaching for deep understanding rather than extensive year-end reviews. Great efforts have been made to prepare students for SAGE testing WITHOUT sacrificing what we know is right for children. That is an extraordinary thing! I know this has required extra work and effort on the part of every employee.
I have been pleased by the tremendous strides made to do things “The Weber Way.” Recently, I was presented with a replica road sign that reads, “The Weber Way.” It hangs in my office. Someone even suggested that Adams Avenue (in front of the district office) be renamed “Weber Way.” The “Weber Way” suggests that there is a right way to do things and that’s the way we do it in our district.
I love to read about Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States. Teddy grew up a sickly child in a wealthy family. Under such circumstances, he could have easily chosen a life of comfort and ease, but he didn’t. Rather, Teddy became an avid outdoorsman and competitive athlete. Most recall his leadership with the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill, as well as his successful political career. While governor of New York, Roosevelt preached what he called the “doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife.” With great conviction, he once said, “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” I agree. The work with which each of us is engaged is definitely “work worth doing.” On behalf of the Board of Education, I wish to thank every one of you for a great school year.