Love Wins at Supreme Court!

I had no idea that the Supreme Court was issuing all it’s rulings this week! I’m very excited for same sex marriage rights for so many of my friends and colleagues. I am happiest for the children of same sex couples. I feel like the children were literally caught in a situation where they were made to feel like second class citizens because of their parents.

Justice Kennedy writes:

Excluding same-sex couples from marriage thus conflicts with a central premise of the right to marry. Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue here thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples.

I agree that couples should be able to marry no matter their sexual orientation, but even if you didn’t agree with that, children don’t deserve that stigma.

Justice Kennedy writes:

[T]he right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them.

I love this story about a boy who’s mom I know from my home state of RI:

A sixth grade student stunned the Rhode Island Senate judiciary committee with a profound speech on same-sex marriage.

Twelve-year-old Matthew Lannon, who says he has two moms and two dads who have been together for 14 years, told the crowd, “My parents, and all the other gay and lesbian people here, just want to be happy.”

Describing his parents’ commitments as “very, very real,” he added, “All they want is to be treated fairly. But unlike most of you, they have to come again here year after year and explain over and over why their love is equal to yours. This year, you have the opportunity to change that. I say, choose love.”

Take a moment to read this touching story from a Teach for American Alum from Atlanta, GA about her experience hiding who she was as a teacher:

Every day I walked down the halls to my classroom, arms filled with crates of supplies for my students, scared to even acknowledge these questions, fearful of having to choose between my identity and my leadership. I was burdened daily with the reality of what it meant to advance educational equity for my kids so that none of them ever experienced the shame and fear I did as a lesbian student growing up in Atlanta…..



Spend the time to build classroom culture & intrinsically motivate your students

I love what Susan Wolfe, an elementary school teacher in Boise, Idaho does in her classroom. She starts by creating classroom culture and helps the students brainstorm what makes a great student, a great teacher and a great learning environment. This shows the teacher what the kids expect of her and shows the students what they expect of themselves. They are going to be more likely to rules they made up together and feel ownership over.

“The kids need to believe that they’re not here to have learning crammed down their throats,” she said. She says it is fundamental for teachers to take the time to build a class culture for which students take ownership. And contrary to many stereotypes about disadvantaged kids, in her experience, every child, no matter their background, wants that learning autonomy.

“Students have the ownership of the critical factors, so I’m no longer the ‘heavy,’ ” Wolfe said. “They designed this so they have to hold their own feet to the fire, and I’m just here to help them out.”

Self discipline is a skill I never fully learned and I would have likely benefited greatly from this strategy.

The next piece that I love is how she intrinsically motivates her students. She uses what she calls a Genius Hour to allow students to learn about whatever excites them. This gives students power over some of their learning and might be one reason they look forward to school. These projects can also work out to be community service projects as well, which is a category of learning that is very effective and powerful.

For example, a group of students wanted to be outside more, so they are working to build an outdoor classroom. They teamed up with a group of parents who were interested in the same concept, connected with the Bureau of Land Management and eventually designed and began clearing the way for a native plant garden.

They’re working with the community, learning to fundraise, using Excel spreadsheets and building websites. But there’s no grumbling because students are invested in the end goal of the project.

“A lot of teachers spend a lot of time trying to motivate kids, but if they can tie it into students’ passions, you can tap into a lot of energy,” Wolfe said.

This next example reminds of the teaching style at the MET school in Providence RI where my sister attended high school. They allow students to learn about whatever they want to with guidance. The model is teaching them process not content. Here is a perfect example of that here:

“I had a student that I could just not connect with,” Wolfe said. “I could not get this kid to do anything.” But she knew he loved skateboarding, so she suggested he research and become the expert on Tony Hawk and skateboarding. The principal even agreed to let him do a skateboarding demonstration at the end of the project.

The student made a total switch. He was staying in at recess to work on his report, asking for help and doing a great job on his work. Recently Wolfe bumped into him around town and he still remembered that project. He’s in college now, getting straight “A”s.

Giving students the autonomy to direct their own learning teaches them process to do the rest of their school work later. By researching about a Skateboarder, he gained and developed research, writing, reading and analytical skills and had a positive experience in school. All of these skills translate into continuing to do well.

“Kids want that ownership, they want to be in charge of their learning,” Wolfe said. “We just have to give them little pieces at a time to be in charge of and give them a space where it is safe to do so.”



We all have a stake in education and deserve a voice

We all have a stake in education and deserve a voice

My first thought when I read this article by Education Post was to come out guns a-blazzing for the public to have input in education issues. When I read one of the first supporting links, I’ve come to a slightly different feeling.

In this The Educator’s Room post, the teacher is simply stating that teachers want to see more of themselves in leadership positions. I would argue that the opportunities aren’t readily accessible or teachers don’t try hard enough to get those opportunities. I had an idea of starting an institute that would coach and train teachers to run for office. I think effective teachers carry many of the qualities of a great public official, but so few end up going in that direction. And honestly, unions have not been helping to make these opportunities possible or maybe there would be fewer complaints about how there is never a teacher to provide input.

It could be that teachers are just tired, and don’t have the energy to pursue something different. Their teacher salaries don’t allow for a huge savings that you could campaign without working and still pay your bills. Teachers are more generically also women who traditionally carry multiple roles in their household in addition to teacher, wife, mother, care giver…etc. I want to make those opportunities more available to teachers.

However, to follow the author of the Education Post piece, yes I think that non-teachers are often criticized and left out of important discussions about education.

The first is that we, tax payers are paying for the schools, and we should have say in whether we are satisfied with the results or not.

© Paynich

© Paynich

As parents,  we have a right to make sure our child is in the best possible school for him or her. We want and deserve to have choices. We see how school affects our kids and that feedback is valuable. How parents feel about the school and the staff is valuable.

Student have a tremendous amount of feedback that we rarely, if ever listen to. This is their education. They need to have a say in what works for them and what can be done differently. That doesn’t mean you give in to silly things, but talking with students to get that one or two tidbit that you didn’t know that would really make a difference for them.

Other people with related skills should be able to consult on those skills – such as finance, human resources, health, counseling, management – many items that teachers often may not.

I’m not over here telling you what should be in the English curriculum. But I can tell you that the high school graduates we need should be able to do x,y, and z. I know from my own personal experience that I didn’t learn how to write anything but a simple research paper in all of high school. And I never understood why I didn’t get a high grade in 12th grade English. By the time I got to college I realized I lack certain writing skills and worked to build them.

But I can tell you that many students are not engaging with traditional curriculum and I think they would perform better and be more engaged with all electives based classes with intentional ways of developing English skills. Model UN doesn’t have to be an after school program, or just an elective. It could be regular class where you learn history, writing skills, public speaking skills, strategy, team work, and responsibility. And it’s a real entity of the World that brings real world experience right to students. Why can’t you have gardening classes where you can learn science, math and incorporate a reading and writing element. I learned more in my “elective” history classes than I ever did in my required classes.

These are common observances that all people have and they all have a right to express them and others should listen and take that into account. When the public has questions about the school department budget, they have as much responsibility as a tax payer as the person who wrote the budget to ensure it’s spent well.

Personally, I have a Master’s in school counseling. I interned at an at-risk middle school in Worcester to specifically have that experience to learn from. You know a good teacher when you see one and who know those who are just biding their time. The biggest revelation I had was that no matter if I spent 30 minutes counseling a student, he/she was just going to have to return to 7 hours of subpar teaching. my work would probably be erased in the first 30 minutes. These kids need to be rescued from their own school. I felt like they were just required by law to be there and everyone is just going through the motions. These are experiences that are worth while that deserve to be heard.

I try to stay in my “camp” if you will when I make suggestions, but my 60-credit masters in school counseling gave me much greater knowledge of psychology and how students and adults learn than many teachers received training in. I may not be qualified to contribute in a curriculum way, but the implementation and how students learn is something that I know about. Differentiated learning is very important. Looking at a student and working to discover what emotionally, academically or physically is holding him back, before you discipline, assume that the student “doesn’t want to learn”, send to the principal’s office…and the rest of the menu of discipline. If you treat kids like animals, they will most certainly act like animals.

Career and college guidance. That is a whole other story. Schools are doing very little if any college and career guidance. Not in middle school where it needs to be and not with every child in high school. Schools need to admit they are not accomplishing these goals and make sure that utilize community resources to do so. And you HAVE to start in middle school if you have any hope of the student starting 9th grade on the right foot. All the resources being poured into high schools are completing missing the beginning of the pipeline.


His Students Were Struggling, So He Changed 1 Big Thing. Then Everything Changed

I absolutely love reading about new and different classroom strategies. Here I read an article about flipping classrooms: His Students Were Struggling, So He Changed 1 Big Thing. Then Everything Changed.

The principal had the idea from his time as a coach to offer the classroom lectures to students outside of class, as homework, so that the written work and discussion and projects could occur during class time with the help of the teacher.

How many times do students have trouble completing written homework, and then not receive help in class because the teacher has moved on to the next lesson?

How often do students have trouble taking notes AND absorbing the information during a class lecture? I know that I am a writer and I usually need to write things down to understand them. Writing takes time and the comprehension comes second. I am usually feverishly writing notes before they are erased or the teacher moves on, but can’t listen to the words for comprehension at the same time.

This principal tried “flipping” one classroom to see if it would be successful. The teacher recorded short video clips of the lesson approximately 10 mins and the students would watch them as homework instead of written work. This also allow the student to re-watch, pause, take notes and really get a sense of the material.

When students went to class they already had a basic understanding of the lesson and could work on written work in class with the help of the teacher. Class discussion and projects are more productive because the material has already been covered and you can just engage with each other – which is the whole point of school.

I know when I had reading homework, I rarely ever completed it. Class discussion never really required that I had read the material, I always managed to make it work. If I had been asked to watch a video instead of reading, I probably would have covered more material. Also, its easier to watch a short video when you are tired and virtually impossible to read when you are tired, which is probably a good amount of my high school and college career.

They started with one teacher teaching a flipped class to struggling kids and the same teacher teaching the same material in a traditional way to average students. The idea was to see if the students having problems would be helped at all by the switch.


The at-risk kids actually outperformed the other class!

It’s not really about the technology, its more about more engagement in class with the teacher and students. Granted there could be some barriers in terms of student access to technology to access the videos and teachers have to commit the recording all the videos. But a successful strategy is always a good one! The rest can be worked out.

Analysis of district/union collaboration in Lawrence, MA

Analysis of district/union collaboration in Lawrence, MA

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© Paynich

In this last post, I took a look at the state takeover / Turnaround plan in Lawrence, MA. Being touted as a true collaboration between districts and unions I wanted to dig a little deeper to see what may have transpired and potentially what could draw success in the future.

A strong leader is something I believe both unions and pro-reformers want. Lawrence was fortunate to have a leader that was willing to forge a middle ground by investing time in human capital. A strong leader on either the union side or a firm pro-reform side (or one that is simply neither) may not be able to bring about results. Finding strong leader talent is difficult, but often a very important piece.

Jeffrey Riley was appointed by the MA Education commissioner and was awarded all the powers of a superintendent and a school board. He did not have to negotiate with unions and didn’t quite at first. It appears he worked to implement certain reforms and then seeing some progress proceeded to work with unions to solidify.

Expanded learning time is usually promoted by both unions and pro-reformers, but unions only if teachers are being paid for it. Lawrence likely was able to make pay available through grants – we’ll have to see how they are able to keep it flowing through changes in school funding. It’s generally a given that expanded learning time, executed correctly is greatly beneficial to students. So what are districts to do if they can’t immediately find the money to pay teachers for the extra time? I see the teacher perspective of wanting to be paid for the extra time, but really how much extra is it? At one point someone decided that 7 hours a day was all students needed. Now it may be 9 hours. Should students have to suffer without expanded learning time in districts where there isn’t extra money for teachers?

Generally speaking unions are against charters – unless they are running them. Lawrence was able to put together a collection of charter management, union management and LPS management in the turnaround plan. So, I guess unions aren’t all against charters, all the time?

Lawrence is using a myriad of data to evaluate students and in turn teachers. This is not usually something that unions go along with. So maybe unions aren’t all against data for performance?

Successful building principals have autonomy to make changes in their own school, including staffing. However teachers did receive 2 1/2 hrs of collaborative planning time (likely assisted by the expanded learning time) in which to analyze student data and make curriculum adjustments. It was not clear on the specifics of professional development, but there appears to have been more offered.

I took a look at the Lawrence teacher’s contract and found some interesting items:

  • It provides the superintendent wide sweeping authority to make changes to school operational procedure throughout the year
  • Under Teacher hiring and promotions, Article 26: “In filling positions, principals have the authority to select the best qualified staff from both internal and external candidates without regard to seniority.” It is often the case that if a senior member of the district’s faculty wants a position he or she will get it. This allows more leeway to have the district make the right decisions for kids.
  • Another win for kids, in Article 35, when there is a reduction in force district is allowed to consider data and teacher evaluations over seniority:

“The Superintendent has the right to lay off teachers and other district staff due to reductions in force or reorganizations resulting from declining enrollment or other budgetary or operational reasons. The Superintendent will establish the selection criteria for layoffs of teachers and other district staff. Such selection criteria may include, but are not limited to qualifications, licensure, work history (including elements such as discipline, attendance, evaluations, etc.), multiple measures of student learning, operational need and the best interests of the students. Where all other factors are equal, seniority may be used as the deciding factor.”

This is also probably largely due to the law Stand for Children MA passed in 2012 which made job performance, not seniority, the primary consideration in teacher staffing decisions in every public school in Massachusetts, with the new evaluation systems being a key component of how job performance is measured.

  • Still not sure why teachers are allowed 15 sick days per year when they only report to school for 183 days (in Lawrence). Most professional jobs give you 1-2 weeks of paid leave and maybe a few sick days or those are included in the 1-2 weeks. The fact that they can accrue up to 200…what would someone do with 200 days of sick leave???

Fifteen days of full pay shall be allowed during the school term from August to June in case of illness. Any or all of the fifteen (15) days of full pay that have not been used may be carried over to the following year’s allowance and such allowance may be accumulated to two hundred (200) days of full pay.

  • Health insurance premiums which are usually a hot debate on contract negotiations are not clearly outlined. Unless teachers are buying into the statewide health insurance plan.
  • Article 66: The career ladder is one of the more interesting elements to the contract. Each level of advancement is based on certain performance evaluations, although no salary can be decreased due to evaluations, I assume the teacher would stay at the same level. I believe that in those cases the consequences of the evaluation system come into play. Often if you are at a needs improvement or unsatisfactory level for “x” number of years there are improvement plans and opportunities or consequences that take over. The career ladder also allows for excellent teachers to advance through the ladder commensurate with their evaluations. A new teacher could be eligible for the salary of a veteran teacher within 5 years.

A Novice teacher shall advance to Developing I and a Developing I teacher shall advance to Developing II annually provided that the teacher does not receive an end-of year evaluation rating of “unsatisfactory.”

A Developing II teacher shall advance to Career I and all Career level teachers shall advance a level annually provided that an end-of-year evaluation rating of “proficient” or “exemplary” is received, with “proficient” or better ratings on all four standards. A teacher with an overall end-of-year rating of “proficient” who has achieved less than “proficient” ratings on all four standards may still advance to the next level with the recommendation of the building principal and the approval of the Superintendent.

A teacher who does not receive the requisite evaluation rating can appeal for a review of the evaluation to the Evaluation Committee.

If no end-of year formative or summative evaluation is completed for a teacher, the teacher shall advance to the next level.

A teacher may advance on the salary scale more rapidly than described above with the recommendation of the school principal, subject to the approval of the Superintendent. Any such advancement will be limited to two levels above what the performance plan would otherwise provide, provided however that a teacher may not advance to Advanced or Masters status without going through the review process that applies district wide. The union shall be notified of all such advancement decisions.

Novice, Developing, Career, and Advanced teachers shall not have their salary reduced based on their performance evaluation.

Based on past experience and performance, a newly-hired teacher may enter the Lawrence Public Schools above the Novice level based on a principal’s recommendation and Superintendent’s approval.


The career ladder:






Level 4

Level 3

Level 2

Level 1


Level 2

Level 1


  • Article 67 – Expanded learning time pay is included in this contract. It is not clear to me when the ELT pay is issued – as time is accrued throughout the year or as a lump sum at the end of the year. Also, I’m not sure if the pay is based on each increment, or just a flat rate at the end. For example, if a teacher works 1525 hours,  does he/she receive a one time payment of $3,000, or does the teacher receive $2,000 for hours 1400-1449, and $2,500 for hours 1450-1499…etc. FYI $2,000 for 50 hours of work is $100/hr.

Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, teachers working an extended day shall receive stipends in the following amounts based on hours worked:

1400-1449 hours             $2,000

1450-1499 hours             $2,500

1500-1549 hours             $3,000

1550-1599 hours             $3,500

1600-1825 hours             $4,000

Total teacher hours during the normal school day for the year shall not exceed 1,825 hours, excluding functions outside the normal school day, such as parent meetings, after-school functions and other similar activities.

These stipend compensation amounts shall be included in base pay, or otherwise considered as part of the teacher’s annualized salary, for retirement purposes.

Here are some comments from AFT union leaders reported in the Education Week article:

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, who is generally an outspoken opponent of state takeovers, has been highlighting the progress in Lawrence as an example of transformation that’s possible when the union and the district work together.

“Lawrence is succeeding because of the work between people—including the superintendent, the teachers, and parents, and now, the city administration,” she said. “Let me be really blunt. Anybody who thinks that it’s structure rather than human capital will make a huge … policy mistake.”

Frank McLaughlin, the president of the Lawrence Teachers’ Union, praises the gains and Mr. Riley, though he credits strong leadership and an infusion of resources for the positive momentum, not the state takeover itself.

It appears that concessions can be made in the right environments. I think it’s worth noting that Mr. Riley basically made it mandatory that teachers join the union. I’m sure that went a long way to making the negotiations easier….you know so AFT can bank every dollar! 😉

How do you define harmful? Where is the “grit” factor?

Trying to wrap my head around this tweet I saw this week:

lily harmful tweet


How do you define harmful? Here is one example in the article she references:

The pressure placed on students is enormous. Children understand all too well that their test results may be used to label them or their school as a failure.

In Oklahoma the state legislature and governor doubled down on the testing obsession to declare that no third grader could go to fourth grade if they missed the mandated cut score on the reading test by even one point….one point on one test given on one day. Unbelievable.

The arrogance of politicians who voted to give themselves the final say as to whether a small child should be held back regardless of the professional judgment of the teacher or the wishes of the parent is unforgivable. Even after the outrage of parents and teachers helped to overturn the policy, the harm done to the over 8,000 eight-year olds labeled as failures is inexcusable.

So which is it? Are we responsible for making sure EVERY SINGLE CHILD is ready to college and career? Or are we responsible for making sure that there aren’t any tears at test time? Should a child be advanced to the next grade simply because the parent or the teacher says the child should be? Teachers have been advancing students for years because of social promotion, ineffective teaching or dislike for a student. Letting a teacher decide should not be the only factor. Having additional information regarding a academic achievement and preparedness for the next grade are important considerations.

In this post I discussed a friend of mine in Massachusetts, a state every loves to talk about as a “such a great education state,” who received excellent grades an graduated top of her class, to find out she was not able to perform college level school work. Top of her class and in remedial classes.

Maybe children wouldn’t be “failing” the test if their parents spent more time with them at home, reading and working on school work, and if teachers were engaging and connecting with their classes.

And if a child needs to stay in a certain grade level to completely learn the material it is going to be better in the long term if the student actually learns the material – no matter how it feels to be kept back. The real world is a tough place and if this is one way that children learn how to accept changes that are best for them, then that’s a good lesson to learn.

By passing students who aren’t ready for the next grade, who didn’t learn everything they needed to learn you are actually harming them. They may continue to be set back because they didn’t fully learn the material in the first place. They may not be properly prepared for college and career and then who’s fault is it if the student isn’t able to support his/herself as a productive member of society?

As we have read in Paul Tough’s book: How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, adversity can be helpful to develop character of individuals who are successful.

Do what is ultimately  best for your child and ensure he/she is learning everything he/she needs to learn to be successful. And if it creates healthy adversity, it might even be more helpful for your child to learn to overcome earlier than later in life.




Not the right teacher, in the right place, at the right time

© Paynich

© Paynich

I’ve been thinking about this alot lately. Teachers become extremely defensive whenever we try to talk about effectiveness. But the reality is that our kids need to learn and be in the best environment to do so. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are an in effective teacher all the time everywhere – it doesn’t mean that you didn’t earn your degree and learn how to be a teacher – it just means that you are not the right teacher, in the right place, at the right time.

I remember a friend of mine who is a teacher at a charter school here in Atlanta and she mentioned how she is going to be taking over some classes for a teacher who is leaving. I was amazed! Their school actually has attentive students (though not for lack of effort but into it), flexible curriculum, basically a teacher’s dream compared to traditional public school settings. Yet, she still didn’t feel comfortable in that setting. She apparently needed an even more controlled, smarter, more motivated group of kids to teach. The upside is that she knows that, and she seeks it out.

Perhaps we go too far when we say “ineffective teacher” because surely there is a classroom environment that this teacher would thrive in. But we all have to be willing to acknowledge when a situation is not one that the teacher or the students thrive in. There may not be enough positions available in all the schools with attentive and engaged students for all the teachers who best work in that environment. But that does not mean that the students who are harder to teach should suffer with a mismatched teacher.

Many of the teachers who would thrive in a more controlled classroom are simply less equipped to teach today’s students. a decade or two ago we all lived in a different environment. Kids were simply easier to teach in those days. Today’s teachers need to be able to compensate for the social emotional disadvantages our poorest children suffer from. They need to have stellar classroom management skills – and not the bossy, military style threaten and yell style, but a compassionate and firm style that teaches classroom standards without shredding students of their dignity with punishment and yelling.

Then there is the “real” reason we have a problem. I would bet that a majority of teachers don’t have a second career lined up. I’m willing to bet there are few immediate opportunities available to teachers if they are not teaching. Perhaps in part to the subpar education they themselves earned. When a teacher is challenged about their role as a teacher, what do you think is a pretty common reaction? Their own self interest. The school district has a responsibility to the students first and foremost. But the teacher may have a responsibility to his or her family over the students in his/her class. If a teacher has a choice between putting the classes first or putting their own family first…..I’ll bet the family comes first most of the time. Therefore, even if it is in the best interest of the students to have a different teacher, their teacher will stay for the paycheck. For their family.

No matter how hard it is to do, the school district has a responsibility to the students first and teachers second. If that means letting some teachers go and hiring teachers that are more adequately prepared to manage a classroom today, then it needs to be done. The school district can’t weigh the needs of the teacher to support his/her family over the needs of students.