Tuesday, October 25, 2011

There is Merit to Performance-based Pay for Teachers

Performance-based pay can change teacher performance in a school system. I have direct knowledge of a school that implemented a pay-for-performance system, and things changed.

Here's just one example: a teacher was disappointed in his pay raise and went into the principal to question it. The principal explained that the teacher was not actively participating in professional development. He was checking papers, inattentive, and largely disengaged whenever he was in attendance at school improvement activities. The teacher asked if he would fair better if he changed that. The principal replied positively, and the next year that teacher was a model participant in school improvement and professional development activities. The system worked.

Unfortunately, the system did not directly benefit student achievement as measured by standardized tests. All teachers are generally doing the best job they know how for their students regardless of their pay. They are not holding anything back until they get a bump in salary. Their duty is too important, and they know it.

However, the system that worked with the teacher mentioned above did not work with all. Another teacher asked why her raise was less than others, and it was explained to her that her habit of starting her teaching duties a full week after the students arrived in August was inhibiting her performance. She did not believe it, and she was sure it was unfair bias beyond her control that was holding her down.

And this leads into a big problem with performance-based pay. It is vulnerable to favoritism, cronyism, and politics. Teachers often perceive that some principals may have favorites on staff. Realistically, principals are humans who are receptive to friendships and kind gestures. There is also a valid danger that someone with political power within the school--maybe a relative on the school board--may receive more favorable reviews and better pay than others.

There is a vital key to ensuring that performance-based pay improves teacher performance in a school system. The pay system must be tied closely and specifically to the evaluation system, and the evaluation system must deal with very specific, objective performance standards. The more subjective the criteria, the more the system is open to bias, suspicions of favoritism, and failure.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

1:1 Laptop Learning: Three Fundamental Principles

Laptop learning is about a fundamental change in instructional methodology for the 21st Century. It is about teaching students to be consumers and creators of knowledge as opposed to simply recipients. Schools that give their students this edge will help them to be successful in the 21st Century.

Some school have a vision for technology integration to be a springboard of a new methodology vaulting students ahead. Some of these school have invested money to put a laptop computer one-to-one in the hands of each and every student. For schools that are doing one-to-one computing, experience is showing there are three fundamentals which these one-to-one schools must address.
  1. Student Usage. The success or failure of a one-to-one laptop program is entirely dependent upon how often and how effectively the computers are used in the classroom. If the laptops are not an integral part of instruction, an expensive resource is being squandered. And if the laptops are not being used effectively as 21st Century learning tools, they function no better than textbooks, three-ring binders, and pencils.
  2. Teacher Comfort. Laptops will be used frequently and effectively when teachers are comfortable instructing with them. For many veteran educators, it is an entirely new methodology, unlike anything they have used previously in their careers. Teachers need to accept the machines and find ways to use them with students. They also have to develop a comfort level in accepting that the students may know the computers better than they do. They need to be prepared to let their students take the lead.
  3. Professional Development. Teachers will feel comfortable teaching with laptops to the extent they are trained to instruct in the new methodology. If a school is prepared to invest a large sum of money in hardware and software, they must be prepared to invest not less than 10 to 20 percent of that amount initially into professional development for the teachers. And professional development cannot end with the first year. There needs to be on-going support in subsequent years as well.
Therefore the linchpin in the successful implementation of one-to-one laptop learning is the professional development of the faculty. It is easy to assume that teachers are already using computers, maybe in a laboratory setting, and they have computers they use regularly for planning and preparation. But those skills do not automatically transfer to one-to-one laptop instruction. Teacher development in the new methodology is key.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Leaders Need Support Too

I remember the first administrative team meeting I led as a school superintendent. The meeting went well. I was getting to know the principals, and we were developing a good relationship. We discussed several issues and developed a sense of direction for several pertinent issues. When that morning meeting adjourned, the principals decided they would go to lunch together on their first day back together as a team.

I was not invited.They left me alone. It hit me at that moment that my role had distinctly changed. I was clearly no longer part of that peer group. And maybe I would even be the subject of conversation during their lunch together.

Now I do not think for a minute that they intentionally meant to ignore me. I later became good friends with the members of that team. They are good people. I truly believe it did not even cross anyone's mind that to ignore me might be perceived as a slight by some.

But that is O.K. too. That group needed to work together and support each other. They needed to draw upon the talents of each other. A lunch together was a good building block for their camaraderie. The support they would provide for each other was different than the support I could offer as their immediate supervisor.

The question is "Who makes up that support structure for the school superintendent?" The chief executive of the school has no peer within the organization, yet he/she needs as much support as the building principals. It is lonely at the top.

A superintendent must develop a peer support group as well as a professional learning network. I recommend the work of Harvard professor Lee Teitel who urges superintendents to create their own peer support groups. There are numerous commonalities in the challenges we face on a day-to-day basis, regardless of the size of the school system. A chief needs a source of ideas for addressing challenging issues. Moreover, everyone needs positive feedback, at least once in a while. Leaders need to provide optimism for their charges, but often we need help finding that optimism for ourselves. Peers need to stand by their colleagues with positive support as well as advice. We are human, and we need the human touch.

So although you may have risen to your chief executive office largely because of your strong self-reliance, do not think you can do this alone. We all need help. If you do not need it today, you may someday. And maybe someone needs your help and support right now.