Manual Through the lens, achievement begins

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To meet this challenge, both equity and excellence must be driving forces in the leadership of schools. Principals must be equity-centered instructional leaders. The achievement gap has been a nationally visible concern since the Coleman Report era of It represents disproportionately disparate opportunities and learning outcomes between and among students of color and poverty with their wealthier counterparts, many of whom are white.

It also reflects disparities between English Language Learners ELL , special needs students and other groups of students. Additionally, there is a disparity between the academic performance of many students and the academic expectations established by the new, more rigorous state standards. And, there is the gap between our U. Most of us will acknowledge that the vast majority of teachers work hard at their craft, are fully committed to student learning, and willingly engage in their own continuous learning.

As we know, however, the students with the greatest needs academically too often have less experienced or less skilled teachers. Those taught by teachers in the bottom quartile of effectiveness, lose , on average, five percentile points, compared with their peers. Moreover, these effects are cumulative. The same study suggested that if all black students were assigned to four highly effective teachers in a row, this would be sufficient to close the average black-white achievement gap.

These kinds of learning experiences can result in disparities in outcomes both in test scores and in the level of educational attainment for different groups of students whenever they exit our systems. The economic and social impacts of the opportunity and achievement gaps, coupled with the moral challenges, should give all of us — educators, parents, the business community, politicians, lawmakers — reason for serious concern.

While schools cannot do this work alone, they have a legal and moral responsibility to ensure that every student exits our systems with the knowledge, skills, competence, confidence, creativity, curiosity, tenacity, support, sense of advocacy and efficacy to access and succeed in college, careers and society.

I have been an urban educator since the days of court-ordered desegregation. I have served as a teacher, a staff developer, a counselor to students with severe discipline issues, a high school principal, assistant superintendent, chief academic officer, and a number of other academic roles. I have also worked outside of education in the private sector and at the university level, working side-by-side with school leaders supporting their efforts to transform their school systems in order to educate all students well.

I have seen many students of color and those living in poverty survive and even thrive in our public schools. But I have seen far too many who did not survive our school systems and instead, fell onto pathways of limited- or under-employment, poverty and even more destructive lifestyles of drugs, crime and incarceration.

Position Papers

I realized years ago that my passion lies with the education of this vulnerable population of students and that my calling as a teacher is to work with and support the adults, the leaders who are charged with educating students in school systems. To ensure excellence, equity and a quality learning experience for every child, in every classroom, every day, and to close these gaps, the principal, and other school leaders, working alongside families, must demonstrate equity-centered instructional leadership.

I address two essential questions in this article:. Unfortunately, some educators can come to accept mediocre student performance or even failure as normal, inevitable and outside their control. Back to Top.

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We see this phenomenon particularly in schools serving our most vulnerable students, students of color, students living in poverty and growing numbers of English Language Learners ELLs. The improvement of instructional practice is perhaps the most important task of the school principal. This research also suggests that some of the work principals do lacks the instructional focus needed to improve teaching and learning. Over the past few years, through the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership CEL has been working with several school districts and charter management organizations CMOs on a knowledge-development project to support principals as instructional leaders.

We initially found no consensus among these districts on the leadership practices principals should implement to improve the quality of teaching. This lack of consensus led us to develop a framework of high-leverage instructional leadership practices essential to the work of improving teaching quality.

We fully acknowledge that there are a number of ways to articulate high-leverage leadership practices. What is most important is that schools and districts have a shared vision and common language around the essential work of equity-centered leaders who seek equity and excellence for all students.

The framework that follows is just one of many research-based examples. This framework is not the sum total of everything a principal or schools need to do to be successful, but rather some of the most salient equity-centered practices that can help improve teaching and learning. Based upon our research and fieldwork, we identified four dimensions of instructional leadership:. They used as their framework the 5 Dimensions of Teaching and Learning. This work was also coupled with an intensive focus on the culturally responsive classroom.

In these classrooms, teachers are intentional about making strong links between culture and learning. Principals and teachers understand that immigrant students and students from various cultures make significant transitions or shifts between home and school every day. Academic expectations for all students, however, are high, and there are scaffolds of support for student learning. Principals foster a supportive environment and build a sense of community that enables teachers and students to connect. They create a sense of trust and cooperation among all stakeholders.

In addition, principals provide teachers with the resources and professional learning needed to understand the role that culture and language play in learning and the implications for their teaching practice. Leaders in Central Kitsap decreased discipline issues by increasing culturally responsive classroom interactions. Culturally responsive instruction resulted in increased learning time for students who would otherwise be sitting in the office. Finally, principals learned to lead learning walks to observe and analyze instruction, identify both positive and problematic trends across classrooms, and engage together in problem-solving regarding issues of teaching and learning.

The district subsequently engaged all of its teachers in professional learning to help ensure they have the same vision and common language around quality instruction and deep understanding of, and skill in, the delivery of culturally responsive instruction. As an example, Principal Airola Indianapolis Public Schools guided staff to trust students more and decrease the amount of time that students stand in lines during the school day.

A second way that principals focus on instruction and quality learning experiences is by ensuring all students are provided much more than just basic skills and drill for the tests. Students also engage in authentic intellectual work, allowing them to construct knowledge and create products that can be used in real life, rather than just reproduce knowledge. Doing so helps students build metacognition and a stronger sense of responsibility for and sense of partnership with adults in their own learning. Further, all students have opportunity and access to rigorous learning, problem-solving, project-based learning, honors, the arts, the sciences, language, technology, and the support to be successful within and across disciplines.

The equitable allocation of resources is often a very difficult task for principals and one that can create political nightmares for leaders. But the instant it appears that a student or a group of students receives more money, more time, more intervention, more instructional expertise, or more support of any kind than some other student or group of students, the challenge begins. Principals and other leaders are accused of taking from some students to give to others. Jerry Weast, former superintendent of the Montgomery County Public schools in Maryland, is one of the most successful leaders in the area of rigorous outcomes for all students.

Weast differentiated resources and instruction to ensure all students reached the outcomes. I once heard him say that he had to help constituents understand that the allocation of resources applied to all students. Some may need academic intervention while others might need tutorials in advanced mathematics. Some students might need academic support while others might be in buildings needing facilities enhancement.

He worked with his community to help deepen understanding that the equitable allocation of resources was not just for our most vulnerable students who are struggling academically, but was a principle to be applied for every student. Second, the principal must ensure that key structures, systems and processes are in place to facilitate communication, collaboration and accountability among colleagues.


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Teachers must have the time and space to work together. Being able to work together using a range of qualitative and quantitative data to identify problems and strengths of student learning and support, and then to engage in collaborative reflection, problem-solving and leveraging strategies, empowers staff and can strengthen relationships, trust and the culture of learning.

One of the key challenges that we see with principals when it comes to collaborative structures is that of knowing how to plan time — time for their own instructional leadership work as well as collaborative time for teachers. Note also that the desired results serve as the rudder for most of what takes place during instruction and that the teacher uses differentiation as a means of ensuring that all students succeed with the desired results and move beyond them when appropriate.

In addition, you'll see that some adaptations are useful at both the teaching and gathering-evidence stages of instruction. The teacher pre-assesses students to determine their entry levels related to the knowledge, understanding, and skills specified as essential for the unit. The teacher gathers some information about student interests and learning preferences in ways that have direct application to the unit. As a result of the pre-assessment data, the teacher identifies and plans to address important precursor knowledge and skills with which some students will need help to achieve the desired results for the unit.

These will become essentials for students who lack them—in addition to the knowledge and skills specified as essential for the unit. These students will also, of course, work with the unit's enduring understandings. Also as a result of the pre-assessment, the teacher identifies some students who have already mastered skills and acquired knowledge she plans to teach in the unit.

She will plan to provide these students with alternate work when appropriate to ensure their continuing growth. They will also work with the unit's enduring understandings. Two students have Individualized Education Programs that require attention to skills not included as essential for the unit.

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The teacher notes those as well and plans to address them in partnership with the special education teacher. Both of these students will also work with the unit's enduring understandings. When students are asked to read the health text, the teacher offers or provides supported reading for students who have difficulty with text material e. When key vocabulary is introduced, the teacher provides key word lists with simple definitions and icons or illustrations for English language learners, inclusion students, and others who struggle with vocabulary.

The teacher ensures that students who do not speak English fluently have access to some means of bridging the student's first language and English. Such approaches might include student groupings that include a student who speaks both languages, dual-language dictionaries, Internet sites on the topic in the student's first language, opportunities to brainstorm in a first language before writing in a new language, or writing in the new language followed by conversation and editing in the student's first language.

The teacher provides or suggests resources at a range of reading levels and at varying degrees of content complexity so that all students have access to materials that are appropriately challenging for their needs. The teacher uses small-group instruction to conduct the concept attainment lesson and categorization activity only with students for whom the pre-assessment indicates a need to establish the concept of food groups. In class discussions and student discussion groups, the teacher makes certain to connect enduring understandings with a variety of student experiences, cultures, interests, and perspectives.

The teacher uses a variety of techniques such as Think-Pair-Share and random calling on students to ensure that everyone has the opportunity and expectation to contribute to class understanding. When appropriate for particular students, the teacher scaffolds student responses through techniques such as cueing students about upcoming questions and asking students to build on one another's ideas. On occasion, the teacher provides varied homework assignments when appropriate to ensure that student time is effectively used to address their particular needs.

When the speaker comes, the teacher asks a student who does not sit and listen well to be responsible for videotaping the session. The teacher models how to read and interpret food labels briefly for the whole class and then offers a mini-workshop for students who want or need additional practice with the labels before beginning the related task. The teacher makes consistent use of small-group instruction based on formative or ongoing assessment data to find alternate ways of teaching to clear up misconceptions for some students, demonstrate application of skills for some students, and extend the unit's challenge level for some students.

Such groups are flexible in composition and reflect the fluid nature of learning in a classroom. When ongoing or formative assessments indicate that a student has mastered particular skills, the teacher ensures that the student works with alternate assignments that are relevant, interesting, and challenging for those students.

The teacher invites students to propose alternate ways of accomplishing goals beyond those she provides to students. The teacher offers periodic miniworkshops with specific students sometimes invited to attend on skills or topics with which students may experience difficulty as they work or on skills or topics designed to push forward the thinking and production of advanced learners.

The teacher offers students the option of working alone or with a partner when feasible so that students may work in a way that's most comfortable and effective for them. The teacher uses rubrics with elements and criteria focused on key content goals as well as personalized elements designed to appropriately challenge various learners and cause them to attend to particular facets of the work important to their own development.

At this stage in instruction, she introduces the rubrics to students so that they are familiar with them and with their requirements when they begin work with their products or assessment tasks. The teacher tiers activities when appropriate so that all students are working toward the same content goals but at different degrees of difficulty so that each student works at an appropriate challenge level.

The teacher offers students varied modes of exploring or expressing learning when appropriate. The teacher gives quizzes orally to students who need to have questions read aloud. Students who need additional time to write answers take the quizzes in two parts on two days. The teacher continues to ensure that students who do not speak English fluently have access to some means of bridging their first language and English. Such a strategy might include student groupings that include a student who speaks both languages, dual-language dictionaries, Internet sites on the topic in the student's first language, opportunities to brainstorm in a first language before writing in a new language, or writing in the new language followed by conversation and editing in the student's first language.

The teacher invites students to propose alternate ways of accomplishing assessment goals beyond those she provides to students. The teacher provides some options for varied ways to express the desired outcomes. The teacher guides or directs the work of one or more small groups for students who need adult guidance periodically throughout their product or assessment work.

The teacher offers students the option of working alone or with a partner when appropriate so that students may work in a way that is most comfortable and effective for them. The teacher provides optional planning templates or organizers to guide students' product or assessment work. It's important to reiterate that it is not our intent to suggest that any teacher would make all of these modifications in a given unit, but rather to illustrate many ways a teacher can adapt a high-quality curriculum plan to address the varied learning needs of students with the goal of maximizing the possibility of success for each student in achieving the unit's desired outcomes.

Now it's useful to take a look at how a specific portion of the nutrition unit might be differentiated using some of the general approaches noted here—and some other approaches to differentiation as well. In addition to drawing upon a range of more generic approaches to addressing a range of student readiness needs, a teacher can examine any task or assessment to determine whether some students might benefit from a differentiated version of the work and how the work might be modified to benefit particular learners.

Following is a summary of one assessment task in the nutrition unit and differentiated versions of the task the teacher might develop in response to student readiness, interest, and learning profile needs. The adaptations reflect the kinds of needs revealed in the unit's pre-assessment and formative assessments. The example illustrates how a teacher can take a planned assessment and modify it to address varied readiness levels, particular student interests, and a range of learning profile preferences without departing from the unit's essential goals.

Again, it is not the intent of the examples to suggest that a teacher should use all of the options but rather to show how differentiating even a well-constructed task might make it more effective for particular students. The Original Activity Not Differentiated Because our class has been learning about nutrition, 2nd grade teachers in our school have asked our help in teaching their students about good eating. Create an illustrated brochure to teach the 2nd graders about the importance of good nutrition for healthful living.

Use cut-out pictures of food and original drawings to show the difference between a balanced diet and an unhealthy diet. Show at least two health problems that can occur as a result of poor eating. Your brochure should also contain accurate information and should be easy for 2nd graders to read and understand. Differentiated Versions of the Activity To address readiness needs Students who are having difficulty with the basic principles of nutrition and the consequences of nutritional decisions, as well as with reading and writing, will complete the original version.

Students who have a basic understanding of principles of nutrition and their consequences will have a similar version that asks them to write their brochures for elementary students who are interested in becoming healthy middle schoolers. They will also be asked to present at least six essential nutritional guidelines for the elementary students in their brochure.

Following these guidelines should make it more likely the students will become healthy middle schoolers. Rather than use cut-outs and drawings, students will be asked to develop icons that represent the key guidelines for good nutrition and help call attention to the meaning of the guideline that they represent. Students who are very advanced in their knowledge and understanding of the vocabulary and principles of good nutrition and who are advanced readers will be asked to develop a brochure to be used in a pediatrician's office for young people between the ages of 10 and 16 who visit the office—and for the parents of these young people.

The brochure should offer accurate and important information and guidance about nutritional decisions, doing so in ways likely to catch the attention of the audience and to be memorable to them rather than boring them or being a turn-off to the topic. Students in the class who are very nutrition-savvy and have a strong interest in the topic will design a specialty brochure for distribution at a health center, aimed at adolescents and their parents who already pay a lot of attention to nutrition at home and who want to become more sophisticated in their decision making.

Their brochure should be accurate and attractive, and also aimed at a knowledgeable audience. To tap student interests Students have the option to include in their brochures some nutritional information about specific roles or groups that they are interested in thinking about, as well as the nutritional needs of those groups. For example, specific nutritional guidance for runners, football players, teenagers, people with allergies or asthma, models, and pilots would enable students to move from more general information to particular needs and to see how information applies to varied individuals and groups.

To assist with this aspect of the work, the teacher convenes groups of students with a similar interest focus to share ideas as they complete their brochures.

Students have the option of completing the task for students whose school is in a culture other than the United States and in which they have a particular interest e. To address student learning preferences Students are given a choice of several ways that their knowledge, understanding, and skill might be demonstrated.

For example, instead of having only the option of a brochure, students might be invited to complete the task in the form of annotated storyboards for a series of public service announcements, a three-part column in a magazine for students of a specified age, an essay on a Web site, or a position paper to be shared with the managers of a school cafeteria. Students have the option of working alone or with a team on the design of their product, although they must ultimately complete the product alone.

All of these possible modifications—and many other options not described here—have two primary purposes: 1 to ensure maximum growth for the full range of learners in achieving important curricular outcomes and 2 to provide flexible yet valid evidence of student understanding. With success in mastering important ideas and skills comes a whole array of other benefits—among them a sense of self-efficacy, an appreciation of the power of knowledge, a realization of one's power as a learner, and a sense of belonging and contributing to a community of learners. Powerful curriculum is essential in effective classrooms—and so is the capacity to connect each learner to that curriculum in a way that succeeds for the learner.

Backward design addresses the former and differentiation the latter. Both elements must work, and work in concert, for schools to effectively serve the full array of students entrusted to them. What should we see when teachers have integrated the principles and practices of Understanding by Design and Differentiated Instruction into the fabric of their classrooms? This list may seem daunting, but we would not expect to see every one of these indicators on every single visit to a classroom. Nonetheless, we believe that teachers who understand and embrace the key ideas of UbD and DI will naturally and consistently seek to integrate them into their repertoire.

Over time, a growing number of such indicators will become the norm. Each student is treated with dignity and respect. Each student feels safe and valued in the classroom. Each student makes meaningful contributions to the work of the group. There is a balanced emphasis on individuals and the group as a whole.

Students work together collaboratively. Students are grouped flexibly to ensure attention to both their similarities to and differences from peers. Evidence indicates that varied student perspectives are sought and various approaches to learning are honored. The big ideas and essential questions are central to the work of the students, the classroom activity, and the norms and culture of the classroom. There are high expectations and incentives for each student to learn the big ideas and answer the essential questions. All students have respectful work—that is, tasks and assessments focused on what matters most in the curriculum, tasks structured to necessitate high-level thinking, and tasks that are equally appealing and engaging to learners.

Units and courses reflect a coherent design; content standards, big ideas, and essential questions are clearly aligned with assessments and learning activities. There are multiple ways to take in and explore ideas. Multiple forms of assessment allow students to demonstrate their understanding in various ways.

Teacher, peer, and self-evaluations of student products or performances include clear criteria and performance standards for the group as well as attention to individual needs and goals. The unit or course design enables students to revisit and rethink important ideas to deepen their understanding. The teacher and students use a variety of resources. The textbook is only one resource among many. Resources reflect different cultural backgrounds, reading levels, interests, and approaches to learning.

The teacher informs students of the big ideas and essential questions, performance requirements, and evaluative criteria at the beginning of the unit or course and continues to reflect on those elements with students throughout the unit. The teacher helps students connect the big ideas and essential questions of the unit with their backgrounds, interests, and aspirations.

The teacher hooks and holds students' interest while they examine and explore big ideas and essential questions. This approach includes acknowledging and building on the variety of student interests in the class. The teacher helps students establish and achieve personal learning goals in addition to important content goals for the class as a whole.

The teacher uses a variety of instructional strategies and interacts with students in multiple ways to promote deeper understanding of subject matter for each student. The teacher uses information from pre-assessments and ongoing assessments to determine skills needs, check for understanding, uncover misconceptions, provide feedback for improvement, and make instructional modifications.

The teacher routinely provides for student differences in readiness, interest, and mode of learning. The teacher uses a variety of strategies to support students' varying needs for growth in reading, writing, vocabulary, planning, and other fundamental skills that enable academic success.

The teacher uses a variety of resources more than only the textbook to promote understanding.

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The teacher provides meaningful feedback to parents and students about students' achievement, progress, and work habits. Students can describe the goals big ideas and essential questions and the performance requirements of the unit or course. Students can explain what they are doing and why i. Students can explain how their classroom functions and how its various elements work to support success of each learner and of the class as a whole. Students contribute actively to effective functioning of classroom routines and share responsibility with the teacher for making the class work.

Students are hooked at the beginning and engaged throughout the unit as a result of the nature of the curriculum and the appropriateness of instruction for their particular learning needs. Students can describe both the group and individual criteria by which their work will be evaluated.

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Students are engaged in activities that help them learn the big ideas and answer the essential questions. All students have opportunities to generate relevant questions and share interests and perspectives. Students are able to explain and justify their work and their answers. Students are involved in self- or peer assessment based on established criteria and performance standards.

Students regularly reflect on and set goals related to their achievement, progress, and work habits. Understanding by Design is a sophisticated planning process. Differentiated Instruction is also a complex process. It demands continual attention to the strengths and needs of learners who not only change with the passage of each year but evolve during the school year as well. It requires the capacity to create flexible teaching-learning routines that enable academically diverse student populations to succeed with rich, challenging academic content and processes, and to create learning environments that are both supportive and challenging for students for whom those conditions will differ.

For instance, much has been written over the years regarding racial inequality, but does this variable contribute to the Opportunity Gap narrative between first generation and non-first generation college students? Without question, it does. Racial demographics in the United States are changing rapidly and contribute to the Opportunity Gap. Think again. The Opportunity Gap also raised its ugly head concerning household incomes segmented by race.

These figures represent relative prosperity. This sharp difference is at the very heart of the Opportunity Gap. It also contributes to their time constraints to do so. In , the College Board revealed that Only When comparing access to desktop and laptop computers, a If a learner does not have access to technology in the modern Digital Age, should anyone be surprised that the Opportunity Gap breeds inequality at the post-secondary education level?

But do these variables also contribute to students not being as fully prepared for the rigors of university coursework as their more advantaged peers? The Opportunity Gap is extraordinarily powerful and holds learners back. I believe it is fundamentally dangerous to the long-term prosperity of our nation to ignore this reality. Institutions of higher education must embrace a corrective course of action immediately. We can't afford to avoid the Opportunity Gap challenges that we face or issue vague promises any longer. Our ability to foster successful student outcomes depend on it.

However, an examination of first generation college students lends itself to a more concise definition. The Awareness Gap is simply the gulf between what students should know to have a successful undergraduate journey and what they do know. This barrier to success does not exist within a bubble. In fact, the Awareness Gap is a natural and direct consequence of the Opportunity Gap. Their destructive partnership amplifies the adverse impacts that each gap contributes individually to students.

A fundamental difference between first generation students and those who are not, rests in the fact that non-first generation students have access to parents who have successfully navigated college before them. It feels almost too obvious to point out that this distinction not only contributes to the Opportunity Gap but the Awareness Gap as well. Consider this simple example: a young child who wants to learn how to ride a bicycle. Most of us who mastered this skill learned from our parents or another family member.

But what if this child's parents didn't know how? Who would teach this skill? Would we expect the child just to pick it up and hope for the best? The same logic is transferable to higher education. First generation students are significantly disadvantaged in contrast to their peers. For instance, would a first generation college student instinctively know where to find the resources to pay for his or her degree or the actual cost of education once financial aid is applied?

Moreover, do such students know that federal assistance exists or how to ask for it? The Awareness Gap plays a significant role in this outcome. Data issued by the U. Data that links these percentages directly more directly to first generation students either don't exist or have not been released by the federal government. Anecdotally, it's an obvious connection. The parents of non-first generation students are more likely to know that they should apply for aid.

The Awareness Gap also negatively impacts a first generation student's fundamental understanding as to what financial aid is and what types of assistance is available to help fund an education. This lack of knowledge is amplified by the Opportunity Gap — if parents do not have insights into financial matters, the odds increase that their children will not either. The Awareness Gap also contributes to student debt. These financial burdens are rising rapidly and it affects us all.

In , less than half of students graduated with student loan obligations. Most of us know that tuition costs are skyrocketing.