Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien. Voltaire, Dictionnaire Philosophique

“In other words, once something is good enough to do the job it's designed for, the worst thing you can do is to keep delaying its release till it's perfect. A related idea is that once it's good enough, you've probably got more important things to do than to keep tweaking the little imperfections. People who aren't satisfied with good enough sabatogue their own efforts by failing to benefit from the good enough work that they do."
from a site about website development

Do the simplest thing that could possibly work.

There is a sweet spot in setting standards. Too low or too high can be disastrous.

TheBestIsTheEnemyOfTheGood does not promote mediocrity, it (paradoxically) promotes the best that can be done in a given situation. Sometimes we aim very high -- unrealistically high. When the dust settles, we find that we would have done better if we would have aimed lower!

With regards to yesterday's grid meeting, it is my thinking that you all fall well enough within the ballpark to have teachers do the same exercise as we did yesterday. Keep in mind the "resolution" issue. We're working with the equivalent of a low resolution microscope (not very good). Improving resolution (i.e., improving the precision of the performance expectations, attaching rubrics, including student work, etc.) should always be part of our school-improvement plan. But school improvement plans should not be mixed up with getting to work NOW with what we've got at the resolution we currently have.

Year One: No grids at all. Just credit for classes.
Year Two: No grids in use. Beginning to be developed in performance expectations. Credit was again given for classes or teacher discretion in Explorations.
Year Three:
Semester One: Mapping past credits onto grids just as a record-keeping exercise.
Semester One and Two: Roughly trying to capture current work and working dynamically with grids to get work recorded onto grids.

[years of intervening work]

Some day in the future: Students have complete control over their progress using the performance expectations (rewritten with precision) and the grids to move towards graduation.

Don't lose sight of this being a process and don't demand more, especially if it hurts the students, that the tool is not refined enough to deliver. At the same time, keep developing school improvement plans that will refine the tool.

Hope that makes sense.


Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Push to collect data

Michael writes:

Hopefully this reinforces Al's previous post.

In February, staff were required to conference, maintain conferencing records and collect data on credit accumulation. To date, one-quarter through this final semester, only two staff members have provided data. One is on the leadership team and one is not. The fact that the leadership team is not getting this data together is a big problem.

The problem now in late March is the lack of data regarding student progress and correlation to conferencing. We have to look at how we’re doing and ground it in data. We can’t do that if the data isn’t collected and provided. Please do that.

What I have now is limited to two crews. This data is based on progress of students between January 31st and March 28th.

Crew #1
5 undercredited 11th graders

Past Record (data from Semester 1)
5/5 earned less credit than their average earning power.
5/5 increased their burden (have more to do per semester than in the past)
1/5 fell off track (previously on track)

Based on 20 class days since January 31st (data from 1/31 through 3/28)

5/5 are earning more credit than they did last semester
5/5 are earning more credit than their past average earning power
3/5 increased their burden
2/5 meeting or decreasing burden – moving from off-track to on-track

Correlation to conferencing: unknown. No conferencing statistics provided.

Crew #2
Information was provided in aggregate form. That is, overall 14 students have earned a total of 8 credits in the first 20 days. Not broken out per student although range is earnings of 0-2 credits per student in first 20 days.

When this aggregate earnings is compared to aggregate earnings for past semester’s undercredited 11th graders, we see no significant difference in earning. That is, students on average earned 2.25 credits last semester and projecting from this current report will earn 2.42 credits per student.

Every student in this group has had at least one conference. Each student has experienced 1-3 conferences.

Sunday, March 27, 2005


Al Writes:


I’m feeling like we are not acting like a team, nor are we sticking to what we say we’re going to do. I feel like we are together as a team building the k’nex tower in class and then become a bunch of independent operators when we are running the school. Here are some reasons why I think this:

  1. We said we were going to work on the undercredited 11th graders because we believed that all of our students were similarly undercredited (i.e. the 11th graders weren’t any different than any other group of kids in the school). Yet we are beginning to set up structures and practices that address the symptom of the 11th graders, instead of the disease of undercrediting (i.e. we want to start afterschool and Saturday times – some of them classes targeting performance expectations – for the 11th graders, a proposal for teaching a class during the day for the 11th graders, etc) How does this help the undercredited 9th and 10th graders? If our numbers hold true there are 85% of the 9th and 10th grade that are undercredited too! (BTW, what’s up with all the “offer classes” solutions?)
  2. In a very long meeting at the region, we said we were going to work on conferencing and grid use as leverage points to crediting. We set up the conferencing groups but then have done almost no work with them. We introduced a grid tracking sheet and then have ignored its existence for a week and a half. Now I’m just as guilty as everyone else. But what are we doing that keeps us from working on this?
  3. We have committed to conversations about the staff attendance problem. They haven’t happened. Why?
  4. Frenchy seems to be isolated. We aren’t making sure he’s with us. Just like last class, we aren’t making sure that all the members of our team are able to speak as clearly and concisely as each member of the group. Why?

I’m sure that folks could add or subtract from this list. As well, I’m sure y’all could point out how I’ve actively taken part in the aforementioned dysfunction. True, true…

The point is that I’m worried we are slipping into our old isolationist habits. (Did we ever really break them?) I think we have to figure out some way to pull together, concentrate our efforts and hold each other accountable before the year’s over. I personally do not expect Michael back in the school this year. And if we continue to fracture without him there day-to-day, I think we’ll be in a very bad spot at the end of the year.

What do you all think?


Friday, March 25, 2005

Checking in on conferencing & grids

On March 21, Marc reported the following status on use of grids amongst Explorations crew leaders:

3 crew leaders - sending grids this afternoon
1 crew leader- no updates on grids, offering learning plans instead
2 crew leaders - no updates on grids since they are using binders to chart progress
4 crew leaders - no updates on grids, nothing offered in its place
2 crew leaders- absent

I sent out the following email on March 25th in response.

It's clear we are still struggling with collecting results on conferencing and using the grids for record keeping. You each broke up the teachers into smaller groups that you were each responsible for to check in on conferencing. Please add to that task that you should check that those teachers are actively using the grids on a weekly basis. Show them how.

What I'm interested in now is the extent to which you have done these practices within your own crew. I would like each of you to tell me your status to each question:

1. Does each person in your crew have a learning plan for this quarter (whether it's foundations or explorations)?
2. How many conferences have you had with your crew members since this action was first initiated? Only count those that you recorded in your conferencing notebook.
3. What is the total credit accumulation according to your grids for your crew since January 31? Report this number as average number of credits per student (so that's a single number) and a range from lowest accumulator to highest accumulator. You would get these numbers by calculating partial credits as indicated on your grids.

So, possible responses might look like

Crew of 10 students
1. 6 have learning plans.
2. I have done 1 conference each with 3 students (total of 3 conferences recorded in the manner it was presented in where you taught something).
3. One average, my students have earned a 0.25 credits per student. The range is from 0 to 1. (This means you have grids that show this)

That's it. Please do this as soon as possible.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Minutes 03.22.03 Manager: Sue

March 22, 2005

Admin Meeting

One Minute Items:
ELL Meeting
Sue and possibly Jeff will be at a meeting tomorrow leaving around 11:45. Jeff will play it by ear.

Jeff Out Thursday
Going to HPA to see Fairness, and then to Outward Bound

March 30th LIS visit
There will be a visit. We need to make a learning walk folder for our school. Also the school wide thing they will be looking at is operations. Collectively the Building Council is thinking about this issue and are debating having an operations person who is not one of the principals.

We are having difficulty meeting with our small group. We need to do this. We are going to report back each meeting on how this is going. We will also be brainstorming ways to support each other. For example helping with coverages, and other issues that take time out. We are also considering using PD time.

After School
There are eight hours worth of per session that we can use for supporting under-credited students (priority to 11th grade). We will be seeking proposals from teachers to help us figure out what the after school program will look like.

Attendance Procedure
Marc sent out an email. It got an interesting response from Dana

Teacher Attendance
Dana’s email was great. We want to follow it up. Marc is interested in collecting data. Al was concerned about being reactive and wants us to have individual conversations with our two biggest offenders

Stevenson is going to take hats in the morning, starting next Monday morning. We are going to see how it goes and then determine policy. Jeff will tell crews today, Al is going to talk to Hamilton about enforcement on our floor, and he is going to talk to Mike about the policy and provision him with a bag and stickers to label hats that are confiscated.

Task analysis
Liz suggestion – “teach teachers to teach kids to teach themselves”
Research Groups – Work session on creating the sourcebook. This is our choice for Wednesday – Marc will be facilitating.

Impact Report Out
Dov reported back on our Impact status. We are very close to moving into phase one of the phase down portion of the protocol. We have met on criteria and have not yet met with a second. If you want the details, I have the documentation and am happy to share it and explain it if necessary. Lucille was concerned that we will lose the police presence in the building as we move into phase one. Peter seemed to think that the crime statistic will keep us on the Impact list forever.

Grid Use – saved for next meeting
Retreat – saved for next meeting

Minutes distributed by Sue

Minutes 03.21.03 Manager: Sue

1. ConferencesJeff has volunteered to send out an email that reminds folks to calltheir crew parents and to make appointments. The email will have aplace a special priority on making sure 11th grade parents come toclass.We are also considering what those particular conferences will belike. We are discussing the graduation plan and having parents andstudents sign it. We are also trying to think of other things formsthat will help to drive a sense of urgency home to parents as well asstudents.

2. Afterschool and Saturday extra helpMarc is looking into the budget to see if there is money for thedevelopment of a program to help under-credited 11th gradersdemonstrate performance expectations. The program will be organizedmore like workshops or classes directed at particular performanceexpectations.

3. Hallways, Hats, Attendance (teachers), Keeping track of attendanceThis is a big conversation we have been having re: how kids areinteracting with adults in the building (hats and hallways), thenthere were 7 adults absent today, and the last issue is the reportingof attendance to Shirley and the inconsistencies that are cropping up.

4. The other thing we talked about what Frenchy's desire to work withthe dance group and to work with kids who are "at risk". He will be writing up a proposal. Similarly, I have emailed Priya who had the idea for Wednesday crew. If she is still interested in the idea, shewill be writing up a proposal for that scheduling experiment.If you have any questions or other ideas, either let someone know orput them on the agenda for tomorrow. Sue.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

SMART Process

Message from Marc Siciliano after SAM / Baruch participants visited the Bronx Guild.

Great day. I'm certainly excited about the data collected and the ideasdiscussed. As expected, we're left with the "now what?" action steps thatreally speak to progress and accountability.I originally planned to use the attached document in my work with scienceteachers. Charles and I attempted it briefly -- and we both think there'spromise. I'm not sure if/how this fits, but I'm thinking of the next layerof PD using this model. We have staff-wide PD that address constructivistteaching and, more specifically, conferencing. With the teachers we'recoaching, I'm suggesting that we create specific, measurable goals relatedto their practice and student progress. Essentially, this piece becomes theindividualized PD our teachers need. The 3-step process includes thecreation of goals, an action plan and assessment.I'm sure I'm not capturing the essence of my proposal, but read the doc whenyou have a chance and see if this fits. Thoughts?

Science PD: The Goal Planning Process
File “Goal Planning.doc” Updated March 15, 2005

Goal Planning Step 1: Set Goals
The Goal Planning Process provides teachers, principals, and schools with the tools to create and manage professional learning communities within core courses, and with structures to set priorities for ongoing support and professional development for the school year. Individual teachers will set their own “implementation goals,” with a focus on their own progress. Teachers are to target three goal areas with at least one goal each: student achievement, instructional improvement, and content area literacy.

Achievement goals
Student achievement goals describe a concrete, desired change in student academic performance. Generally, teachers should use major summative assessments as a target of a goal instead of small assignments. Achievement goals might address one or more of the following:
Grade distribution, including the percentage of pass/fail at the semester break
Local assessments, including proficiency on end-of-unit exams and/or major projects or assignments
State assessments, including Regents scores
Participation rates, or attendance rates in academic activities, such as the completion rate on homework over a period of time

Instruction Goals
Instruction goals describe a change in teacher practices that can lead to increased student achievement. Instruction goals might address one or more of these areas:
Incorporating new pedagogies, such as cooperative learning, hands-on activities, or guided inquiry investigations
Curriculum development, such as creating and enacting new units of instruction focused on particular content or themes
Tool development, such as creating and enacting new rubrics for essays or projects, or new assessment systems for tracking student performance
Incorporating new technologies, such as PowerPoint presentations or graphing calculators, within existing instructional units
Actions that address special population needs, such as enhancing the support provided to ELL and special education students

Literacy Goals
Literacy goals should focus on: reading, thinking, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, or visually representing in response to text. Literacy goals may focus on either achievement or instruction (as described above), but should have a particular focus on these literacy ideals. Literacy goals might address:
Content standards regarding literacy, including enhancing ways for students to communicate and interact with informational text
Specific teacher or student actions that address a component of: comprehension, fluency, word knowledge, and writing

The SMART Process
First, goals should be driven by data about the school and the students that learn there. They should explicitly address gaps in performance, so that by attaining goals, gaps in student performance are closed. Second, a teacher’s implementation goals should be written in a manner so that student learning or student activities are the focus of the goal’s actions. Third, while long-term goal setting is encouraged, the goals that drive the planning process should be able to be achieved within one semester. For example, a long-term effort to lower the failure rate to 10% from 44% over three years should target a reduction of 6% per semester so that ongoing progress can be measured.

Each goal that is drafted by a teacher should be subjected to the SMART process in an effort to further hone its clarity. The SMART process has many sources and many variations, but all of them use the acronym S-M-A-R-T as a device to remind goal setters of several crucial aspects of highly effective goals. SMART stands for “specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-bound.”


For example, saying that you want to have fun this weekend is not specific, but saying that you want to go on one mountain hike of at least 8 miles is.
Saying you want your students to be better citizens is not measurable, but saying you want them to average over 82% on the department’s U.S. Constitution test is.
Saying you want your students to hand in their homework more often is not action-oriented, but saying you want to establish a new system for managing homework grading so that students take it more seriously is.
Saying you will improve Regents scores by 75% is not realistic, but saying you will increase them by 20% is.
And saying you want the Cubs to win the World Series is not time-bound, but saying you want them to win in 2005 is.

Goal Planning Step 2: Action Planning
Once each goal is set, teachers should discuss as broadly as possible the actions it will take to accomplish it. Those actions will likely group together in a logical way, and a few “key actions” will emerge as the main steps. From this discussion, the teacher will create an action plan that articulates these steps.

Key Actions
What steps or activities must teachers accomplish to achieve this goal?
What products will be created?

Key actions generally fall into four different categories, which can serve as useful prompts in planning discussions:
Materials to get or produce describe items that need to be acquired (laboratory equipment, copies of literature for students to read) or produced by the teacher (review packets for students).
Common lessons describe lessons and units that will be developed and enacted collaboratively by a few teachers.
Organizational changes describe changes in school processes or logistics that may be required to facilitate attainment of goals.
Professional development needs describe efforts to build new knowledge teachers will need in order to enact their action plans.

Timeframe and Due Dates
Teachers should determine a realistic timeframe for each key action, and identify which steps depend on other steps for their completion. Once the essential elements of the work have been described, the teacher should select specific due dates for each action.

Goal Planning Step 3: Reflection
Reflection is an ongoing and active part of The Goal Planning Process where teachers pause to take stock of their accomplishments and discuss their process for working together to make further progress. The reflection stage always begins with analysis of the results, based on specific assessment tools named during the early stages of planning. After reflection, goals and action plans may be revised and updated, so that an evolving, constantly growing cycle of improvement emerges. Broadly speaking, reflections should consist of discussions of answers to three basic questions for each goal:
Did I accomplish this goal?
If not, what were the obstacles that I have control over?
What adjustments to this goal and this action plan might help overcome these obstacles?

Formal reflections should occur each semester and will drive the continuing process of honing the plan.

Note: Plan and email message from Marc Siciliano

Monday, March 07, 2005

Strategic Planning Meeting

The Thinking in Systems Thinking - check it out for a one page synopsis.

Step 1. Constructing Hypotheses or Models

We used causal loops and system archetypes to create models that might explain the uncredited situation (our problem)

Shifting the Burden quick fixes: blaming student motivation, creating packets for easy credit
Tragedy of the Commons lots of uncoordinated individual activity limiting gains for each teacher
Fixes that Fail making one person responsible for the assessment of an individual student, banking seat time
Escalation teachers vs. students using credit vs. behavior as weapons
Drifting Goals desire to give away credits over improving instruction

Credits used as weapons.
Quick fixes preferred over improving instruction.
Isolating assessment: single person's responsibility
Credits seen as commodity
Delays, delays, delays inherent in anything that addresses fundamental problem.

Step 2. Designing a way to Test Hypotheses or Model

Variables we could consider: presence of principles of learning, conferencing events and quality, reduce performance expectations, sending PID letters, creating incentive system.

Measure outcomes we could consider: progress on grids, looking at student work, report cards, attendance

Our preference for Step 2.

Variable > Monitoring, supporting and improving conferencing.
Outcome> Progress as measured on grids

Another interesting thing to do

Variable > PID letters
Outcomes > Progress as measured by latest round of report cards

What's next? Questions. What was missing?

Some were concerned that we did yet more analysis at the expense of getting better at helping teachers with conferencing. What will we do about helping teachers with conferencing, grids and learning plans?

Our litmus test was whether or not we had something robust enough to serve us until June rather than act in day-to-day mode. Do we have that? What is it?

If the message we are sending is "we are dancing as fast as we can," what new message is replacing that? What systems, structures and decision rules will be changed? Because if none of it is changed then we will get what we have always been getting.


Sunday, March 06, 2005

Class 03.03.05 - Observations

Using the supervisory model as “coaching with a supervisory component.” (I don’t think we emphasized that this still has a supervisory component).

PreObservation: Help the teacher see purpose for himself/herself.

Opinion: It seems that the coach has to do some work to understand the purpose for herself, but this is inadequate if it stops there. The coach’s job is to make sure that in addition, the teacher is clear about her purpose.

Pushing Further: There is a purpose to “having a purpose.” What is it? The purpose of purpose seems to be a (if not the) key learning goal from Liz’s point of view. So, what is the purpose of purpose?

Observation: LowInference

PostObservation: Coach gets teacher to reflect WITH A PURPOSE. What purpose? Improving instruction? Connecting to standard?

Debrief: Michael and Nell’s purpose was less to focus on the “purpose of purpose” and more to focus on the potential for using this traditional supervisory sequence as a coaching tool. Therefore, our debrief questions were focused on “What’s hard about implementing this as coaching in your school?”
Bayard Rustin: Seen as an obligation. Lack of faith that it serves higher purpose.

HPA: Lots of different observation modes in play / rarely need to put on supervisory hat. (Was the implication that it’s not hard at HPA…it’s already being done through a variety of mechanisms?)

Bronx Guild: Too many inputs (DoE mentors, TF mentors, etc.), Resistance from…..(fill in the blank)

Hillcrest: Not enough time.

By the way, the Autonomous Zone group has been using and studying the book
Helping Teachers Learn


Class 03.03.05 – Messaging and Decision Rules

Problem Statement: 85% of our 11th graders are undercredited.

Why is this a problem? The message “out there” is that kids should graduate in 4 years.

Why is that a problem? It hurts our viability (invites mandates and micromanaging)

Name of disease? Arrogance (although I still have difficulty with this one – see earlier post…I prefer fear, uncertainty)

So, everyone is acting in accordance with some message. What would that message be?

Message? “This is as good as it gets. The model takes time. We’re dancing as fast as we can.”

What would we have to believe for this message to be true?

Belief? Time does not matter.

What structures and decision rules support this belief? (This bears further fleshing out as we had limited time by design)

SYSTEM: Distribution
DECISION RULE: 20-30 minutes after lunch is enough time for crew.

SYSTEM: Incentive
STRUCTURE: Banking Seat Time
DECISION RULE: It’s okay if you get it later.

SYSTEM: Information
STRUCTURE: IEPs arrive or don’t
DECISION RULE: IEPs aren’t useful – file and forget

SYSTEM: Assessment
STRUCTURE: Up to crew leaders to oversee progress
DECISION RULE: We’ll get it from the subject area teachers anyway.

Others (couldn’t categorize)
Kids will educate themselves and we don’t have to know them.
60% of time is outside of school and it’s not academic time.
My son is in karate.

What messages could be sent that would impact one of the above decision rules? We looked at “seat time is banked” and “it’s okay if you get it later.”

Possible alternative messages

You have to get it now. It’s not okay to get it later.
Just give them 10 credits each year. (message: don’t worry about the credits)
Give them all 40 credits on day one. (message: don’t worry about the credits)
Don’t be concerned with 4 year graduation rate and tell everyone (message: time doesn’t matter and we’re explicit about it)
You have to earn credits and there are an extremely limited number of performance expectations this is tied to. (message: you have to earn it but it’s not a big deal).

By the way, why bother with all this stuff? Check out

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Credits - Thought Experiment2

How many distinct statements are in our performance expectations? Hundreds?

What if we limited each page to one statement -- only one expectation per page -- and this was tied to our 40 credits?

In that way,
1. We have a link between credits and some meaning we attach to them.
2. We have a built in metric for school improvement - how many more statements can we add for the second graduating class, the third, and so on ?
3. We have very few things to norm.

One (not the only) reason we have so many performance expectations was to give flexibility. But perhaps there are too many choices. Having too many things "up for grabs" is ultimately debilitating. It doesn't help as we intended it too, it stresses out everyone.

Check this link for a review by Orson Scott Card of the book "The Paradox of Choice" by Barry Schwartz.


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Conferencing particulars

I took the book: How's It Going: A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers by Carl Anderson and boiled it down to a 4-page crib sheet. I am hoping that having this shared document will help us focus on the instructional aspect of conferencing rather than just logging in meetings.
The guide can be found

Here's a thoughtful piece on freedom, when we find ourselves constrained by making commitments to instructional initiatives (to conferencing, for example)

“If a violin string is lying on a table loose and detached from any violin, some might suppose it “free” because it is unconstrained. But what, one should ask oneself, is it “free” to do or be? Certainly it cannot vibrate with beautiful music in such a condition of limpness. Yet if you fasten one end of it to the tailpiece of the violin and the other to a peg in the scroll, then tighten it to its allotted pitch, you have rendered it free to play. And you might say that spiritually the string has been liberated by being tied tightly at both ends. For this is one of the great paradoxes of the world to be seen and tested on every side: the principle of emancipation by discipline.”—Guy Murchie, The Seven Mysteries of Life

Credits and Philosophy (?)

Thought Experiment: What if we awarded all 40 or 44 credits or whatever students need to graduate to all the 11th graders. That's it. They are done credit-wise. (Of course, Regents must be passed).

I'll sidestep issues of motivation for the moment (i.e, the argument that they wouldn't be motivated to do anything we asked them to do --- an argument that reflects what the speaker himself or herself really thinks of students and the work we are doing in school).

The result (again if tests were passed) would be graduating a large number of kids...many of whom we would say didn't do what we really wanted them to do OR didn't learn much OR don't have the skills a high school graduate ought to have.

If you agree with this line of thinking, my next question is: so what?

So what if kids graduate at this point in time not having really done what we wanted them to do, or learning much or having skills? My own response is that it depends on (1) why the situation occurred and (2) how we relate to what we do about it in the future.

(1) Why did it occur (in this thought experiment)

IF it occurred because we have an attitude that "this is as good as it gets" and we don't have any higher expectations for our kids, then we have a problem in my opinion. This is not a school I want to be a part of.

HOWEVER, if it occurred because in our striving for constant improvement, this is what we did this time and we understand we are not yet good enough at our model, then it seems more acceptable to me that we do this. If we aren't good enough yet, someone has to pay the cost. Why should it be the student? Why should our inability translate to extra years in high school for a student? Why not bear the brunt of that cost ourselves by saying openly that of our graduating class only x % met the standards. Which brings me to....

(2) How we relate to what we do about it in the future

IF we say, there's nothing more we can do then it's a problem for me.

HOWEVER, if we use the x % of the first graduating class as a metric and set school improvement goals beyond that and hold ourselves to that then we can always get better. In 5 years we can graduate students where 90-100 % meet our standards (for example). But why should we hold ourselves to that standard for our first graduating class.

What do you think? I'm very interested in comments on this topic. Oh yeah...think of this: How different would our graduating class be (some who met and some who didn't meet the standards) from graduating classes around the city? the country? If we're worried about the consequence to the student -- what consequences and how would we prevent them if we kept kids longer?