Using Student Surveys for Professional Development and Goal Setting

The question of student evaluations came up recently at a school leadership meeting. They have been used before, but not embraced at all by the teachers. The goals, expressed by administration, would be to give teachers another tool or resource for curriculum development.

I was reminded of an assignment that I did for a graduate leadership class I am finishing at Cardinal Stritch University. We had to create 360 degree survey that was given to peers as a way of identifying  how we are viewed within the organization. I distributed and collected the surveys, tabulated the data, identified goals based on what I learned, and then created a plan to respond and improve based on what I learned. It was incredibly useful and inspired reflective, meaningful goals.

There is quite a bit of scholarly writing about the use of surveys at the college level. Some of the most interesting is written by Dr. Clayson including; Student Evaluations of Teaching: Are They Related to What Students Learn?: A Meta-Analysis and Review of the Literature, and Student Evaluations in Marketing, What is Actually Being Measured?  The gist of both articles is that students are often less than honest when filling out the evaluations. Also, it seems that the rigor of the class was negatively related to the evaluation. A reader might draw the conclusion that, based on this, there may actually be temptation to dumb down or simplify curriculum in order to keep the student reviewers happy.

Today we met again to discuss how student feedback could be gathered in a way that was useful to teachers. Reflecting on the discussion, I think we came up with three key points to consider moving forward:

  •  Teacher created questions could connect personal, professional development goals delivering useful information for each individual teacher
  • Teachers would be accountable for goal setting and progress towards improvement based on data gathered in the survey – not the survey results
  • The practice would need to start with a professional development meeting where the intent and process would be communicated and modeled

I think, based on this approach, that the surveys could be useful. I like the push to become more reflective and to use feedback in a meaningful way. I also think this process avoids the “Witch Hunt” that the old method implied to both the students and the faculty. I still wonder if the surveys should or should not be anonymous. Also, interested to see if this method improves “buy-in” from the faculty in relation to the value of the surveys in general.



Growing Leaders – Time Well Spent

We started the year differently than we have in the past. The focus of the first two weeks of school was on growing leaders and setting up the culture for the rest of the school year. Reflecting now, I think it was time well spent.

Our middle school program is housed within a high school that is almost one hundred and fifty years old. Three years ago, after looking at the needs of the community, it was determined that the school would have classes 6th – twelfth grade. The first year we had one 6th and one 7th. Last year we added 8th grade. This year we have two 6th, one 7th, and one 8th grade classroom. As we grow in numbers, we want to develop the supports needed to help our students transition into the high school grades.

Last year we developed an advisory program where the students met in small groups with teachers to talk about habits, goal setting, and personal development. I worked with 7th graders who started the year rolling their eyes and asking to go for a walk outside. By the end of the year they had mission statements and personal calendars. I learned how to be just cool enough for them to trust me and just stubborn enough that they would at least try.

This summer we consider the additional students and decided that we wanted to get things going the right way – the first time. We identified leadership as a goal to address.

We divided the students into “8-day” groups. There were representatives from each grade level in each group. This created a situation where the 7th and 8th graders could model behaviors and habits. They could also work on redefining themselves as leaders in the middle school. Everyone had a chance to get used to their new role for the new school year.

For example, 8th graders were asked to hang back and make sure the cafeteria was restored to order after our morning assembly. This was an opportunity to model leadership through service. For some this came naturally. They heard the direction and did what was asked. For others, this was not their habit. They required additional directions and explanation for why and what they were expected to do.

Another request made of those students was to help the 6th graders set up their iPads. We have a 1:1 program that takes time and energy to launch each year. The older students were able to use their skills and knowledge while pairing up with a younger student who needed to learn how to log into programs, send email, and format documents. This area was instantly embraced as the students enjoyed the opportunity to “show off.”

We also created opportunities for collaboration within the “First 8 days” program. Our art teacher asked students to illustrate one of the habits we addressed on a canvas. The canvases would be divided between the classrooms as reminders throughout the school year. It was exciting to see the small groups work through the steps of brainstorming, creating, and clean-up all taught by the students themselves. These skills will prove to be helpful in the art room as well as with our group projects as we start the year.

As we came to the end of the 8days, we teachers were tired and ready to move on to our core subjects. I wondered if we would be able to reflect and see the value in what we were doing. Late in the day on Friday, I got my answer.

A high school student walked down the hallway outside my room slamming his fist into the lockers as he went. Bang! Bang! Bang! I stepped out to see what was going on. When I returned to my students after making sure the situation was addressed they asked what was going on. I explained he was angry and needed to calm down. They asked nothing else, but someone said, “So he’s acting like a soda bottle rather than a water bottle – he needs to work on that.”

It’s still not utopia around here. Leadership through service might not resonate with some for a while. Habits are hard to develop. Sometimes we have to fail and forget to really learn. But at the end of two weeks there is a spark. Seeds have been planted and with a little attention I think good things are going to grow.

teaching takes courage

Day one of being a real live English teacher.

I set the stage last week: “You will need a book to read on Monday. I’ll take attendance by asking you what book you are reading. Bring it with you!”

For the past month I fortified myself with Twitter,  the Nerdy Book Club,  and “What are you reading?” posts. I sent out notes to parents announcing the reading challenge. I told them about good fit books and growing independent readers.

Still I had doubt… what if I have stubborn students that just will not bend? What if they just refused? What if they just won’t read?

What if I do it all wrong and the reluctant readers stay reluctant. What if the passionate readers fold to peer pressure and stop reading.

Do all teachers worry so much?

Teaching takes courage.

Second hour – I have a mix of 7th and 8th grade students. It’s the promised reading time and… they are actually doing it. They have books.

My already voracious reader has agreed to try something new – The Hobbit – she want Rick Riordan back…

Another reader pointed out that the “Lightening Thief costs $18.95 according to the book jacket, so it should be good.”

Another smiles as he begins “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” I can’t wait for him to get to the part about the thank you notes and the pants – it always makes me laugh.

I’m going to start reading,” The Tales of Beedle the Bard,” because it was donated by a students who said I would like the humor.

Teaching takes courage, trust, my own stubbornness… but for now all I have to do is model, share my passion, and be brave… I can do that…

Friday Reflection – the classroom library

What a long week it has been. I am waiting for my son to finish cross-country practice and taking a few minutes to reflect on the first two weeks of school. It’s nice to just catch my breath…

Three weeks ago I was given the opportunity to move from social studies to language arts. I loved what I taught, but this is truly an opportunity to “do what I always wanted to do when I grow-up.” Bonus – I get to it with an amazing team of co-teachers and a very supportive administration. I actually left an in-service asking another teacher if it was possible that our jobs could get better? I am that kind of happy!

All summer I have been hanging out in twitter world with the English teachers, the librarians,  and the authors. I instantly had ideas for what, why, and how I was going to tackle the world of English teacher. 40 book challenge… writer’s workshop… mini lessons… I was motivated!

Reality – after two weeks – I’m tired. 8th hour on Friday and I realize I’ve forgotten to eat anything since breakfast.

I’ve spent hours talking with students and parents about expectations and ideas. We will do the work of writers and we will try to become independent, veracious readers. I am working to establish the culture of passionate learning and stay one step ahead of the kids.

“No, you can’t turn that in yet… we are going to learn how to revise. That’s what real writer do.”

“Yes, I know it’s hard to write a poem, but we are going to give it a try.”

“Yes, I do have ideas for books you can read even if you have not read one since second grade.”

The students leave interested, wondering, tired – a lot like me.

Then a knock on the door brings a visitor with a box full of books. Books for my new library. Books for the new English teacher. Books to sort. Books I have not read. Books I read and loved. Books already being checked-out by my son who has wondered in.

And suddenly, I am not so tired after all…


Monday Reading Check – In

It’s Monday… I’ve been reading like mad, but have to slow down long enough to blog about it 🙂

Here is what I read:

  The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor – It took a few chapters, but eventually I could not put it down. I will read the rest of this series and recommend it to students. It’s Star Wars meets Alice in Wonderland – danger, action, good vs. evil, and even the hint of romance. Perfect for middle school readers.

  The Disappeared by Kim Echlin – This beautiful prose takes the reader on a journey between Canada and Cambodia. I don’t think I would suggest it for middle school – but High School would be fine – lots to think about and discuss.

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. by Kate Messner – I really liked this book. It was so moving and relevant,  yet a really fun read. This is an instant favorite!

  Capture the Flag by Kate Messner – Another note worthy book by one of my favorite authors. Great characters, a fun adventure, and just a touch of history! This will go with my “Pre- Washington D.C. Trip” suggestions for the 8th grade.

Next week I have a few professional development books to finish and I hope another batch of books to share with students.

My kids are helping me set it up my classroom library – so excited! Last week I requested gently used books be dropped off in my new classroom – I can’t wait to see what arrives, but not in any hurry to say good-bye to summer… at least not for a week or two!

Be sure to check out what other teachers and librarians are reading at Teach Mentor Text…

Innovative Learning for Youth..Check out 4-H at the Fair

Distant from the office, the cafeteria, and the gym, back in the far north-west corner of my high school, there was a room. I was in this room once. I remember a bulletin board with some information that had to do with 4-H and county fairs. I thought, probably to myself, “How there could possibly be something going on in this building that I know nothing about? Did the farm kids really get their own room? I can’t believe my mother never signed me up for any of this stuff – she signed me up for everything.”

That was it. Pretty much all I knew about 4-H in a nutshell – a quiet room in the back of the high school that provided a mystery to my imagination. Oh, I also figured the booths at the county fair, filled with all kinds of projects, had something to do with that room. The 4-H clover thing was a big clue.

I was no city girl in small town Wisconsin, but I grew up on the east side of town near the lake. While we did have cows, a horse, and a cornfield all within walking distance, somehow the 4-H experience missed my circle of experiences.

Years later, with an inherited passion for “signing my kids up,” I finally figured out what 4-H is all about. Their mission is to engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development. The name and the clover represent four personal development areas of focus for the organization: head, heart, hands, and health. The goal of 4-H is to develop citizenship, leadership, responsibility and life skills of youth through experiential learning and a positive youth development.

At the start of the fall season, my kids sign up for projects that they will work on under the guidance of trained volunteer leaders. They have done leather-crafting, book clubs, arts and crafts, air rifles, Lego building, horseback riding, bee keeping and I don’t even think we have scratched the surface of what’s available. They also attend a monthly meeting run by youth leaders. They are learning how to run a meeting, how to organize volunteer projects, and how to speak in public. The season peeks with the county fair where they show their work and have it evaluated by a certified judge. Finally, they are required to reflect on the experience with a record book that tracks their years of participation in the organization.

Along with being a mother, I am a classroom teacher who is excited to find an organization that brings together the skills and experiences that the most innovative education leaders are writing and preaching about daily. 4-H provides an opportunity for hands on learning, goal making, creating, presentation, leadership, and reflection – 21st century learning at its best.

If you’re at a county or state fair this summer – I encourage you to check it out. That dusty, hidden room in the back of the high school might be the most exciting place to be.


Anna Mae and Truman at the fair this week.


A Template for Responding to Non-Fiction Articles

I’m preparing to teach a mini class on study skills this year. There’s lots of great things to cover. I’m having a blast reading and learning and being the student so that I can model great things in the fall. I know this makes me especially nerdy – but that’s okay.

As I define the topics I want to cover, I realize that many of the articles I’ve been reading would be perfectly appropriate for my middle school students to read. Doing so would provide an opportunity:

  • to respond to non-fiction in their journals and blogs,
  • do their own investigating, and
  • provide an authentic opportunity to teach web site evaluation.

This all seems so obvious, but I am enjoying my “ahhh moment” so much that I thought I’d share the template I just created:

Reading Response Journals – Responding to Non-fiction Articles

After reading the article, use the following template to respond in your journal:

  • URL: _________________________________________________________________
  • Is the author’s contact information included? YES_____ NO_____
  • Author’s Name ____________________________________________
  • Are the author’s credentials given?  (education, position) YES_____ NO_____
  • Is there a known organization or institution associated with or sponsoring the site?  YES_____ NO_____
  • Name of organization or institution:________________________________
  • Is the Web site designed to teach you something?  YES_____ NO_____
  • Is the website an .edu, .org, .gov, or .com? _________
  • What is the purpose of the Web site? (Is it to entertain, persuade, educate, or sell?)
  • Does the author try to persuade you in any way? How?
  • Quickly try to identify the facts from the opinions. Make a list.
  • What new information did you learn?
  • Were there any photographs, charts, graphs, or diagrams that were important?
  • After reading, what unanswered questions do you have? What are you curious about?
  • What connections did you make with the information provided?
  • What is your opinion of the author’s (or interviewee’s thesis)? Do agree or disagree with the point of the article?

Okay – feedback, ideas, advise?

Traits of an ideal student – can you make a list of seven?

I’ve been thinking about what traits are important for people (students) to develop.

I wanted to keep it to seven to see if there was one for each day of the week.

I’m sharing my list  in hopes that you will share one as well.
Did I miss something? What would you add, combine, take away? (They are not in any order… just a brain storm).
  1. Creative
  2. Trustworthy / Trusting (Responsible, Obedient)
  3. Curious
  4. Reflective (Prayerful, thoughtful)
  5. Driven
  6. Positive
  7. Cooperative

It’s vacation reading Monday!


It’s Monday and I’m enjoying some beach reading at a beach on the Baltic Sea. Mix in some site seeing and this should be a great day!

I finished Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham. It was a fun, fast read- especially if you like mystery Grisham style. The only problem I see is that it ended in a cliff hanger that takes you right to the next book. If you are looking for a tidy ending you won’t find it… If you want to get kids reading a book and then immediately picking up the next I think it’s great.

Happy vacation reading to all- enjoy your week! Here is what I’m reading now…