Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Dinged for being honest?

Last week I participated in the first annual #nErDcampBC. This took place in Battle Creek, Michigan and was wonderfully organized by @colbysharp @sharpsgalore @Suz_Gibbs @BrianWyzlic @mentortexts @daydreamreader @glo & @donalynbooks. I thoroughly enjoyed #nErDcampBC!  There were so many intriguing sessions.  The second session of the day that I attended was titled Reflection with Evaluation.  This session was being led by a student from Albion College. Her name was Becca.  The group attending this session was small, but excellent.  Everyone was sharing and listening.  I was the lone administrator in the room, but I was fine with this.  My goal was to share some of the things I currently do and receive feedback.  I also wanted to hear what other schools are doing with evaluations.

The first question that was brought up for discussion was, "As teachers, are you honest with your administrator about your weaknesses?"  Becca asked the question and she then went on to share that her mom is a teacher in Detroit and her mom struggles with this.  At this point in the conversation I listened, but I also thought of Warner Elementary.

I remember this year when a teacher told me she was struggling with Everyday Math.  I remember when another teacher sat down with me and we discussed integrating technology as a way to increase engagement.  I thought back to the time when another teacher told me that standard based grading was not going as smooth as they hoped for.  I also remember a teacher openly asking me for input on reading.  I relished these conversations!  This is collaborating and being a true PLC school.

Then I listened to other teachers sitting in our session.  The stories were very different from my thoughts.  The comment that stuck out to me the most was, "I'm afraid to be honest with my principal because in the past I've been dinged on my evaluation for sharing my weaknesses."

This comment struck me as sad.  The comment also struck me as courageous. The overwhelming opinion was that teachers cannot be honest with principals for fear of being penalized for their honesty.

I pondered these responses.  What percentage of teachers are honest with principals?  I'll admit I googled this.  I couldn't find a definitive answer.  I think this raises a bigger issue: Is Honesty the best quality?  I had a great teacher growing up his name was Mr. Rod Hardy.  Mr. Hardy was my HS Gov't teacher.  I was fortunate to also have him as my golf coach.  I remember a time when Mr. Hardy talked to our class about honesty in politics.  He told us that an honest politician is tough to find, but when you find one you can be assured they are revered by the people.  He then gave examples of honest politicians, he mentioned George Washington, Abe Lincoln and a few others.  He then went on to say that our times are different.  Mr. Hardy pointed out that past generations truly valued "their" word and character meant more.  I listened intently.  Mr. Hardy and I talked often, sometimes in class and sometimes on the golf course.  I looked up to Mr. Hardy, he was a good teacher and a great person.  I'll never forget a comment he told our class, "An honest man doesn't have to remember what he said."  At first I didn't get it, but then it clicked!  

To get back on track, are teachers dinged for honestly reflecting?  I believe this is a culture question.

So how does the cycle end?  Here are my thoughts:

1)  Educators must view evaluations as a growth tool.
      - Too often I hear horror stories of Principals using evaluation as a punishment tool or as a way to force people out.  Strong administrators must have the courage to have difficult conversations.  I've learned that I must choose my words carefully, but I must be honest.

2)  Teachers must honestly reflect.
     - I attended MACUL this year.  I listened to many dynamic speakers, but I won't forget one message.  Nobody is PERFECT!  We all make mistakes.  This is true.  I do believe some teachers view themselves as A+ teachers.  I believe there are many highly effective teachers, but I would say a perfect teacher does not exist.  No one is perfect.  As I say this, I believe it is vital that teachers continuously reflect.  Through honest reflection will come growth.  Ask yourself, what went well?  What could I have done differently?

3)  Shift the culture.
    - This begins at a local level, but then it must grow.  I believe each building needs to have a growth mindset, a willingness to take risks, an open forum for collaboration, the willingness to honestly share and an administrator that is in classrooms often.  After this is established the culture must grow!  The community needs to hear "our" story.  Education is the best profession in the world!  We must share all the good and change the negative perceptions!  It starts small and builds.  Educators need to be telling "OUR" story.  If we continue to let the media or legislature tell our story we will continue to be beat up.

4)  It should NOT be about test scores.
    - Teacher evaluation, Principal evaluation, Schools and Districts should not be graded on test scores. I believe this is when things went downhill.  Standardized tests to my knowledge were never designed to be high stakes tests.  Unfortunately they are.  I don't know how, but this needs to change.  There is so much more to a child's education.  It shouldn't be about test scores.

The question was, are teachers dinged for honestly reflecting?  I believe some are.  I also believe this is a shame.  The cycle must end.  

When you sit down in the fall will you set goals that push you to improve?  When you search for PD will you be honest with what your weakness is?  Will you share your story this year?

Keeping You Up To Date:

*  This week interviews are taking place for RTI.  More to follow next week.

*  Next week I hope to interview for our open MiCI position.  More to follow next week.

*  The painting is going fantastic!  I love the camaraderie and conversation!  Huge thank you to everyone that has pitched in.  Tsk, Tsk, some of you have been hiding your artistic talent.

*  Classroom iPad pickup is scheduled on August 1st from 10am-noon or August 2nd from 10am-noon, location TBD.

Articles Worth Your Time:

Give Students a Voice Through Blogging  by +Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp

Why you should set soft goals for your classroom this year  by +Vicki Davis  @coolcatteacher

Teacher versus Class size in 10 steps  by +Anne Knock @anneknock

Teaching and Learning with Minecraft  shared by +Eric Sheninger  @NMHS_Principal

A rock star, not by choice  by +Tom Whitby  @tomwhitby

Summer learning with Ted Talks  by +Steven Anderson  @web20classroom

Ditching Desks in 2nd grade  by +Erin Klein  @KleinErin

Using Google Docs to set-up Parent/Teacher Conferences  by +Matt Gomez   @mattBgomez

6 Outdoor Educational Resources  by @EducationMatt

8 Life Quotes That Make You Think  by +Marc Chernoff   @marcandangel

I had a miniature breakdown, but it's okay  by @ShutUpRun

How to trigger students' inquiry through projects  shared by +Bill Powers  @MrPowersCMS

Window of Opportunity  by +Amber Teamann  @8Amber8

Don't Hate the Hammer  by +Tom Whitford  @twhitford

Videos Worth Watching:

Hilarious! Must see! (4 minutes)

Young Spieth on his way to Stardom! (2 min)

Amazing story! (10 minutes)

Looks aren't everything (9 min)


  1. I really enjoyed your post. Is your school district different than mine? While we all believe that test scores should not be focused on, ultimately it is what we as teachers (and as principals) are judged on. I wonder what type of pressure you receive as a principal. I know mine is pressured hard about test scores, even when we all realize this is not good practice. I think being honest about your own weaknesses is important.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. I fully understand everyone has personal opinions on evaluation, testing and reflecting.

      My view is the State is pulling the strings. Test Scores are tied to SIP, AYP, funding, etc... I don't believe it should be this way, unfortunately it is. At our district level I will say that scores matter, but I believe growth matters more.

      As far as pressure, sure I feel pressure. I feel the pressure to have students ready for the next level. I just don't think a standardized test will prepare them for the next level.

    2. I completely agree about preparation for the next level. I worry about my students and this generation of students as they enter older age. The effects could be awful.

  2. Ben,
    Great post. What resonates most with me and what I think can help improve many areas is reclaiming the narrative of American education from the myths portrayed and propagated in media, by those entities who seek to profit from high-stakes testing and the interventions it supposedly highlights the need for, and even by our own DOE. Stories are everything, and like never before we must clearly articulate and constantly share our education story so the general public can make a clearer choice of what kind of educational system they want for children. If we can do that, it's my hope we can then get all the support, respect, and trust we need to bolster and improve all other parts of the system. Thanks for sharing these powerful thoughts.

    1. Exactly Shawn! We must tell "OUR" story. I completely agree.

      Thanks for reading and sharing.

  3. Hi Ben,

    For the record, I'm always honest. :) #JustSaying

    I think that there is an approach to being honest and sharing one's weakness. I feel that when we express our weaknesses, it shows our human side. We all have weaknesses. However, when presenting our weaknesses to a person of higher rank, especially one responsible for evaluating one's performance, there is a way to present such weakness.

    When you're having a good day, it seems like all the cards are in your favor. Yet, when one small negative issue happens, it can ruin your good run. As humans, we tend to keep sad and negative emotions at the front of our minds. They tend to stick longer than positive ones. There is actually research that supports this... I fear that when a teacher presents, or shares, a weakness that could be all some may remember (not his or her strengths). However, if he or she presents that same weakness as a goal, then the idea seems like something the teacher is actively working towards, not struggling with. It's all a mind set thing... maybe it's the old business side of my background coming out...

    So, I feel it's important when presenting one's weakness, he or she should share it not necessarily as a weakness but as a professional goal. Trying to take the weakness and place it in a positive mindset will go a long way. Doing so makes the weakness seem as though it can become an opportunity... not a deficit.

    When we fail, we celebrate the chance to try again and learn from our mistakes - to get better. Failure is not necessarily a negative when approached with a proactive mindset. I think weaknesses are the same... opportunities for growth, or goals.

    Thank for sharing,


    1. Very well said Erin. You nailed it in my opinion!

      I love this quote: "Trying to take the weakness and place it in a positive mindset will go a long way. Doing so makes the weakness seem as though it can become an opportunity... not a deficit."

      I always appreciate your insight and perspective. Thank you for reading and sharing.


  4. This is an excellent post, Ben. I agree with all 4 ways you describe to end the cycle. My district used the Danielson Framework for evals last year for the first time and 10% of our eval was based on a SMART goal (data) per the new laws. At the end of the year, admin surveyed teachers to gather input to improve the process. Many teachers were concerned about setting a goal that was too aggressive and not meeting it. Some (sadly) mentioned that they are considering lowering their standards to create a goal students can reach. I am hopeful that more honest conversations will take place on this topic.

    1. Michele,

      Nice thoughts. You are correct that some teachers are very concerned about goal setting. I hope the culture shifts throughout the state and country. Thanks for reading and sharing. I hope #COLchat went well today.


  5. Your thoughts resonate with so many of us. I think in our current climate of comparison and competition, most teachers avoid vulnerability. If you haven't read Brene Brown's book, Daring Greatly, it's right up your alley. She's a shame and vulnerability researcher out of the University of Houston, and her book is powerful. Check out her TED talk.

    It's life changing kind of work!

    1. I love that you call it our "current" climate. It shows optimism that we can begin forming something better, that we're not stuck necessarily. Inspiring :)

  6. Thank you for the TED talk and book recommendation. I'll be checking it out tonight! I'm always trying to figure out better ways to approach things. I appreciate your willingness to share and recommend things to me. Thank you


  7. "I believe each building needs to have a growth mindset, a willingness to take risks, an open forum for collaboration, the willingness to honestly share and an administrator that is in classrooms often."


    I appreciate this post, especially your quote above. Staff members should feel safe in communicating their perceived weaknesses with an administrator. Effective administrators often enable teachers to reflect, take risks and find ways to improve their practice.

    Teachers aren't as willing to take risks in a building if they feel as though they aren't able to trust their administrator. I believe that all teachers have room to grow. An administrator that is able to articulate an area of growth (or weakness) appropriately will often encounter staff members that are more willing to take the next steps to improve.

  8. So glad i saw this post! Honesty is absolutely refreshing but so rare. I am still a education student and I find that the majority of my peers are leery being honest about how they feel and who they are. Why are we all so afraid? What are we afraid of? It pains me greatly to see adults trying to get along and work well together without trusting each other, especially when those adults are teachers. We only have each other; life is incredibly lonely without friends you can trust. I'm encouraged that an administrator is getting this conversation going. It revitalizes my own determination to be unafraid (but of course, totally tactful) to share my shortcomings and also ideas on how to improved school. Thank you.

  9. Hi Ben,
    Thanks for this post. As a teacher, I always found myself being honest with my administrators, because I saw their role as that of an instructional leader. I remember a time when I was struggling with a particular group of students when using new curricular materials, and I specifically asked my principal and reading specialist to observe together so that we could discuss the group and they could make recommendations to improve my instruction. I always felt that I wanted to do what was best for students, so I needed to have the best input available. That being said, I also had outstanding administrators who supported my role as a teacher and didn't
    "use" my honesty against me. Instead, they encouraged my growth and helped me to set goals to grow.

    I agree with Erin's comments above about "mindset" and want to add a term I learned this week in a professional development session. Instead of talking about strengths and weaknesses, the leader asked each of us to identify our strength and our "growth edge"; in other words, what we were going to work on this coming school year. As a team, we then looked at the strengths of each person on our team and found someone who could help us grow.

    As leaders, we need to model those growth opportunities, and as you stated, be sure that teachers aren't "dinged" for being honest.