Industry News

Improving Teacher Evaluation

The Aspen Institute’s Education and Society Program recently released a report titled “Teacher Evaluation and Support Systems: A Roadmap for Improvement.” The report identifies 10 strategies to improve teacher evaluation, acknowledging that some may be easier to implement than others. Ross Wiener, Vice President of the Aspen Institute, wrote an article for Education Week pointing out 3 of the most important strategies covered in the report. State leaders who helped the Aspen Institute compile the recommendations believe these 3 strategies hold the most promise to improve teacher evaluation.

  1. Ensure that evaluators are trained and certified to focus on professional growth, not just ratings.
  2. Allow districts some flexibility in accounting for student learning.
  3. Test and ensure the integrity of the evaluation system.

To learn more about all 10 strategies to improve teacher evaluation, click here. Which strategies will you try to implement? Would you recommend another strategy for improvement?

Danielson's Thoughts on Teacher Evaluation

In a recent Education Week article, Charlotte Danielson, author of the Framework for Teaching, wrote about her plan to rethink teacher evaluation. Danielson describes the difficulty in differentiating great teaching from good or mediocre teaching. She points out that there is also not a consensus in how individuals should be determined as a good or great teacher with states using a variety of different measures. Therefore, Danielson proposes a rethink of the way we think about teacher evaluation. If around 94% of teachers are practicing at the standard or above the standard, we should focus on their professional development with a focus on continued learning. Danielson points out four important characteristics of professional learning:

  1. It requires active engagement from the teacher, using self-reflection and assessment.
  2. Trust must be created between the teacher and the school and district.
  3. An expectation must be set that there is always something to learn.
  4. Policy and decision makers must realize that professional learning is not “One size fits all.” Often the most learning happens from colleagues.

Danielson then goes on to explain her idea for a comprehensive personnel policy to go along with these professional learning requirements. What do you think of this redesign of teacher evaluation? What would you add? What would you take away?

Providing High Quality Coaches and Mentors

“Trust is essential for a close relationship, along with willingness by both partners to reveal themselves and to risk making mistakes.” - Marcy Whitebook As Marcy Whitebook points out in a recent article, trust and experience is essential to a coaching or mentoring relationship. Whitebook is the Director at the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment in the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, and her article focuses mostly on young children.

She writes that for a successful pairing to take place, a coach or mentor must have notable experience working with young children and knowledge about adult learning and teacher development. Whitebook is careful to point out the difference between coaching and mentoring. She explains that there are important distinctions between the two. While mentors usually work on the individual development of a teacher, setting goals with that teacher and working toward them, coaches focus more on cohorts and sometimes individuals, usually with a more broad agenda for the group. In practice, more often than not, these roles become blended.

What are the other differences between a coach and a mentor? How is trust integral to either of those relationships?

Future Ready Leaders Month

April is Future Ready Leaders Month organized by the Office of Educational Technology. In an effort to support the 2016 National Education Technology Plan, the Office of Educational Technology put together a personalized set of tools superintendents can use in order to become Future Ready. images

The personalized toolkit pulls from 50 short videos that are generated after the superintendent takes a short assessment of his/her district. In the assessment, the superintendent will be asked to rate the district on each focus area of Future Ready leadership: Collaborative Leadership, Personalized Student Learning, Robust Infrastructure, and Personalized Professional Learning. Available for leaders is also a research synthesis on the Characteristics of Future Ready Leadership. The report dives deeper into practices Future Ready leaders may use to leverage technology to benefit teaching and learning.

Throughout April there are also multiple Twitter chats, including a chat on Collaborative Leadership from 8-9 PM. EST on April 6 and a discussion on Personalized Professional Learning from 7:30-8:30 PM EST on April 30.

Do you plan on joining in on Future Ready Leaders Month? How else can you be prepared to be a Future Ready leader?

Invisible Learning

“Educators do need to talk and listen to each other about the nature of learning itself. It is the essence of their identity.” -Jim Dillon In SmartBlog’s recent series on assessment and testing in education, Jim Dillon wrote a post on “invisible learning.” This term refers to the learning that takes place outside of a well-managed lesson. It’s what students can learn through play and exploration. Dillon clarifies that he doesn’t expect all learning to take this form in a school. Instead, he believes that teachers should acknowledge this learning, encourage it to happen within their classrooms, and then learn from their students on how to develop engaging lessons and spur student creativity.

Dillon’s idea for “invisible learning” came after he realized that he and one of the teachers he coached had very different ideas of the nature of teaching and learning. He happened to be in the teacher’s Kindergarten classroom one day when students had down time to play and explore. The teacher thought Dillon had nothing to observe, while Dillon was eager to see all of the learning taking place outside of a traditional lesson.

Dillon argues for educators to talk about learning and the different forms learning can take. What do you think about “invisible learning?” Let us know in the comments below!

Jim Dillon's full post can be found here.

14 States #GoOpen

Several weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Education hosted the #GoOpen Exchange, a summit focusing on open educational resources, or OERs, and the transition many districts and states are making to using high quality OERs in the classroom. Leaders from 14 states and 40 school districts across the country met in Marin County, California and decided to go open. GoOpen-States-V2-480w

OERs include lesson plans, worksheets, video, and even textbooks and other course materials. The increased use of these types of resources will allow for more sharing and adaptation across educators, but it will also allow teaching resources to keep pace with changes in research around learning and teaching.

The resource we will see most affected is textbooks. Currently, schools must pay exorbitant amounts for textbooks that are static for the duration of their use. OERs would allow those materials to ebb and flow, empowering teachers to adapt and students to interact more with the resources.

To read more about the #GoOpen Exchange, click here. Is your state a member of the inaugural group? How else can openness affect teaching and learning in schools?

Broader, Bolder Approach to Education

Broader, Bolder Approach to Education is a project of the Economic Policy Institute that aims to “better the conditions that limit many children’s readiness to learn.” The project recognizes the impediment that poverty has on a student’s ability to learn, and their policy agenda aims to lessen that impact in order to give all children equal access to education. Elaine Weiss, the program’s national coordinator, recently wrote a piece for The Washington Post outlining how education reform can do just that.images The Broader, Bolder Approach to Education has already made huge strides since its launch in 2008. Education policy has begun to shift more towards strategies focusing on student poverty, with efforts out-of-school, within school, and among communities. These policies include focuses on:

  • Out-of-school: High-quality early childhood education, health and nutrition, before- and after-school activities, and summer programs
  • Within school: Equitable funding, teacher and leader quality and support, charter school accountability, and holistic, supports-based accountability systems
  • School-community connections: Policies that increase integration and support community engagement

To learn more about the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, click here, and to read Weiss’s piece in The Washington Post, click here.

Shadow a Student Challenge

Can student shadowing foster empathy and make students feel valued? From February 29 to March 4, school leaders across the country are encouraged to sign up to shadow a student for a day in the Shadow a Student Challenge.url School Retool, IDEO, and teamed up to bring this project to life under the belief that the week would help school leaders to rethink the student experience by (literally) stepping into a student’s shoes. From dressing like a student to riding the bus to going to class, the challenge is to leave behind usual leadership duties to truly understand the experiences students have each day.

After the shadowing, leaders are invited to reflect among the community and to participate in a “Hacktivity,” which is a short exercise designed to help a leader think through a big idea and create a hack based on that idea. With that in mind, School Retool reminds us that, “The goal isn’t to get it perfect – it’s to learn, fast.”

So far 726 school leaders in 44 US States and 13 countries have signed up for the challenge. Will you be in that number? Let us know below how else you can rethink the student experience.

Instructional Coaches Integral for Success

“Working with an instructional coach doesn't mean that teachers are weak, it actually shows how strong they are because they believe they can always get better. Great instructional coaches that have an impact on teaching and learning in the classroom learn as much from the teacher they work with as the teacher learns from the coach.” - Peter DeWitt In a recent Education Week article, education leader Peter DeWitt explains just why teachers need instructional coaches, and how the things instructional coaches learn from teachers benefit schools as a whole. He describes being a high school and college runner, and why coaches were integral to his success.

DeWitt argues that instructional coaches are both essential and incredibly helpful to the success of both developing and developed teachers. He points out that, according to Jim Knight, a teacher will retain up to 90% of information learned alongside his/her coach. He also points out the reciprocal relationship that teachers and coaches can have, with coaches learning just as much from teachers.

How has your instructional coach helped your instruction? As an instructional coach, what do you learn from your teachers? To read the full article, click here.

PLAY Dates for PD

Why not treat professional development like children treat playdates? Leave time to explore, practice, and share with one another. Angie de Guzman, a Maryland State Department of Education employee had this idea, and decided to implement it for educators in her state. Angie wanted to create a day of personalized learning and professional development for teachers, so she decided to iterate on the idea of a P.L.A.Y. (People Learning and Asking Why (y)) Date. PLAY dates are different because the idea is that there is no set agenda or experts. Educators simply explore different tools and have time for collaboration and questions for the facilitator.

At Angie’s first event, 200 educators came to try different tools and share insights. Activities were broken up into five different rooms, and the events are open, with educators encouraged to move freely throughout the rooms to explore.

Could you see your educators benefitting from a PD PLAY Date? Share your thoughts below!

Can Self Directed Growth Plans Help?

Have you ever thought about how a Self-Directed Growth Plan could impact a teacher’s progress? A Self-Directed Growth Plan is a plan that keeps differentiated learning in mind. Teachers build their plans around measurable objectives, and the plan can take the form of many different types of activities, including curriculum design and peer review, among others. In a recent EdSurge article written by Adam Fried of Harrington Park School District, he explains how the use of these plans affected his school district in a positive way. When the district realized they needed a more individualized approach to teacher growth, they brought in teachers and administrators to develop a way to rebuild the observation process.


The plans are made each year within different content or grade levels, and teachers work in cohorts to execute the plans together. Plans progress and pivot throughout the school year and are presented to a panel at the end of the year for final commentary.

Could you see your school using Self-Directed Growth Plans for teacher development and coaching? Let us know what you think!

The Importance of Data Dashboards

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Education Technology Plan was just released, and a major focus of the plan was data dashboards. The USDOE urged states, districts, and education technology companies to develop and use data dashboards to “integrate information from assessments, learning tools, educator observations, and other sources to provide compelling, comprehensive visual representations of student progress in real time.” Dashboards can help inform goal-setting and track progress, and they can also blend data from multiple sources to advise decisions made in the classroom. The use of data dashboards is growing, but according to the USDOE you’ll see them popularize in the coming year.NETP

Whetstone utilizes data dashboards to inform our users up-front of trends in observation frequency, incremental teacher growth, and overall teacher effectiveness,. These dashboards roll up in real time, allowing leaders to stay up to date with what is going on in the classroom.

While the National Education Technology Plan focuses mostly on student data dashboards, what other type of data do you think is important to view on a dashboard? What are the implications of seeing teacher coaching and observation data displayed within a dashboard? Leave your comments below!

Trends in the Trends of 2016

Happy New Year! From personalized learning plans to virtual reality, it seems everyone wants to weigh in on education trends for 2016. Lucky for you, Whetstone has combined some of these articles into a “Trends in the Trends of 2016”.

Education Dive compiled a list of “5 K-12 trends to watch in 2016” that lists budget crises, personalized learning plans, holistic approaches to learning, the end of PARCC, and charter school accountability as trends to look out for.

Edtech Magazine focuses more on education technology trends in their article, “5 Tech Trends that Could Supercharge Education in 2016”. The article reviews emerging technologies and how they have and will continue to impact education. Among the list is wearable technology and interactive technology.

Lastly, NPR weighed in on “6 Education Stories to Watch in 2016”. Their predictions ranged from a closer eye on charter schools to predictions on the effect of the new Every Student Succeeds Act.

What do you predict will be an education trend in 2016? Add your thoughts in the comments below. And stay tuned to see which of these trends will progress in the new year...

The Importance of Teacher Evaluation and Accountability

A recent TechCrunch article by Lucy Boyd delves into a topic near and dear to Whetstone’s heart, arguing that “Edtech Should Focus on Teacher Evaluation and Accountability”.   While there has been a recent increase in interest over teacher evaluation and accountability, investment dollars have not followed. Investments in years past have mostly been on student facing platforms, higher education, and MOOCs, leaving out more teacher or school-leadership facing technologies.

Male teacher standing before students (8-10) with hands raised

There are a few teacher facing platforms, however, they focus more on teacher training that occurs before teachers enter the classroom. This is despite the demand for platforms that focus on teachers once they are in the classroom, e.g., teacher coaching and development, accountability, and evaluation.

The article mentioned Whetstone along with Teaching Channel and Kickboard as leaders in this space, and argues for schools and investors to expand their focus to include this type of product. To read the full article, click here, and to learn more about how Whetstone is getting involved, stay tuned for our blog series on teacher coaching.

A Necessary Change In the Teaching Profession

“If we do not change the perception of the teaching profession, schools will not be able to recruit high-achieving young people into the classroom.” This is a quote from The Center for American Progress’s recently released report titled “Smart, Skilled, and Striving: Transforming and Elevating the Teaching Profession”. In this report, the authors argue that while an incredible transformation in the teaching profession has been made over the past century, a lag in the progression of school systems has hindered the success of teachers in their professions.

A major issue holding teachers back from their potential lies within the perception of the teaching profession, as noted in the quote above. So what can we do to elevate our teachers in the US to make them even more effective educators? The report cites a list of suggestions, including:

  • Supporting teachers’ professional development from the beginning of their time in the profession -- and improving the quality of that professional development.
  • Giving teachers opportunities to take on leadership positions, modeling other professions.
  • Creating a hierarchy in which school leaders have the resources and training needed to encourage their teachers.
  • Read more of The Center for American Progress’s suggestions here.

Read the report here, and comment below on how you think we can best support and elevate our teachers in their profession.