Growing critical thinkers and problem solvers

c2Has someone ever told you that you need to be more creative?  I hear it all the time.  We need students who will be creative problem-solvers.  Makes sense, but, exactly how does one foster creativity?  Is it something you’re just born with or can it be developed?

In our last blog post titled The Seven Survival Skills we looked at the information In Tony Wagner’s book The Global Achievement Gap where he argues that there are seven skills that business leaders see as necessary for success:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence
  • Agility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Entrepreneurship
  • Effective Oral and Written Communication
  • Accessing and Analyzing Information
  • Curiosity and Imagination

In Worthington Schools we are working diligently to increase critical thinking and problem solving as well as curiosity and imagination.  Cindy Foley and Jennifer Lehe at the Columbus Museum of Art have been significant partners.  Cindy and Jennifer have pushed the conversation in our region around teaching for creativity.   

At the Columbus Museum of Art, they’re talking about creativity as the process of using imagination and critical thinking to generate new ideas that have value. Creativity is the ability to see things as if they could be different, and to take action based on that vision. It is what we need to realize change in our lives, in our communities, and in the world.   The museum is helping us look at questions such as: What are the conditions in which creativity thrives? Conditions like flexible use of time, classrooms that feel like studios, supportive and collaborative relationships, intentional language.  And, What are the dispositions that support the creative process? Dispositions like persistence, experimentation, play, curiosity, wonder. What can I as an educator do to support these conditions and dispositions? What can I do Monday and every day to foster creativity?   I appreciate the museum because they understand that these are not simple questions, and classrooms are not simple places.

Jennifer Lehe produced a resource titled: “Things to do everyday to embed creativity in the classroom”  It’s helping our teachers to take small steps everyday to help students grow into the creative problem-solvers who will be critical thinkers full of curiosity and imagination.  Teaching these skills is an intentional process and in every Worthington classroom you should see evidence that we’re making progress.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
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The 7 Survival Skills

7skillsIn the new global economy, where any job that can be turned into a routine is being either automated or “off-shored,” what skills will our students need to get—and keep—a good job? And what skills are needed for citizenship today?

In Tony Wagner’s book The Global Achievement Gap he argues that there are seven skills that business leaders see as necessary for success:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence
  • Agility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Entrepreneurship
  • Effective Oral and Written Communication
  • Accessing and Analyzing Information
  • Curiosity and Imagination

So the question is simply, are the goals of Ohio public education today in alignment with these seven skills and regardless of the answer to that first question as a local school district how are we preparing our students in these seven areas?  

In Worthington Schools we’re working hard to be a both/and school district.  We want all of our students engaged in rigorous academic content and we want them to score well on local and national assessments both for themselves and for the district.  Under the current system they’ll still need a strong ACT score to be accepted at most universities (though this is changing slowly) and as a district we’re held accountable for the scores of our students.  Certainly there is a need for high standards and the district level data these assessments provide shines an important light on populations of students we must serve at higher levels and devote greater resources to.  We seek to lift up all of our students and because of that we welcome accountability.  

But, if we’re going to seek to really accomplish our mission of empowering a community of learners who will change the world, our students must leave Worthington Schools with these critical life skills.  They’re not “soft skills” as some would call them, they are the skills needed for success in life!

Over the next few blog posts we’ll strive to dig into some of these skills and the work going on in Worthington classrooms.  Please stick with us….

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Some thoughts on the state report card

ohioEach year, students across Ohio are given a series of state assessments aimed at measuring students’ knowledge of state standards and their preparedness for college and careers. On Thursday, September 15th the Ohio Department of Education released the 2015-2016 achievement results for all Ohio school districts.  Ohio’s assessment system has changed quite a bit over the last couple years, and last year students took new assessments in the areas of English Language Arts and Mathematics. The state also increased expectations requiring students to score 20-30% higher than in previous years to be proficient. The increased proficiency targets and more rigorous assessments impacted our overall success rates.

In Worthington we welcome high standards and accountability and we value data that helps to inform instruction.  However we need a state report card in Ohio that provides valid and reliable feedback to our community and our current system falls short. For instance on this state report card 99.9% of Worthington third grade students met the third grade guarantee and were ready for fourth grade, however based on the complicated calculation for K-3 Literacy on the report card, Worthington received a D in this area. Measures such as K-3 Literacy, Prepared for Success, AMO and Gifted are complicated metrics that often provide accurate data but what ultimately gets reported as a letter grade is not always intuitive for community members to interpret.  

For example, the state measures growth of students over time, or progress, indicated in a “Value-Added” measure.  They rate the progress in four categories:

  • Overall Progress – all students tested in the district together
  • Gifted Progress – all identified gifted students
  • SWD Progress – all students identified with a disability
  • Lowest 20% Progress – only our students whose academic performance is in the lowest 20 percent of students statewide.

For the 2013-2014 state report card, Worthington received all A’s in the Value Added (Progress) portion of the report card:

Overall Progress A
Gifted Progress A
SWD Progress A
Lowest 20% Progress A

For the 2014-2015 state report card Worthington received all F’s in the Value Added (Progress) portion for the report card:

Overall Progress F
Gifted Progress F
SWD Progress F
Lowest 20% Progress F

For this report card release 2015-2016 Worthington received an overall A again in Value Added (Progress)

Overall Progress A
Gifted Progress A
SWD Progress A
Lowest 20% Progress B

What happened in 2014-2015?  I honestly don’t know.  What did we do differently in 2015 to raise the grades back up?  Due to the late timeline in receiving the results from the state, we didn’t do anything differently.  We had the same great teachers and the same great kids in 2013, 2014, and 2015.  It’s possible that all of the data was accurate.  But from a community perspective, there is little value in a metric with this much variability that does not inform our practice.  Sure, I like seeing the 2013 and 2015 grades a whole lot better than the 2014 grades, but I can’t honestly tell you that I believe they are a more accurate indicator of the work being done in our school district.

Our district’s leadership and our Board believes that Ohio must work towards a balanced and stable accountability system with clear, understandable metrics. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was recently signed into law by President Obama and allows Ohio increased flexibility to design their own assessment methodology. Our district plans to work aggressively with State Superintendent DeMaria, the State Board of Education and the legislature towards our shared goals of stable assessment, high standards and accountability. You can provide your own thoughts regarding Ohio’s ESSA plan to the Ohio Department of Education through this link:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/OhioESSA

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
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Seeking feedback from our students…

students

Teenagers say some of the most profound, and most entertaining, things you could ever imagine. Our students enlighten us with their genuine innocence and entertain us with their youthful ignorance. For that reason, we believe there is much we, as adults, can learn from our high school students. With that in mind we’re attempting to provide a forum where they can freely, and without judgment, share their thoughts, views and opinions on the topics that are current and being discussed by our Board of Education.

Each month a group of high school students from Thomas Worthington, Worthington Kilbourne and Linworth will give up an hour of their evening to serve on our student Superintendent’s advisory team and meet with myself and two of our Board of Education members.  Representing Thomas Worthington is: Sekou Conde, Ella Ewing, Troy Miller, Ben Smith, Kylie Wadkowski, Aisha Ahmed, Camryn Johnson and Sonia Kshatri.  Representing Worthington Kilbourne is: Kayla Beals, Chase Brown, Elijah Young, Meghan Nally, Matthew Yap, George Pearon, N Dea Gordon and Jill Baumgardner.  Representing Linworth is: Evan Bauer and Devon Baird.  

From these students we’ll seek input on their perspectives in what is working in our schools and what needs to be improved.  Hopefully we’ll build relationships where the students feel comfortable sending us an email or a message on twitter with their input or their suggestions between meetings.  Our Board of Education members will be present in groups of two and the students will have a powerful voice in decision making in our school district.  I often joke that I can tell the Board something several times and they won’t listen, but when they hear it from a student, all of the sudden it has significant meaning.

Monday’s meeting focused on the role of standardized testing in the high school.  The students clearly prioritized the ACT exam as most important.  They were still confused by end of course exams to earn graduation points and they felt those exams were often ambiguous and thus unfair.  Our students clearly would prefer to take all tests paper and pencil and explained in detail why they feel more successful in that format.  Based on their feedback when we administer the ACT to all Juniors this spring we will do so paper pencil.  We’ll also continue to communicate this preference to our state legislature and the Ohio Department of Education.  Monday night was our first meeting for this school year, but our students seemed comfortable and they didn’t hold back on their opinions.  

We look forward to meeting with our students throughout the school year.  We did learn a few things for the next meeting though: 1. We need to be prepared, because you can rarely predict what they may think or say, and 2.  We need to feed them.  They’re always hungry!

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
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How to respond when the shine wears off…

floorI love the start of the new school year.  I love seeing class lists, kids with new shoes, clean hallway floors and a fresh start for everyone.  I love it!  But as we enter the fourth week of the school year inevitably some of the shine may have begun to wear off.  Maybe you are frustrated with the communication you have received (or not received) from your child’s teacher.  Maybe you’re not sure why the classroom management system is designed the way it is, or why recess time is structured the way it is, or how seating is determined in the cafeteria.  Maybe you feel that a teacher assigns too much homework or a teacher doesn’t assign enough homework.  It’s possible you believe tests should be weighted higher than homework in a teacher’s grading system or you believe a teacher should provide opportunities for extra credit but doesn’t.  I’m not sure what your issue is, but I’m fairly certain you have one, or two, or more than two….

How do I know this?  Well, my family has them too.  This year my kids are in three different Worthington Schools.  By my count our family is working with 19 different Worthington teachers, 9 different administrative assistants, 3 different school principals, 2 different school nurses and 2 different bus drivers.  Not to mention three different sports team coaches.  Each of the adults that works with my children has a different style.  They each prioritize things a little differently, they each interact both personally and with their written communication a bit differently, etc…  Some of these adults fit our family style really well.  Others, not so much.

Over the years I’ve learned that education is an incredibly personal profession.  One year one of my daughters had a primary school teacher that we thought was the greatest teacher of all time.  We loved how she interacted with our daughter, we loved the structure of her classroom, we loved how she communicated her expectations to us as parents.  We thought she was awesome.  A good friend of mine couldn’t stand that very same teacher.  She felt like the teacher was too rigid, wasn’t personal enough with her child and didn’t really want parents to volunteer in her classroom.  Which one of us was right?  I think we both were right.  Our kids are different and what we expected as parents was different.

Inevitably when this happens and we are in a situation where we don’t like how things are going in one area or another, how should we respond?  Obviously that depends.  On one level I believe that one of the great values of public education is that my children will learn to deal with a number of different people and they will learn how to respond when they someday have a boss who views the world differently than they do.  So, for most things in our house we talk to our children about learning to deal with it and to meet the expectations of the teacher or bus driver whether they personally like it or not.  For some items, learning to deal with it may not be enough.  Maybe my child needs something that the school could provide but isn’t.  In those situations I could be tempted to post my frustrations with the school on social media.  Doing that will certainly bring out a community of supporters who also have their own frustrations and if you’re only looking for support from that community, that is an idea…  

But, in most cases, I would ask people to please have a conversation with the teacher, bus driver, cafeteria manager or principal and share what your child needs but is not receiving.  In having that conversation it’s important that you are also open and willing to listen to the perspective of the adult at school.  I believe our school staff will work to meet the needs of your child if they know what they are. If you’re willing to be open and listen, you’ll often leave the conversation with a greater appreciation for what the school staff are attempting to do, manage, etc…

In Worthington we’ve hit week four of the new school year.  We’ve all settled in.  If the shine has worn off a little and a situation needs looked at, please schedule a time to sit down and have that conversation with our school staff.  

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
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