Boosting Teacher Effectiveness

This blog is about various aspects of teacher effectiveness
and the key role of student data to raise achievement
Sep 15

Implementing Pre-K RTI

Posted by: Vanessa West in Boosting Teacher Effectiveness

Tagged in: RTI

Vanessa West

The RTI Action Network website is a great resource to explore the latest research regarding RTI implementation in a variety of settings and across all levels of education.

The most recent research article I read, Roadmap to Pre-K RTI: Applying Response to Intervention in Preschool Settings explores adding RTI programs to the Pre-K level. This article is packed with useful information including:

  • Major components of Pre-K RTI
  • RTI approaches implemented in various states
  • "9 Step" Implementation page for taking a RTI approach school-wide
  • Websites to explore further information

The information in this article is recommended for anyone involved in the Pre-K RTI process. If you are new to the RTI process it will give you an introductory overview. If your district has already implemented a RTI program it is a great way to view other Pre-K RTI approaches.

This research article includes the following major components of Pre-K RTI:

  • Learning About the Child’s Strengths and Needs: Screening, Assessment, and Progress Monitoring
  • Evidence-Based Practices and Standard Protocols
  • Fidelity of Implementation
  • Collaborative Problem-Solving
  • Parental and Family Engagement


The article provides examples of RTI approaches implemented in various states such as:

  • Recognition & Response (R&R) Implementation sites in Florida and Maryland
  • The Literacy Partnership- Implementation site Washington, D.C.
  • Center for Response to Intervention in Early Childhood (CRTIEC)Consortium partner states: Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio and Oregon
  • Rockford Early Childhood Program- Rockford Public Schools #205, Rockford, IL
  • Colorado State Department of Education- Colorado’s Pre-K RTI Model
Aug 14

Assessment and the Common Core

Posted by: Vanessa West in Boosting Teacher Effectiveness

Vanessa West

I recently viewed an excellent webinar from The School Improvement Network titled Assessment for and Assessment of Common Core Understanding.

All the information presented in the webinar comes from the broader idea of intentional teaching starting with backward design planning as a platform for greater student achievement.

The three main areas covered in the webinar are:

  1. Comparing formative and summative assessment
    • Formative assessment takes place during the learning, summative assessment occurs after the learning
    • Formative assessment is the check-up, summative assessment is the autopsy
    • Formative assessment allows teachers and students to make adjustments to teaching and learning along the way, summative assessment documents mastery of standards
  2. Identifying formative assessment strategies
    • Fist to Five
    • Think Pair share
    • Sentence Stems
  3. Showing ways to increase student self-assessment
    • Self-evaluation rubric
    • Goal Setting
    • Narrative Reflections


As teachers plan curriculum for the upcoming school year it’s more important than ever to remember the role formative assessment plays to increase student learning. While both forms of assessment have their place in the learning cycle, formative assessment plays a critical role to inform both the teacher and the student as to where the student is in their learning along the way to a standard. Don’t wait for the autopsy.

You can access the this webinar and many others at schoolimprovement.


Additional Resources>

Jun 10

Your 2012 Summer Reading List

Posted by: Vanessa West in Boosting Teacher Effectiveness

Vanessa West

Summer - a time to recharge, a time to reflect, and yes, a time to read a couple of professional development books.
Below are ten books to inspire, challenge, and develop your teaching practice. The book list represents a well-rounded selection of relevant topics to today's teacher. Choose a couple that match your professional goals and enjoy!

  1. Never Work Harder Than Your Students by Robyn R. Jackson
  2. When Teaching Gets Tough: Smart Ways to Reclaim Your Game by Allen N. Mendler
  3. Getting to “Got It” Helping Struggling Students Learn How to Learn by Betty K. Garne
  4. How to Teach Now: Five Keys to Personalized Learning in the Global Classroom by William Powell and Ochan Kusuma-Powell
  5. A World-Class Education: Learning from International Models of Excellence and Innovation by Vivien Stewart
  6. The Formative Assessment Action Plan: Practical Steps to More Successful Teaching and Learning by Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher
  7. Great Performances: Creating Classroom-Based Assessment Tasks by Larry Lewin and Betty Jean Shoemaker
  8. How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms, 2nd Edition by Carol Ann Tomlinson
  9. Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom by Rick Wormeli
  10. Reaching English Language Learners in Every Classroom: Energizers for Teaching and Learning by Debbie Arechiga
Apr 25

Never A Dull Moment: Engaging Students In Learning

Posted by: Vanessa West in Boosting Teacher Effectiveness

Vanessa West

The topic in Bryan Harris’ blog Seven More Ways to Go From On Task to Engaged gets at the heart of one aspect of effective teaching. He gives great suggestions to ponder as you reflect upon your current classroom practices.

As the school year winds down and students are dreaming of summer break, even having on task/compliant students feels good this time of year, but I recommend placing his book Battling Boredom  on your summer reading list to consider new ways to engage your students for the next school year.

Happy Reading!

Mar 14

Teachers’ Job Satisfaction

Posted by: Vanessa West in Boosting Teacher Effectiveness

Vanessa West

The Met Life Survey of the American Teacher report was just released. The report shows the results of a survey conducted to establish teachers’ job satisfaction and teachers’ views on important issues in education. The report also includes survey information from parents and students.

The survey’s main findings are:

  • Teachers’ satisfaction is now reaching the lowest level of job satisfaction since the survey started two decades ago
  • In the past two years there has been a significant decline of teacher satisfaction (from 59% who were very satisfied to 44%)


When reports like this are published I believe most teachers are not surprised by the disturbing trends of the teaching profession. Teachers live in the reality exposed by this report every day; low salaries, large class size, inadequate professional development, to name a few. However, there are some small ‘celebrations’ in this report that should be reiterated to encourage a not so bleak outlook toward the teaching profession.

  • Parent and community engagement has increased
  • More high school students report that their school offers before school and after school programs
  • The number of students who feel very safe at school has increased
  • Most teachers, parents and students believe that their schools help engage parents in supporting  students’ success
  • Students today talk more often with their parents about school and their parents visit the school more
  • Parents give the teachers and principal at their child’s school high ratings for effectively engaging them in their child’s school and education

You can read the full report at:


How can we stop the downward spiral of teachers’ job dissatisfaction? 

Feb 27

Teaching from Around the World

Posted by: Vanessa West in Boosting Teacher Effectiveness

Vanessa West

As I read through this month's Educational Leadership publication from ASCD, I came across an interesting online resource regarding teaching math and science internationally.


The “Trends in International Math and Science” project videos at provide excellent resources to learn more about teaching from around the world. For each lesson taught there are choices of commentary to read that help enrich your understanding of the classroom experience. You can choose commentary from the teacher or the researchers. I especially recommend the 8th grade math lesson, "Changing Shape without Changing Area" from Japan. Check out the use of co-teaching for differentiation of the lesson.


There is rich information to been gained from each video. View the same lesson several times with a different lens. Each time focus on one of the following: lesson content, classroom management, teaching strategies, physical space, or supplies. To gain even more value from these videos, watch them with your grade level or subject level colleagues to start a professional discussion about the teaching practices viewed.


In order to access the videos you need to sign up for an account with an email and a password, but the account is free of charge. 

Jan 19

Making Formative Assessment Come Alive

Posted by: Vanessa West in Connecting Teachers to the Power of Data

Vanessa West

The other day I watched a great archived webinar on the ASCD website presented by Nancy Frey entitled, “Feed-up, Feedback, Feed Forward: Making Formative Assessment Come Alive”. Nancy Frey has written several books along with her co-author Douglas Fischer on the topic of formative assessment. This webinar is based on her book, The Formative Assessment Action Plan: Practical Steps to More Successful Teaching and Learning. Anyone can access this free archived webinar on the ASCD website:

I highly recommend this 45 minute webinar (without the participant questions) to gain an overall picture of the formative assessment process, as well as learn about specific formative assessment activities to implement in your classroom. To make note taking more efficient, print out the power point presentation ahead of time. I also recommend checking out Nancy Frey’s and Douglas Fisher’s website. There is valuable information and free printable resources available, such as the ‘Frey Analytic Writing Analysis Tool’. The link for their website is

Jan 08

Yodaisms and Education

Posted by: Vanessa West in Boosting Teacher Effectiveness

Vanessa West

Yoda (yes, the little wrinkled and wise Jedi master from Star Wars) can teach us a lot about our education galaxy.

Let’s learn from Yoda’s wise words as we make our way through the education galaxy to improve our education system, teaching, and students’ learning.

Yoda’s wise words: “Fear leads to the dark side

We’ve all seen ‘fear’ that leads to the dark side in action with the implementation of NCLB. The dark side has been felt by teachers, administrators and students.

Fueled by fear of our students’ failing test scores, the education policy makers in our galaxy took a very narrow view of student learning and achievement. This narrow view led them to use a single snapshot of student test data (standardized testing) to base important educational decisions, rather than looking at the whole system of education in our country and implementing transformative change.  

Yoda’s wise words: "Careful you must be when sensing the future”

There are countries which have done a better job of sensing the future of education than the United States. Looking at the pieces of these nation’s education systems can give us great insight into next steps for our own. For example, both Finland and Singapore have rigorous entrance measures into teacher programs and choose from the top high school graduates. Furthermore, in order to recruit the best, these countries have elevated the status of teaching and provide better compensation and working conditions equivalent to that of other ‘professional’ jobs.

Teacher quality, however, is only one piece of successful education systems. Other nations also view testing of their students differently by implementing gateway exams which focus on mastery of standards over a period of years.

Let’s be thoughtful through the study of other nation’s successes to advance our students’ learning and achievement. 

Yoda’s wise words: “Much to learn you still have”

As a teacher, be as open to learning as we expect our students to be. Embrace this idea by:

  • Participating in PLC’s (Professional Learning Communities)
  • Creating or joining an inquiry team to research a relevant topic for your school
  • Participating in a lesson study
  • Choosing a goal for yourself and enhancing your current understanding through professional development courses
  • Subscribing to an educational publication
  • Choosing books to read each school year which align with your personal professional goals
Dec 23

Assessment and Data: What is useful for teachers?

Posted by: Vanessa West in Connecting Teachers to the Power of Data

Tagged in: Student Data

Vanessa West

Standardized testing is so 2011. Okay, not really, but as the NCLB standardized testing backlash continues, I feel there is hope for a more balanced implementation of educational assessment methods which provide the information teachers need, when they need it, in order to propel our students along the pathway of learning. This is a great moment in time to look into what type of data is useful to teachers.


Teachers are in a unique position to observe their students and gain the ‘insider’ perspective of student learning. To truly impact student learning and achievement, the educational system needs to foster observational formative assessment methods to fully utilize the teacher-student connection.


Focused anecdotal records provides a platform for using authentic experiences to capture and reveal student understanding toward the standards, as well as affective criteria such as levels of engagement, motivational factors and behavior. This type of data proves to be very useful for teachers in their daily planning of instructional next steps, as well as determining patterns of learning over time.


Let’s compare the usefulness of observational formative assessment and standardized testing.


Observational Formative Assessment and Standardized Testing Comparison
  Observational Formative Assessment Standardized Testing
Provides data for planning instructional next steps on a daily basis + -
Used to communicate feedback to the learner + -
Used to communicate progress to parents in a timely manner + -
Captures strengths and needs of students which can be acted upon  immediately + -
Captures situational context + -
Captures motivational factors + -
Benefits the learner in the current year + -
Benefits the learner in the current year + -


Standardized testing does not inform instruction nor help a student in his or her current year of study. It merely allows for a snapshot view of learning for comparison on a district, state and national level; helpful to politicians, not particularly helpful to teachers to impact student learning in the classroom on a daily basis. 

Let’s focus our time, energy and resources into the assessment methods which produce actionable data to benefit the learner.


Dec 23

Moving From Teacher to Teacher Leader

Posted by: Vanessa West in Boosting Teacher Effectiveness

Vanessa West

Moving from teacher to teacher leader is as much about an inner shift as it is the type of activities you participate in or lead. This shift is about an inner confidence, a willingness to put yourself out there and take risks that will have an impact beyond your students and your classroom.

Meena Wilson, from the Center for Creative Leadership, stated it well by saying, “In common with other leaders, teacher leaders seek challenge, change and growth”.
Some might say: Don’t we already have enough challenge and change going on in education? It’s true, education is under a constant barrage of challenge and change, but teacher leaders put themselves in the driver’s seat of this challenge and change rather than waiting for “the system” to impose it. Teacher leaders seek out ways to enhance their professional knowledge and capabilities and share their expertise with others.

Teacher leaders are more than teachers who serve on committees. Teacher leaders help cultivate a professional community in which all teachers can grow and thrive in multiple ways. For example:

  • Mentoring
  • Embracing research
  • Encouraging collaboration
  • Sharing resources
  • Setting an example of professionalism
  • Peer coaching
  • Leading staff development


My hope is that all teachers at some point in their career decide to take the risk and move from teacher to teacher leader. Teachers have so much knowledge and expertise to share and empower each other. 

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