Promoted to History Dept. Director/Chair

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Soccer Dad, Dec 19, 2011.

  1. Soccer Dad

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    Dec 19, 2011

    I was told last summer there was a chance I'd be promoted to the director (well, chair) of the history dept. at my school; however, this is just now coming to fruition. My current boss is moving on to teach at the collegiate level and the district--facing a financial burden (what else is new)--is phasing out department directors in place of department chairs. Today, I received approval by the school board to become the new chairperson.

    My district appointed me the liaison between the teachers and the director a few years ago. However, I was--shockingly--nothing more than a mere front to appear like the district was making attempts to increase standards, improve test scores, etc. Therefore, I cannot claim I had much responsibility (well, I did pick out textbooks only to have the funding run out). Point being: I would love some advice.

    We've been through 4 directors in 10 years. We've seen radical changes (doing away with in-class assessments) to lax approaches ("oh, don't worry about submitting your lesson plans, I trust you") to the truly bizarre ("it's come to my attention that the best way to teach is to have fresh minds; therefore, next year, each teacher will teach a class outside their original content area"). To say the department has lacked a clear vision is an understatement of the highest degree.

    Here's what I want (coming from a teacher's perspective):
    1) All teachers must offer extra-help on a weekly basis (currently, the district just mandates that we offer extra-help throughout the year; thus, many teachers take advantage of this and only one review session per unit--which is often not enough).
    2) All teachers must assign (unless they have good reason not to) 3 essays (at least 2 pages in length) per quarter.
    3) Create a unified front on homework: if you miss x amount, y will happen.
    4) Every teacher must create a free webpage on the district's site and upload course expectations, syllabuses, and extra-help schedules. After this, it would be at the teacher's discretion on how to use the webpage (homework, tests, links, etc.).
    5) Return to a total-points systems of grading. This allows teachers the flexibility to run their classrooms as they like. (For instance, I know some teachers are more project oriented; however, projects only count for 10%, which clearly does not reflect the student's effort accurately.)
    6) Require that primary and secondary sources be included in EVERY unit.

    As an administrator, I'd like to see:
    1) A teacher (or pair of teachers) on duty in the office every period study hall is offered (3-9). These teachers would rotate from week to week during their "off" periods. During this time, students can receive a pass from study hall to go to the office to ask questions, get writing help (this is a BIG one), and seek help on homework. My true intention is to help students--when they're completing their research projects--with the step by step procedures. We've found that the students have a hard time finding, reading and evaluating sources. Then, of course, comes the horrors of MLA formatting and general "wait, what do I actually have to do?" questions.
    2) Require that teachers provide a tentative 2 week schedule regularly to monitor progress (sometimes, teachers don't get through the material... that's unacceptable).
    3) I'm not sure how I feel about this, but the science and math departments require teachers submit exams ahead of time to get approval.

    What do you all, regardless of department, like and not like in terms of your chair/director? My biggest goal is to set a clear vision for the department as this has been lacking for years. Ultimately, I hope to promote:
    1) More research-based assignments (in all four grades, getting progressively harder each year)
    2) Technology in the classroom
    3) More discussions between classes/more department events (for instance, we used to have the different classes run "history labs" at a school event where students went from table to table learning different aspects of history not usually covered in the curriculum)
    4) More writing-based assessments as well as a higher quality of writing
     
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  3. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    Dec 19, 2011

    Congrats. :)

    Three essays per quarter seem too many. What would a "good reason not to" assign an essay be? Also, how many classes do students have each quarter? The essays could add up fast. I realize the length requirement you suggested was two pages, but even so.
     
  4. Soccer Dad

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    Dec 19, 2011

    Well, I know it would be hard for AP Econ students to write 3 papers during their 3rd quarter as the entire quarter focuses on one large project that incorporates what was taught during the first 2 quarters. Also, sometimes, teachers combine smaller units into larger ones. Instead of assigning 3 smaller essays, perhaps it would be beneficial to write two 4 page papers comparing content learned in one unit with another.

    That's always a worry of mine, but I think if adequate time is given, it shouldn't necessarily be that hard. But I'm also speaking from my own perspective where I know I give extensions often. However, maybe the essay requirement could vary by grade level?
     
  5. kcjo13

    kcjo13 Phenom

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    Dec 19, 2011

    I like asking for a two week plan, rather than daily lesson plans. It never makes sense to me when my p tells us lp just go in a file-then why do we do them? To me, a course outline with goals and outcomes makes much more sense and is infinitely more helpful.
     
  6. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    Dec 19, 2011

    If you require that teachers provide after-school tutoring and duty-period work, are you providing them with additional compensation or prep time?

    I think that if you are going to promote writing and essays and the like, you should also provide professional development to teachers so that they know how to teach and grade those things. Many teachers don't receive explicit instruction in writing. Going along with this, three essays per quarter is one essay every three weeks. Adding in time for outlining, rough drafts, and editing, it could be that students are working on essays constantly. I think that it might be overload for the students.

    I think it would be a good idea to promote the use of common assessments if you have several teachers teaching the same course at the same time.

    How do the teachers feel about going to a total points-based grading system?
     
  7. Soccer Dad

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    Dec 19, 2011

    Well, we're required to hold extra-help, but the district never specifies when we're supposed to have E.H. or how often it should be held. I know other departments and some teachers within the history dept. designate certain days and times as E.H. days. Students then sign up for the E.H. and the teacher can coordinate what materials to have present. I like the idea of having teachers give weekly options to students of E.H. (which would fight parents saying, "Well the teacher wasn't available to give extra lessons, clarity, etc."). However, I wouldn't require the teachers to stay after if no students signed up.

    No, extra-compensation would not be offered. With the current model of scheduling, a teacher would only have to "sacrifice" 6 prep periods of the entire month. Yes, 6 forty-minute prep periods are useful and important for already overworked teachers, but my counter argument would be: giving students homework/essay/project help in school allows for greater quality of work. At the end of the day, I think all of us would rather grade higher quality essays than last minute, I didn't really understand how to support my thesis essays that are becoming all too common.

    I agree, I would offer professional development to outline specific strategies for effective grading and feedback. As a department, I'd push for common rubrics for the various levels and map a path of progression the student should take over a semester --> year --> years, culminating in a senior thesis paper (15 pages in length).

    As for common assessment, that's something I would like to see. Not the same questions, but the same format (40 multiple choice, 1 essay, etc.).
     
  8. Brendan

    Brendan Fanatic

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    Dec 20, 2011

    Congratulations! I wish you the best of luck as you change the culture of your department. You'll face some resistance, I am sure. I demand a lot from my teachers as I do for myself. I have little tolerance for laziness and lack commitment. That being said my teachers knew exactly what they getting into when they were hired.

    3 Essays per term is not too much, even for your CP classes. My kids write an essay for every test and exam. I also assign two out-of-class essays per semester. Rough drafts are only necessary for the out-of-class essays.

    The extra help is not extravagant to ask for. We are required to offer extra help everyday for 30 minutes. Most of us are here for at least an hour. The Study Hall would be tough to coordinate; I wouldn't try and institute that and extra help.

    In terms of writing, remember first and foremost that we in History use the Chicago Style Manual, not MLA. Students should be exposed to Chicago footnotes. In terms of PD for writing, I would try to get some type of seminar, but I hope that all your teachers know what good writing is considering they have a BA and MA. If no one else can run the PD, I would do it myself.

    Be careful with total points it makes it very hard to be consistent, when teachers grade different things for different point values. We tried it first trimester and decided to go back to percentages.

    I require weekly plans to be submitted at the beginning of each week.

    Technology in the classroom is not as it seems. You need to look at your resources available to you and then scour the web. We have monthly technology meetings--sometimes its just a brainstorming session between departments and others we bring in an outside consultant.

    In terms of exams, I am not big on common assessments all the time. I, am, however for standard midterm/term/final exams. These should be submitted to your for approval. It may be too much to have all unit tests and quizzes submitted for your approval. I do it for first year teachers. In terms of common assessments I require a certain amount of writing and research per grade/level. That is standard across the board. For example, 9th graders write a 5 page research pares, 10th grade does a 7, 11th does a 10, and 12th does a 15.

    Primary and Secondary Sources are a must. I would try to include some of that into your writing requirements.
     
  9. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Dec 20, 2011

    Congrats!!!
     
  10. mopar

    mopar Multitudinous

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    Dec 20, 2011

    Congrats!

    How big is your history department? When we have changes at school, I love when our administration seeks and actually takes our opinions into consideration. Is there a way that you can have a staff meeting to get some of the big issues that the teachers want or need to change or keep the same? Maybe have a survey to see what the teachers want or need...
     
  11. KatherineParr

    KatherineParr Comrade

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    Dec 20, 2011

    I agree. MLA is not useful to students in college history courses. It's a pain to teach MLA/Chicago/APA to high school students because they (I think rightly) can't believe there are three different sets of rules.

    But there are. And they'll need MLA and Chicago for their General Education requirements at many colleges. So...I insist on Chicago.

    I became chair this year, and I must say my goals were much looser than yours. We are a very small department, and had I tried to impose so much change I would have faced significant problems. But I agree with many of your ideas, and I hope they come to fruition.

    Perhaps you could collapse some of these into smaller, more achievable goals in the short term? I am "scaffolding" my hopes for my department over a 2-year time frame. For example, I don't need them to create a website this year. But I *would* like them to create 2-week syllabi and post them to our CMS. If I can get that, consistently, for the next six months, I'll move next year toward more resources online.

    Your post is really thoughtful and interesting, and it occurs to me that one reason I don't have quite so organized a set of expectations is that we're hiring this year. The new person will be a major part of the department, so I am waiting to see who that is and to work with him/her on the shape of things to come.
     
  12. Soccer Dad

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    Dec 20, 2011

    Ah, you've hit on another source of pain for me: research formatting. Up until 2 years ago, we were joined with English as the Humanities Dept. Under this, we were *forced* to use MLA formatting and many of the teachers found it more accessible for students so it stuck. In our AP classes, students must Chicago. My first thought was to use MLA for general papers and Chicago for larger papers (research-oriented ones), but now that I'm thinking about it, that could get confusing...

    The department includes the entire district so there are, if you include the middle school, 35 teachers.

    My long-term goals are:
    1) Have grades posted online every few weeks for all teachers to allow parent monitoring
    2) Train teachers to use more critical thinking activities and less textbook work (Socratic Seminars, fishbowls, writing labs, etc.)
    3) Develop more department resources: (stealing from Brendan) have binders with common resources (worksheets, activities, etc.) available for each course
    4) Offer more electives and create an honors program (we currently only offer Regents [avg level] and AP) and to switch back to chronological history (thematic/regional has been a failure):
    - 9th Grade: Regents World History, Honors World History, AP World History
    - 10th Grade: Regents World History II, AP World History (for students who were previously in Honors in 9th grade), and AP Euro (for students who were in AP World) or Honors Western Civ.
    - 11th Grade: Regents U.S. History, Honors U.S. History, and AP U.S. History
    - 12th Grade: Regents Participation in Gov (1/2 year), Intro to Economics (1/2 year) OR electives that fit these requirements (ie: Comparing Economic Systems) OR AP Gov (make into 1/2 year course) OR AP Micro / Macro (2 courses in a full year)

    Electives: Facing History, History of Long Island, Sociology, Psychology, Criminal Justice, Street Law, 20th Century America, Corporate America, etc.

    I have the support from my principal to change the department within reason as it has, unfortunately, developed into the worst department within the district due to disunity, lay offs, disorganization and incompetent leadership in the past. Most of my coworkers are relatively new to teaching so I'm going to try to provide as much guidance, and specificity as I can.
     
  13. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    Dec 20, 2011

    Oh, something just clicked for me. I for some reason thought you were saying every teacher (math, art, etc.) would be required to assign three essays each quarter. I now realize you are speaking only for the social studies department. I was thinking the students would be writing three essays for six or seven classes each quarter...that would have been far too many. I'm slow, but I get it now. :)

    I think three essays are doable, but I teach middle school and even as an LA teacher we don't complete three pieces a quarter. Far too much goes into teaching the processes to have three polished pieces.
     
  14. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Dec 20, 2011

    Some other things to keep in mind:

    - How are your Regents scores? How much pressure is there to improve them? Any ideas in that regard?

    - How much of a budget do you have as a department, and how has it been spent in the past?
     
  15. KatherineParr

    KatherineParr Comrade

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    Dec 20, 2011

    SoccerDad, I agree with you on the 3 essays. Maybe you could allay some of the anxiety expressed here, and make it more flexible for different age ranges, by replacing the number of assignments with a page range?

    For example, I assign one paper per trimester, but that paper is between 6 and 10 pages. We work on it all tri.

    So we get much of what you're trying to achieve, but we get it in a format similar to college assignments. One term paper, researched for 6 or 7 weeks, that constitutes a major portion of that trimester's grade.

    If lower grades did more numerous, but shorter, papers, it would help higher grades approach fewer (but longer and more complex) papers with greater confidence.

    Alice asks about Regents scores. Do you have the chance to visit teachers with great scores? Perhaps you could invite them to tell you their most effective approach.

    35 teachers is quite a team. Good luck. Your forceful, pragmatic personality is really going to be an asset, I think.
     
  16. Soccer Dad

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    At the middle school level (8th grade), our scores are low; however, that exam has been cut from the state budget so now that worries me even more: without the state testing, will things go even worse? A lot of the middle school teachers don't get through the material and often stop with Civil Rights.

    In terms of the high school, some teachers have 100% passing (as the Regents are, unfortunately, a joke). The majority, however, have decent but not spectacular pass rates. While the district overall has high passing rates, the median score is usually in the 70s. This is terrible given we require AP kids to take the Regents too (thereby inflating the scores). My goal is to have a median score of an 85 (mastery).

    I'm constructing an email now to send out to my department with an attachment concerning changes they'd like to see, procedures they like/dislike, etc. I'm asking them to print their responses and turn them in anonymously in the office. I don't fully take charge until after midterms (late January) so I want to use what they say to construct more policies.

    I also have to give up teaching two periods/day and interview for my own replacement. The best candidates are, of course, the older, more experienced teachers... the ones who happen to be my friends. I worry the newer teachers will view this as favoritism though...
     
  17. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    Dec 20, 2011

    The more I think about it, the more I think that you shouldn't go into your new position with guns blazing. Especially since you're taking over in the middle of the year, it's a lot to expect teachers to make big, sweeping changes all of a sudden. I think that you should ride out the semester, observing classrooms, soliciting feedback from teachers, and plan to implement your changes next school year. Have an end-of-year meeting outlining the changes that teachers should expect next year so that they can get started with their plans now, but don't expect any real changes to take place until next year.

    I like your idea of making grades accessible online. I'm honestly a little surprised that your school doesn't already require that, since most schools seem to these days. I think that posting grades online every few weeks isn't good, though. Students and parents should be able to log in at least weekly and see a fairly accurate representation of what's in the gradebook. I think that you should require your teachers to post grades online at least once per week, maybe like every Friday or every Tuesday or something. Does your gradebook software support online grade posting?
     
  18. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    Dec 20, 2011

    Because students are still learning to write, they need to be exposed to the writing process. Even if things like outlines and rough drafts aren't counted in the overall grade, they do still need to be required, at least in my opinion. How can we expect students to write competently and cohesively if they can't effectively outline their thoughts in a standard format? I really do think that when you factor in all the pre-writing activities that need to be done before a final draft can be submitted, one essay every three weeks in addition to regular coursework is an awful lot to expect of students.

    As for PD about teaching and grading writing, I believe that it is essential. Knowing what good writing looks like, and even knowing how to produce good writing, isn't the same as being able to teach good writing.
     
  19. Brendan

    Brendan Fanatic

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    Dec 21, 2011

    I disagree about sitting there and waiting for the rest of the year. Implement some of your most important reforms, if you will, at the beginning of each term--phase each of them in.

    In terms of writing, as a History teacher I give two types of writing assignments (as I think most of us do):

    (1) Polished, multi-draft papers (including research papers). These are the papers you spend time prewriting, and drafting. Honestly, though talk to your successful Honors and AP Kids who have graduated. Most of them do not draft, pre-write, and then write a final. Most just outline and write. My kids each have two papers. One due at midterms and another due at the end of the term. My students write 8 papers per year (2 per term) of varying length. Typically, we write 2 Research Papers (one halfway through the year and one at the end), a few DBQ's, a scholarly book review, and some more argumentative papers. We start at very short (2-3 pages) and end with a Research Paper. For terms 1 and 2, I usually allow students to do rewrites if they wish.

    (2) Timed Writes (including in-class essays, essay tests, etc.). Writing on the fly is essential. In history courses in college, they will be almost entirely essay questions. Sometimes my younger students are given the essay topic ahead of time and are allowed to bring in an outline. Others, they know ahead of time and aren't allowed an outline. Towards the end of the year, they don't get the question ahead of time, but I encourage them to outline possible essay questions. These are usually incorporated in unit tests or exams, but sometimes they are part of class activities in a Unit. I'll occasionally begin class with a short quick write of 1-2 paragraphs. The prewriting process for these should not take too long. In the beginning of the year and as you assign new types of in-class essays (such as a DBQ), time should be spent as to how to write and prepare for them. However, once the students have these instructions, the preparation should be on them and at home.
     
  20. Soccer Dad

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    Dec 28, 2011

    I received feedback from my coworkers this past weekend. After looking over all the surveys and suggestions, the main concerns are all over the place. After grouping the suggestions, I found that the teachers responsible for our Regents classes are most concerned with discipline, administrative support, and less concern over testing. Our honors and AP teachers want to see more enrichment: field trips, online data bases and technology.

    Building from this, I'm using my winter break to create some possible policies:
    1) Discipline does not usually concern directors, so I'm going to focus instead on academic issues like cheating, not doing homework, etc. I want to work as a dept. to formulate appropriate sample letters to parents concerning homework, class participation and that fun stuff. I'm going to stress that they always create a paper trail and report everything!
    2) In terms of technology, we do not and will not have the budget for what's being asked (new computers, testing software and overhead projectors). I will contact the Superintendent of Business to figure out a plan to implement technology within the department over time. (Although this seems redundant since we DO have projectors available on carts that go unused... which leads me to believe that there's something else there.)
    3) Work as a staff to get field trips approved.

    My own personal concerns are: (1) grade consistency, fairness and extra-credit/inflation between the courses, (2) staff appearance and attendance, (3) standards for higher level thinking and writing.
     

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