Professional Dispositions for Educators

How did five 2016 state teachers of the year find success by pushing students to take risks and rise to the occasion? And–can similar strategies be used with preservice teachers–those enrolled in teacher prep programs–and first year teachers to help them become more successful now and in the future?

  • Perseverance
  • Grit
  • Stick-with-it-ness

These terms, and others like them, can often describe what helps some teachers succeed in the classroom, and what contributes to others failing. They are often referred to as professional dispositions–soft skills that are essential to educator success, yet typically not easily taught or measured.

We certainly need to help our P-12 students develop these traits, but equally important we must mentor our teacher candidates in them as well. After all, in order to teach skills to others we must know and be able to do them ourselves. That’s why I believe so strongly in identifying a comprehensive list of the most essential professional dispositions for successful teachers to possess–and from that list I believe schools of education should create ways to identify and select teacher candidates who demonstrate a propensity for success in part via evidence of those dispositions.

I would love to engage in a research and development project with state and national teachers of the year–I want to find out what those high-performing educators think are the most crucial dispositions for new teachers to have–and I want to build an instrument to identify and measure them. Anyone interested in joining me on this professional journey? If so, please reach out to me.



Source: State teachers of the year detail strategies to encourage perseverance | Education Dive

Best Books for New Teachers (Part I)

Author Sam Lubell has compiled a very nice list of books that would be great additions to any school of education library, or for that matter, an P-12 school faculty workroom. I am sharing Part 1 of the list here–Part 2 will soon follow. These resources could be extremely useful for education candidates and even first-year teachers.

General “How to Teach” Books

  • Tools for Teaching by Fred Jones – This book is part of a series of books, videos, and seminars based on observing successful teachers for over 40 years. The book shows teachers how to use classroom management and discipline tools to increase time available for teaching.
  • Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov – Asserting that great teaching can be taught, this bestseller is a very practical book with lots of how-to advice on classroom management. The 2.0 version includes video clips showing real teachers using the techniques.
  • See Me After Class: Advice For Teachers By Teachers by Roxanna Elden – This book provides no-nonsense survival advice for new teachers through stories from teachers of the things that went wrong in their classes. Instead of the Hollywood storyline of the superhero teacher, this book shows struggling teachers how to survive the challenges not covered in teacher prep.
  • Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire by Rafe Esquith – This “cookbook for teaching” shows how Esquith has taught high-poverty, immigrant Los Angeles fifth-grade students algebra, economics, and Shakespeare. The book expands on his mottos “Work hard, Be nice” and “There are no shortcuts” with techniques, exercises, and innovations that other teachers can emulate.

Teaching and Learning Books

Other books go beyond day to day practice to examine the science of teaching and learning. This helps teachers understand the larger context in which they work and the principles that undergird all effective teaching:

  • Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown – This book describes concrete techniques for learning based on cognitive psychology and the science of learning. The book shows why the study skills typically taught–highlighting, re-reading, and review–do not lead to long-term retention and instead shows how retesting, spacing, elaboration, and mixing the practice of more than one skill or topic together can lead to true understanding.
  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck – Dweck asserts that successful people have a growth mindset and believe they can expand their abilities through dedication and hard work, while those who believe their abilities are fixed tend to be less successful. Having the right mindset is key to motivating and leading others.
  • Why Knowledge Matters by E.D. Hirsch Jr. – In this book, Hirsch argues that the problems of our education system are due to our lack of a common fact-based curriculum that allows schools to emphasize skills rather than knowledge. Using neuroscience and evidence from France’s shift away from a common curriculum, Hirsch calls for a return to knowledge-based schooling that would raise both achievement and equity.
  • Applying the Science of Learning by Richard Mayer – This text covers two of the six fundamental instructional strategies and mentions three more, with a particularly strong presentation of the strategy of pairing graphics with words. Moreover, nothing in Mayer’s text contradicts the six strategies, and all of the content in Mayer’s text (which includes topics in learning, instruction, and assessment) is genuinely research-based.
  • Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel T. Willingham – Using cognitive science research, Willingham explains that the brain is not designed for thinking, so students do not like schoolwork that forces them to solve difficult problems. The book shows the science behind students’ behavior, such as how people remember what they spend the most time doing. And it refutes many common practices such as making the subject relevant to the students’ interests.
  • Other People’s Children by Lisa Delpit — This book on cultural conflict in the classroom addresses the issue of often unconscious biases and stereotypes among our still largely white teaching force. It shows problems with the assumptions made by progressive “child-centered instruction” about minority cultures and calls for better understanding of different worldviews.
  • How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School by the National Research Council – This book shows how the science of learning and new understandings of the development of mind and body can affect how we see children as learners. The book shows how this knowledge should change designs for learning environments and what we see as effective teaching.


Are there any other resources you would like to recommend that promote academic excellence? Reach out to me and let me know.



Source: NCTQ: Profiles

New Report Rings Alarm Bell on Teacher Shortages

The Learning Policy Institute (LPI) is out with a new analysis of teacher turnover and its impact on teacher shortages, showing that the nationwide shortfall of 100,000 teachers predicted in last year’s study A Coming Crisis in Teaching? has largely been realized and issuing recommendations to stem the problem before it grows worse.

The recommendations for teacher preparation include:

  • Establish high-retention pathways into teaching that serve high-need communities, such as teacher residency programs.
  • Develop “grow your own” teacher preparation programs for hard-to-staff schools recruiting from high school students, paraprofessionals, after-school program staff, and other community members.
  • Provide high-quality mentoring and induction to beginning teachers.

I find this quite interesting–it actually validates my thinking about how teachers and for that matter, school leaders–should be prepared, not only to fill critical shortages but to ensure academic excellence.

In fact, the framework I am developing includes all three of these recommendations. In addition, it is built on some features that I believe are unique to anything currently available in the United States. Interested in learning more? Are you a higher education institution looking for a new, innovative approach to educator prep, and you don’t have the staff to build it? Please reach out to me.



Source: Ed Prep Matters | AACTE Blog » New Report Rings Alarm Bell on Teacher Shortages

Competency-Based Education Resources for P-12 School Districts

Source Annotated Comments
US Department of Education Provides a working definition of CBE as well as information about specific states and school districts that have piloted the CBE model.
The Glossary of Education Reform Provides a good overview of the CBE model particularly in the context of P-12.
Missouri Learning Standards Provides a roadmap for what all students should know and be able to do at each grade level.
Creating High-Quality Assessments Adapted from the CAEP Evaluation Framework, this document provides a checklist for educators to use when creating their own performance-based assessments.
Competency-Based Education Toolkit Provides a lot of very useful, practical information for school districts interested in creating their own CBE framework.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Rubric This rubric serves as a great springboard for conversation about assessment criteria, performance indicators, levels of competency, etc. Use it with teachers, parents, and students.
CompetencyWorks: Learning from the Cutting Edge A good source for various aspects of CBE.


If your school is interested in piloting the CBE model and needs additional support, please contact: 

  • Roberta Ross-Fisher, PhD (
  • Twitter: @RRossFisher
  • LinkedIn: Roberta Ross-Fisher





Creating High-Quality Assessments

Creating High-Quality Assessments

(Adapted for P-12 Use from the CAEP Evaluation Framework for EPP-Created Assessments)

Continually evaluating what students know and are able to do is an essential element of the competency-based educational model. In order to accurately determine the extent to which students are competent in relation to specific learning outcomes, teachers must administer assessments that are of high quality. Otherwise, the data from these assessments could paint a skewed picture of a learner’s skills. In addition, a set of well-constructed assessments administered over time can enable educators to see patterns and trends which in turn can inform learning resource selections, instructional support, staffing, and the like.

There are several key components to creating high-quality assessments. Consider each when designing assessments for students:


Component Guiding Questions Examples
Administration and Purpose Does the assessment clearly state when it is to be administered, and why it is necessary? This assessment should be taken after completing Unit 3. It will measure your competence in major concepts of flora and fauna.
Will students know what they are expected to do on the assessment? You are to respond to each question stem.
Will students know what score they must attain in order to demonstrate the expected level of competence? You must earn a holistic score of at least 3 out of 4 possible points on the rubric in order to move on to Unit 4.  If your holistic score is less than 3, you must meet with your teacher and then rework the assessment.
Assessment Content Are question stems/prompts aligned to specific standards, which are in turn aligned to competencies and learning objectives? Create a 6-slide presentation teaching another learner how to code.

ISTE 4a-c

C 3.5

LO 3.5.1

Does the degree of difficulty required by the assessment prompt reflect the difficulty of the standard, competency, and learning objective? For example, if these focus on the concept of analysis that expects the learner to compare/contrast, does that assessment prompt reflect that level of difficulty?
Do performance indicators clearly describe what proficiencies will be evaluated in the assessment?


Learners should know exactly what knowledge and skills they will be evaluated on.
Scoring the Assessment Is the basis for judging student performance clear and well defined? Students (and parents) should be able to easily see how their work will be scored.
Are multiple, progressive levels of performance clearly identified in the rubric? For example:


Approaching Expectations

Meeting Expectations

Exceeding Expectations

Have numerical values been tagged to each level of performance? For example:

1, 2, 3, 4

Does the rubric contain detailed, specific expectations, avoiding vague or ambiguous language? Desirable Example:

The essay contained at least 5 paragraphs and a reference list. It included facts that were cited and could be substantiated.


Undesirable Example:

The essay was an appropriate length and contained mostly correct information.

Is feedback to the student specific and actionable? If a student meets or exceeds expectations, they should know why. Likewise, if a student fails to meet expectations, they should know why, and what they need to do in order to meet expectations.

For struggling students, teachers should provide targeted guidance and mentoring, additional learning resources, etc.

Data Validity* Do assessments measure what they are intended to measure? The assessment coordinator should document how validity was established (e.g., construct, content, concurrent, predictive, etc.).
Have new or significantly revised assessments been piloted? The assessment coordinator should oversee the controlled pilot of each new grade-level or building-level assessment.
Data Reliability* Do assessments yield reliable data consistently over time? The assessment coordinator should document the type of reliability that has been established (e.g., test-retest, parallel forms, inter-rater, internal, consistency, etc.).
If the same assessment is used by multiple teachers, have they all been trained in evaluating student work in the same way? The training of scorers and checking on inter-rater agreement and reliability should be documented.

*School-wide or district-wide level

For more information regarding how to create high-quality assessments for use at the P-12 level, please contact me:

Roberta Ross-Fisher, PhD

Twitter: @RRossFisher

Blog Site:

MCPSA Conference: Competency-Based Education to Support Student Success

I’m looking forward to presenting at the 2017 Missouri Charter Public School Association Conference later this week on October 5-6 in Kansas City. Join me on Friday, October 6 where I will talk about how to use Competency-Based Education to Support Student Success.

The competency-based educational (CBE) model has been used successfully in higher education for the past two decades, and it is starting to gain national traction at the P-12 level. Within CBE, learners must demonstrate what they know and are able to do through carefully designed and calibrated assessments. Expectations are clear and well-defined, and there is thoughtful, purposeful alignment between curriculum, instruction, and assessment. This model is truly learner-centered: Seat time becomes less important than learning time. Students are able to drive their own learning and work at their own pace within structured guidelines. They are supported through meaningful feedback and mentoring.

Parents and caregivers feel more informed about their child’s progress under the CBE model. They know what their student is learning, their learning goals, progress, and their level of proficiency in each skill set. This helps them to partner with teachers to provide additional support at home.  Teachers recognize the positive impact the CBE model has on student learning and development. They are able to easily track the progress of each student on a daily basis, and they know exactly when a learner needs additional support.  School leaders are able to support teachers more effectively when they know exactly what their needs are. With the CBE model, they can provide strategic assistance through forming a mentoring network to support struggling students; through building school-community partnerships; through offering targeted professional development support, and the like.

I am looking forward to reconnecting with old friends and making new acquaintances at this important conference! Please reach out to me so we can connect – look for me on Twitter, LinkedIn, on my blog site, and of course, at my presentation!



Source: Missouri Charter Public School Association

Help Wanted: Arizona Teachers


The teacher shortage is nothing new to the state of Arizona, and it’s only getting worse. In fact, many individuals who are in classrooms across the state today do not have proper teaching credentials. They may have a bachelor’s degree but it may be in accounting or in philosophy rather than in education. It’s even worse in urban areas or in rural areas where attracting and keeping new teachers can be a huge challenge. At the time of this writing, the Alhambra School District in Phoenix currently has 15 openings for certified teachers and 73 openings for “classified” positions, the vast majority of which are in the area of special education. The Tucson Unified School District lists 84 current openings for certified teachers. Statewide, the job site indicates more than 3200 full-time teaching positions currently available in Arizona. Keep in mind that these openings are for the 2017-18 academic year which began about a month ago.

In an attempt to address this growing teacher shortage, Governor Doug Ducey has paved the way for a partnership between the state’s three public universities and community colleges called the Arizona Teachers Academy. A big component of the initiative provides forgivable tuition each year graduates teach in an Arizona school.

The new scholarship program, which will target those who are just entering college or those who are returning for a master’s degree, is expected to eventually bring 200 new teachers into the state’s schools, and the recipients will be able to attend one of Arizona’s three public universities. The Governor formally launched the new program on September 26.

While I certainly admire the Governor’s interest and support in addressing this critical shortage I don’t see it being the magic bullet that will fully meet the state’s current and future workforce challenges. In order to address those current and future needs an initiative must be scalable and it must involve more than three state universities as providers. It also must explore new models of preparing teachers – part of the reason for the shortage is an antiquated or excessive prep program. In order to address today’s needs, we must consider today’s solutions.

For example, why not revisit how long it takes to complete a teacher prep program? Why not look at paraprofessionals or long-term substitute teachers as individuals who have already demonstrated a propensity for success in the classroom and provide them with a residency-based program? Why not seriously consider a competency-based educational model? And, why should a teacher prep program be designed by education faculty who may not have been in a classroom for 20 years or more?

I have already thought about things like this, plus more. I believe I have created the framework for a model of preparing teachers with excellence in a way that’s unique to anything currently being offered in the United States. I’d love to partner with school districts, state departments of education, and higher education institutions who are interested in piloting this program. Interested in learning more? Reach out to me.



Source: Arizona governor launches scholarship program to address teacher vacancies | Education Dive

Need an educational consultant or independent contractor?

Need an experienced and confidential educational consultant or independent contractor for a special project or a new strategic initiative? I serve higher education and K-12 schools across the United States and the globe. Perhaps you need help writing a self-study report or getting ready for an accreditation site visit. Maybe you want to pilot the competency-based educational model. It could be that you have a low-performing program and you just can’t figure out why or how to improve it. Wanting to get into online education but don’t know where to start or how to train faculty? Looking for a viable solution to the teacher shortage? I can help with these needs and more.

I typically work virtually but can travel to your location as needed when providing professional development training, coordinating an accreditation site visit, and so on. You can be assured of highly competent performance, attention to detail, and excellent customer service. Need references from previous clients? Not a problem, but they will come redacted because I never reveal who my clients are. Chances are likely if you have problems that require my skills, you’d prefer to keep it as low-key as possible–and you can count on me to perform my services quietly and confidentially.

Please know that I don’t accept every request for assistance – only those where I really believe my skill sets can meet your particular needs. Reach out to me and I’ll be glad to speak with you about your institution’s needs and how to move forward.

Can Videoconferencing Help Rural Districts Bring in Qualified Teachers?

Technology is quickly becoming a prevalent part of our nation’s educational system, most prominently as a supplemental instructional tool. Chromebooks, for example, are in use more and more frequently at the K-12 level with teachers providing face-to-face guidance and instruction. However, because of the increasing teacher shortage, there often are no on-the-ground teachers to fill key roles particularly in high-demand areas such as upper level sciences, mathematics, foreign languages, and so on. Technology is being used to provide those teachers, often working across the country or in some cases, internationally. This can be a workable solution, under the right circumstances. Some caveats, however, include:

  • Many school districts still don’t have access to high-speed Internet which is required for videoconferencing and streaming.
  • Heavy use of technology requires up-to-date hardware and software – many states keep reducing funding to local school districts and administrators must often make tough fiscal choices.
  • Simply purchasing hardware and software doesn’t guarantee that it will be used properly – school districts must provide on-sight training and support for students, teachers, and staff.
  • All technology tools must be properly maintained and serviced – this can be contracted out to local technicians but money must still be allocated for this purpose. It should be noted that some small school districts are experimenting with using high school students as technicians; this can work as long as they are properly supervised but there are still some risks that come with that model.

Regarding the teachers themselves, there are still several issues that school districts must resolve, including:

  • How do districts ensure that these teachers are effective instructors
  • Do they evaluate their performance in the same way that they evaluate teachers on-the-ground?
  • Will districts insist that these virtual teachers complete a background clearance check to protect the safety of students?
  • Will districts (and states) insist that virtual teachers living in other states or nations be properly licensed or certified in their home state or will exceptions be made?
  • Will virtual teachers be paid according to the same salary scale as teachers on the school campus?
  • Will virtual teachers working full-time for school district or a consortium be limited to working only for that one entity as is expected for those on-the-ground, or is it possible they could in reality hold multiple full-time positions?
  • How do these teachers interact with parents/caregivers?
  • Who provides on-the-ground support/mentoring for struggling students?
  • How will school districts and state departments of education know for sure that this is a successful and sustainable model?

What other questions and concerns must be resolved before we start using videoconferencing as the “go-to” answer to resolve the teaching shortage? Want to talk about it some more? Reach out to me.



Source: Videoconferencing helps rural districts bring in qualified teachers | Education Dive

How Virtual Reality Is Helping Train New Teachers – Education Week

The technology offers a middle ground between college classwork and a real K-12 classroom, experts say.

I’d like to know how others feel about using VR as a way to prepare new teachers. Thoughts? Pros & cons?



Source: How Virtual Reality Is Helping Train New Teachers – Education Week