Student Spotlight: Sama Eldabaja

I have recently started my journey to earning my Master’s Educational Leadership degree. I have always known I wanted to advance my education and earn a Master’s degree, but was waiting for the “right time.” Over the years, I thought about what I wanted a Master’s in and where I would like to go. I did a lot of research at different campuses, online programs, but none of them stood out. I graduated from TWU, and I knew they only offered and online degree. I was more interested in finding a program that allowed me to have face-to-face meetings as well as online. I considered the University of North Texas in Denton, but that was a long drive from where I am at now. As the search continued, I came across UNT-Dallas. I also knew two coworkers that were going to UNT-Dallas to get their Master’s Degree. The more I considered, the more I knew I wanted to attend. As I started my journey at UNT-Dallas, it has been nothing but positive, encouraging, and is flexible. The staff is also great. They are supportive, encouraging, respond in a timely manner, and take the time to see what is the best fit for each person individually.

If I know someone is considering getting their masters I would recommend going to UNT-Dallas. When I had a question or concern, they could find an answer for me in a timely manner. They are flexible in offering classes online, in person, or even some hybrid classes. As a teacher, this allows me to be able to continue going to school as well as work full-time and spend time with my family.

I hope to be able to get my Ph.D. at UNT-Dallas if possible; I also plan to be a life-long learner. As a teacher, I always say you cannot stop learning. My classes have been very beneficial to my teaching and future career as a campus leader. Not only do I learn new and different techniques to help improve my school, it helps improve my teaching skills, get new ideas, and be able to look at a bigger picture.

UNT-Dallas Educational Leadership Student Spotlight: Mary Newton

 My experience in the Master’s in Educational Leadership program at UNT-Dallas has been one distinctively compassionate. I know this to be true because this will be the second Master’s degree of my career. I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in educational leadership. My first Master’s degree was in psychology.

I’m in my second semester of a leadership program where I will earn a Master’s degree in education. I searched online for nearly six months while working and living in California. I knew I was headed home to Dallas at the end of the summer in 2017 and I found the UNT-Dallas program.

I phoned and talked extensively with a gentleman who was the Superintendent of the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district. He was very nice and compassionate about the program, and about my contribution to the educational system. I was encouraged. He made himself available to me for any and all questions and he stayed in constant contact until my acceptance letter was delivered. It was amazing!

I am in a cohort and was enrolled in two classes during my first semester (Fall 2017). The admissions coordinator/officer has and will continue to enroll me in all of my classes, so that I am not burdened with taking unnecessary classes. She answered any and all concerns that I had, and showed compassion to me knowing that I have to work full-time and take care of a family, all while attending classes.

My classes during the first semester were rigorous and meaningful. However, my instructors were first-year instructors. This led to frustration and unhappiness among my peers and I. I reached out to the Dean and encountered his assistant. I was reluctant to tell her why I was calling, but she was very empathetic, patient, and kind. She took time to listen to my concerns and complaints. In addition, she was sincere and advised me to speak to the Assistant Dean first. She showed compassion and empathy, which I truly appreciated.

To my surprise, the Assistant Dean contacted me in a timely manner, as the assistant assured me he would. The Assistant Dean listened and did not judge or make light of my concerns. He offered guidance and said that he would do a better job of coaching his new professors. He took responsibility and asked for me to provide feedback before the end of the semester. Things got noticeably better and the classes were enjoyable and informative. I appreciate his compassion and checking in to be sure that I was being successful in the program.

The classes aren’t easy, but they are informative and the professors are masters in their subject areas. In addition, the classes allow us to acquire practical experience with texts that are pertinent to our success as leaders in education. I look forward to graduating in 2019.

Athena Newton, MA
Elementary Teacher and Adjunct Professor at TCC

Standards and Curriculum and Instruction – Oh My! Part 1: Standards

Standards and Curriculum and Instruction – Oh My!
Part 1: Standards

DISCLAIMER: This blog is the first in a series designed to educate and inform readers on the differences between standards, curriculum, and instruction. These blogs are not an endorsement of Common Core State Standards.

– Dr. Jerry Burkett and Dr. Cathy Moak

What are Standards?

We all have standards. There are personal standards, moral standards, national and community standards, standards of living, standard measurement, even military and gold standards. All of these standards establish a baseline within the respective area that we as a society collectively accept.

Simply put:

  • A mile will be 5,280 feet no matter where you drive.
  • A dollar is accepted all over the United States.
  • Running water and indoor plumbing are requirements.

While our personal standards may be different, (i.e. Lexus vs. Toyota, Motel 6 vs. Omni Hotels, McDonald’s vs. In ‘n Out Burger) our community standards are mutually agreed upon through a social contract. This includes our educational standards.

What are the TEKS?

By the year 2000 every state had some form of education standards in place for their public schools. Education standards are the learning goals for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level in each subject. These standards help educators ensure students have the knowledge and skills they need to be successful. Each state decides differently on which standards they would adopt for their public schools. And, it is important to note that each state still has the right to make these decisions.

In Texas, the education standards are referred to as the TEKS or Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. The TEKS were developed and implemented September 1998 in response to the growing technology needs of the state. The TEKS was originally “mandated only for foundation subjects such as math, English language arts, science, and social studies. Since September 2003, TEKS-compatible instruction is now required in both Foundation and Enrichment subject areas”.

The TEKS were written and reviewed by teachers, professors, administrators, community members, businesses, and approved by the State Board of Education. They are regularly reviewed and revised to meet the growing demands of student learning in the state of Texas.

All textbooks, curriculum, lesson plans, and classroom instructional techniques found in classrooms in the state of Texas are based on the TEKS. These are some of the tools that classroom teachers use to process the complicated and bland TEKS into rigorous instruction.

First, lets talk about education standards.

What is Common Core?

In 2009 several (48) states got together to develop the Common Core State Standards. Please note that this was not initiated by the federal government, but by governors and state commissioners of education of their own volition. The United States Constitution does not establish a national standard or authority for education, rather leaving the institution up to each state to create and manage. This includes funding, standards, certification, and management.

Source: Closing the Expectations Gap 2013 annual Report on the Alignment of State K–12 Policies and Practice with the Demands of College and Careers

The establishment of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2009 is an attempt by members of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and state school chiefs and governors to recognize the value of consistent, real-world learning goals. These groups launched the effort “to ensure all students, regardless of where they live, are graduating high school prepared for college, career, and life.” In short, the CCSS were designed to create standards for proficiency in the United States that defined the expectations for each high school graduate.

The creation process for the CCSS included examining standards that were in use in each state as well as international standards with the purpose of addressing student expectations for elementary school through high school.

Because CCSS were developed with input from standards that were being used by some states in 2009, there is some consistency between some CCSS and the standards in states that did not adopt Common Core. This includes Texas. As such, it would not be uncommon to find similar educational standards between each state.

For example, Texas has a set of kindergarten standards required specifically for students in that grade level while 11 U.S. states have no standards for kindergarten.*

What is the impact of the Common Core Standards on Texas?

The CCSS have no impact in regard to standards in Texas. It is important to understand that the CCSS are just standards — not curriculum, not instruction, and not instructional materials. Texas has its own standards, and our standards (TEKS) cannot be replaced by CCSS without a legislated change. Having said that, you may see other elements ALIGNED with the CCSS in Texas. All of these would likely be instructional materials. Please read the article Is there Common Core in Texas? Yes, but not in the way you might think for more information on why you may see these materials.

Contrary to popular belief, standards are the most transparent element we have in education. They are written and approved by each state through a legislative process. They are available online and in writing at all times. They cannot be changed without state approval. They cannot be adopted without legislative approval.

Here is a table to help you understand each element in education, the accountability associated with the element, the possible impact from CCSS, and the level of transparency.

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Education standards are important – whether they are TEKS, CCSS, or something else. These are the fundamental goals that serve as the building blocks to all other elements of our education system. When you hear that someone is concerned about “Common Core in Texas,” ask them to clarify their concern with the understanding of what standards truly are. It may be that their true concern is about curriculum, instruction, or instructional materials. And these may represent very legitimate concerns. But it is important to understand exactly what standards are – and are not – before we can achieve meaningful dialogue about how these common goals impact curriculum and instruction.

The next post in our series will address curriculum. What is it? How does it differ from standards and instruction? What are common types we see in Texas schools?

*Prior to adoption of the Common Core State Standards which are only written for math and English Language Arts

Standards and Curriculum and Instruction – Oh My! Part 2: Curriculum

Standards and Curriculum and Instruction – Oh My!
Part 2: Curriculum

DISCLAIMER: This blog is the second in a series designed to educate and inform readers on the differences between standards, curriculum, and instruction. These blogs are not an endorsement of Common Core State Standards.

By Dr. Jerry Burkett and Dr. Cathy Moak

In our previous article we defined educational standards. In this article we show the relationship between standards and curriculum and why it is necessary for a school district to have curriculum to meet the educational standards.

Consider the following:

  • Does it make sense to teach World War I before World War II?
  • Should a teacher conduct a lesson on area before showing her students what a square looks like?
  • How many different ways are there to teach multiplication? When should it be taught?

The three examples above are all expectations derived from our state standards that Texas students are required to learn. Educational standards, like the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), are goals. These goals inform educators and parents about the content and skills their students are to master in a given school year. Unfortunately, these goals don’t come with a plan. We want our students to know and understand concepts from World War II but much of that lesson will be lost if World War I wasn’t covered first.  It would be impossible to measure area unless we know what the square looks like. And multiplication can be taught in multiple ways for visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners.

Below, is a real example from the Texas standards (TEKS). Each of the four standards are exactly the same at the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade:


Third Grade Fourth Grade Fifth Grade Sixth Grade
3.22B Use the complete subject and the complete predicate in a sentence. 4.20B Use the complete subject and the complete predicate in a sentence. 5.20B Use the complete subject and the complete predicate in a sentence. 6.19C Use the complete subject and the complete predicate in a sentence.

Common sense would tell you that a teacher would not teach these concepts exactly the same at the third grade level as she would at the sixth grade level. But, teachers need a plan to know what should be mastered at the 3rd grade level to be prepare for the 4th grade level and so on. This is why school districts need curriculum. While standards are goals, curriculum is the plan to meet the goals. Curriculum is a detailed description of how students and teachers interact with specific content in a specific sequence over a school year to meet the educational standards.The execution of the curriculum, or plan, is the instruction.

Standards are typically written in a plain, straightforward language and are designed to simply state a student expectation of learning.  However, the standard does not explain HOW to teach the student expectation or WHAT materials to use in order to allow the student to demonstrate mastery on the standard. Standards are goals and do not specify curriculum, textbooks, workbooks, or lesson plans; all of these things are at the discretion of the district. It is good that the districts have this discretion. They each have different needs and need to have the ability to determine what curriculum would best meet those needs.

Research has shown that one of the most effective tools in successful schools is a guaranteed viable curriculum. A guaranteed and viable curriculum is one that guarantees equal opportunity for learning for all students and adequate time for teachers to teach content and for students to learn it. District curriculum is a large body of work and it takes trained educators to ensure the that a curriculum is guaranteed and viable. Educators who write curriculum must be familiar with the state standards, understand the conceptual development of subject matter over several grade spans, and have adequate time to plan and write the curriculum.  Often, the process includes master teachers who meet over the summertime, evaluate the current curriculum, suggest changes based on data, and then train colleagues on the new curriculum when school begins. Unfortunately, many of the districts in Texas do not have the resources to write their own curriculum.

Another struggle for school districts in Texas is the ever changing nature of our standards. Every time the TEKS are changed, districts have to rewrite their curriculum. The same is true for the timing of the state assessments (STAAR/EOC). The assessments are the means for the state to determine if students have met the goals (standards). For a curriculum to be guaranteed and viable, a district has to have a curriculum (plan) to make sure all of the content and skills are mastered at the time of assessment. Every time the date of an assessment changes, the district has to update the curriculum to ensure there is adequate time for teachers to teach content and for students to learn it. In other words, curriculum is a very necessary, never ending process and expense for school districts.

What are these districts to do? Some districts have joined together to write curriculum. Some use the curriculum of larger districts that have the resources to write their own curriculum. Many have purchased curriculum for their districts. There are several curricula available for schools in Texas. One very popular curriculum is the TEKS Resource System (TRS) curriculum, formerly known as CSCOPE. Once plagued by controversy over a few lessons created for instruction (not curriculum), the TRS is now just a curriculum built to be guaranteed and viable for Texas school districts.

There are other curricula used in Texas schools. For example, if a student is in an Advanced Placement course, the instructor is required to use the AP curriculum. When Texas was one of the largest consumers of national curriculum, publishing companies used to write curriculum to meet the Texas standards. However, with the adoption of the Common Core standards in 41 states, we are no longer a top priority for these publishing companies. Therefore, most the curriculum published is aligned with the Common Core. Publishing companies haven’t forgotten the Lone Star State. They now retrofit the curricula written for Common Core to meet the TEKS. As a result, much of what we see in Texas, created at a national level, will be considered aligned with the Common Core.

The national organizations who write these curricula follow a process to develop their content. The writers collect and analyze standards from all 50 states and attempt to align similar standards found in each state.  It is common to find standards in some states that are not found in others.

All of this begs the question: How do we ensure that our districts are not using Common Core standards? The answer has already been given. The goal for all of our educators in Texas is to meet the standards given to us by the state of Texas, the TEKS. The plan is to have a curriculum that is guaranteed and viable to meet this goal. Teachers will execute this plan with high quality instruction based on their curriculum.

Since a variety of instructional materials are frequently used by teachers to meet their standards, one could expect to see a worksheet, lesson plan, workbook, or instructional guide with the words “Common Core Aligned” printed on the material; especially since 41 states (40 as of Thursday, June 5, as Oklahoma has dropped CCSS) have adopted CCSS and Internet resources with a “Common Core” label are easily found. This simply means that the curriculum writer who developed that content went through a process of aligning similar standards from a particular state with the Common Core Standards.

In fact, if a district has adopted a national curriculum to meet the state standards, teachers may have to use instructional materials that are “aligned” with the Common Core. Consider this, humans share 92% of their DNA with mice. But, mice and humans look nothing alike. The TEKS share 68% of their standards with Common Core. The curriculum and instruction in Texas classrooms will look nothing like Common Core, or we won’t meet our goal.

In part three of our series, we will examine classroom instruction and the variety of instructional techniques teachers can use to process both standards and curriculum.

Standards and Curriculum and Instruction – Oh My! Part 3: Instruction

Standards and Curriculum and Instruction – Oh My!
Part 3: Instruction

By Dr. Jerry Burkett and Dr. Cathy Moak

DISCLAIMER: This blog is the third in a series designed to educate and inform readers on the differences between standards, curriculum, and instruction. These blogs are not an endorsement of Common Core State Standards. In our previous articles we defined educational standards and curriculum. In this article we show the relationship between standards, curriculum and instruction. This beginning article on instruction will provide a general overview. In future articles we will explore specific approaches to instruction.

Standards are the expectations, or goals, that are established to drive student learning and mastery of content and grade levels. Curriculum is a method of ordering standards in concise tools for teachers to use to plan lessons and help inform teachers as they create their instruction. Curriculum is WHAT content the teacher delivers to students. Instruction is HOW teachers deliver that content.

Instruction is the method or way of teaching students. The standards, or goals, will never be achieved without a guaranteed viable curriculum. But, that is not enough. Without effective instruction, even the best curriculum cannot lead a student to success. Effective instruction is the most critical factor in student success.

There are a variety of instructional strategies that have been used by teachers to deliver content to students, making every students probability for success very dependent on the instructional approach in the classroom. Some teachers have stood before their students and lectured for hours and hours to deliver content with little or no student interaction (i.e., Lecture). Other teachers have repeated information over and over again (i.e., “Drill and Kill”), forcing students to memorize endless facts without explanation or discovery of their origin. And some teachers have passed out worksheets for students to complete while the teachers retreat to their desk (i.e., Teacher-Centered Instruction).

While many of us have experienced teachers who have used these types of instructional techniques educational researchers have discovered through peer reviewed research and study that these instructional techniques are NOT EFFECTIVE.

For example, many of us had to memorize the 50 state capitals during our time in school.  While this information stayed with some of us, many people have forgotten over time. Unless you are a geography teacher or a contestant on a game show, have you ever had a need in your life to know the 50 state capitals?

Or, would it have been more useful for you to understand why these capitals were chosen?  Maybe study the various forms of state government throughout the United States? Or perhaps to think critically about how they were built and the concepts around how they became central hubs for government?

Although you may have forgotten the factual parts of those questions, the real skills you would have acquired are the ability to think and process information related to those capitals, which are attributes that employers seek in the workplace.

Research in the area of instruction tells us that effective instruction includes a small group environment, working on projects that are designed to push students to think critically.  In addition, teachers serve as facilitators of student learning, guiding students through cross-curricular lessons and infusing technology into the instruction where necessary and appropriate.

The table below outlines several strategies, their characteristics, examples, and classroom effectiveness.

Category Characteristics Examples Effectiveness
Direct Instruction Teacher-directed, practice and drill Teacher lecture, demonstrations Effectiveness is limited to providing information, step by step skills, and basic knowledge construction.
Indirect Instruction Inquiry, induction, student-centered Reflective, discussion, problem-solving, guided inquiry Very effective for problem-solving, life-long learning, student motivation, comparing/contrasting, influence, predicting, summarizing, and analyzing.
Interactive Instruction Peer-learning, discussion, multiple solutions Socratic discussions, collaborative learning, debates Very effective for debates, brainstorming, and problem-solving
Experiential Learning Hands-on learning, active participation, analysis, application Project-based learning, problem -based learning, simulations, lab experiments, building models, surveys Most effective. Greatly increases understanding and retention compared to other strategies. Increases student motivation
Independent Study Student-decision making, analysis, self-reliance Student centers, research projects, flipped learning, essays, computer assisted instruction, online instruction Very effective in developing student initiative, self-reliance, self-improvement, and lifelong learning.

Most educators agree that teachers should have enough autonomy to make the best instructional decisions for their classrooms. However, all teachers should be held accountable for implementing the curriculum and using classroom strategies that best meet the needs of their students. A skilled teacher will use a mix of each of these strategies when they are appropriate. For example, when given the TEKS standard:

1.6A The student is expected to: classify and sort regular and irregular two-dimensional shapes based on attributes using informal geometric language,

it would not make sense for a teacher to lecture on the differences between regular and irregular two-dimensional shapes. First grade students are not likely to retain information from a demonstration on an overhead projector describing the differences between regular and irregular two-dimensional shapes. It would be much more effective to provide the students with actual hands-on experience sorting the shapes and classifying the differences on their own, with teacher guidance.

Effective teachers analyze the standards and the curriculum to determine the best strategy for their students. Ineffective teachers stick to one approach and choose that approach based on the teacher’s needs rather than the needs of the students.

The reality in education is that the game has changed. The game changer is technology. Technology has created access to knowledge that our world has never seen. As such, students no longer have a need to regurgitate the capitals of the 50 states and they no longer need the teacher to drill and kill those capitals. Teachers are no longer the supreme keepers of the information; Google now has the stronghold on that. Facts are free and readily available.

However, what Google can’t do is help students facilitate, analyze, synthesize or process this knowledge. They need a teacher for that. They need a teacher who can take well-written standards, use a powerful curriculum tool, and plan research-based instruction to help facilitate a purposeful learning environment for students that will help them think critically about the information that is being delivered.

This is learning in the 21st century.  It’s not a conspiracy.

The Responsibility to Close to Digital Divide Belongs to Everyone

I was talking with a student a couple of weeks ago about completing a paper and I requested that the document be written in a Google Doc and shared with me. I have been a Google Certified Educator for 4 years and with the ever presence of “Google” in our Internet society, I honestly didn’t think anything of the request. A few days later, the student contacted me and said simply, “I am sorry. I don’t know what a Google Doc is. Can you show me?”

If you are curious, this conversation didn’t happen in a high school. It occurred with a 23 year old graduate student working on their master’s degree.

I pondered the request over and over in my head. This student was not that far removed from high school. Clearly, they knew how to navigate the Internet, conduct basic research and searches, and knew how to access online material for my course, but the knowledge of Google Applications clearly escaped this student.

How did this happen?

A recent article in Education Week reported that schools spend over $3 billion on technology in the classroom. With the latest and greatest of technology in schools today, how are students escaping what I think is basic when it comes to navigating digital content?

One possible reason is a lack of access to technology. Despite the seemingly incredible investment in technology in schools, not every school is reaping the benefits of funding for their students. In fact, it is not uncommon to find limited a limited number of devices and limited wireless coverage in some of our poorest schools in the country. This means that many students, much like my own graduate student, are coming from under-served areas and lack the technology skills necessary to even navigate a university classroom. This phenomenon is known as the “Digital Divide”.

In a Pew survey, teachers of low income students reported that there are obstacles to using educational technology effectively than when compared to teachers in more affluent schools. As affluent students become more accustomed to using technology at home and an in schools, low income students tend to get left behind. Affluent students are more likely to have one or more parents who use technology on a regular basis in their careers compared to low income students and are also more likely to have an Internet connection at home. According to the 2012 Pew Report “Digital Differences,” only 62% of people in households making less than $30,000 a year used the internet, while in those making $50,000-74,999 that percentage jumped to 90%.

Access to technology has already moved from a luxury to a necessity. Educators have advocated for the need to increase access for students to multiple forms of technology in the classroom. I believe it is time for other members of the technology community to become advocates as well. The quick pace of change in technology is better measured from those who build and improve the technological world than from those who merely integrate technology into lesson plans. Closing the digital divide is a responsibility for everyone.

A Day Which Will Live in Infamy

leadershipOn this day, 10 years ago, I became a school administrator. I was 4 months into my first year as an AP in an elementary school. I assisted in saving the life of an older gentleman through CPR and AED. He collapsed in the main office 10 minutes before lunch time on a Friday. I had to coordinate EMT, 1st graders, parents, cafeteria staff, and breaking the news to my music teacher that it was her husband who sustained the heart attack.

Remember, God does not choose the qualified, he qualifies the chosen. When leadership is thrust upon you, take that opportunity, run with it, and trust your training, relationships, and education to see you through. But, most importantly, never lose what’s truly important in any leadership role…serving people to make them better than when you met them. You have no other role.