Professional Practices


August 2018    Volume III Issue VII






Marcia Baldanza, the author of Professional Practices and a Just ASK Senior Consultant, lives in Arlington, Virginia. Until recently she worked for the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, where she was an Area Director for School Reform and Accountability; prior to that she was Director of Federal and State Programs.

A Few of My Favorite Things
(An editorial review by Paula Rutherford)

In January 2016, Marcia wrote that she would “use my more than 25 years of experience as a teacher, turnaround principal, director of state and federal programs, director of school reform and accountability, supervisor of principals, and mom to offer practical strategies and insightful reflections from the field to help answer the powerful and essential questions embedded in Just ASK publications.

  • What do districts, schools, and classrooms look like when they are organized around a commitment to the achievement of high standards by all students?
  • What is my role in creating, implementing, and maintaining such a district, school, and classroom?
  • What do districts, schools, and classrooms look like when all the adults in are committed to the success of all other adults?
  • What do districts, schools, and classrooms look like when they are results oriented?
  • What do districts, schools, and classrooms look like when all the stakeholders are committed to continuous improvement no matter how well they are already doing?”

… and she has done just that and will continue to do so with wit and wisdom! Marcia’s next issue will be published in September.

This month I am taking the editorial liberty of identifying a few of my favorite tidbits from the first 30 issues of Professional Practices.  After you have read through my selections, I encourage you to take a look back through some of those issues as well as others, identify a few of your favorite tidbits, and let me know what you choose and why these ideas or strategies resonate with you. I look forward to hearing from you and sharing them with Marcia and others. You can locate the library of past issues at There are also hyperlinks to all issues at the end of my first rendition of “A Few of My Favorite Things.”



April 2016: PSEL Standard IV: Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

Paula notes: Naturally I would like this one since Marcia cites me! With inspiration from Don O’Connell, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, I’ve come to call learning standards the destination, curriculum the road map, instruction the vehicles, and assessment our determination of the success of the journey.)

Marcia writes: Paula Rutherford offers the most precise and understandable definitions and distinctions for curriculum, instruction, and assessment, and when I have used these in conversations, the differences among the three elements become crystal clear. Even clearer is their need for clarity, alignment, and deep understanding.

  • Curriculum: What is taught and learned. The curriculum is the structured set of learning outcomes for a prescribed course of study. The state standards do not tell us how to teach and do not tell us how to test. They do tell us what is expected from every student at each grade level, even where there isn’t a test. I firmly believe that teachers do not have the right to withhold curriculum that students will be assessed on simply because they may not understand the standard. It is our role as the educational leader to ensure that every child who is in our school works on the specified curriculum and masters that curriculum as evidenced by the state’s summative assessment. In order to accomplish this, every teacher must know their standards and the content limits within. On a related, but important note, the text or series selected by the district to accompany a course is a tool and is not the curriculum. When teachers teach cover to cover they miss many entire standards and many partial standards and limit student access and opportunity.
  • Instruction: How we teach. An instructional repertoire is the array of teaching and learning strategies we use to design experiences that promote student learning of the curriculum. These strategies are the vehicles we use to drive learning. It is here that differentiation, personalization, active learning and engagement, scaffolding, and extension come into play. These aren’t just good ideas or buzz words; these are critical elements of quality lesson design that move all students towards mastery of rigorous curriculum and they are not optional!
  • Assessment: How we and the students know what students have learned. An assessment repertoire allows us to have students demonstrate what they know and what they can do in a wide variety of ways. All forms of classroom assessment can be used as summative or formative data; assessment always yields actionable data to guide lesson design. The data pyramid here was developed for teachers to better understand their role in gauging their assessment practices. It reflects the type and frequency of assessments common in most districts.


Assessment Triangle



May 2016: PSEL Standard IV Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

Paula notes: Marcia presents here key points gleaned from her work with schools, books read, and articles examined. She found the September 2012 issue of Educational Leadership a particularly valuable resource. It caused me to revisit that issue; I hope that you will dig it out, too. If you need ideas about how to use this amazing collection of key points with staff, write to either of us; we will be glad to help.)

Marcia writes: Twenty Tantalizing Tidbits on Feedback

  • Good feedback not only motivates, but also transfers a sense of agency to the learner! (Marge Sherer)
  • Before a teacher gives feedback, students need to know the learning target so they have a purpose for using the feedback they receive. (Susan Brookhart)
  • Sometimes a simple question, “Can you tell me about this?” can set everything in motion. (Maja Wilson)
  • It’s hard to imagine children glued to video games, if instead of receiving on-going, real-time feedback, getting their results weeks later in the mail. (Bryan Goodwin, Kristen Miller)
  • When teachers provide students with more guidance than they need, feedback doesn’t deepen the learning. (Dylan Wiliam)
  • Feedback has one of the highest effects on student learning. Where is the student going? How is the student doing? Where to next? (John Hattie)
  • Basically, feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal. (Grant Wiggins)
  • When we give a grade as part of our feedback, students routinely read only as far as the grade. (Peter Johnston)
  • Effective feedback must be offered during the learning, while there is still time to act on it. (Jan Chappuis)
  • Feedback is defined as helpful information or criticism that is given to someone so they can improve a performance, product, etc. (Daniel Webster).
  • Give kids a chance to tell you what they need. (Cris Tovani)
  • Absent a learning target, students believe that the goal is simply to complete the activity-finishing rather than learning. (Angela Di Michele Lalor)
  • When a teacher gives feedback to the whole class, many students think it’s not meant for them but someone else. (John Hattie)
  • Feedback that falls short might make the recipient decide the goal is too hard or easy, reject or ignore the feedback, or abandon the goal altogether. (Dylan Wiliam)
  • Feedback is the breakfast of champions. (Ken Blanchard)
  • Learners need endless feedback more than they need endless teaching. (Grant Wiggins)
  • Feedback, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a child’s growth without destroying his roots. (adapted from Frank Clark)
  • A major role for teachers in the learning process is to provide the kind of feedback to students that encourages their learning and provides signposts and directions along the way, bringing them closer to independence. (Lorna Earl)
  • Good feedback systems produce a stream of data to students about how they’re doing–a flow of pieces of information that is hourly and daily as opposed to weekly and monthly–which is the rate of feedback produced by systems that rely on tests. (Jon Saphier)
  • It was only when I discovered that feedback was most powerful when it is from the student to the teacher that I started to understand it better. When teachers seek, or at least are open to feedback from students as to what students know, what they understand, where they make errors, when they have misconceptions, when they are not engaged–then teaching and learning can be synchronized and powerful. Feedback to teachers helps make learning visible. (John Hattie)



July 2016: Standard VI Professional Capacity of School Personnel School Personnel

Paula notes: In this issue, Marcia presents seven big ideas for developing capacity of staff. Her Big Idea #6: Promote Personal and Professional Health stopped me in my tracks. I have never heard of anyone orchestrating most of these ideas. I am still shaking my head at originality and brilliance of these ideas. Of course, I do not know why I was surprised as I have worked with Marcia in three different school districts, including one in which she was named the Principal of the Year!

Marcia writes: Big Idea #6: Promote Personal and Professional Health
I cared a great deal about the staff at each of my schools. I knew them well; I was truly interested in them as people; I enjoyed their company. We spent a lot of time together and I wanted the staff to feel valued for their current and future contributions. Some simple yet important ways to have my actions match my words were to:

  • Have the health department come to the school to give flu shots to staff (and students)
  • Ask a local yoga studio to hold classes in our school
  • Secure discounts at local gyms, restaurants, stores
  • Pay the school PE teacher to offer aerobics or Zumba
  • Schedule the local mammogram bus to park in the lot for the day for teachers to get their annual check up
  • Hold blood drives
  • Invite local health foods store to do a demonstration on healthy meal preparation
  • Plan and participate in 5K runs for a charity or other good cause
  • Collaborate with PTA to offer chair massages for teacher appreciation week
  • Set up walking clubs before or after school and celebrate health improvements
  • Invite significant others to the Teacher Appreciation Luncheon for which we turned the school lobby into a café.



August 2016: PSEL Standard VII Professional Community for Teachers and Staff

Paula notes: First; let me simply say “AMEN” to what Marcia has written here.  Do not miss the powerful point Marcia makes about the four questions a principal should ask… especially the part about the evidence. I feel so strongly about this that I repeat her statement here:

The “How do you know?” part of each question should cause leaders to examine the evidence and look at instructional practices, student work, formative assessments, and more.

Marcia writes: In 2012 the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching published Beyond Job- Embedded: Ensuring That Professional Development Gets Results. Their research moves leaders to develop and support explicit protocols for planning and structuring collaborative teacher meetings so that the critical shift from “trying it out” to “figuring out solutions” occurs reliably across collaborative teams. When this happens, teachers can see the impact of teaching strategies on student learning and become invested in changing classroom practices to get better results. Too often I’ve been witness to the lack of effects of “trying it out” with students who needed us to have “figured it out.”

In order to establish the school as a professional learning community (PLC), leaders must develop an infrastructure that guarantees a “yes” on each of these four questions:

  • Do all teachers experience high quality professional learning? How do you know?
  • Does the professional learning increase teachers’ knowledge and skills? How do you know?
  • Do teachers use their new knowledge and skills to implement new strategies in the classroom? How do you know?
  • Do the classroom strategies improve students’ learning? How do you know?

The “How do you know?” part of each question should cause leaders to examine the evidence and look at instructional practices, student work, formative assessments, and more.

As instructional leaders, principals are bestowed with implementation of job-embedded professional learning and its impact on learning.  (Once again, Paula adds a resounding AMEN!)



September 2016: PSEL Standard VIII Meaningful Engagement of Families and Community

Paula notes: Just when I think I have just reread my favorite issue, I come across my new favorite issue. I have to say, this entire issue deserves your full attention. It was hard to decide what part to include here, but I finally settled on the following segment. You are making a big mistake if you do not read the entire issue!

Marcia writes: First Impressions Matter

We tell our son that you only have one chance to make a first impression, so make it your best. This is also great advice for school leaders! Here are some ways you can make a first impression that matters:

  • Front office staff. Be sensitive to how the furniture is arranged to allow for movement and interaction. Do staff members face guests and are they prompt and helpful? Conversation should be professional and greeting protocols should be in place.
  • The curb appeal of the school speaks volumes. Spend a little money on some flower pots and mulch. Clean restrooms send important messages to families, visitors and students.
  • Phone calls. My practice was to have phone calls answered no later than the third ring. Answering machines would not be on during the school day. Paper messages were taken for teachers and placed in their mailbox. A routine script was taped to the desk near every phone in the school.
  • Waiting area. Never have students waiting to see the principal wait with parents or other visitors. We partnered with PTA to buy rocking chairs for our lobby and a TV to be able to broadcast student news, performances, honor roll names, parent events, etc.
  • Lunch with students. Parents sometimes wanted to join their children for lunch. The cafeteria can be noisy and crowded, so we partnered with a local hardware store to donate picnic tables for a small patio area. Students would invite a friend to join them on the patio for lunch.
  • Parent bulletin board with take-aways. Grade levels took turns making the bulletin board each month and posted regular parenting tips and take-aways.
  • Class directories. With permission, we made class directories. This helped parents arrange carpool, group project work, play dates, birthday parties, etc.
  • Parent resource centers. With Title I funds, we built a parent resource room near the office, not near classrooms. The space housed computers, copiers, laminators, videos, coffee, books, and comfy furniture. It became a place where we host small parent book groups, help parents complete job applications and lunch applications, as well as house facilities for volunteers to make copies or materials for classrooms. A parent volunteer staffed the room and worked with other parents to offer learning sessions on topics of need and importance to them.
  • In linguistically diverse schools, being able to communicate can be a challenge. Finding someone on staff who can help translate when needed helps make all parents feel valued and included.
  • Election days. Many schools are open on election days and act as polling places for the community. Sometimes our voting lines would be long and we used the opportunity to sell donuts and coffee for PTA and invited students to greet the voters and while in line would share their learning with them.



Library of Professional Practices




Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only.

Please include the following citation on all copies: Baldanza, Marcia. “A Few of My Favorite Things.”  Professional Practices. August 2018. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development. © 2018 All rights reserved.