Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

March 1, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

Interview Of The Month: Ted Appel, An Exceptional Principal

As regular readers know, each month I interview people in the education world about whom I want to learn more. You can see read those past interviews here.

Ted Appel is the exceptional principal at the school where I teach, Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento. It’s the largest inner-city high school in the city, and over half of our students are English Language Learners. Ted has also been interviewed by Learning First, and he and I have co-authored an article titled The Positive Impact Of English Language Learners At An Urban School.

What led you to teaching in the classroom, and what prompted your decision to become a principal?

I had been working in outdoor programs for youth at risk for a few years, which was very rewarding and fun, but I felt like school had a overpowering impact on a child’s feelings about being a successful person. I also became interested in the experiential education movement and wondered how it could be applied to classroom learning.

I went into administration because I believed I had received some good training in strong instructional practices and I thought I could have a broader impact by training other teachers in some of those strategies. I eventually became a principal because I realized it was important to have influence over the whole culture of the school in order to really impact the practices in the classroom.

What are the three best things you think you’ve done since you’ve become Burbank’s principal, and what might be three mistakes?

I think the best thing I’ve helped to do at Luther Burbank is create an environment where teachers who are committed to making a difference in students’ lives, have an opportunity to do that work. We’ve created structures, in which everyone has a part, that have resulted in an environment that is orderly, consistent, respectful and dynamic. As a result, we’ve also been able to attract the kind of idealistic, talented, innovative, committed people, an urban school needs in order to make a real difference in kids’ lives.

The other thing I try to do is talk to a lot of people, a lot. The decision making/improvement process is ongoing. I put a lot of ideas out into discussion, hear a lot of feedback and alternative ideas. I think this dynamic leads to a positive professional culture and results in good decisions and creative experiments.

The first big mistake I made when I started was to allow students to use cell phones in the halls during lunch and passing periods. There was an incredible outbreak of organized fights including people from off campus. The hall monitors came to speak with me after three weeks and said, “change the policy or we quit”. What I learned wasn’t just about cell phone rules. I learned that if I think it may be a good idea to make some kind of change, I needed to involve the people who have different perspectives and or would be affected by the decision.

I understand that I make a lot of decisions every day and so I make a lot of mistakes, or don’t do things as well as I could or should. I approach the job like a constant job interview. You try to anticipate issues or questions and prepare with the best approach you know. You often need to think on your feet for what you perhaps did not expect. And you constantly analyze what you said or did and realize how you could have approached it better.

For principals who want to spend some reflective time on their own practice, what might be some important questions you’d recommend they might want to ask themselves?

I think principals need to consider who they talk to. Are they sharing ideas and listening to teachers and staff or just other administrators at the site and central office?

Are the structures, rules, and customs of the school currently necessary and relevant or do they exist for reasons that have disappeared?

Do you believe in the programs and practices of your school, or are you just managing and complying with rules and regulations that have been handed to you?

In looking at the beliefs of those who often self-described as “school reformers,” what do you think might be helpful ideas and unhelpful ones, and why?

It seems that the basis of the current school reform movement, is the belief that teachers and schools are not sufficiently motivated to get better. Thus, competition, punishment and rewards geared to outcome goals are their “innovations” for change and improvement. I believe this creates perverse incentives to manipulate outcomes rather than encourage know how and motivate sound practice.

I also don’t think it is helpful to refuse to acknowledge that some students come to school with intellectual, social, and cultural advantages to be successful in school environments. Acknowledging this fact is not a surrender to poor results. It is merely recognizing what anyone working in a classroom sees every day. It also helps when trying to honestly analyze what is needed, in terms of different approaches and resources, to help students to be successful. We have no problem acknowledging this in art, music or athletics. Why is there such fear in acknowledging it in academics?

I think it can be valuable to give students nationally normed tests. But these tests should not be used to label schools as good or bad. They should be used as a means to evaluate practice and examine ways schools can get better at helping students improve in the skills being assessed.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to share?

People want school improvement to come from a simple fix. With variables as complex as society itself, there will be no simple solutions for all schools and all kids. We need to approach improvement in education not as a fix but as an ongoing dynamic that is achieved through consistent commitment to a common ideal; all children, through education, are entitled to the widest possible array of intellectual, cultural, social, political and economic opportunity. This goal is certainly not easy, nor can we ever really know if it is fully realized. That understanding, that we will never have the absolute answer should not be a source of frustration, should be a source of energy and pride.

Thanks, Ted!

May 2, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo

“The Value Of ‘Small Learning Communities'”

The Value Of ‘Small Learning Communities’ is the title of my latest post at Education Week Teacher.

Educators Ted Appel, ReLeah Cossett, PJ Caposey and Tom Hoerr contribute their commentaries today sharing different perspectives on what a “small learning community” might look like….

I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Learning About Small Learning Communities.

Here are some excerpts:





April 7, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo

We Discuss Small Learning Communities On My Latest BAM! Radio Show


Oops, there appears to be a technical issue with the show and it’s not accessible, but I’m sure BAM! will fix it right away – FIXED NOW!

How Small Learning Communities Create Powerful Climates for Academic Success is the topic of my latest BAM! Radio Show. My guests are the principal at the school where I teach (we’re divided into six “SLC’s”), Ted Appel, and educator ReLeah Cosette-Lent.

They both, and others, have contributed a written commentary on the topic, which will be covered in one of my future Education Week Teacher columns.

I’m adding the show to The Best Resources For Learning About Small Learning Communities.

December 4, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

My New BAM! Radio Show Features An Innovative Strategy For Teacher Evaluation


Can We Evaluate Teachers Based on Factors Teachers Completely Control? is the title of my latest BAM! Radio Show.

It’s a ten-minute conversation I had with Ben Spielberg and Ted Appel, the principal of the school where I teach. Our talk focuses on the idea of measuring inputs — in other words, identifying what practices we know make up good teaching and evaluating educators on whether they are implementing those practices.

This show is a follow-up to my Education Week Teacher post, Using Teacher Evaluations ‘to Promote Growth.’

You can read more about this idea here and here.

November 26, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Giving Thanks: Eleven Key People Who Changed My Professional Career(s) — For The Better!

Yesterday, one of my favorite bloggers – Alexander Russo — wrote an excellent post titled Giving Thanks: 6 Key Moments That Changed My Post-Grad School Career .

It’s inspired me to do something similar:

1. Johnny Baranski, who invited me to join the Portland (Oregon) Catholic Worker and which led to my spending seven years in the Catholic Worker Movement, including starting a soup kitchen/emergency shelter in Santa Rosa, California.

2. Mary Ochs, who took a chance and hired me for my first job as a community organizer and led to a nineteen-year organizing career.

3. Larry McNeil, who was my first supervisor when I began organizing for the Industrial Areas Foundation and from whom I learned so much.

4. Jay Schenirer, then Sacramento School Board member, who encouraged me to apply for my first (and, so far, only) teaching job — at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento.

5. Ted Appel, Burbank principal, who hired me and who continues to provide incredible leadership at our school.

6. Kelly Young, who provides literacy consulting to our school and to others, and from whom I’ve learned more about teaching than from anyone else.

7. Katie Hull Sypnieski, Lara Hoekstra and Dana Dusbiber, close teaching colleagues, friends, and co-authors for the past eleven years.

8. John Norton from Middleweb, who provided very early encouragement to me to begin blogging and writing books.

9. Mary Ann Zehr, who suggested to Education Week that they approach me about writing a column there.

Feel free to share your “thank you’s” to people in the comments, or leave links to blog posts where you do the same….

November 10, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Did The Obama Administration Signal A Major Shift In Teacher Evaluation Policies Today?

Today, the Obama Administration issued new requirements pushing for an equal distribution of “excellent” teachers across all schools in all districts. How did they define an “excellent” teacher? They left a lot of room for states to make that determination, but did say what an excellent teacher is not:

Department officials also indicated what is not “excellent,” including educators in their first year of teaching, those without certification or licensure and those who are absent from class more than 10 days in a school year.

In other words, as Education Week put it:

the Obama administration directs states to focus their plans mainly on “inputs”—such as how many years of experience a teacher has—rather than “outputs,” or how effective teachers actually are at moving the needle on student achievement.

This issue of “input” versus “output” is a topic that the principal of our school, Ted Appel, and I have been discussing for quite awhile. And Ben Spielberg wrote what I think is one of the best pieces on teacher evaluation that anyone has written precisely about it (see This Is One Of The Best Pieces I’ve Read On Teacher Evaluation: “The Problem with Outcome-Oriented Evaluations”).

He described the value of evaluating inputs, as opposed to outputs. In other words, most teacher evaluation discussion is focused on measuring student outcomes. But, as Ben points out, we often have far less control over those outcomes than is believed.

I’m wondering if these new guidelines from the Administration might signal a first move towards recognizing this reality and away from blind adherence to the use of harmful methods like Value-Added Measures?

What do you think? Am I reading too much into today’s announcement?

By the way, if you’d like to read more about what Ben and others have to say about teacher evaluations, I’ve just posted the third post in my Ed Week series on the topic.

October 10, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Seven Strategies For Working With Student Teachers”

Seven Strategies For Working With Student Teachers is the title of my latest Education Week Teacher post.

Today’s final post in the series features what I think is a particularly interesting combination — a quest response from Ted Appel, the principal of the inner-city school where I teach, who describes the innovative requirements he insisted upon if a university was interested in placing student teachers with us; followed by a commentary from Pia Lindquist Wong, director of a university teaching credentials program who found that her ideas dovetailed with those of Ted’s – the two then developed a partnership.

Here are two excerpts:



May 23, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

This Is One Of The Best Pieces I’ve Read On Teacher Evaluation: “The Problem with Outcome-Oriented Evaluations”

Thanks to Jack Schneider, I learned about a post by Ben Spielberg titled The Problem with Outcome-Oriented Evaluations.

It’s a great piece on teacher evaluation, and reflects important points that are seldom raised in discussions on the topic. He described the value of evaluating inputs, as opposed to outputs. In other words, most teacher evaluation discussion is focused on measuring student outcomes. But, as Ben points out, we often have far less control over those outcomes than is believed.

Interestingly, Ted Appel, the principal at our school, and I have been working on an article about this very same point.

With research showing that teachers really have so little impact on student achievement (see The Best Places To Learn What Impact A Teacher & Outside Factors Have On Student Achievement), how accurate can test scores be to assess a teachers effectiveness?

What Ben (and Ted and I) suggest instead is to identify a list of best teaching practices (and, as Ben mentions, being able to incorporate enough space for individual teaching styles) and evaluate teachers on if they are implementing them.

Here’s an excerpt from Ben’s post:


I am regularly frustrated by seeing teacher evaluation rubrics, including the much-ballyhooed one from The New Teacher Project, that are entirely focused on what students are doing, and little on actions taken by the teachers.

Here is a comment from Ted about Ben’s post on a related and critical point:

As the drumbeat for using outcome data as part of teacher evaluation becomes louder and more prevalent, the research on its’ irrelevance as a measure of teacher quality couldn’t be more clear. As the article by Ben Spielberg points out, the correlation between test scores and good teaching does not exist. What Ben does not point out is that even when school systems use test scores as “only a part” of a holistic evaluation, it infects the entire process as it becomes the piece is most easily and simplistically viewed by the public and media. The result is a perverse incentive to find the easiest route to better outcome scores, often at the expense of the students most in need of great teaching input.

Ted’s comment is particularly timely in light of our local union and District’s announcement today that we are beginning a process to develop a new teacher evaluation system.

Both Ted and I have previously written about the dangers of including any standardized test scores in a multiple-measure system. There are many, including the fact that it quickly becomes the “tail that wags the dog.”

You can see our thoughts about this at two previous posts:

The Problem With Including Standardized Test Results As Part Of “Multiple Measures” For Teacher Evaluation

How Our Principal Thinks Using Test Scores To Evaluate Teachers Will Hurt Students

What do you think?

I’m adding this post to The Best Resources For Learning About Effective Student & Teacher Assessments.