Thursday, December 19, 2013

The improvement dilemma

99% of people want to improve, but the majority don't know how.  I think this is a major dilemma in education.  All teachers seek to get better, but our system doesn't allow for it.  How do we expect teachers to get better when a typical school only devotes three days of in-service for professional development.  In my experience these days have been disconnected from what teachers want and really need.  We are no different in Rugby, we have three in-service days and two of them are before the year starts.

We are taking major steps in embedding professional learning in our school system this year.  We are providing the TIME that is needed to ensure that all take part.  It isn't perfect and we are reevaluating it for improvement, but it's a start.  Here are some examples late startteacher led PD, and district class.

The longer I continue my career in school leadership the more I realize how important it is to build the capacity of ALL educators in the building.  If pockets of excellence exist, it creates a lottery system for kids.  Schooling becomes a game of luck for students and parents.  We as school leaders often tell our struggling, and average teachers that they need to get better.  We fail when we don't provide them the clear path of how to get better.  Our professional learning rarely addresses their needs.  

We are looking at transforming our system and creating something that provides choice, autonomy and allows the teacher to own their learning.  I would assume the goal of professional development is to transform the teacher and build their capacity.  I believe the only way that is possible is to turn the keys over to them and let them own their learning.  I believe we have to fix the structure before we can ask a teacher to devote more time outside the day for learning.  Right now your top performers will, and your strugglers to average teachers won't devote time outside of the contract. Therefore we continue to create a lottery system for students and parents.  It is about capacity building and we need provide a path for each individual teacher to get better.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

What are you producing?

I presented recently at our state's Learning Forward conference.  I was asked to talk about professional learning in our district, and more specifically our late start for professional learning communities.  One of the issues that I see in this profession is that we don't share innovations that take place in our districts very well.  We are tight-lipped due to various reasons. I think often times we feel the innovation may not be worthy in the eyes of our peers.  We won't move in this profession if we are too worried about what our peers or other critics will say. Or we are too humble and feel that the innovation isn't worthy to share. There isn't a silver bullet that will fix our schools.  It is a variety of well thought out changes that will lead us to improvement.  If we don't share what we are producing we will continue to be stagnant.

I challenge you to to a risk, and put yourself out there! Talk about the great things your schools are doing.  It doesn't matter how small the initiative is, if it is working share it!  We have so many platforms to share these days.  Take a minute to blog about it, find time to speak at local or state conference about it, and tweet about it.  If you are seeing success share it!   I always like to hear what other schools are doing.  We are always "stealing" ideas and making them our own in education.  

What are you producing? 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Professional learning and autonomy

Lyn Hilt  put together a post earlier this week regarding innovative ways to provide high quality professional learning.  I have reflected quite a bit on this subject over the years and want to provide our teachers with the autonomy to grow as professionals.
Learning forward defines professional development as something that occurs primarily multiple times per week or the equivalent of several hours per week.
I can honestly say that this happens with some of our teachers but not all.  That is why I think it is imperative that we embed professional learning into the school day.  This will eliminate our pockets of excellence and build our overall teacher capacity.

We are looking at moving our professional development days into the school year.  In my opinion if our PD is outside of the school year it rarely enters the classroom.  I think it is important that we space out our PD days so that we can provide follow up throughout the year.  The goal is to have either a 1/2 day or a full day of PD each month.

This setup would provide roughly 40 hours of professional development for teachers throughout the year on top of the 36 hours of PLC time. Teachers during PLC time would create their professional learning goal(s) for the 2014-2015 school year.  We would ask that they brainstorm and research what they will learn during the 40 hours.  A concern when you allow this much flexibility is how do we hold them accountable?  This is simple, we deal with them individually.  I believe teachers will run with this concept, but it needs to be well planned on the teacher's part.

This concept allows teachers to individualize for themselves.  They will be able to tailor what they want to learn to their needs.  It provides choice, and the autonomy needed to grow as professionals. This idea goes against the tradition of how we have provided PD to teachers, and some may struggle with the freedom.

How often have we organized or taken part in PD that doesn't apply to us?  I think this could be the beginning of something that is worthwhile and meaningful for our teachers.  This is risky, but could have big payoffs!

Friday, December 6, 2013

I am still learning

The title to this post is something that we need to instill into every student that comes through our doors.  Mastery is a lifelong pursuit and something that shouldn't end when we get a diploma, a final grade, or when the bell rings.  We continue to teach a million different things with the hope that maybe some of it will stick.  Developing mastery should be our goal in every student, but it is difficult when our curriculum is a mile wide.  I am proponent of narrowing our focus on areas that we feel as a professionals are necessities for what students should know and be able to do.   
Daniel Pink says,
"Mastery is an asymptote. You can approach it. You can home in on it. You can get really, really close to it. But… you can never touch it. Mastery is impossible to realize fully."

Can a person really get to the point of mastery?  That is up for debate, but I think we can get really close as shown above.  Shouldn't this be our goal for our students and more importantly for ourselves?

Mastery learning isn't a new concept.  The idea has been around for a long time.  The problem is that we are often in curriculum overload and we feel the need to cover the entire textbook. Students get confused and don't see the connection of what they previously learned to what they are learning now.  No fault to the teacher we are just trying to do the best we can.  How often do your students fail to remember an essential concept taught in a previous unit?  Students need to see a connection and know that the material is essential in moving forward.  I was listening to a conversation a few weeks ago where a student questioned why he needed to remember a concept that was previously covered?  The student felt that once it was taught and learned that he/she didn't need to retain that knowledge. 
Catlin Tucker says,  
"For students to want to master something, they must, first of all desire to get better. They must also feel that what they're learning or doing matters."
Marge Scherer discusses the idea of mastery learning and provides some guidance below. 

Set clear objectives; are we referencing our powerstandard and why this activity is important to what students should know and be able to do in the unit?  What are the essential questions of the activity?

Provide students with opportunities for practice; how is your grading system setup? Do we grade them on the practice  that is needed to meet mastery of that powerstandard? Doesn't grading the practice hinder a students performance towards mastery? A student becomes more reluctant to do well on practice if grades are involved and they haven't full grasped the concept.   

Checking for understanding; what are our methods to check for understanding?  Do we use formative assessment to check their understanding in real time?  Reminder formative assessment is like a physical and summative assessment is like an autopsy. Hopefully we have checked for understanding at some point prior to the summative assessment.

Reteaching in different and new ways if needed; once you have checked for understanding and find that a few clearly don't understand.  What are your next steps? To me this is the piece that often gets bypassed because we have too many things to cover, and we simply move on due to issues with time.  Students are able to get by with a low level of understanding and move on to the next concept without approaching mastery.  

Finally, giving students more than one chance to demonstrate the attainment of the goal; again this can be difficult to attain due to the shear amount of items to cover. Does it really matter if it takes a student longer to understand and grasp the concept to the point of mastery?  Or is it more important if the student grasps the material on a specific date?  

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Parent Advisory Committee

Parental involvement is one of the most important pillars in creating a great school.  Our parents need a voice, and I want to establish a parent advisory committee (PAC).  We want this setting to open doors between school and home. 

We hope that these meetings create a forum for communication and information sharing.  From time to time we will include book discussions as part of our PAC meetings.  We will also provide some insight into our current initiatives.  We will use grant funds if you are unable to purchase the books we choose to read.  You can still participate if you choose not to read the book.  Feedback from parents is crucial to the success of our school. 

Our first initial meeting will center on the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.  Dr. Dweck explains:
·         How praise can harm, and how to use it well.
·         When, what, and how to criticize.
·         Why bright children (and talented athletes) stop working and what to do about it.
·         How to communicate the values that bring success.

We will also discuss our current initiatives and gather feedback.  We will tentatively schedule our first meeting at Rugby High School on February 20th at 7:00PM.  Parents play a key role in their child’s success in school.  I am looking forward to building this forum into something that is beneficial for our school and community. Please go to the following link if you are interested in taking part.

Parent Advisory Membership Link:

Friday, November 8, 2013

Educators reflecting on "The Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades."

There are 20 teachers and administrators discussing the Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades in our school.  Here are their reflections after our first meeting.  Many are grappling with some of the concepts in their reflections below.

Mr. Leier:

Mr. Olson:

Mrs. Bernhardt:

Mrs. Mattson:

Mrs. Sveet:

Mrs. Sjol:

Mr. Gullickson:

Mr. Blikre:

Mrs. Johnson:

Mr. Stewart:

Mrs. Olsen:

Mrs. Miller:

Mrs. Rham:
The first two chapters of  A Repair Kit for Grading made me reflect on some of my past practices when I had to assign letter grades. There are some things I would do differently, such as not deducting points for late work, or giving full credit for students who redo work.

The first two chapters also made me think that to make the changes suggested, standards based reporting needs to be implemented. We used a standards based report card in kindergarten the first quarter of this school year. It was more time consuming to fill out, but I believe it gave parents a better picture of what standards their child had mastered and which ones they are still working on. Behavior and social skills are a separate section on the report card so they were not included in determining the student's grade on the standards.

I use formative assessments frequently to determine if students have mastered a skill, or if reteaching is necessary. The summative assessments are used for reporting on the report cards.

Ms. Skeen:

Mrs. Raymond:

Mrs. Hill:

Mrs. Fritz:

Mrs. Trottier:

Mrs. Stricker:

Friday, November 1, 2013

Five roadblocks to teacher leadership

I am reading Learning by Heart, by Roland Barth. Many schools including my own have a reference to creating "life long learners" in their mission statements, but are we actually doing this? What is our culture of learning in our school?  I believe establishing this type of culture for our kids starts with all of us. We need to establish a culture of learning, and that will trickle down to students.
"There are at risk students and at risk educators, an at risk educator is: any teacher, principal, guidance counselor, or librarian who leaves school at the end of the day or end of the year with little possibility of continuing learning." Roland Barth 
According to Barth, there are two types of schools: learning-enriched schools and learning-impoverished schools.  It doesn't take long to figure out if a school places a focus on learning.  I believe you can feel it when you enter the building, and all one has to do is to take a peek at what is occurring in the classrooms.
"If they (students) see adult models who are done, baked, cooked, finished as learners, they to what to be done, baked, cooked, finished as learners." Roland Barth 
So how do we create a culture of learning?  I think it starts with developing teacher leaders.  I believe all teachers should and can lead in some way.
"The way to learn is by leading; the way to lead is by learning." - Roland Barth
So why do very few teacher leaders exist in most schools?  Barth mentions reasons as to why below.

1. Our plate is full

Most of the time teacher leaders have a full plate and see school leadership as an add-on OR they feel leadership is only for the principal and superintendent.  The mantra is, "they lead and I teach."

2. There's never enough time

It's all about time, and time is why the plate is full.  How often as leaders do we use our busiest people, because we know it will get done?  (I am so very guilty of this!) One way we have started to attack the time issue is to use a weekly late start for collaboration.  I believe it is a start for developing our capacity and opening the doors to sharing.

3. Opposition from colleagues

I have seen this first hand, it is hard to believe that we have opposition from our teacher's colleagues when they put their neck out to lead. We organized our two in-service days this year around teacher led professional development.  I thought it was some of the best PD I have seen, it was informal and teachers learned from each other.  We recently received some survey results back and a few hint at resentment towards these teacher leaders that put their neck out there.  This was mind boggling to me.

4. Caution and insecurity

Why is sharing our craft knowledge so risky?  Barth shared a story from a Rhode Island teacher that may shed light on this.

"When a teacher is truly passionate about her work, others are threatened because they don't feel it, or can't impart it to their students.  Sometimes I feel impeded in my work by teachers and administrators who are threatened by my enthusiasm."

This taboo prevents teacher leaders from wanting to present something great that is happening in their classroom.  It's a shame that we allow this to happen.  I think it goes back to the beginning of this post.  Do we have culture of learning or a culture of isolation? A culture of learning encourages and promotes the sharing of best practices.  People are open and willing to critique themselves.

5. Active resistance to teacher leadership

Toxic environments prevent teacher leaders.  Those people who constantly say, "It can't be done" kills teacher leaders.  Barth says there are two groups that prevent teacher leadership. The first group is well practiced at sitting back and waiting for new ideas to die.  The second group actively sets up road blocks.
"Want to reorganize the day? Can't.  The contract doesn't allow it.  Want to form interdisciplinary teams? Can't." 
Regardless of how strong the superintendent or the principal are they may never be able to cushion teacher leaders from these groups. Therefore according to Barth, "teacher leadership can turn into ostracism."

So what are we doing to keep our teacher leaders safe from being outcasts and promoting the idea that every teacher can lead?  This is my struggle.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Secrets of change..

We are in the midst of a lot of change at Rugby Public Schools.  We have implemented a late start this year to set the tone for where we want to go with teacher collaboration.  We are creating a culture of professional learning, by providing embedded time to read and learn about best practice.  The focus is on the teacher, and creating an atmosphere of continuous learning from the top to the bottom.  There is various research that supports the teacher as the number one influence on student achievement.  Along with all this comes the scary word... change.

I am finishing up the Six Secrets of Change by Michael Fullan.  I am going to talk about the first four, because I believe they are the most important.  Fullan talks about the following secrets, which to me aren't really secrets they are just what good organizations do.

Secret One: Love your employees 

Fullan feels that loving the customer (student) is equally as important as loving the employee (teacher).  Can we even have balance between what is best for teachers and students?  I don't know that for sure. I try to base all decisions with the student in mind and many times that is in direct conflict with the teacher.

Secret Two: Connect peers with purpose 
"Show me a cohesive, creative organization, and I'll show you peer interaction all the way down."
It is so important that we setup and establish job embedded time for our teachers to collaborate. We are learning from each other, and that is key to improvement.  The types of conversations and work that is being accomplished during our collaboration time is amazing.  We would never accomplish this work in any other way.  We cannot expect them to collaborate effectively without goals, we must give them direction.  Fullan refers to this as tight-loose, meaning we need to provide the direction, but give teachers the flexibility to make it their own.
"When teachers within a school collaborate, they begin to think not just about "my classroom" but also about "our school." Fullan 
Secret Three: Capacity building prevails AND Secret Four: Learning is the work
"The quality of the education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers." Barber and Mourshed
These two secrets are very similar in my opinion and fit nicely together. Building capacity is about learning.  As school leaders we know we can't pick and choose who we want in our schools. That is why it is so important to develop capacity within our schools.  In my opinion this cannot be done voluntarily, we have to establish a system that forces this.  I am all about job embedded time that forces professional learning to occur in a nice way. :) I wrote previously about our changes to professional development.
"People have built quite successful careers - describing the hill, measuring the hill, walking around the hill, taking pictures of the hill, and so forth.  Sooner or later, somebody needs to actually climb the hill." Pfeffer 
Do you provide opportunities for teachers to engage in substantial learning about their practice in the setting in which they actually work?

We aren't there yet, but I believe we are heading in the right direction.  Change isn't easy, but it is essential for progress!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The moral imperative

The moral imperative is something that must happen because it is the right thing.  In education the moral imperative gets in the way of our own selfish motives. Reforming education is hard, and messy.  In my experience, the way we do things in education is largely based on anecdotal evidence.  Meaning that we embrace methods that we feel are successful based on how we have been taught and what has worked for us.  These methods are not grounded in research.  We think they work, and rarely question them.  What we perceive as working may not always be truth.

The moral imperative is important to consider, because without it we remain stagnant.  Doing the right thing for kids and keeping the focus on kids can be difficult for us adults.  Why did we enter this field? We begin to lose sight of progress when we forget about the moral imperative.

At what point do we realize that maybe I am not impacting as many kids as I could?

At what point do we question ourselves and become critical of our practice?

At what point do we begin to look at ourselves in the mirror and not out the window?

For us to really move forward as an education system we have to continue learning. We have to be okay with coming to the realization that what I have been doing is possibly not working.  I think we are reaching a pressure point in our district where we are questioning everything.  It is an uncomfortable feeling, but a feeling we need to have.  Discomfort can be good for all of us.  

Mark Edwards a superintendent in North Carolina recently wrote an excellent book titled, "Every Child, Every Day." The slogan in the district really keeps the focus on the moral imperative and doing what is right for every child and reminding ourselves to do it everyday.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Late start proposal.

2013-2014 Late Start Proposal

·         All teachers will have the same designated time for PLC work on Wednesday at 8:00AM-8:50AM. 
·         Classes in grades K-12 will begin at 9:00AM.
·         Develop consistency and equity in PLC time across all areas.
·         Allow for teacher teams to address the following areas.
o   Curriculum (What do we want all students to know and be able to do?)
§  Current Curriculum overload =“The goal is to teach 35 things briefly not 10 things well”
o   Assessments (Develop quality formative assessments – that take a snapshot of the learning as they progress to the goal)
§  Move away from the autopsy and move toward the physical as a means of assessment.
o   Instruction - Research best practice
·         Vertical alignment of curriculum and instruction
·         To develop systematic approach to learning and lack of learning
·         Develop communication systems across grade levels, subject areas, and buildings.
·         Establish a guaranteed and viable curriculum
o   Guaranteed – Assures us that specific content and skills are taught in specific courses and at specific grade levels
o   Viable – Indicates that there is enough instructional time available to actually teach the content identified as important.
·         Transition from Ely Elementary to the High School
·         The work is guided by the  four essential questions

What do we want students to know and be able to do? (Working on 2012-13 school year)
o   How will we know if they are learning?
o   How will we respond when they are not learning?
o   What will we do if they already know the material?
·         Para-professionals will oversee the students that must arrive early.
·         If students must come early – we will designate a place and supervise these areas with non-teaching staff
·         Buses will drop off 20 minutes later on Wednesday – cleared with Hartley’s
·         Once a month – vertical team meetings (Ex. Grades 9-12 meet, Grades 5-8 teachers meet, Grades K-4 meet, ) – via Skype/Google Hangout to fix transportation problems.
·         No meetings will take place on Wednesday’s from 8:00AM to 9:00AM

Method of communicating to public
·         Series of articles establishing the why in the newspaper.
·         Series of meetings held in the community at various times to discuss why we need this change.

·         This will be roughly 9-10 total hours of time over the course of the year.
·         DPI stated that we will not have to make up time due to changes in seat time rules.
·         Parents – we will work with parents to alleviate any issues with the change of the school day. 
o   Parents will be allowed to drop students off if they have to at both schools.
·         36 weeks x 50 minutes = 30 hours or almost 4 days of quality ongoing PD for teachers that happens during the school day.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Grittiness greater than talent?

I have seen first hand how important grittiness is in predicting future success for students. I am very interested in understanding how some students make it against all odds.  What is it that allows these students with every "at risk" (poverty, divorce, drug use, alcoholism, abuse, and etc.) factor to succeed? 

There have been multiple studies that have sought to understand why some kids make it and others falter in the face of adversity.  Angela Lee Duckworth points to resiliency as the single most important trait in predicting success in students.  
"Grit predicts success over and beyond talent." - Duckworth
It isn't talent that causes success, although it does help.  It is resiliency that is the greatest predictor of success for kids.  How many of us know people that were the most talented people in the world, but falter in life?  I could name at least ten people that I know of.  

Duckworth studied the relationship between grit and high achievement at West Point Military Academy.  She compared the Whole Candidate Score which included the SAT, class rank, leadership ability and physical aptitude to their short questionnaire on grit.  They found that the Whole Candidate Score which was the Army's predictor of success had no relation on whether a candidate would complete the program.  You see it wasn't about test scores, it was about how resilient the person was.  
"Of all the variables measured, grit was the best predictor of which cadets would stick around through that first difficult summer." - Duckworth
The same could be said about ACT scores and GPA's.  These are not always the greatest predictor of success for students either.  I have had students that scored in the 30's on the ACT and struggled greatly in college.  Everything came easy and once they hit failure they buckled.

As parents and educators we need to instill the attitude of "I can get better if I try harder" in our kids.  Encourage them to be resilient and help them to understand that failure is not the end of the world.  Failure is an option, and helps us to become resilient.  

For more information regarding resilience check out the latest issue of educational leadership.

Monday, August 26, 2013

50 Great Minutes!

Message to staff regarding our first late start for teacher collaboration.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Thoughts about teacher led professional development.

Today we wrapped up two days of high quality professional learning.  Last year, I organized a group of teachers to take a hard look at our professional development practices.  I felt that our PD was all over the place and had little thought or direction.  I have had some good and bad PD throughout the years (More bad than good).  As an administrator I have organized my fair share of bad PD for teachers.  We vowed this year to never allow that to happen again.  We met several times, and had a full day work session over the summer. We meticulously planned our two days of learning.

Rather than bringing high priced presenters into our school.  We used our experts in our buildings and spent time researching best practices.  We placed our focus on the teacher. Its the teacher that has the largest impact on student achievement.  Using an idea I took from Jim Knight, we developed everything around a target.  Our target has three prongs, 1)Instruction, 2)Engagement, and 3)Assessment.  Everything we prepared was aligned and did not deviate from the target.  Our goal is to stay consistent as we move forward.  

We want PD to: Individualize, provide follow up, stay on target, differentiate, and provide reflection opportunities. 

We wanted small group sessions so we broke our staff into three random groups.  We made sure that the groups had various members from the elementary to the high school.  This allowed us to have more intimate discussions about the topic.  We also wanted to provide follow up, because we felt that too often we have PD that never enters the classroom.  One way we worked around that was by developing a document called, "Teacher Takeaways."  Each teacher was expected to take at least one method from each of the five teacher-led PD sessions and use it in their classroom.  We have the luxury of having four early release times throughout the year for PD.  We will use these as an extension of the two full days of PD to share evidence of use. We want follow up! 

I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of presentations that were created by the teachers on the PD team.  Teachers were active participants and I felt that they enjoyed the days.  I heard many positive comments about the changes we have made.  The true test of whether these two days of PD were quality or not will come on September 11th during our early out.  Teachers will be expected to share evidence of use. We will find out if any of these new methods entered their classroom.  It has been a lot of work, but a much needed change for our district.  

Admin need to realize that the people in your building can provide high quality PD, and you don't always have to hire the expensive presenters for credibility.  Our local experts can provide an equally high PD experience if done right.  


Monday, August 5, 2013

Book bucks, stickers, bikes and the love of reading.

I have read several excellent posts regarding the use of rewards and incentives to encourage reading over the last few months.  Joe Bower wrote an excellent post on his experience with his own daughter's school and their use of book bucks.  The school used book bucks to motivate their students to read more books. Bower went on to write, "Before Kayley went to school she said she read because she liked to read with me and it was fun, but now she says she likes to read because she wants book bucks." I shared his post with our staff and it led to some very good discussions and caused many to question their use of rewards.  

Chris Wejr, another great blogger put together a post a year ago discussing how his school has removed rewards and incentives from their reading program.  Wejr shares several creative ways his school has created a love for reading without rewards. It begins with, "No charts. No stickers. No pizza parties. No awards. No certificates…. and LOTS of reading!"

Don't get me wrong I know schools have the right intentions and many believe that rewards motivate children to read more. It may help them read more, but is it really about quantity or should it be about quality?  Does this really encourage reading?

I am writing this post tonight, because like Joe Bower my daughter said something tonight that disappointed me.  She participated in the summer reading program and did an excellent job reading books over the summer. For every 10 minutes their name was entered into a bucket to win a bike, and low and behold she won it.  I have nothing against the program but looking back I feel I enabled her to be motivated by rewards. Now that the summer reading program is over and the bike has been won, her motivation to read on her own has wavered.  Tonight after reading a few books I asked her if she was ready to read one of hers, and she said, "Daddy I don't need to read on my own anymore the summer reading program is over."  This really got to me.  I really want her to love reading, not just for stickers, pizza parties, and book bucks.  I have seen first hand how rewards don't motivate.  

Monday, July 29, 2013

PLC Clarity

First and foremost I want to give credit where credit is due.  I took this process from Twin Cities International School in Minnesota.  I revamped it to fit what we are doing in our school district.  I have attached three pictures that streamline and align our PLC process.  As we move into the 2013-2014 school year we want to be able to provide better clarity for teachers.  These models provide a great direction and will allow us to hit the ground running.  We are breaking it down into three parts; 
  1. Development of what we want students to know and be able to do. (1st document)
  2. Create high quality assessments of those agreed upon standards. (2nd document)
  3. Finally begin the development and discussion of what mastery looks like for each and every learning target. (3rd document)
I believe the three modified documents below provide a clear and concise vision of our collaborative work in our district.  

The document below focuses on what we want students to know and be able to do in Grade 2 in the areas of reading and language arts.  The red circled "I can statement" will be what we focus on below.

The following assessment measures the students knowledge on the red circled learning target.  It is a well written and organized assessment.  It ties in with the learning rubric at the bottom of this post in terms of how we will measure the mastery of the learning target.  

The assessment scaffolds the learning target into four areas.  The learning target: I can answer questions to show I understand important details is assessed below.  Based on the assessment above teachers can accurately grade students on their performance.  

The document above helps our teachers to find the breakdown in learning and provide intensive interventions to correct the deficiency.  The three step development above naturally fits into our RTI program.  The next step is to align grading to this formula, BUT one step at a time.   

Thursday, July 11, 2013

This is not a job...

Recently, I attended a funeral service for a former student at my previous school.  It was a tragic auto accident and extremely sad.  In my 10 years in education I have been to way to many of these.  Losing a teenager at such an early age is heartbreaking for the family and for everyone around.  They have so much to live for and so much potential waiting to be unlocked.  I worked very closely with this student as a principal and was proud to see that he graduated this past year and had worked extremely hard in doing so.  He was going to be an electrician, and those dreams were cut short.

One of my former teachers wrote via Facebook, about how many hours we spend with kids and the bonds that we create with them and how that this profession is more than a job.  To me a job is when you go home and you don't stress or worry about anything.  Once five-o-clock hits you clock out and go home and forget about whatever it was you were doing.  There is no emotional connection to what you do, it is just "work."  Teaching and learning is so different, we care deeply about kids and their general welfare.  It's not a job.  The relationships that are created and bonds formed help us get every last bit out of the student.  You are either all in or nothing in this job and developing those strong relationships with kids are key to their success.  As bad as this hurts, I am reminded that educating young people is not a job it's a way of life.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Culture and its impact on early literacy.


As a public school leader I have often thought about how great it would be to have all students come to school ready to learn.  If all students entering kindergarten were exposed to literacy at an early age and all parents enforced this on a daily basis our education system would be phenomenal.  In reality in a public school setting we will always have students at different levels of understanding and skills.  I believe one of the major issues we have in our system is the lack of understanding why some students are unprepared.  Understanding the various cultures and the clientele that attend the school could allow us to have more success. 

In What No Bedtime Story Means, Shirly Brice Heath provides an excellent portrayal of three communities that attend the same school system.  Maintown, Roadville and Trackton are the communities that attend the school.  All three have very different cultures and have differing levels of success in the school system.  Heath reminds us, “that the culture children learn as they grow up is, in fact, “ways of taking” meaning from the environment around them.” (Levinson, 2000, p. 169) Most educators and successful people have grown up in literacy rich environments and I believe we take it for granted that all family environments are like this.  Our “ways of taking” meaning from the environment around us differs when compared to other cultures, and this also impacts how early literacy operates within a home.  We need to first look at the cultures that create the school community before we can begin to understand why students from ethnic minority groups or students living in poverty struggle in schools.  The focus of this writing will be centered on how ones culture impacts the perception of early literacy within the home. 

In Maintown, children are expected to join the literate society.  This neighborhood is well off and consists mostly of middle class professional people.  At a very early age typically around six months children become indoctrinated with literacy.  Every night they are read several bed time stories, there is early questioning for comprehension and adults attempt to connect stories to real life situations.  Preschool children accept book related activities as entertainment.  Until they are school aged, children are prepared for school.  They will come into school fully prepared to learn and will allow for a smooth transition into school.  These children are trained into submission on how to listen and understand the appropriate cue when to respond to questioning.  More than likely all children that come from this background will be successful and good at school.  (Levinson, 2000, pp. 171-174)

Roadville has some similarities and some differences.  Children are exposed to literacy at an early age but in a different way.  Their way of taking from the environment will differ from a Maintown child.  Reading books will occur at similar times before nap and at bedtime.  However, parents are less strict in terms of forcing children into the literate society.  There is quite a bit more freedom, children are allowed to talk more and participate more during long readings.  “If the content of the story plot seems too complicated for the child, the adult tells the story in short, simple sentences.”  (Levinson, 2000, p. 177) This is very different from how Maintown parents approach literacy.  This approach would be viewed as less rigorous and will have a negative impact on the child’s preparation for school activities.  Roadville parents use less vocabulary and use more directives rather than telling them how and why.  In the early years of school Roadville children are successful, but as they move to higher grades and as the readings become more intense their success in school decreases.  (Levinson, 2000, pp. 175-179)

In contrast with both Maintown and Roadville, Trackton has a different culture that includes very little importance placed on early literacy.   They place more of an emphasis on the “oral tradition” rather than the “literate tradition.” (Levinson, 2000, p. 170) There is no attempt to interpret infant sounds into words or even later as a toddler.  It is just considered “noise.” There are no reading materials in the home other than a newspaper or a magazine.  Older siblings from time to time may read to the child but very little guidance is given from the parent.  There is very little “parent talk” to the child until they are old enough to communicate effectively with the parent.  Heath explains Trackton’s view on parenting as, “they are “comers,” coming into their learning by experiencing what knowing about things means.” (Levinson, 2000, p. 182) Another difference within Trackton’s culture is that parents don’t believe it is their job to prepare their child’s learning, they provide experiences and allow the child to make sense of it.  Storytelling is a very important part of their culture, and is highly competitive and the most aggressive children are able to get their story out.  As you probably assumed, Trackton children score in the lowest percentile on the Language Arts Assessment and are high risk dropouts. (Levinson, 2000, pp. 180-184)

Maintown, Roadville and Trackton could exist in any public school across the country.  How often do schools actually dig this deep to understand their clientele?  I think it is important to understand the why before we jump to conclusions.  Educators often blame parents for their children’s lack of preparation and often can’t see that it is a cultural issue.  Most educators come from Maintown and cannot comprehend Trackton.  There are so many factors that go into play that will ultimately decide whether children succeed or fail in schooling.  We must as educators understand how one’s culture impacts them as a learner.  Then how do we differentiate to allow for success?  Culture is a difficult thing to understand, and how do we get other cultures to understand the importance of early literacy?  

Friday, June 21, 2013

Our PLC Goals for 2013-2014 School Year

We will begin the first year of our Late Start Wednesday initiative.  All teachers within the district will collaborate every Wednesday from 8:00AM – 8:50AM.  School will start at 9:00AM on those days.  Every third week in the month we will take a break from PLC work and focus on two books for professional learning.  (Elements of Grading, Doug Reeves, and Rethinking Homework, Cathy Vattertrot)

We will break the year into four quarters.  We felt we needed to provide a road map for our groups.  Currently, we have groups at various levels of implementation and we feel that having the same meeting times will help with getting all staff on the same page.  We also wanted to provide some expectation as to what should occur in these meeting times.  The following are goals that we hope to achieve in the 2013-2014 school year.

Quarter 1: (Sept-Oct)
  • Finalize “Powerstandards” and “I Can statements” for all subject areas.
  • Provide “I Can statements” and “Powerstandards” to parents on October 28th and 30th at Parent Teacher Conferences.  Finalize progress on these in Spring PT Conferences.  Provide skill specific feedback.

Quarter 2: (Nov – Jan)

  • Pick two current powerstandards and create an assessment over the course of Nov-Jan
  • What does a student know and how are they progressing towards proficiency?
  • What does Novice, Partially Proficient, Proficient and Mastery look like? 
  • Assess the student and plan to present evidence towards your proposed powerstandards.
  • What issues did you run into.
  • Plan ahead – show evidence on this at Feb 5th Early Out to staff

Quarter 3 (Repeat Assessment Process)

Quarter 4 (Scope Sequence)
  • Continue work on Assessment. 
  • How will you complete all of these?
  • PILOT: Begin uploading I Can statements and Powerstandards into Powerschool Visualizer
  • Grading/Homework mindset shift

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Role of social media in education

Link to my presentation this weekend.  Thanks to @nmhs_principal and @mrbernia for allowing me to use some of their information.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Reflecting on year one - 10 elements that guide my leadership

Four years as a school administrator has taught me a great deal, and a lot about myself.  I have spent three as a high school principal and this last year as a superintendent.  This past year was another great learning experience.  I spent the year trying to get to know people and developing a solid foundation based on relationships.  The admin team focused on climate and developing trust within our schools.  I have learned long ago that any change cannot be sustained without first creating a healthy relationship.  I know very well that as we head into year two, these relationships will be tested and strained due to the many changes that we are implementing.

There will be confusion, and moments of clarity followed by more uncertainty.  Challenging the status quo is risky and a path that many avoid.  Trust that we are heading in the right direction.

After reflecting on a great year I found 10 elements that continue to guide my leadership.  (I am definitely not perfect on all of these, but I strive to do my best)

  1. Be humble, humility goes along way in developing relationships.
  2. Listen! Regardless of how busy you are take a few minutes to disengage from the keyboard to listen to the person talking to you.  Ignore phone calls if you have someone in your office.  
  3. Patience - just because you know the change initiative inside and out and you feel it is the greatest thing since sliced bread others may be confused beyond belief.  Be willing to repeat yourself and sell it whenever you can.  
  4. Overly communicate, I need face to face meetings.  As long as they are quality and worthwhile I try to get people together as much as possible. 
  5. Get out of the office as much as possible.  Those tedious reports will get done, whats important is getting out and communicating the vision and letting people know that you care and are passionate about what is happening. 
  6. Walk the walk - If you are implementing change and expect your staff to take part, you better too! 
  7. Keep the focus on students when making tough decisions.  Don't allow many of the politics involved in schools get to you and veer you off course.  
  8. READ! Take 30 minutes to read daily.  I usually get to work at around 6:30AM and try to spend at least 30 minutes reading to start the day.  It is our responsibility to be the lead learner.   
  9. Talk education with people.  Ask about how classes are going or how that new intervention is working with kids.  This allows you to communicate the vision and have real conversations and gather feedback on possible changes.  
  10. Thank people for the little things they do.  There are very few thanks in this profession.  Let people know that you genuinely appreciate them.  
Looking forward to the 2013-2014 school year! Have a great summer! 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Schools as talent refineries or talent incubators?

"In many high schools, those involved in academic programs treat the school as a talent refinery.  Their job is to deliver the curriculum to the students. Some students will get it and thrive, and others not." Dylan Wiliam
I have always been against tracking students.  People often look at me like I am crazy when I say that there should not be peaks and valleys when we look at achievement levels across grades.  I feel student achievement should be constant.  Their response is often directly related to their mindset, and their feeling is that it is their job to teach it and the students job to get it.  They go further and say things like, "they are just a bad class, they have always been low achievers, or Mr. McNeff we can't honestly think that all kids can get Algebra II can we?"  Rather than ensuring our students know and understand the material, we are just opportunity providers.  When we are not consistent as a district, students see mixed messages.  What is done in the early years can potentially impact the student for the rest of their career negatively.

At my previous school I removed most of the remedial courses, this was largely unpopular but I felt it was essential for our growth as a school.  If we say that we believe all kids can learn, then why do we provide remedial courses?  Isn't this hypocritical in a sense?  To ensure that all students take Algebra II we may have to do differently.  Does it really matter when the student gets it, or how long it takes?

If we truly want to ensure learning then we need to stop providing opportunities for kids to learn and ensure we do whatever it takes to make it happen.  Too often when a student struggles in a particular area or fails, we right them off, we say things like, "its obviously not their subject." Carol Dweck and Dylan Wiliam found that this type of message sent to the student is detrimental in how they see themselves.  We are saying you're not smart enough and may never get it.  So they give up and believe that they will never be good at math.

We need to be giving messages and feedback to students that say, "You're not smart enough - yet." Wiliam provides some interesting insight on this, in saying, "those who see ability as incremental see all challenges as chances to learn - to get smarter - and, therefore, will try harder in the face of failure."

I have thought about this with my own children.  Rather than praising they "A" on the assignment I praise the process and the hardwork that went into the good grade.  Dweck, says that when we praise the process instead of the product we create a growth mindset in the child.  When my daughter says, "I can't do this," I am always coming back with saying, you need to practice to get better.  The old cliche, practice makes perfect rings true.

We need to view student development through a coaches perspective.  Coaches in my opinion are very good at developing their players.  Rather than refining the talent on their team, they are typically busy developing all players and their skills they may be lacking. According to Wiliam, "coaches see their job as not just identifying talent, but also nurturing it and even producing it, often getting out of athletes more than the athletes themselves believed they could achieve.  What if we viewed education this way?


Embedded Formative Assessment - Dylan Wiliam

Mindset - Carol Dweck

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Misconceptions of RTI

The role of Response to Intervention should be to provide an intense intervention in a specific gap in the students learning.  I had  an email exchange about this today and it got me thinking.  Shouldn't RTI be about finding that specific breakdown, and providing an intensive intervention to narrow that gap?  Often times schools say they have an intervention program, but they tend to focus on the whole problem.  I think it is important to find the breakdown and fix it with laser-like focus.

This of course means that we need to be very specific in establishing what students should know and be able to do in each course (PLC's).  Why not base RTI off of our agreed upon Powerstandards?

Here is an example from our second grade ELA powerstandards: I can compare and contrast within and between two texts.

Why not develop our own assessment that screens for the mastery of the above mentioned powerstandard?  Develop a proficiency scale to separate students that have mastered compare and contrast.  Provide intense interventions in a timely manner, and once the child has mastered it then they move on.  Many schools including ours depend on programs like Aimsweb as the universal screening device.  These are great but they are limited and are not tailored to our special goals.

Lets not allow students to continue to move on because it may take them longer to learn.  
"It's better to assume students do not know something when they do than to assume that they do know something when they don't." Dylan Wiliam

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How we are individualizing PD.

Over the course of a month or so we have set out to take a serious look at our future professional development practices.  The overall goal is to develop a target for the coming years and focus all PD efforts around that target.  The target concept comes from Jim Knight in his latest book Unmistakable Impact.  I wanted to get away from the "spray and pray" approach when it comes to PD.

We want PD to do the following at our schools:

  1. Individualize! We found that one of the best ways to accomplish this is to use teachers to lead PD.  
  2. Provide follow up - We want to ensure that teachers try the methods and come back to share the evidence of use.  
  3. Jim Knight talks about the power of Praxis.  Just like students, we want teachers to apply the new skills or methods into the classroom.  Shouldn't PD be about getting new methods to actually enter the classroom and change instruction?  We want praxis!    
  4. Teachers need a voice in the development of PD, it cannot be top down decision making. 
  5. We will be implementing a part time instructional coach to assist in follow up and praxis.   
Methods to the madness.

Voice - We formed a team of teachers and myself as superintendent to question our current practices.  

Target - Our target is student achievement, and we felt we needed three prongs to address this target. 
  1. Engagement 
  2. Assessment
  3. Instruction 
From there we began to map out how we would address these areas and provide follow up throughout the year.  We agreed that the only PD our teachers would receive would be aligned to these three areas, nothing else would be allowed! We also agreed that we wanted PD sessions to be informal to increase engagement and dialogue - similar to the #edcamp model.  Formal presentations aren't allowed! We felt that each grouping should have a facilitator and use instructional techniques that encourage all to take part.  Groupings should be no more than 20 and lengths of sit time should be less than an hour.  

We preach student engagement all the time, why don't we ensure engagement for teachers as well?  Adult learners are very similar to students and engagement is equally important. 

Below is the current 'working' model that we will implement for the 2013-2014 school year.  

More updates to come! 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Which comes first teaching or learning?

We put a lot of emphasis on the importance of good teaching and I think forget about the learning at times.  Let's not forget about the ultimate goal of learning for all students.  If we are working harder than our students, then something is wrong.
"If your students are going home at the end of the day less tired than your are, the division of labor in your classroom requires some attention." - Dylan William
How do you check for evidence of learning?

Formative assessment is a natural way to put more emphasis on the learning.  Wiliam describes formative assessment as, "the process used by teachers and students to recognize and respond to student learning in order to enhance that learning, during the learning.

Here is a good example of the use of exit cards to provide immediate feedback for your teaching and allow for adjustments in future instruction.

Traditionally, the only feedback that we have used to change instruction has been based off of summative assessments (NWEA, NDSA, ACT, and etc.).  This type of feedback is too late, the students have moved to the next grade or you have moved to the next unit by the time results are ready.  Doug Reeves, mentions how formative assessment is like a physical, and summative assessment is more like an autopsy.  Don't get me wrong both play a role, but we really want intervene much earlier if students are not learning from the teaching.

How do you know the effectiveness of your lesson?

Formative assessment will go no where if we don't first establish the essential learnings for our students. This begins with developing Powerstandards for your curriculum.  Once we know what is most important and what we expect ALL kids to know we can then develop formative assessments to check our teaching.

"We cannot predict what students will learn as a result of any particular sequence of instruction.  Formative assessment involves getting the best possible evidence about what students have learned and then using this information to decide what to do next." Dylan William

Source: Embedded Formative Assessment - Dylan William 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Is perception reality?

"School isn't about learning, it's about learning to get by." - anonymous student
The comment above was shared with me at a meeting yesterday while discussing the future of professional development.  It is one of those comments that heightens awareness and causes one to question our focus and direction.

How often do we listen to kids?  Do we allow them to play a role in decision making?  

Are we too focused on compliance? Do we only teach kids to be good at school and don't worry about whether they learned something?  Are we more concerned with turning in assignments and treating everything as a checklist? In the busy world of an educator how often do we truly inquire about the learning of our students?

Shouldn't it be about the learning?  This may be a rogue comment or it could be very true, regardless, we need to listen to comments such as these and begin to question ourselves.  Persevering and getting by have their place, but it should be about the learning.  School should be a place where we foster curiosity, and not a place of hoop jumping.

I ask you to think about this students statement, and to question your classroom.  Is it a rogue comment or does the student make a valid point?

Seth Godin wrote a manifesto about schooling and I think it applies very well to this discussion.  #Stopstealingdreams

Friday, April 12, 2013

The power of listening.

"Our conversations at home, at work, and in the community are often more about jockeying for airtime than really communicating." 

I will be the first to admit that I am working on my listening skills.  My wife would probably be the first to say that I need an intervention.  The art of listening is so important in effectively communicating with each other.  I find it difficult at times in my position to keep my mouth shut and just listen to the conversations that are occurring.  Just because I am a leader doesn't mean that I should dominate the discussion and stifle the other ideas from people.  Innovation and creativity are more than likely to occur in a group setting, if we don't allow others to speak we may be missing something.  I am wrapping up Unmistakable Impact by Jim Knight. He has a short segment on listening that just makes sense.  Here are some ideas that may be helpful to you as well.

1. We need to take in at least as much as we put out.

2. We should paraphrase back what we hear.

3. Make a decision to really listen. Commit to really hearing what others are saying.

4. Be the listener not the speaker. If both are the speaker than nobody is listening.

5. Make sure your partner is the speaker.

6. Pause and think before you respond.  "Will what I'm about to say open up or close down the conversation?"

I think we can all say that we have had conversations where you can clearly tell the other person is not listening and could careless about what you have to say.  We can all recall situations where people dominate the discussion, and jump in immediately when you finish your point.  Putting effort in something so simple as listening will go along way in developing effective communication at school and at home.  Make eye contact, ask open ended questions and be curious. 

"A great conversationalist is one who lets the other person have the conversation." - Susan Scott

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Make the Jump!

The other day as I was preparing a presentation for our district staff I ran across this link from @millerg6.  It was exactly what I was looking for.  The title of the Youtube clip is "Girls First Ski Jump." The clip is about a young girl about to go down a much longer ski ramp.  You can feel the hesitation in her voice and it was amazing to hear it play out over video.  She took a risk, and committed to trying something new.  Many educators are familiar and have been bombarded throughout their career with the next initiative. New ideas, and new changes are coming our way.  These changes challenge tradition and the status quo.  I get a sense that many staff share similar feelings as the little girl in the video.

Taking the risks, and doing something you have never tried is stressful – but we need to have the inner confidence much like this little girl to make “the jump." Today that jump represents working together as a learning community. Understand that there are many more jumps in the way.  By working together and trusting the process we will make great strides in our school! 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Through the eyes of a teacher.

Today due to some scheduling conflicts I was in the classroom teaching 8th grade social studies.  I was reminded immediately the difficulties of teaching.  It brought me back to four years ago before I made the jump to be a high school principal, and now superintendent.

Teaching is hard! 
Had I been more prepared I would have felt more comfortable.  My first instinct was to grab the text book (the wealth of knowledge), and find an assignment that they were working on. I found myself making students do what we've always done for the last 150 years - regurgitate knowledge.  Which is completely against the way I taught and how I think.  Preparation is much more than following along in the text, the activities cause a disconnect with the students.  

Relevancy and Engagement
Here I was trying to relate the importance of Morse code to students that really were not interested.  
I thought to myself as I looked through the lesson plan about how hard it is to remain relevant with kids.  Why do these students care about the North's economy from 1830 - 1860?  I thought to myself as I read the section.  The better question, how could I have made this relevant to them?  If I am relevant to students then they will be engaged.  Using only the textbooks and the activities included in the text will not create relevancy and engagement only compliance.  

We have to get away from the idea that content is king, and think about engagement.  How can I make something that occurred 200 years ago relevant to them?  Should I even cover this, is it important?  Should all students know and be able to do this concept?  This has caused me to think, and thanks for the impromptu experience, it has reminded me that teaching is the hardest profession in the world.  

I am reminded that I need to get out of the office and put myself into classrooms even as superintendent.  A good friend of mine once said after I moved into the principalship, "don't forget about what it is like to be a teacher." This rings true today.