Friday, December 11, 2015

Good is the enemy of great

How does an organization move from good to great? Is it easier to move an organization from bad to good? I think there is a bigger appetite for change when the organization is considered bad. In a bad organization there are many signs that make improvement easier. When an organization is good there may be resistance to continuous improvement.

I am rereading Good to Great by Jim Collins. Collins analyzed the most successful companies in the world to figure out what caused good companies to become great.  It's a classic leadership book that provides excellent insights on how to move an organization from good to great. Good is the enemy of great. There isn't a lot of incentive to change when we are getting good results. If we are a good school, a good company, a good nonprofit, a good organization, why change?

My single biggest hurdle as a leader is that we are a good at what we already do. We were good long before me. So how do I as a leader move us to the next level? How do I get people to believe in continuous improvement when we are already doing pretty well? I am very interested in the strategies that Collins found in each of the great companies he researched.

All great companies had what Collins calls a Level 5 Leader at the time of the transition from good to great. Level 5 Leaders were not the stereotype CEO with a large ego. They were humble and ambitious at the same time. They were often quiet and reserved. Most of them were hired from within. Collins describes them as more of a plow horse than show horse.

Level 5 Leaders focused on first who, then what. Rather than coming in with their own plan and implementing. The leader in each of these organizations first focused on the people. Collins explains,
"They first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it" (p. 41). 
It may be easier to do this within a business setting as opposed to an educational setting. Nonetheless, I think this is a very important concept.

What does this look like in action? Collins suggests the following:
"When in doubt, don't hire - keep looking" (p. 54). 
"When you know you need to make a people change, act" (p. 56). 
"Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems" (p. 58).
Level 5 Leaders confront the brutal facts in their organization.
"When you turn over rocks and look at all the squiggly things underneath, you can either put the rock down, or you can say, 'My job is to turn over rocks and look at the squiggly things,' even if what you see can scare the heck out of you" - Fred Purdue
It's so easy, and not mention less stressful, to not actively seek out the problems within your organization. Our employees will not go out of their way to share the "squiggly things," we must seek those out for our self.

In any organization it's difficult to not get side tracked and seek out quick fixes. Collins explains that all great organizations have a hedgehog mentality. This means that they have decided where they are going and they prevent any additional initiatives from steering them off course.
"For a hedgehog, anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea hold no relevance" (p. 91)
We have really tried to hold true to our school goals. Our main mode of school improvement is largely teacher collaboration. If there are proposed initiatives that aren't inline with teacher collaboration then we stay away from them. It is easy to get off target, because many of us want results now. Collins suggests that transitioning from good to great does not occur in one fell swoop.
"There was no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary break, no miracle moment, Rather, the process resembled relentlessly pushing a giant heavy flywheel in one direction, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond" (p. 14)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

You should read: 12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid

First and foremost I am not an expert on parenting. Like everyone else I am learning as I go. I am a father of four children and their ages range from eight years old to 11 months old. Like most parents I want to do my best to raise my children. I believe raising children to be productive human beings has got to be one of the toughest things to do. I recently read the book, 12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid by Tim Elmore. He provides us with excellent insight on the struggles we deal with as we prepare our children for life. I want to share a few key points below.

We won’t let them fail. Life is about failure. If we don’t let them fail along the way how will they ever deal with the harsh reality of life? If we swoop in and rescue them from everything as they grow how will they cope with their first real failure? We see an overwhelming amount of students have their first setback while at college and they never recover. Benjamin Franklin said, “The things which hurt, instruct.” I think it’s important that we put our children in situations to take a risk and experience failure. It’s also important that we talk about our own failures throughout life.

We project our lives on them. Many parents live their lives vicariously through their children. This is hard not to do. For these parents it offers them a second chance to get it right. I can remember when my oldest daughter was four years old, I got her into a soccer league in Minot. At the time I wanted nothing more than for her to be excited about soccer. Unfortunately for me she could care less. She was more concerned about playing in the gopher holes on the soccer field than scoring goals. This was a good education for me as a parent. I realized that I cannot project my personal ambitions on to her. As a parent I can expose her to these different passions of mine, but I need to realize that she will have her own passions and they may not match mine. I need to be okay with that.

We just want them to be happy. Every parent wants their children to be happy. Tim Elmore makes the argument that happiness should be thought of as a byproduct and not the ultimate goal. We often think happiness is related to material wealth, but we all know people who have everything and are not happy. Life disappoints. Being happy is dependent on how we react to or perceive events that occur in our lives. During their early years we should be communicating that they are loved, safe, valuable, uniquely gifted, and supported. As they transition to adolescence our message should shift. We need to help them understand that life is difficult, you are not in control, you are not that important, you are going to die, and life is not about you. These may be perceived as harsh, but they are true statements. If they are to become productive human beings then we should prepare them for this. Happiness is important, but there will be bumps throughout life. Think of happiness as a byproduct.

We remove consequences. You may have heard the term “helicopter” parent, this is when we fight the battles for our children. This type of parenting does not create independence. There are times when our children need support, but we have to be careful in how much support we provide. When we insulate kids and remove consequences from actions, we fail to prepare them for the future that awaits them. Elmore explains, “If we really love our kids, we do not make it our aim to get them to love us back. That is the by-product of our loving them and leading them into adulthood. Our kids don’t need us to be their pals – they need us to be their parents.”

We won’t let them struggle or fight. One of the biggest issues we see in school is the ability for children to delay gratification. Take a minute sometime and search “Marshmallow Test” on Youtube. This is a research study where students were brought into a room and at the table was a plate with a marshmallow on it. The test was to see how long the child could wait until he or she would eat the marshmallow. If they waited long enough they would receive a second marshmallow. Researchers came back years later and tracked the original children that took part in this test. They found that those who were able to wait were highly successful in college and on the SAT. The ability to delay gratification is very important for kids. Do we allow them to struggle for a bit or do we immediately provide them help?

When we affirm looks or smarts instead of virtues, their values can become skewed. Roy Baumeister, a leading advocate of self-esteem research found that self-esteem does not improve grades, advance careers, or lower violence. We need to be encouraging a growth mindset for our kids. I am not saying we shouldn’t praise our kids because I think praise is important. We should praise their effort, creativity, hard work, and persistence – more than the achievement itself.

We prepare the path of the child instead of the child for the path. When we encounter situations that are out of our control, the worst reaction is to force ourselves in and manipulate a better outcome for our kids. If we are focusing on life preparation we need to realize that we are not always going to be able to fight their battles. I understand that I cannot control how other kids treat my child, the teacher they get, my child’s attitude toward me, how happy, talented, smart, or beautiful my kid is. I can influence them and help them find ways to cope with the issues that occur in life. Elmore explains, “You cannot control your child’s attitude, but you can influence it. You cannot do the job interview for her, but you can prepare her for it. Influence is not control.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Explaining the North Dakota State Assessment Results

This week the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction released the results from the new North Dakota State Assessment (NDSA). All public school students are required to take the test in grades three through eight and 11th grade. Students throughout the state took this test last spring and we are just now receiving the results. This is the first measurement of the newly implemented Common Core standards. The new NDSA has been dubbed a next generation test. The test has been developed to measure more than just rote knowledge. It includes performance tasks and is completely online.

Early results from other states showed substantial decreases in performance levels of students. North Dakota scores indicate a decrease as well. On October 27, the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) released proficiency levels, 46% were proficient in English and 40% were proficient in mathematics. At Rugby Public School District, 44% of our students were proficient in English and 43% were proficient in Math. This year’s scores should be viewed as a baseline set of data.

I have a few concerns with the release of this data. Last year many schools experienced difficulties administering the test. In Rugby, close to half of our fourth grade English data has not been published. During the testing window a few grade levels had to retake the entire test due to errors. We also experienced testing errors throughout the process. It was very clear that the test was not ready to administer last year. Due to the issues mentioned above I personally question the validity of this data. According to the news release from NDDPI not all tests have been scored at this point. It is unclear why NDDPI would rush to release proficiency scores when they could change.

The data from the NDSA are one many components we use to measure our effectiveness. We prefer our own locally developed assessments, the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), and the ACT. Teachers use their collaboration time to develop assessments that provide important data that is used to improve instruction. We continue to administer MAP assessments two times a year and we believe these assessments are much more reliable and easy to administer. The ACT is administered once a year for the junior class and this data is used to measure college and career readiness. I am hopeful that our NDSA testing experience will be better this year and that we don’t panic due to these initial scores.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Vertical alignment ideas

We are using one of our upcoming early out professional learning days for vertical alignment.

On October 28th we will be having crucial conversations about gaps and overlaps that exist between grade levels. We expect authentic honest conversations. This is not about pointing fingers, it's about developing awareness. 

Each PLC group will begin to think about weak areas that may exist that are either identified by data or by teacher perception.  

Each PLC group will be led by a facilitator. The facilitator will take notes or assign someone to take notes. The facilitator will guide the conversation and follow the format below. 

Preschool - Grade 8 will use the following format: 
  • Each PLC group will review and compare their ELA I Can Statements with the rest of the vertical team. 
  • After all grade level teams have presented their ELA I Can Statements. The vertical team will analyze and look for gaps and overlaps that exist between the ELA I Can Statements from grade level to grade level. The vertical team will identify weak areas and discuss solutions within ELA.
  • What is mastery and how is mastery assessed at each grade level? 
  • Develop action steps for the next meeting on November 18th. What will need to happen between the meetings?
Grade 7-12 will focus cross-curricular activities: 
  • Review the data and discuss what we do well and what we need to improve on?
  • How do we do more together?
  • How do we embed more 21st Century Skills like creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration?
  • Develop action steps for next meeting on November 18th. What will need to happen between the meetings?
I think any time when we have conversations about vertical alignment and what kids may be missing it is easy to get defensive. A healthy culture creates opportunities for difficult conversations to occur. 

How have you used vertical teaming to address gaps and overlaps?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

North Dakota's Teacher Shortage

We are experiencing a teacher shortage in North Dakota and across the nation. As of October 5, 2015 there were 89 teacher openings across the state. Keep in mind school started almost two months ago. This means that schools are either increasing class sizes or are going without programs. There are less people going into the education profession, which means we are graduating fewer teachers.

Teacher salaries in North Dakota are near the bottom in comparison to the national average. It is difficult in rural community that is not experiencing substantial growth to remain competitive. The state funding formula favors a growing a district. However, I do believe the issue is more complex than just increasing pay for educators although it would certainly help. The following factors should be considered if we are to fix the teacher shortage issues that currently exist.

Respect for the profession:
Teaching is one of the most demanding professions in the world. Educators in the top performing educational systems around the world are deeply respected. In fact the highest achievers go into the education profession in top education systems. In America, there is the perception that teaching is not difficult and anybody could do it. Being an effective teacher is both art and science. Teaching is difficult yet rewarding and it takes special dedicated individuals to make the profession a career.

Support our beginners:
We have to do more to support our beginning teachers. Many teachers leave the profession after only a few years. This is largely due to the level of support they receive after they begin teaching. At Rugby, we assign mentors, provide orientations, and use our professional learning communities to build their support network. One of our school goals’ is to improve our retention of beginning teachers.

Teacher pipeline issues:
Is higher education responding appropriately to our needs? Is it a teacher shortage problem or a teacher pipeline issue? For years we have seen a plethora of teachers in certain fields like elementary education while other fields experienced shortages. Teacher preparation programs may need to redirect students or place caps on certain education fields.

High stakes accountability:
High stakes testing and punitive punishments beat down educators. Standardized assessments have their place in education and provide us with useful data. We use this data and it helps us set school wide goals. However, this single snapshot in time may not explain the whole picture. Each public school district is required to make annual yearly progress based on these assessments. If we do not meet certain proficiency levels we are placed on program improvement. While on program improvement certain sanctions are placed on the school district. These sanctions can be very frustrating and debilitating. There is no silver bullet to immediately boost scores. Improving student achievement takes time and the gains are incremental. What works for one student will not work for another. Standardized assessments are necessary, but the sanctions imposed due to low scores may cause many young people to choose a different career field.

Grow our own:
Do educators do a good enough job promoting teaching as a career option? We are our own worst enemies at times. We should be pushing our best and brightest into the profession. If we do not promote our profession we will continue to see small applicant pools.  This may impact our ability to fill positions with high quality people.

Teaching cannot be seen as a backup career choice for young people.  We need to sell our profession and talk positively about it!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

15 important things to know about formative assessment.

We had Chris Jakicic co-author of Common Formative Assessment visit recently. She provided some excellent insight on Common Formative Assessment (CFA) practices. Below is a list of important things to know regarding formative assessment according to Jakicic. 

1.   Formative assessment is one of the top things teachers can do to improve student learning. The more we formatively assess kids and respond the better it is for their learning. 

2.   You can include multiple learning targets (I can statements) within one CFA.

3.   According to Jakicic, we should target the following when deciding which standards to CFA: 
·        Targets that are difficult or lead to misconceptions.
·        Targets that are prerequisite. 
·        Targets that are most necessary to know.

4.   If it's an essential standard (I can statement) you must reassess. We need to know if the corrective instruction worked or not. When you reassess within standards-based learning, substitute the old grade w/ most recent grade. 

5.   Within a four point standards-based scale kids that fall in the "advanced" category can be given work that they can do without teacher assistance for enrichment.

6.   It is recommended that we use a CFA every three weeks and it is important that we focus on a response to the assessment. Otherwise why use a CFA if you we aren't going to address the data from the assessment and make changes?

7.   We should focus on 1/3rd of the total amount of standards. 

8.   In terms of singleton teachers - vertical teaming may be most appropriate. We don't need to group all four English teachers together and expect them to generate common formative assessments that address grades 7-12. We have very different expectations for grade 7 when compared to grade 12. It might work better to group teachers into smaller groups to develop CFAs. For example: combine the 7-8 English teacher with the 9-10 English teacher. Groups may need to be more fluid. It might be helpful to have teachers "own" certain standards. This would prevent a lot of overlap/review that may occur. 

9.   Formative assessment is when the cook tastes the soup in the kitchen prior to sending out and making adjustments. Summative assessment is when the soup is sent out to the customer for the final taste test. 

10. Students that receive special education or Title I services should be given the assessment at grade level with the proper accommodations. We can't determine whether or not the child is proficient if they are receiving a version that is below grade level. Do all special education/Title I teachers have copies of the learning targets (I can statements)? How well do our tier 3 interventions align with these learning targets? 

11. Write questions at the lowest reading level possible and provide clear concise directions without giving the answer away. Point the way.

12. Assess kids when they are ripe for the assessment and then respond as a team. 

13. When we begin to write our proficiency scales always start with writing the proficiency level first. It is important to realize that you may not always have an advanced level. Sometimes proficiency is as high as the student can achieve. 

14. If using multiple choice for a CFA consider the following: don't use negatives, don't give away the answer, don't use C for the answer all the time, and avoid all of the above and none of the above. 

15. Constructed response may be most appropriate when seeking what the student really knows. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

1:1 Chromebook Initiative

On Monday, October 19th the Rugby Public School District will roll out the 1:1 Chromebook program beginning with students in grades 6-8. Each student in these grade levels will be provided a Chromebook to be used in the classroom.  Teachers will be using computer technology for instruction, assignments, projects, research, and assessment. 

This is an exciting time for the students, our families, and our district. We believe these devices will help develop 21st Century Skills like creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication. We are exploring additional devices in grades 5-12 in subsequent school years. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Where do we fit 21st Century Skills?

Where do 21st Century Skills fit into our overflowing bucket?

As a district we have placed an overwhelming amount of time into professional learning communities. We are proud of our work in this area, but where do we fit 21st Century Skills into the equation? The Common Core Standards will certainly help with this process, but they alone will not provide the skills that our students will need. 

Ken Kay, a leader in 21st Century Education offers some perspectives on 21st Century Life. 

#1 The Workforce: 

As I read this perspective I thought to myself, how much should schools listen to businesses? Ultimately we do prepare our students for future jobs, but how much should business dictate what we instill into kids? We know jobs are changing drastically and schools should be in-tune with the workforce and business. 
"Fifty years ago, our K-12 system focused on the routine. Memorization and "following instructions" were the order of the day, and they fit nicely into jobs that were routine manufacturing jobs in hierarchical organizations." (Ken Kay, 2013)
21st Century jobs will most certainly continue to require non-routine tasks. The ability to critically think, problem solve, create, communicate, and collaborate will be very important.

#2 The Flat World

Kay references Thomas Friedman's book The World is Flat. Technology and information has essentially flattened our world. According to Kay the flat world requires individuals who are self directed. 
"A corporate executive at Apple told us in today's environment, if a person needs to be managed they are no longer employable." -Ken Kay
How are we intentionally preparing students to be more self directed? How long on average do your students sit passively and listen to the content taught to them? Are there opportunities for them to guide their own learning or is it solely teacher directed?

#3 The Service Economy

According to Kay 80% of jobs are now considered service orientated. Service jobs include: doctors, lawyers, educators, health care providers, accountants, bankers, and etc. How do we embed some of the soft skills that may now be over looked due to other curricular requirements or needs?

#4 Citizenship

Kay explains that the demands of citizenship are much more today than at any point in our history. The challenges we face today require more complex thinking, more empathy, more civility, and more interactivity. How intentional are we in addressing the complex social issues and concerns within our community, nation, and world?

#5 Pace of Change

How are we preparing students for a life time of change? The average number of different jobs an average person has in their life is 10.4. As mentioned by Kay, our grandparents prepared themselves for a single career. Change was not part of their work life.
"The only thing that is constant is change." -Heraclitus
#6 Design and Innovation

I like the comparison Kay provides between traditional and innovative educational environments.
The most successful schools will be called upon to create innovators who will be the drivers of the new economy. It becomes more about creating and applying the knowledge gained rather than absorbing it.

#7 Information

The rate of information change has increased dramatically. Teachers are no longer the holders of all knowledge. Knowledge can be accessed easily which makes content less important. How do we transform our classrooms and schools from content mastery to content and skill mastery?

#8 Technology

We have to be careful with technology. We think the device it self will be the silver bullet to boost achievement and increase student engagement. Technology can certainly leverage our ability to instill 21st Century Skills, but a paper and a pencil can be equally effective.

"Technology is not, nor should it ever be, the sole focus or the end goal."

What role do 21st Century Skills play in schools? What will our students need to know and be able to do in the year 2025?

You might check out the trailer to Most Likely to Succeed, a promising documentary on the current factory model that exists in most schools. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

2015-2016 Parent Advisory Committee

Dear Parents,

Parental involvement is one of the most important pillars of a great school.  Two years ago we started a Parent Advisory Committee (PAC). We have had several parents take part in various meetings over the last few years. We typically organize four meetings each school year and try to target dates that do not conflict with other activities.

These meetings have opened communication between our school district and parents.  The topics you can expect at these meetings are insight on current initiatives, feedback from you on our school programs, and a book discussion.

We will tentatively schedule our first meeting for this school year at the Rugby High School Board Room on November 23rd at 7:00PM.  Please go to the link below if you are interested in taking part in this opportunity. 

Parent Advisory Membership Link:

We will discuss 12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid: Leading Your Kids to Succeed in Life by Tim Elmore.

Parents play a key role in their child’s success in school.  I am looking forward to hearing feedback from you and building better relationships within our school community.      

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The mental health debate - less talk and more action

As someone who has lost a father to mental illness I can relate to the struggles that many of our students are going through as they enter our schools. It seems we only talk about mental health when there is a tragedy. Once the tragedy occurs we say, "yeah, why aren't we addressing this issue in North Dakota or in America?" We talk about it and then the discussion fizzles. It's like a vicious cycle. We realize there is an issue, but we're never really interested in fixing the problem.

Schools are not properly equipped to provide the services in this area. Most schools have only a counselor, (which they are often overwhelmed with testing and college and career readiness) and a principal (and we know how many different hats they already wear). Every school district regardless of size struggles to provide adequate mental health services.

I think there are a few areas that really hinder our efforts in providing adequate mental health services in schools.

  • These services require additional funding and many of our school districts are already struggling to provide a competitive teacher salary.  
  • There is a shortage of mental health providers across our state and nation. Many facilities have long waiting lists and we often wait weeks to get a student into a facility. This is difficult when the student needs immediate help from trained professionals. 
  • Lack of communication between agencies and schools. We operate as separate silos and it becomes very difficult to find the services needed. The school is often left in the dark on potential strategies for the student due to patient confidentiality and lack of communication. We need strategies and advice from trained professionals. 

There are many states with school-based mental health services that require partnerships within the local community. Rather than mandating six hours of mental health training for all staff we should be researching partnerships within the community to support our school's efforts. Mental health awareness is important for our teachers, but we need specialized individuals to provide strategies and consultation services.

As we welcome our students back from summer vacation we need to stop talking and start taking action.

An example of a bill regarding school-based mental health services from Oklahoma.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A great start to the year!

We started the 2015-2016 school year today. It has been an exciting day at both Rugby High School and at Ely Elementary. You can feel a sense of excitement in the air from students, teachers, and parents. I spent time at both buildings today and enjoyed seeing the excitement.

I look forward to an excellent year serving the students, teachers, parents, and the community of Rugby.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Components of a high functioning PLC

Based on the research and our experience here is how I believe a high functioning PLC operates:

  • Analyze and unpack the state standards into manageable topics or what we like to call "I Can Statements." These precise topics range in number from 12-24 in total.  Anymore than this will be unmanageable when you begin to develop assessments, rubrics, and analyze the data. 
  • Develop a scope and sequence as to when you will cover the material found within each standard.  The scope and sequence will likely change throughout the year, but the group should at minimum establish guidelines as to when the topic will be taught and assessed.  
  • Begin developing assessments that target each of these I Can Statements.  Robert Marzano believes that we should assess each of these topics at least three times to gauge a student's level of mastery. 

  • After the assessment for an I Can Statement has been created we should then move to the development of a rubric that will measure mastery of the topic. 
  • As the team begins to develop rubrics, a very important conversation about proficiency levels should occur. Most of the research suggests a scale with at least four levels. 
  • Administer the assessment together and analyze the student data.  Begin developing student groupings based on the proficiency scales to establish intervention and enrichment activities.
  • Change instruction based on the results from the data collected.  Reassess and chart progress towards proficiency.  

I may have missed some steps, but these are the key components of a high functioning PLC in my mind.  


Monday, July 13, 2015

Individualized learning for adults

We continue to develop a culture of individualized learning for our teachers.  Below is our latest rendition of what we call the professional learning plan.  Teachers will choose their professional learning that is aligned to improving student engagement.  Teachers will decide what they will focus on for the upcoming year and align it to one of the following domains: movement, student groupings, technology use, hands-on activities, and quality teacher to student relationships. As a PLC, teachers will complete the document below and develop their goal. Within the third document below you can see there is a considerable amount of time devoted to this plan.

How is your district making professional learning more meaningful for teachers?

Here is a link to the documents: Professional Learning Plan

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Does wealth bring happiness?

The past month has been a whirlwind.  I had the opportunity to spend 9 days traveling through the country of Peru with 30 of our students.  It was a wonderful experience and the kids were great! It was eye opening and something I will never forget.  I am grateful for this opportunity.

As we traveled from Lima to the highlands within Peru I began to wonder about the overall happiness of the Peruvian people.  Does wealth bring happiness? I think we often judge happiness in America by the amount of material wealth a person has obtained.  I personally know some very unhappy people that have an overabundance of material wealth.  The level of poverty is extreme in many areas within the country of Peru, but the people seemed very happy. I felt comfortable and very safe throughout our journey.  This experience has made me appreciate our way of life and it has broadened my thinking.

If you are interested in reading about our journey you can check out Mr. Leier's Blog or view my Instragram pictures.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Elementary STEM Camp this summer

We are excited to announce a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Camp this summer at the Rugby High School for students heading into grades 3-5 next school year.  The STEM camp will take place from 8:00AM – 12:00PM Monday – Friday beginning July 20th.  Highlights include: creating and programing Lego robotics, exploring a life size whale replica, NASA and space exploration, and exploring living and nonliving organisms. This will be a fun filled week to get kids excited about science. Registration forms can be found at Ely Elementary and the Rugby High School.  These forms are due by June 19th. The cost for a student is $40.00. Spots will be limited so sign up soon.  For questions contact or Mike McNeff at 776-5201.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Thirty Million Words by Age Four

Is it the environment or the genetic makeup that defines a child’s achievement level? 

The environment may play a larger role in regard to student achievement than anticipated.  According to Shenk (2010) genetic factors do exist and they interact with environmental factors, but genetic factors are not straitjackets that hold us in place.  We are beginning to understand the significance of early exposure to literacy.  Hart and Risley (1995) found some children heard thirty million more words than other children by age four.  They followed forty-two families for more than three years and took samples of the number of words spoken in their homes.  These families represented three income brackets: welfare, working class, and professional.  According to Shenk, “Children in professionals’ homes were exposed to an average of more than fifteen hundred more spoken words per hour than children in welfare homes” (2010). Children who heard more words were better prepared for school than others.  These same children were followed into the third grade and researchers found that they had larger vocabularies, were stronger readers, and achieved higher.  This indicates that the achievement gap can remain even after formal schooling.  This research further supports the importance of early literacy for kids. 

Shenk recommends the following triggers that influence student achievement: speak to children early and often, read early and often, nurture and encourage, set high expectations, embrace failure, and encourage a growth mindset.  One of the initiatives of the Thirty Million Words Project is early intervention.  In Chicago, they are beginning at birth.  The project is emphasizing more parent-child talk beginning as soon as the child is born.  Some think that reading to an infant is a waste of time because they cannot understand.  It is not about them understanding it is more about the exposure to many different words over time.  

Early literacy is the key to future academic success.  The best thing we can do is read to our children every night.  As someone who has four children under the age of seven I know that this is difficult at times.  Try to make a commitment to reading at least 15-30 minutes a night to your children and remember it is never too early to start.  

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Thank a teacher!

Tomorrow is the beginning of Teacher Appreciation Week.  Our children often spend more time with their teacher than they do with us in a given day.  Most people that go into the teaching profession do so because of a teacher that left a long-lasting mark on them.

I myself am a product of a handful of teachers that helped guide and direct me during my most tenuous years.

There are many things that teachers do that go unnoticed to help make a difference in a child's life. Take some time this week to thank a teacher!


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

2014-2015 Knowledge Showcase

This year the professional learning committee set out to individualize professional learning for our teachers.  The following posts describe these changes.

Practical Ways to Make Professional Learning More Meaningful

A Framework for Professional Learning 

We created a video that detailed all of the professional learning accomplished this school year and viewed it during our last early out. This video included pictures from the different instructional methods that were implemented this year.

The Knowledge Showcase was a great way to celebrate our learning this year.

Thanks to Andee Mattson for her creative thoughts on a title for our cake! 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Why standards-based grading practices align well with PLCs.

Can you have an effective PLC without implementing standards-based grading? I believe our highest functioning PLCs marry the two concepts together.  

Standards-based grading practices partner well with professional learning communities.  PLCs are built upon four questions and these questions assist PLCs in developing standards-based grading practices. Here are the four big questions that encompass a PLC:
  •      What do we want students to know and be able to do?
  •      How do we know they know?
  •      What are we doing collectively to intervene when students don’t know?
  •      What are we doing collectively to enrich students that already know?

Question 1 provides the PLC with a basic guideline and helps them unpack the standard into student and parent friendly terms.  We like to call these I Can Statements.  It is important that each PLC attempt to limit the amount of I Can Statements due to the immensity of data collection.  We have recommended that each subject have no more than 15 I Can Statements.  We are not advocating for a narrow curriculum.  We are simply saying that we are only going to report out on standards that we feel all students must know and be able to do.  There are many things that are nice to know and still worth covering.  Teachers will still collectively choose what should be taught. 

Question 2 focuses primarily on assessment.  Assessment and data collection should be the heart of the PLC process.  How do we know they know? Now that we developed our I Can Statements we are now able to begin aligning assessments to each standard.  This again is done collectively within the PLC.  There are some very important questions to consider: 
  • What does our scope and sequence look like? Are we committed enough to teach and assess at similar times? If teachers don’t cover similar content and assess at the same time we lose the power of PLCs.
  • What scoring system will we use?  Is it a 1-4 scale or a Novice, Proficient, Partial Proficient, Advanced system? (I can tell you that you could have this conversation for days.)
  • What if it is a skill that is developed over the course of the entire year? How will we assess and report?
  • What does mastery look like? Rubrics play a large role in measuring levels of mastery and they will have to be developed along side each assessment. 

Our teachers have found it difficult to match existing assessments found in our current curriculum to our I Can Statements.  There has been a considerable amount of work developing our own local assessments. This is very time consuming and teachers often feel they cannot develop a quality assessment.  

Question 3 and 4 deal with our response to the data we gather from our assessments.  Our highly functioning PLCs have become very efficient at gathering data, analyzing, and developing student groupings. Intervention and enrichment student groupings become solely based on a specific I Can Statement.  

Two years ago our district implemented a weekly late start to embed PLCs into our day for all teachers.  Over the course of three years we have laid the foundation and these meetings are beginning to become data meetings.  Teachers analyze formative and summative data to establish student groupings for enrichment or intervention.  These student groupings are fluid and change week to week based on their level of mastery for that specific skill.   

As you can see standards-based learning processes are a natural fit within a PLC. PLCs that have implemented standards-based grading find the PLC process more rewarding.  It makes their work relevant and worthwhile.

Below is an example from our kindergarten.    

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

My response to Senate Bill 2031's definition of professional development

Below is the testimony I provided to the ND House Education Committee:

Many districts including my own here in Rugby have worked to create job embedded professional learning opportunities within our school district.  This largely begins with the school calendar.  We must have the structure in place to provide innovative ways to develop our professional capital.  The Rugby Public School District operates as a professional learning community.  This means that all of our teachers collaborate within their grade levels and subject areas. For example, we have 36 one hour late-starts over the course of the year that occur every Wednesday morning from 8:00AM to 9:00AM.  We worked with our community, DPI, and our school board to implement this over a two year period. Along with our late-start we have four early releases scheduled periodically throughout the year that are approximately two and a half hours in length. 

This time is used for the following:
·         Researching best practices to improve instruction
·         Unpacking standards into student and parent friendly language
·         Implementing standards based learning processes
·         Developing assessments that are aligned to standards
·         Book studies
·         Developing a scope and sequence at each grade level
·         Data analysis
·         Lesson design

These structural changes have placed the focus on learning at RPS.  Our professional learning is individualized for the teacher and of high quality.  It includes a large amount of teacher choice and they are provided a voice in decision making. 

I suggest that we provide flexibility in reference to the requirements found in 15.1-06-04:

15.1-06-04. School calendar - Length.

A day of professional development must consist of:
  1. Six hours of professional development, exclusive of meals and other breaks, conducted within a single day; or (2).
  2. Two four-hour periods of professional development, exclusive of meals and other breaks, conducted over two days.
The requirements above hinder our ability to provide effective professional learning for teachers. Professional development needs to be job embedded for it to be effective.  Traditional “sit-and-get” professional development days are often held outside of the school calendar. This structure rarely impacts instruction because it is not connected to the classroom and occurring throughout the school year.  Learning Forward, a leading professional development organization suggests,

“Professional learning should occur several times per week among established teams of teachers, principals, and other instructional staff members where the teams of educators engage in a continuous cycle of improvement.” 

In my experience “sit-and-get” professional development does not work.  Our teachers at RPS are learning throughout the year and applying their learning in real time.  Four and six hour segments of professional development are ineffective.  We need to provide districts the flexibility to become innovative.  Please allow us the flexibility to break these segments into one hour increments and leave it up to the discretion of the superintendent and the local school board.

Another important item to consider is that most school districts will have their calendar set for the 2015-2016 school year before SB2031 is finalized.  In Rugby, our calendar will have its second reading on March 6, 2015.  It currently includes all 36 one hour late-starts, and four two and half hour early outs for professional learning. 

Thank you for your time and consideration. I also attached a copy of our proposed 2015-2016 school calendar that details our structural changes that may violate this bill’s requirements.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Value of School Activities

I want to ask a serious question to anyone that is involved with activities. I have been reminded of the following question in every school I have served during my 10 year career.
Why do school communities, booster clubs, parents, students, coaches and advisers continually devalue each other's programs? 
The first thing I want to say is that I believe high levels of involvement in various activities lead to student success. The research supports this. My personal experiences in high school activities have helped me in so many ways as an adult.

BUT, it seems like someone is always counting.

You hear comments like:
"This group got more of "x."  
"That activity gets more publicity." 
"You didn't do that for us."
Why aren't we just happy that our kids have access to so many different activities in our schools? Let's be happy for each other's successes, learn from our failures, and appreciate the work that we put in to serve our students.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Growth mindset discussion

One of our book reads this year is Mindset by Carol Dweck. It is a fascinating read for parents and educators.  We will discuss the following questions on April 15th during our PLC time.  

  1. According to Dweck’s research, “Praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance.” She continues with, “Praise should deal not with the child’s personality attributes, but with his efforts and achievements.” Discuss how you personally give praise to your own children and students. 
  2. It is natural to want to protect our children/students from failure to protect their self-esteem.  When do you protect them (your own children and students) against failure and then expose them to failure?  Discuss failure and its role in developing a growth mindset.
  3. We all want our children/students to succeed.  This burning desire for success can often cloud our vision at times. According to Dweck wanting the best for children means, “fostering their interests, growth, and learning.” How do you balance what you want for your child with what your child’s interests are? How do student interests play a role in your classroom?
  4. There’s an assumption that schools are for students’ learning only.  Why aren’t they just as much for teachers’ learning? I believe if adults are learning at high levels so too are students. The professional development committee is establishing a learning atmosphere for teachers in our district through various methods.  Reflect on these methods to achieve this and discuss. 
  5. John Wooden said, “You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better.  By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.” Reflect and discuss the quote and how it applies to you.
  6. What were the major takeaways from the book? How have they impacted you as a person or as a teacher? 

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Hidden

Can leaders ever really feel the pulse of their organization? 

There is so much that is hidden from our view.  This is largely due to the position that we are in.  Most people naturally aren't going to come to the leader and tell them the reality.  The reality that is often communicated to the leader is sugar coated and the edges have been sanded down.

Ed Catmull explains a transformation that all leaders can relate with as they've moved up the chain.  
"I don't think my actions changed in a way that prompted this; my position did. Gradually snarky behavior, grousing, and rudeness disappeared from view - from my view, anyway.  I rarely saw bad behavior because people wouldn't exhibit it in front of me" (p. 171)
In a healthy culture people feel comfortable airing their frustrations with the leader.  The leader seeks out opportunities and creates structures that allow honest and candid conversations to occur. I am far from perfect in finding my own blind spots. I believe it begins with an awareness that not everything may be as we think. I think self awareness is an important leadership component. We can't assume that all is well. We have to actively seek out "the hidden" that lurks in our organization.  

Catmull uses a metaphor to explain this process.  There is a door and on one side we see everything we know - the world as we understand it. On the other side is everything we don't know and can't see. He explains, 
"The goal is to place one foot on either side of the door - one grounded in what we know, what we are confident about, our areas of expertise, the people and processes we can count on - and the other in the unknown, where things are murky, unseen, or uncreated" (p. 184). 
Whether we want to believe it or not power comes with a leadership position. People unfortunately behave differently in front of leadership. Its up to the leader to be aware of this and promote an open candid environment.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Education, The Land Of Nice.

Let's face it if we are in the business of education, we live, eat, work, and play in the land of nice.  It is difficult for us to be frank or candid with each other.  Dennis Sparks was right when he said, "schools are in trouble if the most honest conversations occur in the parking lot." We have to find a way to have honest and candid conversations when it counts. In a work environment there are times when we choose not to say what we really think.  

That means that we as leaders need to not only encourage candor, but create systems that make it happen.  The problem for many leaders including myself is that we may not want honesty, because honesty can hurt.  It can mean that our pet projects and initiatives aren't as effective as we think.  We want to assume that the change initiative is going well. It's easier that way.  

Ed Catmull the leader of Pixar and one of the creators of Toy Story found that problems are often hidden within an organization, and the good stuff often hides the bad stuff.  He explains, 
"When downsides coexist with upsides, as they often do, people are reluctant to explore what's bugging them, for fear of being labeled complainers" (p. 63)
So...How do we create systems that allow people to be honest and candid?  I think it starts with visibility, and actively willing to hear what we don't want to hear.  Catmull insists that the mark of a healthy culture and environment is one where,
"People feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Lack of candor, if unchecked, ultimately leads to dysfunctional environments" (p. 86)
I am seeing this first hand with the individual meetings we have setup for our PLC groups. It would be easy to sit in my office and assume things are going well, but any time you initiate change there will be varying levels of buy-in.  This is clear in our meetings so far.  We have had honest conversations about improvement and how we can better support our groups. These conversations at times have been very frank, but have been very beneficial for our leadership team.  

How do you foster an honest and candid environment?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Monday, March 2, 2015

Join the conversation - It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens

The Parent Advisory Committee and I will be discussing It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd on Thursday night (3-5-2015) in the Rugby High School Board Room beginning at 7:00PM. Below are list of questions to ponder or comment on for Thursday night.

1. Teens often get caught in collapsing contexts. Boyd defines this thought below.
"Many teens post information on social media that they think is funny or intended to give a particular impression to a narrow audience without considering how this same content might be read out of context" (p. 44).
We run into this issue all the time when dealing with different issues in regards to social media. What may seem perfectly logical in one context can be illogical in a different context.

How do you help your child understand that what may be appropriate within their circle of friends may not be appropriate in another context?

2.  What is privacy anymore? How do you balance giving your child the privacy that he or she requests with being aware of their actions online? How do you show trust? 

Boyd's definition of privacy: A space where they aren't scrutinized by adults and peers.
"Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity." Mark Zuckerberg (Founder of Facebook)
3. Many believe that being a "good" parent means being all-knowing.  When the internet and social media is involved does this mean violating their privacy? How do you balance invading privacy and being a responsible parent? 
"Surveillance is a mechanism by which powerful entities assert their power over less powerful individuals.  When parents choose to hover, lurk, and track, they implicitly try to regulate teen's practices.  Parents often engage in these acts out of love but fail to realize how surveillance is a form of oppression that limits teens' ability to make independent choices" (p.74).  
4. Social media can be addicting for both parents and their children.  Boyd explains that parents of previous generations worried about the hours spent on land lines.  They aren't spending hours on land lines, but they are still conversing.  Boyd suggests that most teens aren't addicted to social media, if anything, they are addicted to each other.  Do you place limits on social media/internet/device use?

5. Boyd argues that teenagers have less freedom to wander than any other previous generation. We often communicate to our children that danger lurks everywhere.  Boyd explains that parental control, highly structured environments, and over-scheduling encourages the use of social media to escape control. Reflect upon your child's weekly schedule - how do you encourage balance between structured and unstructured time for them?

6. There is a common belief that the internet is full of sexual predators and danger. Boyd explains,

"When parents create cocoons to protect their children from potential harms, their decision to separate themselves and their children from what's happening outside their household can have serious consequences for other youth, especially those who lack strong support systems. Communities aren't safe when everyone turns inward; they are only safe when people work collectively to help one another and those around them" (p. 126).

Should we be actively censoring/shielding our children from outside influences?

How do you respond to questionable posts/images from other children other than your own?

7. Has social media amplified meanness and cruelty?  

Please take a minute to review a previous post on this topic.

I would love to hear your responses to a few of these questions!

Friday, February 27, 2015

A Framework for Meaningful Professional Learning

I am always looking to improve our professional learning processes for teachers.  I believe we have made immense progress under our recent changes to our professional learning.  Learning Forward continues to produce great work on this topic.  I have been reading Designing Schools for Meaningful Professional Learning by Janice Bradley. Bradley recommends that we transform traditional sit-and-git professional development into job embedded professional learning. Bradley discusses what she calls the Five Part Plan (FPP) for meaningful professional learning.  

The FPP timeline includes two learning cycles which are found in the image below. Bradley suggests that each cycle consists of three parts; 60 minutes to plan, 60 minutes to teach, and 60 minutes to assess and reflect on the learning.  

The above image helps provide a timeline in regards to the FFP summary found below.  

Part 1: Reaching Consensus

What five things should be in every classroom every day?

This is a whole staff brainstorm session and would occur prior to the school year.  The staff would identify the five things that should occur in classrooms everyday.  Once identified, the teachers would research, plan, teach, and reflect during two of the learning cycles found in the image above.  

We would need to question how the five things align to our teacher evaluation plan. It makes sense to incorporate our evaluation processes into our professional learning.   

Part 2: Selecting the Learning Design

How do teachers learn to do those five things effectively?

Bradley provides nine learning design choices for teachers during their professional learning time. I would recommend that PLCs decide which learning design they will focus on during each of the two learning cycles.

  1. Collaborative Planning, Teaching, and Assessing
  2. Peer Teaching
  3. Vertical Team Study
  4. Intentional Practicing with Student Response
  5. Using Technology - Linked-in Lessons
  6. Studying Video and Application 
  7. Lesson Design 
  8. Shared Learning with Teachers, Principals, and Coaches 
  9. Creative and Innovative Teaching 
In my opinion there are too many choices and might overwhelm teachers.  We should reduce the number and focus on the most effective learning designs.  

Part 3: Implementing the Learning Design Cycle 

What is a Learning Design Cycle, and how is it implemented?

For example, a PLC could choose a learning design like studying video and application. They might study exit tickets as a formative assessment strategy.  They could visit the Teaching Channel and find several videos to study and implement.  

Part 4: Sharing Professional Knowledge with Whole School Staff

What is a knowledge showcase?

A knowledge showcase is a way to celebrate the learning acquired throughout the year.  We are planning on taking pictures, videos and narratives from all PLCs and sharing our work at our April 22nd early release day.  The knowledge showcase is a great way to share our learning and it also instills accountability in the process. 

Part 5: Creating a Professional Knowledge Base 

How does a school archive learning so it is not lost?

Bradley recommends finding a way to house all of the learning that occurs within the two learning cycles.  Teachers may see something at the Knowledge Showcase and want to learn about it next year. A digital library would be a great way to keep the learning available for reference.


The FPP is a nice model - it establishes an innovative structure for teachers and it is job embedded.  Time is a factor however - districts must be willing to give up time that has historically been used for sit-and-git professional development.  The FPP allows choice for teachers when selecting their professional learning. 

If you are unsatisfied with your district's professional development I would recommend the FPP as a framework to consider.  There is some solid stuff here, but it may be beneficial to pick and choose parts of the FPP.  

How are you providing more meaningful professional learning?