Thursday, July 31, 2014

If you could reinvent school, would it look like this?

This video is an inspiring look at High Tech High, a school where project-based learning is the norm.  Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the video. There is much more great content. Thought-provoking stuff!

"Education is the one intervention that can elevate you above social disadvantage. And yet, it's the least changed institution in American society."

"Rigor is being in the company of a passionate adult who is pursuing inquiry and bringing students along as peers in that discourse."

"How do we know if you're a good teacher? We know you're a good teacher by the quality of work, the sophistication of work, your students produce."

Leave a comment and share one of your favorite quotes from the video.



Monday, July 28, 2014

17 ideas to generate more school spirit

BHS business and marketing students were having a little fun while taking a break from cleaning up the street they adopted adjacent to the school. Experiences like this are a great way to build shared purpose and enthusiasm for school.

In a previous post Why school spirit matters, I explained some of my thoughts on why school spirit is important and should be encouraged and developed. Everyone in a school contributes to school spirit, but we need strong leaders (students, teachers, parents, principals, etc.) to help show the way to a more spirited school. Here are 17 ideas that might be helpful for increasing enthusiasm and enjoyment in your school.

1. Be a school that celebrates. Notice successes and strong efforts and make them visible.

2. Principals should be lead learners, but should also lead the fun!

3. Have a great Spirit Week and encourage everyone to participate.

4. Establish a strong online presence (Facebook, Twitter, website) and build your school's brand.

5. Promote your yearbook.

6. Have a yearlong battle of the classes with various opportunities to earn points. The class with the most points wins.

7. Get clubs and organizations, not just cheerleaders, involved in leading spirit activities.

8. Encourage teachers to model spirit. After all, participating in spirit activities will make an impact in the classroom.

9. Find ways to get students and staff wearing more school colors, T-shirts, etc.

10. Have contests and games throughout the school year and encourage participation.

11. Have activities during lunches to have fun and build community.

12. Establish traditions that are positive. Or, renew traditions that have fallen aside.

13. Encourage different groups in the school to support one another. Attend another team's sporting event together.

14. Enlist parents to help with developing spirit ideas.

15. Have teachers or principals do crazy stuff that students will love.

16. Tell stories from your school's history.

17. Get involved in the community and get the community involved in school.

I'd love to hear your ideas for building school spirit! Leave a comment.

Top 5 blog posts

The following blog posts generated the most page views in the relatively short life of my blog. It's always interesting for me to see what people are reading, or at least perusing. It's funny how building an audience, while not my primary aim, is motivating to continue to write and think. Writing and thinking are the main objectives of my blogging efforts. But it is great to know that these efforts are interesting to others too.

1. Seven questions to guide decisions of an educational leader. This piece is by far the most read article I've produced to date. Over the years, I've collected a number of questions that I use to guide decisions and help me reflect on my practice. This piece is heavily influenced by Todd Whitaker and a number of other mentors I actually know (hope to meet Todd someday!).

2. Combine instructional rounds and Twitter to make learning visible. Almost anything to do with Twitter seems to be interesting to blog readers. This selection details how BHS teachers toured one another's classrooms and Tweeted about all the great things happening. It was a way to build a sense of community, get teachers in other teacher's classrooms, and generally make learning visible in our school. As a bonus, it was a great way for our staff members to continue experimenting with Twitter.

3. A graded paper will stop learning in its tracks. Standards based grading has been a big topic for our school and several of our teachers are piloting their classrooms using SBG. This piece explains how a grade on a paper, even with feedback comments, may stop learning. Read the post to learn why.

4. Why do educators need Twitter. In addition to completing my doctoral studies, Twitter has been the best professional development I've encountered. This short reflection discusses why Twitter is so powerful for learning.

5. I love being an educator because... This post was inspired by the #MOedchat summer blog challenge. The title is revealing. It's all about why I love being an educator. I included two videos that are inspiring for finding your purpose, one from Jon Gordon and one from Daniel Pink.







Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why school spirit matters

I think everyone realizes school spirit is important, but we don't ever talk about it, at least not in the way we discuss standardized test scores or curriculum decisions. I guess it's just a 'softer' topic. After all, in its narrowest definition, school spirit is the territory of cheerleaders, pep rallies, and big rivalries. As a result, you won't see too many articles in educational journals on the topic. But I'd like to make a case for why school spirit is really important.

First of all, it's important to clarify how I am defining school spirit. I'm talking about a collective feeling shared by various members of school community, a feeling of pride, energy, commitment, and togetherness. It often manifests itself through sports teams, but it should be celebrated across all aspects of a school, not just extracurriculars.

1. School spirit helps everyone buy into a positive vision of the school. When students and teachers have pride in their school, that collective confidence can translate to self-efficacy, "I'm part of a good school, I can do this."

2. School spirit creates a stronger sense of community. When there is a strong sense of community, there is a feeling of being part of something larger than oneself. We are more likely to follow community norms if we see that others value and share a sense of community. Some norms we value are having good attendance, being respectful, and taking responsibility.

3. School spirit makes people feel good. When we have the 'we' feeling that school spirit generates, we feel better. And when we feel better, we have more energy, more creativity, more compassion, more of all the good stuff. School spirit makes it contagious.

In my next post, I'm going to share a list of ideas for increasing school spirit.

Blogger's note: the picture shown above is from a football game where our student section, with permission, was throwing baby powder in the air with each touchdown. It looked really cool. However, we soon learned that it also makes it really hard to breathe for other fans seated nearby in the stadium. We had to stop, but overall no harm done.




Friday, July 25, 2014

What if we provided you with a classroom set of iPads?


What if we provided you with a classroom set of iPads? We asked this question during some of our interviews last spring. The range of responses we received was interesting. Some candidates were thrilled with the idea and talked about all the ways they would be able to use the devices. Others admitted they didn't know much about how to use iPads for learning, but would be eager to learn more. One candidate shared that her school bought several iPads for her classroom a couple years ago, but she hadn't used them much. She said the school didn't really offer any training.

To be clear, we only have a handful of iPads in our building. However, we have a vision of being a 1:1 school at some point in the near future. We asked the question to get a sense of how open candidates were to implementing technology in the classroom. Ideally, we are looking for teachers who are passionate about leveraging technology as a tool for learning. Clearly, having iPads go unused for a couple of years is not acceptable even if the school failed to provide training.

So I hear this all the time in the graduate classes I teach. We need to offer teachers more PD on how to use technology. And I couldn't agree more. Schools always need to improve the learning opportunities for teachers, and it is a poor practice to just drop new devices or software on a teacher without training. But it also seems like this line of thinking is the most common excuse for not taking control of one's learning and becoming confident with digital tools.

Ultimately, we need educators to be active learners and seek out the information they need. I am not a technology wizard, but my experience tells me that 98% of what I know I've learned by doing, exploring, researching, etc. It did not happen because of a training. Let's be empowered to learn what we need when we need it. Schools need to offer opportunities for tech training, but teachers should never wait until a training is offered to learn something that might be good for them and their students.




Wednesday, July 23, 2014

To be successful, focus on what successful people do

When I was coaching we had a sign above the door of the locker room that read "Practice and play like a state champion today." It was a reminder to everyone, players and coaches, that our goal was to strive for excellence in the process of becoming a successful team. We had a vision of what it would be like to win a state championship, but our daily actions needed to reflect what state championship teams do. We had to respect the process.

The same holds true for my work as a principal and for our school overall. We want to provide the best possible learning experiences for our students, and for everyone who works in or visits our building. We want to build dreams, create opportunities, and make a positive impact. So we have to have a vision of what the best schools look like and then we have to go out day by day and put that vision into to action. We have to practice and play like we are making that vision a reality.

If we get too focused on results, we can get discouraged if we aren't having the success we think we should. We can't always control the outcome, but we can control our commitment to the attitudes and behaviors that will likely produce the results we want.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Why do educators need Twitter?

I'm terrible at predicting the success of new ideas in technology. When Google came to my attention a dozen years ago, I was using Yahoo as my portal to the web. I couldn't believe anyone would want to use this plain looking search engine when Yahoo offered news, sports, and more from its home page. My early analysis of Amazon was it was nothing special. And then there was Twitter. Why would anyone want to post on this weird site where you are limited to just 140 characters? Who cares what you had for breakfast?

I never would have dreamed in a million years that millions of education related Tweets would post each day. Educators are finding Twitter a powerful way to connect, collaborate, and communicate with each other.


So why do you need Twitter? Why build a PLN? With Twitter and other collaborative tools available, educators who are working in isolation, and not connecting with people from all around the world, are making a conscious decision to do so. Isolation is the enemy of improvement. If we want to grow into the best leaders possible, we need to network with the best education leaders out there. Many of them are on Twitter and sharing their knowledge freely. 

Twitter is a place to share resources, be inspired, push your thinking, own your learning, and find new opportunities. I'm grateful to innovative educators who helped me realize the power of Twitter.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A graded paper stops learning in its tracks


Although I am still working through some of my thoughts on standards-based grading (I fully embrace the philosophy but how that translates to practice is another issue), one thing I feel certain about on the assessment topic is the need for more authentic, descriptive feedback and fewer "grades" or "marks" in the gradebook.

In his book, Embedded Formative Assessment, author Dylan Wiliam explains how learning is damaged when a grade is placed on a student paper. He cites research to support his explanation. And it completely makes sense to me and corresponds to what I've observed in my career as an educator.

Three groups of students were described in the study. One group received only a grade, another group received a grade and written comments, and the third group received only written comments.

Now we all know how productive it is to return a paper with a grade only. It's a terrible practice, but more common than we care to admit. Of course, the group that received only a grade performed the lowest for continued growth.

One might think the group that received a grade and comments would do as well as any, but the study found that students paid very little attention to the comments if there was a grade on the paper. Students who scored high enough to be satisfied with their score ignored the comments for obvious reasons--they were happy with their performance. But interestingly, students who scored poorly ignored the comments too but for differently reasons. They ignored the comments because they were frustrated and simply wanted to move on to the next topic.

I can remember feeling that way as a student too. "Wow, I really didn't get this. I'm going to have to kick it in gear on the next chapter," I thought to myself. And then I was ready to move on and did nothing to correct the deficiencies with what was supposed to be learned right now.

So as we are considering how to provide feedback to students, it seems most beneficial to provide many opportunities for practice with lots of descriptive feedback but no grade. This feedback can come from the teacher, from other students, or from strategies to help a student self-reflect.

If we want students to actually use feedback to continue learning, I would suggest teachers delay communicating a summative score until they feel reasonably confident the material is learned well based on evidence from practice work and from exit tickets and other formative measures.

It seems this is the best practice since research and experience indicate that when a grade goes on the paper, the learning stops in its tracks.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

The 'Matthew effect' of professional learning

If you're not familiar with the Matthew effect, it's a phenomenon named for the Biblical parable of talents, a story illustrating how the "rich get richer and poor get poorer"--for lack of a better description short of rehashing the whole story.

The theory of the Matthew effect has been applied to education and the classroom in many ways. Those students who struggle to read will typically read less, and thus fall even further behind. Teachers tend to call on students who raise their hands or who they believe will have right answers, thus allowing these students greater opportunities for active engagement and learning versus their introverted classmates who are only passive participants.

But how might this theory be applied to professional learning for educators? Teachers who are leaders in their buildings tend to have more opportunities to attend conferences and trainings. These inspiring and thought provoking experiences lead to more self-directed learning. These opportunities help them become even better learners.

Some teachers don't seem to pursue any extra professional learning opportunities. These chances may not even come their way as often. Therefore, they feel less competent with the current conversation in education and are less likely to engage. In fact, I would suggest they often withdraw even further out of self-protection. The cycle continues. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

How can all teachers be empowered to take full responsibility for their own professional learning? How can we help everyone feel safe to engage in the learning process, students and teachers?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Digital learning that doesn't measure up

We have an online curriculum delivery system like nearly every high school I know. It allows students to take courses online by completing modules and progressing through the material at a pace that works for them. We don't typically allow students to take these courses for first attempt credit. Usually, students are in these courses because they have failed a course, or have fallen behind on the path to graduation and need to catch up. In a sense, these programs allow for second chances and for the curriculum to be delivered in a different way than the first go round.

But while these courses serve a purpose as noted, I remain very concerned about this method of learning. When our students take these courses, there is very little interaction with other students in the learning process. For the most part, it's an isolated and passive experience. Students read the material, do some practice activities, and then take quizzes and tests to demonstrate what they've learned. When students take these course during summer school, they spend an entire school day sitting in front of a computer.

For administrative purposes, this type of learning is very neat and tidy and is a convenient way to provide a safety net for students who might be at risk of dropping out of school. But is this really what these students, or any students, need? I don't think this learning experience is going to serve much lasting value for the students, except for the fact that it provides a pathway for completing high school, a worthy goal that will serve them well. That accomplishment alone, even apart from the amount of actual learning, will result in better opportunities for them in their future.

Anyone have a better way at your high school?
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