Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Help students with challenging behaviors without 'fixing'

I am often tempted to want to fix a situation, or worse yet an individual, when I am suffering the consequences of reckless behaviors, irresponsible actions, or disrespectful attitudes. As educators we work with many students each day and want them all to be successful. Moreover, we need them to be successful. We cannot succeed in our teaching mission if our students are not cooperative learners.

But too often students are dealing with issues in their lives that complicate their efforts to learn. It's been said, hurt people hurt people. So as students enter the classroom, so do all of the imperfections we share as humans. Students aren't always going to be kind, cooperative, and focused. Sometimes they will act in ways that completely contradict what the teacher needs for a successful classroom.

As a young teacher, all too often I would become terribly frustrated by negative student behaviors and fail to see the unmet needs, buried under the surface, that were triggering the harmful actions. I would focus my attention on addressing the undesirable behavior with 'increasing consequences' and protect at all costs my 'authority' in the classroom. The result of course was torn relationships and even greater feelings of hurt and rejection on the part of both teacher and student. Not good!

So it's never productive to try to 'fix' our student's behavior. It is our job to address non-learning behaviors by simply stating our observation of the behavior and how it is impacting the classroom. Sometimes, we must take further actions to protect the learning climate. But when we create a classroom of acceptance and caring, students are more likely to feel safe enough to actually address their own issues. This ownership is actually the only way to achieve lasting change.

Here are a few ideas for being a helper and not a fixer:
1. Care more about who your students are becoming than how they are acting in the moment.
2. Know when to put aside a conversation and pick it up later.
3. Believe the best of your students (most people are doing the best they know how).
4. Teach positive behaviors.
5. Approach a difficult conversation side-by-side and not from behind a desk or nose-to-nose.
6. Listen to your students.
7. Don't try to prove you're in charge. You have a teaching contract that establishes that.
8. Worry more about acting with character than losing face in front of your students.

Monday, December 22, 2014

9 ideas for teacher growth that are more effective than performance ratings

Teacher evaluation has been a reform topic of late as policies at the state and national levels further require schools to rate teachers and even include student achievement data in evaluations. These efforts seem to be the result of the perception that there are many poor teachers who are allowed to continue in the profession with no recourse. I think this perception is greatly exaggerated, although like in any profession, there are certainly individuals who are under-performing.

As a principal, it is part of my job to evaluate teachers. And, in alignment with state requirements for this process, part of my job is to rate teachers against “research-based, proven performance targets.” Our district created a system to align to the state requirements, and I am doing my best to implement it in a way that can be as effective as possible. When it comes time to actually ‘rate’ a teacher, I explain that while the rating process is imperfect, it is an opportunity for reflection and only represents my perspective in collaboration with the teacher being evaluated.

But when I consider all of the strategies that are available for teacher growth, performance ratings are not at the top of my list. I believe there are so many other ways teachers can learn and grow. Most importantly, teachers with greater ownership of their own professional learning will seek the kind of feedback that leads to growth. In this type of environment, teachers would be empowered and inspired to achieve, and even expand, their own potential.

1. Collaboration- Teachers meet with other teachers, especially ones who teach the same curriculum to discuss student learning, plan for instruction, and review student work.

2. Classroom visits- Since becoming a principal, the opportunity to frequently visit classrooms and observe great teachers doing their work has been perhaps the most powerful learning experience I've had as an educator. We need to do more to give teachers the opportunities to visit other teacher’s classrooms.

3. Student feedback surveys- These surveys would be used to inform the teacher’s own practice and not for evaluation. Great teachers have the ability to see the classroom through students’ eyes. Surveys can be another way to inform teachers about what students’ are experiencing. This example survey is just one possibility. Ideas for surveys can be readily found online.

4. Video- Every high school football game (and other sports for that matter) is videotaped and examined for every possible opportunity to improve. And yet it is rare that teachers use video to reflect on their own teaching. I would challenge teachers to occasionally record a lesson.

5. Goal setting- When teachers set their own goals it has far greater power to impact learning than goals that are set at the building or district level.

6. Reading- We can stay current and evaluate new ideas in the profession by reading books, articles, blogs, etc.

7. Develop your PLN- Establishing a PLN (personal learning network) allows every educator to have a team of educators from whom to learn and grow. My PLN rocks and has been a source of excellent professional learning.

8. Peer Coaching- We are blessed to have instructional coaches in our building who provide feedback to teachers, facilitating the efforts of other teachers as they move towards a goal. Consulting and mentoring can also be helpful.

9. Teacher-led professional development- Instead of bringing an outside consultant to lead professional development, this method has teachers develop learning experiences for their colleagues. When possible, it’s best to offer teachers choices for the sessions most relevant to their goals.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Help wanted: Educators who give that little extra

One of the things I look for when hiring a teacher is what extra efforts a candidate has done either in previous employment or as a preservice teacher. What did the applicant do to extend or enrich learning opportunities that he or she didn't have to do? Maybe it was volunteering to tutor, helping with a club or organization, or assisting with an athletic team, school play, or service project.

The reason this is important to me is that it shows how the individual is passionate about working with kids and not just looking for a job. To be effective, any professional has to go above and beyond in ways that aren't always rewarded in the pay check. This extra effort demonstrates a strong work ethic and a desire to contribute and leave a lasting legacy. A school is faced with many challenges day-by-day and to be successful we need team members who are willing to pitch in and pick up the slack.

Here is an illustration of the power of that extra effort. At 211° water is only hot. But at 212° water boils, and boiling water creates steam. With steam you can power a locomotive. Amazing! The extra degree makes all the difference between just hot water and a powerful force than can send a train down the tracks. Just that little extra.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Digital leadership requires setting an example

In a recent survey of our students, over 90% indicated they believed technology would be increasingly important to their future. We all know the internet isn’t going away anytime soon, and if we are paying attention, it’s easy to see more and more ways technology, and those who can use it effectively, add value to life and work.

But we still have many educators who are not recognizing the importance of using technology effectively in our schools. We need leaders to model the use of technology and find ways to use technology to support learning goals. It’s hard for us to expect students to use technology for learning if we aren’t modeling it.

I’m very proud of teachers in our building who, even when feeling less than 100% confident, have taken risks to try new things and be learners themselves. This willingness to change and to adapt is admirable.

Here are 10 ways teachers and principals can demonstrate digital leadership:

  1. Set up and use Remind app to communicate with stakeholders.
  2. Use S’More to create classroom or school newsletters.
  3. Use technology for formative assessment.
  4. Start a blog.
  5. Have students demonstrate learning using a digital tool.
  6. Video a lesson or provide information to parents through a screencast.
  7. Try Google classroom with your students.
  8. Advocate for greater access to digital tools for your students.
  9. Approach your principal about developing and online course.
  10. Use Twitter to share information and engage your community.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Why technology won't replace teachers

As important as I feel technology is in the classroom, I want to make very clear that I don’t believe technology can ever fully replace an effective teacher. Learning is more than content delivery. It is about a sacred relationship between teacher and student. It requires a real person to develop the nuances of relationship and develop a culture of learning in the classroom.

So technology won’t replace teachers. However, teachers who use technology will eventually replace those who don’t. Our world is becoming increasingly digital (for better or worse some might argue), so the future demands that digital tools are used now for learning experiences to help students become savvy digital citizens. Teachers who don’t embrace digital opportunities for learning will become more irrelevant with each passing day.

If you don’t feel your classroom or school is digitally relevant, it’s never too late to start even with small steps. It’s most important to acknowledge with students just how important technology will be in their future. It’s also important to be a learner yourself and show your students you want to learn. They will admire your willingness to increase your digital skills.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

1:1 isn't enough to level the playing field

We often discuss technology, and specifically 1:1 initiatives, as ways to level the playing field between under-resourced students and their more affluent classmates. Certainly, wealthier students are more likely to have access to connected devices at home. But numerous studies have actually found that providing the devices is not enough to conquer the 'digital divide,' the disparities between the social classes related to technology. Studies have shown that a computer in the hands of a disadvantaged student is often used much differently than computers provided to students of privilege. Poorer students were more likely to play games and seek out entertainment online. Students of greater means spent more time reading and using the devices for homework. An interesting piece summarizing some of these findings is linked at the end of this post.

So what can be concluded from this information? Should we ignore access as an issue of educational opportunity? Absolutely not. Instead, schools should continue to strive to provide greater access to digital devices. But the true difference will happen as a result of how students are taught to use the devices. All students need to have opportunities and practice using technology for learning purposes. Students should create online, develop a positive digital footprint, write for broader audiences, connect globally, and so on. Technology will only level the playing field as students are instructed in using the devices productively.

Educational technology isn't leveling the playing field - The Hechinger Report photo credit: zappowbang via photopin cc

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Is 1:1 really worth the cost?

If your school starts down a path toward 1:1, it's likely you will encounter some negative response. At the very least, there will be lots of questions since a 1:1 program has inherent risks and a number of challenges. Is it worth the cost? Won't the technology be a distraction? Will students have fewer opportunities to develop interpersonal skills? What about student privacy? Is there any evidence 1:1 will increase student achievement?

It's not hard to find reports online of schools that have struggled with their 1:1 implementation. And while the research has conflicting reports, 1:1 is no guarantee that student learning will increase.

But nearly everything worthwhile has it's challenges. If you want to grow or want your school to grow, you have to do hard stuff. All of the possible concerns with 1:1 have been overcome with proper planning and a team effort. It can be done.

We are still in the planning stages in our school and striving to move our project forward. 

Technology is a tool and will not replace the classroom teacher. In fact, for the technology to be successful a quality teacher is required.
The cost is an investment in the future of students and opens up a whole world of possibilities for learning.
Pedagogy will always trump technology. Teachers must design effective learning environments. When that learning environment has technology available it creates a more authentic experience. Technology is an important way work gets done, and should be one way learning gets done.
Instead of fearing that a device may be a distraction, we need to embrace teaching digital citizenship and help students learn to use online tools for learning.
In spite of some of the challenges, I don't know of any schools in our region who have implemented 1:1 and then regretted it. In fact, the messages I've received from my PLN is enthusiastic, "We don't know how we did it before 1:1!"

Monday, November 24, 2014

How does a growth mindset fit with standards based grading?

How can we ensure standards-based grading works together with what we know about growth mindset and the work of Carol Dweck? It seems most SBL/SBG proponents contend that classrooms should measure achievement against uniform standards of learning described in proficiency scales or some rubric that describes levels of performance. To meet the needs of diverse learners, best practice is for teachers to differentiate instruction but hold true to the same standards, or learning targets, for all learners. Regardless of where the learner is in the process, performance against the standard is still the way achievement is reported.

But growth mindset research finds that it's all about the process, that the process of effort, risk taking, accepting challenges, and achieving personal best is how we stay motivated and willing to learn. By focusing on the process, we can increase intelligence and actually grow our brains. It's amazing stuff. And incredibly effective.

But how will students respond if they have little chance of achieving the standard? For those who are below grade level and unlikely to reach the uniform target, the standard may seem unreachable and may reinforce the 'fixed' mindset. Students may view themselves as just not smart, "I'm not good at school." School becomes a constant reminder of my deficiencies. Why should I try? These students hate school and will do everything possible to avoid engaging in the process.

I like to use the example of a PE student in a weight lifting unit. An arbitrary standard might be that every student will be able to bench press the equivalent of his/her body weight and parallel squat twice his/her body weight. This is a reasonable goal for the student who comes into class with background in athletics or weight training. But for many students, this would be unreachable even with months of training and practice. Wouldn't it make more sense to have some type of growth goal that is individualized for each learner based on his/her own background, talents, and skill level?

I had a conversation about these issues with a colleague who has considerable knowledge of SBL/SBG. I explained some of my thoughts about flexible learning targets and how that might seem more congruent with growth mindset. If the teacher and student work together to set a challenging but achievable goal, wouldn't that motivate growth more than consistently scoring at the bottom level of a 4-point SBG scale? How is that really different than a D on the report card, or even an F?

I explained, "In this type of system, most students would be able, with great effort, to meet learning targets and goals and would be reinforced for their effort and progress."

"But who is going to make the decision about lessening the student expectations from the standard?" my colleague replied. I get the point. It can be a slippery slope. We've heard the concerns about the "soft bigotry of low expectations" that can happen in schools.

My ideas about flexible learning targets assume great faith in the judgment of teachers to hold students to appropriately challenging targets. I think we owe it to teachers to respect their professional judgment. Sure, implementation is more convenient when everyone is assessed against uniform standards. But it's even more convenient to grade on a 100-point scale, and we know the pitfalls inherent in this traditional system.

All the way back in 2006, when hearing Rick Stiggins speak on Assessment for Learning, he explained that most students should earn A's or B's if they are given appropriate and individualized learning goals along with timely, descriptive feedback. Since then, many schools have successfully replaced letter grades with performance levels. But have these schools created a system where growth is celebrated and reinforced?

So how do you ensure that students are held to high standards but are also rewarded for their effort and growth mindset?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Build your PLN with more followers on Twitter

Since October is approaching and that means Connected Educator Month, I thought it would be a good time to share a few of my thoughts on building a PLN, or personal learning network. First of all, you may think it's self-absorbed or narcissistic to be concerned about how many followers you have on Twitter. And I guess that's possible if the reason you are building your network is simply for the sake of more followers or to compare yourself to others, or to get a sense of self-importance from your follower stats.

But I believe there are honorable reasons to build your following. Through my connections on Twitter, I have learned more and grown more as an educator than from just about any other learning experience. Earning my doctorate was also an incredible experience, but it was very different from the highly customized and globally connected opportunities Twitter offers.

Why grow a following on Twitter? 

1. More followers means more connections. As my PLN grows I have learned where I can go to get help with topics that matter to me.
2. More followers means greater voice. We want our students to speak out and make a positive difference, and we should look to speak out and create positive impact for our profession as well.
3. The best leaders are not just concerned about the issues facing their individual classrooms and schools but are working to influence the broader field of education.
4. Since I believe in Twitter, I want to model successful use of the platform and have a wide audience to promote how it can transform professional learning and connectedness.

10 tips for more followers

1. Post frequently. When people see your posts regularly they begin to trust your presence and content. Scheduling tweets is really the only practical way to ensure you are consistently offering content. I tweet about once every hour. By the way, it is okay to periodically recycle previous tweets. Great ideas deserve to be revisited.
2. Retweet other people's content. You generate value in the community by furthering the reach of quality posts by retweeting them.
3. Be relevant. If you are using Twitter as the vehicle of your PLN, then most of your posts should be education related. It's okay to post personal interests occasionally, but if you rarely post an education comment, then don't expect educators to follow.
4. Follow other educators. This may be the most powerful tip on the list. Look for the top educators on Twitter and follow the people who follow them. Or, follow the people who retweet them. This tip will help more people know about you.
5. Share articles, quotes, and pictures. Tweets that include helpful resources, inspiring quotes, or motivating pictures often get retweeted thus growing your value in the community.
6. Make your bio compelling. Use your bio to build your relevance and passion as an educator. Potential followers may decide to follow you or not simply from your bio.
7. Include a picture or avatar and background photo. Quality images can help others identify with you and connect with your content.
8. Participate in Twitter chats. There are many, many Twitter chats where you can connect with other educators and likely gain new followers, even more so if you reach out and follow others first. I would love to see new faces in #MOedchat. We chat Thursday nights at 9PM CST.
9. Use hashtags. Hashtags allow content to be sorted on Twitter. As users search these hashtags, your content that includes the hashtag is more likely to be noticed than if you don't use any hashtags. But be careful, more than two or three hashtags in a single Tweet may be distracting or make people think you are spamming.
10. Start blogging. Sometimes Twitter's 140 characters just aren't enough. Your blog allows you to expand on your ideas and reflect and grow even more. You can even promote your blog posts with your Tweets. Blogging is another great way to build value for your ideas in the PLN community.

If you commit to follow these tips, I promise you will begin to increase your following and get more out of your experience on Twitter. You will connect with people and ideas that will help you grow. Educators are an increasingly powerful force on Twitter, and I'm proud to see how many teachers are engaging professionally 24/7/365!

Thoughts on follow backs

Generally, I follow back anyone who is an educator and follows me. However, there are a couple of exceptions. I rarely follow anyone who has not replaced the Twitter "egg" with some type of image. I also don't typically follow users who lock their accounts and require approval before accepting a follower. I totally respect a person's right to set up their account this way, but it doesn't seem like they are that interested in connecting.

The reason I feel it's important to follow back is because I believe that is in line with my reasons for building a PLN in the first place. I am not trying to get more followers than the next person or self-promote. My goals are to learn more, share more, and ultimately make a greater impact as an educator. These goals lead me to believe that it's my responsibility to not just increase my network but also help others increase their value in the PLN community as well. I want everyone to have more followers, more connections, and more value to self, others, and the profession.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

How grades fail to send the right message

In Curriclum21, Heidi Hayes Jacobs shares the story of Mabry Middle School in Georgia. The school surveyed students to learn more about their attitudes toward learning. On the survey, students reported that they rarely did their best on academic work, but they did enough to earn a grade that would please their teachers or their parents. As you can imagine, this information was very concerning to the teachers of Mabry. They wanted more for their students than a culture where students did just enough to get the grades.

So I recently had a spirited conversation about grading with @audhilly on Twitter. I think we actually agreed for the most part, but there were some differences. In examining the shortcomings of traditional grading, @audhilly indicated that the problem with traditional grades is not what they do but what they fail to do.
I completely agree traditional grades do not effectively communicate what has been learned. Instead, old fashioned grades simply lump all assignments together without providing information on specific learning targets. In the end, the grade is determined by averaging all of these varied assignments together to arrive at a grade that reflects a general, but imprecise, assessment of learning. So traditional grades do not communicate precisely toward progress on learning goals.

But I also believe grades do harm beyond this basic failure. They condition students to expect a grade for every assignment they do. Students begin to think if there isn't a grade attached, it must not be that important. Instead of drawing on passion, curiosity, and empowerment for motivation, students work the system to earn enough points (a grade) to satisfy the demands of the important people in their life (teachers and parents). Students become passive participants where they follow directions, comply, and ultimately remember enough to get the grade.

So grades fail on multiple levels. Foremost, they do not communicate precisely the progress toward learning goals so students can understand how to grow and improve. And, grades cause motivation to become increasingly dependent on external factors rather than encouraging students to strive for personal best.

When Mabry Middle School was faced with the realization of how passive students had become in the learning process, they developed strategies to make learning more engaging for students. Students were encouraged to bring personal passions and creativity into the learning process. Student work was celebrated and showcased to various audiences. These changes helped students see ways the time and effort of learning was meaningful beyond simply getting a grade.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A vision statement for transforming learning

At our last 1:1 committee meeting, we worked on creating a vision or results statement for this project. We all agree the point of 1:1 is ultimately not a connected device in the hands of every student. That's not the endgame. The power of the device is dependent on the effective transformation of teaching and learning to meet the demands of our ever changing world. If the devices help us meet this goal it will only be with a clear vision, a full understanding by everyone in the building, and leadership on the part of admin, teachers, and even students.

Here is the current draft of the statement we developed:

In ____ years, we want anyone who walks into our classrooms to see:

  • Students participating in global conversations that extend beyond the walls of our classrooms.
  • Students doing work that prepares them for the real-world work they'll do beyond graduation.
  • Students demonstrating their learning as producers of content.
  • Learning environments that recognize each student as a unique individual, allowing for self-pacing and utilizing differentiation strategies. 
  • Students participating in digital learning as responsible, ethical, productive digital citizens. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Thoughts from 1:1 planning meeting

We held the first meeting of our 1:1 committee to collaborate about what our school's vision will be for the use of digital devices to enhance learning. Our team consisted of district administration, high school principals, and several teachers along with an instructional coach. The agenda for the first meeting involved the following topics: the role of the committee in this process, what is our 'why' for looking at 1:1, review of survey results on student access, what are obstacles for us, where are teachers in their readiness, and where do we go next?

Here are several of my reflections looking back on our meeting:

1. This purpose of the planning process is to get all the voices in the conversation to make the best decision possible. I plan to get student input, and at some point we need to engage parents. Our superintendent is going to invite a board member to join our committee going forward.

2. To move forward, we need 100% understanding and 80% buy-in. 100% must understand the direction and the 'why.' If we have 80% who are bought-in, the initiative will succeed.

3. 1:1 will be a way to level the playing field for so many of our students who are under-resourced. A learning device provides a significant advantage when used for connecting and learning. We want all our students to have the best opportunities to learn.

3. The device that is selected is not as important as how it is used to enhance instruction. However, the committee recognizes that many stakeholders will have strong feelings about what device is best and will have that question from the beginning. As the process unfolds, it will be important to make a good decision about the device that fits our situation best.

4. We discussed how important it is for students to learn to use technology for learning. They are very competent with Facebook, YouTube, games, etc. Until digital tools are used regularly throughout the school, students will be hard-pressed to develop habits of using technology for learning.

5. Teachers will need professional development. However, we will never be able to move everyone to the same level. Teachers will need to take ownership of their learning and have a growth mindset. Students can also be enlisted as resources to support teachers and other students.

6. The expectation will be for teachers to increase the utilization of technology in learning. There will be times when the devices will be set aside and that's okay. We will respect that all teachers are at different places in their digital journey. We will be looking for growth.

7. We acknowledged that introducing 825 devices into our building also presents more opportunities for distraction and non-learning behaviors. We will need to learn from other schools and make digital citizenship a priority.

8. Our network will need enhancements to be ready for 1:1. We don't currently have enough wireless access points to effectively handle the number of devices. Bandwidth may also be an issue.

9. We briefly discussed how the devices might be supported in the building. Having effective support will be a top concern of teachers. If something goes wrong, how can I get help?

10. Our survey results indicated there will be a significant number of students who don't have internet at home. As teachers make instructional decisions, they will need to remember students may not be able to readily connect outside the school day. However, the building does have extended hours so students can arrive early or stay late to use the school's wi-fi.

It was noted at the meeting that there are many recent examples in our school of teachers increasing the use of digital tools in the classroom, but until we get devices in the hands of students, many of the great ideas teachers have will never be fully realized.

Our superintendent reminded the committee to look at the big picture and not get caught in too many details. We need to cast a vision, and then work on the specifics of implementation when it's time.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What kind of teacher do you want for your child?

Earlier this week I was at Walmart, one of my least favorite places on the planet. Sorry Walmart! I was eager to get home after a long day, but the checkouts were backed up. I randomly picked a line since they were all busy. But this time I picked the right one. Before I knew it I was on my way home. The clerk in the line I picked was giving great effort. It was noticeable she was putting forth great effort, not just putting in her time.

When it was almost my turn to checkout, I applauded the clerk's service to the customer in front of me, "Wow, she really knows how to make a line disappear." The customer smiled and agreed. I added, "She's really a hard worker."

The clerk then replied with these magical words, "I love my job." She proceeded to double bag all of my cold items, rush around to help load bags of groceries into my cart, and even made a suggestion about a type of potato chips she liked that were similar to the ones I bought.

On my way home, I called Walmart and asked for the store manager, explaining that I had just received amazing service and wanted to commend the employee for her outstanding job. The store manager was not available, but I did talk with a shift manager and shared my story, referring to the employee personally since I took note of her name badge. The manager was very appreciative of the phone call and said she would share the complement in their store meeting.

This experience got me thinking about several things.

1. Isn't it great when people go above and beyond for a job well-done? We all appreciate having excellent service provided, whether it is in the drive-thru, the doctor's office, or the check-out line.

2. Each of us gets to choose our attitude about our work each day. I once knew someone who worked as a checkout clerk at Walmart and complained nonstop about her job. Each time I would see her at her station she barely moved a muscle, wore a frown, and said little to any of the customers. Her attitude was a choice, just like the clerk who chose to share with me, "I love my job."

3. Everyone matters. Every job matters. And I am thankful I was taught to respect hard work and to respect people regardless of their level of education, how much money they have, or what kind of job they do.

4. Even though every job matters, I think our work as educators is especially important. We work with children everyday, and we have the opportunity to help shape their future. Every word and every deed makes an impact and can be used to build up or tear down a child's dreams.

5. Since our work is so significant in the life of a child, we owe it to him or her and to her parents, to be our very best every day. We have to be all in 100% or we are doing a disservice to our profession and to the future of a child.

6. So what kind of teacher do you want for your child? I bet you want one who goes above and beyond to do a great job every day, even when it's not easy.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Using RiseVision and Animoto for DIY digital signage

A couple of years ago we wrote a grant with the Walmart Community Foundation to purchase three large flat screen TVs for our commons area. The plan was to use the TVs as digital signage to celebrate student success, communicate important information, and promote upcoming events.

After trying a few options for displaying content on the screens, we are now using RiseVision.com as our platform. It requires a PC or signage player be connected to your screens, but it is easy to use and currently is completely free. In the future, there may be in-app purchases for storage of files or extra features. We currently have two PCs driving our three TVs.

Although RiseVision has many templates available and the ability to create custom screens from scratch, I've found that can be time consuming, especially if you are trying to keep fresh content on the TVs. But since RiseVision has the ability to stream video, I am trying a new solution.

Using Animoto, a video creation app available for PC or mobile device, I am quickly tossing together awesome videos that look great but take little time to create. Animoto will automatically create polished videos from the photos and video clips you select. In just a few steps, you can create a video start to finish.

Animoto also allows for text to be added in the video, and so I am including a few announcements within the video. Because of the convenience of Animoto, I hope to have a new video each week for our students to enjoy. I will also highlight a few building announcements in each of these.

I tested this new workflow today, and it worked great. The video I created uploaded to RiseVision and streamed perfectly in 720p. I would love 1080p but Animoto requires a PRO account for this feature.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

In search of better thinking, not right answers

I shared the following Tweet recently because the embedded paragraph below really encapsulates much of what I believe to be true about what students really need from today's schools. We cannot ignore that the world is a very different place than it was for previous generations. As a result, schools need to think about preparing students not just for today, but for what they will need in the future.

While the argument could be made for completely rethinking the structure and format of our learning systems, that is outside the scope of what most educators feel they control. What is in our control is what happens in our classrooms each day. We can do relatively simple things to cause deeper thinking and help students develop skills as questioners and problem solvers, skills that will be very useful to meet challenges of the future.

Steve Wyborney, who by the way was 2005 Oregon Teacher of the Year, shared this strategy in response to my Tweet. This simple idea doesn't require completely retooling how school works, it can be applied in the traditional classroom.

Here is an excerpt from the article Steve authored explaining this strategy.

Taking the answer out of the equation

In the quest to promote deep student thinking, sometimes the answer is the problem.
In the classroom, we can launch a beautiful, rich question only to see students reach the answer – and reach the end of their thinking. After all, why would they think beyond the answer? Isn’t the purpose of a question to lead to an answer? Isn’t the answer also the conclusion? Isn’t the answer the end of the journey of discovery?
No, it’s not.
The purpose of a question is not always to launch a journey toward a single answer. The purpose is often to give students an opportunity to think, to stretch, to learn strategies which they can apply to a wider range of scenarios. When students regard the answer as the end of the journey, they may miss those very growth opportunities. But how can we cause students to reach for deeper thinking when they are accustomed to ending the journey at the point of reaching an answer? A simple solution is to take the answer out of the equation. In other words, when you ask a question, give the students the answer to the question and change their task. Ask them to find as many connections as possible between the question and the answer. Click here to read the entire article on Frizzle.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Courage of famous failures (and one not so famous failure)

We showed this incredible video to teachers at our opening meeting for back to school. We were discussing one of our essential questions on growth mindset, our emphasis for the first quarter. It's very interesting and inspiring to see the struggles these famous world changers faced on their path to success.

After watching the inspirational video, one of our teachers suggested the school create a similar video, to share with our students, that included the challenges (also known as failures) that BHS teachers had overcome in their lives. I was very excited about this great idea and plans are developing to make just such a video.

But then I started thinking about what failures I would share that could be included in the video. I really don't think I have a story nearly as compelling as these famous people. However, as I considered some of the challenges in my past, I realized there were some definite hurdles in my life. Maybe revealing these challenges would benefit some of our students. Maybe my story, and the story of other teachers in our building, could be that spark of inspiration a student needs.

Of course, our goal is to show that every person will encounter struggles, but the important thing is to never give up. It's much better to try and fail than never to try in the first place. And failure isn't the end. If you fail at something that just means it's not the end. You have to keep at it.

Here are a few of the setbacks I think I will share in our video:

1. I was held back in 2nd grade because I wasn't succeeding in the classroom. I think I was a pain in my teacher's neck...or pick another part of the anatomy.

2. I was bullied relentlessly throughout junior high and was the 'fat' kid. I often dreaded going to school and can remember feeling hopeless after some of the things that were said or done to me.

3. Our family moved three times while I was in high school so I never stayed anywhere too long. It was difficult to make lasting friendships, and I often felt like an outsider.

4. Although I was an average high school basketball player, I made a failed attempt to play college basketball. Actually, I was briefly on the team, but I never fulfilled my dream of actually playing at the college level.

5. As a young teacher I was placed on an 'improvement plan,' and I totally deserved it. And ultimately, I learned from this humbling experience.

6. I applied unsuccessfully for a number of principal or assistant principal jobs, before a school finally took a chance on me.

7. After getting my first principal job, a former supervisor commented to a colleague, "I didn't know if he'd make it as a principal. I thought it could go either way."

Friday, August 22, 2014

Coaching students to follow through

It's always best to influence students in positive directions with the least use of positional power possible. We want to save our power for only when we really need it and help develop students' abilities to make good decisions. We want our students to develop good judgment and operate with social reciprocity as part of a community of learners. When we do this, we are empowering our students to own their behavior, learning, etc.

But we all know there are times when we are coaching kids that we really want them to commit and follow through with a direction we've established together. We've all had those experiences where we thought a student had agreed to a decision only to lack follow through. They may nod approvingly, but that should not be mistaken for a true commitment to action.

Here are a couple of phrases I sometimes use to try to get a firmer commitment and call them to action. After discussing an issue with a student and arriving at a solution, I will ask them to summarize our discussion, "What is your understanding of what we've discussed?' I might follow that up with another question, "How will you take responsibility in this situation?" And finally, "What are you going to do next (or next time)?"

If I am not able to get a feeling of mutual cooperation from this type of discussion, I might get a little stronger with my accountability language. I want to invite the student to offer a stronger commitment beyond just head nodding. I think questions are usually much more powerful than statements, "Can I fully count on you to follow through with this plan?"

After having a conversation like this, it is much easier to address the lack of follow through if it still occurs, "When we discussed this last time, I remember you agreed to do such and such. When we don't follow through on commitments, there are consequences for self and others."

But most of the time, if we get a really firm commitment, students will do their best to follow through with their actions. Of course, having a great relationship built on mutual respect is so important for any of this to be effective.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Starting the journey towards 1:1

Yesterday I met with district leadership to officially get started toward what our digital future will be. We are establishing a committee to examine the digital readiness of our school and to explore the direction we need to take to fully support learning in our digital world. All along the way toward whatever may be I plan to blog about our journey. I hope to make our learning journey visible.

I have to admit I'm a little impatient. I really want to see students have the opportunity for consistent access throughout the school day and even beyond school. I feel like each day that passes is filled with missed opportunities for learning. But I realize we need to get this right. We need to enlist all the voices and get a shared vision and make the decisions confidently, knowing we had all the information we needed.

So here were a few thoughts from our district level meeting.

1. We need to assess what access our students have to devices at school and at home. We plan to develop a survey to do this.

2. Where are our teachers in their thinking on using technology in the classroom? How can we help everyone understand this is a learning initiative and not a really expensive project that won't change pedagogy.

3. We will ask our committee to help establish goals for our school. What do we really want our students to gain from their digital experience as learners?

4. Before we get too far into this process, we have to make sure our network infrastructure is right. We can't launch a new initiative on a crippled network.

5. We recognize that teachers need professional development for any digital initiative to be successful. What will that look like?

6. We will start with the big picture of why we are doing this and then move to more specific decisions about what, how, and when.

7. And one more that I considered after the meeting, how can we include student and parent voices in the process? We need engagement to arrive at the best solutions.

Our first committee meeting is in less than two weeks. Exciting stuff!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Teachers, leaders stand firm

Our family walked together through the pasture of my grandparent's farm excited to bring back the perfect Christmas tree. It was my mom and dad, my little sister and I, all enjoying family time during a season of making family memories. But suddenly, my dad noticed something menacing. Up by the pond he spotted a bull we called Victor trotting in our direction. This animal was extremely large and capable of doing great harm, but he had never acted like this before. Now he was running straight for us.

I sensed the danger even more when my dad gave serious instructions. "Get behind me," he urged. We all quickly huddled in his shadow as the bull continued his charge. My dad threw his hands in the air and called out with several loud and authoritative words intended to let the bull know he was in charge. The bull was not deterred until he was within inches of my dad, when the creature dug his front hooves into the ground slowing his massive frame. Dad wielded the handsaw he carried to harvest the Christmas tree, and smacked the bull right across the nose, yelling again as if to remind him who was boss. Victor retreated.

Now these events, lasting a matter of seconds, have been glued in my memory ever since. I knew in that moment what courage really meant. I saw love carried out. I witnessed a lesson about leadership I would only later fully realize. My dad was my hero, standing firm in the face of a palpable threat.

As educators we are facing real threats too. Outside influences with harmful agendas are trying to force their 'reforms' on public schools. In Missouri, a billionaire named Rex Sinquefield has spent millions in his attempt to buy education reform. His narrative is that if we run education like a business, we can 'fix it.' I'm here to say education doesn't need 'fixing,' and especially not by the misguided agenda Sinquefield and his political allies are advancing.

Now Sinquefield, who has no background in education, and his political machine have gathered enough signatures to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that would require teachers to be evaluated by 'quantitative' measures and would effectively end teacher tenure. This amendment is a direct affront on local control of public schools. Similar efforts have been launched nationwide. The message inherent in these attacks is clear: education is broken and teachers are to blame.

But what I see in my school everyday is something entirely different. I witness educators who are deeply committed to students' success, educators with a vision of making the world a better place by investing in the lives of children. These teachers love their students and recognize the influence they have in building the lives of young people. We don't need external bureaucracies or billionaire reformers telling us what is best for our teachers or students.

So as the threats materialize, we must stand firm. Like my dad held his ground for his family, all educators must hold to core beliefs and persevere even in the midst of these attacks. Moreover, we must push forward with improvements that will work and tell the stories of how our schools are succeeding even in these challenging and uncertain times.

As a school leader, I hope to protect my teachers from messages that disrespect their work. I hope that my words and actions are encouraging and appreciative to each one who gives so much to helping young people reach their dreams. I feel a sense of obligation to protect and encourage. The work of a teacher is a calling, and it is complex. Your value as a teacher cannot truly be understood by standardized test scores. Stand firm.


Amendment 3
Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:
• require teachers to be evaluated by a standards based performance evaluation system for which each local school district must receive state approval to continue receiving state and local funding;
• require teachers to be dismissed, retained, demoted, promoted and paid primarily using quantifiable student performance data as part of the evaluation system;
• require teachers to enter into contracts of three years or fewer with public school districts; and
• prohibit teachers from organizing or collectively bargaining regarding the design and implementation of the teacher evaluation system?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Missing the mark

It's been a great summer of professional engagement and exciting learning with my PLN. The educators and thought leaders on Twitter really push my thinking and help me raise my own standard of excellence. It's great to test ideas in the Twittersphere to further refine and clarify one's philosophy.

But I caught a moment of disappointment just the other day. I realized that my attitudes and beliefs professed on Twitter and shared with others hadn't held true in a real situation. I had missed the mark. I am constantly proclaiming the power of positivity and seeing the best in others and yet I was quite frankly having a bad attitude.

So that moment of reflection started me thinking about all the other areas I have increased my own accountability as a result of my online publishing. My actions and attitudes have to be in line with my words that are shared in my PLN. I must model a growth mindset. I must take risks and do things that are uncomfortable. I must be a positive deviant. I must live out my faith. And so much more.

But I also need grace. Like every person I will fall short of my own expectations, not to mention the expectations of others. I will drop the ball. I will let someone down in spite of my desire to never let that happen. I will have more moments of regret knowing that I've not held true. 

The important thing is to be real and to set the mark high and strive to hit it. I'm not going to lower my expectations out of fear of failure. Even thought it may be difficult, I'm going to hold myself to my beliefs and do my very best to have my actions rise up to meet my words.

May we all aim high but also have a heart of forgiveness and understanding for others as we journey together in our imperfection. I'm grateful for God's enduring and overflowing grace.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Setting Sail: Teach Like a Pirate

I have to admit, I've become a huge Dave Burgess fan after reading Teach Like a Pirate. Since students today are faced with more distractions than ever, it's important to do everything we can to make learning appealing. 

We are about to start a new school year, and it's not uncommon for teachers to begin the year with reviewing class rules, checking out books, and setting expectations. These things are necessary, but they can also be boring. At worst, students are subjected to being 'talked at' far too much during the first days of school. But Burgess writes in TLAP how he approaches the first days of school. He strives to create an amazing atmosphere for his students.

Whereas the traditional thinking is to “not smile till Christmas,” Burgess is seeking to WOW his students from day one. He is still aiming to set clear expectations that will set the tone for the school year, but the tone he is setting is one of incredible engagement and interest in his class.

He notes that he shares his plan for the first days so that his readers can evaluate which if any of the ideas will work for them. He writes, “No content standard matters to me until I have established a safe, supportive, and positive classroom environment I need to successfully teach my students. Any time I spend on the front end of the year to establish this environment is not time wasted. In fact, I know it will pay dividends a hundred times over before the end of the year.”


Burgess posts a sign outside his class, “You’ve heard the stories…are you ready for the experience?!!” He is building a sense of anticipation from the beginning.

He plays music as students enter. On every desk is a can of Play-Doh and on the board in giant letters, “Do NOT open the Play-Doh!” Burgess explains, “It is far more important to create a unique experience for them on the first day than it is to be sure they know how many bathroom passes they will have each semester and when it is okay to use the pencil sharpener.”

Burgess then goes through a dramatic routine where he tells the class “Good morning” and asks them to respond in kind. He even uses strange accents and such and expects the students to do the same.

He tells them his class will different than any class they’ve ever attended, and he expects them to get involved with creating the outrageously fun and entertaining experience.

He gives them one main rule: This is a NO-MEANNESS ZONE. If he can’t create a completely safe environment students will not be open to taking risks in the learning experiences that he provides.

Burgess then asks the students to use the Play-Doh to create something that represents themselves. He then engages each student in playful banter about their creation and how it represents them with the goal that everyone leaves feeling successful. Another goal is to learn each student’s name as quickly as possible.

At the end of the class period he says something like, “You don’t want to miss tomorrow. Something wild and crazy is going to happen at the beginning of class. You can either be here and see it, or just hear the stories about it when you come back.”

I bet that makes them curious enough to want to come back the next day!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Everything all at once

When the work piles up, do you ever felt like you are trying to take a sip of water out of a fire hose? I know I often feel that way trying to attend to the many projects and priorities that are on my list. I remember years ago having a conversation about this with a mentor. I was explaining how I didn't feel effective trying to balance so many priorities. I just wanted to completely set aside some things to focus on one or two really important things. I think everyone feels that way about their work sometimes. There is never a shortage of things that need to be done.

It seems like there are always areas that need shored up in our professional lives and on top of that we have our personal lives, families, church, volunteer work, etc. on top of that. It's no wonder we may feel like we are getting blasted by a fire hose. It would sure be nice to focus on just one thing at a time.

But what I've found is I can't just completely set aside parts of my job entirely, or neglect my personal  life either. All of these responsibilities are important, but the key is to understand they are NOT of the same importance. And that's where prioritizing is so important. We need to invest the best of our time and energy into the areas that have the most impact, but we can't entirely ignore other less important priorities. They just don't get as much attention as the most important topics. Having focus as a leader doesn't mean ignoring stuff; instead, it just means understanding what is most important to help reach your goals.

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