Sunday, October 19, 2014

10 Ways Being a Connected Educator Transformed Me

Like many educators, becoming a connected educator transformed my professional life. Prior to becoming a connected educator my professional network was quite limited. Limited, in fact, to a handful of teachers with whom I ate lunch or talked to as we copied papers. Becoming a connected educator exposed me to a network of peers and experts who are committed to improving teaching and learning. Each willing to share their favorite strategies, resources, and more.

My Top 10
  1. #Edfocus One of the first twitter chats I was exposed to @MrBernia, @mccoyderek,  @BurkheadBill and others showed me the power of Twitter. My journey into becoming a Connected Educator had begun. 
  2. Reading blogs Out of fear of not including several blogs that I routinely read, I'll quote Will Richardson, "The ability to share and connect with many, many others of like minds and interests" has transformed my learning and my own professional experiences. Of course, Will's quote applies to all "things connected" from Twitter to webinars to Voxer, but the depth associated with blogs has clearly transformed me. 
  3. My own blogs This blog, my far too sporadic entries on Brilliant or Insane, my Cougar Chat blog all require reflection and greater understanding. Through my own blogging, I've been connected to more educators, leading to increased communication and collaboration and ultimately I've become better because of it.
  4. #ptchat I'm proud to say that I've been a regular participant in #ptchat from the beginning. @Joe_Mazza is an inspirational lead learner and someone I've learned so much from. Conversations on #ptchat have ranged from Bully Prevention to Using Technology to Engage Parents to Back to School Nights.
  5. #satchat No other chat has taken off quite like #satchat. Moderators @bradmcurrie @ScottRRocco have created a platform for superintendents, central office personnel, school-based administrators, teachers and anyone else interested in improving education. I've heard Brad describe #satchat as a one-stop place for administrators to share and learn from each other. I wholeheartedly agree!
  6. #iaedchat and #edchatri The inspiration behind #vachat (see #7)
  7. #vachat Along with @philgriffins, I co-host #vachat every Monday at 8ET (Shameless plug). But seriously, inspired by the likes of all the previously mentioned twitter chats, we--along with @Dr_TravisBurns--saw the need for a twitter chat for Virginia educators. Of course, like all the aforementioned chats, our chat has become much more global. Serving as a moderator surely isn't easy (coming up with a topic and questions is much more daunting than I ever would've imagined), the topics I choose are often ones that I'm struggling with, so I'm able to take what I learn and immediately apply it.
  8. #sblchat Like #ptchat, standards-based learning chat meets every Wednesday at 9ET and I'm proud to say I've been part of it since it's launching. No other chat includes so many experts (@RickWormeli2, @kenoc7, @myrondueck, and others are regular participants). Personally, before going into administration I had slowly been making the shift to standards-based grading, and I don't think anything transformed my teaching and instruction as much as my shift to SBG. I continue to learn from the #sblchat (I wish it had been around when I was still in the classroom!)
  9. Edcamps If I wasn't connected, I never would have experienced an edcamp, the best professional development conferences ever!
  10. Exposure to New Technologies As an educator, it's important that we not only teach our content, we must also teach and expose our students to technologies that they will use outside of school and that will enhance their learning. Of course, the only way to do so, is to be a connected educator. We can't simply sit on the sidelines; we must be innovative practitioners.
Being a connected educator has enabled me to take full advantage of the above opportunities. Being a connected has stimulated my development as an educator.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Instead of Seeking to Control...

Many teachers don't understand the difference between being in control and controlling. As a novice teacher, I clearly didn't know the difference resulting in poor classroom management, student-teacher conflict, and student learning suffered. Seeking to control, I became controlling.

During my first year teaching, I had one particularly challenging class, one that consisted of some of the school's best and brightest students. Yet every day represented increasing conflict, so I sought my administrator's advice. Failing to see the root of the problem--students weren't challenged and I was over-controlling--we developed a system to monitor and hopefully change their behaviors.

I created a spreadsheet with each of their names and various symbols. Every day they earned or lost points based on their effort, behavior, preparedness, etc. After all, I needed to show the class who was in charge.

An example of my ineffective classroom management tracking tool.

For a day or two it worked beautifully. Slowly though, power struggles materialized. Then total combustion.

A student, I'll call him Devin, approached me at the start of class and asked to go to his locker for his textbook. But since the bell had rung, I told him he would be marked tardy or unprepared.  The eighth-grader judiciously offered a reason for not having his textbook, but I stood firm. Rules are rules. I'm in control.

Begrudgingly, he took his seat while mumbling under his breath. I turned to him and told him that he was being disruptive and duly noted such on my spreadsheet. More points off.

I was winning, right? 

About halfway into class, I directed students to get their textbooks out and begin an assignment. A conscientious student, Devin began working with a classmate, so in no uncertain terms, I told him that partner work was not permitted.  After all I needed to control this situation and teach him responsibility.

Devin quipped, "Well how am I supposed to learn then?"

I countered, "That's not my problem. YOU need to come prepared. That's your problem."

Sensing the opportunity to escalate the situation and make his point, Devin immediately retorted sarcastically, "You're the teacher and it's not your problem that I'm not learning?!"

The power struggle was on. I felt 25 pairs of eyes on me. I picked up the clipboard and deliberately added another mark next to Devin's name to which he bluntly stated, "You've already taken away all of my points for the day, so what? I'll just sit here for the rest of the class."

He was right, but I couldn't cede control with the entire class bearing down on me. We went back-and-forth, each seeking the last word. After exchanging a couple of quips and barbs, I'd had enough--meaning I'd lost control and was backed into a corner--wrote a referral for Devin and sent him to the office. I had gotten in the last word. I was in control.

But in actuality, I had lost and I had lost control long before sending Devin to the office. Sure,  Devin demonstrated some disrespectful behaviors, but much of the escalation was caused by me. Everything from poor lesson planning to not listening to him to seeking to control Devin. Along the way,  I humiliated and degraded Devin in front of his peers. My actions placed my needs ahead of Devin's. I escalated a simple situation (Devin not having his book) and attempted to control the situation using grades, embarrassment and punishment.

So let's rewind. What should I have done? What should all teachers aim for?
  • Treat students with respect
  • Always consider the student's perspective. In the above scenario, I shut Devin off by not allowing him to get his book. We've all forgotten something, had I simply allowed him--trusted him--to go get his book, none of this would have transpired.
  • Avoid systems, like the demerit system in the above, that lead to power struggles. 
  • Give students options and allow them to make choices. The students in this class were high-achievers. They had a desire to learn and succeed, but I sought control. My lessons and their assignments--sadly, lots of worksheets--were highly scripted.
  • Allow students to work with each other. We can't expect students to sit quietly at their desks for an entire class period and if I had simply trusted Devin and his friend to work together, the situation wouldn't have escalated.
  • Instead of grading students, provide feedback and allow them to assess their own learning
  • Celebrate students for their differences and their strengths. 
  • Provide students with a challenging curriculum, but ensure each student can be successful by providing the necessary support through individualization, personalization, and differentiation.
As educators we toe a thin line between being in control and controlling; let's aim to "merely" be in control.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Deflating My Desire To Learn

My high school had a somewhat archaic English assignment. Freshman were required to memorize and recite a 40-line poem twice a year, sophomores memorized 50 lines, juniors 60 and seniors 70. Fortunately by the time I was a senior, they had canned this assignment.

During the fall semester of my freshman year, I bombed the assignment. I waited far too long to begin the memorization. Disappointed with myself, I made an honest effort during the second semester. I chose a poem of high interest; I planned ahead and pledged to memorize five lines each night. Most importantly, I felt confident in my abilities.

But then, as I began memorizing, I stumbled. The first five lines came relatively easily. The next five proved a little more challenging. Lines 11-15 posed significant problems; lines 20+ seemed impossible. I continued to study, but I began to doubt myself and I lowered my own expectations; instead of aiming for mastery of all forty lines, I became content to just memorize thirty. Soon, with the due date upon me, I knew thirty might be a stretch.

Sure enough, when it came time for me to recite my poem I floundered. While I was highly frustrated, I tried not to let the teacher know. I brushed it off as a stupid assignment (too this day I still believe that) that I didn't care about and didn't prepare for. That was surely easier than showing and admitting a weakness.

As my sophomore year rolled around, I dreaded the assignment--and having an additional ten lines. But I committed myself to acing it. I began preparing almost as soon as the school year began. Things didn't improve, however. For whatever the reason, I couldn't get past twenty or thirty lines. On the day of the recitation, I imploded. I did worse than ever. My well-meaning teacher, tried to boost my morale with generic statements like "you'll do better next time," "keep trying," "I'm sure you can..."

Didn't she get it? I truly had poured everything I had into this assignment. What else could I do?

I contemplated, "Why bother trying to memorize the 50 lines for the spring term?"

Seeing little value and possessing no confidence, I completely rejected the assignment. I felt helpless. My self-efficacy hit an all-time low; one that extended beyond my English classes. My own negative beliefs about my abilities presented a huge barrier to my own success. I withdrew from my classes  and became increasingly sarcastic and began to brush-off my poor grades.

After a summer of testing, I learned I had a learning disability, one that greatly influenced my ability to learn and memorize.

While I eventually regained my confidence and regained my self-efficacy, the the assignment forever turned me off of memorization and poetry.

Twenty-five years later that assignment still leaves a bitter taste, but while I never learned any tricks to memorizing poetry, it did give me a unique perspective on what it's like to struggle as a learner. Sadly, too much of what we do in school further alienates struggling students from school and learning. 

Let's never forget, it's difficult for students--for that matter anyone--to remain motivated when one is consistently unable to meet the expectations of others, especially when it's not your fault. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

My Ever-Expanding Use of Google Forms

Sadly we're not a Google (GAFE) school, but whenever possible I make use of Google, in particular Google Forms.

Here are some of the ways that I use Google Forms:

Student work completionThis form is used for students who consistently struggle to complete their work as part of our school's RTI process. With the edition of FormEmailer, the form is sent to me, the student's counselor, the student's family and to our school's remediation specialist. 

Teacher Evaluation of Me (Their Assistant Principal): This form  gives teachers the opportunity to evaluate me, which I've blogged about before.

Student Surveys: As a teacher I greatly appreciated feedback from my administrators and from my peers, but the most useful feedback came from my students. Several of the forms included in this database are Google Forms. 

Positive Referrals: One of my favorite parts of my job  is recognizing students for their hard work, their character and their determination. Faculty and staff members are invited to complete a Positive Referral form  . For more about Positive Referrals.

Walk Through Observation Forms: Like most systems our county has a formal observation document that I use for longer observations. For data collection and for shorter (up to 15 minute) observations, we use this form.  Combining this with FormEmailer, which automatically sends the completed observation to the observed teacher, provides teachers with timely feedback.

Google Forms have become one of the most powerful tech tools in my arsenal. I constantly look for ways to expand their use and welcome your ideas. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Accentuate the Positives, Walk the Line



Excellence in Education: Accentuate the Positives
The first week of school is by far my favorite week. Filled with energy, positivity and enthusiasm, the atmosphere rivals—and I’d argue exceeds—that of the last day of school.

Teachers are glad to that all of the mundane administrative stuff of the prior week are behind them; finally time to teach. It’s time to put a summer’s worth of planning and “next year, I’m going to try…” into action. Students are no different; each beginning the year with a fresh attitude.

The faculty parking lot filled up early on Monday (and no it wasn’t because we don’t have assigned parking anymore) and soon students poured into our halls to be greeted by friends and teachers.

As we go forward, I challenge each of us (me too) to maintain this energy throughout the entire school year. As we go forward, let’s continually support our students and each other. Undoubtedly, there will be days when we’re exhausted and emotionally spent, so let’s pledge to lift each other’s spirits with a pat on the back, a simple note, or a quick phone call or text.

Before we know it, SOLs will be here. We’ll be awaiting the 5am phone call to tell us that school is canceled, and we’ll be turning the term. Along the way, let’s maintain our enthusiasm and support each other by accentuating the positives. Let’s recognize and celebrate our efforts and our accomplishments.


Ideas for the Classroom: Walk The Line
Walk the Line is a simple classroom strategy that can be used to formatively assess students, to foster discussion, or to simply get students up and out of their seats. It allows students to practice thinking, speaking, and listening.

To begin the teacher creates a line in her classroom. The teacher indicates what the ends of the line stand for. Some possibilities: Agree/Disagree; For/Against, True/False, etc. Between the two end points are places for students who are on the fence.

Students then go to their spot on the line and the teacher randomly chooses various students to explain/argue their case. Other students are allowed to move according to the various arguments made (real feedback!)

This activity has lots of flexibility, so some other options.
1.      Have students work in pairs to determine their answer and send one student to the correct spot on the line.
2.      Instead of using a line, use the four corners of the room (Strongly Agree-Agree-Disagree-Strongly Disagree, for example).
3.      Have students take on different figures/persons. For example, if you’re looking at early American colonization, you could have students take on the role of a Native American, a European explorer, a European king, etc.
4.      Other possibilities for the ends of the line: Names of two people or two events (which was more important).


Administrative Notes

Due Dates for Initial Goal:
1.      Comprehensive Cycle: September 5, please remember to give pre-assessment as soon as possible. For those of you on the comprehensive cycle, if you’d like to set up a meeting before next Friday to discuss the pre-assessment data and the goal setting process, I’d be more than willing.

Additionally, I plan on trying to schedule quick (less than 15 minute) weekly meetings with those of you on cycle. This will help me provide more consistent and valuable feedback to you and ensure that we’re working together.

2.      Annual Cycle: February 6

Positive Referral Link: http://goo.gl/s0KXRB

Work Order Request Form: http://goo.gl/H7hFwK


Video of the Week:
Kid President’s Pep Talk for Teachers 



What I’m Reading

Preparing Your Students For Tomorrow’s Challenges  Definitely check out the links in number 6


Friday, August 15, 2014

How to Kill Technology Integration in Your School


This blog is part of Scott McLeod's Leadership Day.

Those of you who know Scott, know him to be one of our true technology education leaders.

I'd like to consider myself a technology leader but far too often I stumble in this role. Sometimes I'm tripped up by my own stupidity, other times it's ineffective policies, and sometimes it's just dumb luck--or lack thereof.

But there are four, surefire ways to kill technology in our schools:
  1. Be sure you have the infrastructure to support your technologies. Last year, our school went to BYOD. Of course, our students were thrilled. Teachers ranged from indifferent to apprehensive to  fanatical. I, of course, fell into the latter and modeled various BYOD technologies during the first week (Padlet, Socrative, Poll EverywhereToday's Meet, Twitter, to name a few). Then 1200 students entered the building and BYOD fell flat on it's face. It wasn't because of the teachers, nor was it because the students abused the system. Instead, our infrastructure couldn't support over 1000 devices. Walking around on the first day of school, I was thrilled to see so many teachers embracing BYOD. It soon became obvious that we had major problems. Students and teachers couldn't get on the network, leaving everyone frustrated. Word quickly spread. Teachers scraped their BYOD lessons--not just for the day, but for the entire year. I honestly saw more attempts at BYOD on day one than I did for the other 179 days combined. 
  2. Don't make policies with the bad teachers in mind. Far too many school districts have restrictive policies that inhibit teachers' abilities to effectively use technology. The bad teachers will circumvent/ignore whatever policies are in place and the other 99% of teachers are handcuffed by overly restrictive policies. 
  3. Don't adopt technology unless you're truly sure that it will positively influence student learning. While the intentions are good, too many leaders have been enticed by the latest trend, by the bells and whistles, and have forked over thousands of dollars to technologies that quickly become outdated, are stored away in a closet somewhere or collect dust in classrooms. For example, while I love SmartBoards and Promotheans, I've seen far too many schools go on spending splurges only to have these serve as nothing more than glorified projectors and whiteboards.  Technology purchasing decisions require an understanding of technology and foresight, and once purchases are made, training to ensure that the technologies are used to ensure maximum impact. 
  4. Don't expect teachers to use technology if you, as an educational leader, don't use technology. Last spring I attended an edcamp and I was blessed to have a conversation with several teachers whose schools implemented Google's Apps for Education (GAFE). These teachers were fully committed to GAFE, but the same couldn't be said for their leader. One teacher lamented, "Our principal can barely open her email without help from her secretary." The teachers continued by rightfully stating, "Do as I say and not as I do just doesn't work. Especially when not everyone is on-board [to GAFE]."
As educators we must integrate technology into our curricula and as an educational leader we must lead by example. We must be willing to experiment with new technologies and model effective technology usage. Ultimately, we must create an environment that encourages teachers and students to embrace, integrate, and even develop new technologies.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

11 Things I Wish I Had Known As A First-Year Teacher

Twenty years ago I began my teaching career. As a first-year teacher I felt confident--borderline arrogant and cocky--in my abilities. I was in for a reality check and to this day I almost feel as if I need to apologize to my students for my inadequacies.

  1. Listen. Listen to your students, your peers and your administrators. Even better solicit their opinions. Seek feedback from your students and open up your classroom to other teachers and seek their feedback. Which leads me to...
  2. Have faith in yourself though. Some veteran teachers will try to convince you that your ideas are too grandiose, they won't work or that you'll bang your head against the wall when it fails. You were hired because you bring something unique to your school, and your administrators  want other teachers to learn from you. 
  3. Asking questions and sharing your struggles and issues are NOT a sign of weakness but rather a strength.
  4. It all comes down to relationships. Focus on building relationships with your students. Take the time to get to know who your students are beyond your classroom. The more you know about your students the more likely they are to learn and the more likely they're going to forgive your mistakes--and there will be plenty of them.
  5. Be creative in creating lessons. Don't rely on "that's how I was taught" or the ancillary (cookie cutter) lessons and materials provided by your textbooks. 
  6. Go one step further in lesson planning. It's always better to have too much than not enough. Some learning activities will fail and you'll be better off starting something new. Others will not take as much time as you expected. But, the learning activity is not of high-quality, you're better off not using it.
  7. Fess up when you make mistakes. Take responsibility for your actions. Again, don't be too proud to admit your errors.
  8. Don't be afraid to let your students know who you are. No, you shouldn't be sharing overly personal details, but students want to know who you are.
  9. Just say "No." As a first-year, single teacher living in Virginia for the first time, I didn't have much of a social life, but I spent far too much time at school. In addition to lesson planning, grading, contacting parents, and coaching, I was asked--and always answered, "sure"--to chaperone every dance, serve on various committees, participate in after-school IEPs, etc. While I learned a lot about teaching and my students, it's important to take time for yourself.
  10. Trust your instincts. Don't spend time second-guessing and over-worrying about student discipline. Naturally, I doubted myself far too often. Again your primary focus should be on building student relationships followed by lesson planning and providing feedback. Yes, classroom management is important, but it only happens when you've built the relationships with students and created solid lessons. 
  11.  Keep Learning. I had a pretty good first year. My students enjoyed my class, liked me and learned. But looking back at my first year as a teacher, I was maybe 1/1,000th of the teacher I became. You'll stumble plenty; that's OK. Just reflect and learn every day. For me, my 30 minute commute home provided me with the opportunity to reflect and improve, but for some a blog, a journal or talking to a colleague might better serve your needs.
Good luck!