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:

Work Order Request Form:

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!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My Goals for 2014-2015

The start of each school year marks the opportunity for me to  set goals for the upcoming school year. Unlike my New Year's resolutions, I tend to do a better job of working towards these. Of course, sharing my goals with anyone who comes across my blog and those I work with definitely ups the ante and increases accountability. So here are my goals for the 2014-2015 school year. 
Every day I will help make a colleague better. 
  • I will perform at least 750 observations and provide teachers with timely feedback
  • I will schedule a weekly visit with each teacher on the comprehensive cycle to provide feedback and to discuss 
  • Each Cougar Communication will have an instructional element, and I'll make more use of visuals, images, videos, etc.
  • In person feedback will be provided whenever a negative is witnessed during an observation 
  • I will work with each teacher to develop their own professional learning plans 
I will work with struggling students to improve their academic performance 
  • Meet with parents, students, counselors and teachers on a regular basis for those students who are most at risk 
  • Require teachers to monitor students' academic progress and communicate that progress to me 
  • Expand the use of RTI procedures  
I will hand write at least 3 thank you/job well done notes each week 

I will create relationships based on respect, trust and mutual understanding. I will support and engage those with whom I work and always act with the utmost integrity. I will listen and learn. 
  • I will attend all departmental meetings 
  • I will meet weekly with department chairs 
  • I will be visible before and after school 
I will communicate and engage parents, students and the community on school issues. 
  • I will blog on Cougar Chat at least once per week 
  • Our Remind account will have at least 600 people sign-up
  • Kettle Run News (Twitter) will finish the year with at least 800 followers
  • Principal Forums will be streamed live
  • I will work with faculty to ensure that BlackBoard Learn is implemented and used as described 
  • On 75% of Friday, I will complete my Friday Five 
  • I will explore use of other social media sites to enhance our digital footprint
I will work with Professional Development/School Improvement Team to improve instruction and learning.
  • I will work with our School Improvement Team to provide relevant, meaningful, purposeful and engaging professional development opportunities for ALL faculty 
  • Our  professional development will be teacher-driven, student-centered, and choice-based.
  • Professional development opportunities will be offered online 
  • I will lead at least 3 professional development sessions including one on Standards-Based Grading and one on Restorative Justice. 
We will expand our use of Restorative Practices 

Every day I will make myself a better leader by reading, learning from my Twitter PLN, asking questions and LISTENING.  After all it's all about RELATIONSHIPS.