Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Improving Instructional Practices in Your Building

I attended a 2 hour conference presentation by Todd Whitaker tonight on Evaluating Teachers to Improve Instruction. I will not blog about everything from the session, but will hit on a few key points that include an exercise for you to complete as a school administrator.

Before you read any more of this blog, I ask that you think about the classrooms in your building and reflect on what instructional practices you want to see more of? What would you like to see less of? Actually stop right now, take out a piece of paper and write a 2 column list.

Did you make a list?

Now, what is on your list? You may have some common practices as I do. My "want to see more of" list includes: differentiation, a focused lesson objective with student mastery, formative assessment, active engagement, use of technology, co-teaching with special education staff, students reading independently (at their reading levels), and higher level questioning/problem solving.

My "want to see less of" list includes: wasted time, round-robin reading, isolating special education students, worksheets and the teacher sitting at the desk.

As you look at your list of "want to see more of," why aren't your teachers already using these instructional practices in their classrooms? Are they insubordinate or ignorant? I don't think I've ever met a teacher that did not want to be a good teacher and make a difference in the lives of children, so I hope your answer is not insubordinate. So that leaves us with ignorant as their reason. Ignorant does not necessarily mean the teacher is stupid, but just that they don't know. For example, a teacher with classroom management issues isn't choosing to have poor classroom management. I doubt that any teacher would really want to have kids misbehaving, interrupting instruction and leaving them to pull their hair out. If they knew how to have good classroom management, they would! Our job as leaders is to teach the teachers. All of those instructional strategies you listed as what you want to see more of in the classrooms...that is your job to teach your teachers.

Do not feel overhwelmed if your list is as long as mine; you need to pick one focus at a time and think through how you're going to teach it and reinforce it with your teachers. Todd Whitaker writes and speaks that anytime you are going to change anything, you must teach it "whole-part-whole". First teach all (whole) about it in your Friday Focus or weekly memo (I can never pull mine together by Friday, so it's a Monday memo in my building!). Always pretend that your memo is talking about the past, but it's really about the future...what you want to see teachers doing. For example, if you want to see teachers greeting students in the morning your memo may include: I want to thank you all for doing such a great job of starting your students day out on a positive note by greeting them at the door. The other day I saw a student come off the bus with a grumpy look on his face, but the teacher greeted him and told him how happy he was in school today...I didn't see that grumpy look on his face for the rest of the day. Some of our students come from difficult homes, but are so lucky to have such caring teachers.

Did I really see that particular incident occur last week? No, not exactly, but I do know from my own experience as a teacher and administrator how important it is to start every student's day on a positive note. But now all of my great teachers that are going to continue greeting their students in the morning and those that are not (or they're actually doing the opposite by hounding students the second they enter the classroom) think that "everyone is doing it." If this is your new strategy you're focusing on, then make "new sound normal."

That was the first "whole" teaching. To follow up with "part" start walking around in the morning to see teachers greeting students. If you see a teacher at their desk as students are coming in, walk in the room--I bet they'll stand up and go to greet students. If you find a teacher hounding on a student right away about something, talk to them later that day about it. Continue making your rounds each morning. A few weeks or months later, send out another positive email and this time the little story you share could be a real example from your building!

Make sure to always include your beliefs and great instructional strategies in your weekly memos. Teachers are in the lounge sharing their beliefs each day (ok, you know that was a nice way to say complaining) and if you don't share your beliefs with them publicly then they will start to believe their own!

I would love to hear comments from others that have implemented practices recommended by Todd Whitaker...please comment!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Power of a Data Room

The previous 2 years my superintendent and I talked about having a data wall or data room, but this year we finally made it happen. Being a data-driven geek, I was thrilled to finally have this come to fruition. If you don't know anything about Data Walls, please check out for a video clip on the Power of Data Walls.

Our data room is in what was previously our speech therapist's office, so it's only big enough to cram in up to 8 people for a meeting. We are K-12 all in one building, so we have one wall for elementary and one wall for for 6-12. At the elementary, we have the wall divided into 3 rows to display student data on Reading Levels (using the DRA at K-3 and Fountas & Pinnell benchmark at 4/5), Reading Lexiles from the Scholastic Reading Inventory in 3-5th grades and Math Quantiles from the Scholastic Math Inventory in 2-5th grades. We have little bulls-eye targets that provide a visual of the end of year benchmark for each grade level. When student magnets are placed on the board, it is very easy to see how many students are below or above the benchmark. The data just jumps out at you!!

On our 6-12 board, we have a row for the Scholastic Math Inventory and Scholastic Reading Inventory up through 9th grades. We also have a row that will be used for tracking where discipline referrals orginiated (i.e. classroom, lunchroom, bus, etc.) with the implementation of PBIS.

As the elementary principal, we have been having our biweekly grade level meetings in the data room and have found it to be extremely useful. The room is a work in progress, but we started out the year with last year's Spring reading levels on and used the additional blank magnets as we decided where to place students for our intervention block, which we are calling WIN Time (What I Need).