Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Reflections, not New Year's Resolutions

Why wait for the New Year to make your resolutions or goals?

Maybe the New Year holiday has been changed for me thanks to being in education and that I get excited for each new year that starts in school on September 1st, but I just don't see the New Year on January 1st as reason to start making resolutions for the new year. If you are a lifelong learner and committed to your profession, then you should always have a set of goals that you are constantly monitoring, reflecting upon and revising.

Each January I have to laugh at how busy the gym is for the first 2 weeks--filled with all the people that decided that this year they are going to get in shape or lose weight. Then after those 2 weeks, the traffic dies down, because it was just a New Year's Resolution hype. (Note-if you are trying to make this your New Year's Resolution, please don't be offended by my take on this. Use this New Year to reflect on why this hasn't worked for you in the past so that it will this year.)

If you google New Year's Resolutions, you will find a multitude of sites that list ways to stick to your new goals. Most of these lists include: make your goals realistic, write them down, tell people (to help hold you accountable), and reward yourself. When you go back to your google search, you will also find many sites that list the top 10 New Year's Resolutions and ideas of how to create your New Year's Resolutions. If you have to do that much work (of searching for ideas) to come up with your new goal, it is my guess that you will not be able to stick with it. You should know in your heart and in your daily life what your goal should be. You need to find ways to make the monitoring of it part of your daily life. I'm not going to tell you how, but I'll tell you how I do.

I use the app Simple Goals to keep track of my personal and professional goals. I keep my professional goals on my iPad (since this is school issued and I use it at school constantly) and my personal goals on my iPod. I'm sure that there are a variety of other great tools out there to use to track your goals, however, I love this one because it is ridiculously simple (hence the title) and it's free! In addition, I have always kept a journal where I add my reflections and notes on my goals, however, I have really done more of that here on my blog and begun using evernote to journal, because I have become almost completely unable to use pen/paper.

I have also tried to model reflecting upon goals for my the start of the year I shared my personal/professional goals with staff and gave each teacher a journal (actually I bought a variety and they each picked the one they wanted) and gave them time to write their goals for the year-both professional and personal. I have asked teachers to bring these journals to each professional learning meeting and given them a few minutes at the end of each meeting to reflect and write. At the suggestion of one of my teachers, I have also tried to add a reflection prompt to the end of each of my Friday Focus posts for them to reflect/write if they choose. I don't check teacher's journals, so I really don't know how they are being used. Just like anything, I'm assuming that those that those that utilize it get the most out of it. At our next professional learning meeting I am planning to have teachers turn back to their first goals page they wrote at the start of the year to reflect on their goals for this school year and revise as necessary. Link

Use the New Year Holiday as a time to enjoy time with your family and friends while
reflecting on your current goals and ask yourself:
-As you look at your data or method to keep track of your progress, how well are you meeting your goals? If you have no data to look at, then you need to find a method to track your progress.
-Do any of your goals need to be revised? How so?
-What do you need to add to your goals? Remember, if you make this something totally
new, you will likely not stick to it. However, if this is your time to finally decide to quit a bad habit or add a new one, make sure that you find a way for this goal to "stick" all year and not die out by January 18th.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Leading the Way with Staff Memos

Just over a year ago I heard Todd Whitaker speak to many principals at the annual AWSA (Association of Wisconsin School Administrators) convention. As always, I left with many great tips to continue leading my school, but the biggest tool I learned about was providing my staff with a weekly memo. Whitaker called it a "Friday Flash" or "Friday Focus" and is used to share best practices with staff, along with upcoming events and anything that can be shared in a memo and not waste staff meeting time (that could be better spent on learning/discussion).
I have since found a few other principal blogs used to share weekly memos with staff that I continue to follow for ideas, so I thought it was only fair that I share what I'm doing here for others.
I immediately began implementing this tool last year as a "Monday Memo" to staff. Whitaker says that this should be given to staff on brightly colored paper in their mailboxes, but I kept mine to email since I am also trying to lead staff using technology. This year I have expanded this practice to include:
*Monday Memo that includes "Great Things I Noticed Last Week," "Upcoming Events," "Nuts & Bolts Notes," and "Tech Tips"
*Friday Focus that shares my professional reflections with staff on something I am reading or learning with staff
*Created a blog that includes these posts, the staff google calendar, occassional staff polls, my shelfari widget (so staff can see what I'm reading), and other resources
Since refining this practice, I have really come to see the benefit of sharing "Great Things I Noticed" because I have observed the same practices be implemented in other classrooms after posting them. Some of the Friday Focus messages I have posted have encouraged discussions that I have overheard in the hallways or had staff mention their reflections to me. Since starting this I have also had a couple of staff ask about how to get started with blogging, how to get started on twitter (since I often share things I learn from people on twitter), and ask to borrow books I've read.
I have previously shared a cross-post of one of my Friday Focus posts HERE.
Here's an example of one of my Monday Memo posts from December:

Great Things I Noticed Last Week:
*While sitting in a 5K mini-lesson on setting a student excitedly said, "I just made a connection to another book we read!"
*In another 5K classroom students were practicing their Jolly Phonics with the SMARTBoard program and were able to read the following words: coast, grain, punch, and chimpanzee using their sounds. I bet the 1st grade teachers love to hear this!
*After 5th grade student presentations, the class was asked to give 3 positive comments and 3 things to improve on. I was amazed to hear the feedback given to students by students and surprised how much Daily 5/Cafe language carried over into the feedback for science presentations.
*5th grade started keeping track of "Writing Non-Negotiables" as writing skills are taught in mini-lessons. You can see the list from one class in the picture on the right. Mrs. B says that this list has really cut down on the time spent conferring with students for writing revising/editing--she does NOT help revise if they have a mistake that is on the non-negotiable list. Wouldn't it be great if we had a list of expectations like this at each grade level?

Events This Week:
*Monday - Mentors meeting at 3:05 in Media Center
*Tuesday - I will be gone all day at the SLATE conference (School Leaders Advancing Technology in Education) in Wisconsin Dells.
*Thursday - No Office Day--I'll be spending my day in 3-5th grade classrooms
K/2/4 Music Concert (including 5th grade band) at 6:30 PM
*Friday - Just a reminder to show your school spirit and wear your school shirt (please help remind your students too)

"Nuts & Bolts" Notes:
*Just a reminder that next week is already mid-quarter (I had to triple check the calendar to be sure!) so make sure you're ready to send home a progress report for each of your students.
* We've added another Tech Tuesday to the calendar for December 20th. I know that's a busy week, but there's quite a few teachers excited about using Pinterest or wanting to learn how before break so Jean and Bethany will be teaching us how that day.

Tech Tip:
*I've seen some great websites being used on the SMARTBoards and in the computer lab that I'm sure students would continue to use at home if they have internet access. You can show them how to access the site from the student resources on the district webpage (if it's there) or include the web address in your newsletter, which can be quite lengthy and difficult to type at times. If you want to learn how to make a shortened web address to share with students/parents for home and for easy access in the computer lab you just need to go to and sign up for an account. Here's a screencast I made to show you how to use this tool. Let me know if you need any help getting started on this.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Inattentional Blindness

When it comes to reading I usually choose professional education books over fiction to continue my learning as a principal and instructional leader. I have strayed from ed literature after hearing a podcast with Life Coach, Mel Robbins on the Manic Mommies podcast. Her sense of humor and powerful message led me to order her book Stop Saying You're Fine before I even finished listening to the podcast. Even though her book is not an professional education book, I have been making many connections to my position in education throughout reading it.

The biggest connection I've made to education is while reading her chapter on how admitting what you want focuses your attention. "Inattentional blindness" is a phenomenon that describes how we often miss what is right in front of us unless we are completely focused on it.

Here's the best example to point this out. Just watch this youtube clip for 1 minute to take the awareness test. You need to keep track of how many times the team in white passes the ball.

Did you see it? The only reason I did is because I read about the results of this in Robbins' book. In a study involving a similar clip, 46% of people missed it.

What's the point of this? Robbins states, "you miss an enormous number of opportunities to change your life on a daily basis because you are not focused on what you want. You are focused on your problems and maintaining the illusion that you are fine. Until you face the truth about your life and start focusing on opportunities to take action, you will continue to miss the gorilla moonwalking in the background."


So often in education, our discussions can go down the trail of unending outside factors (home life, socio-economic status, the schedule/yearly calendar, previous year's teacher, etc.) When we spend our time listing outside factors affecting a student, we are wasting precious time to look at what we can change to better meet a student's needs. Here are just a few examples.
  • The young elementary student that is tardy everyday, because his/her single parent works late the night before and sleeps past the alarm. Keep the child in at recess (not a favorite choice), add an individual incentive for that student if he/she does make it on time, make arrangements to keep the student after school, change the schedule so the student isn't missing the instruction that they need the most (I understand that's difficult to do) or start giving them a wake up call each morning (I've actually done that and after about a week of this, they get really sick of it and start coming on time...or change their number).
  • The student that is 2 years below reading level and is already getting a "double-dose" of reading (full 90 minutes of literacy in the classroom and 30 minute reading intervention daily), but you know is never reading at home. Then add a "triple dose" of reading and set the child up with 15 minutes of the day reading to a volunteer. No volunteers? Contact a teacher of an older grade and have a student volunteer come down to listen to the student read. If you are the older grade, then have your student go to a younger grade. Or have your student record themselves reading into the free program audacity on your computer.
  • The student that just transferred to your school and you wonder what in the world the previous district had for curriculum, because this child is so far behind, yet came with a glowing report card in their cumulative file. Get started on interventions right away.
I challenge you to think about what opportunities you're missing out on in your classroom/school, because you're focused on the problems or obstacles. What are you not doing, but making excuses for why you're not doing it? What is it that you want for your students? What are you going to do to make it happen?

Photo cc license shared by CrazyFast

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Web 2.0 and Higher Level Thinking

Each week I post a "Friday Focus" for staff on my staff memo blog as a way to model professional reflection and hopefully inspire them each week. This week I attempted to summarize what I learned from Scott McLeod at SLATE. This is a cross-post from my staff blog.
This week I attended the SLATE (School Leaders Advancing Technology in Education) conference where I was put on brain-overload from the many challenging thoughts and great ideas shared to continue advancing integration of technology in education.

I was excited to hear our keynote speaker, Scott Mcleod, because I have followed his blog and twitterfeed for a couple of years now. Scott created the following powerful video clip:

Just as I expected, Scott spent 2 hours sharing far too much information for me to share in this post, but I do want to share the "learning nuggets" that I took home with me:

*Web 2.0 -the internet is no longer just reading information, but interacting with it, connecting with others and easily sharing information (i.e. podcasts, facebook, twitter, blogs, youtube, wikipedia, linkdin, four square, pinterest, webkinz, wordle, the list goes on...)

*Consumers vs. Creators - With all the web 2.0 tools today, we are no longer consumers of the internet, we are creators. One well known example of this is the amount of sales from that are attributed to the product reviews that people submit. If you are submitting a review, you are helping to create amazon. He also said that if you are reading reviews, but never leaving a review, then you're a "moocher" and you need to help contribute. (With this thought, I'm making it my personal goal to try to add comments to the blog posts that I read throughout the week)

*With all these web 2.0 tools...
-We all have a voice
-We can easily find each other
-We can easily work together

*We are now preparing our students for jobs that don't currently exist.

*Our students need to be problem-solvers and critical thinkers (not "regurgitators")

*If we are going to prepare our students for the new jobs (that we don't even know about now) that require creative work, then we need to plan learning that is in the top 3 of Bloom's Taxonomy (visual above of this)--Analyzing, Evaluating and Creating.

My reflection prompt for you:
What are you doing in your classroom to encourage critical thinking, problem solving and creating? How much of student time is spent consuming information versus creating it?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sharing Success

Recently, I finally convinced a dear friend of mine to join Twitter (after 2 years of talking about it to her), but was surprised when she said she has nothing worthy of tweeting for others. This is an awesome teacher that can share with me for hours about her classroom and has plenty to share with the Twitter PLN...she just doesn't realize it yet.

Today I had the pleasure of presenting at the SLATE conference with my colleauges Curt Rees and Jay Posick once again on Twitter (just to clarify, I do not actually work with Curt and Jay-we have connected via Twitter). This time we added the following video:

This video clip has really got me thinking about my online presence (Twitter, this blog, Connected Principals Blog, and podcasting). Over the past 3 years I have grown tremendously in my profession by connecting with others on Twitter and reflecting on my practice through this blog. I have had many compliments by others on twitter about my work and even had someone tell me today they wanted my autograph! (Highlight of my day). I have also had others contact me to skype with them about topics I often tweet about (Daily 5, ipad for Walkthroughs, etc). What's funny to me, is that I originally sought out others on twitter for these topics and realize that the more I talk about it, the more I reflect/grow in each of those areas. Compliments and opportunities like this always make me feel good, however, I am always growing and know that there are many better administrators out there to learn from. There are many teachers, tech directors, instructional coaches, and other educators doing great things, they just aren’t all on twitter sharing it with the world. I just happen to be one administrator sharing what I am doing and sharing what my awesome teachers are doing for kids.

So, to those of you who enjoy following my blog/twitter account--thank you! To those of you who think I’m a twitter celebrity--I’m just a Twitter Evangelist, trying to get the rest of the Education World on twitter for my selfish reasons--to keep learning and growing. You all matter and you all have a lot to share.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

2011 Edublog Nominations

Almost everyone on twitter is talking about the Edublog Awards right now and I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that with almost 3 years of being on twitter I've never paid attention to the Edublog Awards. I can recall seeing tweets about it and have seen Edublog Award badges on some blogs, but never stopped to find out what it was about. This weekend, someone from twitter nominated my blog in her Edublog Nominations post here. It was a nice little pat on the back for me, which my husband promptly told me not to let go to my head since "anyone can nominate anyone." I do have to side with my husband (rare occasion that shouldn't go to his head) that the award itself is a bit silly, but what I do find of value in the Edublog Awards is the opportunity it provides for educators to share the favorite blogs that they are learning from. In just 5 minutes of exploring the Edublog Awards page I found several great new blogs that I wasn't previously following and immediately added to my google reader.

So, now that I'm aware of The Edublog Awards this time around, I am posting my nominations in hopes that someone else finds a great blog that they haven't previously been following:

Best Group Blog: Connected Principals has been a great resource to me to follow posts from a variety of administrators. I have contributed to this group blog a couple of times, but benefit even more from what other administrators have to share in their posts.

Best New Blog: I've enjoyed reading It's All About Learning by @henriksent, a Canadian teacher/administrator that just recently began tweeting and blogging.

Best School Administrator's Blog: The Principal's Posts by @l_hilt is a blog I enjoy reading and learning from with each post she shares. She is a principal that challenges the status quo and is transparent about her learning.

Best Free Admin Resource: Eduleadership by @eduleadership started out as a blog, but now also contains podcasts, webinars, and iPad for administrator resources. Everything I've learned about organization/time management to become more effective as a principal, I've learned from Justin Baeder at Eduleadership.

Best Individual Blog: Since my school has gone school-wide with Daily 5/CAFE literacy framework, I have been following and learning from the Delightful Daily 5 Cafe Blog by @komos72, a 1st grade teacher implementing Daily 5/Cafe in her classroom and blogging about her experience and sharing her reflections to benefit other teachers. I have also enjoyed learning from her on twitter during the #d5chat (weekly daily 5 chats).

Best twitter hashtag: I have grown so much from what I have learned from others in the weekly #educoach chat, a chat for instructional coaches/leaders. I strongly believe that the principal role should be more of a coach than a manager/supervisor and have been improving in my role from the weeklky #educoach chat.

Best Free Web Resource: TeacherCast provides a variety of educational podcasts, screencasts, app reviews, etc.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Why our school recognizes honor roll in school pride assemblies

Over the past 6 months I have read numerous tweets and blog posts from other principals and teachers regarding doing away with Honor Roll and school assemblies recognizing students for Honor Roll. I appreciated how this discussion challenged my thinking, but I never joined in the discussion, because I am the one that started the Honor Roll assembly at our school and decided it is time for me to explain why our school started this.

During my first year as principal in my current school I quickly learned that there was a common culture amongst students in our district that learning is "not cool". We are a unique school made up of students from surrounding small, rural communities and even though we have separate elementary, middle and high schools we are all in one large building. I heard many stories from teachers in upper grades describing examples in class in which students were embarrassed about the high grades they received. I heard about a school assembly recognizing older students for their achievements that didn't go well, because many students were laughing and teasing each other. The saddest story to me was of a senior receiving a National Merit Scholarship but she didn't want to be recognized publicly for it out of fear of peers finding out. When I heard this, I knew that we had to do something at the elementary level to change this culture in our building.

Our 4th/5th grade teachers had already begun the tradition years ago of recognizing students that made Honor Roll status of either having all A's, A's/B's or all B's on their report cards. Students names were written on Trojan Head cut-outs (our school mascot is the trojan) and displayed on the hallway. There were a few years that parents donated money for these students to receive special t-shirts at the end of the year.

At the beginning of my 2nd year as principal, I met with a committee of teachers to build on this current practice started by our 4/5th grade teachers. We decided to have quarterly Pride assemblies to recognize our students for their academic achievements and invite parents to these assemblies as well. We added 3rd graders to the list of students to be recognized for Honor Roll since they also received letter grades on their report cards. In addition, we allowed every teacher in the school (including special area teachers) to nominate one student to be recognized for being "On a Roll." This could be a student in any grade working hard to improve in any area.

This is now our 3rd year of having a quarterly pride assembly. Yesterday was our 1st Pride assembly for the year and here's how it went:
*I thanked parents for coming to show their support for their children. I then talked about how hard all of our students are working in every grade to become great readers/writers during Daily 5 time and had student participation to tell what Stamina is, why they need to read so much and how it helps them become great learners.
*I reviewed Pride Assembly behavior:
Used student volunteers to demonstrate the "wrong" way to receive an award (they exaggerated bragging to others, saying "haha you didn't get one", etc) and then students to demonstrate the "right" way to receive an award.
Also talked about what students should do if they don't receive an award (give a thumbs up or congratulate their peers; not pout)
*Presented certificates/pencils to the students for "On a Roll" reading the reason for each recognition (ex: "Johnny is On a Roll for working hard at building his stamina during Daily 5 and increasing his reading level." and "Suzie has been practicing her math facts and keeps moving up in Rocket Math").
*Presented certificates/pencils to students for:
3rd grade A/B's
3rd grade A's
4th grade A/B's
4th grade A's
5th grade A/B's
5th grade A's
*I closed the assembly by thanking our students for their outstanding behavior during the assembly and read to them 2 quotes from our guest teachers about why they love to be called to be guest teachers in our school, because our students are always so well behaved.

Each time we have this assembly I am amazed by our students' behavior of congratulating each other and being proud of their accomplishments. Our parent feedback has always been thankful for recognizing their children and that they are invited to attend these assemblies.

Despite this, I know that this practice may change in the future. Through implementing Daily5/Cafe and focusing on conferring with each student on their current level and their goals to focus on, we are building intrinsic motivation in all of our students. Even in the upper grades we are seeing students continue to love learning and enjoy sharing with each other what they have recently read or learned about during reflection time. We are beginning discussions on changing our grading process and I've even heard of some schools eliminating grades. I have no idea where this will take us, but for now, we continue to recognize students for honor roll.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Meeting an "Educational Celebrity"

One of the benefits of being on twitter is that you can tap into the minds of great educators and educational leaders. Even more so, you can connect with the gurus or "educational celebrities." One of the "greats" that I've been fortunate to connect with on Twitter is Todd Whitaker. I'd even like to say I helped get him on twitter, because about a year ago, someone tweeted that they were attending his conference (I can't remember who this was) and I replied that they need to tell him to get on twitter. OK, that's probably a stretch, but he's on twitter now, so that's what matters!

Anyhow, after years of reading Whitaker's books I have now been following him on twitter for almost a year. What is great about Todd is that he actually spends time connecting with educators on twitter and responds to our questions. He has been like a personal coach for me over the past few months, answering several questions through twitter, email and a phone call.

Last week while attending the AWSA Convention I got to hear Todd speak about Motivating Teachers during Difficult Times. I was more than excited that Todd recognized me when he saw me and chatted with me before/during/after his session. After his session, he gave me his speaker's badge (teachers in my building-you will find it proudly tacked up on the bulletin board in my office!) While Todd waited for his cab to pick him up Curt Rees (one of my co-presenters from the AWSA convention) and I talked with him further on educational issues for about 20 minutes.

My point for this blog post? Just that I'm bragging that I met Todd in person and got my picture taken with him! (That's ok for one post right?)

Pictured above: Myself, Todd Whitaker and Curt Rees

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Expanding my PLN on Twitter

My twitter journey began in February 2009 during my first year as a principal. Like most, I was reluctant to sign up after hearing about it, but finally signed up after my 2 favorite principals on the Practical Principals podcast mentioned it in a couple of their podcasts. In the beginning I only followed about 10 other principals and built some strong connections with those that I followed. I couldn't believe how much I could learn from others online in just 140 characters. I can recall one night when I spent hours searching who each of them were following so that I could follow as many principals as I could find.

For probably a year (possibly longer) I only followed principals on twitter and had my account set to secure/private. This changed after I realized how many other great people I found to follow because someone else retweeted one of their tweets. I can recall trying to retweet a great tweet with a link, but couldn't because they were set to private and realized that I was preventing myself from gaining other great followers to connect with if I was set to private. I also started finding great blog posts and other resources to share with my staff so I began expanding my PLN (Professional/Personal Learning Network) even further by following as many great teachers as I could.

I talk about the great things I learn from twitter as much as possible. I cannot tell you how many times I have shared something with a teacher/colleague and was asked, "where did you learn that?" My reply always is, "I learned it from someone on twitter."

Within the past year I have made it my personal mission to spread the word about twitter to as many as I can, because it means I can expand my PLN and learn from even more great educators/administrators. I have written about it for a colleague's grad class which I also posted here. I taught teachers about it last summer at the Regional Summer Teacher Academy (cofounded by @MrAaronOlson and myself), which I also recorded screencasts of here. This week I had the pleasure of sharing twitter with my administrative colleagues at the AWSA (Association of Wisconsin School Administrators) Convention along with @WiscPrincipal and @PosickJ, 2 amazing admin colleagues that I met on twitter. Here is the presentation we shared (it wasn't just "sit and get," we gave a lot of time for hands-on experience and help getting started using twitter):

I was excited by how many of our session attendees started using twitter that evening and even more excited to see this tweet today:

Even though many think I'm crazy when I say, "I learned that from twitter" I'm not going to stop, because once they get started they are also reaping the benefits of my PLN!

This December we will be sharing again at the SLATE Convention (School Leaders Advancing Technology in Education). So, if you're in Wisconsin reading this and know others that don't know the power of Twitter yet, please tell them about it and encourage them to go to SLATE if they have the opportunity as well.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Believe That Every Child Can Learn

Each week I post a "Friday Focus" for staff on my staff memo blog as a way to model professional reflection and hopefully inspire them each week. This week, I got a bit more personal than I ever have in the past, but I've learned from Regie Routman to "write what is in your heart." Here is a cross-post from my staff blog from this week:

"Believe that every
child can learn, regardless of ethnicity, learning disabilities, emotional or behavior problems, or the economic situation of the family." ~Ron Clark

I'm almost finished reading Ron Clark's new book, The End of Molasses Classes: 101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers. I'm sure that many of you have heard of Ron Clark, because he's the author of the Essential 55 and was featured on Oprah several years ago. Or maybe you saw the movie "The Ron Clark Story" in which Matthew Perry played him as a teacher in an inner-city Harlem school. He is well known for working with disadvantaged students to get them engaged in school and become as successful as their (nondisadvantaged) peers.

#38 in this book is: "Believe that every child can learn, regardless of ethnicity, learning disabilities, emotional or behavior problems, or the economic situation of the family."

Clark describes his experience of teaching "George" how to read in the 5th grade (after getting over the disbelief that he couldn't read at this grade level). He came up with alternative methods and was patient and persistant with George until he made great progress and became a "decent" student. Several years later after George graduated and served in the Navy he came back and told Mr. Clark's students, "Work really hard to be the individual that Mr. Clark sees in you. Even if you don't see it in yourself, sometimes adults just know us a little better than we do."

I can personally relate to this section of his book due to my experiences growing up. I grew up in a very dysfuntional home that is similiar to some of our most challenging students that, at times, don't seem to have much of a future. When I share details of my past, people are often surprised and ask how I got to where I am now. I have often pondered that same question, because my sibblings were not as lucky as I. But as I reflect, I also know that my sibblings did not ever seem to have any positive school experiences....but I did. Despite moving around (because we were constantly being evicted) and attending 13 different schools, I was fortunate enough to have some great teachers along the way that saw my potential. I will never forget:
*One of my 3rd grade teachers (I don't even recall her name because I went to 5 schools that year) that came to my house after I had been absent for several days to bring my schoolwork to me--thinking back, she knew my home situation and was probably just making sure I was safe.
*Mrs. McDevitt, my 5th grade teacher, who never punished me for not having my homework done (because I was babysitting my 3 younger sibblings), but let me come into her classroom early to get it done. I never needed help, just a quiet place to do it without one of the little ones coloring on it.
*Mr. Johnson, my 7th grade math teacher who pushed me to move into 8th Grade Algebra early when I never thought I was capable of it. (I will also never forget when my name was drawn in assembly for a reading contest and I got to shave half of his beard off!)
*Mrs. Staudt, my High School English Teacher who gave me extra time to complete my assignments when she knew that I was up late, because I had worked until midnight at McDonald's for three nights in a row.

I have debated whether or not to share this with you, because of how personal it is, but still felt compelled to do so. If it were not for great teachers like you, I would not be where I am today. If we as adults don't see the potential in every child and truly believe that every child can learn, then how can we expect them to have hope and see the potential in themselves? We have to look at them and see what we want them to become.

Photo Credit: CC License shared by David Thiel

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Reflecting on my classroom visits

Last week I tweeted that I had completed 126 classroom visits during the month of September and quickly had several replies from other administrators (in public mentions and direct messages):
  • How long do you stay in a classroom?
  • What form/method are you using?
  • Do you always give teachers feedback?
  • How do you make time for that many walkthroughs?

Since my professional development plan is on the practice of conducting classroom
walkthroughs/providing teachers with feedback to improve student learning and I had this many questions coming my way I thought it would be the perfect topic for a blog post.

I know that many districts have an adopted/required method of walkthroughs that dictates what they are looking for, how long to stay in the room, and how they provide teacher feedback. I have read about several different methods, used a required method in my previous district, been to an all day training on one method and participated in a webinar to learn about Marzano's iObservation. Despite all of that, our district does not have an adopted requirement and I do not do always do the same thing.

I use the app Simple Goals to keep a running tally of how many classrooms I have visited (which is the total number I tw
eeted for September). This running tally includes when I visit a classroom for a walkthrough (which could be anywhere from 1 - 15 minutes), a full length observation, to observe a student or for me to teach a class. I do not count if I was just dropping something off for a teacher or getting a student to come to the office.

Since our school is now running with wifi, I recently created a walkthrough tool for myself using google forms. I made it very handy on my iPad by adding it right to the homescreen on my iPad so I don't have to waste any time finding it. I love being able to view the results in summary form so I can see the graphs and see how many times I've been in each classroom. I use this google form to gather data, NOT as a set of criteria I'm looking for or to give it back to teachers. Why? The best teachers are their own worst critics and if you give them a checklist that doesn't have everything checked off, they are going to be disappointed that you didn't see x, y, or z which happened 5 minutes after you left the classroom. I have also found that my best teachers are so reflective that they will come to me after I've been in their class and apologize about what I saw (even though I saw something great!) or tell me what they'd already reflected on from what I saw and how they're going to improve it. They do not need a checklist!!

While I want to give teachers feedback every time, it just doesn't happen. Ideally, I'd love to give verbal feedback, but that's even more unrealistic (although I do try when I can). Last summer I attended a conference with Regie Routman and she suggested to give verbal feedback to the teacher and students while you're in the room. I struggle with this, because I do not want to interrupt, however, I have started trying this and do enjoy it...but I only do this when there's a point in the instruction that I can do so and know that the teacher would be ok with it. At best, I provide an email that just states:

"When I visited your classroom, I noticed students were....(tell what I saw/heard them doing, try to state what was effective or something in regards to student engagement or mastery of the objective)....I wonder...."

Or something to that effect. It's different every time based on what I saw. If there is something I had a concern about, I go to the teacher, because emails can be taken the wrong way. My goal in providing feedback to teachers is always for them to reflect on student learning--whether it's as to what was effective for student learning or what was not effective for student learning.

The google form that I use provides me with data so I can keep track of whose room I've been in/how many times, what class period, what instructional groupings I saw, what level of student engagement I saw, and how I provided feedback (email, verbal or none).

For the first few weeks of using this method, here are some of the trends I saw and my reflection for each:

Since our school is implementing Daily 5 in every classroom, I have made my focus on getting into classrooms during their literacy block so I can see how it is going and offer feedback/encouragement/support as needed. I have also enjoyed sharing with all staff different things I'm seeing in each classroom to help them all learn from each other.

The instructional groupings I saw were almost split between whole group instruction and individual/independent work. This is because during the literacy blocks teachers were either giving mini-lessons or it was a daily5 session in which students were independently reading or writing.

I really wish I would have data from previous years on student engagement, because I truly believe from my observations over the years that students are more interested and engaged with the Daily 5 framework for reading/writing. They have a sense of urgency and know what they need to do to become great readers and writers. Most importantly, students have choice in what they are reading/writing and they love it...even our most reluctant/struggling readers/writers!

I am disappointed to see my results for feedback given to staff. We have had issues with our wifi, so I did not have the email function working on my iPad, which made it difficult to email feedback to teachers in a timely fashion. However, this should not be an excuse. If my goal is to provide teachers with feedback to encourage reflection on student learning, then I need to make better efforts to provide them with feedback.

The final question from a colleague on twitter: How do you make time for that many walkthoughs? The short answer is simply that I make time. The long answer would be another long post about how I've learned to manage my time, be more efficient with managing my emails/phone calls/paperwork/etc and about how my days are for people and nights are for paperwork (after my kids are in bed). I think getting into classrooms is the most important job of the principal. By being in teacher's classrooms I am able to share teachers' great ideas/strengths with the rest of the staff to benefit all students, not just the students in a great teachers' classroom. In addition, it helps me to know all of the students. If I receive a parent phone call with a concern, I usually have background information before the parent even calls from being in classrooms (on a side note, the amount of concerned parent phone calls over the past few years have dropped significantly).

That said, I already know the next 2 months will not be as great as September was due to the amount of my time that will be consumed by state testing as the District Assessment Coordinator (it's much more than just the week of testing on teachers/students).

I welcome any feedback from other administrators/teachers on this topic and would love to hear your ideas.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Building Professional Trust

One of my professional goals this year is to encourage teachers to reflect, by providing them with the tools and time to do so. In addition, my goal is to model reflection for them. Each week I am sending out a "Friday Focus" which will share my reflections with staff on what I have recently encountered or learned about. Here is my most recent Friday Focus.
"What you teach today in your first grade classroom matters to those students when they are in fourth grade. and well beyond." ~Unknown

"When I attended Regie Routman’s Literacy and Leadership Institute this past summer, one of the leaders of a breakout session (a principal from Colorado) shared this quote with us. In addition, she talked about how her staff, over time, developed professional trust with one another. I almost snickered when someone asked, "What do you mean by professional trust?" But I was amazed by her profound response...

"If we have professional trust amongst us, then a 2nd grade teacher can trust that the student coming to her has been taught appropriately and can trust that when she moves that student on, that in the following grade levels, that student will be receiving the same great instruction and focus on learning as she had dedicated to that student.  As a teacher, you trust that the growth that you have seen in your students will continue year after year, no matter which teacher they are placed with.  Unfortunately, it only takes one teacher's practice to compromise the work of the entire school."

Wow! Until I heard her say this, my understanding of the term "professional trust" was very superficial. As a teacher, I was always naturally collaborative and thrived on learning from my colleagues that shared their great ideas, successes and their failures (so I wouldn't make the same mistakes!) When I heard complaints from some of my colleagues that didn't want to spend their prep time planning with others (because they just wanted to focus on "their" kids) I never agreed with that point of view, but I could understand how it can seem time consuming or "messy" trying to get a group of people to all agree on what they are going to do.

This explanation of professional trust has completely solidified for me why it is so important that we collaborate. Not just that we're meeting each week, but that we are developing common expectations within our grade levels and across all of our grade levels. So that whatever grade you teach, you know what all of your incoming students were taught last year and you know where you need to get your students by the end of this year. And if you have a student or multiple students not meeting that expectation, you know that you have your PLC to rely on---to learn what your colleague did in his classroom that was more effective for a particular skill or that when you send your students out for WIN time, that teachers’ heart is in it for “your” kids just as much as yours is.

Over the past two days our 3/5th grade teachers (as well as MS/HS English teachers) spent an entire day scoring students’ 6 Traits Essays collaboratively. Before beginning this process, each group scored the same student papers together and discussed why they chose that score for each writing trait to come to inter-rater reliability, or a common agreement on scoring. While this process took time and work, it is found by Douglas Reeves to be an effective practice for teachers to develop common expectations that impact student learning. By having these discussions at the beginning of the year, teachers develop a collective understanding of what a student must do to earn a score of a 3 or a 5 when they are writing. 

As we discuss our beliefs on reading and writing and come to agreement on our beliefs collectively, we will be laying the foundation for our common expectations and practices as well as building our professional trust amongst one another.

"Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him,and let him know that you trust him.” ~Booker T. Washington

Saturday, September 17, 2011

No Office Day

Last year I joined several other principal colleagues from twitter to have a No Office Day. I spent an entire day in classrooms and made it my focus to get in every classroom in the building that day. This year, Principal @Shiraleibowitz started a wiki for International No Office Day. This year I excitedly signed up, but decided to focus on just a few grade levels with the intent of having another No Office Day for the rest of the grade levels. In hindsight, I would like to have a No Office Day for each grade level.

In my Monday Memo I sent staff the following message:
*No Office Day (in 4K-2nd grades) - I plan to set aside days in my calendar throughout the year to spend immersed in classes/grade levels throughout the day. I am really excited about this! I will be in the classrooms from students’ arrival through the end of the day; planning to spend time in the rooms during academic times and to visit specials with your classes. I am happy to sit and observe, but reeeeally what I would love to do is join in the fun. Please put me to work! Need someone to facilitate a small group? Want to team up to teach a topic? Would you like to have someone work 1:1 with a student? Want me to help prepare something on the SMARTBoard? These are all ways I’d be happy to help. Please send me an email to let me know--my calendar is WIDE open!! If there is work/planning I need to complete before that day, kindly let me know a day or two in advance.
I must admit I took the wording from the blog posts I had seen from Principals @L_Hilt and @Fliegs and adapted (why create the wheel?). I keep a calendar outside my office door and usually post a sign that reads "I'm out in classrooms to see what students are learning" each day during my No Office hours, but on the day of my No Office Day, I put the following note on my door:
I’ve joined in with many other school principals from Twitter to have a No Office Day this week (hopefully my first of many)!
I am going to be in 4K-2nd grade classrooms today. :)

I don't know if anyone
noticed the sign, but I try to promote learning and growing professionally through twitter any chance I get.

So, how was my day? Fantastically fun! I left school feeling energized from the awesome teachers, students and learning at my school.

Here's how I spent my day:
Started out my day greeting students in the parking lot, although that is what I do every morning. I then skipped being on the morning announcements, because I wanted to join in classes right away (we also have students join the announcements, so I let them have it all!)

I joined 1st graders in art class as they were learning how to add to their previous project (of patterns colored with crayons) by painting a pattern on top. Our fantastic art teacher told students that paint and crayons don't like each other so the crayon pattern would still be seen once painted over. One of the 1st graders made the connection that crayons and paint are like cats and dogs! Love it!

I joined a 2nd grade class that was reviewing how to identify easy, just right, and hard books and were then given time to put post-it notes on each of the books in their book bin so they can become aware of their book choices and have more just right books than easy/hard. I'm so glad I popped into this class, because it helped me out in my next scheduled place to be....

I assisted in a 1st grade classroom during Daily 5 time by conferencing with individual students on their book choices. Each student I met with showed me all the books in their book bin and told me about why they chose that book and read passages from a few books to me. I particularly enjoyed listening to a very creative 1st grader that had more hard books than just right books, but has a gift for "reading" the pictures of his books and makes up very creative and entertaining stories.

I joined a 5 year-old kindergarten class in music and tried to keep up with their songs/actions. I also noticed in here that my own child acts goofy if I am in the room (but that could be an entirely separate post!)

I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out in another 2nd grade classroom that was working on building their reading stamina during Daily 5 time. I actually read from a kindle book on my iPad.

I read books from one of my favorite authors, Mo Willems, to a couple of 5 year-old kindergarten classrooms.

I joined a 1st grade class during a science lesson on parts of a plant. I helped by pulling student names for them to go up to the SMARTBoard for the interactive pieces of the lesson (was impressed that the teacher used activities that allowed for almost everyone to go to the SMARTBoard twice).

I visited the remainder of the 4K-2nd grade classes that I didn't describe above.

I look forward to scheduling additional No Office Days (in addition to my No Office Hours that I already have each day) and hope to participate more instead of just observing.