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.