Sunday, September 23, 2012
From Toy to Tool-where are you?
It’s been two weeks since I asked you to begin to utilize your iPads as instructional tools. I have heard many great ideas and plans to implement technology based learning in your classroom.
Two weeks ago, we discussed the use of our iPads as tools for improving instruction, but first, we must look at our own beliefs—are these tools or toys? Where are you on this journey? Personally, I began this journey during the summer. Initially there was a quick search through the internet to find the best apps for education. Next came sorting through these apps to see what would best meet my needs. This was a long and frustrating process that caused me to begin to wonder if this was an adequate tool for education reform. Finally, I focused in on a few apps to become the most familiar with and understand completely.
While the apps that I looked at may be different from the apps you are looking at the journey is the same. Many of you have researched education apps, you have downloaded many apps, and now you are beginning to wonder if this is something that is valuable in your classrooms—trust me—it is!
Don’t put the iPad down, don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t work exactly how you want it to, most of all, keep looking and thinking about how YOU can best meet the needs of your students through the increased use of technology in your classroom.
I look forward to seeing the amazing apps you have found and the ways you have implemented these to support student learning in your classrooms!
Monday, April 9, 2012
You look, but do you SEE?
How many times have you driven past a billboard or walked past a painting and then one day—BAM--- something catches your eye and you wonder if it had always been there? For me, this experience has happened many times, but the most amazing instance occurred shortly after my mother passed away in the summer of 2008.
**disclaimer—the section below is more about an observation that I have made and less about church/beliefs.
I have attended the same church for 10+ years and attend on a regular basis. Throughout the church, there are several large stained glass windows and one specifically that had Jesus with children. I had looked at this window often, but then one day in the summer of 2008 I SAW it for the first time. The day was especially difficult (as I have found during the loss of a loved one, sometimes it is more difficult a month or two after their passing than immediately after their passing) and I sat in church with my focus not on the sermon, but rather on everything else in my life---and then it happened—I looked up and for the first time, I SAW the stained glass window picture. In the picture, Jesus is sitting with a small boy in his lap, and two slightly older children (an older girl and a slightly younger boy) sitting near him. As a father of three at the time (an oldest daughter with two younger brothers) this image took my breath away. Not only had I sat under this image dozens of times and never noticed, but more importantly, its meaning had been lost to me until then.
After a few introspective minutes, I tapped my wife on the arm and showed her the image, told her my revelation and she simply said “Yeah, I realized that years ago”. How could she have seen it years ago and I had not? How could she not share this with me? Above all, how could I have not seen this before now?
In education, the month of April is a very stressful time for all of us with testing and the end of the year around the corner, but maybe we all need to take a minute to “see” our students for the first time.
How well do we “see” what is around us every day?
How well do we really “see” our students?
How well do we rally “see” their needs?
If we “see” them, how well do we share those needs with others?
If we do this today maybe this will take YOUR breath away and THEIR tomorrow will be brighter because of it!
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Always be prepared!
….and we will be having breakfast at the Yacht Club today, I want some important friends of mine to meet you!
Horror, anxiety, oh NO!!!!
Those were the first thoughts that ran through my mind as the realization that we WERE eating breakfast at the Yacht Club and I neither have razor nor an escape hatch! A weekend of rest and relaxation at grandma’s house at the beach had just turned into a situation I was not prepared for. It was at that moment that I realized that, as a good boy scout would have known—you must always be prepared for any and all challenges that face you!
In education, we too are sometimes caught off guard and surprised by what is presented to us daily in our classrooms and campuses, but we must ALWAYSS be prepared for the unexpected.
To meet these surprises (as both an administrator and teacher) here are the 5 tips that have served me well:
1) Have a clear system/plan in place that is rigid enough to be followed to the word, but flexible enough to meet the challenge you are facing.
· Teachers: You may have a student in need or an emergency yourself. Make sure that you have an “emergency” lesson plan folder in place that has clear instructions and is easy enough to understand that even a middle school principal can follow!
· Administrator: Challenges arise each and every day. Some days you may want to accomplish A, B, and C but when you arrive X, Y, Z is presented to you. Make sure that your entire leadership team (including co-administrator, secretary, lead teachers, etc.) have been trained in many different areas and responses, but are also calibrated to your leadership style and your vision enough that they would know EXACTLY how you would respond to meet the needs presented.
2) Have a clear line of communication opened early and continually update all individuals involved.
· Teachers: Contact the appropriate school support as soon as possible so that they are aware of the situation and can help to support you and respond to your needs appropriately no matter how large or small the issue. It is amazing the support and experience that admin can provide to a situation that you have never faced before.
· Administrators: In times of challenge, open communication with frequent updates at all stakeholders is essential. How this communication looks different depending on the type of challenge you are facing: email, telephone call, personal note, or even the good ole’ fashioned sit-down-over-a-cup-of-coffee will minimize the impact of the challenge being faced.
3) Look at the challenge through a different lens to try to understand the “WHY” rather than the “WHAT” of a challenge. Many times, we make assumptions respond to the “what” of a situation before we understand the “why”—and those responses are VERY different.
· Teachers: If there is a student acting out in class and thus they need to be disciplined (the “what”) before you do so, take a moment to think about why that response came about. Try to take the student’s perspective and see if there was something you unintentionally said or did that was taken wrong by the student.
· Administrators: As a leader, you are put in a position of influence with sometimes very little power. There are mandates from the district, state, teachers, and local community that you must be aware of. By trying to understand how each of these key groups see’s the school, how each group is affected by the decisions you make, and how you can work to get each group understand and support your vision of the school will anticipate and mitigate unpopular decisions, help to avoid missteps, and allow for you to understand their needs and wants more effectively.
4) Have situational awareness before you respond.
· Teachers: If a student is acting out in class, try to find out what is causing that behavior before calling out the student or punishing them. Many times, by just pulling a student aside in a “mentor” fashion you will find the root of their problem and solve it more efficiently than writing them up or sending them directly to the office, while at the same time, building a relationship with that student.
· Administrators: Understanding the long term effects of a response before your respond to it is what separates successful and not-so-successful administrators. Keep in mind: Does this further or move forward the vision of the school , will the possible negatives outweigh the positives, or does this put important relationships/trust in jeopardy.
And the response to a challenge that has served me best:
5) How would this look on the front page of the local newspaper or news broadcast?
· This one was saved for last for a reason. When faced with challenges (big or small) it is just as important for Teachers and Administrators to respond in a way that would be acceptable not only on your campus, but throughout the community you serve.
Education is full of challenges and we as educators must have responses ready to meet the spectrum of issues we face (large or small) on a daily basis.
As for the Yacht Club—not wanting to disappoint Grandma I went with 3 day old unshaven face showing and proudly explained that it was an attempt to pay homage to the true mariners and their work on the sea--it all worked out just fine and grandma was proud!
Friday, March 2, 2012
...but are they learning?
What has led me to believe this—many things, but in my educational world here is a recent example.
During the last few weeks, I have been focusing my classroom walkthroughs with one focus: How do you know ALL students are learning and how best can I help support teachers in their quest to support all students in their learning?
It was then that the serendipity presented itself!
#1): As I wrote about in an earlier blog, I have been somewhat unhappy with my classroom walkthrough process and have made some minor changes that have really helped to complete “the feedback cycle”. However, but the question about student learning has continued to bother me. To help further the professional conversation with teachers during our walkthrough discussions, I have begun to script what is happening in the classrooms during my walkthrough and that is the focus for our conversation. It may look something like this:
· T writes instructions on board and explains what the students will need to do
· T instructs students to solve the problem
· T writes new problem on board and instruction students to solve the problem
· T stops students from writing and re-explains the problem and asks Ss if there are any questions, no students raise hand
· T writes next problem on the board
· Ss copy
· Ss copy and solve problem
· Ss copy
As may be obvious, the topic of conversation with this teacher after the walkthrough will be a focus on student active engagement and moving more of the action from the Teacher side to the student side.
This new approach has prompted some incredible conversations, as well as, a marked improvement on student active engagement and participation in our classrooms.
#2) I came across an Edutopia Blog entry on Student Engagement ( http:/www.scoop.it/t/common-core-state-standards/p/1336976388/student-engagement-how-do-we-know-when-students-are-engaged-edutopia ) that differentiates between “Teacher-Directed learning” and “Student-Directed Learning”.
The final statement is this:
Want to engage students?
1. Make them work while you watch. They don't learn much listening to you anyway. Students learn by doing something--actively interacting.
2. Stop calling only on students who raise their hands. Stop answering your own questions. Give the students a chance to think and respond.
3. Randomly call on students--"cold call" them (but I would also add create a system that helps you randomly call on students).
This helped me to connect what I was seeing in the classroom and discussing with my teachers and provided a simple platform for our discussions.
#3) On a sleepless night, I decided to turn on my TV and scan through deep cable at 2:00 am. After several minutes of aimless channel-surfing, I found Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I clicked on the channel and found this:
Timeless yet painful.
I wonder how many classrooms are being taught in this fashion. While this is a dramatization, unfortunately there are probably more than you would expect. THIS is what we want to avoid at all costs!
And there it was……slapping me in the face—serendipity!
I was provided with a clear instrument to help guide teachers “see” what their classroom interactions looked like, a brief yet clearly stated blog entry that helps to provide a clear differentiation between Teacher-Directed Learning and Student-Directed Learning, and finally a humorous yet poignant video clip showing what we want to avoid at all costs that will allow for a beginning point for our next staff development—serendipity!
Monday, February 20, 2012
Update: The right work
45 minute blocks with specific tasks to complete, daily walkthroughs, meeting one-on-one with the secretary every day, meeting with subject areas weekly, 45 minutes dedicated to teacher directed tasks, and a scheduled lunch…this is my schedule (see The Right Work blog entry below for an explanation).
I know you all are sitting on the edge of your seat waiting eagerly for an update—so here it is!
In a very educated word—AWESOME!!
During the last two months, I have felt more connected to my campus and staff than any other time during my four year tenure at BMS. Not only have I been able to actively engage and support my teachers by participating in their weekly informal meetings but I am having many more meaningful conversations with my teachers that range from education philosophy to family updates and from middle school pedagogy to support during personal times of crisis.
Most importantly, however, teachers have expressed to me gratitude for my time. In the past, when there was a meeting, I would cover the information most pertinent to the teachers and then “get out of their way” (by leaving to accomplish another task) when it came to calendaring and development of specific lessons and assessments. Now, I have nowhere else to go, nothing else on my calendar so I stay—and participate not just as a principal, but as a college.
I feel rejuvenated, excited, and most of all, I have a full grasp on what is happening throughout my campus inside and outside of each classroom. There is time to do one-on-one multi-period walkthroughs with new teachers to show examples throughout our campus of great teaching (I have spent over 15 class periods in the last two weeks). There is time to collect formative assessment data and create forms and present them to teachers that help monitor and adapt their instruction to meet the learning needs of ALL students. And, there is time for me to grow as a professional and reflect on what is really happening on my campus and how we can continue to improve student learning!
I would love any feedback from either staff members on my campus or thoughts from anyone else who has struggled with completing the right work!