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A Staff That Serves

So, I often write about the incredible school I call home and the people and things that make it such an incredible place. So often, these “things” are collections of moments; some so small and seemingly inconsequential that you might actually not even notice them if you weren’t paying attention. And I try to pay attention. Because other times those moments are great big things that happen — the type of things that cause one to be filled with inspiration and appreciation for the people who are creating them. So I try to pay attention because quite frankly, I don’t want to miss a single tiny or big moment.  I don’t want to miss them because this incredible school, with the incredible people who make these incredible moments happen, really must be shared. Last night, I experienced another of those moments. This one was part of one of those great big moments we have here, one that deserves it’s own post.

For a little backstory, two years ago couple of teachers got together with some students and formed a club called “The Giving Tree“. The club meets monthly to volunteer in the community.  Here is a feature story about this club. Last night the club had one of those events. We went out at 6pm and, for a couple of hours, we helped the “Feed the Hungry” campaign. This is a national campaign and we sorted and packed meal kits which will be delivered to places like Haiti, Dominican Republic, Kentucky…all over the world. There were about 40 of us there, including staff, students and a few parents as well.

Feed

All the credit for these moments, these acts of love and service, go to the wonderful educators that plan and organize them and inspire so many of us to get involved as well. What a difference these teachers are making in the lives of so many others…including myself.

I can’t tell you what a blessing it is to stand together as a group and serve others. It was such a great opportunity to make a difference that had nothing at all to do with school, but everything to do with school. What I mean by that is, there is just something special about working together like this. We laughed, we packed, we got tired, we danced (there was music) and we celebrated as we announced the completion of each box we filled with meals.  All in all, we helped pack enough food to feed aroud 35,000 people. And we did it as a group. A family.

We have had the opportunity to get involved in so many other activities like this as a staff, some as part of the club and some not.  Making cards for veterans at the local assisted living facility. Helping at the local food bank. Working on a house with Habitat for Humanity.  This is a school that serves.  Those moments are big, but inside those big moments are the small, tiny ones. The ones that make you smile. The ones that make you feel like you are a part of something very special; something unique. Something bigger than each of us. We are a staff that serves. That loves. That cares. That makes a difference inside and outside of school.

We are a staff that thrives on making moments and celebrating life. Do you think this spills over into the campus? The kids? The classrooms? What about instruction? Lesson design? Collaboration? You better believe it does. But, those incredible moments I will save for another post….

 

 

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The Teacher in Me

“Why are you writing a lesson plan? You’re an administrator now!” “I know, but I have a lesson to teach Friday and I had this great idea….I guess it’s just the teacher in me”.

That conversation happened at home the other day. I am in my third year as an Assistant Principal and I can tell you without a doubt that I am in love with my role on our campus. There are so many hats to wear and I find myself involved in so many different things. From scheduling to testing, from curriculum to classroom observations, and yes, even things like dismissal duty and textbooks make this the most unique and compelling job I have ever had. The one constant is that none of my days will be the same and I never know what is coming next! But there is one part of my job – one new facet – that is the so near and dear to my heart and I have only just started doing it this year:  Teaching.

So, we have an incredible and dynamic group of teachers who work their tails off with our students. Every day I pop in on a lesson or observe a teacher at work and I am telling you for a fact that these folks would put me to shame as a teacher (and I taught for 15 years!) But even in a building of experts, sometimes it seems like there are never enough hands and we always welcome more rolled up sleeves to help support our kids! So one day, I asked a couple of our teachers if I could work with a group of students who needed some additional time and instruction in reading. My “lunch bunch” was soon born! We met once a week and we read Roald Dahl’s The Witches. We read, we talked, we inferred, we predicted…and we had a blast together! This was such a wonderful time for me because I got to reach back into my “teacher” roots and once again be involved directly with instruction and the other “love of my life” job – teaching kids.

book club

Right now, I have a math “lunch bunch” and we work on their facts and basic concepts. I have been having a blast with this group of kiddos and really value this time with them. I find myself online looking up resources and ideas I can use with my group and asking them at the end of our lesson about their ideas for our next session. A teacher brought me a DVD that we can use during our time together with some very neat learning activities! I found myself really anticipating the day we could finally pop that baby in the DVD payer and get to work!

girls

Before becoming an AP, and even since becoming an AP,  I have found myself researching, asking questions, and learning all I can about the “must do’s” of an effective AP.  I, like so many other APs, am committed to doing the best possible job of supporting my principal and teachers,  and helping lead our campus in the development and execution of a shared vision. Our role is unique, interesting, and important! But I think if I were to share with you a “must do”, it would be to stay involved with teaching and working with kids in some way. Along with having lunch with kids and sitting and talking with them during class visits, this is another great way to build relationships with students in the building. I also think it really enhances my role as an administrator. One thing I never want to do is lose touch with the teacher in me. Not to mention it just makes me a more joyful leader and person.

Being in education is truly an awesome way to spend a life.

Education, Uncategorized

Spring Reflections

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Well, the excitement is in the air. Spring Break is right around the corner, and while this is always a welcome break, it also ushers in a very hectic time!  Just to give you an idea, here is a quick run down of what may be on an administrator’s plate come Spring (and I am sure you could add to this list for your own campus):

  • State Assessments
  • Finalizing Teacher Appraisals
  • Kindergarten Parent Meetings
  • Spring Carnival
  • Book Fair
  • Various Music Programs
  • Employee Recognition Banquet
  • End of Year Volunteer Brunch
  • End of Year Textbook Inventory
  • SSI/Grade Placement Meetings
  • Finalizing ARD/504 Meetings

That pretty much captures the “big things” that I can think of off the top  of my head, which must occur alongside the “little” things that are just part of day to day school. For me, what sometimes gets lost during hectic times like this is dedicated time for reflection. If you also have trouble staying focused and dedicating time for reflection during this busy season, read on and maybe this will be beneficial to you, too!

Recently, I began reading “A Reflective Planning Journal for School Leaders” by Olaf Jorgenson. At the end of this post, I will include more information on it in case you want to check it out. I just recently got this book, so I confess to having only read the February and beginning of March sections (the book is divided by months). I must say though, I am really enjoying this book. Not only does it contain quotes and inspirational vignettes from other leaders (always a plus for me), but it also includes weekly reflective questions with places to stop and jot down your own ideas and thoughts. I have worked ahead a little, mainly because the March section is really on point (he mentioned many of the things in my own list above) and provides various ideas for maintaining your balance during this time. To give you an idea of the format, here is a look at the current pages I am working through:

book

So right away you can see where he prompts the reader to think about some ways to stay focused during this busy time. For example, he asks, “What do you do differently in the busy spring months to balance your workload and maintain visibility…”?  What a great question to reflect on!

So when I think about balancing my workload, I think about organization first. I guess I think about that first because the more organized I can be, the more efficient I am. Last year, for example, I had a white board installed on one wall which I use when arranging and rearranging testing groups during spring testing. I like it because, at a glance, I can look and see timelines approaching as well as who I have assigned to do what, and when. I also like to section off various places in my office for the different tasks that are going on simultaneously during this time. For example, the “cart” on the long wall is for turning in benchmark materials, making it easy for me to wheel it down to the testing room when I am ready to scan and put away this material.

testing.JPG

Other things, such as taking time to get out of the office and breaking my day into “chunks” with manageable pieces are also great ways to stay relaxed and productive. One of my favorite places lately is our newly revamped outdoor garden! This area has been made awesome this year and the kids are doing a great job at planting and caring for this space.  We have a pump for the pond now and a butterfly garden will soon be in full bloom! I have been out a few times this week, hanging out with the kids and just seeing how excited they are. Sure, it goes to visibility, but mainly it’s just fun and I love to be out there with them. Here is a look at that space:

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One of the interesting questions asked in the book was about support staff and what we do to recognize them and lift them up during this particularly busy time. Good question! One that I need to spend some time thinking about. Little things make a big difference.

I also find that stopping and writing on this blog is a MAJOR way that I reflect, maintain balance and stay focused. I have a lot of entries that are not even published yet because I have not done any editing or revising to them— and they may never be published here. Still, writing is always a great way for me personally to keep focused, stay clear-headed, and reflect.

This book is really pretty cool and I like that it provides some reflection and brainstorming structure. I am  once again reminded of the importance of making time to just be with my own thoughts, capture my ideas, and find balance in my busy days.  Sometimes the things we think we have no time for, might actually be some of the most important things.

Do you have any reflection tools that you use? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments! If you might like to check out the book I am using, here is the information:

olaf

Jorgenson, Olaf. A Reflective Planning Journal for School Leaders. Thousand Oaks: Corwin, 2008. Print.

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Why Me, Here, Now?

berryLast week was our district’s leadership conference and the learning centered around the word “thrive“.  For our keynote, we were honored to hear Dr. Bertice Berry  speak about servant leadership. During this address, she said something that really resonated with me and, judging from our district conference hashtag, many others as well:

Walk with purpose and you will collide with destiny.

I thought about that remark. I thought about the word “thrive” and what it means for our school community. For my relationships. For me. To help us focus in, we were asked to take a few minutes and ask ourselves:

Why me, here, now?

Think about that question for a moment. It’s not as easy one to answer, is it? In fact, it requires a great deal of self-awareness to begin thinking in terms of one’s purpose. For instance, I might start by asking what service I am able to provide– here, and now– that will help both my campus and district thrive. What can I do to help my relationships thrive?

This will be my second year as an Assistant Principal. Last year, my goal was to survive. It was really that simple. Don’t get me wrong, I still have so much to learn. But this year, I want to really focus in on the service I am providing.

And I don’t want to just “do my job”. I want the job I do, to help our campus, and our district, thrive.

I am going to start by asking myself this simple question every day: Why me, here, now?

Look at this tweet that went out one day during the conference:

Relationships. Communication. Empowerment. Trust. Indeed these are the types of things one might find in a thriving organization. In thriving relationships. In a thriving life. So why me, here, and now? How can I contribute to a thriving culture at my school? I believe that to lead, one must serve. So what service do can I provide this year, at my campus, in my district? How can that service help the students and staff thrive? How can it help me thrive?

Here are some more thoughts that I discovered in the hashtag stream that I want to share with you:

These thoughts…how do they shape the ideas I have about purpose? About thriving? About helping others thrive? I am only just now beginning to discover.

I also enjoyed this visual of what “thriving” organizations look like:

And finally, I want to remember this simple piece of advice, given by our Superintendent:

Leave the place better than you found it.

Service. Purpose. Thrive.  The words float around in my mind as I begin getting ready for the upcoming year. Delivering textbooks to classrooms. Checking in with teachers who are starting to put their rooms together. Helping my principal prepare for our upcoming staff development.

Why me, here, now?

These are some things I am thinking about as I get ready for the new year. Perhaps you are thinking about them, as well.

Uncategorized

Teachers and Students Leading Professional Learning

One of the unique ways we have found to support teacher collaboration and growth on our campus this year is through a weekly Staff S’more.  This started out as a one-way communication from admin to teachers, but we quickly discovered that this is the perfect vehicle for teachers to share their ideas, learnings, failures, and risks. It’s also a lot more interesting and has led to many more “conversation starters” than if it’s just admin to teacher. More information on how that came to be can be found in this blog post I wrote a while back.

Teacher Led Professional Learning

So we started off by approaching teachers and inviting them to write the weekly S’More. We were hoping teachers would be willing to share a little bit about what types of things they are doing in the classroom, or want to try, or just what’s on their mind. Soon, teachers began to ask if they could write an upcoming S’More, on a topic that they feel pretty passionate about. For example, next week a teacher will be writing on the topic of teacher burnout.  We are thrilled with the teacher ownership we are seeing in this! Our weekly Staff S’More has enjoyed tremendous success, with lots of views each week and conversations in the hallways that sound something like, “Hey I read your Smore article, can you tell me more about how you...”  It’s one of those rare things that just takes off right from the moment you introduce it and just seems to power itself.

Student Led Professional Learning

This week, one of our fifth grade teachers was working on her S’More feature, which is about Book Clubs.  She had some artifacts, handouts, and descriptions that she wanted to share with teachers along with her article. After a few minutes of discussing the content, she suggested the idea of having her students produce a video, in which they “taught the teachers” about how she implements book clubs. What a fantastically unique idea! Soon, I received the email below, a student-made video explaining to the staff how Book Clubs look in their classroom:

Here is a link to the final S’More for this week, our Book Clubs S’More, which includes the article written by our teacher, the student made video, corresponding instructional ideas from our principal, and additional articles, videos, and other resources that I curated which support the topic.

Throughout this year we have learned alongside each other through this S’More, on topics ranging from formative assessment, differentiation, performance assessments, technology, learning spaces, growth mindset, Genius Hour, math stations, guided reading, and so much more! And now, our plans are to continue to invite students to add to our learning through our weekly Staff S’More.  We are going to ask students to begin sharing their ideas, learnings, failures, and risks…right alongside their teachers. We truly believe that as a learning organization, we can exponentialy grow in our practice by listening to the voices of one another, and that includes our students.  We are very excited for this next phase!

Up Next

In a future S’More edition, our P.E. teacher Mr. Rob will share with the staff about the 21 Days Of Healthy Snacks Challenge, which he launched in his classes this week. He will ask some students to create a corresponding video share to with our staff about how they are engaging with the program. Is the message of healthy eating important to them? Why or why not? How are they implementing this at home, if they are? What challenges have they faced? What solutions can they offer?

I will keep you updated on our teacher and student-led professional learning journey as it continues to unfold this year! What unique ways have you found to infuse teacher and student voice within your learning community? We would love to learn from you!

Uncategorized

The Power of A Phone Call

I grabbed my notepad and began my typical routine that morning, stopping into classrooms and watching all the great teaching and learning going on in the building.  The first room I stopped into was a 4th grade math class. The teacher was just beginning to introduce decimals, and the class was having a discussion about what they know (think they know) currently about this topic.  The teacher asked for volunteers to come up and put a mark on a number line to show where they thought a particular decimal number would go.  Well, it was quiet!  It seemed all were afraid to take this risk and be brave! After some coaxing from the teacher, one boy raised his hand and offered to try it out.  He came up and put a mark on the line. Next the teacher asked if anyone else wanted to try it out. This time, a student on the other side of the room volunteered. While she was walking toward the front, three or four others raised their hands in anticipation of being the next to try it out.  He had started a “brave” moment!!

daring

I asked the boy his name, wrote it down on my notepad, and went on visiting a few more classrooms.  In each one, I saw at least one student who did something extraordinary, who had an impact on others, who added great value to the learning community. I spent the rest of the morning looking for students taking risks and being brave. Taking deliberate steps to “find” those profound moments changed the lens for me. It brought my visits into a different focus.

Later that afternoon, I called the parent of the boy I mentioned in the beginning.  As I told him who I was, I could hear this quiet “sigh” and a shaky kind of “yes”? After all, when an Assistant Principal calls you at work, it is usually not good. I told him I had been visiting classrooms that morning, and I happened to walk into his son’s math class, and “I just feel it’s important to call and tell you what I observed from your son while I was there”.  There was total silence, and then dad said, “Ok, let me close the door”.  He sounded very disappointed.

I then told him how the class was beginning a new unit on decimals. How the teacher had asked for volunteers to come share what their current thinking is on decimals. How nobody seemed to want to be the first to do this. And how, after a few awkward moments of silence, his son slowly raised his hand, walked up to the board, and said, “This is what I think”. How his bravery in that moment inspired another student to share her thinking, and that the next thing I knew, hands were up and students were having to wait for their turn to go to the front of the class. I told him how his son’s willingness to do that had created a sort of bravery chain reaction, and how much I appreciated his engagement in class and contributions.

Again there were a few moments of silence. Then dad asked me, “So, that’s it? There’s no shoe dropping”? I said, “Nope, I just wanted to call and brag”. He then began telling me how he couldn’t believe this, how he had never received this type of call, and how proud he was of his son at that moment. He thanked me multiple times and told me that he was going to take him for a burger that night and let him know how proud he was of his being brave in class. He told me that my phone call had made his day.  After we hung up, I sat quietly for a moment and thought about what had just occurred.

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Even though it was only a ten minute call, that call brought ten minutes of joy and pride to this father. And it would have a lasting impact on him the rest of the day. It would also have an impact that evening when father and son go out for that burger. I could do nothing but smile at the profound effects that one “Good Call Home” had on this family.

Imagine, if we do this every day. Imagine how this might change things for some parents. For some kids. For some entire school communities.

Scott Capro (@ScottCapro) and Rik Rowe (@WHSRowe) have started a great movement for educators everywhere: Placing Good Calls Home, and the power of a simple phone call! There is even a sign up sheet for educators to sign up, committing to making Good Calls Home. (I encourage you to check it out — here).

Using the hashtag #GoodCallsHome is a great way to build momentum and to hold each other accountable.   I shared the idea with my Principal, who enthusiastically supported it, and she made a commitment to do this as well! So we are now both committed to the #GoodCallsHome movement and we are holding each other accountable!  We have created a Google Doc so that we can each enter the name of the student(s) we call about, and we are going to include a space for reflecting on the reactions we have received.

I am grateful to my buddy Rik  for giving me the push to began my own Good Calls Home campaign. He wrote a blog about this movement, which you can find here. There is no way to really express the joy it brings….you really just have to try it for yourself.

 

Leadership

Leadership Development Part 1: Effective Schools Correlates

 

In just three weeks, I will begin my journey as a first year Assistant Principal. As part of my summer learning,  I am currently involved in some training which is providing me many great things to think about! This post will be the first in a series of reflections on this training. It will be a way for me to share my learning and resources, reflect on the ideas and how they align with my own philosophy, and receive feedback from others to further push my thinking. If you are a new administrator too, I hope you will join in with me and be my thought partner! If you are a seasoned administrator, I would value your insights as well, as they will surely help drive my understanding and help me to synthesize my learning. And if you are a teacher, your reflections, insights and input will truly be invaluable to me as I share my learning with you and receive your feedback.

This first entry will focus on correlates found in effective schools.   

Below is a graphic which relates to effective schools correlates, as identified by Dr. Larry Lezotte and Ron Edmonds, Effective Schools researchers.  These are “correlates” because researchers have identified them as being correlated to student achievement. The first correlate, Clear and Focused Mission, is at the top. This is designed to show that the remaining six correlates support the first one.

Effective Schools Correllates
Sources: Ronald Edmonds, W.B. Brookover and Dr. Lawrence Lezotte Effective Schools Foundation

The following quote by Lezotte speaks to the philosophy which emerged from their research:

An effective school is one in which all the students learn the specified curriculum regardless of factors in their backgrounds which ordinarily have been identified as those which prevent such learning. –Lawrence (Larry) Lezotte in Learning for All.

For historical perspective, this came about in response to the work of other researchers, which held that student home environment had the most profound influence on student learning. The purpose of this post is not to discuss or debate the two different views; but to focus on the correlates outlined above and how some of our current practices align (or don’t align) with these.

As we think about specific programs or actions we currently have in place, we could categorize them according to each correlate. Many will fall into more than one correlate. I am interested in seeing which correlates our practices are most often aligned with, and also which correlates are least identified. Below I will list each correlate and then a few  of the practices I have seen which I would categorize there. These lists are by no means exhaustive, I’m just going to list a few actions under each correlate which are practices from my previous schools.

Strong Instructional Leadership

  • shared decision making
  • goal setting
  • positive supposition
  • focus on analyzing data and identifying trends across the campus
  • collaborative environment with a focus on vertical alignment and common academic language
  • clear and effective communication with all stakeholders
  • scheduling decisions made to make maximum use of instructional time (block schedules, etc)
  • teacher leadership / shared leadership
  • curriculum which is aligned, rigorous, and reflects the standards for each subject/grade level

Positive Home-School Relations

  • frequent communication with parents
  • literacy nights, math nights, reading posse, carnivals
  • leveraging of social media to provide a peek into our days
  • celebrations and events to celebrate students and families, including weekly assemblies
  • opportunities for parent participation on committees, as judges for contests, and as classroom helpers
  • updated websites which contain useful and relevant information
  • curriculum nights which help families learn about the curriculum and learning goals
  • district-wide showcases of student learning
  • positive phone calls, emails, or notes home

Safe and Orderly Environment

  • effective school-wide and classroom discipline systems
  • rooms free of clutter, well lit, clean
  • rituals and routines in place and consistently followed
  • classroom management which emphasizes personal responsibility for the learning environment
  • procedures for visitors entering the building, students know what to do if a visitor is not wearing a visitor sticker, for example
  • procedures are in place for dismissal, with students safely exiting the building and knowing designated areas for bus lines, parent pick up lines, etc

Climate for High Expectations for Student Success

  • Rubrics which students help design and which students use to guide their work
  • exemplar products which model high expectations
  • focus on growth mindset and grit as they relate to individual success for all students
  • focus on classroom routines
  • evaluating of student work, identifying best practices and collaborating on scoring criteria / grading practices.  Is the quality of work which meets or exceeds expectations in one class the same in another?
  • regular evaluation of data and identification of next instructional steps to move students forward
  • focus on commended ratings and programs which move high achieving students further
  • feedback to students which coaches them toward success
  • students can articulate the learning goal and what success looks like for that particular task / understanding

Frequent Monitoring of Student Progress

  • PLC meetings are regular, frequent, and effective. Teachers build common assessments and evaluate student progress.
  • leadership actively monitoring grades and common assessments given weekly
  • clear guidelines for intervention processes are in place and teachers understand the process for scheduling meetings to discuss individual students who are beginning to struggle
  • the process of RTI is streamlined; we do not spend unnecesary time “trying out” intervention effectiveness before we can meet as a team again (if those interventions are not showing effectiveness in a reasonable amount of time)
  • grade levels being assigned a “case manager” who they can go to with student progress needs
  • faculty-wide evaluation of data and collaboration vertically on skills, needs, and strengths
  • curriculum /assessment alignment
  • classroom progress monitoring occurs daily, including such things as fluency checks, conferencing, small group guided lessons, guided reading, and anecdotal records
  • formative and summative assignments are aligned and evaluated for instructional direction

Opportunity to Learn and Student Time on Task

  • Scheduling allows for blocks of time for core subjects (90 minutes for Language Arts, for example)
  • specials and lunch schedules are designed so as to not interrupt the core blocks as much as is possible
  • minimal loss of instructional time – video announcements, assemblies scheduled with least disruption, etc
  • tutorials are held before school, after school, and during the day to allow opportunity to participate
  • necessary materials are provided for learning, including science materials, manipulatives for math, variety of books, etc
  • differentiation to allow for multiple learning styles
  • class procedures are established to encourage time on task (routines for reading workshop that maximize time spent reading, for example)
  • absences and tardies are addressed
  • student needs are met, including making sure students are not hungry, addressing needs at home such as with utilities, academic support at home, transportation needs, at home materials (sending home books with those who may not have books at home)

As you can see, many of these actions could fall under multiple correlates. An interesting next step would be to dig further into the practices of my new campus, assign actions to categories as they are relevant, and then analyze the most and least represented to see how this might relate to the achievement of students at our campus. 

These six correlates, and the items categorized under each, are definitely things that I would say speak to a “Clear and Focused Mission“, the top correlate in the pyramid. Using these ideas, how might I come up with a sentence that captures my view of an effective school? I might say:

Effective schools hold the vision that all students can succeed and take actions which align with and support that vision through high expectations, strong collaborative practices, and effectively monitoring the progress of all learners while cultivating strong family and community relations.

Perhaps this activity might be something you would like to do as it relates to your own campus. Think about some of the practices at your school. How might you categorize them using the Effective Schools pyramid? Do you see any that are under-represented? Do you see any actions which conflict with one or more correlates? How do your lists compare with mine? Do you see any that you might place differently? Please share your thoughts with me, and your “Effective Schools” statement!

References and sources:

Jean Richerson, Region 13 ILD training, July 2014; Effective Schools ProductsEffective Schools Correlates PDF; Ronald Edmonds, W.B. Brookover and Dr. Lawrence Lezotte Effective Schools Foundation

Uncategorized

Coaching Students Through Feedback

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Articles referenced are hyper-linked.

Today started out like any other weekend morning. I woke up, poured my coffee, and powered up the IPad for my daily PD ritual: Twitter and blog reading. As I browsed the articles and read a few updated posts, something caught my eye.  Among the hashtags and updates was the quiet retweet of a blog. Something about the title attracted me, so I followed the link. For the next hour I was totally engrossed in what I was learning on the website Authentic Education and a few blogs entries written by Dr. Grant Wiggins, President of Authentic Learning and co-author of the program Understanding by Design.  One of his blog entries in particular really resonated with me: “Feedback-How Learning Occurs”. Here is the beginning of his post:

Feedback is a word we use unthinkingly and inaccurately.  We smile at a student, say “good job!” and call it feedback.  We write “B-“at the top of a paper and consider it feedback.  We share a score on the state test with a student and his parents and consider it feedback. But feedback is something different. It is useful information about performance. It is not praise, it is not evaluation, it is not a number on a standardized test. So, true feedback is critical—perhaps the key element—in effective learning. -Grant Wiggins

Now let’s pair this with the wiki definition of feedback below:

feedback

The key part of this which I focused on was “….used as a basis for improvement“.

Now, a few things to note: I tend to think systemically.   My thinking process revolves around (and among, and between) relationships and connectedness, seeing separate ideas as systems. Synthetic thinking. When I am introduced to something new, I immediately begin connecting ideas and configuring information in ways that make sense—bringing different parts together into a whole. This is why things like integrated curriculum, contextual understandings, and even PBL are such natural and comfortable areas for me.  So naturally, I pulled out a Hattie & Temperley article on feedback (here) which I’d read a while back and began synthesizing information. Considered together, the article written by Dr. Wiggins seemed to help bring these big ideas into focus for me. I won’t bore you with the connections I made between the two. Unless you ask 🙂

I then navigated to another article by Dr. Wiggins, “The Shift From Teaching Content To Teaching Learning“. This is a fascinating article on changing our mindsets and moving from teaching content to being learning coaches. What I got was this: I don’t want my feedback, or teaching, to be a “yes you did this correctly” or “no you need to work  on this”.  I want to coach the learning process11 itself. I want students to understand the results of their thinking and the outcomes of their ideas. In this way they can begin developing the self-regulation and meta-cognition processes they need in order to experience understanding.  I want the feedback to serve as a push forward, not a destination to which they arrive. I found myself fascinated with this joining of topics: feedback and coaching.

I pulled out a stack of narratives written by my students which I’d brought home to “grade” over the break. My focus at this point was on applying the principles of effective feedback and coaching their learning. I also wanted to compare my results with how I might have done this before. How was my feedback different this time? How did I approach this task, compared to the way I approached it before? Below are some examples of my changes:

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In each of the examples above, my first feedback was more “destination” focused (and more like advice):

You did this – Now do this -Here is your score.

In the second attempt, I tried to design my feedback as more of a tool, while including some “learning coaching” within it.  I think this is much higher quality feedback and will hopefully lead to greater internalization and understandings on my students’ part. When mastering a process, Hattie’s research points to delayed feedback as being most effective. So I think this will further the effects I’m after.

What I’m understanding is that feedback is the journey, rather than the final destination.

I am eager to continue exploring these ideas as I shift the goal of feedback from an outcome, performance based judgment- such as  “You scored a 3!” -to one which truly serves as a vehicle for shaping my students’ understandings and strengthening their conceptual knowledge of writing. I want to make sure that, as the definition above reads, my feedback is given as a basis for improvement. I want to be careful that it is serving as a means to an end, and not the end itself.

I can’t wait to share these remarks with my students. What is your system of giving feedback? How would you classify the purpose it serves? How is it evolving? How can you incorporate more opportunity for-and combine- effective feedback and learning coaching?

Sources:  http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com;  http://www.authenticeducation.org; education.qld.gov.au/ originally published at http://rer.sagepub.com/content/77/1/81; The Power of Feedback, John Hattie & Helen Temperley. Review of Educational Research, March 2007, Vol. 77, No. 1, pp. 81–112.; Wikipedia-dictionary.

All sources downloaded and linked within the article on 12/29/13.

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Fielding A Winning Team

What teacher leaders can learn from football.

I love the movie Remember The Titans.  This film is based on the true story of Coach Herman Boone and his experience at T.C. Williams High School in Alexadria, Virginia in the 1970’s. So many messages and so much inspiration in this Hollywood version of a team facing, and overcoming, challenge and adversity.  I think we can learn a lot from football.

One of my favorite coaches of all time is Tony Dungee. Not only a Superbowl-winning coach and accomplished author, but a successful man. His wisdom and morale stance is something I have admired for a long time. During the past five ice days I’ve had plenty of time to watch a little football and listen to Coach Dungee as he comments on the games being played.  I’ve also had a chance to catch up on our local Texas high school football season as we edge closer and closer to the greatest feat of all time in these parts…the Texas State Championship game.  And it got me to thinking about the lessons of football, and how we might apply those in our leadership roles.

Coaching Teams To Victory

bearcatsTalent abounds on many teams. One local high school team in particular is fielding 70 and 80 points per game as they drive on toward another state championship appearance. Week in and week out this team travels to playoff games, and begins emptying the bench towards the end of the second quarter. Yet the talent is just as strong on the second and third rotations. This team has depth. Playmakers and game-changers are found in every position at every level. How does this staff continue fielding the best of the best?  

Building A Team 

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Building relationships and a team mindset is the first order of business for coaches developing successful programs and continues throughout the season. They seek to develop trust, to support each other, to play to each other’s strengths and have an “all for one and one for all” mindset. These relationships are developed on and off the field and are tended to day in and day out.

“There are certain bridges that are not worth crossing, no matter what others think. Loyalty and relationships are important.”  – Tony Dungee

Just as coaches develop teams among players, they also develop cohesiveness on their staff.  The contributions of team members are valued and individual talents are recognized and used to better the program. Loyalty is important on a staff and imperative to healthy team dynamics. Thoughts and ideas are shared and “locker room talk” is just that. All members know, and appreciate, the freedom to engage in honest discourse as they seek to improve their program collectively. There is an awareness that breaking trust and confidences has a detrimental affect on morale, which leads to a negative impact on the larger team.  Players don’t have confidence in coaches who don’t demonstrate confidence in each other. This leads to program break-downs and contributes to a less-than-cohesive team. You can put this team on the field, but you won’t win many ballgames.  

Teacher leaders must have this same relationship-minded approach when leading teams. You cannot impact a teacher without first having a strong relationship in place; one of mutual trust, respect, and appreciation. Why should your team follow you? What makes a team want to buy-in to the core values of the program? It starts with the relationships that have been built. Honor your team by developing strong, authentic bonds which will be able to withstand the winds of change and struggle that are sure to arise as you go through your own season.

Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman, in an open letter to Texas High School coaches, wrote “Be who you say you are.  Where there is no truth, there is no trust. If there is no trust, there is no relationship. If there is no relationship, there is no value or substance to what you are doing.”

Reading The Field 

Stadium

Ever notice how some players seem to have a knack for anticipating the movement on the field as the play develops?  They can read the field. They’ve studied tape. They know when X player does Y motion, it means Z. But it also seems as if some players can just anticipate- in split second reaction time- and adjust accordingly. They see the gaps, they “feel” that secondary player’s next move. If the route is blocked ahead, they quickly recover and seem to create another equally successful one. Successful teacher leaders have this same knack. They can anticipate staff reactions, and make decisions on how to put team members in the best position to move the ball down the field. Are you aware of the unique gifts and struggles on your team? Do you anticipate where clarity might be needed and adjust accordingly? Do you delegate according to strengths, gifts, and motivations on your team?

Having A Game Plan 

The best coaches are the ones who have studied the game, considered their own team strengths and weaknesses, and have a play book that allows for multiple ways to score. Their overall philosophy is intact – “We run the spread”….”We run a veer”… “We use a nickel defense”… and is built around the talent present on their team, but they do have a variety of plays that can be used depending on the situation they are facing. Talented teacher leaders recognize strengths, stay aware of opposition, and see challenges as opportunities to develop creative ways of scoring buy-in. They are aware of district initiatives and beliefs and build their programs around this common vision.

Breaking Down Film

Teams all over the state arrive at the field house on Saturday mornings to break down game film. Why do they do this? To reflect, learn, celebrate andfilm grow. Why did this occur in the first quarter? Where was our tight end during that play? The coaching staff will gather this information, identify trends and patterns, reflect on their play, and share this information with players. Adjustments are made as they go throughout the season. Successful leaders study student achievement data.  They analyze performance. They break down plays and look for areas of strength and opportunities for growth, they collaborate with others to identify causes and make adjustments. Staff leaders guide teachers in developing authentic ways to share this information with their players (students) and set goals. They celebrate successes and work with others to strengthen the team. Above all, they remain learners of the game.

Sticking To Fundamentals

“If you want to win, do the ordinary things better than anyone else does them day in and day out.” Coach Chuck Noll

What are the fundamentals for a sound football program? In that same letter Coach Sherman advised, “Sometimes coaches get too tied up in the scheme and they sacrifice fundamentals in the process. There has to be a consistent commitment to this from beginning to end of season. It’s still a game of blocking and tackling, throwing and catching. That will never change. If you do those things well, you will win regardless of what scheme you run.”  What are the fundamentals of your program? How much of a priority does your staff place on team planning, looking at student work, lesson development, vertical alignment, or crafting rigorous and authentic assessments? These and other fundamentals must be practiced and protected. Without them, we’re fielding a team that can get a few first downs, but lacks the consistency needed to develop and grow as the year goes on.

Identify Leaders That Emerge

One thing that always happens on a team is that at some point, those natural leaders begin to emerge. The team seems to gravitate toward them. They are respected, trusted, and listened to. They can raise morale and motivation. They can have a huge impact on the team collectively. We are wise to effectively engage them; put them into positions of leadership and let them spearhead programs that are important to our program. Good leaders area always on the lookout for ways to grow other leaders.

Motivation and Inspiration

Just as Denzel Washington portrays a coach with an uncanny ability to motivate those around him, we must also be skilled in the art of inspiration. What drives your team? Where you can find, and build, motivation? Sometimes, as we see in the movie, out of struggle comes greatness because the coaches took the opportunity to turn a negative into a positive. They used a struggle to build motivation. How do you find ways to motivate- not just the playmakers, but the team as a whole? How do you find ways to unite your team around a common goal and break down resistance to change? These skills should be developed, polished, and ever present as you learn and grow with your teams. Do not underestimate the power and far-reaching effect of a motivated (or unmotivated) teacher.

It’s important to remember that it’s the journey that matters more than the scoreboard. I encourage you to consider how your role in education relates to football, and what steps you can take as a team to achieve a great season. If we practice, train, reflect, and keep working to get better the winning will take care of itself.

I’ll leave you with some thoughts from Tony Dungee on being a mentor leader:

Image Credits: Image of sport/pr/photos; topnews.com; lehighvalleylive.com; andthevalleyshook.com