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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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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!

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Say What You Wanna Say: Blogging

“Nothing’s gonna hurt you, the way the words do, when they sit underneath your skin. Kept on the inside, with no sunlight, sometimes a shadow wins. I wonder what would happen if you say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out. Honestly…I wanna see you be brave”! – Sara Bareiller

The above song really resonates with me, as someone who is not by nature a brave person when it comes to putting myself out there to be judged. I think it is also the perfect song for those who might be considering starting a blog, but are a little intimidated or shy.

Reflection is a powerful thing. One of the best ways I have found for reflecting on my own thoughts, ideas and practices is through blogging. When I decided last year that I wanted to give blogging a shot, I have to admit it was very scary! I thought many times, “What do I have to say that would be so important or interesting to others”? “I am not smart enough, I don’t write well enough, I don’t have anything to talk about that others would care to read…..” Those were (and still are, somewhat) the thoughts that ran through my mind.

I went through a lot of trial and error before finding a way that works for me and settling into a routine. I also learned some basic things that helped make my posts more interesting and helped me to clarify my own thinking.  Below are a few blogging ideas that help me:

1. Selecting a platform. There are many tools out there for setting up and maintaining a blog. I tried different sites and finally I settled on Word Press. It is easy for me to navigate and has a big variety of templates to choose from. It is a free site, but I have since decided to pay for the pro version to give myself a few more choices and perks. But I did stick to the free version for about a year. I also like it because it allows me to include different things such as videos, pictures, and embedded tweets that support my topic — in very simple ways. I am not a computer programmer nor a code writer! So I needed easy.

2. Frequency. How often are you going to write? This varies for everyone depending on your goals. I was very scattered in the beginning and not consistent, but eventually I settled into a routine of weekly. I usually write on the weekend. Sometimes this varies but I do try to be consistent. I have found that people will most likely follow a blog if it is updated regularly. On one hand, I’m not so much concerned with how many people read what I write. But one the other hand, this is not a journal in my nightstand. It is on the web, and I chose to do this because I think sharing with others and receiving feedback from them is very powerful for me as a learner. We tell our students all the time to “keep the reader in mind” when writing; this is no different for me as a blogger. Consistency is an important component for you as a blogger.

3. Choosing A Topic. This is perhaps the biggest area of struggle for me. I love to write, but sometimes I just have no ideas for my blog that week. What I have found is that I need to take time to reflect on my week. What went good? What can I improve on? What did I learn this week? I mean, that is the purpose of writing for me anyway, to reflect. So I can’t just sit down at my laptop and think up a topic without first going through my own reflection process. Throughout the week, I ask myself those questions and jot down my thoughts on paper. From there, a topic emerges that I want to explore more in depth, and that is how my blog ideas come to be.

4. Post Length. When I first began blogging, it was all words. I did break it up into paragraphs, but when you visited my site, you would see nothing but a long essay looking post. Not very inviting. I learned quickly that I needed to be more succinct. I don’t need to take five sentences to express a simple idea. I still struggle with this! One thing that helps me is to write my post, but then save it as a draft. Later, I go back to it, and reread it. I always find places to cut something out or re-word something in a less wordy way. I do not publish until I am satisfied that I have expressed myself in a clear but concise way.

5. Structuring The Post. Words are great, but your readers will want to see other interesting things along the way. Including such elements as video, pictures, or even embedded tweets within your post is a great way to improve the visual appeal and add depth to your writing. For example, when I wrote about choosing my platform, I included a link to the WordPress site, and I included it right on the words WordPress in my sentence. I did this because it adds layers to what I am saying. I am thinking about my reader, and they may want to further investigate it. They can Google it themselves, but it is much more convenient for them if I include the link right there where I am writing about it. One important point: Choose your links carefully. I went through several articles on the web about WordPress, but settled on just linking to the site itself. I think that is the most practical resource to share there.

6. Blog Roll. I follow and read a lot of other blogs. I think it is important to share those resources with my own blog visitors because it points them to other writers and other ideas. Sharing who I read and what blogs I follow tells my readers something about my own style, interests, and thought provokers…which adds substance and transparency. I think if you are going to write a blog and share it, you have to be the real you.

7. Give Credit. If I write a post about an activity I did or a book I read, I include the name of the person that inspired that. I include the author, or the colleague, or the PLN member that first pointed me in that direction. I do this out of courtesy and also because it points my reader to another source of learning and someone to follow up with besides just me. A recent post I wrote was about making #GoodCallsHome, and I included links to the Twitter hashtag as well as to the two people who were the inspiration for me to join the movement.

8. Publicizing Your Blog. The first time I tweeted out a blog post I had written, it was scary! I was opening the door for readers all over the world…would they like it? Would they just ignore it? What if nobody read it or what if I received a negative comment? I had to just be brave and do it. After all, I wanted feedback, and sometimes it can’t all be positive! But that is okay because that’s how we all grow. I learned a couple of important things here. One, I needed to include a few relevant hashtags to make sure my blog post was seen by the right audience. For example, if I am writing about a new technology I tried, I will likely use the #edtech hashtag in my tweet. If I am writing about a pirate lesson (Teach Like A Pirate), I will include the #tlap hashtag. I try not to include more than 3 hashtags in my tweet, because it can look like spam.

I also learned that there are just so many people tweeting out there, and posting a link to my blog one time is not enough. I need to post it a few times, over a few days. I also need to tweet it out at the right times. Some days and times are better than others (I don’t know why but that is what I have discovered). Friday afternoons are a good day/time. Monday nights during prime time are also good. Saturday mornings before noon are exceptional times for me. Tweeting my blog after about 9pm or before 10am (CT) are not.

Final word about tweeting out your post: I tag a few people in my tweet and here is how I decide whom to include: If I mentioned someone, or if what I have written about is a topic that I think a certain member(s) of my PLN would enjoy reading, or is similar to what a certain person often writes/thinks about, I will tag them. I do not tag people just for the hope that they will retweet it. I think that is dis-ingenuous. That being said, it makes me happy when my post announcement is retweeted because it will be seen by people who might not otherwise see my own tweet, so it is a good thing and I do appreciate it. But I try not to abuse that or take advantage of my PLN in that way.

9. Give Your Readers Tools. When I set my blog up, I learned that I needed to include a way for my readers to share with others and to give me feedback in simple and quick ways. Make sure you turn on comments! When I receive a comment on a piece, I try to reply to it in a timely manner, thanking them for their input and thoughts on what I have written. I think two-way communication is so important here because I am hoping to open a door for conversation. Of course, there have been a lot of my posts that have received zero comments, and that is okay. I made peace with that. I just decided that the post must have just been so great that nobody has anything to add! HA! Also, it is helpful to include a few tools for the reader to make reading and sharing easy. I have a button where readers can follow my blog, getting updates automatically when I post. There are tools where readers can share it on Twitter or other social media very easily.

9. Patience. When I first starting blogging, hardly anyone read it. I did not receive many comments either. After a while though, my readership grew. Now, I have people who follow my blog from all over the world, and they receive an email when I update it. If they enjoyed the post, they share it with others, tweet it, comment on it….but this took a lot of time. Be prepared to feel like you are just writing for yourself and nobody is reading it, and that is okay. It will come with time.

10. About Those Comments. Be careful what you wish for! Just kidding (kind of). Most of my posts have been well received, but there have been a few that received some negative feedback. At first I was mortified! But then I realized that this type of thing is just another way to push my thinking, to open my mind up to alternative views and shed a light on different perspectives, and so I now embrace all my feedback, both positive and otherwise. You just cannot write a blog where everyone in the world is going to agree with all you say; we are all different. If you really want the feedback and you want your blog to be a true way for you to reflect, share, learn and grow, then you have to be prepared for some humbling moments! My PLN is incredible and they inspire me daily, but they also challenge my thinking and they point out things I could improve upon or ideas I had not considered. They champion me when I am doing something great, but they also will very quickly throw up a stop sign or call me on the carpet.  I value this. And my willingness to put myself out there for it is just…well, necessary.

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So that’s it, my top ten tips for getting started with blogging. There is a lot more and you will discover that as you go along.  I think the biggest piece of advice is to just be brave and go for it. “Let your words be anything but empty”… How big is your brave?

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Linking Evernote, Twitter, IFTTT and YouTube

So today, my learning at #NT2t (a Twitter Chat for educators who are new to Twitter that I co-mod) continued for several hours as I began to learn and play around with Evernote and a little with IFTTT. Here are a few things I learned about. Things like linking my Twitter activity with Evernote, as well as how to send videos to Evernote.
I’m also going to describe how the Evernote Web Clipper add-on allows you to send a webpage to your Evernote, and how you can use IFTTT to automatically send Tweets to Evernote instead of emailing them.

Before doing anything else, make sure you have an Evernote account. Next, I suggest you add your Evernote email address to your Gmail contacts. I have an Evernote email? Yes,you do! I do this so that I do not have to remember that address (it is long and weird). You can find it by going to your Evernote settings and scrolling down until you see your Evenote Email. Copy it to your clipboard, and then paste it into your Gmail contacts.

Sending a Tweet to Evernote:
Let’s say you see a Tweet that you want to send directly to Evernote. Just click the 3 dots (if in Tweetdeck) that appear below the Tweet. Next, click on “email this Tweet”. Then when your email default program (mine is Gmail) opens up, you go to the “To” field. When you begin to type your Evernote email, it will auto fill after the first couple of letters (because you added it as a contact). You can now send the Tweet to Evernote and it will save in “All Notes”.

You can also send the Tweet directly to a specific notebook within Evernote! The way to do that is to add @NOTEBOOKNAME to the end of the subject line. Example: If the notebook I want to send this tweet to is named “Reading”, then in the subject line of the email, I type @Reading at the end of the subject. Viola! The Tweet is sent directly to my Reading notebook in Evernote. Here is a link to my Note in Evernote, which I emailed to my “How To Use Evernote” notebook!

Evernote Note Link

This wonderful bit of brilliance came to me from Rik Rowe, see the tweet below:

 

Evernote Web Clipper
I downloaded the web clipper (you can find this easily here: Evernote website). Now, let’s say I am on a webpage, reading a blog, and I want to send this to Evernote. All I have to do is click on the Evernote web clipper from my Internet tools menu. It will pop up with options for me to name the notebook I want to send this page to. If I don’t have one set up for this particular item (for example, I don’t have a notebook for blogs yet), I can just leave it as it appears . I can also include tags (which will help me locate it later based on a few chosen words). Here is a picture of what comes up when I select the web clipper on a page I was reading about Concept Based Curriculum:

web Clipper

Notice how I can choose to Save Article to Evernote. I can also use the drop down menu to change the notebook, if I don’t want to save it to the “Essential Questions” one that automatically appeared. I can also type in tags, and comments if I wish. It will then send to my Evernote.

Evernote With YouTube
So I really wanted to know how to send a YouTube video to Evernote. After playing around for a while, this is what I settled on:

yotubeUnder the YouTube video, select “Share” and then choose “Email”. From there, do as we discussed above. Begin typing your Evernote email, and it will auto-fill the rest of your address. In the subject field, type @NOTEBOOKNAME if you have a particular notebook to send this to, and click on send. The YouTube video now goes to your Evernote. It appears as an embed, but when you click the video itself, it takes you to the YouTube page where the video begins to play. I have not figured out a way to bypass YouTube and play within Evernote. Here is a link to my “Music” note that I created in Evernote, where I recently sent a “Rainforest Sounds” video:

Music Notebook

That link will open the note, but it will not play from the note. You will need to select “View in Evernote” which is a big green button on the top left of that note, you can’t miss it. Once you do that, you can select “Join Notebook” and you will have access to that notebook and videos.

IFTTT with Evernote
The final thing I did today, was search for and activate a recipe on IFTTT (If This Then That). Now, if you don’t know anything about this, you can still do it! Just visit the website here. You will click on “Join” and set up a free, quick and easy account for yourself.

Next, browse the available “recipes” (which means things you can do with it). I typed “Evernote” in the search bar. I found a recipe someone already made which will take Tweets you favorite and send them directly to Evernote. Wow! So if I don’t want to email the Tweet, I just want to automatically send it to Evernote, I can do this with this recipe. I clicked on “Use this recipe”. I had no idea what was going to happen, but amazingly this was simple! It told me I needed to activate both Evernote and Twitter on the IFTTT site. This is as simple as clicking “Activate” right there on the screen. It then said the recipe was stored. I was thinking, “that’s it”? Can’t be that easy! So I went to Twitter, I clicked favorite on a random tweet, then went to my Evernote. Sure enough, a notebook was there labeled IFTTT Twitter. I clicked the notebook and there was the tweet. I do not know how to create my own recipe’s yet. But that is okay, because for now I can use recipes that are already there (thank you wonderful people) until I have a need for one not yet created.

By the way, there are other recipes in IFTTT that you might like. Such as “Automatically add all my favorited tweets to Google Drive” or “Automatically send a thank you welcome message to new followers”. I know, amazing! But that is another post.

iftttTo view the Storify of the entire #NT2t chat this morning on all this learning, visit this link.  So there you have a few ideas about these programs, and some basic things you can try. I am so excited to have learned all of this today! I hope you enjoy!

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The Curious Concept of Agency

Google Images
Image from brian.magierski.com and retrieved from Google Images.

I always enjoy seeing students engaged in work that causes them to take action in one or another direction in their life. Recently, my daughter experienced this type of learning. She visited a doctor to have some allergy tests run, and when she came home she spent the next few days researching all she could about histamines and how they interact with and through various body systems. It amazed me how much she learned from that independent research, as she came out informing me of these processes using terms and ideas that I really am only vaguely familiar with. She is now on a quest to figure out the educational steps one might take in order to design her future the way she dreams of it: researching rare medical conditions and disorders of the immune system, conducting lab tests, learning…. This is not something new; she has spent most of her life on her computer, researching this or that, always with a particular interest in the areas of health and wellness.

So what changed? Why suddenly is this something she feels has given her life direction? Has given purpose to her education? Why did this experience cause her to feel compelled to act? Curious and driven to research, learn, teach, and contribute to the understanding in the field?

In a recent PBL chat with @newtechnetwork and others (see archive ), a word was shared with me that I really have not pondered much in my life. A word that I thought, at the time, I may not even fully understand. A word that I found out, after some research of my own, I actually do understand and a word that explains, at least in my opinion, the curious explosion that occurs when purpose and action collide.

Agency.

I considered my (vague) conceptual understanding of this word. It is a curious word. Or maybe it is just curious when considered alongside such words as empowerment, ownership, growth mindset, and engagement. It is not a word I hear much; it’s not frequently used in educational circles and conversations I have, at least not that I can remember. So I began looking into this word; more specifically, the ideas and concepts behind it. This idea of “agency”… What is it? How does it affect or contribute to student learning and achievement? How does one develop it? And how can we as educators support it?

One resource I looked at, which sought to define the term “agency” as a phenomenon related to education, was this paper written by Professor Gert Biesta of the School of Education and Lifelong Learning at The University of Exeter in 2006. This definition read, in part,

…the situation where individuals are able to exert control over and give direction to the course of their lives.

This aligns with well a general definition of agency as “…the capacity for autonomous social action” (Calhoun 2002).

New Tech Network, a nonprofit organization, offers this agency rubric on their website which I found to be marvelous. Interestingly, the rubrics, which are entitled “New Tech Network Agency Rubric, High School” reveal domains and criteria to be measured along the lines of growth mindset, seeking out of feedback, and reflective learning, among others.

Further researching turned up this article by Eduardo Briceno of Mindset Works entitled “Mindset and Student Agency”. He suggests:

Deeper learning requires students to think, question, pursue, and create—to take agency and ownership of their learning. When they do, they acquire deeper understanding and skills, and most important, they become more competent learners in and out of school. They become better prepared to succeed in academics, but also in 21st century careers and in life.

But agency is not something we can “give” someone else. It comes from within. What can we do in our schools and classrooms – even our homes –  to help promote agency in our students and in our own children?

As Briceno points out,  “growth mindset”, “grit”,  “motivation”,  and “college and career readiness” standards are important areas for developing personally aware and autonomous students “capable of driving their own learning”. These ideas, he suggests, are a part of  two distinct but complex components for developing and supporting agency:

Learner Mindsets and Learning Strategies and Habits

What are some examples of learner mindsets that we promote and invest in daily? I know for my daughter, who for those who do not know, is a 19 year old college student who is also autistic, we have focused a lot on growth mindset and perseverance. On self-awareness and familiarity with her own learning style and needs. On self-advocacy, reflection, and how to recognize feedback (both verbal and nonverbal) and then how to think through that feedback and use it toward continual growth and self-awareness. We have focused on confidence building and persistence. We have also focused on recognizing challenges and knowing when (and how) to seek help. We have also focused on purpose, a sense that she “belongs” and has gifts and contributions to make to the world. This is perhaps the most difficult mindset for her. Feeling “different” makes it hard to feel a sense of “belonging”.

So what about learning strategies and habits? It is one thing to have these different learner mindsets I mentioned above as one’s goals. She feels aware and she focuses on growth not ability, and she seeks feedback and strives for purpose and belonging. Great! But what happens when she experiences something that challenges those goals? What happens when she is not successful despite her persistence and “I can do it!” mindset? And how does this look for our students? I think this goes a little bit farther, a little beyond simply “embracing failure”.  Just how do we support agency?

My daughter, just like so many other students (and adults), experiences setbacks frequently. We might not be able to teach “agency” but we can teach learning skills that support the development and growth of agency.  Here are just a few suggestions from Briceno for learning strategies to support agency, along with my own reflections about these suggestions. I will use my  daughter as a little vignette here:

Teach students how the brain works. My daughter has taken numerous learning inventories, and we shared information with her early on about what autism is and how it impacts her specifically. We did this to build understanding and awareness; to help her build capacity. She remarked one day, “So that explains why I do _______!” after reading the book “Freaks, Geeks and Aspergers” by Luke Jackson (Terrible title, great read). This teaching, which was relevant and specific for her, seemed to not just bring awareness, but give her a profound understanding and acceptance of herself. Finally having a reason for her (sometimes odd) behaviors made her feel…well, normal. (I am not suggesting anyone take this approach, as this is a decision based on your own child and family, I am just sharing my own experiences and results).

Self-Efficacy. While she does have a growth mindset toward life and learning, she is also aware of paths to take should she need supports or information, or help. At school, this is again individual. For her, this came in the form of an IEP (for academics) and a few trusted adults to whom she could go to talk or ask a question, but could be any steps a student can take to meet their own needs. It is not enough to believe “I can do it!”, one also needs to know where, how, and to whom they can turn if they need help…if they can’t do it. These “paths” serve to truly support self-confidence…to enable someone to be confident in their ability to succeed, but just as confident in their ability to recover and go on in the face of an obstacle. How that looks is as individual as our students and their needs.

How To Work In Teams. While this was (and still is) a challenge for her, she has learned to offer up her particular strengths to help toward a common goal. Using her technology skills to create a video, for example, or doing the leg-work or research for a particular topic is something she does enjoy, and allows her to still work independently on her portion of a group task.

Developing desirable habits through cues and routines. Funny story to share here. She used to struggle with recognizing nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions or tones of voice. She would be talking away about the current tropical depression or other weather phenomenon occurring in some other part of the world, completely oblivious to the checking of the watch, walking slowly off to the side, and other non verbal ways her peers have of saying, “Nobody cares”!! She spent a great deal of time with her therapist and a computer program, learning to recognize these little cues and nuances which are so natural for you and I –but not necessarily so for others. She has learned to regulate; to recognize when the conversation has changed topic and how to adjust to that, and when it is time to really stop talking about a certain thing that is not interesting to the other person! This is all part of the important work that has gone on, and continues, for her to become a person with a strong sense of agency.

Because, if she does not believe in her ability to direct her own path, to be heard and understood,  if she doesn’t see a purpose and feel compelled to change the world, how will she ever go about changing it? How will she ever fulfill a purpose that she does not believe she is capable of fulfilling? She won’t. And neither will our students. Agency is the line between reacting to a world in which you are only a speck, and designing a world of which you are the creator.

By putting into our classrooms and schools practices which value and support growth, effort, and learning, by recognizing and responding to individual needs, through building relationships and knowing our students, and kids, as unique learners and people, we have the best possible chance at supporting agency in our students. It will also help our students avoid the crippling effects of its absence, which she also experienced in her early life and learning experiences.

The curious concept of agency. Turns out, it’s not so foreign to me after all.

What do you think of agency? What practices do you think are important when designing an environment which helps contribute to the development of agency? I would love to hear more!

Sources: Teaching and Learning Research Program (www.tlrp.org); Prof. Gert Biesta , School of Education and Lifelong Learning at St Lukes Campus ,The University of Exeter: Working Paper 5 “Learning Lives“; New Tech Network (www.newtechnetwork.org), Calhoun, C. (2002). Dictionary of the social sciences [electronic resource]/ edited by
Craig Calhoun … [et al.]. Oxford : Blackwell, 2002

 

 

 

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

PLN

The View On Atlanta – From The Hashtags

experience1

 

My Twitter feed this weekend has been blowing up with all the great learning going on at ISTE2014. Sadly, I was not at ISTE. But that has not stopped me from learning a great deal from all the educators who are attending and presenting, thanks to the power of the hashtag!

One of the reasons I enjoy Twitter as a professional development tool is because it allows me to connect with and learn from educators across the globe. This past Saturday, while I co-moderated our weekly chat for teachers new to Twitter (#NT2t), we discussed the power of the hashtag. Using it to follow conferences was one of the suggestions made for maximizing the potential of Twitter.  I have been doing that the past couple of days and, thanks to the connected educators who are so graciously tweeting their learning and resources, I have been able to learn  quite a bit! But, as Dewey says, we learn from reflection. So here are some of my takeaways ISTE2014…errr, while #NotAtISTE:

Genius Bar:

Someone retweeted this tweet about a student – run Genius Bar (original tweet by @TechGirlJenny):

iste5

I was pretty intrigued by this, so I went to researching the idea. I found this PDF from GenYes, which gave a lot of information about it. I played around with the idea, considered how we might fit this into our school within our current student leadership opportunities, and now plan to pitch it to my principal after I have it a little more planned out. What a find!

Google Hangouts On Air:

This tweet from @2footgiraffe includes a Google Doc with lots of great GHO tips. I have a planned GHO coming up in a couple of weeks, and this will surely come in handy for me.

iste4

 

Ultimate Word Wall:

So someone tweeted “We are building the ultimate word wall on Padlet”! Clicked on the link, and saw this amazing set up! What a treat for teachers to be able to use what is here, and then become inspired to build their own! I will definitely share this with teachers on my campus next year.

IFTTT

Saw this tweet below from @chadkafka and WOW! What an awesome way to curate tweets!! I used if for this blog! (IFTTT stands for If This Then That).

iste2Technology by Blooms:

This handy Google Doc tweeted by @Jepson contains loads of technology platforms and they are aligned with different Blooms levels. Very handy sheet if someone asks, “What technology would be best to use with ______”.  Saved to my drive.

iste3

 

Pinterest Board for ISTE:

I discovered this board which is being populated by many ISTE attendees. I have only skimmed this, but I am planning to spend a day next week going through all the curated material loaded onto it!

I have so many more resources saved, and I will share them out as I go through them.  All in all, I have had a very productive time the past couple of days as I learn a lot of new things while #NotAtISTE14.

Now, if you are wondering about that hashtag….it is for all of us who could not attend –but wanted to feel like we were a part of it. We were even invited to participate in various giveaways by event sponsors, and @CraigYen even set up a Google Hangout for anyone who wanted to, well, hang out!

As far as a learning community goes, it just doesn’t get any better than your Twitter PLN. The tweet below from @JanRobertson sums it up pretty well.

 

ISTE1

I hope you will join us Monday for more learning at #ISTE2014 and #NotAtISTE14 via the hashtags ! Please share your conference hashtag experienes in the comments below!

 

Uncategorized

The Greatest Classrooms I’ve Seen

I have just finished my first semester as an Assistant Principal. Let me tell you, when they say things will change..they aren’t a’kiddin! So many new adventures have come my way in just the past few months, both expected and unexpected. I must say, though, that one of the most joyous parts of my job is when I am able to visit classrooms and observe great teaching and learning! My new school is full of talented educators. If I have said, “Wow, what an awesome teacher” once, I have said it a thousand times. No matter how long one has taught (I taught for 15 years) when you visit someone else’s room it is inspiring and eye-opening. Yet despite all the differences in style and approach, there are some nuances…some intangibles that consistently appear in those high-performing classrooms. So today I wanted to record and share 7 things from the greatest classroom’s I’ve seen.

Love of Learning.
The teacher is truly a lifelong learner. Often times, he or she is trying out something new, implementing a new strategy, or sitting next to students and learning right alongside them. There is an excitement about learning. The focus is not on grades, or timelines, or a state test. It is simply a joy of learning and that joy is directly passed on to the students. Whether it is a math lesson or a trip to the outdoor garden, the teacher is enthusiastically leading students to be inquisitive, to wonder, to develop a love of learning for learning’s sake.

Student Voice.
While the teacher does remain the instructional designer, students are frequently able to choose how to best tackle an assignment, how to demonstrate their learning, which tool to use as they investigate and problem solve, and allowed the freedom to make the work their own. Students help establish the expectations, give feedback to each other and the teacher, and their own unique perspectives are sought out and highlighted. Even though they are working on the same standard, their work and their learning doesn’t look the same. This is not true 100 percent of the time, but it is true most of the time.

Confidence.
Students in these classrooms are not hesitant to share their thinking. They will respond to questions such as, “What do you think” and “Why do you think that” because they are not responding to True/False type of questions. They are learning through experiences and through each other, often through ongoing conversations, so mistakes are not something to be avoided. For the most part, students don’t sit quietly for fear of getting it wrong. They will take a chance and if they make a mistake, well that’s just part of it. Their teachers model this same level of risk-taking when it comes to their own learning and teaching, not being afraid to say to their students, “Ok guys, this is something new for me, let me know how this lesson goes”. They will go out on a limb with a new idea in faculty meetings and team planning sessions and throw their ideas out there for discussion. Often times, these lead directly to a new approach.

Reflective Practices.
A look through a reading journal, or a student’s blog, or even quietly eavesdropping on a conversation uncovers students who are reflective about their learning. They think about what they have learned and how that relates to something else they have learned. They try to make connections and they see how their work is changing and improving as time goes on. Both teachers and students readily, and frequently, reflect on the day/week/year and are always seeking ways to continually grow. These teachers are also willing to examine things that might not be going so well school-wide. They stay focused on our vision and if something isn’t working they have a suggestion for how to get things back on track or an idea for a different approach.

Creativity
Because individuality is honored, you will find in these classrooms some very creative students. They are willing to take the risks that come along with outside-the-box thinking and designing and create some remarkable artifacts that demonstrate their own learning. Their teachers take a similar, creative approach to their lessons. You can tell that this is not a lesson that existed in their repertoire a year or two, or ten, ago. They are always thinking of fresh approaches to learning and this seems to permeate the room and the kids latch on to that. Their teachers are not really any more creative than you or I, they simply seek to make each learning experience remarkable. They most often begin with the end in mind and then map out the lesson so that it fits these students, this class, rather than relying on something they have used for years just because it works for them. Their own passion for learning leads them to find new and unique ways to develop their craft.

Self Regulation.
The greatest classrooms I’ve seen include students who are self-aware and regulate their own learning. If they need to work in a different spot, they move. If the glue they are using isn’t working, they know where the supplies are and have the freedom to use those as they need. There is a level of trust here. They have tools, such as planners or other organizers, which allow them to manage their time and assignments. They use rubrics and exemplars in such a way that they are aware of the expectations and can self-evaluate. Rather than trying to control everything, their teachers spend a good part of the first semester setting up classroom rituals and routines so that he/she can focus on individual and small group instruction without constant interruptions. The expectations are high and they are not a secret to the students. Most of the time, the student can tell you how they are doing on an assignment based on the guidelines in the rubric, which they have read and interpreted throughout the process. In the words of Maria Montessori, “The children are now working as if I didn’t exist”.

Affirmation.
Teachers in these classrooms affirm students. Not just as learners, but as individuals. Students know that they are valuable and that their contributions to the classroom (and the world) are important. They are an integral part of the classroom community, which the teacher establishes through things like lesson closings, classroom jobs, and collaborative conversations throughout the day. To echo one of the theme’s at my school this year, “They Matter”. Kindness is seen in their interactions with one another. I will use the words of one student in one of these classrooms because he put it best, “I have a lot of friends in here. Basically everyone”.

These are just a few of the things I think are important to create and deliver purposeful, life-changing experiences for students as we take them through the content and standards of our particular field. What about you? What are some of the things you see when you visit classrooms that work? I would love to read what you might add to the list!