Saturday, April 30, 2011

I just want to be a kid...

Two separate and unrelated events took place in the past week that have really got me thinking:

Event 1: I took my mom and dad to go see Disney's African Cats, which I can honestly say was a very awesome movie. Now, I am 27 years old, and as I am sure you can imagine, there were a lot of little people in the theater with moms and dads, and consequently I felt old.

As we waited for the movie to start, I began to listen in on a conversation between two young kids in front of us. They were both elementary age students, but I don't know exactly how old. As I sat there listening to their conversation, I witnessed the transition from a conversation to a session of uncontrollable laughter. So carefree, having such a great time, consumed by laughter and happiness, most likely not a care in the world...

Event 2: Maddy (my 2 year old yellow lab) and I were sitting on the porch enjoying some fantastic weather, and we had the opportunity to watch a spur of the moment soccer game. The kids immediately divided themselves into two teams, and the game was underway in a matter of moments. There was no discussion, there were no disagreements, there was only a focus on playing and getting the game started.

As the game progressed there were a few disagreements on the score, but as quickly as the disagreements started the focus shifted back to the game and having fun. No parents, no referees, no rules; it was just straight up soccer and having fun.

As I reflected and thought more about these two events I became more and more impressed by the outlook and mindset of young children. I have only worked in a high school environment, and the mentality in a high school is to be "cool" and "tough." I am still trying to figure out what it means to be "cool" and "tough," but I will save that for another post.

Young kids have it all figured out. Kids see things in a way most adults and young adults could not even imagine. Kids find enjoyment and pleasure in some of life's most basic endeavors. Kids move past problems and issues without thinking twice, and most importantly kids know how to forget and not dwell on the past. Kids are modeling for us how we should be living our lives... why have I not been paying attention?

If you work at an elementary school or have/had young children of your own then you know what I am talking about; if not, try to be more observant and relearn something from the little young kiddos who have so much to offer.

What do you think...?

What has happened between childhood and adulthood to account for these differences...?

Why have we forgotten how to have fun and just be kids...?      

Monday, April 25, 2011

An open letter to teachers...

Dear teachers,

We have a lot of respect for what you do. Your job is extremely difficult, and we understand the many difficulties that encompass being a teacher. Your ability to lead an entire class is frankly amazing, and more importantly, you always seem cool, calm and collected despite what might be going on. There are times when we would love to be back in the classroom; there are other times when we can't imagine going back. Your job is definitely not an easy job, but as administrators, here are a few things we would like you to keep in mind:

1) - When we ask you and your fellow teachers for opinions and feedback, we would really appreciate it if you would take us seriously and put some thought into ways we can improve our school. We know you have a lot on your mind, but if we are going to take the time to ask you, we are doing it because we value your opinion.

2) - We love visiting your classrooms to see the students growing and developing, but when we visit a classroom and the students are having a free day or are watching a movie unrelated to anything of any real value, we are disappointed and feel as if the students are being cheated. We all have bad days and difficult things going on in our lives, but please make it a priority to do something valuable for your students every single day.

3) - Professional development is something we really enjoy, but please don't rely on us to plan and develop every single PD day. We want you to have a say and a voice in YOUR professional growth, and as such we would love to hear your ideas and suggestions. We also really would like you to take our PD days seriously and go into each session with the mindset of, "what can I learn today?"

4) - Can you please stop writing office referrals and sending students to the office for not coming to class prepared or coming late to class. We are here to support you and help you do your job, but if we are constantly tied up dealing with small and petty issues like this then how are we going to have any time to tackle some of the larger issues? Please talk with some of your colleagues and see how they handle these the student's parents...take a moment and talk to the student BEFORE sending them down to us. 

5) - We understand the importance of being visible and in the halls in between classes, but our administrative team is not very large. We will try our best to be in the halls as often as possible, but sometimes things come up and they need to be dealt with immediately, consequently we need your help. We need you in the halls helping to cover the spots we aren't able to cover. It's a group effort, and you play a crucial role in our overall effectiveness.

6) - Sometimes a lesson doesn't take the entire class period, or the students get done quicker than expected, but please do not allow your students to line up at the door. Furthermore, please do not let your students stand in the hallway as they wait to leave your class. Your class time is valuable and should not be discarded so easily. If your students end class 5 minutes early every day it adds up to over 3 weeks of instructional time over the course of the year. Think what your students could learn in that much time.

7) - Time is limited, and when we try to implement new programs we are doing so because we believe they can help students. Unfortunately, when we try to initiate a new program it seems as if a lot of teachers immediately disregard the program because they think the program will be pushed to the side and simply forgotten by next year. We realize it's difficult to implement several programs simultaneously, but they are aimed at improving the educational experience for our students. Please give our programs a chance before casting them to the side...our students could be missing out.

8) - When you were hired you were hired because we think you are the best, and because we think you are the best we want to get out of your way so you can do great things. We want to empower you, encourage you, and watch you take risks in an attempt to do some awesome things, but when we see you do the same thing every year we wonder if you really want autonomy. Additionally, we would be more than happy to provide you time to observe some of your colleagues if this time was used productively. Please be the awesome teacher you were hired to be.

Don't take this open letter as us trying to tell you how to do your job. As Educators we must all be open for suggestions and advice, and we hope that if anyone had any advice or suggestions, they would take the time to inform us. As previously mentioned, we understand all the parts of your job because we were once in your shoes, but we hope this letter provides a small reminder of how much your decisions and actions affect others.

Thank you for your time, and we look forward to your response,

The administrators

(Check out my "open letter to administrators") 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

An open letter to administrators...

Dear administrators,

We have a lot of respect for what you do. Your job is extremely difficult, and there are lots of aspects of your job that we don't fully understand. Your ability to lead an entire staff and student body is frankly amazing, and more importantly, you always seem cool, calm and collected. There are times where we would love to have your job; there are other times where we couldn't imagine having your job. Your job is definitely not an easy job, but as teachers, here are a few things we would like you to keep in mind:

1) - When making decisions that are going to affect our classes or our students, we would really appreciate it if you would ask for our opinions and feedback first. We know you can't ask for feedback for every decision, but more often than not would be much appreciated.

2) - Will you please come to our classrooms more often. We are really doing some awesome, innovative and creative things with our students, and we would love to share our experiences and successes with you and our staff.

3) - It would really mean a lot to us if you would participate in our professional development days. As Educators, we all need to be lifelong learners, and the staff would be quite receptive if you were learning side by side with us. We know your presence can skew the way some Educators respond, but we feel that would only be temporary until your presence becomes common practice.

4) - Can you please refrain from blanketing the entire staff with a punishment/lecture when the problem lies with a small group of Educators, and not the entire staff. Just as we don't do this with students, it's not fair to do it with us either.

5) - Your time is extremely limited and you are always busy, but we would really love it if you were more visible in the hallways between classes. Establishing and building a school community are crucial to the school's success, and this is one of the easiest ways to show students and teachers we are all in this together.

6) - It would be much appreciated if you would include teachers, students and community members when developing the building's vision and goals. Additionally, it would be wise to revisit and redevelop our building's vision and goals, as society and the needs of our students are always changing. Lastly, we should really believe and follow through on our building's vision and goals.

7) - We love any new idea or initiative that can improve the education we offer at our school, but if we are going to add new programs would you please consider eliminating other programs that aren't quite as effective. Speak with students and teachers to determine which programs are really helping, and which programs we could probably do without.

8) - Lastly, the more autonomy and voice you give us Educators, the better we will perform. Allow us to do the jobs that you hired us for. Support us, empower us, and encourage us, but please don't control us. Tell us it's OK to take chances in an effort to do something awesome with our students. Provide time for us to see the awesome things other Educators are doing in our building. Please be the instructional leader you were hired to be.      

Don't take this open letter as us trying to tell you how to do your job. As Educators we must all be open for suggestions and advice, and we would hope that if anyone had any advice or suggestions, they would take the time to inform us. As previously mentioned, there are parts of your job that we don't always understand because we have never been administrators, but we hope this letter provides a small reminder of how much your decisions and actions affect others.

Thank you for your time, and we look forward to your response,

The teachers

Check out my "open letter to teachers" as well.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Is blogging really worth it...?


I really enjoyed your most recent blog post titled, "My Principal doesn't need to blog." I have a lot of respect for you, and I really enjoy following your blog and tweets. This particular post caught my eye and after putting some thought into it, I am ready to respond.

I am not an administrator, but I am aspiring, so I feel I have something to add to this conversation. Here are a few examples of administrators sharing valuable and useful information:

Patrick Larkin (@bhsprincipal) - Patrick works at a high school where they are preparing to go 1:1 with iPads. Fortunately for others, Patrick has allowed anyone following his blog to read his updates, thoughts, and reflections on his school's transition. Additionally, Patrick's high school hosts technology sessions for community members, as well as offers the opportunity to watch some of the more controversial movies related to educational reform.

Lyn Hilt (@L_Hilt) - Lyn has recently started a blog for her school titled, "Brecknock Happenings." Lyn is using this blog to help streamline communication among her staff, as well as inviting members of the community to see what is going on in the school. Lyn usually includes links and additional resources her teachers can use to improve their instructional practices. Additionally, Lyn is modeling one of the many ways blogs can be used in an educational setting.

David Truss & Dwight Carter (@datruss & @dwight_carter) - David and Dwight each shared posts about their #noofficedays (David's post, Dwight's post). Though the idea is not earth shattering by any means, it still brought attention to the fact that many administrators simply spend too much time in their office. I have personally shared these two blog posts with my building administrators, as well as several other administrators in neighboring districts.

Tony Baldasor (@baldy7) - Tony wrote an excellent post about transforming what a school or classroom environment should be like. I really enjoyed reading the post titled, "The Coffee Shop Dilemma," because it highlights the need of schools and districts to create environments that are appealing and suitable for our 21st century students.

Tom Schimmer (@tomschimmer) - Tom has just been a superstar when it comes to blogging. His posts are inspiring, enlightening, and most importantly, I am always in a reflective state after reading something he has written. Here is the link to his blog: "Learning-Leadership-Life."

Now, I would be willing to bet that while these great administrators were writing these blog posts they were forced to reflect and think about the programs and initiatives they were implementing, and as such they probably made modifications and adjustments. Additionally, though many of the comments were probably positive and in praise of such efforts, there were most likely a few suggestions and/or constructive criticism offered up through the comments.

I totally understand where you are coming from when you say a principal's time may be better spent doing "actual" hands-on principal type responsibilities; they are extremely important. Being visible in classrooms, establishing strong student & teacher relationships, embracing the wide range of school activities, as well as having time for your family, are all crucial to running an efficient and effective school.

However, think about all the great ideas that have been shared by these great administrators. I assume that most administrators wanted to get into administration to have a much larger impact. They felt having a positive effect just on the students in their classrooms wasn't enough. They wanted to positively affect the lives of an entire student body and an entire community. Well, here is their chance to help not just their school and community, but rather any administrator or Educator that comes across their blogs.

I have written several posts about why I blog and why I think it has helped me tremendously, and I believe I am doing all and even more than what my "typical" duties require of me as an Educator.

Ryan, I value your opinion and will most definitely continue reading what you write. You push me to think, reflect, and consider why and what I am doing as an Educator. For that, I thank you.

In closing, if and when I become an administrator, I will continue blogging. I will blog not just for my own sake, but also for those who are looking for advice and potential assistance when it comes to running a school. The ideas and pieces of knowledge being shared through blogs have enabled me to grow into a better and more well-rounded Educator, which in turn has helped me perform at a higher level when it comes to my "typical" duties.

You don't have to blog to be a great administrator or Educator, but I feel blogging just might be that missing piece between a great Educator, and a super great Educator. For the sake of myself and others, I hope administrators continue blogging so we can all learn and grow from their experiences.

- If you are reading this post please take a moment and check out Ryan's blog. Furthermore, I would like to thank Ryan (@ryanbretag) for starting this great reflective conversation. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

What's your focus...?

Dave Martin (@d_martin05) is an Educator who has really been pushing my thoughts and beliefs on education lately...and I love it! If you have not checked out his blog "Real teaching means real learning," you definitely need to.

Dave recently wrote a post titled, "Learning on a test day? You bet!" This post focuses on how you can assess your students while simultaneously giving them the opportunity to learn, collaborate, and share.

What an awesome concept!

I never put too much thought into it, but I have been using a very similar model with my German students for most of the year. The shift in my classroom has taken the focus off of grades and points, and now my students are focusing on learning, collaborating, and real world application.

The days of typical vocabulary quizzes and assessments are over. My students are now doing projects and collaborative type assessments. My 2nd semester final is going to a web based project where my students create their own set of standards and guidelines, and they do a presentation on something of their choosing that they are interested in sharing with others (all in German of course!). Check out some of the presentations my German students have created so far this year by clicking the German 2 and German 3 tabs on my Herr Tarte blog!

The most important takeaway I got from Dave's blog post is to simply step back and think about...

                                      what are we really focusing on...?

If we are not focusing on learning, developing social and collaborative skills, real world application, and giving students autonomy and say in their education, then we as Educators need to make some adjustments. We need to help create an environment that supports student driven learning. We need to tell our students it's okay to focus on the learning, and to take a risk even if it means not getting the correct answer the first time. We need our students to be excited and enthusiastic about learning...not stressed or frustrated because they are worried about getting a bad grade.

What's your focus as an Educator? What are you doing to align your foci with your instructional and professional practices...? What are you doing that goes against the traditional norms of education to have more of an impact on your students...? I can't wait to hear how you are making a difference!     

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Will I see you in 5 years...?

With all the educational reform talk, there is one particular issue that doesn't get as much attention as others. I have heard about this being an issue at the administrative level, but I have not heard too much talk about it at the teacher level.

Imagine for a moment that you and your family have a favorite restaurant with fantastic food and service. Lately, however the service and food have been sub-par at best. You begin to start thinking about the reasons for the decline in service and taste. Without knowing too much about the situation, I would be willing to bet that the restaurant has had some recent personnel changes, and turnover has been on the rise.

Mark Wagoner
Just like in any organization or system, when there are people constantly coming and going it can be difficult to provide a constant and steady level of service. Though I don't operate any organizations, I believe that personnel and turnover issues are one of the most important factors in the overall effectiveness of an organization...

There is a crisis we are facing in schools, and it's not just limited to the drop out rate of high school students. Almost 50% of teachers entering the educational profession will leave within the first 5 years. I personally don't see this number being accurate in my particular high school, but if this number is accurate on a larger scale, then there is a monumental problem that we have got to address if we want to improve education.

If Educators are cycling in and out of schools at close to a 50% rate every 5 years, how can we possibly formulate strong relationships with our colleagues? How can we develop a true district or building culture that represents all of the stakeholders? How can we constantly provide a high level of education for our students when half of us won't be there at the end of 5 years?

We have all heard of Educators leaving education because of increased accountability, difficult working conditions, low pay, layoffs, too much paperwork, and many other reasons. What we don't hear very often is what districts and schools are doing to keep Educators in the profession of education. This is where the power of the PLN comes in... :)    

Please continue this discussion by sharing what your school or district is doing to keep new Educators in the profession of education. In particular, what programs or initiatives are being implemented to help ease the transition through an Educator's first 5 years of teaching. Also, what suggestions do you have for anyone wanting to establish an Educator growth and development plan focusing on teacher retention?

Thank you in advance for taking the time to read and comment on this pressing issue.

Additional reading: Public Education Faces a Crisis in Teacher Retention

Monday, April 11, 2011

Don't silence them...empower them

Something that has been happening a lot lately in the blogosphere has really got me excited; challenges... From Pernille Ripp's (@4thGrdTeach) 10 picture house tour challenge, Katie Hellerman's (@theteachinggame) connection challenge, Cale Birk's (@birklearns) 10 picture school tour challenge, Larry Fliegelman's (@fliegs) #APR13 challenge, to my very own challenge...I am feeling the energy!

This is so awesome that we are able to get such a great group of Educators assembled to blog about information that will ultimately enhance our ability to share and collaborate.

To continue the streak of challenges, I wish to offer up one more challenge:

Whether you are a classroom teacher, a building administrator, or a district level administrator, I challenge you to relinquish some of your control in an effort to empower and develop those around you...

As a classroom teacher: Empower your students by giving them a choice in how they do their next big project. Allow your students to teach a concept to the class during your next unit. Ask your students for feedback on how you could improve upon a lesson or assessment. Ask your students to grade themselves on a set of standards of their own choosing. Take time to discuss issues surrounding education, and ways the students think it could be improved; it's their education after all...    

As a building administrator: Encourage your staff to take part in developing a school wide vision. Empower your staff by asking them for feedback on current initiatives and programs being implemented. Pull several staff members (teachers & support staff) in your office and talk frankly about where they think the school is headed. Give your staff members more control and autonomy over their own growth and development. Be more of a facilitator, rather than an outspoken leader during meetings...

As a district level administrator: Develop building level administrators by inviting them to take part in district level discussions. Encourage and request both building administrators and teachers to assist in developing and refining the district wide vision. Ask staff members how they think the district could improve overall effectiveness. Provide students and parents the opportunity to provide suggestions and constructive feedback. Take time to visit classrooms and spend some time speaking with students about their experiences in the school district...  

I really like the picture on this blog post. Of course, the dog could pull the kid and exert its dominance, but what would that prove? We all know the dog could and would win, but does that do anything for the little guy learning how to walk and handle a dog? Absolutely not. It's time to relinquish control...

So, please accept this challenge and empower those around you to reach new heights...give them a voice and a say when it comes to their education and/or their livelihood. I feel very confident that you will see a marked difference in your students and staff sooner rather than later. If you have time I would love for you to share your experience in a blog post, but if not I completely understand. A simple tweet about your experience would suffice. :)

Good luck and enjoy watching those around you develop and grow!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My House - 10 Picture Tour

Pernille Ripp (@4thGrdTeach) has challenged us to continue sharing more about our lives in an effort to establish and grow our relationships. Here are 10 pictures of my house. Enjoy!

This is our house. We moved in December 2007, and I think we are the only people in our subdivision without kids :)

Here is the deck behind our house. If you notice, there are two bird feeders hanging from the deck...they have been removed since this photo. The lady of house didn't enjoy the occasional white deposits by the birds...

Here is my butterfly garden of which I am so very proud. Doesn't look like this right now, but I am hoping it will bounce back after a long winter!

Speaking of is a picture of Maddy on the deck after some snow. She really enjoys playing in the snow!

Here is the family hanging out on the driveway after a BBQ!

Here is a picture of our kitchen.

Here is a picture of our living room.

Here is a picture of our computer room. This is where the serious blogging and tweeting occur!

Here are 4 bird eggs in the wreath on our front door. I can't wait to take pictures of the new baby fledglings!

This is a random picture of Maddy in our living room when she was smaller. Sometimes I wish we could go back to the days when she was not quite so big :)

Thanks to Pernille Ripp for suggesting this great idea. I look forward to seeing your 10 pictures too!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

It's all about sustainable momentum...

I think Educators in the Twitterverse and Blogosphere have done a great job of sharing how Twitter and blogging can be great tools for personal and professional growth. Consequently, I think we are doing a good job of spreading the word and getting new non-twittering and blogging Educators involved.

I do however have a concern. For every Educator that starts tweeting or blogging, I feel as if we have lost another Educator who just got started but was not able to keep up the momentum. Too often I see blogs with 3 or 4 posts, and then zilch...too often I see Twitter accounts with 50 -100 tweets, then more zilch...

Why are some Educators able to get going and maintain momentum while others start strong only to fade away?

When we are sharing the benefits of social media should we be targeting a particular kind of Educator...? Are some Educators with certain characteristics more inclined to embrace social media than others?

So often I think we are concentrating on the benefits of using Twitter and blogging, but I think we tend to forget some of the struggles we may have had in our Twitter and blogging infancies.

How can we continue to encourage Educators to use and embrace social media as a professional growth tool, while recognizing we will have to at some point in time reach a critical mass to keep moving forward?

How can we help those Educators new to the Twitterverse and Blogosphere so as to make sure they do not get frustrated or feel left out?

It is my hope that with this blog post we can start a conversation around not just sharing the power of Twitter and blogging, but to focus on ways we can sustain and bolster those Educators who have taken the leap into the Twitterverse and Blogosphere...

What would you add to this conversation?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My "10 picture tour"

Cale Birk (@birklearns) recently wrote a great post titled, "My 10 picture tour." The more I thought about this post, the more I realized what a great idea it was. So often we make connections with members of our PLN, but we really have no idea what their school or work environment looks like. I think this is an excellent way to help Educators really get to know each other, which in turn can only improve our sharing and collaboration.

I couldn't write this post without mentioning Katie Hellerman (@theteachinggame). Katie has challenged us to take our "digital" relationships to the next level, and I believe this is definitely a step in the right direction!

Enjoy my "10 picture tour!"

This is where the magic happens...this is my room (yes that's a German flag on the back wall).

This is my desk. "Power lunch" takes place here every day with @JPPrezz.

Here is the main lobby of Seckman High School; I have duty here every Friday morning.

This is where I stand for my Friday afternoon parking lot duty; I actually really enjoy it!

This is my desk...I am trying to talk my principal @mrgrimshaw into giving me a "tweethour" :)

This is where my students spend roughly 20% of their the LMC with @thompson_shs.

This is a school beautification project we completed last year; over 40 kiddos on a Saturday morning helped out...I was impressed!

Here is the main office at Seckman High School.

This is the hallway that leads to the gyms.

This is the main entrance to Seckman High School

Take some time and snap a few pictures of your school or work place. I look forward to seeing your "10 picture tour."

Monday, April 4, 2011

My challenge to you...

Larry Fliegelman (@fliegs) is doing another blogging challenge for the month of April; the #Apr13 blogging challenge. Larry's commitment and dedication to blogging, sharing and collaborating with others are uncontested. Larry has been doing an excellent job of encouraging Educators to share, learn and explore as a collaborative group.

Jeff Delp (@azjd) recently wrote a great blog post titled, You Call that Innovative?!, which talks about his school's journey toward "blended learning." Jeff also mentions how a lot of great Educators are doing similar practices already in their respective classrooms and schools, but there are others who might be completely unaware or are still trying to catch up. Jeff ends his post with a home run..."our best chance at true innovation is through collaboration."

Shelly Terrell (@shellterrell) recently finished her 30 goals for 2011 challenge. This was an awesome "call to action" for Educators in both their personal and professional lives. Shelly is consistently at the forefront of motivation and inspiration. We are all better Educators (and humans for that matter!) because of Shelly's willingness to share and collaborate.

All 3 of these great Educators are doing their part by encouraging, by modeling and energizing the educational base. They are leading by example, and they exemplify the open, transparent and collaborative nature we need in education to continue progressing.

My challenge to you is simple:

- blog about something awesome you are doing in your school or district!
- share a positive story about education to someone who doesn't work in education!
- tweet about an activity that went perfectly in your class!
- send the link to an awesome website to one of your colleagues!
- explore potential solutions with a teacher you know is struggling!
- invite your departmental colleagues to an afternoon share session at a local establishment!
- set a goal for yourself to share at least one piece of information a day that could help teachers!
- ask your administration to give you time to discuss & collaborate at your next faculty meeting!
- start a departmental / school blog where Educators can share their ideas and best practices!
- ask a colleague about something he/she is doing that is going very well...ignite the fire!

Most importantly...never forget the power of sharing & collaboration;

 None of us is as smart as all of us.  ~Ken Blanchard

Friday, April 1, 2011

I am an Educational Blogger...

I started my blogging journey in the summer of 2010, and I really wasn't sure what I expected to get out of blogging. Chris McGee (@cmcgee200) is an Educator for whom I have a great deal of respect, and since he was blogging and encouraging me to do the same, I figured there had to be some kind of benefit to blogging. At the time, I had no idea of the role that blogging would start to play in my life...

- blogging is now something that I look forward to...
- sharing my experiences & thoughts through blogging have been instrumental in my growth...
- blogging has improved my writing skills...
- blogging allows me to be a part of the larger educational discussion going on around the world
- blogging makes me think twice about some of the things I am doing as an Educator...
- blogging has given me a diverse and broad audience to communicate and share with...
- my blog posts have helped Educators from around the world to reflect and grow...(I hope)
- blogging has helped me be a more well-rounded Educator...

In an effort to share the power of blogging for Educators I asked members of my PLN and the Twitterverse to share what they think is their most influential and most important blog post. I would consider this list to be a "best of the best" kind of list, and I would encourage you to take some time to check out some of these awesome posts:

More than 90 Educators share their "best..."

Please feel free to add to the list if you come across a great blog post, or if you have one to add yourself.