Monday, June 27, 2011

The value of a PLN...

Today I had the wonderful opportunity to Skype with Dwight Carter's administrative team, and I must admit that they definitely didn't disappoint! I have been following Dwight's blog and twitter feed for about a year now, and I very much so appreciate him taking the time to organize his administrative team to speak with me. If this is not a testament of the power of a PLN, then I don't know what is...

Reflection being a crucial and essential quality of any great Educator, I feel it is necessary to share the main points from our discussion:

- Discipline is not about punishing students; it's about changing behaviors and helping students to learn and grow...

- Using faculty meetings to share and celebrate the great things going on in your school is much more effective and productive than simply disseminating information that can be shared through email...

- It would be a mistake to not recognize the vital and essential contributions of support staff; they ultimately make the school go round...

- Establishing and growing strong relationships with colleagues and students will always be the most important thing you do...

- We all need time away from the job; do yourself and everyone around you a favor by having a healthy non-professional life...

- Getting into the classrooms to see the awesome things going on in your school will pick you up on your down days, and even more importantly, students and teachers love it...

- Whatever you do...have fun and make sure humor is a daily part of your life...take a moment to laugh :)

I would also like to thank Lyn Hilt (@l_hilt) for skyping with me last week, as she also provided some great advice and insights.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

10 videos that WILL ignite a discussion - Part 5

This is part 5 of the "videos that WILL ignite a discussion" series. I have been using these videos during PD sessions, as well as during Power Lunch sessions to spur discussion and reflection. As Educators, it is crucial that we are constantly in a state of reflection and evaluation, and with the help of these videos Educators are able to engage in thoughtful and productive conversation. Please take a moment to check out the videos in Part 1Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 as well. Thank you and enjoy!

1) - Motivation - Be great, powerful beyond measure

2) - TEDxASB by Scott McLeod (@mcleod)

3) - The squirrel rights song

4) - Positive discipline

5) - Why blog? by David Truss (@datruss)

6) - Smile or die

7) - Social media revolution 2011

8) - Best practices in social networking for educators by Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal)

9) - Change agent

10) - The 21st century learner

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Character, digital citizenship & autonomy in schools...

I will be presenting at the 17th annual Character Education Conference in St. Louis, MO this week. I am extremely fortunate because I will be presenting with two great Educators; J.P. Prezzavento and Chris McGee. They were both instrumental in preparing this excellent presentation on character, digital citizenship & autonomy in 21st century schools. Though each of these topics are worthy of their own individual presentation, we aim to show the connectedness of all 3 themes and how they all overlap. It is our hope to inform, empower, and show Educators that we can achieve the principles of character through proper digital citizenship and student autonomy. Comments are welcome, enjoy!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What does this mean...?
We are all aware of the discussions surrounding education reform and ways we can improve education. These discussions can be both energizing and demoralizing. These discussions have divided our society on how and why we should be changing our educational system. I don't have any intentions of addressing any of these issues in this blog post, but I do however want to share some numbers with you.

365 days per year / 24 hrs per day / 1,440 mins per day

Students spend 13 years in school from age 0-18

Age 0-18 / 365 days * 18 years = 6,570 total days alive

6,570 days * 1,440 minutes per day = 9,460,800 total minutes alive from age 0-18

350 minutes per day in a classroom for 180 days per year (total 13 years in school)

350 minutes per day * 180 days per year = 63,000 minutes in a classroom per year

13 years in school * 63,000 minutes per year = 819,000 total minutes in a classroom

819,000 total classroom minutes / 9,460,000 total minutes alive = 8.7%

If my math and calculations are correct, it would seem that from the age of 0-18, the average student in the United States will spend roughly 9% of his/her life in a classroom. That means 91% of a child's life from the age of 0-18 is NOT spent in a classroom. In my opinion, as an Educator and as a citizen of The United States, this is extremely pertinent information that is undoubtedly relevant when discussing the measures and the means of education reform.

What does this mean to you...?

For the love of learning...

Last night my wife and I had a great dinner with two of our friends. While the wives conversed, my buddy (@mrbrownhistory) and I inevitably ended up "talking shop" (he is in education as well), and as I reflected upon our conversation I was happy we did.

We were talking about new and innovative ways to restructure the classroom so more accountability and responsibility were placed on the shoulders of students. We envisioned a classroom where students and their journey toward their own individualized learning were the focus. We envisioned a classroom where the teacher was no longer the center of attention, and the role of the teacher became more of a guide or facilitator. We envisioned a classroom that didn't just focus on content, but used content as a way to enhance and develop transferable skills that would put more relevancy into education. We envisioned a lot...
Then, this morning I read this great post by @stevemiranda, titled "The students who were happy when I handed them a textbook." This post describes a scenario where students were unresponsive and disillusioned at best when it came to learning...unless they were given explicate directions for bookwork and worksheets. This is something I personally have experienced and blogged about in my post titled, "How do you define learning?"

In the Twitterverse and Blogosphere it is nothing new to talk about more individualized learning and autonomy in the classroom, but that's not enough. We know many students will thrive in an environment where they have more say and control over their learning, but we can't ignore or forget about those students who have had the love of learning beaten out of them. We can't forget about those students who don't know how to learn on their own. We can't ignore the fact that as many students get older and progress through the educational system they get more reliant upon us to provide each and every step for them.

Most importantly, we can't forget or ignore the fact that for every student we prepare for a 19th or 20th century world, we are robbing them of the opportunity to be successful in the 21st century world in which we currently live. Children love learning the moment they are born, and at some point in time that love of learning is stolen from them. Let's do our best and make sure we keep that passion and love of learning alive and strong, and help those who have lost it, find it again...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

My 10 goals as a 1st year administrator...

Over the last couple of weeks I have been utilizing the power of my PLN to garner advice and feedback as I begin my transition into the role of an administrator. I am completely humbled and amazed at the level of support and encouragement I have received. This is a true testament to the commitment and dedication so many Educators have to improving education. Check out these amazing comments on my "The Journey Continues" post, and also check out this entire blog post, "Advice to New Administrators" by @hatcherelli.

Even though my assistant principal journey has already begun, I won't officially start until July 20th, which fortunately gives me some time for my "list." As all great Educators do, I feel it is important to outline some personal goals and aspirations. This list of 10 goals will be on my desk as a daily reminder of what I am aiming to accomplish:

1) - I will help to create a shared vision for students, staff and community members. I will take the time to gather input and knowledge from as many stakeholders as possible.

2) - I will utilize my supervisory time to build and establish relationships with students and staff. I will talk with students and staff and ask them about their lives in a sincere and caring manner. I will take an active interest in learning as much as I can about them.
3) - I will have high expectations for students, staff and myself. I will help to empower others to take control of their own learning and development by establishing an environment built on accountability and responsibility.

4) - I will support and encourage those with whom I work. I will work to embrace a sharing and collaborative school culture that takes risks in an effort to do great things.

5) - I will listen more than I talk. I will use my two ears more than I use my one mouth, and I will try to learn as much as I can from others. I will make it a priority to get into classrooms to observe on a daily basis, and I will learn by listening and observing.

6) - I will communicate with and involve parents and community stakeholders as often as possible. I will work with teachers and staff to keep parents informed and up-to-date with what is going on in our school through the use of weekly newsletters, our school website and social media outlets.

7) - I will share the power of my PLN with my colleagues. I will take the time to meet with anyone interested in learning more about using social media as a means toward professional growth. I will model being a lifelong learner for both students and staff.

8) - I will base every decision I make on what is best for students. It is difficult to not get caught up in everything that is going on, but I will make every effort to put students and their needs first.

9) - I will have a healthy balance between my professional and personal life. Though I anticipate the high level of time commitment required for this job, I do not want my job to consume my entire life. My family, friends and colleagues will all benefit from this healthy balance.

10) - I will figure out a way to get in the classrooms to teach. If this means working out a schedule to teach a class so a teacher can observe another teacher, or if this means just giving a teacher a break so I can teach, then so be it. I love teaching and I am sure I will miss it; plus, it's a great way to model effective instructional strategies for younger teachers.

What goals would you add...?


Thursday, June 9, 2011

What my students taught me...

If you are a regular reader of my blog you know I will be leaving the classroom and continuing my career in education as an assistant principal. I am excited about this transition and I look forward to continuing my growth as an Educator. As you might also know, I firmly believe in the practice of daily reflection, and as such I will draw upon my experiences as a classroom teacher to aid in the transition toward my first principalship. Here are 10 very important lessons I have learned from my awesome and amazing students:

1) - When you think you have a student figured out and you know exactly how to deal with him/her, they will surprise you and make you question how you ever thought you had them figured out.

2) - The more you try to control your students the less control you actually have. Empowering and giving autonomy are far more effective than a totalitarian approach.
3) - Building and establishing strong relationships with your students is absolutely ESSENTIAL if you truly want to positively affect their lives and have an everlasting impact.

4) - If a student treats you like dirt and says something completely unimaginable, you have to remember they most likely really don't mean it on a personal level. There are so many influences in a child's life, and to take everything they say or do personally would be a mistake; keep things in perspective.

5) - Education has very little to do with me, and has everything to do with our students. The focus should not solely be on what I am doing, but rather it should be on what I am doing and how it is affecting our students.

6) - As Educators, we will have good days and bad days. Don't ignore the bad days, but don't dwell on them either. When you have a great day it is important to recognize it, but don't think one great day will last forever. We need to prove ourselves day in and day out.

7) - That small little conversation that didn't mean much to you meant the world to a student. Don't ever forget this!

8) - You are always being watched and evaluated. Nothing you do will ever go unnoticed. Be the positive role-model and example you wish to see in your students.

9) - Students don't want to be told what to do all the time, but they do want to be guided and pulled in the right direction. Great Educators are able to walk the fine line between giving too much, and not giving enough.

10) - Sometimes you just need to take a step back and laugh about what just happened. Not everything needs to be so serious and intense all the time; make time to have fun and "keep it real."

Friday, June 3, 2011

Rethinking school discipline...

At the start of next school year I will be embarking on my first assistant principalship. I have observed lots of current assistant principals and I have spoken with even more; a big part of the assistant principal's job is to handle discipline.

As a German teacher for 6 years, I recall only having to write up (give a referral) to 7 students. That's not bad, a little more than 1 per year! I also recognize that I had some really awesome students who ELECTED to take my class. No students were being forced to learn German from the crazy guy with blond hair who used fly swatters in class.

As my role changes next year, I have been doing a lot of thinking about how to handle discipline, as well as what my discipline philosophy is. As a classroom teacher I never wanted to write a student up unless it was absolutely necessary. I felt that if I wrote a student up I was "passing the buck" and ultimately missing out on an opportunity to build a stronger and more positive relationship with that student.

On the other hand, I know some teachers who don't hesitate to write a student up because they feel it is the principal's job to handle discipline issues, not the teacher's job. Then there are those teachers who want the "book" both literally and figuratively thrown at some students, and if the book doesn't work they want the "hammer" dropped with King Leonidas from the movie 300 type force.

Now, I know there are certain circumstances and situations where the book and hammer need to be deployed, but how many times do we see the same students over and over getting the same kind of discipline repeatedly? If the discipline consequences didn't work and were ineffective the first 3 times then it might work the 4th time right, I think not! Treating students and school discipline as "black and white" scenarios just doesn't seem to be working...

If a student skips school we probably shouldn't give the kid out-of-school suspension for 3 days. If a student is late to class or unprepared we probably shouldn't put the kid in in-school-suspension for 3 days. I know these scenarios seem funny, but they are happening ALL THE TIME in our schools.

Too often I think our discipline policies are reactive, rather than putting structures and steps in place to be proactive. Additionally, I find there needs to be a healthy balance of teacher/administrator collaboration on ways to address discipline in an educational setting. I also think we are working in isolation too often, when in fact we need to be working together to help out some of our most needy students. EVERYBODY IS ON THE SAME TEAM!

Yesterday I read this great article titled, "More schools rethinking zero-tolerance discipline stand," which led me to writing this post. Perhaps I am being naive and I don't fully understand what it means to be a disciplinarian, but there is a tiny part of me who thinks we might be missing a great opportunity to help those students who really need us the most by "rethinking" the ways we address discipline.

I look forward to your comments! 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Savvy School Leader: Part 2

This is part 2 of the book, "Seven Secrets of the Savvy School Leader," by Robert Evans. You can find part 1 here. I highly recommend this book for anyone currently in or aspiring to be in a school leadership position. The book is relevant, applicable and provides some excellent examples of ways to improve and handle school leadership.

The Fourth Secret: Bite off what you can chew

"Savvy leaders work hard in the service of their goals but they know that there is a large-and widening-gap between ideals and needs on the one hand, and realities and resources on the others."

"High-performing systems show that their leaders provide direction that is clear, strong, and unambivalent-not dictatorial, but definite."

"A leader's vision is the magnetic north that sets the compass course; the leader must be at the forefront of framing the change and making it comprehensible."

"Leaders of successful organizations target their energies, centering their time and effort on a short list of key issues, even if this means ignoring others."

"Savvy leaders do for teachers what the best teachers do for students; they make it safe to try, they honor effort, and they celebrate meaningful growth, small and large, whenever it occurs."

The Fifth Secret: Be your best, bold self

"Savvy leaders invite and inspire followers by clarifying their commitments and maximizing their strengths, by being the best of who they are."

"Savvy leaders know that exceptional organizational performance requires assertive leadership, not pleasing everyone."

"Savvy leaders avoid the bloated vision and mission rituals that predominate in schools and build instead a true, shared sense of purpose."

"They provide a binary leadership that is both top-down and bottom-up. They garner support, build coalitions, inspire commitment, and help school communities deepen the commitment on which improvement depends."

"Savvy leaders know it is always easier to build on a strength than to attack a weakness."

The Sixth Secret: Nourish to flourish

"In one way or another, virtually every successful school leader has been a good "recognizer." (Recognition means "praise" and "validation")

"Savvy leaders know intrinsic rewards such as having exciting work, seeing students achieve, and fulfilling competently a task one views as important, are consistently more powerful engines of performance than salary."

"Savvy leaders recognize that if we truly want schools to become learning organizations, their leaders and the people to whom their leaders answer, need to avoid perfectionism, to see some level of error as inevitable in an endeavor as complex as schooling."

"The way to make sure that recognition is effective is to make sure it is authentic; a savvy leader gives specific examples of specific people doing specific things or grappling with specific challenges."

"The behaviors and habits that lead to progress and to exemplary performance can't simply be demanded; they have to be fostered. Savvy leaders know that no school can flourish unless everyone in it, not just its students, is well nourished."

The Seventh Secret: From savvy to wise; look out for number one

"Savvy leaders have learned that you must take care of yourself so that you can take care of others, that if you only give to others without giving to yourself you will eventually give out."

"Balance, that is, involves not just making choices at work regarding which tasks deserve priority and which can be delegated, but making choices about work, about how much of oneself will be invested in the work itself."

"Savvy leaders practice assessing where they are, not just in terms of where they wish to get but also in terms of where they started and the constraints upon them."

"Leaders need to seek out occasions when they can gather as peers to share their own recognition, acknowledgment, and feedback."

"Savvy leaders acknowledge that their own lives are more than just their work, noble though it is, and that their lives, including their work, are journeys; works in progress, and that so too are the lives of their teachers and students."

Check out the first 3 secrets here.