Thursday, January 29, 2015

How long before administrators lose touch with the realities of the classroom?


Known as the instructional leaders and the lead learners in their respective buildings.

Typically, these individuals have demonstrated superior skills in the classroom and have been able to take their students to levels of learning that others weren't able to do.

These former teachers have been able to compete with countless other teachers to convince a panel of interviewers that they would be the best candidate to lead a building.

As many know, administrators are charged with managing the day-to-day operations of the school and are responsible for all the students and staff within the building.

A big part of an administrator's job is to evaluate and grow the personnel with whom he/she works. Specifically, helping to improve classroom instruction in the hopes of improving student learning.

Administrators provide their teachers guidance, feedback and suggestions on how to improve student learning.

They critique and judge teacher performance on a daily basis which no doubt is followed by recommendations for improvement.

But, here's the question...

How long does it take before administrators lose touch with the realities of the classroom?

We all would probably agree that the longer an administrator is removed from the classroom, the less they 'remember' about the classroom and the less they are able to sympathize with the plight of the everyday teacher.

But, on the flip side, administrators are able to see countless teachers teach and countless lessons on any given day. Some of these lessons succeed with flying colors while some burn in a blaze of glory.

Naturally, all these classroom visits surely help an administrator's eye when it comes to knowing good learning vs. poor learning.

Also, does it really take a trained eye to know when good learning is happening? It doesn't take an educational expert to know when kids are learning vs. when they aren't, right?

But, it's much more than just knowing when good learning is happening... it's what happens when good learning isn't observed and there is a follow-up conversation with a teacher on how to improve.

On the other hand, how could an administrator ever truly know what a teacher is going through if they haven't been in their shoes in quite some time?

In closing, are administrators who are freshly out of the classroom better at evaluating teachers since they are recently removed? Or, are these new administrators stuck in their offices dealing with school discipline while the more senior administrator, who is further removed from the classroom, handles most of the classroom observations?

Curios to hear your thoughts on this topic...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

#Leadership: If everyone is happy, then you're not doing it right...

So, we've all heard the saying or a variation before...

'If somebody isn't upset with you, then you must not be doing anything.'

Leadership is one of those things that a lot of people think they are good at and think they understand. The reality is, leadership is wildly complex and is much easier said, than properly done.

By no means do I claim to be a leadership expert, but I do find the topic to be quite interesting and something of a hobby of mine.

Back to that saying we all know too well...

So, is it true that if somebody isn't talking behind your back and questioning your judgement, then you must not be doing much?

I think there is a little truth to this saying, but like many things, I don't believe it's the whole truth.

Here's the deal... sure, if you aren't a mover and a shaker and if you aren't the type of person to question what somebody says and aren't willing to hold those with whom you work accountable, you might be able to keep the masses happy.

By avoiding difficult decisions and by failing to clearly outline your expectations and beliefs, you are able to skate around the 'responsibility' target which can keep the bullseye off your back.

However, I think this will keep most folks happy... but not all. And perhaps 'happy' isn't the right word, because I honestly feel those folks have been lulled into a sense of complacency and contentedness.

The folks who are looking to leave their mark and make an impact, won't be happy with this type of 'hands-off' leadership. These folks are looking for a leader with a vision who has the backbone to step up and take the organization to the next level. These folks thrive on progress and thrive on questing the status quo. These folks will overtime become quite frustrated with a laissez-faire approach and will eventually seek employment elsewhere.

Here's the flip side though... if everyone is upset, then chances are you are doing too much and trying to micromanage everything.

Like many things, leadership requires a balance and that balance is constantly in flux. Make no mistake... leadership is much easier said, than properly done.

So, what do you think?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Which content area do most administrators teach prior to entering administration?

I recently did some informal data collection in regard to which content area current administrators taught prior to entering administration. I simply used a Google Form to send a few tweets out asking for feedback and input. I also sent out a few emails to administrators I know who may not be actively using Twitter to help spread the word. Overall, I received 316 total responses from current practicing administrators.

Here are the results of the survey:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

What if I'm doing #education all wrong?

I read an article recently that really got me thinking about my approach and beliefs toward education.

I consider myself to be rather confident and strong in my resolve when it comes to what I believe is best for kids, but this article just resurfaced some thoughts that have been circulating for quite some time.

The article is titled 'Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results' and was published in Sept. of 2013.

The article shares the story of Mr. K, a beloved music instructor who passed away a few years ago. Mr. K's impact on his students was celebrated and remembered as former students flew from all over the world to attend his funeral and pay their respects.

Then, the article takes an approach that I really appreciated. Instead of focusing on what we as educators are doing wrong, it instead focuses on what Mr. K did right to positively affect so many of his students and prepare them to lead successful lives.

But, here are the types of lines in the article where I began to struggle...

'Mr. K basically tortured us through adolescence.'

'It's time to revisit old-fashioned education.'

'Strict discipline, unyielding demands...'

And entire paragraphs like this:

Here's the deal... as I read the article, I found myself disagreeing with many of the points the author was making about Mr. K's proven and time-tested strategies to successfully impact student learning.

Many of the so-called time-tested and proven strategies being praised in this article fly in the face of change I've been working for my entire education career.

I've advocated for and passionately shared with any who will listen my beliefs on increasing empathy and understanding in our schools.

I've carried the flag on dismantling any belief that 'drill and kill' is the way to student success and that simple rote memorization of facts is merely preparing our kids for a world that no longer exists.

I've pushed for sweeping change in regard to the old-fashioned way of education in lieu of a more nimble and progressive approach to student learning based on the demands of a 21st century society.

I blog about and tweets things that probably make Mr. K roll over in his grave.

But, what if Mr. K was right in his approach?

What if what I've committed myself to is only making things worse?

What if my solutions to improve and positively affect education are actually working against what is best for kids?

What if I'm doing #education all wrong...?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why good teachers don't quit...

Back in Oct. of 2013, the te@chthought blog shared a blog post written by Kay Bisaillon titled, 'Why Good Teachers Quit.' The article is well written and for all intensive purposes, went viral. With over 128,000 likes on Facebook, it's safe to say it struck a chord with many.

A few things before I begin though...

Terry Heick is a phenomenal education mind and has one of the best blogs out there.

Also, the content of the 'Why Good Teachers Quit' blog post is absolutely 100% correct. Teaching is a tough job and it's not for the faint of heart. Working in education is not what it used to be, and it's most certainly becoming more difficult and complex. The education system has placed both purposefully and unintentionally restraints on educators which have profoundly affected their ability to create conditions for students to learn and maintain personal and professional satisfaction.

I'd also like to make note that this isn't about 'good' teachers vs. 'bad' teachers... this is an education issue.

Having said that, I'd like to present the other side of the coin because there are countless teachers who have elected not to quit and have continued to let the positives outweigh the negatives, and their story needs to be told:

Sure, what we know about teaching and how students learn best, seem to be a constantly moving target. This new information takes time to master and takes time to fully implement and put into practice. But, these teachers view being on the cutting edge of new pedagogy and new brain research as something exciting for their students. They view living in a day and age where we know more about learning than we ever have in the history of mankind as game changing. These teachers thrive in this changing world of uncertainty.

Yes, teachers and the education system are under a seemingly unyielding attack from people from all walks of life. This hurts and this stings because we all work hard and we all believe in what we are doing. Having said that, these teachers view this constant barrage of criticism as an opportunity to repair and fix education-community relations. They view what they do every single day as an opportunity to rewrite the story and change the hearts of those who are misinformed.

Is the work-life balance shifting, yes, it is, but it's not just limited to the field of education. Technology has made working outside of work much easier, but in the same breath, the lines of work-life are becoming increasingly blurred because it's hard to honestly separate the two. As educators, it's who we are and it's what we do. We don't and can't just turn off the 'educator' mentality. Of course, the grading and paperwork and stuff that can't be done during the day sometimes comes home with us, but it's becoming increasingly rare to find a job that ends at 4 p.m. The important work teachers are doing has no bounds.

There are also teachers who work in schools where they have a supportive administration that is committed to protecting them from all the nonsense that seems to permeate throughout schools all across the globe. These teachers feel protected and comfortable speaking up about issues that impact and affect them and they are a part of a collaborative culture where teamwork is highly prized.

And most importantly, there are teachers who don't quit because they understand and appreciate the awesome responsibility and opportunity they have to literally change the world and make it a better place for those living and those who've yet to join us. These teachers realize that for many young kids the only chance they have is the door opened by an education. They also realize that if they aren't the ones in schools helping these students, then who will? Lastly, they realize this isn't somebody else's problem... this is an all of us kind of problem.

Sure, we are losing some good teachers and some not so good teachers due the changing landscape of education. But, we've also been retaining some great educators within our ranks, and the last time I checked an open teaching position in my district, there's no shortage of highly qualified candidates looking to impact the world...

Saturday, January 17, 2015

10 steps our district took to make a grading shift:

Over the last two years there has been quite a lot of work done in my district in regard to grading beliefs and grading practices. As a result, our HS and MS have both recently agreed upon these 4 beliefs on grading. This process has taken time and hasn't happened overnight. Here is the process we've used to get where we are:

1). Our district professional development blog: 

Every Monday our superintendent sends out the Monday Morning Memo. In this email to all staff members in the district (including classified and support staff), we highlight and focus on a particular theme or topic. We've used the MMM to share information and videos in regard to shifting grading beliefs as a way to 'ease' into this conversation and shift. By doing this, we've built up awareness and acknowledgement that grading practices are something we need to be thinking about.

2). Our district professional development days:

We've been fortunate to have the flexibility and autonomy to use the Edcamp model as part of our district professional development days. By doing this we've encouraged and provided a platform for folks who are interested in talking more about grading practices. By not forcing this conversation on any one individual, more and more folks have had natural and organic conversations about grading shifts, and the hostility of another mandate has been avoided.

3). Conferences and professional development events:

We also identified a few select folks throughout the district who were interested in this topic and we nurtured and groomed them to be the champions of a grading shift in their respective buildings. This included sending them to grading events and simply providing them resources and information on how to actually implement some of these grading shifts. These folks have been our pioneers so to speak.

4). Voluntary book study:

15 Fixes for Broken Grades, by Ken O'Connor, was a book study we did in our district. We had about 15 teachers volunteer to read this book and meet on a weekly basis to discuss. We even set up a Facebook page to discuss things between meeting dates that Ken O'Connor joined to answer questions and stimulate thought. From the district standpoint, all we did was purchase the books and get the first meeting date set.

5). We adjusted Board Policy:

As we discussed and evaluated how we could make these grading shifts a reality, it became clear that we needed to also review Board Policy. What we didn't want to happen was to have our teachers feel handcuffed and feel that they couldn't make these adjustments because they then would be in violation of Board Policy. Here is an example of how we changed our cheating policy to reflect what a student knows, and not the poor decision they made to cheat.

6). 2 day Rick Wormeli event:

We met with our calendar committee and were able to get things arranged so we could bring Rick out to speak with our entire teaching staff for a two-day event. This was money well spent and the results from the event were overwhelmingly positive which further encouraged us to keep pushing a shift in our grading practices and beliefs.

7). Teacher leadership team:

We had a secondary team of teachers, grades 7-12, meet and discuss the actual wording and presentation of these grading beliefs. In the end, we absolutely wanted to be able to say that these grading beliefs were created, designed, and written by our teachers. We didn't want this to be an administrative mandate forced on teachers.

8). Parent involvement at both our HS and MS:

Our HS has a parent committee and they have been discussing these grading shifts for most of this school year. This has provided support to our teachers and has brought many of our parents up to speed on why we are implementing these changes. Our MS has hosted parent grading nights for these shifts to be discussed and explained in an effort to share the 'why' and how we are doing this. We've found that our elementary teachers are already following these grading beliefs, so a majority of our focus has been on secondary, grades 7-12.

9). Voluntary book study:

In an effort to keep the momentum up and keep things going, we've got two different voluntary book studies happening. The first book is The Collected Writings (so far) by Rick Wormeli and the second book is Fair isn't Always Equal, which is also by Rick Wormeli. Once again, the district purchased these books for folks who are interested, and we've used these books as an avenue to keep conversations alive and keep the fires burning.

10). Still going!

We aren't as far as some districts and we surely aren't perfect, but we've made great strides in the past two years and we are proud of where we are. Looking forward to continuing the conversation and continuing the journey!

Check out a few related blog posts as well from our journey:

Is it time to eliminate extra credit in schools?

Is your gradebook supportive of learning?

Making that redo/retake policy actually work!

Accountability: Do we mean the same thing?

The crippling effects of homework in schools

Have summative assessments become obsolete?

Has finals week become antiquated and redundant?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Today's youth are so lazy & disrespectful...


I guess it would appear that today's youth are actually acting quite normal when compared to past generations...

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Am I less of an educator if I'm not an ADE or GCT?

If you work in education, you most likely know about the Apple Distinguished Educator and Google Certified Teacher programs. These programs are highly competitive and no doubt provide quite the learning experience and networking opportunities that all educators would certainly appreciate.

I know quite a few folks who have participated in these programs and I can count on one hand the number of folks who had something even remotely negative to say about the experience.

In short, people really seem to gain a lot and learn a lot from these experiences and the opportunities to connect with like-minded educators from around the world.

I myself am not an ADE or GCT.

Full disclosure, I've also never applied or attempted to be an ADE or GCT.

That's not to say I won't at some point, but at this time my educational journey hasn't yet led me there. It's not because I don't want to or wouldn't want to participate in an event that would allow me to travel to some distant city to learn with and alongside a group of passionate and innovative educators. I just haven't committed myself to trying for such a goal.

The folks who've participated in these programs are quite proud of their accomplishments. Not only were they accepted into these highly competitive and sought-after programs, but they are also now a part of an 'elite' group of educators.

But here's the thing...

I have an iPhone, an iPad and a MacBook Pro, and I consider myself to be somewhat knowledgeable about Apple products and how they can be used to expand and enhance learning opportunities.

I also have been a big part of moving my district toward being a GAFE district, which we are now in our 2nd year. I've been using Google related 'stuff' for several years and I'd like to think I'm somewhat knowledgeable of how to use Google's products in the educational setting.

But, because being an ADE and GCT is much more than just having devices and a Gmail account, I'd also like to think I see the big picture of education and how its role in society is constantly evolving and transforming. Additionally, I approach education as a platform of possibility and opportunity for students to work on and be a part of something special while simultaneously making the world a better place.

Now, make no mistake and please be quite clear here... this post isn't taking anything away from the ADE and GCT community. These folks are highly motivated and engaged learners and they are no doubt making positive dents in the universe. I applaud their efforts to be recognized as educators with a wide-range of skills and unique abilities who want to direct their energies toward helping kids.

However, I just want those folks who haven't yet taken the plunge (for whatever reason) to pursue the status as an ADE or GCT to know that their work matters and that they are more than capable of doing great things for kids too...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

When educators feel like what they do doesn't matter, just remember...

1 out of every 5 kids will never walk across the stage at their high school graduation in the United States:

In the US, the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced breakfast/lunch is just under 48%:

Most states in the US spend 200% or more per year on prisoners than they do on students:

Less than 20% of students in the US are enrolled in some type of foreign language class:

The average age of a school in the US is around 40 years old:

Almost 40% of schools in the US still don't have adequate and widespread WiFi access:

About 30% of teachers who start teaching will leave the field of education by their 5th year:

14%, or roughly 32 million American adults, can't read:

So, the next time you feel like you are spinning your wheels or feel like what you do doesn't matter and won't make a difference, keep some of these statistics in mind.

Your job isn't easy and the list of variables you can't control that make your job even more difficult is long.


You matter and what you do every single day with your students doesn't just make a little difference... it's makes THE difference.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

If you want change, then ignore the outliers...

So, imagine you've got an idea that's going to require change.

This new initiative affects quite a few people within your school or district, and fortunately, there are many folks who've been a part of the planning process, and the overall organization has reached a tipping point.

At this point in the change process, there are three groups of people:

There are folks who are invested in this change as they were a part of it from the inception.

There are also folks who just want to be guided and basically be told what to do as they are the rule followers.

Lastly, there are folks who will oppose any type of change regardless of whether it is good or not.

This type of situation has played out in schools and districts all across the globe countless times, and more often than not, this type of change tends to fail. Either the change never gets off the ground to begin with, or it doesn't endure and fizzles out slowly over the first few months.

I believe these change efforts fail to find success because we get bogged down thinking about, talking about, and worrying about the outlier and the 'exception' situations.

What I mean is once the conversation starts more often than not somebody speaks out about this one type of situation that happened this one time. Then another person speaks out about a situation that 'could' happen but has yet to ever happen before. And then another person remembers a time when this change was tried before and didn't work because it didn't meet the needs of everyone.

Here's what just happened... the conversation of change just died because people couldn't get past the rare outlier type situations that tend to bog us down and prevent us from focusing on the majority of situations that occur.

Specifically, the people who tend to oppose all change often are the outliers and 'exceptions.' And because they focused on the rare and sporadically occurring events, they managed to scare off and convince the folks on the fence to stick with comfort and what's always been done.

So, in closing, when you want successful and enduring change to occur, keep the focus on how this change will affect the majority of people in a majority of the situations. The outlier and unique situations are important, but if you let them become the focal point of the discussion from the beginning, you'll never see the change get off the ground.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The grading system our kids deserve...

I'm proud to say that my school district has been making great strides in regard to grading beliefs and grading practices. In particular, our HS and MS have really mustered up quite a bit of grading momentum. These grading shifts were born out of a Rick Wormeli visit to our district this past October and the example set forth by Matt Townsley's district in Iowa. After several revisions and a thorough vetting process, here is what our HS and MS believe about grading:
1. We believe that each student learns at a different pace and we believe that ‘when’ a kid learns isn’t nearly as important as ‘if’ a kid learns. Therefore, after working with their teacher, students will not be academically penalized for turning in work on an alternate date.

2. We believe students should be allowed multiple opportunities in various ways to demonstrate their understanding of classroom learning standards. Therefore, retakes will be encouraged and will be allowed after the relearn process for full credit in all content areas up until the last week of the quarter.

-       Since student learning is our top priority, retakes will be offered on all assessments. Before a student is able to retake an assessment, the student must first go through the ‘relearn’ process and complete a ‘relearn’ form. This is to ensure the student learns the appropriate material and improves his/her understanding before doing the retake. Even if a student did well on an assessment, they may choose to retake to further demonstrate their mastery.

-       All teachers will use the same relearn form for consistency purposes.

-       Time for students to do retakes will be built into the school day as well as offered before or after school if the teacher and student are both willing and able. We recognize that not all students are able to arrive early or stay late, so every effort will be made to make time for retakes during the school day.

-       Students are encouraged to maintain and practice proper study habits to limit the number of retakes needed.

-       If a student is routinely retaking assessments, the student’s teacher will meet with the student to determine a plan of action to improve student learning the first time around.

-       If a student struggles with just one particular part of an assessment, the teacher may elect to have the student only retake that specific part of the assessment.

-       Teachers may elect to use an alternative assessment or variation of the original assessment when doing retakes.

3. We believe a student’s grade should reflect what he/she actually knows and can demonstrate on a classroom assignment or assessment tied to specific learning standard(s). Therefore, extra credit will not be used.

4. We believe each student must acquire certain skills to be a successful citizen, however we also believe that a grade must reflect what a student knows and can demonstrate when it comes to specific academic learning standards. Therefore, non-academic indicators, such as simple classroom participation, behavior, work completion, attendance & other non-academic indicators, will not be included in a student’s academic grade. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

The longer I'm in #education the less I'm sure of...

Somebody recently put into words what I think I've been feeling lately.

I don't know exactly when this feeling started, but I think it's been happening for a few years now.

It's not a bad feeling and it's not negative, but it's a feeling that I still haven't grown completely comfortable with.

As I've worked through my education career, I've always considered myself to be confident and assured in my beliefs. Additionally, I've always felt like I knew where I stood and knew how I would respond to any education question I was asked.

Though not intended, this level of confidence surely came off as arrogance at times.

But then lately, that level of confidence has slipped.

I've spent more time questioning myself and I've spent more time second-guessing decisions that I've made than ever before.

When asked questions I tend to be slower in response and require more time to consider the options and variables that may affect my decision.

To be honest, I think it may not be a lack of confidence, but rather a constant battle of weighing my beliefs vs. what actually happens in the education system.

Perhaps it's an eternal episode of tug-of-war that's pulling me in multiple directions.

Ethical and moral decisions keeping me up at night that bounce my brain around like a ping pong ball.

The simplest situations are no longer simple and there's no such thing as a quick answer.

And then, a colleague for whom I have great respect, tweeted this out:

This pretty much sums up how I feel.

So I ask... is it possible to have seen so much and so many different sides of education that the simple and straight forward solution no longer exists?

Maybe it's an internal war that rages deep inside and shows no signs of waning...

Or maybe, it's just a case of Top Gun 'holding on too tight...'

Either way, it seems the more I learn about education, the less I feel that I actually know...

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A few things you can do to make 2015 great for your students

Commit to trying something new and different each and every week. Remember though, don't just do something new for the sake of doing something new. Figure out new and creative ways to accomplish the learning objectives and goals you've set forth for your students.

Give your students the opportunity to provide you feedback and input both formally and informally on a quarterly basis in regard to the learning they are experiencing in your class. Your students thrive on getting feedback and input as they progress through the learning journey, and you're no different. And since your students see you every single day, their perception and the reality of what's happening tend to be pretty accurate. Don't miss out on this great opportunity.

Have your students on a rotating basis pick a societal issue that is affecting them or is affecting others and spend time as a class making connections to that issue with your course content. Give your class a bigger purpose and meaning by making connections to issues that are affecting your students and people around the world. Think about the next time a student asks, 'why do we have to learn this...?'

Expect your students to do great work because when you have high expectations for your students, they are more likely to achieve those higher levels.

Infuse a healthy dose of empathy and tolerance into your daily regiment of learning. Life isn't always easy and school isn't the only thing happening in a student's life, so keeping this in mind will go a long way in developing rapport and trust with your students.

Approach your classroom as a powerful think tank and a breading ground for new and innovative ideas. The brain power that's available through our students is huge, so we need to be tapping into their thoughts and their beliefs as much as possible.

Approach your job as if you were a 'learning instigator' (thank you @mathphanaticwho uses questions, natural curiosity, and wonder to fuel the purpose and justification of what happens in your classroom. Ya, learning instigator... that's a pretty cool title!

Start 2015 off right by doing the #oneword activity with your students to make it publicly known what everyone will choose as their one word for the year. Also, do this yourself and commit to using this one word as your focal point for the year.

Here's to a great 2015!