mccoyderek

Supporting Our New Teachers

I’ve been meeting with our school based new teacher mentor about  planning impactful on-boarding experiences for our newest teachers, both to the profession and the building. This is her first year in the role and she wants to make sure she does a good job in supporting our newest game changers.

mentorDuring our last talk, I asked, beyond the normal paperwork and monthly meetings, what innovative things did she have planned for our new teachers? This conversation evolved into something wonderful. We all know the value of the gentle nudge, the right question that will inspire people to do move out of a routine pattern and think different. That’s what happened here. I don’t think our new teacher coach [and that’s the title I am giving her by the way] expected to be given a wide berth in this role. But that’s what I was asking for – extraordinary experiences to grow our new teachers.

We prefaced our list of learning opportunities with the premise that while we won’t overwhelm our new teachers, we will provide them with quality growth opportunities with consistent opportunities for reflection.

I was very happy to empower our lead learner/new teacher coach with the freedom and support to help our newest game changers grow and develop. Instead of a checklist, she needed support and encouragement to take risks. It made it safe to give her the three things we need to grow and support our new teachers:

Game Changer Initiative 1 – Support: During our last faculty meeting the outgoing new teacher coach gave a very moving and heart felt appeal to our new coach – ‘You have to get to know them.’ Those words still resonate with me. On her last day, she told me that getting to know new teachers and seeing them grow gave her personal/professional joy and fulfillment, in turn I’m sure it enriched their lives as well. This opportunity to build relationships and have different conversations has to get beyond the check-in and check-out mode we fall into. Our newest game changers need to know it is safe and always welcome for them to come to us with what’s on their plate. They have to know they won’t always get the answer they want but they will always get the support they need. #relationships
Game Changer Initiative 2 – Motivation: We can’t change the realities and demands of teaching. While we can challenge traditional thought, we can’t shield/protect/avoid the things that can easily despirit us. Its our charge as lead learners to keep new teachers inspired. Visiting other schools and seeing best practices, getting new teachers to find and share a great Pinterest collection with the group, share a new PLN building experience are great ways to start conversations and keep everyone focused on moving forward. Getting better is the goal. Carol Dweck’s Mindset, is a great read and it dispels the notion that we have to stay in cheerleader mode 24/7. While I believe in a positive disposition, we have to keep new teachers focused on growing and improving, not at an arrival. new teacherNo matter they victories or barriers we are living now, we have tomorrow to make another difference with students.
Game Changer Initiative 3 – Keep Them Hungry: This is a goal for every lead learner. How does a teacher keep his class motivated to keep learning more difficult materials? How does a department chair keep her teacher group focused on trying new teaching methods? How does an administrative team keep teachers focused on continuously growing new skills to match new learning needs? I share resources I collect from my PLN regularly with my staff. I embrace my role as a researcher/reader and filter out what is not needed, what can be useful later and what will make good PD/discussion points now. My team makes a point to challenge traditional concepts when we can and at the same time provide alternatives, mostly found from our PLN. But alternatives and a suggestions don’t create fire in new teachers – a lead learner focused on seeing learning and teaching that is responsive to student needs does. Good talks about our new vision, mission and core values is a good start. Not settling for what is convenient is great mindset and students-first is a must.

#edcampldr NC – Connecting and Learning to Improve Leading

Edcamp LeadershipJuly 10, 2015 promises to be a historic day of learning and connecting for North Carolina educators!

Friday July 10th, we are hosting the first ever Edcamp for School Leaders! Edcamps are not new to North Carolina – for years, dedicated educators have been coordinating and hosting these ‘unconferences’ across our great state. These edcamps have brought in educators from different school districts to share, connect and ultimately help others improve the learning and teaching in all our schools. Talk to any participants in these edcamps and they will tell you that these experiences have been incredibly valuable and significant to their personal/professional development.

Edcamp Leadership NC [held Friday July 10 at the @FridayInstitue] is the first of its kind in NC and we have some great reasons to be excited:

This is a first NC unconference targeted for school leaders across the state. Make no mistake, ALL are welcome to this great day of learning but we want to especially create an opportunity for school and district level leaders to start and participate in change discussions that will help their districts and schools;

  • Edcamp Leadership NC is one of many edcamp leaderships held across the nation! There will be many edcamps held that week on the same days, sharing and connecting virtually;
  • We are glad to announce that the esteemed Dr. June Atkinson, our State Superintendent, will join us for this event;
  • As always, there will be many great educators there, looking to connect, grow and learn.

Get Smart Resources:
– To learn more about what an edcamp is, check out this short video. It’s a great 90 seconds take on the value of this informal conference.
– Kristin Swanson, who’s credited for started edcamps, wrote a blogpost for Edutopia about the benefits and genius design of edcamps.

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Read about Edcamp Leadership here and our efforts to impact edcators worldwide [yep, there is an edcamp leadership Santiago Chile] with this multi-site, same day event!

As a principal, I know its difficult to find conversations or trainings that will help make a difference for my students and teachers, particularly that will fit my specific needs. Edcamps are a great way to personalize your learning and development. Instead of picking your learning from a menu, you have the opportunity to design a talk special for you. What we often find is that there are others who share your specific questions, needs and thoughts. Come to Edcamp Leadership NC and start a conversation in a breakout session, continue it in the hallway, form a relationship with a colleague and take back some information or challenging discussions that well help us all build schools and classrooms our students need and that our teachers will be on fire to work and lead in!

Visit our site and register here!

NC Distinguished Leadership in Practice for Digital Learning Address

Last week, it had the privilege and honor of being invited to the final meeting and end of year banquet of the first cohort of the NC Distinguished Leadership in Practice for Digital Learning [NCDLPDL]. This cohort and event was organized by the NC Principal and Assistant Principals Association [NCPAPA]. The goal of NCDLPDL is to provide principals with a skills boost in ‘best practices for leading a successful digital transformation.’ Partnered with the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation [an innovation lab and playground dedicated to helping NC schools], this has been a year long blended learning experience providing the principals with the best voices and trainers in this transformative journey.

NCPAPA Executive Director, Dr Shirley Prince, was gracious enough to invite me and my wife to their end of year banquet to give the closing address. The audience was comprised of digital leaders, all at different experience levels. My talk was crafted to share some of my experiences as well as some key focus points that we should have to

  • Our focus is on student learning and achievement – 1:1’s, computer labs, devices are all tools to make the learning relevant and engaging
  • Complacency can easily lead to obsolescence. We can’t be afraid to innovate;
  • We have to  be responsive to our new learners. Access has changed how they think and learn;
  • We have to be drivers and supporters, lead conversations from above and below;
  • Develop BHAGs for your school, staff, students and yourself;
  • Connect and grow with your PLN!

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I applaud NCPAPA for developing these DLPDL cohorts to grow the digital leaders in North Carolina. Its great to see a statewide organization take the initiative and head up a program that will support paradigm and skills shifts in school leaders. If we want to see the changes, we have to start leading the conversations and build a vision for what it looks like! This is a strong proactive initiative to build the leaders our learners and teachers and schools need.

Thanks to Shirley Prince, Emily Doyle, @NCPAPA, and the @FridayInstitute for this incredible opportunity! Thanks for this incredible opportunity.

School Leadership 3.0: Make Your Tools Mobile

photo-1This is a picture of my office desk. I’ve also made it the background for my Twitter profile.

I was inspired to take this picture after a teacher visited my office and she immediately remarked about these tools that cluttered about my desk [this picture doesn’t reflect my typical work organization]. She questioned if it was absolutely necessary to have all these to do my job. After I rationalized that there were only three tools here, an iPad, my Smartphone and a desktop with and attached monitor, I came back with a firm yes! I can’t do my job as a school leader without these tools.

My primary function is to improve student learning and how teachers teach. I do that effectively by choosing the right tools. When we talk about tools, sometimes the conversation leans towards hardware and functionality. This talk will be about on the web tools I use as a 3.0 school leader.

We can’t say enough about the critical functionality of mobility in our jobs. Being able to carry out duties, no matter where I am helps me maintain consistency and improve my efficacy in my daily and long term practice. Cloud computing has dramatically changed society and how we function as schools and organizations. Being able to transfer information from one device to another is how we make a difference in teaching and learning and allow us to remain current on tools and thinking that will help us change how teachers, community and students see the value of these  tools and how they aren’t future practice but current necessities.

Social Media – Twitter, LinkedIn, WordPress all contribute to my continuous professional development and learning. They help define me a lifelong learner. As we endeavor to design personalized experiences for our students, we can also embrace the flexibility and impact of our dive into social media.

Coaching – Using an iPad or smartphone to record lesson and direct instruction is the best way to take the people out of instructional coaching and make it about a change conversation about practices, behavior and learning. Keeping continuous, synchronized notes helps me and my administrative team maintain a singular focus in our change talks.

Administrative Organization: Evernote is a tool I’ve come to recently integrate into my practice. Thanks to John Robinson, @21stprincipal, and his blog and accounts I’ve come to rely on it to help me document my day, archive critical learning and quickly record notes needed for upcoming events. The synchronization between all my devices makes this a tool invaluable.

Communication and Organization: Its hard to imagine carrying out our functions and duties in this day and age without Google’s cloud services. Going beyond Gmail and Calendar [which are crucial] other Google products are vital to us moving schools:

    • Chrome – Once I log in, my bookmarks are with me no matter what device. I can navigate websites I need while at school, home or on the road.
    • Hangout – Participating in chat and discussions with my PLN grow my skills and understanding. I take this back to school and community to effect a change. As as a means of connecting with people, a quick video chat beats a phone call hands down.

3.0 school leadership is not about technology, hardware/software, it has to be about changing teaching and learning for the better. These tools are about making a difference in our schools. Future leaders have to have a willingness to dive into these tools, explore their usage and be willing to innovate. Future leadership and practice starts today!

Why Does Algebra HAVE to be at 11:34?

Our current schedule is a 7 period day. We have been working hard to transition to a modified block. Our leadership team has been involved in a great deal of planning and communication to make sure that this transition is seamless to our organization and that our teachers are supported and prepared for change. I’ve been writing about this through a series on my blog.

Recently, I was performing my instructional rounds and visited our 8th Algebra class. As usual, it was a great lesson designed by a great teacher – rigorous problems, kids working together, and a silly theme [kids wearing boas is always good]. Lots of laughter, group work and smiles in the room. As I was circulating, I noticed a student slow to get started. I know this student so I asked him what was up, was he ok? To paraphrase, he was just feeling the day. Algebra is offered 4th period, exactly in the middle of our day and that day was simply a rough one for him. I could only imagine what his night was like and, I could only hope, that his morning was filled with mentally exhausting and mind blowing instructional activities. I left his group with an image of the four students around the table – 4 capable students, one needing a mental break to help him better prepare for a rigorous class.

We are a small middle school, our numbers fluctuate around 500. As such, we have one 8th grade Algebra class [though my goal is to do a better job identifying our more of our students who are capable of handling rigorous, well-planned and well delivered classwork]. The confines of a schedule dictate when classes are offered, sticking kids in a narrow box. More class offerings gives the school more options but it doesn’t equate to being responsive to a student’s needs. I think of the student from earlier – it would have made a significant difference if he could have been able to regroup and participate in his group work and assignments when he was ready and better prepared to give his quality work.

Flexibility Maximizes Student Outputimages

If you’ve read Clayton Christensen’s ‘Disrupting Class’, you can understand what I’m referring to when I say flexibility and options. The student in Algebra would benefit from a disruptive change. None of us would object to laying out multiple assignments for the day and serving as facilitators, not sage on stages, to ensure the work is getting done.

This is a timely topic with us being in the middle of developing next year’s schedule. We have a great staff at Spring Lake Middle but we haven’t had any discussions about this type of shift so this topic isn’t on the table – yet. I think its our responsibility as planners and developers to at least have a talk about this and what it could mean for kids. I think the potential outcomes would far outweigh the shift in comfort and familiarity we adults have.

‘Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.’ Rabindranath Tagore

Even though my visit to the Algebra class is what started this thought experiment, the potential benefits apply to all students at every level. A shift like this is a matter of training and holding high expectations. I fully acknowledge that maturity levels and self discipline varies significantly in middle school students and that it would also take time to build this successful program. But student success begins with setting high expectations, monitoring and improving on the successes our schools realize. Any successful educational program that does a good job serving kids takes time and planning to build.

Shift starts with vision and is made successful with commitment. And shift has to be responsive to the needs of the kids we serve.

One of My Defining Days

I had one of those days this week that helped remind me why I became an educator and why I’ve always worked with kids.

The Meetingstem

Wednesday, at our principals meeting, three of our assistant superintendents met with me and four other middle school principals regarding a STEM program sponsored by Fayetteville State University. This program will target our rising 8th graders who will likely be 8th grade Algebra students. Dr Black, one of the assistant superintendents, had run lists of our rising 8th graders using EVAAS, an online data program for NC schools, that runs student and school data a number of ways. We received achievement probability reports for these students. It listed students’ probability of passing the Algebra 1 EOC based on past EOG performance. As I read the list of students for my school, I was excited to see the name of one of our students [for privacy reasons, I’ll call him Baxter]. Baxter is served in our exceptional children’s program for behavioral reasons. This list generated showed all students with a high probability of passing Algebra. Baxter’s position on the list places him higher than 2/3 of our current 7th graders.

I was excited for Baxter when I saw this! What a great opportunity for him. There is research that shows, properly identified students who are successful in the 8th algebra have a significantly high probability of post-secondary success. For a student like Baxter and his family this could be a life changer.

But my excitement was soon matched by concern. As I began playing out scenarios I began to worry about Baxter’s preparation. This probability model is great – I’ve used EVAAS in another NC district as a principal and as the Director of Curriculum and Innovation. We start the conversation with this data – who has best chance. Then we look at other data for consideration. This is where my concern began – have we done enough to support and prepare Baxter?

Divine Intervention

It just so happens that when I got back to my school that afternoon, Baxter and a couple of other students were a little talkative in class [ironically math] and were sent to the office for redirection. These are great boys and we had a great conversation. They all admitted what they did wrong, knew where they went wrong and promised to do better. Great talk!factortree

I kept Baxter back a little while. Given my talk earlier and the fact that I’m a middle school math teacher [having taught 6-8 math all levels, and 7th and 8th Algebra] I just wanted to see where Baxter was. I asked him what they were studying in math and he replied ‘trees’ [great answer]. He of course meant factor trees. I asked him a couple of questions and he answered them flat out so I dove straight into the heart and asked him to show me a factor tree for the number 24. I’ve attached a picture of his work.

I like Baxter and I’m not saying this because I like him but he demonstrated a clear understanding of concept including use of terms prime and composite, exponent form and when to use a factor tree. Clear ability. He wrote out this example and explained it without pause and without missing a beat. This conversation was as positive as it was concerning. Clearly he knows what he knows but I have to keep asking have we done enough to prepare him for the rigor of a high school course as a middle schooler?

Have we done enough to support this at-promise student’s natural ability to help him be successful?

Meeting with the Beginning Teachers

That same day after school, I was called into our beginning teachers’ monthly large group meeting. I was asked to share a couple of words with them while they were finishing up their paperwork. I had to talk about Baxter. Many of the mentors in the room and some of the BTs knew Baxter and they all attested to his good nature. When I shared the data everyone in the room shared a feel good moment and were genuinely happy for him. We help a lot of needy kids and its good to share promising news.

My talk with the BTs went a little deeper. I asked them a couple of questions:

  • What was their vision of our school?
  • What contribution or part will they play in helping take our school to another level?
  • What will you do to make sure we don’t miss kids like Baxter again?
  • We have proven success in helping kids grow but what about building something new, something supportive for kids?
  • What are we doing to create very different opportunities for kids?
  • What are we doing to change our approach to make sure our school is serving every child?

These questions generated a lot conversation.

As I said, this was a one of those defining days. It made me remember back to my days of teaching ‘below level’ students and ‘above level’ students and how frustrated I got because I needed some flexibility in identifying students and in most cases better support in preparing them. It made me remember previous days as an administrator committing to do all I can to ensure that every middle and high schooler, who was capable and ready, would get my support and help in getting placed in courses that would help give them a step up.

This has a been a great first year at a great school. We have had tons of growth conversations. I need to make sure that this topic doesn’t stay remain a conversation – but that it becomes what we are about, what we do and our vision.

Great day!

Middle School Schedule [5]: Intervention and Operations

intervention   The transition next year is about  bettering how we teach and how students learn, those are first and foremost. Our discussions in SIT and leadership focus on how this move will significantly affect those areas and change what we do.

One opportunity created from this move is our ability to manipulate our schedule  and create a small period of time wherein we determine how it will be used, when it will be used and how regularly we will use it. I’m breaking down the benefits of this time into two functionalities – its opportunity for intervention and how it benefits school operations. Both of these are critical in how we protect and promote better practices in teaching and learning.

‘The How’s’

Our schedule will essentially be four blocks of 95 minutes with slight adjustments for added time homeroom and lunch to two blocks. By taking 10 minutes from each block and chunking that time we create a 40 minute opportunity. This flex period, with design and planning, will address student needs on multiple levels. Keep in mind, even when this flex period in place for the day, there is still 85 minutes of instruction for each block. The flex period, that we will call Bronco Time at Spring Lake Middle, can be inserted before or after any period. The school scheduler will need to be mindful of the changes to minutes and schedule because this will affect the lunch period, transition times and any other functions specific to a school that are set in the day.

Intervention

A big part of middle school concept is to design and structure support systems for kids in this transitional time. Middle school educators know that all students need support academically [either remediation or enrichment], socially [mentoring, group discussions]. Design and planning will help address these needs. Typically, this time is scheduled at the beginning of the day to reach kids while they are fresh are receptive.

Academic – Its important to know where our students are in terms of knowledge gaps and concept mastery. This is why schools use a variety of data points, both formative and summative, in their planning efforts. Using your schools’ data, you can create groups that focus on different objectives. The challenge here is to think beyond the traditional. We typically think in terms of who has reached a certain cut off in tested subjects and design lessons or activities that are either remedial, covering objectives students didn’t score well in or give some kids the opportunity to preview some new material. This support is important but we cannot limit our efforts to only this course of response. As a math teacher to my heart, I know this reaction well. This is a time for us to develop some creative lessons and activities that we normally wouldn’t dream of during school year [which we should be doing] and challenge all kids.

 ContinuumTriangle

Social – All kids need mentoring. This is their time to learn about themselves, dealing with people and problems and life and they need guidance. It is our duty to put a plan in place that will help kids. The students at Spring Lake Middle are great kids and many come serious needs that can easily be overlooked in the day. Our Bronco Time will be a strategy to provide regular talk and share time for our students. When the middle school concept began, there was major effort creating and maintaining an ‘advisory time’ for adults to connect with a group of students. Some middle schools have shifted from this practice. Speaking honestly, I have not given this the priority in my schools that it deserves. Protecting this times and planning the year out ahead of time will go a long way in minimizing internal school conflicts and helping kids know better ways to deal with problems.

While there is value in meeting regularly, using this intervention time will not be daily or even weekly for Spring Lake Middle. Strategic planning and implementation doesn’t mean we have meet every day or every week. It means we have to plan for our desired outcome, design instructional activities and implement them effectively.  Individual school needs will warrant different balances between the two intervention tactics. Be willing and ready to differentiate.

Operations

   This flex period can be held between any blocks of the day, including before and after the 1st and last blocks. Thinking of this period of time as a moving piece that can be placed strategically at any point of the day helps us in planning events. These include pep rallies, guest speakers and other special school events. It helps me protect the school schedule by making sure that we are planning school events that don’t significantly impede our school schedule. This is an important piece in our duty to protect the schedule – making sure that we are maximizing instructional time. Having a plan for these times beforehand is important. The above schedule outlines two of the more common uses for the flex period at my previous school. It will be worthwhile to develop a schedule for other possibilities and share all them with the staff at the beginning of the year. The staff needs to know what’s expected and how the day will look like. Making decisions on a whim is how we harm teaching and learning.

The flex period, our Bronco Time, will play a big role in reaching kids. I’ve seen it make a difference in a high school. We thought of that time as the opportunity to tutor kids who normally couldn’t attend after school. Expanding our thinking here to meet not just the academic but the social/emotional needs of our kids is how we are going to make a huge difference.