mccoyderek

Middle School Schedule [2]: Block = Flexibility

Our current schedule is a 7 period schedule. We take our instructional day and divide it into 7 equal blocks of time allotting additional time during lunch as well as consistent transition time between classes.

 Next year, we will be moving to a modified block schedule.

images (1)   There are several options and models of the block schedule. High school educators, and most people who have recently graduated from high school, will know the 4 x 4 or the A / B block schedule. They are both creative ways to maximize classroom/instructional time by giving students four classes a day, eight for the year.

   Our current 7 period day has been in place for a while. Even though the schedule has changed since the school was built [this is not the original schedule of the school] this schedule is very much a junior high schedule. Right now, our teachers don’t all have common planning with their subject or grade level counterparts. This is a necessity for the middle school concept. Common planning is not only for time for instructional design, it allows for more creative ways to provide interventions for students. Common planning time for teams and subjects has been a staple for years at the middle school level – this was before Common Core was a thought. Our shift to this will enable some great collaborative opportunities for our teachers.

   Common planning will make a huge difference. But the biggest benefit to this block transition will be the flexibility our school will have in serving our students. Increasing common planning means teachers can schedule regular time, either on team or grade level, to discuss student, group or grade level concerns that need special attention. The options here are only as limited as our imaginations.

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   One opportunity I’ve seen success with is taking a chunk of time from all 4 blocks and placing it either at the beginning of the day or the end and using it for special functions. At the beginning of the day, we can get creative with remediation/acceleration efforts, clubs or mentoring opportunities. At the end of the day, we can use it for concerts, assemblies, pep rallies or other functions. In either situation, we are still maintaining significant time in the classroom and benefiting from special time given to instruction or operations. At one of my last schools, we had a tough time getting kids to stay after school for tutoring. We used that special block of time in the morning for additional instructional time. We had to create a different mindset for teachers – treat this additional time like you would for students staying after school. This time made a huge difference with learning and planning.

   This flexibility isn’t available with our current 7 period schedule. Part of my job as the leader in my school is to create options, different opportunites for us to support students. This will be a huge difference maker for us in the upcoming school year.

Middle School Schedule [1]: A New Opportunity

   This is an exciting time!

photo (2)   When I first joined Spring Lake Middle last summer, I had a series of meeting with different groups and our School Improvement Team. Our talks covered getting to know the new principal to strategic planning. The SIT and I had several meeting over the summer to review our school improvement plan, preparing it for our upcoming accreditation visit.

   One item that came up regularly was our school schedule. Spring Lake Middle currently runs on a 7 period day. Spring Lake  has realized some significant success on this schedule because of support, teachers and great students. I raised discussion points that a block schedule allowed more opportunity for creativity, focus on reading/literacy, strategic and impactful collaboration and an incredible amount of innovative support opportunities for students.

   I‘ve always liked scheduling, its probably from my days as a math teacher. I’m looking forward to the next months. Building this schedule is not only going to be about building a good schedule, its going to involve having good, transition talks with the staff. For this reason, I’ll be blogging about our upcoming discussions. I’m looking forward to this. This will be instructive for the staff and in the end, really make difference for teaching and learning.

iPads and Google Forms for Classroom Observations – Team Solution

 The Spring Lake Middle Instructional Leadership Team had a great collaborative growth experience with the Cumberland County Schools Curriculum and Instruction Team.

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    The CCS C&I Teams makes regular visits to schools to observe classrooms and give feedback to the principal and/or other personnel. For our visit today, our Executive Director of Secondary Curriculum, John Gibbs, visited with our curriculum specialist in math, social studies, science and literacy. They spent several hours in the building visiting classes, having conversations and ended the day with a group share of plus/deltas. These visits are always positive – at the end we all have a clear direction of the successes and work throughs.

   During our conversation, I learned the C&I team capture walk  through data using a GoogleDrive spreadsheet. They set up multiple fields with specific information they want to collect and later review. All the specialists understand how to manipulate the information, including using colors to highlight certain information for various reasons.

   There is a high degree of synchronicity this week with Google Forms and Walk Thrus/Informal Observations. Earlier this week, after a lot of productive work, I made a post on how to send feedback from a GoogleForm [GoogleForm for Feedback Tool]. Utilizing the features of GoogleDrive is a great way to make sure a team is being data driven and all are going in a good direction.

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   I shared our GoogleForm Walk Through tool with them. We started the talk showing the parallels in both spreadsheets – exact same end results and capabilities of looking at data. We next went into a talk about how the GoogleForm streamlines the process adding the information into the spreadsheet. This process is made altogether easier with the use of our iPads. We shared iPads from one of our Project Carts and paired off with the C&I and did more walk thrus using our tool. We wanted the team to compare the experience with iPads vs laptop and reviewing the data at the end.

   This was a great collaborative session for everyone. We got to share our process and tools with a visiting team and we benefited from their feedback on our walk thru tool. This is value of finding the solution through collaboration.

Integrating Google into Our Admin Function

personal   One of the major shifts we’re making this year is our use of Google. Cumberland County Schools is a Google district was already a Google district before I joined July 2012. We have most of our functions tied into the Google Cloud or at least available in the cloud. I’ve only been with Cumberland, @cumberlandcosch, since July 2012 but I’ve been a fan of Google since I’ve started shifting my thinking and practice. You can see obvious efforts from county administrators make to utilize Google tools whenever possible to save on meetings and phone calls by using some tools like the chat, surveys and forms.

   Specific for our school, we’ve had to make efforts to replace previous practices with Google tools. I haven’t approached this with a specific plan [which of course in hindsight would have helped the school more] but in my meeting groups, we have transitioned to some of these tools for production and archiving purposing. Our weekly Leadership meeting is great example. Every Monday, the school’s leadership team meets to discuss the upcoming week, set some expectations and plan for upcoming conversations and events. We created a meeting template in a shared folder on Drive and post our meeting notes including details discussed and persons responsible for activities. It is taking some time but the norm is slowly and steadily being built that Google is a part of this process.

   Some of the benefits of integrating Google into our practices that I envision realizing include:

  • Making the planning efforts of some of our groups more transparent
  • Archiving talks and plans
  • Flattening the administrative approach
  • Creating a paperless environment
  • Allowing the staff to participate in a collaborative process we need to create for students 

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 Talks on Google+

 I‘m proud to share that my admin team has began to use Google+ as a tools for pre-planning and communication. I don’t have to share with you all that there isn’t enough time of the day to get it all done. Getting the team together for a quick 15 minute meeting over the weekend to discuss an important item we missed or a last minute detail makes a huge difference in being prepared for the upcoming week. We stay in touch regularly with email and text messages but the planning platform of video and embedded Drive form when needed make a huge difference. 10 minutes of a Google+ chat eliminates 30+ minutes of text messages/emails.

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   I‘m fortunate that there are already experts in the building who can help with the training and understanding. We will begin developing and rolling out a plan specific to what types of information we will put on school wide and department drives and discuss the management of our plan. Getting organized from the beginning of the year will help with our school’s functions, efficiency and support to teachers.

The Grey Area [Creating Options]

Several years ago, an assistant superintendent used this graphic in a talk with a room full of assistant principals to help explain some possible  motivations and actions in stakeholder decision making:

Her talk and this image made such an impression on me, I remember it vividly 10 years later.

The focus here is the grey area. The grey area represents many things. Pertinent to this talk, it represents the objectivity, point of view, and willingness of the involved parties to negotiate. When there is an issue on the table, school leaders are dealing with students and parents who want [or need] a particular outcome and that is the focus of the conversation. What can I do or say to get a particular outcome? What will it take to change from this outcome to another outcome?

The hierarchy in the graphic shows how perspectives typically change as the conversation moves up the ladder. Again, this is generally speaking. During this trainig, we were being instructed on a need to be willing to consider multiple options and not be limited to a few options. Increasing the number of options helps us with resolving conflicts.

Using this model can help us in our efforts in leading change in our schools. Change is difficult for some of our stakeholders and a ‘black/white’ viewpoint often accompanies a hesitance to change. Consider a recent conversation you may have had with a teacher about the need to change or adopt a different approach. Those conversations often involve not being able to see options or neither party really considering/creating different options. We’re more rigid when there are only two options ahead of us.

The school leader who can help the stakeholder realize that there are more options available that may be seen or discussed will be more successful in implementing change because he/she will do a better job with improving buy-in. We increase our buy-in and help build our vision more when others feel empowered to create choices.

The Balance

‘Do we focus on fine tuning past traditions or work implementing new innovations/processes?’

This was the sum up of a conversation I was part of with my assistant principals.  As a fairly new administrative team we have pretty frequent conversations covering a variety of topics. My two APs are both in their second year and highly competent, productive administrators. They were already in place when I started. I’m very fortunate that we have parallel priorities and we all share the same top priorities: high expectations for staff and students and a focus on instruction that will be relevant and beneficial for all students.

Benefits of fine tuning past traditions
Part of our conversation focused on some recent conversations we all have had with several staff members about ‘how things have been done.’ We all can relate to these talks. As school leaders, we have to critically evaluate the value of maintaining a practice or determine is it time to abandon. With this we run the risk of alienating some stakeholders, staff, community, students, who are very invested in a tradition. On the flip side, it is a great opportunity to solidify relations with stakeholders and show everyone the value we, as school leaders, place in their feelings, concerns and past work.

Diving into innovation
Particular to this conversation, the topic of innovation not only involved instructional practice but how  methods in internal processes are conducted. This includes weekly newsletters, staff call outs, lesson plan submission and a several other school functions. Changing our approach to these things will definitely be serious adjustments for several stakeholders but it makes what we do relevant. There is inherent value in bringing practices and operations into the 21st century.

My sum up involved one of my favorite takeaways from Jim Collins. I think school leaders have to maintain a widened perspective. The ‘either/or’ approach to solutions is where we marginalize stakeholders and minimize opportunities for improvement. The ‘and’ solution allows us to respect the work that has been done and needs doing. The thing that makes us uncomfortable about the ‘and’ solution is that we can’t be formulaic about implementing it. For this situation, how do we know when to put tradition above innovation or vice versa? Knowing ourselves [as leaders], knowing our schools and staff and community all play apart. Being new to my building, I try to wrap in different viewpoints that I think have unique and significant value add potential.

Balancing the approach is what helps schools move forward and ensuring we are really serving kids. It truly is my desire that everyone believe I am vested in moving forward and honoring tradition.

Edmodo for our Faculty Meeting

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This week a last minute inspiration led to a unique learning and sharing opportunity.

One of the topics I was finalizing for our Tuesday meeting was our discussion on Edmodo. Our district is an Edmodo district, we utilize it completely, from teacher-student instructional purposes, to communication efforts to curriculum planning and development.  My plan was to go over a couple of points:

  • making sure we are connected to Edmodo;
  • utilizing digital instrucitonal and curriculum benefits;
  • and connecting to our district and school curriculum departments efforts.

While planning this, I made had an inspiration/realization, ‘Why don’t I conduct the faculty meeting on Edmodo?’ What better way to let our teachers have digital learning experience and utilize the tool we need to get better at using.

I have only been using Edmodo for 3 months mainly to join groups and communities and post articles. In order to lead a discussion, I would have to utilize a lot features. My Math Coach gave me a crash course in some features. In a more perfect world, I would have thought of this and planned it out earlier. But given everything, I think we had a rich, innovative experience. For interactivity, I asked teachers to respond to posts and created pop quizzes and polls. At the end, I thanked my teachers for their participation and their understanding and patience with my experiment. They are a great group – with their participation I think we had a good learning experience.

 I didn’t realize how much fun this was going to be. I definitely plan on hosting another faculty meeting on Edmodo. Taking time to plan out the agenda for an online forum, tailored to Edmodo’s features is a learning experience everyone benefits from. This has also given me some urgency to follow through with utilizing a couple of other platforms, including flipping a meeting or two. This is a great way to break the monotony of the face-to-face and let teachers experience firsthand the importance of digitizing our efforts in reaching this digital generation.