mccoyderek

We are Always 2 Questions Away…

Earlier this week, we got a call to one of our teacher’s classrooms to get some help in dealing with a ‘disruptive’ student. When I arrived, the teacher greeted me at the door with a very perplexed and slightly frustrated look on her face. She pointed out wpid-20150421_092044the student and began to explain that he was very disagreeable, argumentative and even combative. Her confusion came from the fact that even though we have had moments with this student before, his behaviors were out of character, very ‘odd’ and ultimately disruptive.

As I walked him to the front office and began asking him what was going on, I quickly began to see the behaviors the teachers described. He was even short and borderline disrespectful to me. [For clarity, I don’t write that to sound like, “How dare he talk to the principal like that!’, I say that because over his 3 years at Spring Lake Middle, I have come to know him, his family and situation very well and he and I have a good relationship]. As I approached the front office, one of his support teachers, Mr Cooper, saw us and inquired about what was going on. I asked him to join us, thinking that two heads were better than one.

When we arrived in my conference room, I asked the student about the night before, ride on the bus and arrival at school, thinking that this was either a turbulent night in the neighborhood or some issue with students at school. Other than arriving to school on the bus late that day, there was nothing out of the ordinary. I had to leave out of the office for a quick minute and when I returned, Mr. Cooper shared some a powerful piece of information he got from the student in an astonishing 60 seconds.

The student had not eaten in 40 hours. He was absent from school the day before and in all the hurry never ate anything more than a half a peanut butter sandwich. Our cafeteria makes a point to always be ready for every late bus but that day he wasn’t with the bus. We were literally seeing a student whose personality, health, mood, emotions were being seriously affected by grave hunger.

I snuck the picture above to share with my staff later but in it you see a desperate principal who reached out to the first adults he could find to get whatever donation they could give. Its not in the picture but I did give him a bottle of water from my office so it wasn’t totally unhealthy. 12 minutes later, Mr Cooper and I were dealing with a different young man. He was back to being mild-mannered, pleasant and conversational. We even joked about how he doesn’t eat the outside part of the doughnut, only the part that touches the inner hole. Like I said, we know and love this kid.

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At a faculty meeting earlier this year, I shared with the staff that we are always two questions away from learning something significant about our students, our classes and our school. If we are willing to ask questions, we can learn something that will allow us to make a profound difference in the lives of students.

What Can We Do?

dd-school-breakfast-2013-info-graphicBuild Relationships – [‘Relationships, relationships, relationships.’ Jimmy Casas] I’m thankful the teacher was sharp enough to see that something was off with the student and knew to reach out for support to get some help. I’m grateful that his support teacher saw us in the hallway and was able to get to the two questions. While I’m confident that others could have had success in this situation, I don’t think others would have had the patience to deal with an ‘unruly’ middle schooler. Its only because we knew this student that we were able to intervene, see through the pain and intervene.

Don’t Take ANYTHING for Granted – Educators are busy and overworked and have the TREMENDOUS task of leading the learning in the classroom – a lot goes into that responsibility. But even through that, we have to be vigilant and mindful of what’s going on with our students. Sometimes, we go beyond the two questions just to make sure all is well.

Keep Some Snack for Students – You just never know.

This was a profound reminder. Those who know me know a lot of my passions are in the best teaching and learning practices, what learning can look like and what best leadership practices and strategies help us get to where we need to be. But I started teaching in schools like the ones I have led and am grateful for the unique experiences that have helped shaped me. All of us in our different communities and schools, have to keep in the forefront that we serve kids and all kids have needs of some kind. I will always work on my ‘2 Questions’ skill.

 

Informal Learning at its Best

This weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in an edcamp held at the Rowan-Salisbury School district, @EdCampRowan. Months ago, I received an invite to give the opening talk. I have shied away from calling it a keynote because keynote doesn’t fit the motif of an edcamp – I am calling it the ‘tone-setting talk!’ True to form, this event did not disappoint – it was all about personalizing learning for participants and making creating forums for sharing and connecting.

This day was a make up day of pd for teachers who lost several days because of snow. We learned at the start of the day that vast majority of our 200+ attendees were participating in their first edcamp. Lots of smiles made the eagerness to connect and grow visible and evident!

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I want to mention a couple of very impressive things about this event early in this blog [there are many more below]:

  • This edcamp became a makeup opportunity for RSS staff having missed some days for snow [I know I’m repeating this but it bears repeating], what a great way to value and promote learning time for teachers #innovative;
  • Superintendent Dr Lynn Moody, @lynn_moody, was an active participant from beginning to end;
  • There were a good number central office and school administrators participating in this informal learning;
  • A board member showed up around midday and sat in on one a session I dropped in on personalizing PD!

I had a great time with my tone-setting talk! It focused on several points: 1) Keep an open mind about learning – what is absurd today will be absurd tomorrow for a different reason; 2) embrace the power of collective learning and 3) we have to shift our focus of teaching to address the needs of learners and the skills we need them to embrace.

My talk was about embracing new modalities of learning, especially the informal and making sure that we connect with others here to further and continue the learning. As a challenge for the day and a way to get the group think started, I charged the group to come up with 4 C’s for our learning  of the day! I gave the first two, Courage – be willing to try something new, start or join a conversation and Connect – be intentional about connecting with someone that day who could be a help later. From the audience we got two more Contribution and Commitment – great sentiments to kick off the day. Kelly Hines, @kellyhines, being the innovator she is, took the idea and made it a living theme! Armed with a whiteboard, dry erase markers and a camera, she went to individuals and captured their personal messages, their own ‘C’ for the day! Looking through this slideshow you will be very impressed with creativity and passion the edcampers showed that day! I encourage you to look at her Twitter feed for the day to see all the diverse messages. This was a great learning legacy to document the day.

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20150307_094437For a first time endeavor, this district hit a homerun! I can’t say enough about the vision and drive of Tiffany Carter, @tpizzie1, and Rachel Lawrence, @Tchr_RachelM for their vision and drive to bring new learning opportunities to their district. Shift happens with an ‘absurd’ thought! I even heard that Dave Burgess, @burgessdave, made a guest appearance during our Teach Like a Pirate talk!

 

The learning was a great experience but connecting and reconnecting with friends I haven’t seen for a while really made this experience worthwhile. Learning and growing knowledge without building relationships builds isolated experts and we are about tearing down silos and building community.

20150307_091029Take a look at Google+ picture collection here – http://ow.ly/K4WbI

Great day of learning!

Weekly Bookmarks from @mccoyderek 2.01.2015

Strategies for Coaching Teachers to Use Formative Assessment Tools

Formative assessments are an essential part of instructional design.Did my students learn anything? Ways to find out.

Formative assessments give teachers a glance at the level of understanding students have of a particular topic being taught. We like to focus on the value formative assessments bring in determining if something needs to be retaught, taught in a different way or if we can accelerate on an upcoming. These are some valuable teaching points that have to be incorporated into lessons and planned regularly to make an impact on learning. The reason we are in schools is to help kids learn and planning for these regular glimpses helps us know if we are reaching kids.

Vicki Davis, @coolcatteacher, wrote a great post ‘5 Fantastic, Fast Formative Assessment Tools.” She succinctly captures the true purpose and need for formative assessments – ‘Formative assessment is done as students are learning. Summative assessment is at the end.

I recently sat in on a planning session with some teachers and we had a great discussion about the upcoming activities they were developing for students. In the natural flow of the conversation, a teacher mentioned that she would do ‘some kind of assessment’ one day to see if they understood. Our instructional coach asked a couple of great extending questions to get this teacher to not just give this a cursory thought to assessing but to really think about the teaching that had been done and what we wanted the learning to look like – these would help her in creating a good formative assessment.  The assessment we talked about that day was some verbal cues she would ask the group,

I encourage you to read Vicki’s post! Its a great resource that goes into good descriptive detail about some of the great digital tools out there we can use for getting a picture of the learning in the room. Some of these tools are some of my favorites to use with staff as we conduct meetings and trainings.

Getting teachers to understand the value of formative assessments is step one, seeing them used in classrooms is the critical next step. There are a numerous resources on formative assessments on the web and you can have these talks with your teachers and staff. But there is particular value in using digital tools.

First, these digital tools help with student engagement. Students are anxious to get their hands on devices and tools to showcase learning and understanding. Its a great way to get active. Second, you ensure responses from all students when you use digital tools. If you are still having kids raise their hands to answer questions or you are simply calling on students you are guaranteeing non-responses from some students in your room.  Third, free is great! The tools highlighted here are free for teachers and even have apps for different mobile devices.

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Plickers in use in our 8th Social Studies class!

In the end, its more important to use a formative assessment than focus on whether or not its digital, paper, verbal or another method. We know that we have to use formative assessments but which ones? I believe in the power of these digital tools because because addition the reasons listed above, they also give teachers quick, easy to read data they can use for planning. With the devices in our school and our BYOD policy, we can ensure that if teachers want to use digital tools for formative assessment, they can.

Part of my duty is to support teachers who want and need to use these digital tools, even encourage them to use them if its outside their comfort zone. Below, I’ve captured some questions and thoughts that may be helpful if you are having those conversations:

  • What are you looking to accomplish?
  • What information do you need to capture?
  • Do you plan on using the data capture for a grade?
  • Do you need the feedback for immediate in class use or will you collect it to reflect on it for later use?
  • What devices are available to you? What devices will you use? Does everyone have a device or need one?
  • Will you use your data capture to look at individual performance or class performance?
  • How long will you allot to this?

These digital tools are great resources in helping teachers get critical information they need to guide instructional planning. Our talks as curriculum leaders and digital leaders has to expand to include what these tools have offer above and beyond traditional means of collecting information.

Weekly Bookmarks from @mccoyderek 11.30.2014

Weekly Bookmarks from @mccoyderek 11.09.2014

Takeaways from #PAESSP14

A week ago, I had the honor of being invited to the PA Elementary Secondary School Principals Conference 2014 with fellow Digital Principal Daisy Dyer Duerr, @daisydyerduerr. We had the pleasure of leading a couple of talks on digital tools in their Tech Learning Lab, an inspiration @PAESSP President Bill Ziegler, @DrBillZiegler, borrowed from the NASSP Dallas Conference. Daisy and I gave a pres on some essential digital tools for building up and maintaining PLNs [this included showcasing our new favorite – @Voxer!]. Our second session was some ‘Play in the Sandbox Time’ – helping provide some personalized learning talks for any- and everyone on the digital tool of their choice.

It was a great privilege to be a part of this event. The organizers of this event went to great lengths to make sure that there was something there for everyone at every level. I really admire the organization and preparation that went into this event – it facilitated the deep learning  opportunities we participated in. Everyone was incredibly helpful and committed to making sure all attendees had a good time and left at a better place than they arrived.

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Takeaway #1: The Undeniable Value of Group Learning

I had the benefit of attending some great share sessions from Alan November, Michael Fullan and some local educators. Good presentations always leave crowds hungry for more and shake us up a bit and these sessions did not disappoint! November and Fullan both brought great points about how we are or should be designing learning and teaching and leading our organizations. It was enough to make some people question some [or all] the aspects of their leadership practices. I count myself fortunate to have had an opportunity to share some thoughts with some conference attendees after the talks on what we are doing, what we can do and what we need to do. It was great to compare notes with others on what we learning looks likes in our school and what we want it to look like.

This epitomizes what value of the group learning and conversation. This is why we need to get out of our buildings and attend great learning events like these conferences. Not only to hear from experts, we need to be able to share with others in similar and different roles and experience levels. These conversations help grow us as professionals and help the learning and teaching in each other’s school.

Takeaway #2: Getting Connected/Growing PLNS

The networking and fellowship at #PAESSP14 helped make this experience. The face to face networking here only made the later digital connecting more impactful. Connecting at these events is what makes us grow, finding like minded colleagues and even mentors. But we can also count on extending these relationships to our PLN to continue the discussions and sharing to make a difference in growth. I volunteered to lead the first @PAESSP chat of the year on digital tools later that week. Reconnecting with some of the attendees and connecting with others who didn’t was a great experience.

Takeaway #3: Keep Sharing Those Digital Tools

Our sessions were great! I’d like to thank Daisy for being a great co-presenter [she only mentioned she was taller than me twice! #improvement]. Sharing on the digital tools was a lot of fun for us and we could tell that it was informative for our audience members. The only thing that made this better was our ‘sandbox’ time in the afternoon. We didn’t let the numbers sway us OR limit the tools we shared. We talked Twitter and Hootsuite and Evernote and Voxer and Droid phones and iPhones and other toools and devices. [We even helped a vendor with her social media]

We had lots of questions on different levels – a validating experience that we all have to commit to helping others grow and develop comfort and competence levels with these tools. We can’t take for granted that we all have a certain experience or impact level with different tools. While were able to help some people get started on Twitter, we also helped others who were experienced users get more out of their Twitter practice, including managing multiple accounts.

I’d also like to give @DrBillZiegler credit for implementing these Tech Labs. I was able to meet @RckStrPrincipal as they were leading a Twitter 101 session! Great guys and great PLN builders!

State conferences like @PAESSP are great connecting and learning opportunities we should enthusiastically embrace. It fills in the learning and practice gaps we may have in our practices and understandings. I saw firsthand the great benefit of being a resource to other learners – being able to share how we use tools in our everyday practice makes helped some attendees realize the work is worthwhile, is doable and is difference making!

Thanks for a great experience @PAESSP!