Challenging Conversations for Student Growth

   As we were reflecting on our first year of implementing PLC’s my assistant principal [@mcvaughanpf] and I had a great discussion on the strengths and opportunities for improvement for next year. We dove into PLC’s this year with an awareness of what they are and their potential for impact but none of us had experience with the formal structure, needless to say there was some apprehension. As the year progressed, our contributions to the PLC’s increased indicating an increased buy-in from the staff. It’s great to see and hear the comments from faculty on the value PLCs have added to the school!

I’m proud to be part of the team that has experienced and sees the value of the dive and commitment to PLCs! This is an exciting step in our journey – providing structure to our collaborative process has a great is a needed step for productivity.

Part of the culture we are going to have to change is how we talk, the language we use in our collaborative efforts.  Planning for student growth and achievement means having real, honest conversations about our options for instructional activities and designs. We have to commit to bringing contributions to the table – its only from these contributions that we can begin generating ideas for better learning opportunities for students. If we don’t share or don’t freely discuss options on the table, we loose out on maximizing better learning opportunities.

It’s great to see that next step within reach. How exciting is it to know that better practices are only good conversations away!

School Visit – West Lee Middle, A 1:1 School

This year I have participated in the Sandhills Regional Educational Consortium [SREC] Principal’s Institute. The Principal’s Institute is a professional development opportunity for principals to learn and sharpen critical skills needed for school leadership. PD topics range from school budget to planning with the Teacher Working Conditions Survey and are taught by experts and authorities in their area. This has been a great experience, I’ve learned a great deal from my colleagues, particularly our facilitator Jim Simeon, Executive Director of the Principal’s Institute.

As part of the program, we were required to visit a represented school in the SREC. I chose to visit West Lee Middle School.  Lee County Schools implemented a 1:1 for 5-12 students this school year. It was exciting to learn about this firsthand, particularly a neighbor middle school in North Carolina.

When you first visit classrooms you see the immediate impact of the 1:1. I’ve captured some of these experiences below:

The engagement was apparent and authentic. Of course, technology is not the only way to foster authentic and high level engagement, but with the technology and 2.0 tools at our hands today, it really facilitates this happening.

Melvin Marshall, principal at West Lee Middle, was great to walk me around and acclimate me to school then give me some freedom to explore, snap shots and talk to teachers freely. This was as an apparent showing of his trust and pride in his school. Through my conversation with him and teachers from the school, I took away several points – some new, some learned from my PLN:

  • Training is critical – the staff was given an intensive training at the beginning of the deployment. This was a blend of 2.0 tools training and engagement training with a 1:1
  • Plan for a SERIOUS Shift in Culture – This is not to be taken lightly. When this happens expect a language change and mentality shift. Teachers, and students, start thinking/communicating in terms of the 1:1 medium. Be ready for the change by supporting teachers in not looking back or succumbing to falling back.
  • All Levels of Adopters – Support also needs to be planned for early and late adopters.
  • Opportunities for innovation increase EXPONENTIALLY – I met several teachers, all doing great things. Some were using the laptops to enhance some traditionally practices but there were equal if not more teachers using technology in some great ways for unique learning opportunities. I had a great conversation with an 8th grade social studies teacher [Slide 3] who was revisiting her philosophy of ‘exposing students to different cultures.’ She is dedicating class time for students to learn a foreign language using Rosetta Stone. The slide doesn’t do the engagement justice. This is a great opportunity for students; it’s fostering some independent learning, giving them great practice for online learning formats and an awesome differentiated learning experience! Students were studying many different languages here. The 1:1 facilitated this innovation.

West Lee Middle also has the great benefit of locally funded S.T.E.M. class. A partnership with a local business has provided them with technological resources that give students the exploration opportunities in different fields and industry softwares.


This was such a great visit! I can’t thank Melvin Marshall and his teachers enough for sharing part of their journey with me. Beyond hospitality, I was given insight and encouragement.

There are a lot of thanks to be given for that day. First, thanks to SREC for creating a forum for me to grow and learn. Thanks to my administration, school and district, for providing support when I needed to take time away, and an overwhelming thanks to West Lee Middle School from the principal of West Montgomery Middle School.  Your commitment and progress is inspiring.

Building [and Working Towards] a New Vision

This picture really captures the effort our school, and many others, is making in transitioning towards 21st century resourcing:

We are making efforts to acquire resources that will expose our students to opportunities and experiences more relevant to their world. Acquisition is the first part and often the easiest. Several other key parts to this process have to be in place to make sure that the resources are being utilized effectively by students:

  • Training – Making sure all personnel involved in the process have training in use is important. Making sure everyone has expert-level knowledge should never be a goal, but teachers need a basic understanding to help with implementation.
  • Developing a Plan – Being able to articulate the goals/objectives and desired outcomes of a project and group helps all stakeholders involved know the importance and direction of the initiative.

Specific to this, West Middle School is fortunate to have a committed media specialist who has worked diligently to get our Nooks loaded and available. We’ve talked about using our Literacy Committee to help develop the plan for implementation. We are excited about this initiative!

This is one step in providing great, relevant experiences for our students. Training and planning help bring it to realization.

Leadership Skills Integral Part of Diffusion of Innovations

This blog from @JonathanEMartin really hit home.

This is a great summation and response to what leaders in Google regard as key leadership skills. It would be natural to assume that Google leaders would value a high level of technical expertise – it’s Google right? But technical expertise ranks a lot lower than other leadership essentials.

Seeing these attributes, in this context, struck me as a first year principal. I’ve been an administrator and pd leader for years and in those capacities, having the skill expertise was critical. My talk was supportive, not evaluative.

In my new position, I’ve always made efforts to be helpful, partly through taking a big part in training.  We have Tech Tuesday at my school and I try my best to lead pd as much as possible to show the emphasis our school has placed on new innovations. I have to keep in mind that my new role comes with perceptions that may be viewed as a block to some teachers. What I may have tried to communicate as passion/urgency may have been actually been seen as a hindrance.

Through the awesomeness that is Twitter, I’ve had some thoughtful and insightful communication @drdouggreen. He’s reintroduced me to a term I haven’t heard since grad school – diffusion of innovations, the spread of new ideas in environments.  I’m thankful for Twitter [again] for helping me connect to others who help me grow.

I will take several things from this blog and experience:

  1. Find my early adopters and promote – for those who may see me leading pd as not supportive, it will give them a good resource to go to and use. Even a model for them to follow
  2. Focus on vision-building and driving – The school and community needs to continuously hear from its leaders where we are going
  3. Be strategic about my training – Its important that I be seen as a driver but I don’t have to drive/train on all new innovations. Again, promote new leaders who buy in. There are plenty of opportunities to model use after some of my teacher-leaders train.
  4. My PLN leads to growth – I can’t thank @JonathanEMartin and @drdouggreen enough for inspiration and insight.

Making Data Part of School Culture

Embedding data driven decision making into our school culture is a 360 degree, 24/7 process. It involves creating opportunities for data conversations and following through to make sure they are student-centered, meaningful and productive.

Below is some immediate evidence of the efforts we’ve recently made to empower teachers in using data in their classroom. My original intent was simply to blog on the first teacher’s [science] data usage but when I saw her teammate [math] across the hall I had to capitalize on the opportunity to showcase the effect of our hard work.

Several things are in place make this work for us. First, is our Instructional Facilitator. In addition to being a great support to our teachers with this training, it has helped that she used program when she was recently in the classroom. She is able to use some very real language in teachers using this program in the classroom and how to use it.

Second is support from the district. Quite simply, you show emphasis where you invest. Our district has invested in this program for years but we’ve only been able to make its use as widespread as we have until recently with the addition of our IF.

Third is our responsive staff. They’ve done a great job not only learning the program but making it part of their classroom practice. Its been great to watch this program’s use transform from just quarterly predictive assessments to more frequent use that will give us good data for spriraling and acceleration.

Collaboration is..,

This is our first year formally and fully implementing PLC’s.  I can’t say enough how exciting and challenging it is to learn how much I thought I knew about collaborating/working with other teachers. Our teachers have done some amazing work in developing good, common understandings and goals. We’ve got some awesome people participating and helping create this collaborative culture.  It really is about ‘leading from where you are’ and we’ve got significant contributions on all levels. We are all learning that collaboration is not just sitting at the same table and starting a discussion.
1)  Collaboration [for teachers] is about student achievement. If every second of the planning is not dedicated to making sure students are learning what they need to learn and teachers are teaching what they need to teach, teachers aren’t collaborating.
2)  Collaboration is about contribution. We are creating a lot of common assessments to use for data reviews and planning.  I’m learning how critical it is for all teachers to productively and professionally scrutinize assessment items, all items, to make sure every assessment is the best assessment for measuring all of our desired goals. Some of our most unproductive meetings involve teachers taking other contributions at face value without reviewing them. This deprives everyone involved of the opportunity to grow.
3)  Collaboration is about protecting what’s valuable. We’ve learned protecting planning time is critical. West Middle School protects at least one day a week for teachers to plan. That time is as structured and planned as possible to ensure we efficiently use time. 

4) Collaboration is about being productive. Of all the lessons I’ve NOT learned over the years, I think this has been the most costly to students I’ve taught. Being more productive early would have meant serving more kids better. I am very happy to see the efforts are teachers are making this year, their productivity is already seen and appreciated.

Implemeting PLCs is having a lasting affect on our school culture. We have to remind ourselves that this is not an overnight process and we won’t see huge results overnight. But it’s hard to contain our collective enthusiasm – I think this is a side effect of us coming together and working hard towards our goals.

Great Test Taking Strategy

This was a good visit!
Today, we have a Club Schedule – this is  anopportunity for students to visit and participate in different clubs and interest groups sponsored by teachers. Its great to see that even on a not so regular day, there’s good teaching and good strategy implementation going on. Every minute is critical!

This visit was in a 7th Reading class. I love this reading strategy! Thanks to the 7th grader who helped explain the strategy and model it use for me.