Changing Narratives and Perspectives at the End of the Year

14737877-vector-symbol-of-question-mark-isolated-on-white-background-Stock-VectorLike all schools, as we wrap up the end of the year, we schedule conversations with teachers and staff to reflect on the year. We try to talk at length about things that have gone well and not-so-well and what adjustments can be made for the next year.

I’ve recently began these conversations at West Rowan Middle. This being my first year here, its been great to be part of these conversations with a new staff as we embark on our change journey. From some of these conversations, I’ve come up with some topics I want to make sure I cover at the end of next year. They are reflective and show some vision building on their part

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 1.33.44 PM1) What have you learned, unlearned and relearned this year? – This year, we gradually introduced new topics and operational procedures. We all know change is hard – I’m going to be interested in seeing how we make adjustments and look forward in anticipation for the things the things coming up next year.
2) How will your learning space look different next year? – At the beginning of the year, we make some concerted efforts to create some collaborative spaces for each grade level to give our students some space and opportunity to produce great work. Throughout the year, I have also shared lots of resources of flexible spaces and classrooms and how they all tie into creating different learning opportunities for students. This topic should get teachers to thinking on how environment affects learning, operations and procedures in the classroom and what they can do to enhance that is happening in their rooms, grade levels and department plannings.
22f97e0ad232f9343e424963aee2a2be3) What summer learning experiences do you have planned? – Encouraging others to build PLN’s is always good measure. Nothing shows initiative and commitment and value like joining conversations on Twitter or group discussion on Voxer to keep our own growth continuous and impactful. [This summer, we also reading for our second book study, Mindset]
4) How will student engagement/student learning look differently? – We always stress to teachers that improvement, not perfections, is a process goal. This is an opportunity to reflect on things that have gone well in class and collaborative planning and make plans for taking chances with activities or learning models that help take us from good to great.

I would love to hear from you on some of your favorite end of year questions that either you ask others or have been asked that have helped you in your growth to being a better educator.

Technology is a Gap Closer

Like many of us my good friend, Daisy Dyer Duerr@DaisyDyerDuerr, drives the value of integrating technological learning experiences into the classroom. Of the many values she speaks on, technology serving as an experience gap closer for students is at the top of her list. We both have experience working in rural schools and talk about how lack of cultural experiences is a barrier teachers have to get creative to work around in all schools, not just rural students.

We are in a rural school system about 30 minutes north of Charlotte, North Carolina. My current school serves largely a rural area, covering about 1/3 of county. Our school population is about 65% free and reduced lunch. We have great kids and supportive families, many are very involved and care about their kids but many also have other priorities. While its not surprising that many have not been out of the state of North Carolina [state line is about 75 minutes away] it does catch you off guard how many haven’t been to Charlotte not on a field trip or educational experience. This isn’t about judging experiences or decisions of our families, its about respecting the priorities that our families and its a call for us as educators to use resources at our disposal to serve as gap closers.

Last week, our tech facilitator Jerry Pittman,@wrmstech, helped close the opportunity gap for several classes of students using @googlecardboard. Our 6th grade Social Studies teachers are exploring ancient China, and saw exploring the Great Wall as a means to really engage kids. Our media specialist @wrmsreads, and Mr Pittman, regularly attend our collaborative planning meetings to involve themselves in curriculum talks. He was invited to help plan this part of the unit. He thought of the integration and usage of GoogleCardboard to help with this learning experience. He and Ms Kennington, our 6th grade social studies teacher planned this day and activity down to the detail.

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I’m struck by how small efforts on our parts make huge differences for our students. The ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ and sheer amazement in the room really let us know our students had a deeper learner experience than just from watching a video or reading some online materials.

Takeaways from this experience:

  1. BYOD: Even though our school and school district is 1:1, this would not have been made possible if the teacher had not permitted the students to bring their personal devices and Mr Pittman had not given clear instructions and set expectations for what they were to do;
  2. Engagement: We hear so much from teachers that if students are allowed to bring devices, they will get distracted. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Like most things in the classroom, its about expectations being set and having the determination that learning will be engaging and fun. Its ok to design learning that will blow students’ minds wide open;
  3. Have clear learning targets set: A good friend of mine, Bill Ziegler @DrBillZiegler has mantra – don’t chase technology, chase learning [spoken like a true digital principal]. From this video, you can see that design and outcomes were set early. This is what makes great teaching. We look for technology to enhance learning experiences and create next level excitement and engagement. I speak to principals and teachers regularly about the perils of reversing this process. Its critical we get this right.

You can read about Mr Pittmans firsthand experience in his blog post here: A Day in The Life of Using Google Cardboard in A Classrom He is a connected educator and welcomes connections.

This virtual field trip experience was about kids and giving them a learning perspective that they can really communicate and appreciate.

The Realities of Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning

James Pittman, the technology facilitator at West Rowan Middle School, shared this article with me about a digital/thinking shift happening at AT&T.

14att-split-master1050Gearing Up for the Cloud, AT&T Tells Its Workers: Adapt, or Else

Randall Stephenson, Chief and Chairman at AT&T, has laid out a new, clear vision for where the company needs to go, specifically in terms of evolving employee skills.

“There is a need to retool yourself, and you should not expect to stop”
‘If you don’t develop the new skills, you won’t be fired … but you won’t have much of a future’
“Learn new skills or find your career choices are very limited.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 1.33.44 PMThis is a good hard truth for many of us working with students and teachers in schools today. This article talks about the dire need to evolve – if the employees of this company do not continuously grow skills and adapt practices they could face some dire changes. The absolute same can be said for us in schools – if we don’t change beliefs, practices and approaches to learning and teaching, we will woefully underprepare students for their futures.

It was telling to hear that Stephenson’s own brother is one of the reluctant movers of the company – talk about a leadership conundrum. But in terms of what we face and do in our schools, are we having the difficult change conversations with our co-workers that will bring about the change we need? Are we having the ‘good’ conversations with others about:

  • flexible learning spaces
  • passion/problem based learning
  • BYOD
  • Student ownership
  • Decreasing direct instruction
  • Flipped learning
  • Blended learning

Do they know they have to change for their students? What do we do when they are reluctant?

hqdefaultThis makes me think of one of my favorite quotes from Alvin Toffler captured in this visual. This was profound when I read it years ago and even more striking when I read it in the context of this article. Literacy is a fundamental skill but we have to teach everyone that fundamental skills today also include adapatability, communication, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and grit. If we don’t promote these skills, students may not only find themselves ‘illiterate’ by new measures, they could also be unemployed or ‘have limited options.’ I want better for my students.

A few takeaways:

  • Do you have a clear vision of where you want to take your department, school, or school district and can people articulate it?
  • Stephenson needs his employees to be critical, flexible thinkers and solve problems they didn’t imagine when they first began working – are you training students for that mindset?
  • How are you fostering growth and change in the skills of people in your department, school, district?
  • If students returned to your school in 5, 10, 15 years would they say “This school really prepared me for my future” or “I’m riding the copper train all the way down”
  • Does AT&T have Twitter chats? Imagine the growth and potential for implementing PLN growth practices like Twitter chats or edcamps [or whatever is comparable].

You should share this article with every stakeholder group in your school.

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 1.33.44 PMParents should read this article because if they aren’t educators they can appreciate a good business/work story and the implications of what happens when an employee can’t meet company needs.

Teachers should read this article because they are living this reality [or they should be]. We all have to check our great practices from 5 years ago and embrace that every year is a new year and we should be putting something in place that we have newly learned.

Students should read this article to begin to understand why they must develop dynamic skills and a growth mindset. We should be celebrating successes and growing hungrier from every opportunity given to us.


Blended Learning PD at Rowan-Salisbury Schools

CbCwsW6UcAAExJfFriday Feb 12, our school district, Rowan-Salisbury Schools @RSSinformation, held a half day of systemwide professional development on blended learning. Our district’s entire teaching staff met at South Rowan High @SRHSRaiders to hear Alex Rodriguez’s presentation on blended learning. This was a great presentation on the history and future of learning and teaching, where we need to go and specifically the role blended learning can/will play in that transition.

Our district began the digital conversion two years ago. We have developed a strategic plan that focuses on the learning needs, environments and structures of our students and schools. A particularly well developed piece of this strategic support we have put in place to help teachers with this transition. [our district’s strategic plan including goals, vision and strategies are accessible here]

10-drivers-of-blended-learning I was first introduced to blended learning almost nine years ago when I working closely with some mentors/friends from North Carolina Virtual Public School. Bryan Setser and Don Lourcey were two pioneers who truly changed my learning and growth trajectory – not just with helping me understand digital learning [which I thought I already had an idea of] and blended learning, they helped me become a connected educator. I credit four people with helping me in my evolution as a learner and leader and these two played a fundamental role. His presentation hit on some major points that I’ve been schooled on before about blended learning, particularly the goal of having students become more independent learners. So often, our talks on blended learning center on the tech instead of the desired outcome of making better learners of students. GRR-modelThis gradual release model visual is a focus we should have for all classrooms wherein we shift focus/work from the teacher to the student. Blended learning provides a means and framework for that to happen.

Rodriguez’s presentation gave us a great jump point for future planning. Part of his wrap up was an intro to three questions that we carried into smaller group conversations. With Daniel Herring, assistant principal at Corriher-Lipe middle and connected educator, we co-lead a discussion with the district’s 6th grade math teachers on these follow up questions:

  • What’s your next step in blended learning?
  • What can blended learning look like? Upcoming lesson?
  • How will your group stay connected after the workshop?

It was a pleasure to help lead this discussion. Our group was on fire with strategies, tools, shifting and staying connected. Even though we had a short session, we were able to cover some essential ground. We skimmed the surface of:

  • looking at the role of the teacher during different aspects of the lesson/activity
  • what do we want students to do and how do we want them to do
  • the critical need for formative assessments in an evolving classroom
  • how tools help us in our role as facilitators

I was inspired halfway through our discussion to host all the district 6th math teachers at our school next month to continue to conversation and begin drilling down further how to change our practices to take learning to deeper level. Whether you are a 1:1 like us or a school with some tech resources but looking for a way to change learning and teaching, a deeper dive into blended learning structures can help. I’ve decided to dust off some of my resources and reconnect with some PLN members to help me with my re-acclimation. Let’s connect up!

[AND if you are a 6th math teacher in driving distance of my school and want to join our talk, it will be the first week in March. Any and all are welcome!]

How important is it to you..?

I took this picture last week in our media center. As I began to ask questions about what was going on, I was inspired to share some thoughts in this post.


How important is it to you to have things happen a certain way?

In the picture above, this student is not in trouble. He simply asked that for today, for that lesson, he sit by himself to work on his own. The teacher agreed knowing that he would miss some of the direct instruction that set up the lesson. I applaud her insight for valuing a perceived need of this student over the routine of making sure everyone hears her talking points. This student completed the work just fine independently and what he needed, he got later from the teacher.

This scene made me think of instances when I’ve seen practices that are more about tradition or habit than an opportunity to flex to accommodate student needs or desires to engage at a higher level. These are some recent pics I’ve taken that have sparked some questions.

How important are desks, rows to you?

How important is it that students sit in chairs/desks?

I love walking into this teachers classroom. When you walk in, kids are getting that work!! Its about what kids need to do and what they need to know and they understand those expectations. I like the two kids sitting under the whiteboard but I love how comfortable the young man is under the desk. He is in his own world doing what needs to be done. Teacher preference vs getting that work – #nobrainer!


How important is it that students sit?

How important is it that desks look like desks?


This picture came from the West Rowan High School on a recent visit. This is during their flexible period where students can choose where they work and what they will work on. I love that students who need to stand here can stand and get it done. But I love more that we are repurposing furniture. Instead of something pricey out of a catalog, we use what we have and in this case some redesigned old bookshelves [with the help of our cabinet class]. I will take functional and comfortable any day of the week.

Our school had a recent visit from Melanie Farrell and Kyle ‘My Info’ Hamstra. I shared a lot of the great things our teachers are doing including their building some collaborative work spaces for our students. Melanie shared a personal frustration in that her son’s room at home has a table that allows him to stand and do his work but at school, he is forced to sit all day, taking him out of his work comfort zone. When I think of the adults in my building that have to stand or get out of their seats after several minutes, I cringe for students who have the expectation to sit for long periods of time.



I have had to challenge my own personal thinking/philosophy on this one.

I’ve always prided myself on the fact that I have been very flexible with my grading policy as a classroom teacher. Every year in the classroom, I’ve told students and parents that if you turn it into me at the end of the quarter I will change any grade. While that was a good start, I didn’t focus enough on the learning. ‘Why were you so late turning that in?’, ‘Its been a long time, do you need some additional help now?’

Because my philosophy has evolved over the years I do ask my teachers is what they’re doing about the grade or about the learning outcomes that have been set? Does the grading policy get in they way of kids true learning potentials?

imagesPlease share your some of your challenge points below. Let’s keep the conversation moving.






Be That Teacher

0050ec171fb4eff4365f729391c9ab38Teaching is hard.

Change is hard.

We regularly ask teachers to make difficult adjustments to their practices. Change talks come from all levels, central office, building administrators and from the teachers themselves. If we are going to commit to relevant and rigorous learning, we have to commit to real, regular and honest conversations with ourselves, and our groups, about what we are doing in our schools, what things need to look and be like, and then work we need to engage in to get there. Without these talks and commitment, we won’t realize changes in:

  • implementing teaching practices to get students to communicate, collaborate, think critically and creatively;
  • making sure students are future ready, whether it be college or a career;
  • changing not only how we teach, but how we think and FEEL about what teaching is and should be;
  • using different mediums or approaches, sometimes that challenge us personally and professionally, to reach students
  • taking deliberate steps to meet the individual needs of every student in every class.

I recently had a conversation with some of our teachers about the difficulties we are facing in our school. As with any school, a new leader brings some new viewpoints and practices in how things are done. But it doesn’t matter if these innovations are brought in from the administration or the central office or from a strong teacher leader – changes have to be made to keep learning the priority. Reflection, new learning goals and a focus on student learning means change is inevitable.

Change is hard. And if that difficulty isn’t managed or monitored or addressed carefully frustration, resentment and feelings of hopelessness can overwhelm everyone. These feelings can cause arguments or conflicts to start between different parties. We can get caught up in making sure our point is heard or that we win a disagreement. If not handled appropriately, while battles are fought, students lose out.

0a83c260d3084c6a58067328d5eab5a0Our recent talk was about how some of the recent changes in our school was affecting everyone. I wanted to convey two big points with the staff. First, I wanted to acknowledge that I know change is hard. Change is particularly difficult for educators because we invest so much, personally and professionally, into creating learning experiences for students and our colleagues that when we find something successful we want to protect and guard it. Every person wants to build something that is good and valuable. These kinds of investments are significant and when we are successful in creating a great activity or lesson to share or design great presentations or trainings for our colleagues, we want to protect it – after all it is great and we are proud. The hard part, especially for teachers, is when we have created lessons or activities that were engaging at some point but have to be changed or modified to fit the needs of different learners or environments or times. Because of investments in time, emotion and sweat, it can be hard to let. These factors make change hard. They have to be respected and heard.


The second part of my message was a call to the teachers in our great school to rise to the challenge. Our school is great school because we have committed teachers who are determined to make a difference. You can’t have one without the other. They do many things that unseen to make sure students are successful and thriving. Its inspiring to see our teachers daily trying to reach students, personally and academically, and push them to grow and improve, if only just a little, from the previous day. And as they push kids, we have to push ourselves as well.

Be That Teacher who:

  • builds a great activity with a teammate and later asks, how can we improve next time?;
  • acknowledges the frustration, comes into the principal’s office to vent, hugs it out and leave with a plan to do a little better;
  • doesn’t see it as a failure, but sees it as a journey;
  • is learning a new thing this week or month or year;
  • chooses not to hear a criticism but an opportunity to grow;
  • doesn’t accept a 0 or 50 or 100, but looks thinks, ‘Do my kids get it?’;
  • isn’t afraid to bring a good plan to the team and make it better;

[Some of these bullet points weren’t part of my talk but as I write this, I reflect on conversations I’ve had with teachers over the years in different schools and with members in my PLN.]

In one of the opening chapters of Mindset, Carol Dweck writes about athletes who have thrived in competitive environments where they were often outclassed. At the end, they were better for it because it forced them to develop an attitude to keep pushing and moving forward. Its not about the win, its about the struggle – that’s where the victory comes.

#bethatteacher is about change, not for the sake of change, but change to give kids what they need for their future. Its about being happy enough with ourselves to accept that we have to keep working at what we are doing for our classrooms, schools and students.

Stay motivated.

Get inspired


Its a Culture Builder, Not a Selfie Stick

We had our #OpenHouse Thursday night and it was a rousing success! After some heavy promotion and incredible preparation from an incredible staff [#GoBulldogs], we enjoyed a packed gymnasium, full halls and lots of smiles!

We had two separate events – one special open house for 6th graders and a separate one for 7th/8th. Both the same night, just 30 minutes apart. This allowed us to spend time with our 6th graders and introduce our teachers, support staff, share some essential logistics and give them the ‘run of the school’ minus 7th and 8th graders who already have working knowledge of the school but just have to get to know teachers, transportation changes and more importantly catch up with old friends.

Our night was a great success.

School Leader’s Tool for Culture Building

Most of you know that my last staff, #broncopride, gave a me a selfie stick as a going away present. It has without a doubt been a lot of fun at lot different events. It helps start conversations, make introductions and create some great memories. When I was given the selfie stick at the faculty meeting I took 40+ pictures in an hour, the next day in school I took 50+. At these open houses, I effortlessly took 110+ pictures. I’ve loaded some of them below.

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There are a couple of easy takeaways from the draw of the selfie stick in the principal’s/school leader’s hand:

  1. People believe in the approachability;
  2. The selfie stick says its ok to trust me;
  3. We draw together to be a part of something bigger [Relationships, relationships, relationships];
  4. Fun opens the door but the conversations keeps them there.

Culture Building

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that you can never take culture for granted, it can surface in the most obscure places. That night, I saw new parents and students, returning parents and students, faculty and staff take time to be a part of something bigger and happy! This was a great time because we all were a part of happy event we will remember for a while to come.

Its important to start the year off on a good note and let people know the culture of the school, the values of the leadership both involve transparency, working together and creating a welcoming environment.

So as I move forward with the school year, I’m not just having fun, I’m Who's this guybuilding a positive school culture. I’m not just taking pictures, I’m drawing my community together and letting them know that I’ll be there for them as their proud principal.

[ok, it is a lot of fun]