mccoyderek

Teach from Home

I often talk about the great things our school system engages in. Like a lot of educators who work for Rowan-Salisbury Schools, I am proud to be a part of the innovative endeavors our school system leads. Its great to work for a place that values innovation and change to better the lives of students and teachers.

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-8-24-47-amI recently wrote a post about our school system approving the opportunity for educators to work from home, giving them credit for the work they did at home, planning and collaborating, on inclement weather days [Work from Home post]. This is a great move in valuing and trusting teachers and respecting the work that everyone does for the school system. When Dr Moody, our superintendent, brought up ‘Work from Home’ at a recent principal meeting, the conversation of Teaching from Home came up [guilty]. As a 1:1 school district in our 3rd year of deployment, our school district has been working hard to increase our competencies and capabilities with digital teaching and learning. I’m particularly proud of the hard work our school commits to in creating personalized learning experiences that challenge students to create and demonstrate what they know. This was the thought for proposing virtual learning on inclement weather days. Our immersion and commitment to digital learning has yielded some great success – now is a great time to demonstrate that learning can extend beyond the walls and schedule of the brick and mortar school.

We had to present this to our school board. Accompanying me was one of our assistant principals, Tricia Hester, and one of our parents. Our parent was my hero for the night. I asked her to speak from the heart about her daughter’s experience working from home on the last snow day. Even though it was not required work, most of our teachers posted assignments for our students to complete. Mrs Arnez spoke eloquently and plainly that her daughter and other children she knew completed the work with the expectation that this was expected and a new norm. This testimony carried significant weight with the board. They were able to hear that the resources and expectations set by our school district have changed mindsets and capabilities and that this next step is a natural step.

elearningAfter some good, critical questions about our goals and design, our Board ultimately approved our recommendation for piloting a year of virtual learning on inclement weather days for the remainder of the year. Their detailed questions showed a commitment to innovative practices that accelerate learning and teaching [change to improve and not change for the sake of change]

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Our plan was approved!

The main concerns of the night about lack of access for some of our students. West Rowan Middle is the most rural school in Rowan-Salisbury Schools. Some of our students have 75+ minute bus rides to part that have little to no wifi at home. This is a main reason why West Rowan Middle is a great trial candidate – if we can make it work, it can work anywhere. Our instructional leadership team and our Executive Director of Middle Grades, Tina Mashburn, get major props for setting the vision, resource matrix and expectations for teachers and students and parents for developing the Virtual Learning Plan we developed and presented to the board. Creativity and practicality helped more than anything. Without going into all the resources involved the major focus and area of our plan centers on teachers being well trained and more than proficient with the digital tools we plan to use and fully capitalizing on any advanced notice we can take advantage of and prepare resources for students with limited access at home.

Our major goal is to not interrupt instructional plans created by teachers. As I assured the board, if teachers have planned to teach activities for the next week, we want to see those activities fully delivered or with whatever modification needed to make it happen. To my knowledge, we are the only school in North Carolina to try this [if I’m wrong, please let me know] but I do know very few schools or districts across our nation have tried this. #deepdivers

I have to give several shout outs for this:

  • Dr Lynn Moody – I constantly share her vision and innovativeness regularly whenever I can. This is a superintendent who gets it [if you are inclined to do so, you should visit]
  • Rowan-Salisbury School Board – They asked great, reflective questions. Travis Allen one of the board members used the analogy of the hockey puck not always coming to you – you have to go where it is – this is where learning and teaching is going. We should be there;
  • West Rowan Middle Instructional Leadership Team and Tina Mashburn – awesome plan and foresight! You guys rock!
  • The Great Teachers at West Rowan Middle – Nothing happens without great teachers, NOTHING! When I presented this to them, they jumped at this hard! They are ready for this endeavor!

At the board meeting while I was walking out, someone said ‘Let’s hope we don’t have to find out how well it works [meaning let’s hope we don’t have anymore snow days]!’ I quickly replied, ‘Naw, let’s hope we do!’ Our purpose for this isn’t to embrace change for the sake of change – our purpose is to replace a outmoded notion, make up days, with a relevant learning experience utilizing tools we already embrace and by doing so, eliminating the need for make up days. That’s right, as we continue to be improve on this and capability, our students families and teachers bewp-1485263977021.jpgnefit by not having to make up days at the end of the school year of dipping into holidays. #worthit

We’re looking forward to this. I really applaud my teachers for embracing this as doable and continuing their work into digital teaching and learning. This is a great next step for changing our understanding of learning and education.

Lowered Expectations

Teaching is one of the most fulfilling professions ever. Ask any teacher who’s had a previous student return to talk fondly about their time in the classroom and you’ll know what makes this job so rewarding. But along with this fulfillment comes some of the greatest challenges – committing to lifelong personal growth and professional development and being willing to shift beliefs, personal and professional. We can’t be great teachers if we don’t agree to change and adapt practices to suit every new group of students we receive every year.

I think this is one of the baffles for pre-teachers or non-educators – why not simply teach the way we were taught? Why not run classrooms and schools like they were 10/20 years ago? Straight rows, teacher at the front of the class answering questions, 10 neat problems on a sheet of paper, raising hands, etc. We know this way and how things can be. The problem with this thinking is we have had years to look at why and how this model ends up marginalizing different learners and different types of learners in the classroom. By embracing new and better, we can truly change our practice to reach more students where they are and grow them as learners and citizens.

I was recently sharing with a great group at NC Association of Compensatory Educators and we started talking about the need to shift thinking and teaching practices to reach all students, especially in our most challenging schools. Its easy to settle or make excuses for what we think is the good of students. Settling can come from a good place but it has harmful consequences.

Lowered Expectations is a New Form of Discrimination

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When we accept student limitations or make judgements/predictions based on their family or neighborhoods or race or gender, no matter how we phrase it or who we speak to, we are putting them in a box. The bias we are creating eventually becomes a reality of practice in the classroom or school.

The above visual is one of my favorites. The first box represents the one size fits all classroom it is so easy to create. Its easy to see how the student who needs us the least gets the most, often unnecessarily. And our neediest student, who may not always ask for help or doesn’t know how to ask for help, gets left out or hurt the most.

What can we do to ensure we have high expectations for our students?

  • Embrace PBLs;
  • Hugs and high fives every class period;
  • Build time in classrooms to have interviews/one-on-one talks with kids to find out what they know, don’t know and what YOUR role is in making sure they truly grow;
  • Commit to learning about personalize learning and find a way to implement in your school, classroom or department;
  • Let students listen to music in a classroom while they work and give them a choice of where to complete the high level work you are developing;
  • Commit to getting honest feedback from a planning partner/PLC about the quality of learning activities developed and that there are real opportunities for discussions with students;
  • Have real data talks planned;
  • Change your learning environment to reflect comfortable spaces;
  • Being willing to be a voice of change that benefits students.

We have to agree that all students can learn at a high level. We have to agree that  all students can grow, that they can leave us better than when they came to us. And we have to accept this will be hard, great work to see it through.

Our parents send us the very best they have, we have to do the very best we can to improve every aspect of their lives the best we can.

 

 

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 http://buff.ly/1QfahPt

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.

 

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.

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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.
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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!

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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.

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Grading

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.

#bethatteacher

 

 

 

 

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.

#BeThatTeacher

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

#bethatteacher

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!