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.

 

 

It Became a Little Clearer Today..,

The two social studies teachers from our two 6th grade teams collaborated to create this unique learning opportunity.

To help make a great connection for their unit on recent history in India, Maria O’Connor arranged for this Skype lesson/presentation with an 18 year college student in Mumbai. Samuel Thomas, @SamuelThomas95, is a 18 year college student working on a program comparable to a CPA program. [They know each other from their mutual fanaticism with futbol] He graciously entertained and answered questions from our kids on a variety of topics covered in their class.  Samuel is a obviously a smart and engaged young man. Hearing his responses, its easy to see why that he is clearly knowledgeable involved. [Check out his Twitter profile to learn about his interests and where he’s going]

From the students’ questions, I could tell they’ve had conversations about Hinduism/religion, the caste system, general culture questions. These helped provide the share session some good direction and streamline responses. Planning ahead and giving students this guidance is a great means to ensure that the targeted learning outcomes are achieved.

After listening in on this #skypeintheclass share session, it became a little more clear today:

  • That our 6th graders really heard about the impact Ghandi made in India and the world ;
  • That our 6th graders understand how similar and different cultures are around the world;
  • That a 12 minute talk from an 18 year old in Mumbai made as much of an impact on learning [if not more] than talks and discussions and activities in a class. [Take 15 minutes on #skypeintheclass to find someone who will make that #differencemaking connection]
  • That planning the EQs and learning outcomes ahead of time and putting those in the kids hands is as equally important planning for this #Skype experience.

I’ve always been a fan of #skypeintheclass and this lesson validated the need to create more unique, distinctly relevant learning experiences like this one.

Prepping our Middle Schoolers for a Blended Experience

Several weeks ago, we began some strategic planning to address a large class-number problem we knew we would be having in our upcoming second semester. The short description of our solution is that we would create a blended learning experience, using local resources, for these students. The beauty of our solution is that we would not have to acquire any new resources, we could use existing resources in our school. The focus of our work would be in training staff members and students in the format, design and tools we would need to have a successful experience.

Training SLMS Students on GoogledDrive5

We have designed an online mini-course for our health classes. We had our Health/PE teachers collaborate with  our instructional coaches to develop quality online curriculum for this blended learning experience. Curriculum design is a passion of mine so this is right up my alley! It was exciting to see this develop during our progress monitoring checks. After we decided on the content, choosing our delivery tool was next. We are fortunate in that Cumberland County Schools, #Broadfinalist, is a Google district and one of the top 10 largest school districts on Edmodo. With a combination of the two we feel we had great resources we need to make this successful.

The most important component is getting our learners ready for this endeavor. We outlined all the operational knowledge we know our learners need and came up with a pretty concise but critical list. Our students have been on Edmodo for years so we felt comfortable with that knowledge base. We designed a training protocol for our students on Google. @CumberlandCoSch enabled Google accounts for all 6-12 students earlier this year. Our training was a walk through on the various Google tools they would need to complete assignments and navigate coursework. The pictures here are of our training day with kids. They came with a lot of prior knowledge and of course some had more experience than others but by the end of the session, all students were where we needed them. In the pictures, you will see our Innovation Coach leading a talk with a group [I even took over session when she was called to the office].

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This will be a great experience for teachers and learners, for our school as a whole. I plan on showcasing our plus/deltas and progress with our staff as a whole to show where we can go and move as a school. I’m proud of this experience we are creating and building in house. I’m excited about this because its another chance to share a real-life working example of students centered learning experiences that our learners need and that our school can provide.

Earlier this week, I found this article on the different types of blended learning models out there. A real value of this article is the summary of the benefits of blended learning. Our original plan was sparked by necessity, pure and simple. But while we’re here and have engaged in some great curriculum design and planned for great learning experiences for our learners, we are going protect this as endeavor and promote it benefits. Hopefully, we’ll see this expand and grow.

I need to give thanks to a lot of people for this:

  • SLMS Instructional Team for dreaming and pushing forward and our Health/PE teachers for curriculum design
  • Innovation Coach – Ms Crumpler, you rock!
  • 6th grade Broncos – Kids Rock!
  • NCVPS – Bryan Setser and Don Lourcey for first exposing me to blended learning
  • Donna Peters and Dave Cassady
  • Cumberland County Schools for having the foundation in place and willingness to be flexible
  • And of course my PLN!

Inspired Support

I took part in a truly inspiring meeting several weekends ago.

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We recently had the fortune to hire a new teacher from Michigan to join our staff. We are very excited about the prospect of her making a difference in our school. She contacted me recently to let me know her family was vacationing several hours away and wanted to stop by to see her room and get an idea of how to set up. Her stop through was going to be on a Saturday. Of course, I agreed to open the school and meet her and her family. I remember the excitement of starting the year off as a first year teacher and every year since so I wasn’t going to miss this experience.

I extended the invitation to my 8th grade teachers and was elated to see that three of my 8th grade leaders volunteered to give up some of their Saturday morning to meet and greet their new teammate and welcome her family.

It was all smiles and great talks that morning! I wanted to make sure that our newest staff member felt not only welcome to the school but also knew that she was supported in all of her endeavors. We were joined by experienced teachers and a first year teacher – all provided curriculum resources, suggestions for living spaces and advice for support for the family.

This meant a lot to me. I speak frequently about our works with our high needs population. Its exciting to see educators who are willing to commit to our schools promise to grow kids. Our students thrive because we find ways to wrap incredible support around kids. This experience is testament to how we continue to grow and support teachers – by providing that next level of support and encouragement they need.

In a time of dwindling resources and wavering support, we can always count on supporting each other.

Your Toolbox

I had a great, reaffirming conversation with another administrator in my school district @CumberlandCoSch. images

At a  scheduling workshop for secondary schools, I met up with Dan Krumanocker and Troy Lindsey, principal and assistant principal of Douglas Byrd High School. A couple of months ago, I helped Dan [@DanielJK68] with a Twitter tutorial, basically some quick tips on maximizing Twitter. I met Troy there and we had a great talk about Twitter and social media use in the school. This week, our district is hosting support scheduling workshops for secondary schools. We are transitioning to a new support system next year and this open meeting is a way for answer any questions school may have. As I was leaving one day, I stopped and spoke to Troy as he was working with his crew. Our conversation quickly went to Twitter. He was commenting on how I share content over Twitter and how we can all grow from the sharing.

We talked about using Twitter as a means to grow and sharpen skills and how its similar to a toolbox. Twitter is a means to grow the number of tools in your toolbox. Its a non-stop, right-on-time pd and research tool. It facilitates 360 degree, 24/7 sharing opportunities. Its there when and how we need. One great and undeniable benefit that defies physics is that Twitter adds more tools to the toolbox without making your toolbox heavier. I make consistent reference of how my PLN lightens my load by helping me with answers and strategies that go directly to helping me be a better leader to my school, community, teachers and students. Troy’s sentiment was simple – sharing works! If you share a resource that works in your school, others can try it and have positive or negative results or simply chose not to try it. Either way, that is how people get what they need.

We have to develop a culture where sharing is expected!

This was a great conversation and a reminder to me that we have a new dimension for not only training new school leaders and but enabling our continued growth. Social media and new media tools are a part of it. We all have to do our part to help our new, continued learning – either as new learners or new leaders!

Embrace your PLN! Share resources and what help you grow.

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!

Sharing GoogleForms Observations and Teacher Feedback

   Several weeks ago, the principals in our cluster got together and did an instructional walk thru in my building. This is the second one we’ve done in our district, the first at our cluster high school. This great talk inspired me to offer my school as the next walk thru site. I’ve always invited open feedback into the instructional practices in my school – this transparency is a great way to make a difference in learning and teaching. I asked the visiting administrators to visit any and every classroom they felt like. Every classroom, even empty ones, has data we can use to provide teachers information that will affect learning. We had a great follow up discussion and shared several points my team acted on immediately but a great discussion to evolve was how we use GoogleForm as a walk thru tool and data collector. We shared our process and tool with the administrators. Since we use iPads for our visits, we shared iPads from our iPad cart. The experience left the administrators wanting to learn how to create their own walk thru tool.

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Sharing and Building

   This past Friday I led a collaborative share session with these administrators and school leaders on creating a GoogleForm for a walk thru tool. Our group consisted of principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches and teachers. This larger group represented the school leaders who play an active part in the instructional monitoring in their building.

   My talk broke down into two parts:

  1. Rationale for walk thrus and using GoogleForms as the tool;
  2. Creating the GoogleForms Walk Thru and installing the component that will enable feedback to be sent to the teachers.

   Collecting and reviewing data on teaching and learning is a critical part of instructional supervision. It has become an integral part of our dialogue, training, and planning process. I’ve written about it here in a previous post. Adding the component for enabling feedback has multiple steps and technical but we led the group through the process. Now everyone in attendance has a fully functioning, walk thru form that can email feedback back to teachers. This is a difference making process for the schools in our district.

   I‘m a firm believer that you get more from sharing and this experience has only validated that. There was a lot of dialogue generated from this visit. One great piece came from Kevin Hasinger @KevinJHasinger, Principal at Long Hill Elementary. Kevin had some great value-add regarding adding metrics to observations to help communicate engagement. That piece, in addition to the other observations made about the tool will help all the schools with their observation efforts.

   This was a great experience for our cluster school leaders. It is a real example of the need for educators to continue to share and connect. I learned information from my PLN and was able to share with school leaders in my cluster and district.