mccoyderek

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

cayq2spucaaiiof

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.

 

 

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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]

Boomerang – A Gmail Enhancement

Boomerang

My district, Cumberland County Schools [@CumberlandCoSch] is a Google district. Like a lot of districts, many of our functions have been sent to the ‘cloud’. In addition to benefiting from the integration of many Google apps, our email is now hosted on Google’s servers.

This is the first district I’ve not used Outlook for my email client and as such, I’m missing some impactful features. One feature is the ability to schedule emails. Email is an essential communication tool and most people see it as tool for communicating in the present. Understanding and utilizing a scheduling feature is a is a must of school leaders.

Plan and write your follow ups
All school leaders have important talks with all stakeholders and often need to have them followed up. Using the calendar is a great way to build reminders for follow ups so that we don’t forget but even after the reminder comes, we still have to craft the message [specific for this, write the email]. What better way to plan the follow up than to write the actual email and schedule it to be sent at the specific time you deem would be most beneficial.

The Danger of the Draft
One makeshift solution that’s been shared with me is to type the email and don’t send it, leaving it in ‘Drafts’. While this saves typing the email down the road, you have to remember to go back to your drafts and send the email later. The obvious danger here is without a good reminder in place, you can forget to revisit the draft to send it.

The Boomerang Solution
Boomerang is a third party solution for the scheduling problem. I’ve been using it for several days and it has tested out great. Boomerang is a quick download for Chrome or Firefox. After a couple of quick ‘how-to’ videos, the Boomerang menu item will appear on the Gmail menu bar. When you compose your first email you’ll see a change to your email appearance. I’ve attached a couple of pictures below to show you the changes.

Picture1Picture2

The videos will define how to utilize the ‘Send Later’ feature but curiosity will guide you just as well.

My Use
Next week is our district’s spring break and I don’t plan on sending any emails to my staff as they enjoy their time off. This current week, I’ve had talks with several groups about rigorous instruction and student engagement. Instead of waiting for the Sunday before to sit and craft the email, I have already created the message while it was fresh and scheduled its delivery. This method ensures teachers feel the impact of the conversations we have recently and I can count this task as complete.

Use this feature to help ensure your message gets where it needs to go, when it needs to go and more importantly, is written how you want it to read exactly.

Middle School Schedule [4]: Our Schedule

Our current schedule is a seven period day. It affords 50 minutes per class in all subjects. The way the seven period day has run here over the last couple of years is grade levels are given one common planning period in the morning by having the grade levels go to electives during  either 1st, 2nd or 3rd period. Grade level teachers are given a second planning after lunch. This second planning is not with the grade level though and is not guaranteed to be with the common subject teacher.

Picture3   Our schedule next year has a block framework. We divide our day into four 95 minutes blocks with additional time added to first and third block for homeroom and lunch respectively. The first picture shows the framework for the school schedule. One huge difference we make next year is that all four groups will go have common planning. This is grade levels and grade level subject areas. Maximizing our opportunities to plan and collaborate will make a huge difference in lesson and activity design. Our leadership team has started developing a planning tool that will facilitate and drive our planning efforts. This tool outlines essential elements of what a great lesson looks like.

   Mentioned above, our grade level teachers have common planning in the morning but not in the afternoon. This has significantly hampered creating middle school teams. This has been one intervention that I think we have sorely missed. Our students come from elementary schools where they may see 2 – 4 teachers a day and are now put in a mix where they see seven teachers daily. This is how students get lost. The middle school concept began as a means to support students during this adjustment period by utilizing teams as an intervention strategy.  Transitioning to this new schedule shows that a schedule can either create or hinder intervention opportunities for students.    

Benefits of ‘The Block’

  Our new schedule has a block framework and creates some great opportunities:

  • By combining reading and language arts classes into a new ELA class we can teach a more holistic, integrated curriculum and the 95 minutes give us more time to play;11
  • We are able to increase math time to 95 minutes;
  • Changing to this format gives science and social studies classes the option to either continue teaching in 50 minute classes [daily] or alternate in a block rotation of their choice. Teachers have the autonomy to adjust the schedule to suit their needs based on what is being taught. Ex. They can teach all six classes in a day or do an A/B rotation by day or week however they see fit. Its important to note here that our Electives teachers, particularly our performing groups, want/need to meet with students daily. With this schedule, that is not a problem

We have constant talks with our teachers about changing our teaching practices – to decrease teaching and increase facilitation. This is especially needed as we move forward with this shift.

Middle School Schedule [1]: A New Opportunity

   This is an exciting time!

photo (2)   When I first joined Spring Lake Middle last summer, I had a series of meeting with different groups and our School Improvement Team. Our talks covered getting to know the new principal to strategic planning. The SIT and I had several meeting over the summer to review our school improvement plan, preparing it for our upcoming accreditation visit.

   One item that came up regularly was our school schedule. Spring Lake Middle currently runs on a 7 period day. Spring Lake  has realized some significant success on this schedule because of support, teachers and great students. I raised discussion points that a block schedule allowed more opportunity for creativity, focus on reading/literacy, strategic and impactful collaboration and an incredible amount of innovative support opportunities for students.

   I‘ve always liked scheduling, its probably from my days as a math teacher. I’m looking forward to the next months. Building this schedule is not only going to be about building a good schedule, its going to involve having good, transition talks with the staff. For this reason, I’ll be blogging about our upcoming discussions. I’m looking forward to this. This will be instructive for the staff and in the end, really make difference for teaching and learning.

Awards Assembly/PBIS Kick Off

Friday, Feb 2nd our school took the opportunity to take a great practice and make it better.

Every nine weeks, at the end of the reporting period, we have hosted a grade level awards assembly recognizing student achievements. We invite parents and community members to the ceremony. Its been a great connecting piece and has always been a great one of the better ‘feel good’ events of the year.

Innovation

From group discussion and conversations and dreaming, we came up with notion to change this from small, separate celebrations to a big school wide recognition. After some mass reorganization and planning, we put this new plan in motion and enjoyed a tremendous celebration.

The crowd was entertained by our orchestra playing as the crowd entered along with performances by the band and chorus

The Chorus starts off by sharing what they believe..,

Chorus gets them standing

One change we were particularly proud of the addition of guest speaker Val Jones. Ms Jones is a local radio celebrity, speaker and motivator. Her topic fit squarely with our theme of achievement and students striving to get better. Below is a clip of her getting the crowd motivated by showing pride in your name. Val had a great, inspiring message for students and parents alike.

From this great experience we have really learned the value of ceasing every possible moment to connect with, share and educate students and parents alike. This was a great day of smiles and excitement for every person who entered our doors on this day.

Skyping In – #GRESA Conference

images   Last week, I had the great opportunity to Skype into the conference with a good friend of mine from Georgia. Rod Smith, @IAmRodSmith, is the Director of Technology and Communications for Griffin-Spalding Schools. I contacted him earlier to get his help with an iPad technical issue [he is an iPad guru]. We arranged for me to Skype into his session for school leaders using social media for their own growth and for connecting with their stakeholders.

A main goal was for this group to hear from a current school administrator who using social media. We previously discussed the sharing on the following points:

  • The right tools make the difference – Tools like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck make the difference, whether its scheduling tweets, organizing information, participating in chats or any number other features
  • Connecting with stakeholders – I created this information sheet [Stay Informed@SLMS] at my last school and modified to fit my current district’s social media policies. I attribute this sheet to Communicating and Connecting with Social Media
  • My changed perspective – I am a different educator today than when I first joined Twitter and began diving into social media four years ago. This journey is about lifelong learning and shifting paradigms
  • Participating in chats – I spoke to the group about my active participation/facilitation in two chats:
    • #edfocus – This began as a book study chat and has evolved to include an implementation portion. The main facilitators include @mrbernia and @normandin
    • #ncadmin was started with fellow NC administrator @CSmithGoBlue. We want a forum to keep NC administrators current on new trends but are very fortunate to be joined by administrators across our nation.
    • I encouraged all school leaders present in the session to either join an existing chat or create one specific for their circle and growth

This was a great experience! I’m thankful for the opportunity to share some impactful experiences I’ve had that could help others benefit from diving into social media. We should all can do what we can to help other educators change their perspectives on what 21st century professional development and growth means.