mccoyderek

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!

Middle School Schedule [5]: Intervention and Operations

intervention   The transition next year is about  bettering how we teach and how students learn, those are first and foremost. Our discussions in SIT and leadership focus on how this move will significantly affect those areas and change what we do.

One opportunity created from this move is our ability to manipulate our schedule  and create a small period of time wherein we determine how it will be used, when it will be used and how regularly we will use it. I’m breaking down the benefits of this time into two functionalities – its opportunity for intervention and how it benefits school operations. Both of these are critical in how we protect and promote better practices in teaching and learning.

‘The How’s’

Our schedule will essentially be four blocks of 95 minutes with slight adjustments for added time homeroom and lunch to two blocks. By taking 10 minutes from each block and chunking that time we create a 40 minute opportunity. This flex period, with design and planning, will address student needs on multiple levels. Keep in mind, even when this flex period in place for the day, there is still 85 minutes of instruction for each block. The flex period, that we will call Bronco Time at Spring Lake Middle, can be inserted before or after any period. The school scheduler will need to be mindful of the changes to minutes and schedule because this will affect the lunch period, transition times and any other functions specific to a school that are set in the day.

Intervention

A big part of middle school concept is to design and structure support systems for kids in this transitional time. Middle school educators know that all students need support academically [either remediation or enrichment], socially [mentoring, group discussions]. Design and planning will help address these needs. Typically, this time is scheduled at the beginning of the day to reach kids while they are fresh are receptive.

Academic – Its important to know where our students are in terms of knowledge gaps and concept mastery. This is why schools use a variety of data points, both formative and summative, in their planning efforts. Using your schools’ data, you can create groups that focus on different objectives. The challenge here is to think beyond the traditional. We typically think in terms of who has reached a certain cut off in tested subjects and design lessons or activities that are either remedial, covering objectives students didn’t score well in or give some kids the opportunity to preview some new material. This support is important but we cannot limit our efforts to only this course of response. As a math teacher to my heart, I know this reaction well. This is a time for us to develop some creative lessons and activities that we normally wouldn’t dream of during school year [which we should be doing] and challenge all kids.

 ContinuumTriangle

Social – All kids need mentoring. This is their time to learn about themselves, dealing with people and problems and life and they need guidance. It is our duty to put a plan in place that will help kids. The students at Spring Lake Middle are great kids and many come serious needs that can easily be overlooked in the day. Our Bronco Time will be a strategy to provide regular talk and share time for our students. When the middle school concept began, there was major effort creating and maintaining an ‘advisory time’ for adults to connect with a group of students. Some middle schools have shifted from this practice. Speaking honestly, I have not given this the priority in my schools that it deserves. Protecting this times and planning the year out ahead of time will go a long way in minimizing internal school conflicts and helping kids know better ways to deal with problems.

While there is value in meeting regularly, using this intervention time will not be daily or even weekly for Spring Lake Middle. Strategic planning and implementation doesn’t mean we have meet every day or every week. It means we have to plan for our desired outcome, design instructional activities and implement them effectively.  Individual school needs will warrant different balances between the two intervention tactics. Be willing and ready to differentiate.

Operations

   This flex period can be held between any blocks of the day, including before and after the 1st and last blocks. Thinking of this period of time as a moving piece that can be placed strategically at any point of the day helps us in planning events. These include pep rallies, guest speakers and other special school events. It helps me protect the school schedule by making sure that we are planning school events that don’t significantly impede our school schedule. This is an important piece in our duty to protect the schedule – making sure that we are maximizing instructional time. Having a plan for these times beforehand is important. The above schedule outlines two of the more common uses for the flex period at my previous school. It will be worthwhile to develop a schedule for other possibilities and share all them with the staff at the beginning of the year. The staff needs to know what’s expected and how the day will look like. Making decisions on a whim is how we harm teaching and learning.

The flex period, our Bronco Time, will play a big role in reaching kids. I’ve seen it make a difference in a high school. We thought of that time as the opportunity to tutor kids who normally couldn’t attend after school. Expanding our thinking here to meet not just the academic but the social/emotional needs of our kids is how we are going to make a huge difference.

Middle School Schedule [3]: Support

   We have school leadership meetings twice a month in my current school district, Cumberland County Schools. The topic of one of our middle school principal break out sessions centered around our thoughts, vision and plans for our school schedules for next year.

   This was a great meeting. It’s obvious that there has been a great deal of conversation in these schools regarding preferences, school needs, beliefs and philosophies. Principals talked about plans to implement a 7 period schedule, 8 period, and A/B rotations of various types. There was a lot of conversation and plans for support on all.

Differentiated Support

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This was a great talk. One of my take-aways from this meeting was the obvious level of support from our district leaders. Our meeting was attended by our Executive Director of Secondary Curriculum, a Director of School Support, an Assistant Superintendent and the Superintendent.

   The discussion generated a lot of conversation: pros & cons, ‘how would I implement this at my school?’, different school needs dictating different configurations. At no point were we told we all had to agree on one schedule configuration. Our only mandate was to ensure that high levels of instruction were maintained across the district and that transferring students within our district could move and not be hampered by different schedules in different schools.

I really appreciate this supportive outlook and approach. My school has different needs from other schools. Providing us the flexibility to make best decisions [as we see fit] supports principals and schools, but more importantly helps us implement a differentiated structure tailored specifically for our students needs.

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.

iPads and Google Forms for Classroom Observations – Team Solution

 The Spring Lake Middle Instructional Leadership Team had a great collaborative growth experience with the Cumberland County Schools Curriculum and Instruction Team.

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    The CCS C&I Teams makes regular visits to schools to observe classrooms and give feedback to the principal and/or other personnel. For our visit today, our Executive Director of Secondary Curriculum, John Gibbs, visited with our curriculum specialist in math, social studies, science and literacy. They spent several hours in the building visiting classes, having conversations and ended the day with a group share of plus/deltas. These visits are always positive – at the end we all have a clear direction of the successes and work throughs.

   During our conversation, I learned the C&I team capture walk  through data using a GoogleDrive spreadsheet. They set up multiple fields with specific information they want to collect and later review. All the specialists understand how to manipulate the information, including using colors to highlight certain information for various reasons.

   There is a high degree of synchronicity this week with Google Forms and Walk Thrus/Informal Observations. Earlier this week, after a lot of productive work, I made a post on how to send feedback from a GoogleForm [GoogleForm for Feedback Tool]. Utilizing the features of GoogleDrive is a great way to make sure a team is being data driven and all are going in a good direction.

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   I shared our GoogleForm Walk Through tool with them. We started the talk showing the parallels in both spreadsheets – exact same end results and capabilities of looking at data. We next went into a talk about how the GoogleForm streamlines the process adding the information into the spreadsheet. This process is made altogether easier with the use of our iPads. We shared iPads from one of our Project Carts and paired off with the C&I and did more walk thrus using our tool. We wanted the team to compare the experience with iPads vs laptop and reviewing the data at the end.

   This was a great collaborative session for everyone. We got to share our process and tools with a visiting team and we benefited from their feedback on our walk thru tool. This is value of finding the solution through collaboration.

The Balance

‘Do we focus on fine tuning past traditions or work implementing new innovations/processes?’

This was the sum up of a conversation I was part of with my assistant principals.  As a fairly new administrative team we have pretty frequent conversations covering a variety of topics. My two APs are both in their second year and highly competent, productive administrators. They were already in place when I started. I’m very fortunate that we have parallel priorities and we all share the same top priorities: high expectations for staff and students and a focus on instruction that will be relevant and beneficial for all students.

Benefits of fine tuning past traditions
Part of our conversation focused on some recent conversations we all have had with several staff members about ‘how things have been done.’ We all can relate to these talks. As school leaders, we have to critically evaluate the value of maintaining a practice or determine is it time to abandon. With this we run the risk of alienating some stakeholders, staff, community, students, who are very invested in a tradition. On the flip side, it is a great opportunity to solidify relations with stakeholders and show everyone the value we, as school leaders, place in their feelings, concerns and past work.

Diving into innovation
Particular to this conversation, the topic of innovation not only involved instructional practice but how  methods in internal processes are conducted. This includes weekly newsletters, staff call outs, lesson plan submission and a several other school functions. Changing our approach to these things will definitely be serious adjustments for several stakeholders but it makes what we do relevant. There is inherent value in bringing practices and operations into the 21st century.

My sum up involved one of my favorite takeaways from Jim Collins. I think school leaders have to maintain a widened perspective. The ‘either/or’ approach to solutions is where we marginalize stakeholders and minimize opportunities for improvement. The ‘and’ solution allows us to respect the work that has been done and needs doing. The thing that makes us uncomfortable about the ‘and’ solution is that we can’t be formulaic about implementing it. For this situation, how do we know when to put tradition above innovation or vice versa? Knowing ourselves [as leaders], knowing our schools and staff and community all play apart. Being new to my building, I try to wrap in different viewpoints that I think have unique and significant value add potential.

Balancing the approach is what helps schools move forward and ensuring we are really serving kids. It truly is my desire that everyone believe I am vested in moving forward and honoring tradition.