mccoyderek

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

 

 

 

 

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]

Making a Difference in Our Communities

This past month, we had the opportunity to participate in another great community event that really highlights the best of working in schools and serving kids.

When I first arrived at Spring Lake Middle, I was told about several strong, impactful, long standing community relationships that have made a difference in our school and community at large. For example, we have a great relationship with our Boys & Girls Club.We have a mutually beneficial agreement with them in sharing resources and supporting students. We can’t name all the ways this partnership benefits kids and families in our community.

Saturday, December 14th, Spring Lake Middle proudly hosted the T.I.G.A.P.A. Food Drive. We partner with T.I.G.A.P.A. to commit to being a service to our community. This partnership has proven to be an impactful vehicle in helping the needy families in our community.

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I was proud and overwhelmed to see the community support we  received that day. One reason we do this is to give our students an opportunity to put in some community service hours. We had several students show up to gladly help with boxing up food packages and carrying out heavy boxes to family cars. Planning ahead, this is an opportunity for our school to promote a bigger community service opportunity for more students. We also received organizational support from several local groups, organized largely by our newly elected Alderman James O’Garra. Without his help and dedication, we would not have been able to help feed over 300 families that day.

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These events are important for educators. Being a part of this strong sense of community helps recharge battery and provide new focus for us. We normally plan for outside operations for these food drives and the community came out expected that. But given this day was cold with steady drizzle – just enough to make standing outside for a couple of hours a very miserable day. With a  simple decision to move the event inside and making more restrooms and seating available, we had more grateful people open up conversations about the community, families and what they can do serve our school. Support will look different for everyone but at the end we welcome all support!

I’m thankful for T.I.G.A.P.A. and this inspirational opportunity. School leaders at all levels can develop a pretty narrow view of what serving the community is – this is a great way to create needed new looks.

School Leadership 3.0: Make Your Tools Mobile

photo-1This is a picture of my office desk. I’ve also made it the background for my Twitter profile.

I was inspired to take this picture after a teacher visited my office and she immediately remarked about these tools that cluttered about my desk [this picture doesn’t reflect my typical work organization]. She questioned if it was absolutely necessary to have all these to do my job. After I rationalized that there were only three tools here, an iPad, my Smartphone and a desktop with and attached monitor, I came back with a firm yes! I can’t do my job as a school leader without these tools.

My primary function is to improve student learning and how teachers teach. I do that effectively by choosing the right tools. When we talk about tools, sometimes the conversation leans towards hardware and functionality. This talk will be about on the web tools I use as a 3.0 school leader.

We can’t say enough about the critical functionality of mobility in our jobs. Being able to carry out duties, no matter where I am helps me maintain consistency and improve my efficacy in my daily and long term practice. Cloud computing has dramatically changed society and how we function as schools and organizations. Being able to transfer information from one device to another is how we make a difference in teaching and learning and allow us to remain current on tools and thinking that will help us change how teachers, community and students see the value of these  tools and how they aren’t future practice but current necessities.

Social Media – Twitter, LinkedIn, WordPress all contribute to my continuous professional development and learning. They help define me a lifelong learner. As we endeavor to design personalized experiences for our students, we can also embrace the flexibility and impact of our dive into social media.

Coaching – Using an iPad or smartphone to record lesson and direct instruction is the best way to take the people out of instructional coaching and make it about a change conversation about practices, behavior and learning. Keeping continuous, synchronized notes helps me and my administrative team maintain a singular focus in our change talks.

Administrative Organization: Evernote is a tool I’ve come to recently integrate into my practice. Thanks to John Robinson, @21stprincipal, and his blog and accounts I’ve come to rely on it to help me document my day, archive critical learning and quickly record notes needed for upcoming events. The synchronization between all my devices makes this a tool invaluable.

Communication and Organization: Its hard to imagine carrying out our functions and duties in this day and age without Google’s cloud services. Going beyond Gmail and Calendar [which are crucial] other Google products are vital to us moving schools:

    • Chrome – Once I log in, my bookmarks are with me no matter what device. I can navigate websites I need while at school, home or on the road.
    • Hangout – Participating in chat and discussions with my PLN grow my skills and understanding. I take this back to school and community to effect a change. As as a means of connecting with people, a quick video chat beats a phone call hands down.

3.0 school leadership is not about technology, hardware/software, it has to be about changing teaching and learning for the better. These tools are about making a difference in our schools. Future leaders have to have a willingness to dive into these tools, explore their usage and be willing to innovate. Future leadership and practice starts today!

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.

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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.

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.