mccoyderek

Motivations for Joining a New Team

For most schools, summer is a time for conversations and interviews for vacancies. Every new day in summer brings about new opportunity for hiring more staff to bring into the school, an opportunity to bring new skills, backgrounds and perspectives to make for a more diverse learning environment.

tumblr_nqqbb7KYTq1u3mvsoo1_1280I look forward to these talks because I am always looking for different voices and thoughts to make my team[s] better. Creating and building a healthy schools means building a team [I avoid the word family here] that is focused on growth and improvement and school goals. A healthy school can weather conflict and challenge amongst team discussions and planning and come out better, stronger, even renewed at the end. Every principal is looking for these lead learners, at all levels, to make classrooms, grade levels, departments and groups better.

I’ve recently began to focus on why people want to work at West Rowan Middle. West Rowan Middle is a great school with a great reputation, academics and athletics. We are fortunate that our school has a special place in many local hearts. While we don’t get the attention of our larger neighboring school districts, we are lucky to get the love we do. So when we’re interviewing and the question comes up about why are you looking to join, the answers vary widely. Its great to hear prospective teachers say they are looking for growth opportunities/advancement, help with developing skills or just looking to teach in different environments. While this doesn’t guarantee a job, it does get us off to a great start. And its sometimes like finding the treat in the Crackerjack when you meet the educator who’s family has recently transplanted! Its a great feeling.

teamRecently some of my conversations have led to me probe even deeper into motivations of people seeking to join our school. One reason given is people have been ‘wanting to get close to home.’ At first, I took this as a welcome sign but as I’ve reflected on it, I am becomimg more indifferent about it, to the point now where I may not be happy with this answer.

This answer, on the surface, is about convenience. While I recognize it may make the teacher’s personal life easier, it doesn’t say anything about a commitment to making our school better or dedicating to working with our school population.

Our kids need and deserve someone who is committed to the vision, goals and mission of our school.

We have to make sure that the people we are inviting in for interviews are seeing the our school first. Our mission, vision and core values are setting a course for our school. Its made me change what I want to make sure I hear from candidates. I’ve added some questions to my interview expectations to gauge where the hearts and minds of the people wanting the join the #Bulldog staff:

  • How will you make our school better?
  • How will you make the world a better place?
  • What is the best learning activity you’ve ever created? Name two ways you can improve it.
  • If we were to interview kids from every year you taught at WRMS over the next couple of years, what would they say about how you have helped them grow?

We want and need everyone who wants to come to West Rowan Middle and make a difference for kids and our school to be a #bulldog. But all of our priorities have to align – kids first and making sure that our teams are the clear winners!

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!

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.

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.

The Grey Area [Creating Options]

Several years ago, an assistant superintendent used this graphic in a talk with a room full of assistant principals to help explain some possible  motivations and actions in stakeholder decision making:

Her talk and this image made such an impression on me, I remember it vividly 10 years later.

The focus here is the grey area. The grey area represents many things. Pertinent to this talk, it represents the objectivity, point of view, and willingness of the involved parties to negotiate. When there is an issue on the table, school leaders are dealing with students and parents who want [or need] a particular outcome and that is the focus of the conversation. What can I do or say to get a particular outcome? What will it take to change from this outcome to another outcome?

The hierarchy in the graphic shows how perspectives typically change as the conversation moves up the ladder. Again, this is generally speaking. During this trainig, we were being instructed on a need to be willing to consider multiple options and not be limited to a few options. Increasing the number of options helps us with resolving conflicts.

Using this model can help us in our efforts in leading change in our schools. Change is difficult for some of our stakeholders and a ‘black/white’ viewpoint often accompanies a hesitance to change. Consider a recent conversation you may have had with a teacher about the need to change or adopt a different approach. Those conversations often involve not being able to see options or neither party really considering/creating different options. We’re more rigid when there are only two options ahead of us.

The school leader who can help the stakeholder realize that there are more options available that may be seen or discussed will be more successful in implementing change because he/she will do a better job with improving buy-in. We increase our buy-in and help build our vision more when others feel empowered to create choices.