Lifelong Learner & Reflective Practitioner

Lifelong Learner & Reflective Practitioner

Let's Transform Our Schools Into TRUE Professional Learning Communities

Let's Transform Our Schools Into TRUE Professional Learning Communities
In Your School- Do all stakeholders subscribe to the belief that EVERYONE has something to learn and EVERYONE has something to teach? This blog can help you gain insight on how to facilitate this transformative mindset with your faculty!

Feb 3, 2014

Above & Beyond the Call of Duty

Here’s a follow-up on an idea that I shared in an earlier post. Use an ABCD Book to encourage teachers to go "above and beyond the call of duty". Here’s how it works:

At the beginning of the school year, inform teachers that the ABCD book (Above and Beyond the Call of Duty) will be kept at the front with the sign in book. Tell them that there will be a page assigned to every teacher. Tell them that you want them to update their page periodically- keeping you aware of all the wonderful things they do. Let them know that if a time comes when they:
• are up for tenure
• desire to apply for an internship
• choose to be considered for a special award
• need an employment reference after moving
• want to share artifacts for their summative evaluation, etc

You will immediately go right to this book and see what kinds of things they have done.

Several folks have emailed me requesting that I share a copy of the cover I made for this book. I'm happy to share that with anyone that would like it, however, I cannot figure out a way to attach files to these blog posts. If you email me though, I will gladly send it to you.


Jan 8, 2014

Evidence of Improved Teaching & Learning

Since we have embarked on this journey to critically reflect on the way we are teaching mathematics at my school, I have slowly begun to see increased evidence of improved teaching practices throughout our school. It is so exciting and I am extremely hopeful that we will continue to grow by looking within and reflecting on our practices and by deprivatizing our practices and allowing collegaues into our classrooms so that we can learn from one another. As I reflect on the transformation that has taken place this year, here is what I am noticing:

Many students are more comfortable talking about their thinking with their peers. They are accustomed to working with a partner and checking their work with each other.

Many sociomathematical norms (Mathematical Habits of Interaction) are taking hold in classrooms. Teachers are asking genuine questions (and students are asking when they are confused, rather than just letting it go), teachers are requiring students to use private think time (and students are allowing others to have it). They are beginning to use mistakes to start new learning.

Teachers are trying hard not to do all the talking, and letting students take charge of the conversation. This is also easier to do when the lesson isn’t an introductory lesson where there is a lot of vocabulary being introduced. But teachers are getting to a point where they are able to make some adjustments to the lessons, so there is less direct teaching and more student exploration.

Jan 6, 2014

Best Practices in Mathematics

My faculty has been participating in work-imbedded, ongoing professional development reated to best practices in teaching mathematics this year. It has been amazing to watch the transformation of teaching and learning over the course of the last six months. We are using the Teachers development Group based in Oregon to faciltate this learning. The focus this year has been to introduce and implement mathematical habits of mind and mathematical habits of interaction (sociomathematical norms).

We recently conducted some walk-through data snaps to specifically look for evidence of the habits of mind and habits of interaction. It was pretty exciting for me as I was able to see increased evidence of the implementation of the sociomathematical norms in classrooms. I saw more visual supports (such public records), more multiple solution strategies, and more evidence of teachers requiring justifications from students. I saw stduents making generalizations and conjectures.

As I reflect, I was wondering what we could do to take these things to the next level and increase the mathemaical understandings even more. After all, it's about going from GOOD to GREAT, right? I've been thrilled with the progress, but I believe that we should always strive for continuous improvement. Here are my thoughts:

* I believe that the rich conversations our faculty has had about determining the level of cognitive demand of tasks has been invaluable for all of us. If we keep the level of cognitive demand in the forefront of our minds and begin to shift our thinking as it relates to this it WILL have a significant impact. What an "Ah-Ha" moment for me when I observed my faculty having reflective dialogue about rigor and I when I witnessed teachers coming to the realization that "more" isn't necessarily "more challenging"!

* We have done an outstanding job of utilizing more anchor charts for student reference. Perhaps, posting public records that are more representative of the students' actual insights and mathematical thinking would be a great way of strengthening public records even more.

* We have all introduced the notion of mathematically productive disequilbrium and we've begun the process of really encouraging this. Some students are actually getting to the point where they recognize their own disequilibrium and they are beginning to celbrate their math A-HA!s and use their mistakes to start new learning. I think that as we introduce and encouarge more complex and nonalgorithmic thinking we must make a concerted effort to use those opportunities to capitalize on/reinforce the notion of productive disequilibrium. I strongly believe that will make a world of difference and take understandings to new levels.

We had each grade level collaborate and create a list of lesson components that could be added to ANY math lesson to increase the level of cognitive demand. Then, we came back together as a group and shared ideas. As I looked at each list and listened to the teachers from each grade level explain their list I felt extremely proud and hopeful as it was evident to me that we have definitely begun the process of establishing a common language regarding the teaching and learning of mathematics.

Aug 6, 2013

Back to School Team Building Activities

I wanted to plan some fun and engaging activities for the first few days we brought the teachers back together before the students started. As is the case in most schools, we had teachers who retired, teachers who transferred, and new teachers who just recently came on board at our school. Anytime there are major personnel changes it is a good idea to use the first day or so for “get to know you” activities and team-building. In my district, we are blessed to have the teachers for over a week before the students return so we are able to spend sometime doing these things, and still have time to get to work on the serious challenges (data disaggregation, critical self analysis and goal setting, strategic planning, and best practice implementation, etc).

However, I have found that- just like with students- if we take the time on the front end to invest in relationship and team building FIRST, the teachers will be much more receptive to rolling up their sleeves and getting focused on the serious work at hand.

This year’s “get to know you” ice-breakers were particularly engaging and insightful so I decided to share them in this post.

The first activity was a series of 4 Corners topics…purposely designed to be non-threatening and get teachers comfortable with sharing. I made four signs and hung them in each of the 4 corners of the meeting room. They were labeled with the numbers 1-4. On the Elmo, I displayed a paper that had the following:
1- Rent a Movie
2- Exercise/Workout
3- Read
4- Get Out and Be Social

I instructed teachers to go to the corner that was most representative of how they would spend an evening alone. Then, I had them discuss this in their small groups. I heard a new teacher say that she picked “reading” because she is very shy. She said that “getting out and getting social is sometimes difficult for her.” As a mentor, this nugget of information was very valuable for me. It let me know that I may need to make a special effort to assist her in getting out of her comfort zone if I see that she is struggling with “speaking up” in situations with her colleagues or parents. I repeated this process with the following:
1- R&B/Rap
2- Country
3- Rock/Alternative
4- Gospel/ Easy Listening

I instructed teachers to go to the corner that was most representative of their preferred style of music. I then had them discuss what their current favorite songs are. Since the majority of students at our school are African American and they listen to R&B and Rap, it was interesting for me to see that most of our teachers do not listen to R&B or Rap. While this is certainly ok, it is still a good reminder for me as a leader to constantly make sure that our teachers have some exposure to the songs and musical artists that are most relevant to our students. This will enable them to make connections with their students and perhaps present information in a way that is most meaningful to the kids.

For the next round, I gave teachers the following choices:
1- Winter
2- Spring
3- Summer
4- Fall

Teachers were instructed to stand in the corner representing their favorite season and share in the small group why they particularly enjoyed this season. This was also very insightful for me as an administrator. For example, I heard one teacher who was standing in the “fall” corner enthusiastically say, “Fall is my favorite season because I LOVE coming back to school and seeing all the students.” This is a good indicator of this teacher’s positive attitude. On the other hand, hearing a teacher a say that the reason summer is her favorite season is because she is “completely over the brats by that time” is an indicator of a negative attitude and lack of professionalism. Another fun one that I used was: High Heels, Sneakers, Hiking Boots, Flip Flops

Four Corners can be modified to Two Corners also. I continued this insightful process with the following:
• 1- Cats or 2- Dogs
• 1- CNN or 2- FOX
• 1- Salty or 2- Sweet
• 1- Extrovert or 2- Introvert
• 1- Reading/ Language Arts or 2- Math/Science
• 1- Target or 2- Walmart
• 1- Dress Nice or 2- Dress Comfortably
• 1-Morning Person or 2- Night Owl
• 1- Baseball or 2- Football
• 1- Coke or 2- Pepsi
• 1- Beer or 2- Wine
• 1- Surf or 2- Turf
• 1- Lead or 2- Follow

Jun 13, 2013

Revisiting Behavior Management

Here are some good "key points" related to classroom management. I shared these with my teachers in this week's Monday Memo, but you could also include this content in the Discipline section of your faculty handbook.

Always remember that- in students’ eyes- Calm = Strength and Upset = Weakness
This is why it is so very important for teachers to NEVER lose their tempers with students. Anger feeds anger, and it ALWAYS escalates the problem! So please remember to always keep your behavior interventions low-key.

Say what you mean and mean what you say when it comes to behavior expectations. Be fair and consistent. Effective teachers act and ineffective teachers react!

Don’t argue with a student….NEVER- EVER- EVER! A good rule of thumb is to present yourself as the “dispassionate cop.” Think about movies that you have watched where a police officer pulls over a person for speeding. The cop calmly says, “I need your license and registration, please.” The person gets all excited and begins ranting, “But what did I do officer?” The officer quietly takes the documentation and begins writing on his pad. The person then yells and insists, “I wasn’t speeding! If I was, it couldn’t have been more than a couple of miles over the speed limit!” The officer calmly takes the documentation to his car and states “I’ll be back in a minute” as he walks off.” The officer comes back with a ticket and the person is furious- losing total control- and attempting to insist that they did nothing wrong and yelling "Are you kidding me?" The officer simply hands the ticket over, smiles- says “Have a nice day” and walks off. Ask yourself: Do I get caught up in arguing with students, or do I act like the dispassionate cop? Along these same lines, remember this good rule of thumb: Never argue with a skunk. Even if a student’s behavior stinks, we have to be the trained professionals. If you argue with a student- you’re going to lose (even if you win). You will be the one who comes out stinking and everybody will know it.

Research has shown that instructional planning and pace of teaching are often the originating source of discipline problems. So PLEASE be mindful that we cannot separate discipline and instruction. They are too closely related!

When addressing a behavior issue with a student, ever violate the 3” Be’s” if you desire to have a positive outcome and not interrupt learning: Be positive, be brief, and then be gone. Example: Johnny is throwing his pencil in the air and catching it instead of working on his assignment. Calmly and quietly, walk over to Johnny, lean down and discretely whisper to him, “I would hate for you to get in trouble so please stop doing that and get to work”, then immediately walk off.

Take a proactive approach to managing student behavior by referring to “PEP” – privacy, eye contact, and proximity.

Articulate your expectations on a regular basis and in a positive manner and then follow through with them in a consistent fashion. To work effectively, consequences have to be definite, but they don’t have to be damaging.

Be cognizant of the difference between corrective discipline and supportive discipline. Supportive discipline is aimed at teaching the student appropriate behavior and supporting them so that they can learn to be successful. It is low-profile, positive, and it focuses more on visual than verbal re-directing. Corrective discipline is public, punitive, and it does not focus on teaching appropriate behavior. Research by Wang, Hartle, and Walberg suggests that the #1 problem in schools is corrective discipline- how much time and energy is spent on it. It interferes with the flow of instruction and it typically escalates behavior issues.

When teachers refer students to the office, they send a silent- but very powerful- message to their students. The message is, “I can’t handle this student.” Administration is always willing to assist you, but please do not give away your power easily. Remember too that once you send the student to administration, you are saying to us that “you can’t handle the student” and if this is truly the case we are more than happy to handle the situation for you. However, once you refer a student to us- that student is ours and the choice of how to handle the situation with the student is no longer yours.

The very best teachers are the ones who “mean business” without “being mean”

In the most effective and safe schools, this is the formula for dealing with student discipline: Primary approach is proactive, secondary approach is supportive, and the least used approach is corrective. In the least effective and safe schools, this formula is backwards. The primary approach to handing discipline is corrective, the secondary approach is supportive, and the least used approach is proactive.

Discipline is like taking a bath. It MUST be done every single day in order to be effective. If you do not do it consistently, you might be able to get away with it for a day…possibly even two days, but that’s it!

Telling is not teaching! Behavior- just like academics- must be explicitly taught to students.

At this school, we are not a “tell them, nail them, then jail them” school. We are about doing the right things for kids!

We know how very hard each and everyone of you are working, and we understand the huge challenge that student discipline can sometimes be. We want to support and encourage you in any way that we can, and we strongly believe that equipping you with the knowledge of the most effective strategies is the best way to support you. These are some good approaches for managing student behavior. Please have a discussion with your grade level this week about the content of this section of the Monday Memo. Be willing to look within and honestly self-assess.

Jun 6, 2013

TRUE Response to Intervention: A Practical Approach

With the federal and state mandates regarding RTI, many schools have instituted a knee-jerk reaction to assisting struggling students. Often times, these plans are driven by fear of accountability and not by what is truly in the best interest of students. Here is a practical approach to implementing RTI.

Start with some creative master scheduling. Provide a built-in hour of Intervention (for Tier I and Tier II) into the master schedule. As always, elicit the input of teachers when developing the schedule. Then, allow teachers opportunities to collaborate to develop a plan for intervention that best meets the needs of their students. Suggest that teachers begin by brainstorming approaches/strategies/programs that effectively address the needs of struggling and advanced students. Have them make an informed decision to utilize 4-6 strategies (typically, this number will be how ever many teachers you have teaching that grade level- for example, if you have five second grade teachers, they will decide on five strategies).

Once the decision is made, each of the strategies should be labeled on a sentence strip and displayed (for example, teachers may decide to use the following interventions: Fundations Computer Reading Program, Partner Reading, Literature Circles, and Socratic Seminar). Once teachers have decided on the appropriate interventions, they will need to decide what teacher is most capable of facilitating that strategy. Each teacher should write the names of their students on POST-IT NOtes (one name per POST-IT Note), and then they should make a thoughtful decision regarding which strategy would be most appropriate for each student and place the student's name under that sentence strip. I recommend that each teacher use a different color of Post-It Notes so that they can quickly determine- visually- which teachers' students will be in each group. The teachers will facilitate the intervention for an hour during the intervention block. Each teacher will have some of her own students as well as some of the students from each one of the other classes. This gives stduents opportunities to work with and alongside of various peers. These groups should be flexible- so if a student makes accelerated progress with one strategy they can be moved to another intervention group that better suits their particular needs.

Mar 22, 2013


(Sung to the tune of Stayin Alive)

Well you can tell by the way the scores are read
Our school’s the best
That’s what they said
And maybe you are wondering how
We bust the test
We’ll tell you now

Our principal is number one
The teachers here make learning fun
Our students well- they are the best
And that’s the way we bust the test!

Don’t you know that everybody everywhere is gonna be taking the test
Taking the test
5th grade, 4th grade, 3rd grade, 2nd grade
Taking the test
Taking the test
Ah, ah, ah, ah, taking the test
Taking the test
Ah, ah, ah, ah,
Taking the tttttt-eeeeee----ssss----ttttttt!

Well if you wanna prepare to take the test
Rule number one- get lots of rest
Rule number two is next in line
Eat a good breakfast
Get here on time

Rule number 3 is just relax
You’re brain will recall all the facts
Rule number 4
Here’s what you do
Make sure your pencil’s number 2!

Don’t you know that everybody everywhere is gonna be taking the test
Taking the test
5th grade, 4th grade, 3rd grade, 2nd grade
Taking the test
Taking the test
Ah, ah, ah, ah, taking the test
Taking the test
Ah, ah, ah, ah,
Taking the tttttt-eeeeee----ssss----ttttttt!

You’re gonna bust it
Bust out the TCAP
We’re taking the test!

The test can be hard- we know it’s tough
But it’s ok cause you know your stuff
So rule number 5
Read the questions and the answers too
Then choose the one that sounds best to you

See the bubbles and fill them in
Any stray marks- get rid of them
If you stay on track
And do your best
You are gonna bust the test!

Don’t you know that everybody everywhere is gonna be taking the test
Taking the test
5th grade, 4th grade, 3rd grade, 2nd grade
Taking the test
Taking the test
Ah, ah, ah, ah, taking the test
Taking the test
Ah, ah, ah, ah,
Taking the tttttt-eeeeee----ssss----ttttttt!

Mar 5, 2013

Clever Uses of Acronyms

I recently read an article about change readiness and how the number one reason that people resist change is because of fear. To illustrate this, the acronym F.E.A.R. was referred to as "False Evidence Appearing Real." I immediately thought of a number of ways that I could use this in professional development with my emphasize the fact that people often view things with suspicion during times of change- they allow their perceptions to get distorted and don't look at things objectively.

Then, I started thinking of some ways that I have used acronyms to make a point or lead professional growth of teachers throughout my career. I recalled several that I thought of to share...Some that I developed and some that others developed and I used. I'll make a list of them here, but please share your ideas as well by posting additional acronyms that you have seen used in edcuation and professional development:

G.R.O.W.- Goals, Reality, Options, Will
I think that this one is appropriate for using with teachers at the beginning of the school year- when we have those couple of professional development days before the students come back. You can develop an inspiring speech for that first day back after summer break and let the teachers know that this year, you want to see each and everyone of them develop professional goals and assess the reality of their situations (students' academic performance levels, amount of parent involvement, available resources, etc) and then objectively determine what options are available to truly make a positive impact, and next to mentally prepare to have the will and stamina to make it happen! Obviously, this is a very condensed version of how to use this...I would use it as a framework for a day-long professional development session geared around goal-setting.

P.R.I.D.E.- Personal Responsibility In Delivering Excellence
This one could be used in the same fashion as the one mentioned above. You could tell teachers (or teachers can tell students) that you want to see everyone take PRIDE in their work and then elaborate by utilizing this acronym to deeply explore the idea of "personal responsibility in delivering excellence."

A.B.C.D.- Above and Beyond the Call of Duty
This one is good for faculty recognition. If you do a weekly memo for your staff, you could have a section called "ABCD" and recognize anyone who had done something really great that week. You could also have an ABCD section in your parent newsletter for recognizing parents and community partners.

I.D.E.A.- Identify, Design, Execute, Augment

This one is effective to use with a grup of high achieving teachers- innovators- on your faculty to encourage them develop creative programs for student achievement.

B.E.E.R.- Behavior, Effect, Expectation, Results
This is a fun one. You could use it with your school discipline committee. Everybody who serves in an urban school knows that this committee works harder than any other. It can be very stressful as school safety and behavior management are both constant up-hill battles for many schools. One way to lighten up the work of the committee is to have a Friday Night BEER Club. After school, you can have some reflective and critical conversation about a specifically troublesome behavior that teachers are seeing among the students. They can determine the effect of this behavior and then work collaboratively to develop a plan of action to articulate and share the expectation related to this behavior. Finally, they can plan a way to formatively assess the results of the action taken.

A.L.F.- Always Listen First
We all have witnessed times when someone on our faculty, committee, or grade level team is defensive and not being a good listener. Remember that show ALF from the eighties? I see stuffed animal versions of him at thrift stores all the time. Purchse one of these to keep in a conference room (or library if that's where you have faculty meetings)and hold it up as a gentle reminder when a colleague is not being a good listener. It can really lighten things up during tense moments if you have developed some trust. If you can't find a stuffed animal, just use Google images and print off a colored picture of ALF and laminate it.

N.F.L.- Not For Long
All schools go through difficult periods. For example, a school may go on target or notice status from the state. Constantly being under the microscope can really take a toll on teachers. This is a good acronym to use when you are attempting to inspire your faculty to make it through, improve, and even come out of the situation better. You can use the whole NFL football theme as a way to let them know that this will pass....It's NOT FOR LONG! You can even talk about strategically planning (compare to football plays), recruiting the best players (teachers, students, parents), and the importance of teamwork, etc. You can set the stage for reaching ambitious goals, for example, you can use this to motivate teachers to envision the possibilities(like comparing getting all A's on the state report card to the Super Bowl, etc.).

Z.A.P.- Zeros Aren't Permitted
I knew a really good teacher that had a "ZAP" club. Failing grades- and especially 0's- were not even an option in her classroom. If a student did not complete or turn in an assignment, or if they did not make a C or higher on any assignment, she had them stay afterschool for the "ZAP CLUB." Once a week, she would stay afterschool and assist these students in completing/improving such assignments.

B.M.W.- Bitching, Moaning, Whining
I knew a principal who used to always tell his teachers to park their BMW's outside before entering the library for faculty meetings. He used this in a humorous way and told teachers that these meetings were all about staying positive and focused to make things better for kids. As such, there was no time for bitching, moaning, and whining!

Jan 10, 2013

Do Teachers Know How Students Learn Best?

I recently read some interesting research about how students learn best. The research was a meta-analysis of the major work related to this topic (Glasser, Gardner, Tate, Marzano, etc.) After reading it, I was able to categorize the information into four main headings: socially constructed learning, student choice/ownership of learning, multidisciplinary learning, and learning that- simply put- is just plain FUN! At a recent faculty meeting, I did a Four Corners activity with the faculty. I made 4 Posters and hung them in the corners of the room. Each one had a heading at the top that said, “Students learn best when….” And it had one of the four things previously mentioned to complete the statement. I asked teachers to think to themselves about the times in their educational journeys when they believe their most meaningful learning took place. I then asked them to think about times when they believe their students have experienced their most meaningful learning. Without sharing their thoughts with anyone else, I asked them to walk around the room and read the statements in each one of the corners of the room. I asked them to stand in the corner containing the poster that most resonated with them personally. I had them discuss with others in the same corner why they chose that particular statement, and asked each group of teachers to pick one spokesperson to share with the larger group why the people in their corner chose that particular statement. Some people (mainly the high achievers) were having a hard time choosing. They kept asking me questions because I believe that they thought there was one “right” answer. I did not give them any additional information because I didn’t want to sway them. I just restated that they should stand in the corner containing the poster that most resonated with them. Once each group had shared with the large group, I asked everyone, “Well, do you want to know what the right answer is now?” Everyone enthusiastically said, “YES!” and I informed them that they were all correct. I shared a condensed version of the meta-analysis and let them know that we should be making a purposeful effort to do all four if we know that the research says that these are the things that make learning most meaningful for students. I then had teachers write their names on the posters where they were standing because I wanted them to know that I would hold them accountable for providing these kinds of experiences for their students since they themselves believed it would it to be the best way to teach kids. I thought that it was interesting that the largest numbers of teachers chose to stand by the “FUN!” poster. To that group, I asked the rhetorical question, “If that many of you believe that the best way for students is to learn is to make it fun, is it safe for me to assume that you are making sure that you do make it fun everyday?”

Active Learning Strategies

In October, 2009 I led my faculty in a professional development session aimed at introducing them to some active learning strategies that have been proven to keep students more actively engaged in the learning process. The strategies that chose were
• Think, Ink, Pair, Share
• Inner/Outer Circle
• Jigsaw
• Clock Buddies, and
• 3-2-1

To introduce the Think, Ink, Pair, Share strategy, I had teachers think about some specific things that they could do to spike achievement (think). After giving them adequate think-time, I asked them to document their ideas on a POST-IT Note (ink). Once their ideas were documented, I had them choose a partner at their table (pair) and discuss their ideas and their partner’s ideas and compare their answers (share).

To introduce the Inner/Outer Circle strategy, I had teachers number off 1-2, 1-2, etc. Once everyone had called out a number 1 or a number 2, I had all of the number 1’s come to the front of the room and make a circle turning outward. I then had all of the number 2’s go and stand in front of a number 1. I had made a list of discussion topics ahead of time. The first one was “Share with your partner a time in your career when you were really proud.” I gave partners 3 minutes to share. After the 3 minute timer went off, I instructed all of the number 2’s to move one space to the right (now standing in front of a different partner). The next discussion topic was “Share with your partner one strategy that you view to be a successful motivator when it comes to independent reading.” Again, they were given 3 minutes and then instructed to move a space so that they could share with a different partner. We participated in several of these, covering topics such as effective classroom management, cultural sensitivity, homework, cooperative grouping, etc. The last assignment was, “Share with your partner a way that you could use Inner/Outer Circle with your class.

To introduce the Jigsaw strategy, I passed out an article about team development. We are a new administration at this school this year and we have several new teachers and several teachers who are working on newly assigned teams so I thought this would be an appropriate article to share. The article was divided into six sections- the first section explained the importance of teams, explored the difference between a committee and a team, and informed the reader that there are distinct stages of development that all teams will go through. The second section explored the first stage in team development (forming). The third section of the article explored the second stage in team development (norming). The next section explored the third stage in team development (storming), and the next section explored the last stage in team development (performing). The very last section of the article discussed the various ways that team members could effectively recognize and positively utilize the stages to grow their team. It also made the reader aware of the fact that teams can go through the stages in various order. I divided our faculty into six groups and assigned each group to read only one of the six sections of the article. After reading that section, the group was expected to discuss it. They were asked to have one person document the highlights of their section and to choose one person to be the voice of their group during a whole-group sharing. When we were done with this activity, we all had the benefit of gaining all of the knowledge of the entire article, but we only had to read a section of the article. I had teachers share with the group ways that this strategy could be used with their classes.

To introduce the Clock Buddies strategy, I distributed copies of a Block Buddy template to each teacher. I had them go around the room and make appointments with 12 different colleagues (one for each time on the clock). I shared some management strategies with them. For example, when doing this with students you may want to ask all students to write their name in large letters at the top before getting started. Then, have all students stand behind their desk. When a cue is given, students may go and make a 1:00 appointment with someone and then they are expected to go back and stand behind their desks. I have found that scaffolding it like this- instead of just turning them loose to make 12 appointments at one time- allows me to more easily correct a situation where a student is left without a partner, or a student is partnered with one than one person. Once everyone is standing behind their desk and they have a documented 1:00 partner, then and only then should you allow students to go on and make a 2:00 appointment. This process should be followed until everyone has an appointment buddy for each time illustrated on the clock. Once all of the teachers had their clocks completed, I gave them clock buddy assignments. Fir example, “Go sit somewhere in the room and quietly discuss with your 8:00 partner an idea that you have for increasing parental engagement at our school.” Another one was “Meet up with your 11:00 partner and share with them one professional goal that you have set for yourself.” We went through several of these and I allowed teachers who wanted to share with the group to do so at the end of the activity. During this sharing time, I made notes in my planner. For example, if a teacher said that a professional goal was to go back and get ELL certification or to get a Masters, I made a note of it and who that teacher was because I believe that as a school leader I have a responsibility to help them obtain those professional goals. As always, at the conclusion of the activity I asked teachers to share ways that they could use the strategy with their class. I also pointed at to teachers the importance of making sure that they call on the 6:00-12:00 partners frequently in order to get students talking with partners that they normally may not have as much contact with. I have found that when students originally make their clock buddy appointments, 1:00 is their very best friend, 2:00 is their second best friend, 3:00 is a good friend, and so on and so on…By the time they get to 6:00, they may be running out of close friend and are forced to choose a mere fellow classmate. So using the later times as partnering activities will allow students to work with partners that they normally would not have chosen.

To introduce the 3-2-1 strategy, I had teachers read a short article entitled 9 Ways to Spike Achievement in Mathematics. Once they were done reading, they were asked to write on a POST-IT Note- 3 Things that they learned, 2 Questions that they had, and 1 idea they would be willing to try in their classroom during the next week. They hung their POST-IT Notes up on butcher paper and we conducted a gallery walk.

In December of 2009, I led the faculty in another professional development session to introduce some more active learning strategies. The strategies introduced this time were
• Give One, Get One
• Numbered heads Together, and
• Four Corners

Before delving into to the new strategies, I wanted to assess how we had done with the previous taught strategies. I made POST-IT Note posters with the title of each of the five previously taught strategies at the top. One each poster, there were three columns: A column that said “0-1 times”, a column that said “2-3 times” and a column that said “More than 3 times.” Teachers were instructed to walk around the room and place a POST-IT Note in the column that illustrated how many times they had used one of the previously-taught strategies with their students. The pictures of the completed posters are shown below. I will post the same kind of pictures for the 3 latest strategies when we meet again and do another self-assessment.

Dec 18, 2012

Taking Santa's Advice to Inspire Renewed Dedication in 2012

Authors Harvey, Cottrell, Lucia, and Hourigan (from the Walk the Talk professional development group) created a really adorable little book a couple of years ago entitled "The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus." The book tells how to "get big things done in your workshop all year long." It's a cute book- geared for leaders. It uses Santa's secrets as bits of advice to help leaders become more successful. The Secrets are 1) Build a wonderful workshop, 2) Choose your reindeer wisely, 3) Make a list and check it twice, 4) Listen to the elves, 5) Get beyond the red wagons, 6) Share the milk and cookies, 7) Find out who's naughty and nice, and 8) Be good for goodness sake. I'm sure that you can figure out the analogies on your own...very basic important leadership principles. Well, I thought the idea of the "Santa's Workshop" metaphor to be so cute that I modified some of the material and put it in the PROFESSIONAL GROWTH section of our Monday Memo that teachers will receive when they return to school on January 4, 2010. Administrators work over the holiday break, so I thought that it would be fun to "pretend like we had a visit from Santa and share his insights/advice with our faculty." As I said, I did modify the content to 1) make it appropriate for teachers- not just administrators and 2) condense the information down enough for teachers to actually be able to read it during a break/planning period. I have copied the text of my memo to our teachers below. Please feel free to steal it to use with your own faculty, and/or modify it as needed to suit your needs.

As you all know, your loyal administrators worked through the holiday break. While here in the school- all alone- we had a very special visit...from none other than Santa Claus himself! As you can imagine, we were incredibly excited. We had a very nice visit with Santa as we talked and talked for hours. When Santa asked what we wanted for Christmas, we were both very quick to tell him- The best possible gift would be having our school come off target status and for all of our students and teachers to reach their fullest potential. We told Santa that we wanted to be a JOYOUS place...for students and for teachers. Santa then made the decision to share some of his very best advice with us and he gave us permission to share this valuable information with you. Santa did 5 things to make his workshop in the North Pole a happy and productive place. He advised us to:
Focus our energies on building a wonderful workshop. We have to have a mission that we are diligently working toward each and every day. In Santa’s workshop, they have too many teams of elves, toy orders, and time constraints to dilute themselves, head off on tangents, or just plain lose sight of why they’re there. They have been successful by keeping their mission at the heart of everything they do. What is our mission? Do we need to revisit it? Are we keeping our mission at the heart of everything we do?
Choose our reindeer wisely. You know Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen; Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. But do you recall the least famous reindeer of all: Misfit? Probably not. He’s not part of Santa’s team anymore. Misfit was not a good match for what Santa and his team of dedicated reindeer and elves were on a mission to accomplish. Unfortunately, Santa did not probe Misfit enough to determine if he was committed to teamwork, dependability, fairness, and loyalty. As we are presented with vacant teaching positions, we are committed to bringing in more and more folks who will help us create a wonderful workshop here in our school. Many of you have contributed to this process. If we get the right people in the right seats, we will strengthen our team and achieve our goals!
Make a list and check it twice. We must have a plan and we must be thoughtful, strategic, systematic, and organized in carrying out our plan. Santa said that if he did not have a very specific plan in place, and if he did not ensure that all of the elves were aware of the plan, there is no way that they would be able to handle endless streams of request letters, make millions of toys, package those toys so that they could be delivered in perfect condition, and deliver the exact right gift to the exact right person to the exact right house millions of times in one night! If Santa’s team can do it, SO CAN OURS! We just need to make sure that when we meet to plan with our grade level team members each week that we are asking of ourselves and one another- questions like, what needs to be accomplished, why does it need to be done (how does it contribute to our overall mission), when does it need to be done, where are we in relation to our goals, who do we need to assist us in accomplishing this, and how is this going to be accomplished?
Listen to the elves! Way back in the day, Santa used to make all of the toys himself. As the population grew, he eventually ended up having to hire MANY elves to assist him. The good news was that Santa had a wealth of experience to assist the elves, the bad news was that he used that experience to a fault. Santa explained to us that we should also listen to you guys (our teachers) because your insight is invaluable. We agreed and told him that we were really working hard to do that. Santa went on to say that the same principle should be used by the teachers. They should listen to their students. Their insight is also invaluable. Like we always say, the best administrators are those who never forget what it’s like to be a teacher, and the best teachers are those who never forget what it’s like to be a student.
Get Beyond the Red Wagons. Santa told us about how for many years the most popular toy produced in his workshop was a shiny, red Radio Flyer wagon. Every kid wanted one. The requests for these wagons were so abundant, and they brought so much joy to the children that the elves practiced and practiced making them until they became masters of wagon-making. The elves were extremely proud of how skilled they had become at making them. Everything was great for many years, but then Santa started getting letters from kids stating that they were no longer interested in getting a wagon. They wanted video games, ipods, and DVD players. Some of the elves resisted to adandoning the status quo because it took them so much work and so much time to become comfortable and confident in making the wagons. This is perhaps the most important bit of information Santa shared with us. We have to ask ourselves….Are we resisting making changes and modifications that will better meet the needs of our students for the sake of our own comfort? It’s a hard question to ask, but if we seek to continuously improve we WILL ACCOMPLISH our goal of making sure that every student reaches his or her highest potential.

Dec 17, 2012

Monday Memos

One of the things that I do to improve the communication at our school is a Monday Memo. I stole the idea of a Monday Memo from a former principal of mine, but I have made some modifications that I think better suits our school's needs.I made a template for the memo and keep it on my on my desktop. The template contains four basic sections: Clip art of the school's mascot with a mission statement and that week's dates, a KUDOS section- where we recognize individuals and teams that have done something great over the past week, a PROFESSIONAL GROWTH section- where we include some kind of relevant literature, story, case study, or research that pertains to a school goal or initiative, and a FRIENDLY REMINDERS section- where we include important upcoming dates/events and things that we just want everyone to remeber to be mindful of (i.e., remember that your lesson plans always need to be laid out on your desk so that when we visit your room we may refer to them if we need to).

Teachers have been asked to always drop me a quick note or email if they want me to place some type of reminder on the memo (i.e., the ELL teachers may ask me to place a FRIENDLY REMINDER in the memo for classroom teachers to inform them of any upcoming conferences with ESL students' families). Teachers also share kudos about their colleagues when they see them doing something above and beyond and I put those in the KUDOS section of the memo.

I send the Monday Memo out electronically over the weekend so that anyone who wants to have a heads up can take the time to read it at home. We also put a hard copy in all of the faculty members' mailboxes on MOnday morning so that they can have it in hand and refer to it.

In addition to keeping the communication going, the Monday Memo could also be a very useful tool for dealing with a non-performing faculty member. For example,you tell all teachers that they are expected to keep their Monday Memos in a notebook (punch holes in the memo each week as a courtesy. You include in the FRIENDLY REMINDERS section of the memo some important bit of information that you need everyone to be aware of. One teacher does not comply with the request and when you ask why s/he says that that they didn't know what was expected. You can always say, "Well, let's look at your Monday Memo notebook." You can then show that person exactly where the directive was stated and on what date.

Hopefully, the memo would just be used for the positive and everyone will appreciate the fact that they will receive important information in a memo (as opposed to a face to face sit and get meeting). The Monday Memo allows administartors to then be free of spouting off tidbits of information during faculty meetings and that time can be put to much more productive use, such as professional development.

What do you think? Do you use any kind of weekly brief with your faculty? What are the components of yours? How is yours used?

Apr 17, 2012

Heard of Classwish?, an exciting new nonprofit, helps teachers and schools attract financial support from parents, local businesses, alumni and others in the community. I recently encouraged all of my teachers to set up an account (it is free). This is how it works:

* Teachers, visit ClassWish to create a Wish List of the supplies you need for your classrooms. It's as easy as shopping online.

*ClassWish helps you spread the word to parents and other supporters.
Visitors see exactly what is needed and how they can help.

*Contributions are tax-deductible and donors receive a receipt.
Many companies match employee contributions, and that can double the funding.

*Teachers submit a request online for to purchase needed supplies.

*ClassWish has the supplies sent to you at your school.

*Wish Lists display all items ClassWish sends, so donors know how their money is spent.

I researched this thoroughly before publishing this post. I have spoken with some teachers who actually received a substantial amount of merchandise for their class. This is for real!

Apr 14, 2012

Teacher Appreciation Ideas

With Teacher Appreciation Week coming up in May, I thought it would be a good idea to have a special recognition of teachers and their individual "unique" strengths and contributions. As such, I made this list of ideas for teacher recognition. PLEASE respond to this post and share any additional ideas that you may have:

A can of defroster- for the teacher who is so good at breaking the ice

A shower cap- for the teacher who never allows anything to “dampen” her enthusiasm

A Payday candy bar- for the teacher who deserves an extra Payday for coming early and staying late all the time

Some mints- for the teacher whose contributions on the School Climate Committee have “mint” so much

A bottle of lotion- for the teacher who is always able to “smooth” things over with disgruntled parents

A roll of Lifesavers- for the teacher whose conscientiousness has “saved” some inattentive students during afternoon dismissal

A nice pen- for the teacher who is always so de-pen-dable

A notepad- for the teacher who recently had a “noteworthy” accomplishment (Leadership Fellows)

A box of tissues- for the teacher who refused to let a challenged student “blow it”

A coke- for the teacher who has proven to be the “Real Thing”

A clock- for the teacher who so graciously gives freely of her time

A bag of Hershey Hugs/Kisses- for the teacher who always has hugs and kisses for her students

A pair of dark shades- for the new teacher who has a bright future ahead of her

A bag of Smarties- for the teacher who proved she is a “Smartie” by recently finishing her Master’s degree

A package of flower seeds- for the teacher who plants the seeds of learning and is so patient for the seeds to take bloom

A roadmap- for the teacher who is gifted at articulating and sharing the new direction of the school

A book of matches- for the teacher who is always able to ignite a spark in unmotivated students

An art-set- for the teacher who inspires everyone with her creative bulletin boards

A pack of highlighters- for the teacher who regularly makes it a point to “highlight” the accomplishments of EVERY student

A can of air freshener- for the teacher who always has a “fresh” outlook

A jar of honey- for the teacher who got us out of a “sticky” situation with…..

A Mr. Clean Magic Eraser- for the teacher who does such a great job of allowing students to start each day with a clean slate

A pack of POST-IT Notes- for the teacher who is faithfully at her morning duty "post" each and every day

A balancing scale- for the teacher who so perfectly balances her pressure and support to manage student behavior

A bottle of SPIC & SPAN- for the teacher who always has such a tidy classroom

A gold-colored plastic food tray- “A Golden Tray Award” for the teacher who always has her students behave and clean up in the cafeteria

A Teddy Bear- for the teacher (coach) who looks intimidating, but is really just a big teddy bear

A bird stuffed animal- for the exceptional education teacher who gave her students wings to fly

A pack of Extra and pack of Carefree gum- for the retiring teacher who deserves an “extra carefree” future

A lock/key set- for the ELL teacher who has taught her students to unlock the door into another culture

An ice-cream scooper- for the teacher who always “has the scoop” on the latest innovative practices and research

A box of microwave popcorn- for the teacher who constantly keeps things “poppin” in her creative writing class

A rock collection set- for the teacher who “rocks” it in the science lab

A book of stamps- for the teacher who tried to “stamp” out hunger by organizing the canned food drive

“A Magic Wand”- for the teacher who we all consider to be our “Baking Fairy” (she always makes baked goods and brings them to the lounge for everyone to enjoy).

A pair of scissors- for the teacher who is always dressed so “sharp”

A coffee mug- for the teacher who is “cooler than a mug” according to her students 

Some lip balm- for the teacher who is “The Bomb” according to her students

A mirror- for the teacher who is truly “reflective” in her practice

A lion stuffed animal- for the teacher who courageously questions the status quo

A pack of “Red Hots”- for the teacher who “spices things up” at the school board meetings

Almond Joy and a Mounds candy bar- for the teacher who always brings “mounds of joy” to her students

Apr 13, 2012

Utilizing a Critical Friend to Improve Social & Emotional Intelligence

“Social Intelligence” typically has to do with a person’s ability to act wisely in human relations. “Emotional Intelligence” is often referred to as “a set of skills that include awareness of self and others and the ability to handle emotions and relationships” (Golman, 1995).

People who have the ability to perceive accurately, understand, and appraise others’ emotions tend to respond more flexibly to changes in their social environments and are more able to build social networks. These skills are vital because personal relationships are a central element of daily life in organizations like schools. I have witnessed situations where change efforts failed- NOT because the leader’s intentions were not sincere- but because the leader was unable to handle the social challenges of implementation.

As school leaders, we must possess a keen sense of social and emotional intelligence. I have a close friend (who is also a school leader) and we have brutally honest conversations with one another all the time. She has no reservations at all about challenging my motives or questioning my judgment, and I am the same way with her. We can do this because we trust one another completely. I honestly think that it makes us both better leaders.

What’s your opinion? Do you have a critical friend? If so, how has the friendship contributed to your development?

Mar 17, 2012

Do You Refer to the Educators at Your School as "Your Teachers?"

In an article from the March/April issue of Principal magazine the author brings to the surface a thought-provoking topic..... He says that when principals refer to their school’s faculty as “my teachers” it sends a negative message to teachers that they are not respected as professionals. The author, Eric Glover, says that principals should move away from using this phrase because it is inappropriate in most cases. “My teachers" is shorter and quicker to say than "the teachers with whom I work" or "the teachers in our school” Glover contends. “The problem is that rather than serving as a title of respect, ‘my teachers’ may be interpreted by teachers as a symbol of the power that a principal holds over them.”

Do you believe that using the term “my teachers” is condescending to your faculty? Are teachers being too sensitive, or is this a valid argument?

Mar 2, 2012

Understanding Value Added

I had a new teacher ask me to explain value-added to her. She wanted to know how we could use it to improve test scores.

While value-added is statistically and computationally complex, it really is relatively easy to grasp at a conceptual level.

Test scores are projected for students and then compared to the scores they actually achieve at the end of the school year.

Classroom scores that exceed projected values indicate effective instruction. Conversely, scores that are mostly below projections suggest that the instruction was ineffective. This is very insightful and gives us a framework for developing some differntiated professional development and coaching opportunities.

What are some ways that some other principals are using value added data?

Feb 23, 2012

Professional Dress

I'm interested in knowing how other school administrators feel about school dress codes/standards- for administrators and teachers:

Here is some food for thought-
- How is professional dress enforced in your school and district?

- Do you think administrators should have a higher standard for professional dress than teachers?

- Do you believe it is more acceptable for elementary school teachers to dress comfortably than secondary teachers?

- How do you generally dress at work?

Let me know what you think!

Feb 21, 2012

The Power of Handwritten Notes: Avenue for Encouraging Teachers or Liability Disaster?

Being in the midst of a budget crisis and facing the possibility of a serious workforce reduction and school closings has made the morale at my school pretty low lately so I decided to write my teachers some personalized notes of encouragement this week. Among school administrators, there is a long-standing set of opposing opinions about writing teachers notes. I have lots of friends who are school administrators and I know people who subscribe to each of these camps:

CAMP #1- Writing teachers personal notes of encouragement will make teachers feel appreciated and thus strenghthen the teacher/principal relationship. Furthermore, it will encourage the teacher to strive to continually improve his/her performance.

CAMP #2- Writing teachers personal notes opens you up for possible grievances. As all school leaders know, at any time a teacher's performance can change. If you work in a school district with a strong union, positive notes have the potential to come back and bite you in the butt.

What's your stance? I really want to know how other principals feel about this.

I definitely belong to the group of administrators who believe that writing personalized positive notes is worth the risk. I don't do it as often as I should, but I definitely do it when I can. I think it's really important for the notes to be hand-written and have comments specific to that teacher's performance. I recently heard that people are much more likely to read the full contents of a hand-written note than an email. Now, don't get me wrong, I do occasionally shoot teachers a quick email to tell them that I like their bulletin board or thanks for coming to PTA the night before. But....When I want to really recognize some serious work or a major contribution by a teacher, I always use a hand-written note.

I would really like for some principals to share their experiences about writing personalized notes.

Jan 3, 2012

Thick-Skinned Principal

One of the things that I heard over and over before taking the plunge into administration was "You have to have thick skin!" I have been given similiar advice from many of my mentors over the years and I've read a ton of articles stressing the need to "not take things personally." I've heard friends of mine who are principals say things like, "I come to work every day with a ton of friends and a family who loves me so if I don't get that at work, I'm fine." I agree that administrators need to be able not to take things personally in order to survive the demands of our jobs, but I think it's dangerous not to care about how we're perceived by others. I recognize that there's no way we can make everyone happy, but I strongly believe that if we make decisions based on what's best for kids, we'll be better able to handle any resulting criticisms.

I think that the notion of adminstrators needing to "turn off their feelings" is unrealistic and frankly, not a smart idea. I think that a primary characteristic of a good administrator is a keen sense of empathy. I would never advise any leader not to show any feeling. People begin to view you as unapproachable and uncaring. Of course, you should never be overly-emotional or overly-sensitive when making decisions, but appropriately demonstrating disappointment, concern, sadness, joy, etc. shows others that you are down-to-earth and sensitive to the feelings of others. I truly believe that if you train yourself to become "feelingless" at work, you will see this sense of apathy creep into other aspects of your life. And nobody wants to to be viewed as robotic!

Good principals are sensitive, caring educators, not distant, unfeeling machines. People get upset at us for a reason. Even if we don't agree with or understand their anger, we should care enough to want to try and understand where these perceptions come from. Administators who turn off their feelings for the sake of self-preservation can miss out on the potential opportunity to assist others in what they may need to help them become a better contributor to the team. After all, we are all here for the same reason: to educate kids. I think a good principal is someone who is willing to sacrifice and "take one for the team" so to speak, in order to grow and help others, such as teachers and parents, so that they may be able to better help the student.

If we aren't willing to sometimes show vulnerability, we run the risk of becoming cold, jaded, and insensitive.

Aug 13, 2011

Dealing with Change and Succeeding in Any Condition

I just read the most adorable little book by John Kotter. It is called Our Iceberg is Melting. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is dealing with change or trying to lead it. I have pasted a synopsis of the book below.

Our Iceberg Is Melting is a simple fable about doing well in an ever-changing world. Based on the award-winning work of Harvard's John Kotter, it is a story that has been used to help thousands of people and organizations.

The fable is about a penguin colony in Antarctica. A group of beautiful emperor penguins live as they have for many years. Then one curious bird discovers a potentially devastating problem threatening their home and pretty much no one listens to him.

The characters in the story, Fred, Alice, Louis, Buddy, the Professor, and NoNo, are like people we recognize — even ourselves. Their tale is one of resistance to change and heroic action, seemingly intractable obstacles and the most clever tactics for dealing with those obstacles. It's a story that is occurring in different forms all around us today — but the penguins handle the very real challenges a great deal better than most of us.

Aug 8, 2011

Change is Emotional

As I mentioned a few days ago, I just finished this book called Our Iceberg is Melting. It's a story that gives a humorous account of the change process (just like Who Moved My Cheese?). But the thing that I really liked about the book is how many of the characters were affected so emotionally. It's a good reminder of the importance of effective communication during times of change.

Since the book was based upon Kotter's 8 Steps for producing lasting change, I went back and reviewed those pretty thoroughly after reading the book. Here they are

1. Set the Stage and create a sense of urgency.
2. Pull together the guiding team.
3. Decide what to do and develop the change vision and strategy.
4. Communicate for understanding and buy-in.
5. Empower others to act.
6. Produce short-term wins.
7. Don't let up.
8. Make it stick- Create a new culture.

I read Kotter's book, Leading Change, a couple of years ago. That book really elaborates on each of these. If you are in position where you're trying to influence others to change, I strongly recommend it.

Jul 29, 2011

Excerpts from My Leadership Platform

“A man who stands for nothing falls for everything.”-Malcolm X

My journey of discovering “my purpose” in life began at an early age. I recall a significant event that took place when I was around the age of six. I attended an all-white elementary school with the exception of one biracial little girl that I will call Andrea. Andrea was often the target of criticism and bullying, and I inferred that school was not a happy place for her. One sunny afternoon, as I spun on the merry-go-round, I caught a glimpse of Andrea crying alone under a shaded tree on the playground. I went to inquire about what was the matter. She informed me of the racial slurs that the other children had been shouting at her. Infuriated, I marched her right over to the teacher, fully confident that the teacher would correct the situation and justice would be served. What happened next might very well be the origin of my beliefs related to respect, compassion, and tolerance. When I informed the teacher of what had been said to Andrea, she pulled Andrea close to her, rubbed her on the back and said, “It’s alright sweetheart. It is not your fault that your parents committed a sin, and God will not blame you for it.” She then went on to mutter something about being "equally yolked" to the other teachers standing around. This is most likely the reason why I became such a strong proponent for the separation of church and state and why I get so upset when I witness teachers attempting to interpret the Bible- and break the law- while on the job. Misuse of authority has been a reoccurring concern for me that first became important on that day so many years ago. Related issues have revealed themselves repeatedly in both my professional and personal life over the years. I was grown before I came to fully understand the impact that incident would have on me.Upon arriving home from school that day, I immediately explained to my mother what had taken place. Because my mom had a mere ninth grade education and she had me just three days after her fifteenth birthday, people often assumed that she could not possibly possess the skills to teach me very much. My mom’s reaction that day proved just the opposite. As I spoke of what had happened, I noticed that my mom’s expression drastically changed to one that was obviously indicative of tremendous sadness. This frightened me a bit because my mother had always been a portrait of strength. Her parents died seven days apart when I was nine months old, and she was left to single-handedly raise a child and care for her epileptic brother who had Down’s Syndrome. My mom leaned toward me, got very serious, and told me that the way the teacher had treated Andrea was wrong. At the time, it was hard for me to imagine a teacher being wrong. Perhaps this was when I first learned to never assume that an individual is professional, or even ethical, because of his or her title. As a result, titles have never been very important to me throughout my career. My mom went on to fervently insist that good people have a responsibility to always take a stand for what is right. And so my journey began.

“If a man has nothing in his life worth dying for, then he doesn’t have a life worth living.”-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The students in my sixth grade class were eagerly peering out of the window in hopes that the rain would cease. As was customary in these situations, the teacher informed us that we would have to view a filmstrip during our recess time due to the inclement weather. We had been learning about the civil rights movement and the movement’s legendary leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We had learned about the injustices and violence, lynchings, church bombings, and the KKK. I found myself constantly anxious and upset as these facts were introduced to us. The teacher explained that we would be viewing the famous “I Have a Dream” speech. As I watched Dr. King, I was in absolute awe of his courage. Although I did not realize it at the time, I believe that I made a connection to the words my mom had spoken to me several years earlier. I recalled how she had told me to speak out against wrongdoing and take a stand for what is right. Dr. King risked his life to do just that, and he eventually paid the ultimate price for doing so. This was the moment in my life when I began to detect in myself a certain desire to help others by way of social reform. I began to understand that it often takes incredible valor to fight for what is right. I believe I that am a courageous leader, but I do sometimes try to temper my courage so that I will not come across as unapproachable or intimidating.

“What you are shouts so loudly in my ears that I cannot hear what you say.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson

My teenage years were all about rebellion. Whether it was organizing a march for women’s rights or starting a petition to boycott a cosmetics company experimenting on animals, I was definitely well on my way to becoming an activist. I was most likely strongly influenced by the fact that my parents were “hippies.” During this time in my life, I had a very strong desire to “stand out” from the crowd. Getting tattoos, body piercing, alternative music, and having a boyfriend that was not “socially acceptable” were all ways in which I tried to say “I am not afraid to question what society says is ‘right’.” Since then, I have become very aware of my charismatic tendencies as they relate to societal authority. I have been, at times, “sharply opposed both to rational, and particularly bureaucratic authority, and to traditional authority” (Cuilla, 2003). I frequently find myself using rational influence to try to convert people to my way of thinking (Pierce and Newstrom, 2006). As an instructional leader, I absolutely refuse to choose bureaucracy over what is right for kids. I am very heavily involved in urban school reform, but I know the most appropriate ways to pursue change. Close friends have often advised me to pursue a career where I can take more of an advocacy role. My response to that advice is always the same. “Is education not the ultimate venue for advocacy?” Looking back though, I do recall that I wanted to be an attorney when I was in high school. I dreamed of being a part of the SPLC or the ACLU and working to support equity issues. I accidentally “fell” into education though, when I took a job as a teacher’s assistant (just to pay the bills). Now, I like to believe that “the universe was conspiring” to put me where I needed to be to fulfill my life’s work (Coelho, 1996).

“Chaos breeds life, where order breeds habit.”-Henry Brooks

It was the spring of 1992, and I was eagerly awaiting the birth of my daughter. I recall how this season in my life encompassed hope and optimism. I was very proud of what I had accomplished in my life. I had overcome some significant adversities in life, including poverty, an abusive stepfather, and four years in foster care. I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school and the first to go to college. These early accomplishments served as glimpses of the drive that would guide my actions in the future. I was an instructional assistant in an urban school that served a predominantly African American population, and even as someone new to the field of education I was able to recognize the lack of cultural awareness and sensitivity on the part of many teachers. It was at this time that I experienced a brutal awakening with regard to the prevalence of institutionalized racism in our school systems, but I felt certain that what I was doing was making a difference, which brings me back to that day in 1992. I woke up early that morning and had a moment of devotion. I recall praying for the Lord to help me be a good mother. I wanted my child to grow up in a world that was harmonious and kinder to her than it had been to me. After my devotion, I went to turn on the news. Images of violence, burning buildings, looting, and despair filled the television screen on each of the major networks. It was total chaos. The Los Angeles riots dominated the news programs for the next few weeks, right up until the time my daughter was born. I can remember having a sense of panic and urgency take over my body as I thought about the children and families that I served and even my own unborn child. The cultural issues that had merely been important to me before were now nothing less than emergencies that had to be dealt with aggressively. Everything was more personal now. The hope and optimism that I had experienced before had now become replaced with a sense of exigency and impatience. I believe that this was the first time in my life that I truly came to believe that drastic measures, even if they result in chaos, are sometimes necessary to bring about progress. Yes, the riots were horrible, but I saw the awareness that resulted from the riots as a benefit to society as a whole. As a leader, I am not afraid to take drastic measures into my own hands if the result will be for the greater good of others. My biggest challenge at this point in my life is not assuming that what I think is in the best interest of others is always the right action to be taken. I recognize that it is common for me to use my charisma to persuade others to adopt my urgent stance when it comes to change. I believe that I have the ability to detect the needs, hopes, and values of others, and I find that I very often use that insight to get people to commit to my causes (Cuilla, 2003). I know that I have to be very careful with using my charisma. Sometimes I scare myself when I realize what I can get people to do. I constantly have to remind myself to help people change their levels, not their courses (Northouse, 2004). I follow my inspirations completely, whether they turn out to be good or bad. I view this as a strength that is always dangerously close to becoming a weakness. Because I have courage and very strong convictions, I WILL stand against the crowd if it's what's best for kids. I do, however, recognize that I am often too nonconforming and typically ahead of the crowd.

“If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants.”–Isaac Newton

I was excited when I was offered a teaching position before even graduating from college. My newly appointed principal called me at home that summer and asked me to come in for a meeting. I was a bit intimidated and worried, and I wondered what it was that she wanted. I figured she was she going to go over my responsibilities with me. However, this woman, who I will refer to as Donna, was the kind of person who could just set your mind at ease as soon as she looked at you. She taught me an important leadership lesson on that very first day; invest in relationship building. It turns out that she had invited me there so that we could have some private time to just get to know each other. She said that she wanted to know all about me. She asked me to tell her about my passions and what motivated me. She inquired about my expectations and my needs. Because my mother was so young when she had me, and she always had to work two or three jobs as I was growing up, I think that I had always longed for someone just to hear me, be interested, and actually care about what I thought. Donna did all of that. The principal that had originally hired me had a health issue arise and retired unexpectantly that summer. Was the universe conspiring again? (Coelho, 1996). Donna taught me so much about leadership. Donna could get me to do anything in the world, but she never once gave me a directive. Because I knew that she genuinely cared about me, I had a strong desire to please her. I knew that she shared many of my passions related to urban school reform, but she modeled a more productive way to pursue them. Specifically, she taught me how to make things happen by utilizing a political framework for leading others. I am also thankful that I had such a great a mentor to teach me about team building and collaboration. I have often wondered how my career may have been different without her influence. She once told me that she wanted to grow me as a leader because I was an important part of the legacy she was trying to build. Donna taught me that leadership is about producing more leaders, not more followers.

Jun 9, 2011

Roles in the Change Process

I have been reading Gladwell's The Tipping Point and Rogers' Diffusion of Innovations. One thing that I have found very interesting is the adopter categories of the individuals involved in a change effort. It's very important for a change agent to be aware of which category individuals belong to because this will ultimately affect the rate at which the change effort gets adopted. Here's a summary of the five different adopter categories represented in my school system:

In my school system, I see these people as huge risk-takers that are “trailblazers” when it comes to creating and developing new programs. These are the teachers and instructional leaders in my school system that are the very first to develop the most progressive curriculums, teaching strategies, assessment procedures, behavior management programs, community partnerships, parent involvement programs, fund-raising efforts, and professional development plans. I do not believe that we have any true Innovators at my school, but I do see some of our partners at our Public Education Foundation (PEF) as Innovators.

Early Adopters:
I see these people as the educators who closely watch the innovators and are typically first to follow suit and adopt the innovations. They are opinion leaders who are well respected and credible. I view myself as an early adopter. I am the kind of person who recognizes, even anticipates, the need for change. My visionary attempts at improvement are often viewed as not being appreciative of past successes or traditions. The Early Adopters are individuals that are thoughtful and analytical. Although we are not as big of risk-takers as the Innovators, we do take risks. However, the risk-taking is never haphazard, but instead very cautious and well thought out.

Early Majority:
These are the teachers who adopt an innovation just before the masses. These educators are seldom opinion leaders, but because they are between the very early and relatively late adopters, they play a very important role in bridging others and aiding the rate of adoption. These individuals are not teacher leaders. These are the educators who rarely take a risk, and they hold out until the Early Adopters have adopted and implemented the innovations and they are recognized as valuable and commonly utilized by the most respected educators.

Late Majority:
These are the skeptical teachers. Anytime an innovation is proposed, they typically have the reaction of, “So what is it this week?” They never believe that any innovation is going to be successful. They are notorious for dampening the enthusiasm of the teachers that may actually want to give the idea a try. I see these teachers as needing some peer pressure from the teachers that they view as credible before they will adopt. These teachers are not risk takers so all uncertainty must be removed before they view it as safe to adopt.

These are the strongest resistors who see no need for change at all. They are very traditional in their teaching techniques and they have no desire to question the status quo. The Laggards are always the least enthusiastic and committed if the decision is made by the faculty to implement an idea.

Jun 8, 2011

Leadership Models for Reframing Organizations

I just read Bolman and Deal's book, Reframing Organizations. In it, it offers four frameworks for looking at leadership and management. They are the structural frame, the political frame, the human resources frame, and the symbolic frame. Here's a summary of each:

The Structural Framework
The "structural" leader tries to design and implement a process or structure appropriate to the problem and the circumstances. This includes:
clarifying organizational goals
managing the external environment
developing a clear structure appropriate to task and environment
clarifying lines of authority
focusing on task, facts, logic, not personality and emotions
This approach is useful when goals and information are clear, when cause-effect relations are well understood, when technologies are strong and there is little conflict, low ambiguity, low uncertainty, and a stable legitimate authority.

The Human Resource Framework
The human resource leader views people as the heart of any organization and attempts to be responsive to needs and goals to gain commitment and loyalty. The emphasis is on support and empowerment. The HR manager listens well and communicates personal warmth and openness. This leader empowers people through participation and attempts to gain the resources people need to do a job well. HR managers confront when appropriate but try to do so in a supportive climate. This approach is appropriate when employee turnover is high or increasing or when employee morale is low or declining. In this approach resources should be relatively abundant; there should be relatively low conflict and low diversity.

The Political Framework
The political leader understands the political reality of organizations and can deal with it. He or she understands how important interest groups are, each with a separate agenda. This leader understands conflict and limited resources. This leader recognizes major constituencies and develops ties to their leadership. Conflict is managed as this leader builds power bases and uses power carefully. The leader creates arenas for negotiating differences and coming up with reasonable compromises. This leader also works at articulating what different groups have in common and helps to identify external "enemies" for groups to fight together. This approach is appropriate where resources are scarce or declining, where there is goal and value conflict, and where diversity is high.

The Symbolic Framework
This leader views vision and inspiration as critical; people need something to believe in. People will give loyalty to an organization that has a unique identity and makes them feel that what they do is really important. Symbolism is important as is ceremony and ritual to communicate a sense of organizational mission. These leaders tend to be very visible and energetic and manage by walking around. Often these leaders rely heavily on organizational traditions and values as a base for building a common vision and culture that provides cohesiveness and meaning. This approach seems to work best when goals and information are unclear and ambiguous, where cause-effect relations are poorly understood and where there is high cultural diversity.

Workplace application:
Although I can see some of all of these frames in my style of leadership, I would have to say that I have learned that I am primarily a symbolic leader. Because of my current work situation (being a fairly new member of the organization) I make it a point to listen to and share stories of the organization, to create a sense of purpose and "being part of something special", and to constantly analyze the relationships and dynamics within my building to be situationally aware. As a new leader in a school, I try not to mess with the culture of the school too much right now. Even if it needs to be changed, I typically try to respect the current culture and past traditions while taking a piecemeal approach to introducing new ideas for change. I believe that a new administrator to a school should, the first year, primarily focus on doing a cultural analyis of the school. It's important to just determine who the opinion leaders are, what the values and traditions are, and how things have been done in the past. When the time is right, you can be more assertive in introducing change initiatives. But by then, you will have listened and observed enough to know how to do this effectively. You have to be able to successfully determinine who is considered a hero, who others respect, and how you can use those individuals in a leadership capacity.

May 8, 2011

Sociolinguistics and Teacher Self Awareness

I was in a colleague's classroom when I witnessed something that absolutely is a perfect example of the lack of cultural awareness/sensitivity on the part of many teachers working with diverse populations. An African American student said to his white, middle class teacher "Is we going to lunch?" The teacher made this huge deal, calling out the child and embarrassing him in front of the class. She informed him that that was not the correct way to speak. Then she said "We're fixing to go to lunch as soon as you get where you're supposed to be at!"

Apr 24, 2011

Contrastive Method

I'm thinking that I may want to do a careful examination of the contrastive method for teaching grammar as a n action research project. The contrastive method is a culturally responsive method for teaching African American students Standard English (SE), and it is showing up in some of the most recent linguistic research. A research practitioner named Kelli Harris-Wright has done some pioneering work with the contrastive method, which is also called the bidialectal approach, and with code switching. Harris-Wright was a classroom teacher who, in the last few years, has begun to focus her efforts toward training pre-service and practicing teachers in DeKalb County, Georgia. In Enhancing Bidialectalism in Urban African American Students she explains the contrastive method for teaching African American students to code-switch between AAVE and Standard English (SE). Contrastive analysis and code switching are both useful tools for teaching Standard English. Contrastive analysis helps students develop a conscious and rigorous awareness of the grammatical differences between home speech and school speech. After carrying out such an analysis, students can code-switch between language varieties, which involves choosing the language appropriate to the time, place, audience, and communicative purpose. One of the ways of implementing the contrastive method is through literature where the narrator uses SE and the characters, in their dialogue, use AAVE. In such a narrative, students get good models of SE and they see how it contrasts with AAVE, which, if the writer cares about her characters, is presented respectfully and typically as a very expressive manner of speech. So students in a reading like this see a positive model of SE set right alongside of a positive model of AAVE. As students discuss what they've read, they can analyze the rules underlying AAVE as well as those generating SE, all of which helps them appreciate and understand language as whole much better as the dialect contrasts bring out the underlying structures of language.

Mar 12, 2011

Collaboration: The Key to Student Achievement

Conversations at grade level meetings, dialogues between teachers in the lounge, informal talks in the hallways, and conferences between teachers and adminsitrators are all used as examples of collaboration. HOWEVER, authentic collaboration goes much deeper than this. In order to experience the benefits of true collaboration, educators must being willing to look deep within and attempt to understand what distinguishes collaboration from other types of interactions.

If you've never experienced real collaboration, you may not be able to truly appreciate what it has to offer. If we are not careful, it could become collBLABoration where teachers simply sit around and chat and/or complain about students while being resentful of all that they need to be getting done in their classrooms.

I taught for a principal who gave me what I considered a GIFT of common planning time with my colleagues every day. It was wonderful because the principal taught us how to be "critcal friends" and discuss our teaching practices in a productive and reflective way that helped us to constantly grow our skillsets. We were taught specifc protocols for looking at dilemmas pertaining to student achievement, motivation, behavior, parent situations, etc. It was common for us to conduct lesson studies during our planning times. By using the protocols, we learned how to LISTEN to feedback, not be defensive, and depersonalize the feedback by focusing on data. We got all our planning for the following week done in one day by working smarter not harder and having everbody on the same page.

As an administrator now, I wished I had paid better attention when these processes were being introduced to me because I know that I need to do the same thing for my faculty. I hope that, when the time is right, I am able to inspire and motivate them to view collaboration in the same way.

Feb 15, 2011

The Power of a Positive Attitude

When interviewing teachers, one of the most important things that I am looking for is a positive attitude. There is so much that we as educators do not have control of (poverty, parental commitment, students' lack of experiences before entering school, etc.) The one thing that we have complete control of, however, is our attitude. If given the choice of hiring a teacher who is skillful at teaching with a poor attitude or a teacher who is lacking teaching skills with a positive attitude, I will always choose the ladder. I've had the privilege of working with educators who embrace a great sense of optimism and it is very inspiring. Teachers who approach their practice in a positive way are very genuine in their love for children. Their enthusiasm spreads like wldfire and it is so powerful! As an administrator, I have seen teachers who view everything as an insurmountable challenge and they constantly dampen everyone else's enthusiasm. It's really exhausting. Give me a teacher with lots of will and I can take care of providing her with the skill to match. As educators, we have a choice. We can view our job as an impossible challenge or we can embrace the career we have chosen by instilling in our kids a sense of efficacy.

Growth-Producing Feedback

There's a ton of research out there that claims to provide edcuators with the best ideas to increase student achievement. The ideas are wide and varied, but typically include topics such as differentiation, assessment, curriculum design, and motivating at-risk students. For me, the most powerful idea that I have researched relates to feedback. Feedback is an incredibly powerful tool that has the potential to make a huge difference in student achievement and teachers have it at their disposal! When feedback is given to students properly, it makes a major difference. Students who are given specific information about the accuracy and quality of their work will spend more time and effort on achieving academic tasks. As a classroom teacher, I witnessed this first-hand when I made the decision to commit to conducting regular writing conferences with my students. I saw the writing improve- DRASTICALLY- in just a few short months. As an instructional leader, I believe that teachers also benefit greatly from specific feedback related to their practices. When I give feedback to students or teachers, my primary rule of thumb is to make sure that they know that feedback is not about praise or blame, approval or disapproval. It's about helping them to grow and improve. Ultimately, I do not want students or teachers to become dependant on my feedback. I believe that when feedback is provided in the proper manner, the recipient begins to develop the skill of self-assessment. This is my goal- to help them to become more self aware and reflective.

May We Always Be Coffee!

If you read my blog regularly you know that I put great emphasis on encourgaing, inspiring, and motivating teachers. As such, I like to share things with teachers that I hope may resonate with them and perhaps strike an emotional chord. A friend recently shared this with me and I, in turn, shared it with a select few of my teachers that I believed would benefit from reading it. I love the analagies in this one!

May We Always Be Coffee!

You will probably never look at a cup of coffee the same way again.
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up; She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.
In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, ' Tell me what you see.'
'Carrots, eggs, and coffee,' she replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg.

Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, 'What does it mean, mother?'

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

'Which are you?' she asked her daughter. 'When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?
Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?
Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy.

The happiest of people don't necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way. The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can't go forward in life until you let go of your past failures and heartaches.

When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling.
Live your life so at the end, you're the one who is smiling and everyone around you is crying.

You might want to send this message to those people who mean something to you (I JUST DID); to those who have touched your life in one way or another; to those who make you smile when you really need it; to those who make you see the brighter side of things when you are really down; to those whose friendship you appreciate; to those who are so meaningful in your life.
If you don't send it, you will just miss out on the opportunity to brighten someone's day with this message! May we all be COFFEE!!!!!!!

NOTE: Now, from this point forward, when I see one of these teachers feeling down, or struggling with something, I can say to them, "Remember: May we always be coffee" and it is like our own private thing between the two of us.