Saturday, September 6, 2014

My Ever-Expanding Use of Google Forms

Sadly we're not a Google (GAFE) school, but whenever possible I make use of Google, in particular Google Forms.

Here are some of the ways that I use Google Forms:

Student work completionThis form is used for students who consistently struggle to complete their work as part of our school's RTI process. With the edition of FormEmailer, the form is sent to me, the student's counselor, the student's family and to our school's remediation specialist. 

Teacher Evaluation of Me (Their Assistant Principal): This form  gives teachers the opportunity to evaluate me, which I've blogged about before.

Student Surveys: As a teacher I greatly appreciated feedback from my administrators and from my peers, but the most useful feedback came from my students. Several of the forms included in this database are Google Forms. 

Positive Referrals: One of my favorite parts of my job  is recognizing students for their hard work, their character and their determination. Faculty and staff members are invited to complete a Positive Referral form  . For more about Positive Referrals.

Walk Through Observation Forms: Like most systems our county has a formal observation document that I use for longer observations. For data collection and for shorter (up to 15 minute) observations, we use this form.  Combining this with FormEmailer, which automatically sends the completed observation to the observed teacher, provides teachers with timely feedback.

Google Forms have become one of the most powerful tech tools in my arsenal. I constantly look for ways to expand their use and welcome your ideas. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Accentuate the Positives, Walk the Line

Excellence in Education: Accentuate the Positives
The first week of school is by far my favorite week. Filled with energy, positivity and enthusiasm, the atmosphere rivals—and I’d argue exceeds—that of the last day of school.

Teachers are glad to that all of the mundane administrative stuff of the prior week are behind them; finally time to teach. It’s time to put a summer’s worth of planning and “next year, I’m going to try…” into action. Students are no different; each beginning the year with a fresh attitude.

The faculty parking lot filled up early on Monday (and no it wasn’t because we don’t have assigned parking anymore) and soon students poured into our halls to be greeted by friends and teachers.

As we go forward, I challenge each of us (me too) to maintain this energy throughout the entire school year. As we go forward, let’s continually support our students and each other. Undoubtedly, there will be days when we’re exhausted and emotionally spent, so let’s pledge to lift each other’s spirits with a pat on the back, a simple note, or a quick phone call or text.

Before we know it, SOLs will be here. We’ll be awaiting the 5am phone call to tell us that school is canceled, and we’ll be turning the term. Along the way, let’s maintain our enthusiasm and support each other by accentuating the positives. Let’s recognize and celebrate our efforts and our accomplishments.

Ideas for the Classroom: Walk The Line
Walk the Line is a simple classroom strategy that can be used to formatively assess students, to foster discussion, or to simply get students up and out of their seats. It allows students to practice thinking, speaking, and listening.

To begin the teacher creates a line in her classroom. The teacher indicates what the ends of the line stand for. Some possibilities: Agree/Disagree; For/Against, True/False, etc. Between the two end points are places for students who are on the fence.

Students then go to their spot on the line and the teacher randomly chooses various students to explain/argue their case. Other students are allowed to move according to the various arguments made (real feedback!)

This activity has lots of flexibility, so some other options.
1.      Have students work in pairs to determine their answer and send one student to the correct spot on the line.
2.      Instead of using a line, use the four corners of the room (Strongly Agree-Agree-Disagree-Strongly Disagree, for example).
3.      Have students take on different figures/persons. For example, if you’re looking at early American colonization, you could have students take on the role of a Native American, a European explorer, a European king, etc.
4.      Other possibilities for the ends of the line: Names of two people or two events (which was more important).

Administrative Notes

Due Dates for Initial Goal:
1.      Comprehensive Cycle: September 5, please remember to give pre-assessment as soon as possible. For those of you on the comprehensive cycle, if you’d like to set up a meeting before next Friday to discuss the pre-assessment data and the goal setting process, I’d be more than willing.

Additionally, I plan on trying to schedule quick (less than 15 minute) weekly meetings with those of you on cycle. This will help me provide more consistent and valuable feedback to you and ensure that we’re working together.

2.      Annual Cycle: February 6

Positive Referral Link:

Work Order Request Form:

Video of the Week:
Kid President’s Pep Talk for Teachers 

What I’m Reading

Preparing Your Students For Tomorrow’s Challenges  Definitely check out the links in number 6

Friday, August 15, 2014

How to Kill Technology Integration in Your School

This blog is part of Scott McLeod's Leadership Day.

Those of you who know Scott, know him to be one of our true technology education leaders.

I'd like to consider myself a technology leader but far too often I stumble in this role. Sometimes I'm tripped up by my own stupidity, other times it's ineffective policies, and sometimes it's just dumb luck--or lack thereof.

But there are four, surefire ways to kill technology in our schools:
  1. Be sure you have the infrastructure to support your technologies. Last year, our school went to BYOD. Of course, our students were thrilled. Teachers ranged from indifferent to apprehensive to  fanatical. I, of course, fell into the latter and modeled various BYOD technologies during the first week (Padlet, Socrative, Poll EverywhereToday's Meet, Twitter, to name a few). Then 1200 students entered the building and BYOD fell flat on it's face. It wasn't because of the teachers, nor was it because the students abused the system. Instead, our infrastructure couldn't support over 1000 devices. Walking around on the first day of school, I was thrilled to see so many teachers embracing BYOD. It soon became obvious that we had major problems. Students and teachers couldn't get on the network, leaving everyone frustrated. Word quickly spread. Teachers scraped their BYOD lessons--not just for the day, but for the entire year. I honestly saw more attempts at BYOD on day one than I did for the other 179 days combined. 
  2. Don't make policies with the bad teachers in mind. Far too many school districts have restrictive policies that inhibit teachers' abilities to effectively use technology. The bad teachers will circumvent/ignore whatever policies are in place and the other 99% of teachers are handcuffed by overly restrictive policies. 
  3. Don't adopt technology unless you're truly sure that it will positively influence student learning. While the intentions are good, too many leaders have been enticed by the latest trend, by the bells and whistles, and have forked over thousands of dollars to technologies that quickly become outdated, are stored away in a closet somewhere or collect dust in classrooms. For example, while I love SmartBoards and Promotheans, I've seen far too many schools go on spending splurges only to have these serve as nothing more than glorified projectors and whiteboards.  Technology purchasing decisions require an understanding of technology and foresight, and once purchases are made, training to ensure that the technologies are used to ensure maximum impact. 
  4. Don't expect teachers to use technology if you, as an educational leader, don't use technology. Last spring I attended an edcamp and I was blessed to have a conversation with several teachers whose schools implemented Google's Apps for Education (GAFE). These teachers were fully committed to GAFE, but the same couldn't be said for their leader. One teacher lamented, "Our principal can barely open her email without help from her secretary." The teachers continued by rightfully stating, "Do as I say and not as I do just doesn't work. Especially when not everyone is on-board [to GAFE]."
As educators we must integrate technology into our curricula and as an educational leader we must lead by example. We must be willing to experiment with new technologies and model effective technology usage. Ultimately, we must create an environment that encourages teachers and students to embrace, integrate, and even develop new technologies.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

11 Things I Wish I Had Known As A First-Year Teacher

Twenty years ago I began my teaching career. As a first-year teacher I felt confident--borderline arrogant and cocky--in my abilities. I was in for a reality check and to this day I almost feel as if I need to apologize to my students for my inadequacies.

  1. Listen. Listen to your students, your peers and your administrators. Even better solicit their opinions. Seek feedback from your students and open up your classroom to other teachers and seek their feedback. Which leads me to...
  2. Have faith in yourself though. Some veteran teachers will try to convince you that your ideas are too grandiose, they won't work or that you'll bang your head against the wall when it fails. You were hired because you bring something unique to your school, and your administrators  want other teachers to learn from you. 
  3. Asking questions and sharing your struggles and issues are NOT a sign of weakness but rather a strength.
  4. It all comes down to relationships. Focus on building relationships with your students. Take the time to get to know who your students are beyond your classroom. The more you know about your students the more likely they are to learn and the more likely they're going to forgive your mistakes--and there will be plenty of them.
  5. Be creative in creating lessons. Don't rely on "that's how I was taught" or the ancillary (cookie cutter) lessons and materials provided by your textbooks. 
  6. Go one step further in lesson planning. It's always better to have too much than not enough. Some learning activities will fail and you'll be better off starting something new. Others will not take as much time as you expected. But, the learning activity is not of high-quality, you're better off not using it.
  7. Fess up when you make mistakes. Take responsibility for your actions. Again, don't be too proud to admit your errors.
  8. Don't be afraid to let your students know who you are. No, you shouldn't be sharing overly personal details, but students want to know who you are.
  9. Just say "No." As a first-year, single teacher living in Virginia for the first time, I didn't have much of a social life, but I spent far too much time at school. In addition to lesson planning, grading, contacting parents, and coaching, I was asked--and always answered, "sure"--to chaperone every dance, serve on various committees, participate in after-school IEPs, etc. While I learned a lot about teaching and my students, it's important to take time for yourself.
  10. Trust your instincts. Don't spend time second-guessing and over-worrying about student discipline. Naturally, I doubted myself far too often. Again your primary focus should be on building student relationships followed by lesson planning and providing feedback. Yes, classroom management is important, but it only happens when you've built the relationships with students and created solid lessons. 
  11.  Keep Learning. I had a pretty good first year. My students enjoyed my class, liked me and learned. But looking back at my first year as a teacher, I was maybe 1/1,000th of the teacher I became. You'll stumble plenty; that's OK. Just reflect and learn every day. For me, my 30 minute commute home provided me with the opportunity to reflect and improve, but for some a blog, a journal or talking to a colleague might better serve your needs.
Good luck!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My Goals for 2014-2015

The start of each school year marks the opportunity for me to  set goals for the upcoming school year. Unlike my New Year's resolutions, I tend to do a better job of working towards these. Of course, sharing my goals with anyone who comes across my blog and those I work with definitely ups the ante and increases accountability. So here are my goals for the 2014-2015 school year. 
Every day I will help make a colleague better. 
  • I will perform at least 750 observations and provide teachers with timely feedback
  • I will schedule a weekly visit with each teacher on the comprehensive cycle to provide feedback and to discuss 
  • Each Cougar Communication will have an instructional element, and I'll make more use of visuals, images, videos, etc.
  • In person feedback will be provided whenever a negative is witnessed during an observation 
  • I will work with each teacher to develop their own professional learning plans 
I will work with struggling students to improve their academic performance 
  • Meet with parents, students, counselors and teachers on a regular basis for those students who are most at risk 
  • Require teachers to monitor students' academic progress and communicate that progress to me 
  • Expand the use of RTI procedures  
I will hand write at least 3 thank you/job well done notes each week 

I will create relationships based on respect, trust and mutual understanding. I will support and engage those with whom I work and always act with the utmost integrity. I will listen and learn. 
  • I will attend all departmental meetings 
  • I will meet weekly with department chairs 
  • I will be visible before and after school 
I will communicate and engage parents, students and the community on school issues. 
  • I will blog on Cougar Chat at least once per week 
  • Our Remind account will have at least 600 people sign-up
  • Kettle Run News (Twitter) will finish the year with at least 800 followers
  • Principal Forums will be streamed live
  • I will work with faculty to ensure that BlackBoard Learn is implemented and used as described 
  • On 75% of Friday, I will complete my Friday Five 
  • I will explore use of other social media sites to enhance our digital footprint
I will work with Professional Development/School Improvement Team to improve instruction and learning.
  • I will work with our School Improvement Team to provide relevant, meaningful, purposeful and engaging professional development opportunities for ALL faculty 
  • Our  professional development will be teacher-driven, student-centered, and choice-based.
  • Professional development opportunities will be offered online 
  • I will lead at least 3 professional development sessions including one on Standards-Based Grading and one on Restorative Justice. 
We will expand our use of Restorative Practices 

Every day I will make myself a better leader by reading, learning from my Twitter PLN, asking questions and LISTENING.  After all it's all about RELATIONSHIPS. 


Monday, June 30, 2014

The Power of Not Yet

“You haven’t taught until they have learned.”  Sage advice from legendary basketball coach John Wooden, who credits his time as an English teacher with shaping his coaching philosophy.

For the first five or so years of my teaching career, students had one shot to demonstrate their mastery of subject. If a student failed to complete an assignment, the “logical” consequence was a zero. If an extremely capable student earned a C or below because of a lack of effort, then that’s the mark that went into my grade book. Or so I reasoned.

My thinking and my grading system were seriously flawed. If the students couldn’t demonstrate their learning, had I really taught them?

Assigning students zeroes or unsatisfactory grades doesn’t teach responsibility; rather it teaches students that they don’t have to do the assignment. If it’s worth assigning a grade, students—and teachers—must see the value in ensuring that each student does his/her best on that assignment. As educators we must constantly communicate that we see the potential of each and every student and hold them to high expectations.

Here’s where NOT YET comes in to play. No longer would I let students off the hook by giving them a zero or a grade below C. No longer would I accept less than a student’s best effort.

I’ve previously written about why zeroes make no sense, so here I’ll focus on the not yets for students who turn in work that doesn’t reflect their abilities.

How did Not Yets Work?
Simply, D’s and F’s were removed from my grading; instead students would receive a “not yet” or “work in progress.” Students would no longer be punished for not achieving mastery; rather feedback was provided and students were given an opportunity to relearn and demonstrate their knowledge and skills again.

Some students scoffed at the idea, “C’mon, just give me the D.”

I held firm, “I believe in you. I know what you’re capable of and this isn’t it.” Again a Wooden quote epitomized my new philosophy, “Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing that you have made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

By providing students with meaningful feedback and giving them the opportunity to improve, they seized the opportunity to learn from their errors and approached the assignment in new ways with more effort. Instead of allowing less than their best, students were provided with the opportunity to reflect and adjust so they can learn from the situation and meet the learning objective.

Yes, it meant more work for me, but was I really teaching if they hadn’t learned it? 

My Journey to Standards-Based Grading

I’ll be honest; I came upon standards-based grading totally by accident.  

I had become increasingly frustrated with my students’ attitudes toward learning and grades. Many of my “top” students were motivated more by “What do I have to do to earn an A?” than “What do I have to learn?” My less motivated students were too quick to accept less than their best. They were perfectly satisfied to earn C’s or D’s. It was the latter that spurred me to make changes to how I taught and how I assessed.

My three original reasons for adopting standards-based grading:
  1. Students avoided work because they didn't feel they'd be successful. 
  2. Too many students were not completing their work. 
  3. Many students were turning in work that was far below their potential.

high school career. But over the years far too many students were not completing their work. Many turned in work that was far below expectations and often extremely below grade level. Challenging assignments were met with trepidation; if the assignment was difficult, many students either simply didn’t do it or their efforts were minimal.

In conversations with other freshman teachers, we lamented that in middle school many students had the option to not turn in assignments, and at the end of the semester or year, they were given opportunities to raise their grades. These ranged from extra credit to fluff assignments to being allowed to turn in work that was assigned months ago. (Disclaimer: I know it’s easy for high school teachers to blame middle school teachers and for middle school teachers to blame elementary teachers. I also know many high school teachers have the same ineffective policies, but the point here is that if we’re going to prepare our students for college and life, we must do better.)

I pledged to myself and to my students and their families that I was no longer going to let students off the hook. I believed in their abilities and I was going to hold them accountable. They would leave my class with a newfound confidence in themselves. They’d be better prepared for life and along the way they were going to have fun learning about history.

On the first day of school, I explained my new learning and grading to all of my students. I explained that redos, retakes and revisions would be allowed (for more on redos and retakes: here and here). I went on to say I would never assign a grade less than a C, instead students would receive a “not yet” or “work in progress.” Practice assignments, including most homework, and formative assessment activities wouldn’t be graded. In addition, students would be given freedom to demonstrate learning in a variety of ways.

My standards-based grading goals were simple:
  1.  By attaching learning goals to each assignment and activity students were more likely to challenge themselves.
  2.  Instead of emphasizing grading, I’d be providing more feedback
  3. As author Ken O’Connor suggests, I wanted to be confident that the grades the student in my class received were accurate, meaningful and supportive of learning.
  4.  I wanted to remove subjectivity from grading.
  5.  I was no longer going to grade behaviors by punishing students for late work or work that wasn’t turned in.
  6. I'd make greater use of differentiation, flexible grouping, pre-assessments, and redos and retakes. All were intended to increase student motivation, reflection and increase intrinsic motivation

By no stretch of the imagination was the process easy or flawless. During the first year, I struggled to “compute” grades, the administration admonished me for giving incompletes on report cards, and several students and parents complained. Student grades provided a more accurate snapshot of student learning, but more importantly more students became motivated to learn and pushed themselves. Instead of avoiding challenges and withdrawing from tasks, they became risk takers; their efforts increased. They became more analytical, reflective and persistent. They established their own goals and strove to achieve them.

So while I stumbled upon standards-based grading accidentally, my journey had begun. I haven’t looked back since.