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latest trend, by the bells and whistles, and have forked over thousands of dollars to technologies that quickly become outdated, are stored away in a closet somewhere or collect dust in classrooms.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. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Case for The Case Against Zeros

Cross-posted at Brilliant or Insane

Ten years ago Douglas Reeves made a compelling case against zeros. Since then many districts and schools have crafted no zero policies (some admittedly miss the intended target), but these tend to be the exception. We cannot continue to use grades as punishments, to send "messages," and to "teach students a lesson."

Six Reasons for the Case Against Zeros
  1. If it's worth assigning, it's worth requiring students to do it. 
  2. Work completion is often influenced by home life, learned behaviors, economic standing, etc. It's not fair to punish students for factors beyond their control.
  3. Punishing students for failing to complete an assignment doesn't motivate them. In my experiences, low grades are more likely to discourage students from making greater efforts.
  4. Often a handful of zeros doom the student for the entire term, causing students to simply quit. 
  5. The students we most worry about losing (those who are often deemed lazy, are below grade-level, are labeled at-risk) are most harmed by zeros. 
  6. Zeros distort final grades, which should be an indicator of mastery.
Critics of No Zero Policies will claim that the penalty--a 0--is appropriate to instill proper values within students. This may be true for the highly motivated, mature student, but it's more likely that these students already possess the intrinsic motivation to be successful in school.

It's time for all educators to adopt a no-zero policy.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

10 Things That Separate Good Teachers from Great Ones

Cross Posted at Brilliant or Insane 

What separates a good teacher from a great teacher?

1 -- Good teachers teach the subject matter. Their students do very well on assessments.

2 -- Good teachers have high expectations for their students.
Great teachers have high expectations for themselves.

3 -- Good teachers are acutely aware of their surroundings. Their classrooms are well-oiled machines.
Great teachers "pick-n-choose" their battles. They recognize that each student should be treated fairly, but not necessarily equally.

4 -- Good teachers have students who produce.
Great teachers recognize that they are responsible for what their students produce.

5 -- Good teachers reflect.
Great teachers look to their peers, administrators, online, and read books to improve. Most importantly, they look to themselves for answers.

6 -- Good teachers seek to improve themselves.
Great teachers push their peers to become better. 

7 -- Good teachers provide consistent feedback.
Great teachers possess a growth mindset and constantly praise efforts.

8 -- Good teachers arrive to school on time and complete all their duties and obligations.
Great teachers go above and beyond for their students and their school. They never quit and never complain about the hours.

9 -- Good teachers are respected by their students.
Great teachers are loved by their students. 

10 -- Good teachers know their students.
Great teachers know their students better than they know themselves.