Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ten Little Monkeys Telling Time

     Everyone has their own way of tracking time. I use monkey time. One monkey equals one year. Two monkeys, two years. You get the picture. From my school office chair, I can now count 10 different stuffed monkeys hiding in plain site around my office. One for each year I have been a principal.  Each one different. Each one a silent, unjudging witness to the myriad of events, decisions, and happenings of a "normal" school office day. Most days happy, some sad, some easy, some hard. If the monkeys could give advice or talk just on the subject of curriculum, assessment, and instruction over the years, this is what they might share:

Monkey 1: Don't rock the boat. Do what the principal did last year. Listen and learn. Survive the first year of principalship!  Discuss the need for new school buildings. You get more questions than you have answers for.

Monkey 2: Teachers have really strong opinions about grading policies. Tough discussions this year on the topic of grading. Explore the use of data folders and student goal setting and tracking.  Remember Baldridge and Guskey?  Begin making adjustments to building routines and procedures. Make waves by making minor personnel adjustments. Discuss the need for new school buildings.

Monkey 3: Task Force team meetings about something called formative assessments and instructional practices. Argue more about what is the best grading policy. Discuss the need for new school buildings.

Monkey 4: Create unit designs templates and I can statements, unwrap standards for something new called common core, of course more grading policy discussion, and investigate something called Google Apps for Education. Discuss the need for new school buildings.

Monkey 5: Draft a grading policy, focus on expanding formative assessments and flexible grouping for something called differentiation, write and post I can statements. Write and receive a grant for a new tech device that just came out called an "ipad" so other principals could ask you what you would do with something like that and also procure a new funky web-based laptop called a chromebook just to see what it was about and if it had any value to a student. They'll call that being an early adopter. Begin using Google products. Discuss the need for new school buildings.

Monkey 6: Grading policy finally approved, sustained pd on formative instructional practices (Dylan), technology integration discussions and hiring of a tech coach because it's a mystery about how to actually integrate technology in a school. Discuss the need for new school buildings.  

Monkey 7:   Begin discussions about the need for standards based grading and begin the grading debate all over again. Officially become a Google Apps for Education school. Discuss the need for new school buildings.

Monkey 8: Emphasis on Value-added data, BFK learning tools, differentiation, exploring the use and role of social media in schools, limited discussion on standards based grading. Discuss the need for new school buildings.

Monkey 9: Don't worry about what everyone else is doing. Innovate,  K/1 Fusion personalized  learning journey, relocate ten classrooms and assign staff accordingly this time without making hardly any waves at all,  Chromebooks, mini i-pads and Google are in the hands of every student. Some discussions about standards based grading, Discuss the need for new school buildings.

Monkey 10: Staff pd on personalized learning. Begin discussions on poverty, Share our school stories on Facebook and Twitter. Should we be using standards based grades? Traditional, Differentiated, Personalized, Independent Studies....Go on the ballot for new school buildings and... You still don't have all of the answers.

Next year, will begin year 11.  I wonder what next year's monkey will be a witness to?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Don't Forget to Thank the Person Who is Working on Your Next Big Problem

If you are a teacher and typically get all of your work done from 8:20-3:35, then congratulations! But you probably have a lot of other people to thank. If you are fortunate to be working in a well-oiled system that has provided all of the forms, documents, data, assessments, schedules (and the list goes on), that allows teams to show up at 8:20, work for 30 minutes collaboratively, accomplish everything on the agenda, and then rush to a classroom where 25 students are waiting for you, then congratulations! But you probably have a lot of other people to thank. If you show up to a grade level meeting and all of the data is there waiting for you to analyze, all of the pacing guides are drafted, sample assessments are available (and the list goes on), then congratulations! But you probably have a lot of other people to thank.

Before you could do all of that within your contracted time, someone was coming in early, working long hours on the weekends, working over summer break, and placing the needs of the organization above their own. When they start working on your next big problems, don't insult them by saying you can't help because it can't be done during your school day.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Personalized Learning: part 2

Personalized Learning: From "Trending" to "It's just the way we do it"  Part 2

     At the end of last 2014-15 school year, I was gearing up for staff professional development for this 2015-16 school year. Our goal with pd this year, our challenge, is to bring all staff closer to providing personalized learning experiences to our students. This is a lengthy process and it involves changing the roles of teachers as they go through the stages from teacher centered to learner centered. (refer to Bray and McClaskey "Making Learning Personal)
    Last year we had one team of teachers combine their kinders and their 1st graders (K/1 Fusion) and were very successful in making inroads to personalized learning. We connected with other schools that were on a similar journey and exchanged valuable ideas and resources. Their experiences as teachers have been exciting and our parents and students have noticed the difference. (read one of the teacher's most recent classroom experiences here)  I hope to capture more of these comments and experiences by setting up a "parent interview booth" at our October parent-teacher conference nights. (thanks to @galvin1821 Principal Shawn Galvin, Lincoln Elementary in Jaynesville, Wi. for the resources and idea!)

      Over the summer, I purchased books for the teachers, set up a Google Classroom and began assigning tasks for the teachers to complete. Some assignments had them reading blogs from other schools that are on a similar journey and leaving comments. Other assignments were chapter book talks, making Codes of Cooperation and sharing of them, 60 second elevator speeches convincing others of why this is a great way to learn, as well as exploring PLPs, Backpacks, and the Seesaw app. Sometimes they do these assignments from home, and sometimes we meet face to face and have a working morning where they choose what they work on and whether they work alone or in a group. I think this is the kind of pd opportunities teachers appreciate. We will continue this manner of pd for the remainder of the year, and I have told staff this is at least a 3 year process. I read recently a blog from @mclane_ryan that outlines their school district's vision of personalize learning with reaching the goal by 2020. I may be a little ambitious with a 3 year goal for our building, but I agree that 5 years for an entire district is probably very realistic.

    What we were doing five years ago is different than what we are doing today. Five years from now, I hope I can say the same thing.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Personalized Learning: From "Trending" to "It's just the way we do it"

 A Google search defines:
Trend: a general direction in which something is developing or changing.  

I first read the article 10 Trends to Personalize Learning in 2015 around Christmas time 2014. I reread it again just recently and joined in on a webinar about the article with a couple of my teachers. It prompted me to think about these things...

      At what point does a trend become sustained long enough for people to stop calling it a trend, or a movement, or an initiative, or a pilot? When does it become our culture, or our method, or our strategy, or our "it's just the way we do it" kind of thing?

    The journey from vaguely being aware of what personalized learning is or isn't, to how to actually make it come alive in a classroom setting or school is a mysterious one. You wouldn't think it would be such a daunting thing since the entire "accomplished" side of the current teacher evaluation system in Ohio is heavily laden with adjectives such as "individualized" and "personalized." And since there looks to be many teachers earning the accomplished ratings, you would think that we would see many classrooms engaged in personalized learning environments. We would see PLPs (personalized learning plans), assessments "as" learning along with "for" and "of" learning assessments. We would see students involved in goal setting and peer feedback. We would see more multiage classrooms or small group settings because don't we all agree that time is the variable, not the learning? We would see teacher teams co-teaching and forming skill groups based on collective data. We would see teachers building student relationships over multiple years. We would see students and parents excited about schools. We would see more emphasis on learning, less on "grades."

 According to this comparison, many of our teachers continue to do business in a traditional classroom.

 You can decide for yourself which stage your teachers are in by considering the following:

    We are a long way from where we think we would like to eventually be and we will need to spend time with the Belief Systems stage. I do think that if we reach out to the schools, teachers, and organizations that have similar experiences and expertise, that we can begin to make inroads to changing what is currently a "predicted trend" to "our way of doing business."

If you would like to join us on our journey you can connect with us here:
@RVCprincipal on Twitter

For sites of interest on this topic:
#plearnchat on Twitter

Saturday, February 28, 2015

#PD Your Own Way by guest blogger Jamie Wright


I work at Conesville Elementary as a K-2 Intervention Specialist.  This year, my kindergarten and first grade co-teachers and I launched a K/1 Fusion.  This K/1 Fusion has brought a lot of new and awesome things.  If you haven’t heard about our K/1 Fusion, learn more about it here!  Along with teaching in the K/1 Fusion, I also co-teach 2nd grade math.  

These new and awesome things happening in the K/1 Fusion have taken careful planning, outside the box thinking, and many hours creating.  A lot has happened from last spring when my kindergarten co-teacher, Michelle, thought of this crazy idea until now.  We aligned schedules, moved physical locations of classrooms, rostered classes, created unique schedules, created pre-assessments, formatives, and summatives, made new games, implemented new strategies and teaching methods, integrated technology, and created personalized learning opportunities for students.  

Although my team and I are relatively creative people, we did not get here on our own, nor can we continue our journey on our own.  As teachers, we are constantly looking for ways to better our instruction, methods, strategies, interventions, enrichments, etc.  With our crazy hectic work days and busy nights fulfilling committee and coaching obligations, when does one find time to squeeze professional development in?

In years past, if teachers wanted professional development (PD), it meant losing a day in your classroom to attend a training or PD session of some sort.  Today, teachers can get quality PD from the comfort of their own couch! can that be?

Twitter, Pinterest, Blogs, and other social media outlets have allowed for this.  Hold on…How could one POSSIBLY learn anything from a silly social media site? I am here to tell you that some of my BEST PD has come from Twitter, Pinterest, and Blogs.  I use these 3 social media outlets to gain ridiculous amounts of knowledge, find new interventions, and new ways to teach different standards.

I do have a small confession, though. At first...I was skeptical, like many.  When my principal mentioned Twitter, I was like, “Oh, there is no way I will EVER use Twitter. It’s dumb and I don’t understand it.”  My principal INSISTED that I create an account and check it out.  I was very slow moving in this process because I didn’t really see the value in it.  I had my Twitter account for about a year and a half before I really used it.  One day at school, he told me about something called a TweetChat.  He told me that I should log on and use the hashtag, #oacteach and follow the conversations that were happening.  His explanation of this event sparked my interest.  I decided to check it out.  The first time I connected, I was a bit mindblown.  It was crazy how many people were participating in this chat, discussing a common topic, sharing ideas, and collaborating at the same time from a variety of states.  I had to learn more! I started researching other hashtags and found that the opportunities for professional development via Twitter were endless.  Shortly, I was hooked.  Once again, my principal was correct!    

According to a research paper from Pearson, “social media lend themselves naturally to cross-school collaboration and good practice sharing, both in terms of ease and cost-effectiveness.  This is true in so many ways.  Simply logging onto a TweetChat allows me to connect with multiple other educators from the comfort of my own couch.  I am able to engage in meaningful and powerful conversations with educators across the country who I may never meet in person.  The research paper from Pearson also states, “The global nature of Twitter allows teachers to engage with a more diverse group, challenging their own perspectives and inspiring new ways of thinking.”  Browsing through Pinterest links me to thousands of new ideas and connects me to other educators.  By reading blogs, I am able to understand other educators’ views on topics and ask questions or share my ideas on the topic.  I have learned more during an hour TweetChat on Twitter than I have in some college courses I have taken.  It is simply amazing to me that I am able to sit down (in my own house) and connect with so many diverse people with different experiences who are willing to share their ideas.  This type of collaboration allows for me to grow as a teacher.  My ideas and ways of thinking are sometimes challenged.  Most times I am inspired.    

Although I use many social media outlets to gain information, today I am going to focus on Twitter.  I use Twitter the most, usually daily.  For those of you who are still skeptics, I would like to share with you how to go about getting involved in Twitter.  I hope to show you the value in it, so you can learn as much as I have.  
Hopefully, by this point, you have already passed through the Denial Stage of Twitter and I have piqued your interest.  You are now in the Curiosity Stage.  At this point, you should navigate to and create yourself an account.  Don’t’s easy and FREE!  Once you’ve created an account, you’re ready to explore!

If you already know some people on Twitter, search for them and begin following them.  As you use Twitter more, you will start to find your “herd” of people to follow.  If you’re unsure of who to follow, I have linked a list of some people I follow.  These people contribute often and have some awesome ideas for education.  I have learned a lot from these people.  See list here.  

Now that you have some people to follow, I’m sure you’re a bit curious about a TweetChat.  A TweetChat is where the world comes together to chat.  To learn more about a TweetChat, read this article.  There are many hashtags out there that will lead you to a digital community of people discussing the same topic.  Some of my favorites are here.  During these hour-long chats, I am able to learn more about specific topics, ideas, teachers, and administrators.  I build my network of colleagues through these TweetChats.  I have started to follow many educators in many different areas of education.  This is helpful because as I come across questions or challenges, I have a huge network of people to contact who could help me.  After participating in a few TweetChats, I was hooked.  I scroll through my Twitter
feed multiple times throughout the day, always finding something new or connecting with someone new.  It is amazing to me how much I can learn and how many people I can reach with a few clicks.  

Twitter is now a part of my lifestyle.  It is my professional development as an educator.  I always am striving to be better.  I am always looking for something new to use in my classroom or a new way to teach skills.  I do not want to take a day out of my classroom to attend trainings.  Twitter and other social media outlets allow for me to do all of this.  They allow for me to differentiate my own professional development.  I can gain knowledge on topics I know I need professional development on at any given time.  I am looking for other ways to gain PD from the comfort of my own home.  

What sites and hashtags do you use/follow? Who do you follow?    

How do YOU get your PD?

Jamie Wright
K-2 Intervention Specialist
Conesville Elementary

Sunday, February 22, 2015

People Don't Really Change, They Just Grow....

Guest blog written by Michelle Beitzel, K-1 Fusion teacher:
Do we want to change?
CAN we change?
If we can, how much can we change?

Education has once again shifted: integration of more technology and more “testing”. Many people (teachers and parents alike) are sick of it, and are pushing back with a resistance like no other.

“Technology in the classroom is ridiculous. Children spend too much time on devices at home, why bring it into the classroom? What is up with all this testing? Can’t I just teach my students instead of assessing them all the time? When is it going to end?” …....

   Secretly, are you one of those teachers who are excited about this change? Do you see technology as a tool to integrate more rigor into your lessons, and assessments to drive your instruction? You are not alone, but you have to step out of the shadows, and decide to take charge of the direction education is headed around you. Yes, you could continue to do this in your little world of your own classroom, but what happens when your children leave your class? Are they going to be getting the best education they can down the hall? Do we quit caring about their education once they walk out of our door? I don’t think so!

I too have been there; frustrated that others around me were not willing to embrace a new way of teaching and learning. It can be easier just to hide within the walls of our classrooms, and not worry about what is happening around us. When frustration has set in, you are no longer able to give your children your best. Instead, we are spending our energy on not being happy, and we should love what we do. This was me a few years ago. Due to Reduction in Force, I was moved from a position I did love to a different building with a whole new attitude - “We like what we do and the way we do it, so don’t ask us to do anything else.” This wasn’t what I wanted, who does? What is to be your message to the world, was this to be my message?

Then something began to happen on the corner of 199 State Street! It was transforming from a place in which I wanted to flee from, to a place in which I
I KNEW I BELONGED! This building had been held tight in it’s predecessors’ arms and protected from change and uncertainty, as was I. But gradually the shield began to come down for not only the building, but for myself as well. I was encouraged to reflect on my strengths and to refine my teaching and allowed to think outside of the box! I can’t pinpoint when it happened, or how it actually happened, but it happened! It happened because someone believed in me, pointed me in the right direction, and waited for me to change my mind and jump! As teaching has evolved, there are really only two things that we can do: 1- fight it forever and be miserable OR 2- JUMP! Jump in and make it yours! I chose to JUMP! Will you?


By jumping in, I had to find ways to critically analyze where we were heading, advocating for change, facilitating the change, and monitoring how we were doing. No longer was I the little wallflower cowering in the corner. I went from almost missing MY opportunity to being a part of something, to actually helping shape this little building on the corner of 199 State Street. I was inspired to blaze ahead, and thrived to be ME, whatever I decided to make of myself, and not let the FEAR of change and uncertainty hold me back!

Now it is your turn, decide today to change your mind: BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD, and be that someone to believe in others, point them in the right direction, and wait for them to change their mind and jump, too!

Follow Mrs. Beitzel on twitter: @beitzelmichelle

Friday, February 13, 2015

The WOW factor: Guest blogger Tod Martin reflects on Math, Common Core, and Kids

Often times I hear a negative connotation when the word mathematics is brought up with students, parents, and even other educators. This is especially true with the Common Core State Standards. Many people see math as a negative. A high percentage of people think Common Core is a negative. This is what I love about math: When you multiply two negatives you always get a positive. You may ask, “How can I make math positive? How can I make my students like my class?” It comes down to how you approach the subject you teach. Here is my take on how to make a classroom truly AWESOME.

Attitude: Attitudes are contagious. Being in a classroom, we have the choice whether to spread positive vibes or negative vibes.The first step to making something positive and enjoyable is attitude. So much of the problem is a bad attitude. The first thing we need to do is adjust our own attitudes. Kids feed off of our attitudes. I am blessed to work with a co-worker that comes into the room everyday with a positive uplifting attitude and it instantly has an effect on the room. What we have to do is go into the classroom with a “can do” attitude that hopefully our students will react to. Having a positive attitude sets the stage for success.

“WOW” Factor: Just like in a great magic show, you need a “Wow” factor that will grab everyone’s attention. When covering a concept in class, explore it deeply and discover its wow factors. An example of a “wow” factor that my students were totally mind blown over was how division is multiplication backwards. We cram a lot of information into kids' heads everyday. They won’t remember everything we tell them, but they will remember the wow factors. I bet we can all look back on our own educational experiences and remember a wow factor such as dropping pumpkins out of a two story window or making rockets out of two liter bottles and launching them off. A simple way of explaining division for me was a major wow factor for my students. When you see the expression on a child’s face of amazement when they make a connection in the classroom, you get your own little wow factor.

Effective: Everything that we do in the classroom has to be effective for the kids we have. Lessons have to be designed to fit the needs of our kids. Feedback has to be given in a way that is effective for that student. If our day is not designed around the interests and needs of each kid, is it really going to be effective? Being an effective teacher does not mean that your class all got an A+ on the test. Being effective means that each child left school that day with something meaningful to them. This could be in the form of a wow factor, it could be a hug when you greeted them that morning, a full meal at lunchtime, or an off the wall fact that they can’t wait to share with their parents. We need to rethink how we measure our own effectiveness. Are we doing what's best for the kids that we have? If we are then we can consider our job as effective.

Support: In education, a buzz word is scaffolding. I like this word because I feel that it is something that every human needs. It doesn’t matter what walk of life we are in, everyone at some point will need support. Someone who can help raise them up to a new level of success. Our students need our support. If we open ourselves up and make ourselves available to be that support, more students will succeed not only in our classroom, but in life. If you have ever spent any time in a public school system, you know the clientele we see. A lot of kids have no real support system outside of school. I have to remind myself that not all kids go home and have someone that will check their homework, read them a book, or help study their flashcards. I have to be a support for their learning. If I can do this, my students will know that they can count on having a person of support who will be there to simplify concepts when they are too complicated or to challenge them to think deeper and push themselves higher.

Opportunity for Success: Success is something that every student desperately needs and wants in school. It is something that every student deserves. The successes that each student achieves varies on their ability levels. Success for some students is reaching up into the next grade level for a challenge and proving that they are capable. Success to another student may be studying their heart out and getting a C+ on a test, but that C+ is better than what they were capable of a week earlier. I watched a video earlier this week that said it best. The video talked about what teachers make. Here is a quote from the video: “I can make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor.”(Video) We need to recognize these successes, no matter how small we think them, because a small success to us may be the greatest thing to ever happen to that child. That success may be the difference in a child unlocking the door to the untapped potential that will determine how far he/she goes in life. To have an awesome classroom, each child needs to have that opportunity for success each day. Kids should be able to walk out of the classroom and feel confident because in some way that day, they were successful.

Meaningful Experiences: To go along with the “WoW” factors, the educational experiences in a classroom need to be meaningful. I hear a lot of students ask the age old question, “Why do we have to learn this?” It's okay to be honest and explain how relevant the information is to them and how it will help them in the real world. If kids are able to make a connection between the curriculum and their own lives, it will become meaningful and important to them. It is not easy to do anything that is meaningless. If there is no purpose, there is no drive to succeed. I try to connect with my students and make each experience and lesson meaningful to them. Students are more apt to remember a lesson if it has meaning to them.

Excitement: To make a class truly AWESOME, there has to be some excitement. Long gone are the days that we stand in front of a class for an hour and lecture while they take notes. That’s BORING!! One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that it is okay to be a little silly. It's okay to inject humor into a lesson. It's okay to jump up on a desk and show that I am excited about coming to work everyday and that I am excited about Math. A teacher that has left a lasting impression on me did so because I could see the passion and excitement he had everyday to be teaching. If we are able to let our guard down just a little, the students will be more comfortable in the classroom environment. The best phrase that has ever been said to me while teaching was when a child stated that they were “excited” to come to school today because of my class. How can we make kids excited? If you answer this question and inject it into your classroom, I can guarantee that you yourself will find that you to are excited to be there.

Well, there you have it. I haven’t seen it all, been everywhere, or done everything, but what I have experienced has led me to this belief: We can not control everything that is going on with every student outside the school walls, but everyday we open our classroom doors we have a choice. What kind of experience is each child going to have in my classroom today? 

I choose to try my best to make everyday AWESOME!

Submitted by: Tod Martin, 3rd grade teacher Conesville Elementary, River View LSD
Follow Tod on Twitter :
Tod Martin
Third Grade teacher @Conesville! Growing students and creating lifelong learners is my ultimate goal!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Beyond the Bricks: connecting your students with the rest of the world

      "The teacher makes meaningful and relevant connections between lesson content and other disciplines and real-world experiences and careers as well as prepares opportunities for students to apply learning from different content areas to solve problems." -  OTES Rubric, Prior Content Knowledge/Sequence/Connections

    Teachers who are formatively instructing in the classroom today recognize the benefits that come with peer feedback, student self-reflection, project-based learning, student motivation, and connecting their classrooms to a larger learning audience. They understand that others have the means to help grow the learning of their students. 
     Traditional field trips are always good, as long as they are within a reasonable driving distance and you have a little extra in the budget to finance it. Face to face with a local expert is really good, too. What to do though if you want to talk to an author? Or watch a family member enlisted in the air force refuel an airplane in mid-air? Or visit a missionary classroom in Africa? 

    If you have access to Google Hangouts (or Skype, or Facetime) you can begin to make in-roads into helping students make learning connections of high interest to help them think through problems presented in class. Relevance and real world have a way of keeping the attention of our students and making sense out of the abstract.

If you are thinking about connecting online, please consider the following:

Prior to connecting:
 Determine the experience level of everyone involved in regards to the technology to be used. Do they need some training beforehand? The technology should never get in the way of a good online interview/visit because someone is trying to figure it out at the last minute. Get the "novelty stage" out on a practice session. Try a test connection before the real one. Sometimes you have to "mirror image" connect if you are showing a document or book.  Discuss the connection protocols. Who is initiating the call, you or them? Establish a dialogue to test the audio and video and let everyone know that you will take a couple of minutes at the beginning to do that. Who has the job of turning the mic on and off if needed? If someone far from the mic needs to speak, where is the designated spot in the classroom to speak from? Planning ahead and practicing will ensure that your guest is respected and your classroom time is effective. Let everyone know the purpose and goal of the event and make sure you know if it is going to be recorded or it is a one time event. 

During the connection: 
If you are connecting with multiple guests, have everyone leave their microphones turned off and turned on only when needed. Background noise is very disruptive. 

Ask for feedback on the experience and act on it. Provide everyone with a follow up time so they can process, ask questions, or make comments that you may not have had time to ask during the event. 

    I am encouraging and supporting our staff as they take the small steps towards reaching out to the college and career real world experiences that are out there. From whole classroom events that broaden student horizons, to one on one colleague collaboration, and eventually student group to student group, the world is definitely getting flatter at Conesville ES.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

You are where you are..... because of your students

  I have kept this quote posted on our staff wiki page for the past few years. I read it every time I log in. 

This is what I currently believe: 
    When I came to Conesville ES 9 years ago as principal, this school was already in a transitional time and probably didn't know it. (The outgoing principal knew it.)  "Things" had already started to change for our school before I arrived, but as usually is the case, slow and subtle can sneak up on you and go unrecognized for a long time.  Some of the more direct changes that would take place of course, could be attributed to me because that naturally happens whenever a building gets new leadership. Some of my personality traits, leadership qualities, and work ethics matched well with staff and students, and some didn't. But, hard lessons were learned and for the most part we all moved on together. 
     Growing pains came with the expectation of staff to work with new technology: first email, then wikis, google docs, ipads and more. More growing pains came with expectations that students also use the same technology as adults did. New standards were adopted. A new evaluation system put into place. Formative instructional practices became our life. It was messy. It still is.
    Student demographics had become magnified. Free and reduced lunch rates ballooned. Open enrollment requests and the issues that tag along had grown. The school doors had to be open earlier to get more students through the breakfast line in a manageable amount of time. Numbers of students with identified needs had climbed. Larger numbers of temporary students have become something to account for. Students entering kindergarten, but not yet ready for kindergarten standards. Or, second graders still needing skills that were only taught in the kindergarten classes. Gifted students clamoring for attention. Students arriving to school needing more social cues than ever before. 
    Our students today may sit in the same brick and mortar building that their parents and older siblings sat in, but most of everything else has changed, or is in the process of changing. And the changes still come. You don't stop them, you just manage them. If you're good, you predict and prepare for them. This staff is really good.

    With this premise in mind, "Whatever it takes to put the right students with the right teacher at the right time," this is what we have done one small step at a time:

Scheduling: In the perfect world, what would our perfect schedule look like? Let's start there and work backwards. Custom recess times can replace traditional "after lunch/before lunch" recess. Intervention specialists have a MAJOR voice in setting up the schedule so they can co-teach and pull out students in the most effective manner. Large blocks of time are made available wherever possible for reading and language arts. Art, Music, and PE specials are arranged to allow teachers who share students to "plan together so they can teach together." Plan specials commonly across the district to double the amount of tech time. Have a student in one grade level but could really benefit from a teaching session going on next door? Send them. Don't let the tail wag the dog.
"We are where we are because of our students."

Room locations: Movement of students to receive services and instruction is hard to manage in a 75 year old building.  Classroom walls and stairs can't move, but grade levels assignments and furniture can. We added a second pre-school this year so we took the opportunity to relocate (uproot) all of our pK-2 classrooms to leverage physical proximity so teachers could share common student groups more easily. It used to be unthinkable for a teacher to move out of  "their classroom" unless someone retired and the move was an upgrade. This group did so readily. 
"We are where we are because of our students."

Staff (assignments, movements, hires):  Sometimes, staff realize they are better suited with different groups of students or different grade levels and ask for a chance to prove it.  Sometimes, to address changes that are happening, you have to assign teachers to a new grade level or subject than what they were originally hired for. Be prepared to weather the fallout for the rest of the year. Changing staff assignments is hard on teachers and shouldn't be done lightly or offhand. We have changed some assignments. Sometimes, the principal is the only one who realizes the change needs made and has to make hard decisions based on what is best for students, not  what is best for teachers or principals. Some teachers decided to find work in another building. A couple decided to leave us altogether. I don't begrudge any of them. It's tough out here. Frankly, doing things the way they have always been done is easy. Being asked to do things that may not have a guaranteed outcome and no road map is difficult. Hiring is one of the most important things a principal does. We have made some great hires.
"We are who we are because of our students."

Enrichment & Intervention: We don't do this perfectly. What we do recognize though is that you have to strive to meet all students where they are and do it the best that you can every single day. We wrote action plans long before the Third Grade Guarantee made us. They have to be written with the students' needs in mind and then deliver it with fidelity. Every single aide is where they are suppose to be at the time they are suppose to be, providing support.  Every child, every day. It really starts making a difference when students start receiving what they need, when they need it.
"We do what we do because of our students."

Special Education:  Co-teaching in an inclusion classroom depends on the right mix of people. Don't do it if you don't have the right people. We have a great mix of co-teachers with regular education teachers. They advocate for the best and least restrictive environment and work towards providing it every day. If you have a special education plan at our school, be prepared for someone meeting you at the door to check in with you and giving you a hug on the way out. You may even get some reading minutes in over your lunch time.
"We do what we do because of our students."

Technology: We don't check the technology at the door. Never have, never will. We walk the talk at our school as much as we can. Technology levels the playing field for our students. Technology lives and breathes in our school. It's our one advantage. If you come to our school to learn, bring your learning device with you. Our teachers were using Google Docs two or three years prior to our district finally becoming a Google Apps For Education School. Each of our teachers already had iPads in hand when people were asking me in meetings what an iPad was. My Chromebook is four years old. We have a presence on social media because that's where our families are. (dragged my feet on that one but I finally gave up).  Our teachers value their professional learning networks on Twitter and know they have to be their own "Superman."
"We share what we share because of our students."

Fusion: We believe the natural evolution of formative instructional practices leads to doing everything described above. Our fusion class is a blend of kindergarten and first grade classes merged and mixed based on what the students need for that year, month, week, or day. It's supported with an intervention specialist, aides, and technology. We want to grow it sideways and upways. (click the fusion link for more info)
"We do what we do because of our students."

Relationships:    If you can't build these with your students, forget everything that you just read.
"We are where we are because of our students."

    I have proudly been teaching, leading, and learning in the RVLSD district for 18 years now and this is what I believe: Our district, and probably your's too, is slowly and subtly changing. It has to. The world is changing. Education has changed (I think for the better). Nothing was ever meant to stay the same anyhow.

The question is:                         How are YOU going to respond? responding? 

Inspirational credit to Kathy Balo, para-professional, Conesville ES

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What do you take for granted?

Dear Staff,

Thanksgiving is that special time of year that allows us to reflect on what we do on a daily basis. I am sure you would probably agree with me when I say that we take so much for granted.

I take for granted a staff who passionately teach to what students need, instead of what has always been done and is most comfortable to themselves.

I take for granted a staff who realize they have to embrace a child with a genuine relationship first and then provide the magic to inspire the learning.

I take for granted a staff who just plain “get it.” A staff that doesn’t complain (too much) and has a reputation for rolling up their sleeves and leading the charge.

I take for granted a staff who trust in what we are doing and depend and support each other in this crazy world of education that we love.

I take for granted the expertise that has been accumulated by this staff and the fountain of knowledge that I can go to and draw from when making decisions that affect our students.

I take for granted cooks who always fill our bellies and add personal touches to holiday treats.

I take for granted custodians who clean up our leftovers everyday.

I take for granted bus drivers who steer our buses safely through the slush and ice.

I take for granted our aides who perform alongside our teachers and support everything we do.

I take for granted the trust that our families have given us in serving their needs.

I take for granted an administrative team that quietly leads and serves day in and day out.

I take for granted coming to work everyday where what we do is making a difference. We have what we have so we’ll continue to do what we do.

I am thankful for each and everyone of you and and have a deep respect for what you are doing.

Happy Thanksgiving!