Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An Education Carol~ “bah humbug”

An Education Carol~ “bah humbug”

Most of us are familiar with the Dickens’ classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and how visits from three spirits altered his attitudes and dispositions. These spirits helped Scrooge to reflect on what was important in the past, become aware of what was happening in the present and prepare himself for the changes he would experience in the future.

Well, like Scrooge, anyone involved in the education field is occasionally haunted by the ‘ghost of education past, present and future’, and like Scrooge we each have the potential to improve our attitudes and dispositions in a way that encourages and enlightens those around us.

The ‘Ghost of Education Past’ reminds us of a time when school was much simpler. Rows of seats in neat lines, every student holding the same Basal reader, assignments given, assignments handed in, and few behavior issues. Things may have felt safe and secure in that atmosphere where lessons were presented the same way to every student and you moved on regardless. There was no RTI, no IEP and no TIF. There was the teacher, the students, the curriculum, end of story and it seemed to work fine, or so we thought. Some may be tempted even today to embrace the staunch face of the ‘Ghost of Education Past’. I mean, Bah Humbug! Didn’t we learn and grow under her regime? Well… we may have; but did everyone else?

And on that note, a new spirit enters the stage; the ‘Ghost of Education Present’. This spirit challenges us to educate in a new way—to educate individuals, not classrooms. We are challenged to differentiate, discover learning styles, alter teaching methods, use technology, use manipulatives, use art, music, drama and any other creative avenue we can think of that will remove a barrier or break through a wall. We are challenged to train students to collaborate, question, speak out and think critically. We want problem solvers, 21st Century thinkers, College and Career ready students, common core aligned lessons with inquiry based modes of teaching. The ‘Ghost of Education Present’ is large and demanding and even a little over-bearing at times; but he is on the right track to prepare students for the ‘Ghost of Education Future’.
  The ‘Ghost of Education Future’, the spirit we fear the most, will bring many changes to teaching and learning. Technology will, no doubt, play a key role. Teaching methods whether direct instruction, student based teaching, distance learning, independent studies or the countless other strategies we now use will evolve and grow. We may anticipate what changes the future of education will bring, but no one can truly know for certain, we can only commit to implementing change and making things better for those we teach.

In the final paragraph of “A Christmas Carol”, years after his change of heart, Charles Dickens writes of Ebenezer Scrooge,

“it was always said of him (Scrooge), that he knew how to keep Christmas well”.

I hope that I am remembered one day as a teacher that “knew how to keep education well”. And in the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us all everyone”!

Written by guest blogger Mrs. Shelly Webb, Conesville ES, paraprofessional and teacher in training.

Connect with Shelly at:

Shelly Webb

Shelly Webb


Sunday, December 8, 2013

A guest blogger writes why she loves her job!

     I love my job... I am an intervention specialist for 3rd/4th grade.  I work with some of the most amazing people in the field of education.  The reason I am in this profession stems from having select teachers who made a tremendous impact on my life.  It is important for me to pay this forward.  My goal for the remainder of the school year is to focus on growing my students the most I possibly can.  I want to give them the most real life version of whatever I teach.  

There should be no reason for them to ask "why do I even need to learn this?"  It is important for my co-teachers and I to really focus on our students' needs. Let's get them thinking... Get them thinking "I know exactly why I need to learn this!" 

Written by guest blogger Jillian Wesney, teacher. Connect with Mrs. Wesney:
Jillian Wesney

Jillian Wesney


I am a mother of 3 very busy children, wife, 3rd/4th Intervention Specialist, coach, student, daughter, sister, friend, mentor, mentee, tech nerd...
Conesville · mrswesney.blogspot.com

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Change Train

There is no doubt about it. The "Change Train" has arrived, it doesn't have a reverse gear, and the caboose is no where in sight.

As I coach my staff through the current round of evaluations, much of the the discussion is centered around differentiation and (or?) personalized learning. Our admin team and evaluation committee have been trying to frame the OTES rubric into this perspective: "think of developing, skilled, accomplished as traditional, differentiated, personalized."   We believe having a majority of our teachers in the skilled domain truly differentiating, formatively assessing, and meeting the needs of all students will add value to our students. 

     I am trying to wrap my mind around what I am catching a glimpse of on the horizon.  These are some key phrases in the current OTES rubric and many educators and upper level policy makers are keeping these ideas on the forefront in their connected online communities:
   Student led      Accurately connects data to specific instructional strategies    Plan for specific strategies, content and delivery that meet the needs of individual students      Independent, collaborative support    Project based     Student ownership       Family partnerships     Trends and patterns in individual student progress
     I am concerned that many teachers, myself included, may have trouble defining what a personalized learning environment really looks like, let alone trying to create it with the same learning spaces and resources that were designed for traditional learning. 

   I may not  know for some time exactly how to help my staff create personalized learning spaces, or yet find and allocate resources to accomplish this, but I know what personalized learning is not. 

     It is not suddenly and randomly assigning new website skill sets to every student with little regard for what they have already mastered.  It is not taking the same old project assignments where everyone "makes" the same thing, turns them in by the same deadline, but adding a new, irrelevant twist to it. 

I have no doubt that we will figure it all out, and that our students and teachers will be better because of it. And we're not going to "just add glitter, either."
All Aboard!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

News flash! The "Good old days" are now.

   I am confident that sometime in the future, a teacher is going to say, "Oh, I wish we could return to the good old days." Maybe we are living in the good old days right now and just don't realize it.

     I say this because every generation seems to perceive that the past was so much better. Back "then", teachers didn't have this or that to do. Back "then", teachers weren't responsible for this or that. I forget who said it, but time has a way of making things in the past more grand. A teacher in the early 1900s of a single room school house cleaned the chalkboards AND cut the wood for the fire stove. ONE teacher swept the floors, inked the wells, and still planned the lessons for students of multiple ages all in the same classroom. Talk about differentiation! I don't know about you, but I don't want to go back to the good old days of teaching.

    If we're the ones living in the present, what is it exactly that teachers in the future are going to look back on and wish they were us?

     The days when we only had to worry about writing SLOs?  The days where we had a common curriculum to work with? The days when you could instruct students face to face with good solid differentiated lessons and projects? The days when administrators would come in and observe our classrooms on a regular basis and give us encouragement and good descriptive feedback about our instructional practices? The days when teachers worked efficiently and collaboratively between buildings with cloud based documents?

They will say those things worked so well for us and we were used to them. Why all the change and confusion, and unneeded stress?

You don't get to choose the time you live in. You only get to choose how you live it.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Wikis can help you FIP your school

Our school is a member of the OAC (Ohio Appalachian Collaborative). Thanks to Battelle4Kids, our staff has many resources to support our journey of formative instructional practices in the classroom.

    When I became a building principal 8 years ago, one of the first things I did was to launch a building wiki in order to establish a higher level of communication and collaboration. In hindsight, it was ahead of its time because we definitely had growing pains with technology use back then. At that time, staff was still grimacing about having to use a thing called "email."

The original wiki had 2 pages, one for office communication and one for staff communication. Today, we have added pages for  OTES, FIP, ALICE, and Gifted Resources. With the addition of Google Apps for Education, sharing opportunities have made giant leaps. These pages have links and documents for resources as well as a place for ongoing comments. I recommend that building leaders choose a platform that they can be comfortable with and then model what you expect from staff. With all of the new generation tools available, I sometimes feel our wiki is a bit dated, but it still fits the majority of our staff’s comfort level. I have included a couple of screenshots for reference.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

"My child's school received a C on their grade card, Fantastic!" said no parent ever.

 The Ohio Department of Education has recently released the newly redesigned report cards for schools. They are using letter grades now instead of the descriptors such as Effective and Excellent. I don't mind the new letter grade system, except for the fact that the new letter grades don't exactly mean what parents, teachers, and students have been used to for all of their lives.
  Previously, if you saw a "C" on a grade card, it probably meant "average", or "room for improvement" or "not bad, but you can do better." Now, if you see a grade of "C" from the ODE on a school report card, you will have to shift what you think you know about what a "C" really means.
Let me explain the changes in a somewhat tongue-in-check example.

Dear Student,
      Today you will be receiving your grade card and we are making some changes that we think you will like. First off, there is no "overall" grade this year so do not confuse the first grade you see on your report card as your overall grade.  We may report an overall grade in 2015.
      The first item you were graded on was how well you mastered all of your learning targets for the quarter. Congratulations! Since you mastered all of your learning targets in the time frame that we expect students to do, you received a "C".  I am sure your parents will be proud of you!  You could have received an "A" or a "B" if only you would have mastered some of the learning targets that we will be covering in the next quarter, or even next year, and shown that you learned more than you were expected to.
      The next item we are grading you on is your work habits. This is not part of your learning grade. Since you turned in every assignment on time and did what was expected, again, you will receive another "C". Congratulations! Your parents will surely be proud of you. I suppose you could have received an "A" or a "B" by turning some of them in early.
     Another item that you received a grade on is for your attendance. Once again, you received a grade of "C". You attended school every day! We are not sure how you could receive an "A" or a "B" yet, except maybe to attend school on some Saturdays. No teachers would be present though to verify that so we would have to take your word that you actually attended. We will let you know on the 2015 report card if we figure that one out.
Keep up the great work!

Your teacher,

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I'm a school nursecustologist

  My kindergarten students don't really know what a school principal actually does at school.

On the first day of school, they saw me mopping the floor of the restroom because the urinal was overflowing and my custodian was outside mowing the yard. "Are you the janitor?"

Next they saw me comforting one of their friends crying and I was applying an ice pack to a big bump on her head. "Are you the nurse?"

And my favorite from the mouth of a five year old: I told her that people come to me and I try to help them solve their problems. "You're a psychologist!"

Friday, August 16, 2013

Take the long way...

        Today was the annual “welcome back to school” meeting for all district staff. For me, about a 30 minute drive from home to the administration campus. My blog followers may recall that I like to ride to and from work without the radio on in order to reflect on my day. I knew I had to introduce new staff and thank people who had been working hard all summer to get the buildings ready, but other than that I really didn’t have anything else planned to say. Short and sweet.

As I pulled into the parking lot filled with cars, my first realization of the year came to mind:
It may be time to update my vehicle. Pretty sure every car there was newer than my 2001 model with manual crank windows and standard shift transmission.

Moments later, as I stood in front of the entire district staff and looked out over all of the familiar faces, realization #2 came to mind:
A lot of my inspiration and motivation for my job comes from them. The people I work with.

When I stay in my office too long, it is easy to forget the real purpose of my job. Then the stress gets to me and it is easy to get frustrated.  To remedy that problem, I step out of my office. It doesn’t matter if I go left, right, down, or up, I know that in just a few short steps, I can watch great teachers light the fires of little minds and watch little children inspire adults.                                                                             Magic.

So I made a recommendation to my staff. To all of the staff. Take the long way back this year, like I will.

If you are a teacher and you drop your students off to the specials teacher, don’t be in a hurry to get back to your classroom. Take the long way back. Briefly step into another grade level classroom and watch the magic happen. Walk out with inspiration and new found purpose.  Find yourself with 30 minutes of planning time? Push yourself away from your desk 5 minutes early. Take a long walk to the other end of the hallway. Step into another classroom and sit down beside a student. Get eye level with them. Ask them what they are learning. Ask them how their day is going.  Breathe in the magic.

Take the long way.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Just Say "No" to Social Networking Sites in Schools

At this point in my life, I don’t have a lot of free time, so for some of my professional learning, I rely on my google communities, Twitter, and Diigo, to keep abreast of everything that is going on in my profession. I like that because I can get my learning at my convenience. I leave Facebook and Pinterest to my wife's care, which she uses to keep family and friends up to date on some of the more ridiculous things that occasionally happen in our personal lives and to find the next best recipe.

Recently, Michael Norkun, an educator in the "Ask a Google Education Guru" google plus community asked for help and posted this in a google form survey:

"I am trying to collect some data regarding social media in schools. Would anyone be willing to complete this short survey?"

It only had two questions. Short and sweet, the perfect survey.

Answer yes or no: Do you think social networking can be integrated into schools to enhance learning opportunities?  (my answer: yes)

Which social networking site provides the greatest opportunities with education? (my answer: twitter)

Then he asks: Describe the potential benefits of using these tools in school. (my answer: something about the power of using hashtags to find specific feedback and help, for example math students in a calculus math class)

He then provided this link http://goo.gl/7AbC8 so viewers could see the responses as they came in.  There were a lot of "yes" responses and brief descriptions of how and why they chose their favorite "social media" site.  

As I looked over the responses, my attention was drawn to the "no" responses and the reasons given why social media should not be used in school.

"Its purpose is social, not educational. The social aspect would serve to distract students. Less technology, more hands on"

I was dumbstruck. How could another educator who was obviously a connected educator in an educational google community claim social media sites such as google plus, edmodo, twitter, pinterest (add your favorite here) not see the value of a learning community for students?

I tried to rationalize how that could be. Maybe they were a lower elementary teacher and couldn't make the leap that little ones can blog and network, too? Maybe they were an upper high school teacher and had some bad experiences? Maybe they worked in a school that controls and squashes teacher creativity?

I could presume that Jack Dorsey (twitter) and Mark Zuckerburg (facebook) probably counted on the inate "social" nature of humans interacting to make their millions (or is it billions?).   But over time, educators have bent and shaped these platforms with a social twist into learning and educational platforms with endless possibilities for students.

Or maybe it is just a matter of semantics.

For those who are of the opinion that social media has no place in school, I think they may misinterpret and perceive it as purely "socializing media."

I suggest they change their mindset from the social(izing) media vocabulary to educational & personal learning media and then go back and answer the question again.

Do you think educational and personal learning networking can be integrated into schools to enhance learning opportunities?