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!


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Badges in the hallway, part 3

 I wrote about this original topic in a  previous blog and this is an update on the progress.

    In the next couple of weeks, I will present the "Badges in the Hallway" boards to my staff as we begin the new year. One of my more crafty teachers did a great job of constructing the boards over the summer break. Mine is hung up outside my office and we will be hanging the teacher boards up outside of their rooms.  This will also serve as a way to identify our rooms by name and grade. A few teachers have completed a couple of the badge requirements already and others will learn how to earn them using this pathway http://goo.gl/94djvR  I expect more badges to be developed as the year continues.

    I don't really know yet how they will respond to the idea. Some could see it as one more thing to deal with and choose not to participate as intended. They could also see it as a chance to showcase their expertise and have their informal self-directed learning acknowledged. I really hope they embrace it as I believe the ownership of their learning and implementation of these incremental activities are what eventually impact the learning going on in their classrooms.

    If anyone else is using a badge system for their teachers, I would love to hear more about it.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Congratulations, New Chromebooks for Everyone! But there's a catch....

  It's August. You come back to school where your classroom is clean and vibrant again. You're refreshed and excited to be back. You look around the room with an approving nod of your head as everything is back in  place exactly as you instructed. No surprises. It's been set up  this way for as long as you have been teaching. Nice orderly rows, maybe. Or, purposely arranged tables with seats ready to be assigned to students you think need to sit close to you. Your teacher desk is conveniently arranged so you can enter grades while still keeping a close eye on students working busily on their worksheets and assignments. It's going to be a great year.
     But wait! What's this??? A box full of shiny new Chromebooks? For me? We received a grant? Woohoo! I've been complaining about computer access for years. If only you could get me more lab time, I could really do all those wonderful tech things you and other teachers talk about. If you only gave me more netbooks, I could get all of those gifted kids on the Moodle. If you would give me more computers in my classroom I could have students take more AR tests and look up facts about Martin Luther King to copy and paste into their powerpoint presentations. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

     Hold on a minute. Slow down a second. Let's think about this. Although receiving a class set of Chromebooks  isn't a 1-1 deployment, this article states many of the concerns I have as an administrator overseeing the implementation of Chromebooks into our building.

    Imagine, it is the Fall of 1814, a school principal gives the teacher a box of shiny new pencils and shows her/him how students can now write neatly on paper and erase mistakes with no messy chalk dust. They could slip them in their shirt pockets and easily take them back and forth to school. It's the latest and greatest thing in schools.  But lo and behold, the principal checks in after a couple of months and sees the pencils are sitting on the teacher's desk being "protected." Afterall, those things are sharp! Someone could get hurt. And, they really don't work that well on all of the slate boards in the room.  It would be a shame to throw out perfectly good slates, because what if we ran out of paper someday and had to use them?  Students may forget how to properly clean one.

  listen and learn, eyes up front, turn the page now,  beep next slide, homework quiz test homework quiz test

 more over the shoulder, guiding, providing feedback, evaluating, balance of teacher time and student time, technology planned out and integrated for a purpose or as a tool

  I am not new to a Chromebook.  I have had one since they first came out and I am a big fan of them. That's why I am a bit nervous about rolling out Chromebooks to our 6th-12th grade classes next year. I am worried that we are putting technology designed for blended and pesonalized learning classrooms into traditional classrooms that are attempting to break out of the old school ways. Some say this will force them to. Some say if you rely on the technology to do it, it will fail because it is a major mindshift on behalf of teachers and teachers are individuals. Either way, it is going to happen. Meanwhile, I am going to do my best to help guide and assist them with the new opportunity.

    I hope they realize that when they choose to accept Chromebooks in the Fall,  they are making a choice to teach in ways that they may never have thought about before. That by accepting these Chromebooks, they are committing themselves and their students to using the Google Apps for Education products, apps and extensions that they may not yet understand, new expectations and rules for their classrooms, and maybe even changing physical room arrangements. New partnerships will have to be formed and connections sought out with other teachers in the district and throughout the OAC network that can add value and advice as they enter a new chapter of their teaching career. Will they be up to the effort? It remains to be seen.

     If your school was a recipient of the Straight A fund, chances are, someone in your pod decided to purchase Chromebooks as a way to support the goals of the grant. If so, I recommend you spend your summer learning about three things: Google Chromebooks/Chrome browser apps and extensions, Classroom for Google, and Blended Learning. Don't wait until school starts and say "Well, I am still waiting for Superman to fly in and teach me all of this stuff." I checked my Diigo library and found 21 items that are tagged with "chromebook" and 8 items tagged "blended learning", so it seems I have been collecting information for some time now waiting for this year to come. 

 I can't wait! It's going to be AWESOME!

 The Two-Gear Construct Credit: CFY

Resources to get started with Chromebooks in the classroom


Resources for Google Classroom

Friday, June 20, 2014

Badges in the Hallway, part 2

  I wrote about this topic in a  previous blog and this is an update on the progress and intended use.

 A group of River View LSD staff has been involved in a lot of the recent OAC work that included multiple topics of professional development.  (common core, formative instructional practices, assessment literacy, PLNs, resource curation, and many, many more) As educators began to participate in all of these opportunities, the folks at the OAC implemented a digital badge system to recognize the efforts and learning of it's educators. They developed and advertised pathways to earn these badges and once earned, are displayed in the users' profile on the OAC site. Teachers in participating districts can also earn these badges by following the pathways on their own.
    To encourage this personal growth in the many topics, I am supporting an informal badge system in our building next year and am encouraging other principals to do the same. I think it is a great way to keep a pulse on the learning that staff is participating in and it gives recognition to those efforts that are usually above and beyond the usual traditional professional development. Teachers looking to learn more about a specific topic need only to glance at someone else's "badge board" posted outside teachers' rooms to find the local "expert."
   One of my more crafty teachers is currently making badge boards for all of our staff, while I am finishing up writing the pathways and printing out badges on 3x4 sticky labels that we will attach as they are earned. Some of the badges are local and specific to our building or district, and others mirror the OAC pathways. The OAC is planning on adding more badges and some of them will be earned at higher levels that could include credit from local universities.
Stay tuned as I will be sharing out pictures of  badges and boards as the new school year begins.


Update on new facilities

River View School District
from the Coshocton Tribune, June 20, 2014
WARSAW — Keene Elementary School is 100 years old and has a slate roof.
Warsaw Elementary School has electrical wiring so old and unable to be upgraded that just turning on a fan on a hot day can blow a circuit.
Union Elementary is so rural that bandwidth is so narrow making a phone call can kick students off the internet like an old dial-up connection. This will lead students to be bussed to Warsaw this coming school year to take mandated online state testing.
River View Local Schools District is in the preliminary stages of considering a major facilities project. This could include the construction of new elementary schools, replacing the current four including Conesville, and renovations to the junior high and high school buildings along with a restructuring of classrooms.
A steering committee was formed at the beginning of last school year featuring 14 community members and district staff. It recently went over project options with an architectural firm. A master plan is targeted to be in place by February 2015, said Superintendent Dalton Summers, and no decisions have been made.
Options include various levels of upgrades to the existing junior and high school buildings with the construction of one, two, or three new elementary buildings. A new elementary building to house approximately 500 students would be around $12 million to $15 million, whereas the work needed at the upper two schools is estimated at $6.5 million.
A major consideration is if the district wants to pursue the project independently or in cooperation with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. Due to requirements, the renovation projects at the junior high and high school could balloon to $30 million. It also wouldn’t chip in on elementary renovations and would only pay for construction of new buildings due to their age and disrepair.
The state would pay 23 percent of the basic construction cost for the River View project. That is in contrast to the recent construction of Coshocton Elementary School, which opened last October, where the state provided 67 percent of the estimated $24 million cost. Summers said the difference is the property evaluation of the River View district is higher than Coshocton’s, leading to the OFCC offering less funding.
About a year ago, Garaway Local Schools in Holmes County chose to pursue a facilities project without state involvement as it was seen to be more cost effective for the district and local taxpayers.
Summers said it’s not cutting corners, but making a levy or bond issue for residents as low as possible while still being able to do what the district needs.
Summers said the steering committee is considering safety, financial efficiency, technology needs and location in talks. He said those ideas came from a community survey last fall on what residents thought the most important aspects of a facilities project should be.
“Rather than come up with a plan and sell it to voters, we want the voters, the community, to help us come up with a plan before they vote on it,” he said.
Among possibilities is adding sixth grade to the junior high building or moving seventh and eighth grades to the high school and using the junior high building for an elementary school. Renovations to those structures also wouldn’t need to be all at one time if the district chose not to go with the OFCC.
“The committee has definitely established a need for new facilities. What we’re trying to do now is determine what are those needs, what does River View have to do and what doesn’t it have to do,” Summers said.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

If you don't grow yourself, how can you expect to grow kids?

        When I began using my first iPad, I really liked the Flipboard app that came already installed on it. (I am still using the original iPad which is always a drawback for early adopters. First to get something, last to update.) Anyway, I used Flipboard as a convenient and smooth way to read magazine articles and newspapers. As I continued my own professional learning, I began to see how the power of the Flipboard app on smartphones and other devices can be used to support my staff's learning paths as well.
    Today, I created a magazine in my Flipboard account called " Professional Development: Being your own Superman."  It was relatively easy to do. The idea is to now collect and curate content into my custom magazine and offer it to my staff to subscribe to it within their own Flipboard accounts (they all have school iPads). At their leisure, they can peruse and enjoy the articles that we feel are related to the topics and vision of our school and district. I envision adding moderators so they too can add what may be relevant to the growth of each other.
    To add content to the magazine, I added the hashtags of some of my favorite twitter PLN feeds because they generate a large amount of relative articles. Examples are #oacteach, #ohedchat, #cpchat along with a few other choice additions. Once I have read them, reflected on it, and possibly commented or blogged about it, I can now add any articles with just a click.

 For more information to get started, go to this resource: http://theedublogger.com/2014/06/12/curation/

If you are a Flipboard user, search for my magazine and let me know what you think. It is set to public viewing.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Fusion, The Journey Begins

     Our River View LSD, and specifically Conesville ES, has been traveling the road of formative instructional practices (FIP), with support from the OAC, Battelle for Kids, and OLAC for the past 4 years at a pretty quick snail's pace.
Moving from mostly traditional instruction and testing practices has been difficult at times, but progress has been steady and our students and staff are better learners because of it.  Performance comparisons and benchmarks have their place, but the growth progress of every child is paramount. To ensure growth of a student takes an extraordinary amount of intensive, concentrated effort and skill. Constantly checking student learning in order to plan next steps of instruction is a messy and time consuming thing. Combine all of that with a transition to computer based testing and new standards adds to the complicated system that we call public education.
     We have a group of teachers who have somehow figured out how to manage all of the pieces that make up differentiated learning so well that they have exhausted all available resources, personnel, and ideas. They are trying to wrap their minds around the whole "personalized learning" thing but meanwhile find themselves at another crossroads. There is no going back, just forward. I believe their refinement of the differentiated instructional practices has led them to a next natural step. A natural evolution if you will.

  • We believe:
    • the natural evolution of intensive differentiated instruction leads to a deeper collaboration among teachers with a common mindset.
    • the natural evolution of intensive differentiated instruction leads to the transformation of teaching practices into non-traditional ways.
    • the natural evolution of intensive differentiated instruction leads to the combining of resources for ALL students, anytime, anywhere.

Intensive differentiated instruction (n): (dif-uh-ren-shee-a-shun)
1. to form or mark differently from other such things; distinguish.
2. to change; alter.
3. to perceive the difference in or between.

The need to maximize the utilization of our human assets and their skills has led us to a next step, a step we have not taken before. We call it Fusion.

Fusion (n): (fu-shun)
1. to blend or melt together
2. to make a stronger bond

Our plan is to repeat our intervention and enrichment "system" with one of our exiting Kindergarten classes by rostering them into a 1st grade classroom, but making the past kindergarten teacher a direct teaching partner of the new 1st grade teacher. In turn, the 1st grade teacher will have access to the new crop of kindergarten students (her next year's class). They will be supported with an intervention specialist and aides. We believe intervention and enrichment can begin at a much quicker time since teachers are picking up where they left off. The litmus test will be when the K-1 students in the Fusion classes, see no difference in who their teachers and classmates are. They will be getting what they need, when they need it, anytime, anyplace. And 16 chromebooks at their disposal will be an added bonus next year.
To pull this off, we have matched up schedules, moved classrooms so that they are physically across the hall from each other, and will begin intensive planning before school starts in the fall. 
We plan to document our journey, our evolution, along the way. We will be sharing with our families, our board members, our admin team, staff, and students. We invite you to watch our journey with us as we blog, update websites, and tweet out. Maybe you can visit us via google hangouts? Please, comment and give us your thoughts if you decide to experience the evolution with us. Have a great summer!

"Everything else is Ordinary."

Reading in the Wild: one principal, one teacher, one child at a time

Two months ago, a wonderful primary teacher that I used to work with sent an email to recommend this book to me. I took her advice and downloaded it onto my iPad. I completed it within a few days. This led me to joining goodreads.com, rekindled my love of reading for personal enjoyment again (it seems as if all I have been reading were professional titles), and I bought 8 more copies for my Language Arts teachers. Tongue in cheek, I told them not to come back to work next year until they read it. It was that good.

They quickly finished the book and with only two days of school left, we met for an after school book talk on The Warehouse restaurant patio in beautiful Roscoe Village and we talked about how to make "wild readers" out of our students.
Many ideas were shared which led to a common belief of how we think about teaching students to read and instilling the love of reading at the same time.

Meanwhile, over the summer break, I am sure many of the things Donalyn highlighted in her book will be planned out and implemented with our own special twists when we return in the fall. I will be proudly recognizing the groups effort and informal learning by adding a badge to their classroom badge poster.

A sister elementary school has begun reading the same book and it is satisfying to think of common ideas that can be shared when we all get together.

Use the summer tor refresh, and read. Just read.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Badges: Learn and Earn

 Unfortunately, when I was a boy, I never took the opportunity to join the boy scouts and I secretly envied all of the neat badges my friends earned and displayed on their shirts. If I were still in the classroom, I am pretty sure modern day badges would have a place in my classroom. I think they provide just the right amount of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Badges in school today are a way to recognize students' and teachers' informal learning.
Badge resource: http://www.emergingedtech.com/2013/06/the-evolving-use-of-badges-in-education/
     The Ohio Appalachian Collaborative has begun to digitally recognize educators by providing them a pathway to earning and learning. Educators can earn a "tweet badge" and a "share badge" and earn CEUs along the way. If your school is a member of the OAC, you can find out more here>http://portal.battelleforkids.org/OAC/blog

     I am thinking of hanging a poster size board outside of teachers' classrooms next year and then printing off large sticker "badges" to attach to for recognition as they pursue informal learning opportunities.

     Does your school principal or teachers promote and recognize "learning and earning?" If so, I would love to hear about it in the comment section!