Friday, July 13, 2012

Small Group Meetings at New School

I’ve just completed my second full week as the new principal of Spring Lake Middle in Cumberland County Schools [my new district]. There is always a lot to digest in a new move like this with learning new people and processes.  Interestingly, I’m realizing that while having previous experience as a principal is a plus, it also raises more questions in new situations than provide answers! But this is all in good process! This the great part of the journey - asking good questions and working together on great answers.

I’ve been rereading ‘Leaders of Learning’ from DuFour and Marzano. Recent conversations with SLMS staff members and personal friends prompted me to revisit some key points on supporting collaboration, culture and moving students. I got a great idea from chapter nine of the book. A new principal met her staff in small groups and asked 3 key questions. I implemented this inspired innovation. This was a great opportunity for a new principal to learn staff priorities and it turned out to be a great time for staff to get some insight into the new principal.

The three questions from the book are:
·         What makes this a great school?
·         What are some important things I should know about SLMS as the new principal?
·         What can we do to make this school better?

The four sessions I had with the faculty were great talks. From my pages of notes, I collected key priorities from different groups, points of pride and accomplishment as well as some possible goals for myself. The data I collected from my meetings will go a long way in goal setting and knowing how to proceed with staff and different groups.

I’m going to adapt this process and create some share time for me and my staff later this year. Protecting these share times is going to be a critical part in our collaboration and moving this school and our students forward.

[I’d also like to give a special shout out to my #edfocus PLN for introducing me to this book and hosting the chat as well as Dr. Marzano for joining us on Twitter last year to answer questions directly! Chalk this one up to another PLN experience directly affecting practice!]

Saturday, June 23, 2012


North Carolina’s Summer Leadership Conference was June 18th – 20th in Asheville NC. The conference is a great opportunity for NC school and district leaders to connect, share and learn new trends that will help grow schools and make a positive impact on student learning.

I was fortunate to have been approved for two sessions. I had an easy time coming up with the topics and developing the agendas because I tapped into my PLN for inspiration and help.

My first presentation was Developing Your PLN: An EssentialFunction of a 21st Century Administrator. This session focused on the value and need for school leaders to get connected! We used a TodaysMeet link as a backchannel and collective notetaking for both sessions!

There were a couple of highlights during this session I need to mention:
  • We had a several people start a Twitter account and begin their dive in getting connected!
  • Mention of #ncadmin - a growing Twitterchat several NC ed leaders are starting to get off the ground [regular discussions to come]
  • @MrBernia – I reached out to John, an active member in #edfocus and creator of several TwitterChats and local PLNs in his district. I shared with the group a recorded video/interview between me and John about how he uses Twitter to build his PLNs and connect with other administrators in his area. Great video – he brought a lot of value to my session! Below is his recorded video – if you plan on presenting to a group on building a PLN and want to share some relevant, real experiences I would encourage to either show this video or have John Skype in! Great value Add!
The second presentation was on Using Social Media to Improve Administrative Function. The theme of this session was how ‘social media lets you write your own narrative.’ This share session focused on how we can use social media innovatively to help school leaders with:
o   Promotion
o   Sharing and Building Vision
o   Teaching and Sharing
Again, an active member of my PLN, @northeagles, Bill Burkhead, joined in to share some of his impact experiences. Bill video chatted in using Google+ to talk about the class he developed and taught in his district on the value and use of social media in an educator’s growth. The course was a huge success and has a bigger demand this Fall. His expertise and first hand account gave credibility to our efforts in spreading the value of social media.

I can’t thank John and Bill enough for their participation! It would have been easily to discuss their work with the video or video chat but it added another level of authenticity to session to have these two difference makers ‘speak’ directly to our group. These five minute talks made a huge impact and helped begin the journey for some of our audience members to get connected.

This was a great experience! I'd like to thank the organizers for this event for hosting me. Its a rewarding feeling to help others get connected and see the value of getting connected! One of the entries on the TodaysMeet link was from an assistant principal who shared he didn't know what social media was. I appreciate him sharing that. This is great validation in our work and commitment to help educators get connected!

Friday, June 22, 2012

First Day Goals of a New Principalship

I look forward to starting my new school, Spring Lake Middle, with great anticipation. This new journey is exhilarating and humbling and I take this responsibility seriously.

I have been thinking about my goals for my start at Spring Lake MS. This is a great school with a lot of good things going systems in place. But like in every school, there are always new points for improvement.

For my first weeks, I have put together some goals. These will be ongoing for some time. Establishing relationships and assuring everyone that I am accessible is a major priority. My goals will be to:
  • Work at becoming a Bronco Family member
  • Work at learning what makes Spring Lake Middle special
  • Meet with various stakeholders and community groups
  • Listen, Listen, Ask a couple of questions and Listen some more – @rbreyer51, A PLN member was recently sharing that he got his first assistant principal post on #edfocus. While he was receiving his congratulations, @MrBernia gave him a great piece of advice – ‘Listen more than you talk and be you’- succinct and impactful!
With the help of my assistant principals and front office staff, we have scheduled small group meetings with all the school staff members. Creating an opportunity for everyone to discuss what we are proud of as well as our needs and priorities will give us an opportunity to share and begin build our new working culture.

I'm looking forward to this first step in our new journey!

Final Blog as West Middle Principal

This is my last blog as the principal of West Middle School.

I’ve been away from my blog for a while but the last several months have been busy. In addition to our ending the school year, my family has been busy with our own transition, both my wife and daughter will be full time students. Its an exciting time but it is also marked with leaving our schools that have been a big part of our lives.

West Middle was my first principalship. With the hard work, sweats and laughs, the last 2.5 years has been a time I won’t forget and will always cherish.

I am fortunate to have been selected as a middle school principal in a district also in our RESA, Cumberland County Schools. I start as the instructional lead July 2nd. I’ve been there several times meeting with the outgoing Prinicpal, the Admin team and teachers and I couldn’t be more Thrilled! Everyone is friendly, smiling and all about the kids – what a great team!

It is sad to leave one family that I have helped grow and has continued to grow! You always want to leave a place in a better condition than when you arrived and through a lot of hard work we have done that.

I’m going to miss Montgomery County Schools, West Middle School and West Montgomery High School. Thanks guys! My five years have helped me and my family in ways words can’t express!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Game Changing Tool

   This has been a great week! March 4-6 has been the 2012 NC Middle School Conference in Greensboro. It has always been a great event meeting new people and hearing the rich, new information shared by experts from all over NC.

     The keynote this year was Dr. Willard Daggert, the CEO of the International Center for Leadership in Education. Dr Daggert is an entertaining and inspiring speaker. His keynote was a great speech on where we need to go in education, particularly since we are working with systems that were outdated 10 years ago.  His talk inspired a good number of us to attend his follow up discussion on the What, Why and How education change needs to come about. We can never hear enough about the need for change but his take on it was unique and eye-opening.

   I want to share an interesting piece he used to make some of us squirm in our seats a little [which I love]. He introduced us to WolframAlpha. WolframAlpha is an answer generating tool. If you type in a question or concept, it works to generate a specific solution for the question posed. Its important to note that this is not a search engine like Google or Yahoo wherein a concept is entered and the search engine searches the web for the different sites or content that relate to search topic. With WolframAlpha, if you search for an answer to a question, you get an answer - not a webpage!

   I downloaded and paid for the app on my phone and the description of the app started with how it parallels to the computer from Star Trek. If you're a Trekkie you know that all you had to do was pose a question or problem to the computer and it would produce an answer in no time flat.  WolframAlpha  is a step in that direction. I experimented with it today with some math problems. Daggett showcased '2 + 2', I went deeper with '2x +6 = 10', then '2x + 6y = 10' and then I asked it to find the derivative of problem. For all of these, the answers given were not one word answers - they covered all angles and possible investigations a student or interested party would need or want to know.

   This is a game changer because we have to look at our practices and what we are doing in the classroom. If we are assigning simple answer problems, our kids have minimum work to do with WolframAlpha to find a simple solution.  WolframAlpha should be a motivator for us to do a better job at challenging kids.  I encourage every educator to play around with this tool. We should familarize ourselves with it because rest assured, our kids know about it. This is a great step for us in that this tool will help take care of the procedural work and allow us to focus on the higher order skill and strategies our students need to be challenged.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Best Practices - Playaways

This is a great best practice implemented in a 7th grade reading class.

As a former reading teacher, I was always cognizant of my reading to a class. Specifically, I was leary about always reading to the class because I didn't want their internal reading voice to be my voice and I wanted them to hear how others read well and appreciate a diversity of abilities. Visiting Mr. Sweeney's class brought a lot of that back. You will see him use a Playaway to help move his class along their novel, 'Lord of the Flies.'

The @Playaway is a digitally recorded book on a small device that gives the reader/listener ability determine his/her own pace and placement in the book. Its not complicated tech but great for students. We have several playaways and often use them for individual students but this is a great, broader application. Mr Sweeney, 7th grade reading teacher, has attached the Playaway to his classroom speakers and allows the class to hear a very distinct voice read this classic. Again, this experience is not about whether Mr Sweeney can read a book aloud [even though he will never have the British accent in this video], its about implementing a strategy that facilitates him focusing his efforts on the next step while adding another experience for the readers.

There was some trepidation to bring 'Lord of the Flies' into 7th grade reading [I remember reading it in high school]. This divergent thinking helps us support kids in unique ways. After the large class read, individual students can take the @Playaway and go back to individual or small group reading to review and reinforce any material they would like to.

This is a creative way to bring challenging material into the class and support kids in reading a great book! [Piggy!!]

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Effective Approach School Social Media

Last week, our school made the decision to 'relaunch' our committees. From the beginning, we've recognized the vital role our different committees play to our school's operations and morale. In a creative faculty meeting/pd session we used Google Docs to sign up for committees and schedule our meetings - it was operational, educational and fun!

One of the committees that got a new boost was our Social Media committee. We are fortunate to have a number of faculty members who embrace the positive use of social media and its potential to reach our different stakeholders. This committee is going to be critical to the branding and promotion of our school efforts. Its comprised of a representative from every grade level to ensure that a voice from all areas would be heard.

The committee chair, Mr Williamson [@], is West Middle's 'PR' guy and, as evidenced from the picture above, a  media strategist. The work up he has created is a great sketch of what this committee is about:

  • Outlining the resources West Middle has to share information and who is currently responsible for that social media tool
  • Identifying our target audience
  • Media we control and don't control
  • Untapped resources the school has and should employ
  • Understanding the difference between formal and informal language/register.
This was a great start to this committee's journey! This committee will work out a system to share responsibilities to give a more active voice to the different groups in the school. It takes a team effort to create the positive experiences at West Middle and it should take a team of dedicated members to promote the good things we are creating.

Its a great day!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Shift and Reflection

   Our @edfocus group wrapped up our book share on John Gatto's Weapons of Mass Instruction Wednesday night. I always enjoy our discussions and this one did not disappoint [@MrBernia gives some great insight into the book]. I'm appreciative of the discussions and challenging viewpoints of the group. Its these kinds of experiences and on-going pd that help grow educators.

   There were several striking points that night, our talks included topics from standards based assessments to treatment of kids. My big take away was on the need to be a change agent.  Don't get me wrong, I've been active learning from some great people over the years on the need to be an agent of change - you can't follow groups like #edchat, #cpchat, #edadmin and #edfocus and not commit to change! Last night's discussion, however added another component. Gatto focuses on the detrimental effect that our unchanging beliefs and practices  toward teaching has had on learning. Part of our talk centered on some things we can do to make schools more about learning than teaching, transformative measures in classrooms and school.

   As I was reading the book and participating in the discussion, I realized that one area I need to improve is educating my community on the changes we need to make in our school and in education in general. My staff are a major stakeholder group but are not the only group.  This conversation made me do some reflecting on the job I've done communicating to my parents and community. My main concern is about how I have/am communicating several points:

  • What does 21st teaching and learning look like? What do we mean when we say we are preparing kids for their world?
  • What is problem based learning? Standards based assessments?
  • Why is integrating technology a critical component in what we do?
  • What are PLCs and how are they integral to our school?
  • How different are learning experiences between parents and students? How are our expectations different?

  This chat gave me two realizations. First, I will always need to work on my power to influence and communicate [this needs to be course work for new administration]. Second, and probably the most important, I need to dedicate regular and concerted efforts to communicate where education and our school, need to go and it needs to be done in a way that the community can understand. My yearly presentation to families is not enough to convey the tremendous work involved in shifting our focus. When I think of all the pd we schedule for staff, all the talks and planning that goes into supporting teachers, its easy to realize one or two talks to stakeholders to share similar, relevant information won't be enough.

  Fortunately, we have great tools to help us along the way. We can archive presentations, make information dazzle, stay current on research and connect with great people. I am committing to do my part, imagine if each of us had these impactful change discussions in our communities and made people understand the real need, we will be the change we want to see.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A New Parent Night

   West Middle School is a special place. We are working hard at making our new vision statement, 'West Middle School will prepare globally competitive students for lifelong learning', a reality that is evident to all of our stakeholders.

   Last week we had our first curriculum night of the year. From school's beginning, we  have been planning events that will draw our parents and community members into our school. We want to entice our stakeholders into our school with the things that make West Middle unique and great!

   As a creative beginning to the evening, we gave our parents a sample of our new video streaming equipment. With the help of my instructional facilitator and assistant principal [@atofflemeyerwms] I was able to broadcast from a nearby site into the meeting. I described some of our early learning and training opportunities. Some of our students have participated in discussions across the state and nation and how our teachers participated in a pd session with personnel from NASA. My goal was to make parents see that we are equipping and planning 21st century learning opportunities for our school. During this portion, our second-to-none spanish teacher, @schavez12, also provided translation for any spanish speaking parents.

   Through our school improvement team, we devised a creative way to showcase some of the great, student-centered work our teachers have been developing our first nine weeks of school. Our instructional facilitator coined the term 'Museum Walk'. Our teachers set up stations/displays for our visitors to enjoy. Parents and community members benefited from our teachers descriptive talks, presentations and demonstrations. Some of the things our parents were able to see included digital recordings of our chorus performance, an interactive math project with our TI Navigators and some papers and research projects our students have completed. Our parents thoroughly enjoyed this.

   I'd like to thank the staff for their hard work and creativity in developing our showcase activities and leading talks with parents. This evening was a great success because of their buy in. I'd like to give a special thanks to Mr Smith, our instructional facilitator [and tech lead], and Ms Tofflemeyer, our assistant principal - having an administrative team that plans well together and really 'sees' the big picture for ventures like this make a difference. Most of my chats and discussions this year center around creating a unified vision and making efforts to get the staff to buy in - that night was a great showcase of that happening.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Real World

We are always for the best ways we can serve our kids. This week we had our first Parent/Teacher conference night of the year and it generated a lot of conversation about best practices, particularly teaching and grading policies. These conversations came from a variety of sources and were generated by both sides, educators and parents. 

The need for an effective grading policy is critical. Developing a system that is objective, fair and reflects mastery learning takes time and collaboration. We are planning for some upcoming talks about what grading should entail here at West Middle.

Our discussions reminded me of a conversation I had months ago with a teacher who had a pretty rigid, inflexible grading policy. It was pretty cut and dry and reflected meeting deadlines and accuracy on assignments. As educators, we have to have a greater scope and understanding. We got into education because we want to make a difference in students' lives - learning, social and emotional. I think we often overlook this piece when there is an assignment due or something is to be turned in. There is a tendency to fall back on how WE were graded or treated. It's along these lines that the teacher's sentiment of 'In the real world, if students miss a deadline they won't get a second chance' or 'There is no make up in the real world' came out. Needless to say, it generated a lot of discussion.

We have to remind our colleagues that for our K-12 students, we are their real world. Whatever common goals we set or agreements the school makes as far as grading policy is the real world for our students. Specific to this case, I reminded this teacher we are talking about 11 - 13 year olds. If anyone is deserving of another day to turn in an assignment, they are. If anyone is deserving of being given a 3rd or 4th chance at completing an assignment until we are sure they've mastered what we consider important, they are.

If the deadline is the most important thing, that should be communicated and upheld. If concept mastery is the most important thing, we should plan for that. This is part of the process and planning that has to be developed and constantly re-examined in our process.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Parent Walk

 I always mention in my call outs that ‘West Middle School is a special place’. I want the community [and the world] to know that we are a faculty and staff committed to making a difference in the lives of our students and students’ families. It is my goal to change the statement “West Middle School is a special place’ from sentiment to real fact.

I’m proud to announce that yesterday, we had our first Parent Walk. Though a communication campaign of call outs, Twitter, Facebook and text messages we invited our community at large to visit West Middle School and join us in guided walk throughs of our facilities, classrooms and a variety of events going on at the school. We didn’t’ have a special assembly or performance – it was ‘business as usual.’

I brought this to my administrative team as a means to not only showcase the great things going on in our school we are proud of but also to provide a neutral, less threatening school event for our parents/guardians to be a part of. By design, these walks would be guided. I was prepared to have my administrative team take a group and if necessary, prepared several teachers on their planning period to help us out as well. We had a couple of separate events going on like our Book Fair in the media center and as part of Red Ribbon Week we invited Grandparents to have either breakfast or lunch with their grandkids. We had some parents join their kids and grandparents for lunch after our tour – it was pretty cool watching families enjoy time together in the school.

I’m glad to say that our parents were excited about what they saw in our school! We covered a broad range of topics from new personnel hires to our need for more technology in our school. We talked about the tremendous effort our teachers put in through PLCs, duties, collaborative planning and instruction. Every topic was welcome conversation.

With the help of our instructional facilitator, we captured a lot of great feedback from our parents at the end of our walks. This is a picture of a modified ‘Plus/Delta’ he designed specifically for this event. From the contributions, our parents shared that they liked a lot and made a couple of recommendations, specific to what we saw that day.
The feedback for the Parent Walk itself was great. They liked the event itself and made suggestions on how we can improve the Parent Walks:
·         More Parent Walks! [We originally planned for two this year but one of our groups insisted on more - awesome]
·         Have more parents attend – We explained that we hoped one of the goals from this walk was to have more parents join us as word spread. They agreed to help tell more people to grow this event
·         Have students serve as guides

One of the main objectives of the day was to gather as much feedback/data from parents as I possibly could. As part of my goal of being an effective communicator, I want to gather as many talking points that my community has so that I can address them in as many possible forums as needed. I hope this event is another great step in our changing sentiment into fact – ‘West Middle School is a special place.’

Sunday, October 16, 2011

New Learning Experiences

   West Middle School is committed to preparing our students for their world. It's exciting to be part of a staff that is committed to embracing better practices and new experiences that empower and challenge students.  We are making sincere efforts to provide 21st century learning experience for our students - that includes capitalizes on opportunities to embrace new technologies.
   West Middle School has been fortunate to receive a video streaming bundle that enables us to connect to other institutions/agencies. Some of our teachers are participating in the Skype in the Classroom movement, using this as a means to connect to others worldwide. Our new video streaming equipment enables this same easy connection [we only need an outside IP address] but it allows for more capabilities.
   Our first month having this equipment has been a great deep dive experience! Below is a video taken of one of our 7th grade science classes several weeks ago as they listened to a great talk on organ donation. I knew this would be an interesting talk but I didn't know the impact this presentation would have on our kids. Our kids asked great questions about policies, procedures and biological 'whys and why nots' of donations! I had a great time watching them have a great time!

   I knew this was going to be a great experience for our students but 3 days ago our staff participated in a presentation [as students] and I saw the potential for expanding our teaching and planning competencies. Our instructional facilitator arranged for our PD session with NASA and we got a quick overview on how we can collaborate on some great projects and learning opportunities. This included:
  • Live shots of satellites in space - cool
  • Satellite shot of West MS from space [it's a GoogleEarth shot but he really made a big deal of it so I go excited] - very cool
  • Pre-designed activities that students have to complete then we dial them in for the culmination - very, very cool
  • Possibly interviewing real NASA personnel to talk about what is needed to work at NASA!!

   These were just some of the ventures he described. This is a great opportunity to provide a different kind of rigor and relevance for our students! We will continue our talks about embedding these opportunities from several outside sources into our instruction through our PLCs and collaborative planning. These experiences along with our focus on high yield instruction will go a long way in providing meaning learning to students.
   We can credit and thank a lot of people for this and future learnings:

  We are always looking for opportunities to connect  and provide the better opportunities for our students. We would love to connect with you! Together, we all benefit!! If you are interested, please contact me or any of my staff members - this is about 21st century collaboration for our kids.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lesson Design to Support Learning

I recently took this video of one of our first year math teachers. This is a great lesson that epitomizes the talks and planning going on in our PLCs

Its easy to see some of the impact strategies we've been stressing this year:
  1. Opportunities for constructivist learning - Ms Millen created an activity that allows students to find the rules of scalar multiplication. This discovery is critical to learning - students have to be allowed to create their own understanding. The great part about this is that it was open forum. Students were allowed to work in groups, in pairs or independently. 
  2. Setting high expectations - The first strategy is only a  possibility because of the high expectations Ms Millen brings to the table. We have to believe that if we provide students with the opportunity to collaborate and structured support they can perform at high levels. This lesson was evidence of that.
  3. Providing support -   Part of our process has to be building a support structure in place for students who have questions. This was a great way to provide acceleration and simultaneously support the students with answers

All of this effort began with talks and planning in PLCs and common planning. This was great structure, Ms Millen should be proud of this activity and what it means to learning.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Developing a Classroom Mission Statement

   Our school district is requiring every teacher to write a mission statement for his/her classroom. This is a great opportunity for teachers to involve students in the forward movement of the classroom! Setting a purpose is a must for any organization, this is one of the strategies outlined in Leaders of Learners to help keep focus on what we are really about.

This is a Prezi created by one of our more impactful teachers. She shared this with her classes and made this an interactive experience. You'll see some pictures with post-it notes where the teacher would record key thoughts being discussed at the time and below is a picture of the finished product.

Many teachers have completed this activity but I was particularly struck by this Prezi, not only because its an awesome 2.0 tool, but we see creative evidence of this teacher's command of what a mission statement is about. The last picture is a great way to tie it all together - getting kids to buy into what we're about!

This was a great learning opportunity for everyone and I'm glad I visited!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Our Impact Year

Friday August 26th, 2011 was the 2nd day of school for us at West Middle School and we are off to a great start! Students are in the school eager to learn, teachers are eager to make a difference and we are all charged to move forward!

As I visited classes today, I took several pictures that really struck me and gave some great validation that we are going to have a turning point year. All three pictures are related to the same topic, one of the big three of the PLCs - collaboration:

This is a picture of two 6th grade social studies/science teachers. They were both leading the class in a great activity centered around mobius strips. I'm shortchanging the description of the activity, the rigor, and the engagement but trust me this was a great lesson. Both teachers were on the exact same page, literally. They obviously collaborated on creating the questions, shared the Word document between them [even same font] and conducted a great lesson in each of their classes. It was awesome to see them blowing the minds of two different classes the exact same way.

The is equally exciting. This is a sneak shot of a 7th grade math planning session. The two first year teachers, sitting with their backs to me are planning with an EC teacher [who looped with her students last year] and an experienced, seriously impactful teacher [93% proficiency rate last year]. I've had talks with all of them that they would have to plan together and build their greatness. It was awesome to see them getting to the good work on a Friday afternoon!

I'm appreciative of all these educators hard work! This is our first step in having our impact year! Our focus and mission is to be data driven, committed to student achievement and collaborative. These teacher leaders provide examples of what we need to be about and the excellence we reach for.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Challenging Conversations for Student Growth

   As we were reflecting on our first year of implementing PLC's my assistant principal [@mcvaughanpf] and I had a great discussion on the strengths and opportunities for improvement for next year. We dove into PLC's this year with an awareness of what they are and their potential for impact but none of us had experience with the formal structure, needless to say there was some apprehension. As the year progressed, our contributions to the PLC's increased indicating an increased buy-in from the staff. It's great to see and hear the comments from faculty on the value PLCs have added to the school!

I'm proud to be part of the team that has experienced and sees the value of the dive and commitment to PLCs! This is an exciting step in our journey - providing structure to our collaborative process has a great is a needed step for productivity.

Part of the culture we are going to have to change is how we talk, the language we use in our collaborative efforts.  Planning for student growth and achievement means having real, honest conversations about our options for instructional activities and designs. We have to commit to bringing contributions to the table - its only from these contributions that we can begin generating ideas for better learning opportunities for students. If we don't share or don't freely discuss options on the table, we loose out on maximizing better learning opportunities.

It's great to see that next step within reach. How exciting is it to know that better practices are only good conversations away!

Friday, May 13, 2011

School Visit - West Lee Middle, A 1:1 School

This year I have participated in the Sandhills Regional Educational Consortium [SREC] Principal's Institute. The Principal's Institute is a professional development opportunity for principals to learn and sharpen critical skills needed for school leadership. PD topics range from school budget to planning with the Teacher Working Conditions Survey and are taught by experts and authorities in their area. This has been a great experience, I've learned a great deal from my colleagues, particularly our facilitator Jim Simeon, Executive Director of the Principal's Institute.

As part of the program, we were required to visit a represented school in the SREC. I chose to visit West Lee Middle School.  Lee County Schools implemented a 1:1 for 5-12 students this school year. It was exciting to learn about this firsthand, particularly a neighbor middle school in North Carolina.

When you first visit classrooms you see the immediate impact of the 1:1. I've captured some of these experiences below:

The engagement was apparent and authentic. Of course, technology is not the only way to foster authentic and high level engagement, but with the technology and 2.0 tools at our hands today, it really facilitates this happening.

Melvin Marshall, principal at West Lee Middle, was great to walk me around and acclimate me to school then give me some freedom to explore, snap shots and talk to teachers freely. This was as an apparent showing of his trust and pride in his school. Through my conversation with him and teachers from the school, I took away several points - some new, some learned from my PLN:
  • Training is critical - the staff was given an intensive training at the beginning of the deployment. This was a blend of 2.0 tools training and engagement training with a 1:1
  • Plan for a SERIOUS Shift in Culture - This is not to be taken lightly. When this happens expect a language change and mentality shift. Teachers, and students, start thinking/communicating in terms of the 1:1 medium. Be ready for the change by supporting teachers in not looking back or succumbing to falling back.
  • All Levels of Adopters - Support also needs to be planned for early and late adopters.
  • Opportunities for innovation increase EXPONENTIALLY - I met several teachers, all doing great things. Some were using the laptops to enhance some traditionally practices but there were equal if not more teachers using technology in some great ways for unique learning opportunities. I had a great conversation with an 8th grade social studies teacher [Slide 3] who was revisiting her philosophy of 'exposing students to different cultures.' She is dedicating class time for students to learn a foreign language using Rosetta Stone. The slide doesn't do the engagement justice. This is a great opportunity for students; it's fostering some independent learning, giving them great practice for online learning formats and an awesome differentiated learning experience! Students were studying many different languages here. The 1:1 facilitated this innovation.
West Lee Middle also has the great benefit of locally funded S.T.E.M. class. A partnership with a local business has provided them with technological resources that give students the exploration opportunities in different fields and industry softwares.

This was such a great visit! I can't thank Melvin Marshall and his teachers enough for sharing part of their journey with me. Beyond hospitality, I was given insight and encouragement.

There are a lot of thanks to be given for that day. First, thanks to SREC for creating a forum for me to grow and learn. Thanks to my administration, school and district, for providing support when I needed to take time away, and an overwhelming thanks to West Lee Middle School from the principal of West Montgomery Middle School.  Your commitment and progress is inspiring.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Building [and Working Towards] a New Vision

This picture really captures the effort our school, and many others, is making in transitioning towards 21st century resourcing:

We are making efforts to acquire resources that will expose our students to opportunities and experiences more relevant to their world. Acquisition is the first part and often the easiest. Several other key parts to this process have to be in place to make sure that the resources are being utilized effectively by students:
  • Training - Making sure all personnel involved in the process have training in use is important. Making sure everyone has expert-level knowledge should never be a goal, but teachers need a basic understanding to help with implementation.
  • Developing a Plan - Being able to articulate the goals/objectives and desired outcomes of a project and group helps all stakeholders involved know the importance and direction of the initiative.
Specific to this, West Middle School is fortunate to have a committed media specialist who has worked diligently to get our Nooks loaded and available. We've talked about using our Literacy Committee to help develop the plan for implementation. We are excited about this initiative!

This is one step in providing great, relevant experiences for our students. Training and planning help bring it to realization.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Leadership Skills Integral Part of Diffusion of Innovations

This blog from @JonathanEMartin really hit home.

This is a great summation and response to what leaders in Google regard as key leadership skills. It would be natural to assume that Google leaders would value a high level of technical expertise - it's Google right? But technical expertise ranks a lot lower than other leadership essentials.

Seeing these attributes, in this context, struck me as a first year principal. I've been an administrator and pd leader for years and in those capacities, having the skill expertise was critical. My talk was supportive, not evaluative.

In my new position, I've always made efforts to be helpful, partly through taking a big part in training.  We have Tech Tuesday at my school and I try my best to lead pd as much as possible to show the emphasis our school has placed on new innovations. I have to keep in mind that my new role comes with perceptions that may be viewed as a block to some teachers. What I may have tried to communicate as passion/urgency may have been actually been seen as a hindrance.

Through the awesomeness that is Twitter, I've had some thoughtful and insightful communication @drdouggreen. He's reintroduced me to a term I haven't heard since grad school - diffusion of innovations, the spread of new ideas in environments.  I'm thankful for Twitter [again] for helping me connect to others who help me grow.

I will take several things from this blog and experience:
  1. Find my early adopters and promote - for those who may see me leading pd as not supportive, it will give them a good resource to go to and use. Even a model for them to follow
  2. Focus on vision-building and driving - The school and community needs to continuously hear from its leaders where we are going
  3. Be strategic about my training - Its important that I be seen as a driver but I don't have to drive/train on all new innovations. Again, promote new leaders who buy in. There are plenty of opportunities to model use after some of my teacher-leaders train.
  4. My PLN leads to growth - I can't thank @JonathanEMartin and @drdouggreen enough for inspiration and insight.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Making Data Part of School Culture

Embedding data driven decision making into our school culture is a 360 degree, 24/7 process. It involves creating opportunities for data conversations and following through to make sure they are student-centered, meaningful and productive.

Below is some immediate evidence of the efforts we've recently made to empower teachers in using data in their classroom. My original intent was simply to blog on the first teacher's [science] data usage but when I saw her teammate [math] across the hall I had to capitalize on the opportunity to showcase the effect of our hard work.

Several things are in place make this work for us. First, is our Instructional Facilitator. In addition to being a great support to our teachers with this training, it has helped that she used program when she was recently in the classroom. She is able to use some very real language in teachers using this program in the classroom and how to use it.

Second is support from the district. Quite simply, you show emphasis where you invest. Our district has invested in this program for years but we've only been able to make its use as widespread as we have until recently with the addition of our IF.

Third is our responsive staff. They've done a great job not only learning the program but making it part of their classroom practice. Its been great to watch this program's use transform from just quarterly predictive assessments to more frequent use that will give us good data for spriraling and acceleration.