Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Gifted Dropout - Ouch!

We all need to read this article from the state of Delaware and think again about whether we are serving all students. This line struck me the most.
Statistically, 20 percent of U.S. school dropouts test in the gifted range, said Jill Adrian, director of family services at the Davidson Institute for Talent Development...

Now, I don't want to say "I told you so", because that would be just a little petty and I'm above that. Take a look at this nugget and consider how you do or don't challenge gifted students to work hard for their learning.
Some make poor grades, either because they no longer care or because they have spent so many of their younger years unchallenged that when they suddenly face a rigorous course in middle or high school, they don't know how to study.

We need to wake up and remember that all students need the same level of challenge and expectation for performance. So, all I want for Christmas is more and more differentiation across the land.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Catching the Bug

Genuine enthusiasm for the topic is an instructional strategy that doesn' get enough attention. Just think back to the most influential teachers and professors in your life and I'll bet that the vast majority of those teachers had enthusiasm. This month's Educational Leadership magazine from ASCD has some great articles on math, but it was one of their inserts that caught my eye. Take a look at this "Aha" moment from Jeremy Kippatrick, Regents Professor of Mathematics Education at the Univesity of Georgia.

Although I did well in mathematics in high school, it was not until I went to Chaffey College, a two-year college then located in Ontario, California, and took calculus from Arthur E. Flum, that I discovered that learning mathematics could be simultaneously difficult and enjoyable, elegant and fascinating. The moment I realized all this came during the first week of class, when Mr. Flum's infectious enthusiasm for the subject we were about to work on together became apparent. Calculus was a new world for us, but under his guidance, we would succeed not only in learning it but in seeing its power and elegance. I ended up taking every mathematics course I could from Mr. Flum, and when I transferred as a junior to Cal Berkeley, mathematics was the obvious subject in which to major.

When I learned later that research on effective teachers has repeatedly shown that enthusiasm is one of their signature traits, I thought of Mr. Flum. In all that he did—coaching the tennis team, sponsoring the booster club, teaching mathematics—he had a flair for pushing you harder while helping you enjoy what you were doing. Successful mathematics teachers are enthusiastic about mathematics, and that enthusiasm is contagious.

Without a doubt, all of life's challenges will be more successful and fulfilling when we embark on them with enthusiasm. Professor Kilpatrick used the word infectious which describes it beautifully. The receiver doesn't have to do too much to "catch" a cold or flu. One needs only come in contact with someone with the disease. Are you contagious with the love of learning today?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cool, we should all be able to read this...

cash advance

Cash Advance Loans

A Gift for my teachers

Browsing through our local Barnes and Noble with the family tonight I came across Tim Rasinski's book The Fluent Reader. I noticed that he had a list of the 1st 300 Dolch Instant Words developed into phrases. He states that research indicates that students actually become more fluent and accomplished readers by reading at the phrase level, not the word level. Therefore, someone has gone to the trouble of putting the first 300 words into phrases. How cool is that? Follow this link to the magic list.

Hold your horses. I just went to Rasinski's website and, lo and behold, he has compiled the 1st 600 words. I think I'm going to kiss that guy!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

10 Reasons Why Your Child Should Attend Halecrest Elementary

1. It's Free - Basically, if you are sending your child to a local private school you are wasting about $5,000 to $10,000 a year on tuition. For the reasons listed below, the quality of education at this school is better than any private school within 25 miles of our area code. (Which is why my daughter now attends Halecrest!) Now, if you're going there for strictly religious reasons, for example, than you should stay put, because the last time I checked we still have to remain neutral on matters of personal religion.

2. Our Community is Rabid - Led by an energetic and ever-present PTA Board and their volunteer army, we have remarkable school activities and events and a true sense of a small community kinship around campus. Take, for example, our recently completed Fall Festival. We had 3 hours of booths and activities topped off by a fireworks display (OK< the fireworks display was a lucky coincidence since the neighboring high school was having its homecoming celebration, but you get my point).

3. At least 4 people will know your child by name - Obviously, your teacher will know your child's name, but I guarantee you that at least one of our noon duty will get to know you and at least two more people from the front office staff, school psychologist, or Principal will know your child by name. As the Principal I pride myself on knowing every child's name and with 500 kids I probably have about a 95% success rate.

4. Expectations are High - NCLB doesn't call the shots around here because we are well ahead of their targets, yet nobody is complacent. It's all about continuous improvement for every child and the entire school. When I walked on this campus over three years ago this was one of the first things I noticed. From the attitude of the front office and throughout the school, everyone expects excellence and achievement - and we get it.

5. Teachers are learners - Our teachers are constantly looking for any resource, strategy, or idea that will help them reach one more child. They collaborate formally and informally to improve their craft and they are eager to implement ideas from our staff development training.

6. Individualized, differentiated instruction is the expectation - I still can't say that we are differentiating as much as we need to, but we are working together to accomplish this. We have individual goals for every child on this campus in the area of reading improvement and will eventually develop the same plan for math instruction. Percentages and averages are not good enough. Every child needs to grow at least one year and if they are behind at the start of the year, they need to grow one year plus.

7. We have balance - We don't apologize for our academic focus, as many of us believe that this is the primary function of schools, however we do have all students enjoying art, PE, and Music/Drama on a weekly rotations. We also find time to do Ballet Folklorico for 5th grade (during school day) and 6th grade (before school). The teachers that run these programs are dynamic, engaging, and fully committed to Halecrest.

8. We recognize achievement and effort - Both are important to celebrate. We believe that students who achieve a certain standard of excellence should be rewarded, and we also believe that effort and improvement are just as valuable to praise.

9. People enjoy each other - Working at schools is a high stress job. You should just try and be responsible for 20-30 young people for 6.5 hours a day! Tensions could easily run high, and they sometimes do in the best environments. However, for the most part, the staff, students, and parents really like each other and get along. These positive relationships spread from adults to kids and there is a general feeling of safety and warmth, and dare I say, love at Halecrest.

10. Daily assessment is much more important than the end-of-the-year scorecard - We could talk a lot about our state and local results, which are stellar, but those numbers aren't nearly as important as the daily improvement of every child on formal and informal teacher classroom assessments. The purpose of all this assessment is that teachers constantly keep a pulse on students progress toward state standards. T he more precise we are at identifying student needs, the quicker we can turn those needs into strengths with just the right instruction.

So, what do you think? Did I miss some things that are important to parents? If you were looking for a school, what qualities would you be looking for in a school?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Prey seals it

I was poking my guinea pig (AKA Phillip) this evening by giving him some running record passages to see how they are administered and to see how he is progressing. He did a great job on accuracy and fluency scoring 100% on both passages in accuracy and getting 133 and 154 words per minute respectively. He struggled a little with the 5th grade comprehension questions getting only 70% so his parent, teacher clearly has an instructional plan to work with him on those inference questions with 5th grade passages.

So here's what I learned about running records. First of all, they are fun to give (of course, I didn't have 19 or 29 other students to keep productive, but I did have Emily and she counts for more than a couple). Second, and most important, they give you tons of information. Based on this 10 minute assessment I learned that my son can decode just fine and his growth will come from increased vocabulary and reading comprehension strategies that relate to analyzing text for meaning. With a little coaching and discussion, I can really see him growing in this area quite rapidly. If I were his teacher, I couldn't wait to put him in similar passages to practice deciphering meaning from a variety of texts. This gives me a clear roadmap of where to go with his reading instruction.

I also was reminded once again of the value of wide reading for vocabulary and comprehension improvement. One of the questions had to do with the meaning of "prey", which he nailed. His comment was, "I got that from Warriors", which is his current favorite series he's been reading since last spring. Score one for reading quantity once again.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Treat

When the Superintendent schedules his visit on Halloween, you always kind of hold your breath and hope the roof doesn't cave in as the sugar levels reach epic proportions. So, there I am, awaiting the latest visit, cleaning out all the junk from my office and sprucing up every corner of the kingdom when the Superintendent not only shows up in Halloween costume as a washed up surfer, but has brought bags of treats for all the kids and the only scolding I get is that I haven't donned my Abraham Lincoln costume yet.

I've got to say that walking around campus and watching the Superintendent hand out candy and congratulate all the students and staff for their great work was rather otherworldly. After all, it was only three years ago on that very same Halloween that he told me, "Dan, things are already slipping here at Halecrest".

Today's treat was a vindication of all the hard work everyone has been engaged in and demonstrated the amount of trust and respect we have earned from our leader who expects the very highest level of performance from everyone.

Happy Halloween Halecrest. You've earned a sugarfest celebration.

Now, let's get back to work. :)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Modeling is really hardwork

California Teacher Guy is trying on some modeling for size and finding modeling is just another name for hard work.

Graphing Relationships

This nifty entry by Dan Meyer got me thinking about plotting educational practices at both the school and classroom level to determine relationships between a variety of factors and achievement. For example, is there a relationship between the number of minutes given to independent reading and improvement on reading comprehension, accuracy, and fluency? Is there a relationship between the amount of non-fiction reading and vocabulary learning? Hey, maybe there's a relationship between the number of minutes spent coloring and student satisfaction with school? To be fair we should analyze everybody's theory. Maybe the Crayola Curriculum critique is all wet.

Basically I think we (I mean I) still do a very poor job of proving what instructional practices and school practices are indeed having a positive effect on student learning. Here's another good one. How about the relationship between the number of worksheets completed and student retention of the stated objectives! The rain forests will thank us if we can come up with an answer to that one. If you want to look at a bunch of other nifty and creative relationships, visit Jessica Hagy's blog.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Beware the Crayola Curriculum

Touring some classes this week I came across some hard working students coloring pages during their language arts block. We've always got to be on the look out for signs of the Crayola curriculum. Joanne Jacobs shares a story of a father who had a bad experience in South Carolina with the gifted program and decided to say thanks but no thanks to Alaska's "gifted" curriculum. Believe it or not but the best way to learn to read and write is and write ... a lot! Creative, purposeful teachers understand that there is great motivation and inspiration in the written word.

Sometimes, I think some teachers just don't like to read and write, because too many seem to think of these activities as boring and uninteresting to kids. Reading an informative or exciting text and writing a meaningful message make life richer. So, put down those crayons and read and write with your kids. They'll have a blast!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tall Poppy Syndrome

Educational Leadership is tackling the role of Teacher Leaders this month and and article by Charlotte Danielson called The Many Faces of Leadership discussed how school culture can support teachers by eliminating the "tall poppy syndrome."
It's not only administrators who, on occasion stand in the way of teacher leaders. sometimes the teachers themselves resist taking on leadership roles, or make it difficult for their colleagues to do so. In Australia, this is called the tall poppy syndrome-those who stick their heads up risk being cut down to size. The phenomenon might take the form of teachers' reluctance to announce to their colleagues that they have been recognized by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. To counteract this syndrome, the school administrator needs to create a culture that honors teachers who step outside their traditional roles and take on leadership projects.

We have seen several teacher emerge as leaders at Halecrest and, despite their real fears of getting cut down, they are courageously stepping forward and influencing their colleagues in a variety of settings. The big winners are the students who benefit from improved practice on a wider scale because of the leadership of teachers among teachers. Keep fighting the fight my friends and don't sweat the small stuff.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Long Live the Amoeba

This past week our Instructional Leadership Team was enjoying some outstanding staff development working on our collaborative culture, when we were grilled by the facilitator who finally described our school as amoeba-like, mostly because we are resistant to the linear, one focus for all, approach that is espoused by our district because of their work with Focus on Results. While our facilitator is a little concerned that we are like an amoeba because we are not following a clearly defined path. My reaction is that I kind of like the amoeba tag, because at least it's a living organism. We are actually moving forward on several different fronts at once, and there certainly is the real risk, that we won't become excellent at any of them if we continue down this path. However, after reflecting on this the past couple days, I think we are acting in a way that is consistent with a learning community. We are working on a consistent literacy assessment calendar, processes for analyzing data, the gradual release of responsibility instructional model, and reading instruction. You tell me, which one should we put off until tomorrow?

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Fall

I don't know what the research says about year round school, because I really don't care. There is only one day of the year to start school and that is the day after Labor Day! Those poor fools who started in July are all messed up.

The first day of school is tomorrow and I can't wait. Eager little kids in their new clothes and school tools will be flocking to our doors while parents drop them off with either a sigh of relief (Grades 1-6) or a tear or two (Kindergarten). Though there are a few kids who are nervous and anxious about the new year, most of the kids I meet are excited and enthusiastic. Their enthusiasm is only matched by their teachers, those amazing individuals who spend their life (literally) coming up with new ways to motivate, educate, train, and inspire little minds.

Wherever you are starting the new school year I wish you a hearty Happy New Year! Before you know it we'll be hosting a Fall Festival and counting down the days to the Holiday Season.

Best wishes as you create memorable learning experiences for every child.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Shared Vision

Michael Fullan, et. al, in Breakthrough discuss the factors that are necessary for schools to make breakthrough improvement. I really liked what they had to say about shared vision.

Shared vision and ownership are less a precondition for success than they are an outcome of a quality process. Successful systems build vision and ownership through the quality of their learning processes and corresponding results.

This makes a lot of sense. As schools work together learning and making headway, a clear course for the future should and often does, emerge. I feel that is exactly what has occurred here at Halecrest. After three years of moving together, with various starts and stops, we are embarking on a quest to create grade level readers across the school and everyone appears to be on board with the plan. This was achieved little by little as we worked together on a variety of situations and in different settings. I don't believe a formal vision building session (or sessions) would have created the same momentum and commitment we now have for working toward this common goal. It is simply the natural next step given where we have been, where we are, and where we need to go at our school.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Long View

Test scores have arrived and all the king's horses and all the king's men are scurrying about districts across the state trying to either fix their deficiencies or figure out what they actually did to contribute to improved scores. We are fortunate to be among the latter group this year and we will be spending some time this fall trying to decide what actions on our part actually contributed to improvement.

One thing that I've noted in my district, and seen quite consistently over the years since NCLB has put accountability squarely in our view, is the preoccupation with single year changes. I see lots of judgments and pronouncements made on single year drops and gains and I find that to be an extremely unhealthy phenomenon. (And, I want you to know that I think the increased accountability, in general, is a very welcome member to the table.) Schools that focus on the one year jump tend to do silly things like focus on all the high basic or low proficient to a greater degree than other students. So, let's take that to its logical conclusion. Let's say you get all the basic to move to proficient and see a major jump in proficiency? Next year, you might find that the below basic kids never moved to basic and there is no one to focus on this year.

This one-year fixation is contrary to studies like those in Good to Great that demonstrate that successful organizations develop their strengths over time. Dips from one year to the next may be evidence of a downward spiral or they may simply be the effect of the implementation of new procedures or retooling of processes that may initially result in an "implementation dip" only to be followed by greater gains in the next couple years. So, here's my vote for taking the long view on test scores.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Hello from Niagra Falls

Our family is in the middle of an East Coast vacation and we rode the Maid of the Mist across the length of Niagara Falls. What a spectacular place! We are enjoying plenty of time with family and the great outdoors and getting rest and inspiration for another year of school. I hope all my teacher and administrator colleagues are enjoying or have enjoyed much of the same this summer.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Instruction, Mistakes, and Balance

Part 4 of 4

Here's the thrilling final installation of leadership behaviors for the Principal.

10. If you're not improving instruction, you're not doing anything.
The rubber meets the road in our schools at the classroom door. Nearly every initiative to improve schools must have an impact on instruction. One of the pillars of breakthrough performance mentioned in Fullan, et. al's book, Breakthrough, is the need for precision. This refers to precision in assessing the academic need through formative tools and precision in applying specific instruction to meet that need. Teachers need plenty of support to develop the expertise to become such precise instructors. The Principal needs to become an expert in instruction. The move toward instructional leadership the past decade supports my assertion. If you're spending too much time helping plan the Spring Carnival and fighting over minor expenditures with your School Site Council, you are wasting time that can be better spent on the classroom. Of course, if you are far from an expert in instruction, the next best thing is to find a resource teacher who shares your philosophy of leadership and has the expertise to coach teachers to higher performance. I don't believe our schools will reach the lofty goals we are setting without disrupting (in a good way) the work of classroom teachers to implement the many known best practices that often go unimplemented. See The Gift of Bleak Research (*Education Week registration required) for more evidence of the need for improved instruction.

11. You blow it sometimes, so deal with it.
We're only human and sometimes, we are just plain wrong. The best solution is to own up, make amends if possible, and move on. Don't let your pride force you to maintain a wrong-headed path because you don't want to go before the group and fess up.

12. A Balanced Diet will keep everyone fit and frisky.
Balance and moderation are critical elements in all of life for healthy living. A school is no different. The Principal needs to balance a loose/tight leadership style. There are certain things that need to be required and others that need to be left to teachers' choice. I try and err on the side of giving teachers more freedom than restrictions as that is the environment that I work best in myself. For example, we have not settled on any one curriculum for language arts and literacy. My mantra has always been "Show me your results" and I don't care how you get there. We have avoided prescriptive approaches to literacy, which I believe honors the teachers professionalism, while making clear the expectation that we need to learn from teachers on our staff or elsewhere who are getting better results. Another resource that has impacted my thinking on this is Joy at Work by Dennis Bakke.

There are many ways to maintain balance. While it's important to push forward for improvement and initiate new programs, the leader needs to know when the plates are truly full and pull back. That can be just as effective as pushing forward. This goes back to the need to trust one's intuition and know the culture of the school well.

Well, there you have it. Those are my thoughts during a relaxing summer hiatus on the most important leadership behaviors of school principals. I'm sure there are many more things of importance, but these have certainly been the most critical in my training and experience and I welcome dialogue form colleagues on these areas or others that they feel deserve attention.

Model, Confront, and Laugh ... a lot

Part 3 of 4

Let's keep rolling along with the Leadership Behaviors every Principal Should Master (notice humility is not on the list.)

7. Be the Change you want to see in your school (apologies to Ghandi)

Good teaching begins with good modeling and the principal has the enviable position of serving as the model for so many things to the students and staff. I've already posted recently on this subject so here is a list of a few things I believe are important to model.

Model productive relationships
Model sound instruction
Model use of technology in service of learning
Model Lifelong learning
Model balance between work and family
Model good character including integrity, compassion, generosity, etc.
Model high standards in all aspects of work and life

8. Face the Hideous Beast (AKA Confront Unproductive Behavior Productively)
This one is down near the bottom because it is one of my weaknesses, but it is a must. My preferred modus operendi is to stick my head in the sand, but that doesn't seem to be very effective. I've learned to confront behavior that I believe to be unproductive, always trying to keep the admonishee's sense of dignity in tact. This refers to interactions with teachers as well as students. I remember observing an administrator partner of mine take a kid apart verbally (he deserved it) when I first entered administration. I soon learned that such a style didn't work for me. I was able to find a style of discipline that worked for my personality. The important thing is that unproductive behavior not be ignored, however the manner of confrontation will vary depending on the personality and belief system of the confronter.

9. Laughter is good medicine or "A spoonful of sugar makes the initiatives go down".
Humor can get you in a lot of trouble if you're not careful, but I have found it is an effective tool to keep things in perspective and remind us all to laugh and enjoy life since we're all working so hard. One of the greatest compliments I received lately came from my Superintendent's visit last spring when he said, "Everybody is so happy around here." It was off the cuff and I think represents the tone of our school "most of the time". Humor contributes to that culture and, I believe, leads to greater productivity and better mental health for everyone.

Decisions, Intuition, and Recognition

Part 2 of 4

Here I continue my thoughts on leadership essentials for the Principalship.

4. Be Clear in the Valley of Decision
The key aspect of decision making is to be clear upfront what type of decision you are going to make. Her's what I mean. There are basically four ways to make a decision.

Command - (My personal favorite) It's just like it sounds. Ladies and gentlemen, we don't have a choice, this year we need to teach reading. Any questions?
Consultative- I need your input before I make the call, however once I've received input from everyone that needs to be consulted, I will make the final decision
Consensus - This is the toughest. Here we need to come to substantial agreement before we decide. This means that everyone needs to support the decision even if they don't agree with it. This can only be achieved after (sometimes) lengthy and healthy debate. The reason folks can support something they don't agree with is that they know they had a fair chance to speak their mind and make their voice heard.
Convenience - It doesn't really matter, so let's just take a vote or let Fred decide.

I could say a lot more about decision making, but here's the bottom line. These different methods are each appropriate in different circumstances. What is most important from the leader is to be specific and clear about the one you are using for any given decision. The best way to spoil your momentum on an initiative is to lead people to believe that you are using consensus when you're actually using consultation, for example. Oops! Not that this has every happened to me!

5. Intuition is sometimes better than a mountain of data
Of course, we all like to pride ourselves these days on making decision based solely on the data and nothing but the data. One of the drawbacks of this approach is that decisions sometimes don't happen because one might not feel that there is enough pertinent data. Here's where I vote for intuition. Sometimes a poor decision is better than no decision at all. You want to avoid the paralysis by analysis factor and move forward. So, even if you make the wrong decision, now you can move forward knowing one more direction that won't work. I call that learning.

6. Recognize Effort and Achievement Creatively and Frequently

One of the tings I miss most about teaching is contributing to the development of students, but now I have embraced my role as the teacher of teachers. I get a kick out of helping teachers improve their craft. I think this is done by providing clear expectations for classroom practice, heaping on the training and modeling, and most importantly, recognizing both effort and achievement. Three books that have given me some good support on this journey are Building Teams, Building People by Tom Harvey, If you Don't Feed the Teachers, They Eat the Students, and Whale Done! The Power of Positive Relationships by Kenneth Blanchard. I mentioned two things that I feel deserve recognition and let me elaborate.

1) Effort - Effort needs to be recognized, especially when things don't go right. This is another name for learning. If we want teachers to try something new and innovative, we need to toot their horn even when the attempt blows up in their face. Teachers who try out something new are deserving of praise and recognition.

2) Achievement - Of course, this can be tricky with teachers for some reason. The culture of school teachers tends to want to downplay achievement. Sometimes the achieving teacher would rather remain in the background. Therefore, you've got to be careful and sensitive to the honored one, but on the other hand, I think we need to change that culture by pushing the envelope a little. Some teachers are more effective than others and their excellence and productivity should be recognized, lauded, and emulated!

One final point on recognition is that I pride myself on recognizing teachers, but the bottom line is that I still don't do it enough. I know there are still teachers who don't feel recognized on my campus, so I will keep up the crusade to fill their bucket every chance I get. Speaking of filling buckets, this book seems like a good reminder of those benefits. I'll have to add that to my reading list.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Vision, Teams, and Data

Part 1 of 4

In my last post, I listed 12 essentials of leadership and now I'll explain in a little more detail what I think about these twelve ideas.

1. Articulate a Clear Purpose and Compelling Vision

Much has been written about the need for vision and purpose and I'm convinced that these two things need to be established and consistently out in front of school work. Vision statements can be useful, although I've seen few examples of vision statements or mission statements that continue to affect the daily work of schools once developed. I have tried to keep the purpose of school in front of my teachers in a variety of ways. One is simple, the other is a little more complex. First the simple one.

Results in literacy and math must be our primary reason for existence. - Although it's true that there is a lot more to education than these two areas of study, you can't do the many other educational endeavors very well unless students master literacy and numeracy to a very high level. Therefore, we set ambitious goals to raise our student's achievement in these areas and focus our staff development primarily on literacy and secondarily on math.

The other aspect of purpose and vision that I present to my teachers is an attempt to answer the question - Why? Why should kids be literate? What is the purpose of education? The goal is to tap into the teacher's sense of calling and remind them that the work we are doing is truly life changing. I am always looking for stories of teachers who have changed a child's life and they're not hard to find. I'm also looking for historical, national, and international events that underscore the benefits of education in communities and the pitfalls in societies where education and children have been neglected. The goal is to remind teachers that while they are busy sorting through the latest formative assessments, dealing with student tantrums, parent complaints (or vice versa), and Principal pressures, the end result of their work will have an enormous impact on children, society, the world, and future generations. I can't emphasize frequently enough the power teachers have to make a difference.

As my dissertation was a case study on High School Principals who were both visionary and practical I have done a lot of thinking about how to accomplish a shared vision. My approach is to become a student of the school culture first, before working to create a collaborative sense of where we all need to go. The reason that there is no blueprint on achieving this is that the unique circumstances and personnel at every school demand a different approach to building that critical future focus. Eventually, I believe the vision of where the school needs to go naturally emerges when staff are working together toward common goals which leads to...

2. Go Team! Build Collaborative Teams

The bottom line is that the most effective decisions and learning will take place in collaborative teams of professionals. The collective wisdom of just about any group is greater that the individual. Leaders need to find a way to provide the time, training, and support for teachers to have time to collaborate with their colleagues. It's important to make the outcomes clear for these meetings and I'm finding that I need to model the process of collaboration more effectively in the coming year as everyone has a different idea of what collaboration looks like. One book that has assisted me in this area is Building Teams, Building People by Tom Harvey. More on modeling a little later.

3. Embrace the Numbers and Squeeze 'em for all they're worth.
We have embraced data, sometimes quite clumsily and without effect, but we are constantly learning how to access, analyze, and interpret data to provide sounder instructional practices throughout our school. It's not always easy to confront the brutal facts, but as we have come to dig deep even when it hurts, we are finding that there are few obstacles that can't be overcome with our best thinking and focused attention. This is an area that begs for the use of technology to make our life easier. We have implemented some technologies to sort through data, but are always on the look out for tools that will do the work of collecting, sorting, and displaying data so we can concentrate on the thinking that is needed to making better decisions. Mike Schmoker has had several resources that have affected my thinking in this area including Results: The Key to Continuous School Improvement and the Results Fieldbook: Practical Strategies from Dramatically Improved Schools and I think I'm going to have to get my hands on Results Now: How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements in Teaching And Learning since I've already skimmed quite a bit while browsing in the book store.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Twelve Essentials of Effective Leadership

After reading Greg Farr's manifesto, I was inspired to finish my own draft of the things I believe are essential to leading a school. I have tried to implement these ideas, some more successfully than others, however I'm still a learner, so ideally the degree to which I'm putting these into practice is increasing as I gain experience and deeper understanding of the people and processes that make a school work for kids... and adults. Below is a list of the top twelve behaviors that I have found indispensable in leading a school. I will follow this up with a detailed explanation of each item in subsequent posts. They are in no particular order of importance.

1. Articulate a Clear Purpose and Compelling Vision.
2. Go Team! Build collaborative teams.
3. Embrace the numbers and squeeze 'em for all they're worth.
4. Be clear in the valley of decision.
5. Intuition is sometimes better than a mountain of data.
6. Recognize effort and achievement creatively and frequently.
7. Be the change you want to see in your school (apologies to Ghandi).
8. Face the hideous beast (AKA Confront Unproductive Behavior Productively).
9. Laughter is good medicine or "A spoonful of sugar makes the initiatives go down".
10. If you're not improving instruction, you're not doing anything.
11. You blow it sometimes, so deal with it.
12 A balanced diet will keep everyone fit and frisky.

Well, there you have it. Some are a little more obvious than others, so I'm sure you'll be waiting eagerly for the rest of the story.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Literacy, then what?

We are embarking on an exciting quest to reach 90% proficiency in reading in the near future and I feel that it's a goal that makes perfect sense for our elementary school - or for any other elementary school for that matter. However, some of my summer reading has got me wondering about the end game. Is literacy in itself the goal? I would argue that it is not. In fact, literacy is simply the requisite fundamental skill that most benefits sound thinking and can also contribute to character and community service. The books I've been reading lately like Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah have knocked my socks off. The first is fiction and the second is non-fiction, but both opened my eyes to the worlds of Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, places that were none to friendly to children.
Here are some thoughts that I've had from these books.
1. Our students need to be exposed (in age-appropriate doses) to the world outside their local community.
2. Our students need to experience the power of literature to tell a story.
3. We need to teach values along with these high powered literacy skills so that our students don't make C.S. Lewis a prophet who said, “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”
4. Effective education can have a powerful harmonizing effect on society as a whole.

These are just a few rambling thoughts that seem to interconnect while reading these books. What do you all think when you consider the end product of literacy?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Model the modeling

While preparing for 07-08, I've been thinking how I need to restructure my work as a Principal to support the learning of teachers and students. One area that I can definitely be more effective is by modeling with staff how I expect them to work with students. Here's what that means:
1. Presenting teacher training using effective instructional strategies
2. Provide consistent and ongoing feedback to teachers on their performance for improvement. (This will involve choosing appropriate assessments of performance that can provide objective data for teachers to ponder)
3. Demonstrate how technology can accelerate learning for teachers and students.
4. Differentiate my approach with every teacher. Deliver training and feedback that is tailored to individuals' strengths and weaknesses.

This is all the more significant in that our instructional focus in the fall will be "modeling". It sure would be nice if the Principal actually provided consistent examples of the type of instruction that should be going on in the classroom. Let's hope I'm up to the task.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Speaking of Teacher Culture

Another voice that says too many teachers don't create classrooms where learning takes place. Does this ring true? Does this offend you? What do you think?

Stark Reality

Ok, time for the glass half empty or half full talk! This post by Scott McLeod gives some thoughts on time wasting activities by teachers that are concerned that we don't have enough time to be data-driven. Then, there's this article at Education Week that shows how most classrooms don't apply many of the tested and true strategies that make teaching effective.

My thoughts on these tend to follow the glass half full mentality. We have been working on a schoolwide literacy assessment plan that will give us a huge push forward in our grade level and cross grade level discussions next year. Simultaneously, we'll be spending much more time in staff development, observations, coaching, and feedback with teachers focused on the elements of good teaching such as a clear purpose and good modeling. I think we are poised to see consistent improvement in every classroom. I believe we have built up a strong professional culture at this time in our school to overcome some of the typical inertia in school staffs that completely resist changes to daily instruction.
An ever-growing contingent of researchers is beginning to concede that instruction itself probably has more impact on learning, and on achievement gaps, than any other factor. So the key to better schools is not commissions or new commercial curriculum materials, or even professional development. Each of these lacks the most basic, critical ingredient: a willingness to establish clear expectations for instruction, to arrange for teachers to work in teams so they can meet and exceed those expectations, and to institute simple routines for honestly and continuously monitoring teaching to ensure its effectiveness.

We are on our way to make this happen at Halecrest.

Frequent and Immediate Testing Increases Memory

One of my teachers sent me this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education that summarizes the benefits of immediate and frequent testing to increase long term memory. It begins with a study done in 1939 that demonstrated students performing much better if they had been quizzed within 24 hours after receiving new information. The author concluded.
"Immediate recall in the form of a test is an effective method of aiding the retention of learning and should, therefore, be employed more frequently in the elementary school."

There were a few more nuggets to chew on. One concept that was reinforced over several studies was that when you test students, the very act of asking them to recall information, changed what they actually remembered.
"People usually imagine memory as a storage space, as a space where we put things, as if they were books in a library. But the act of retrieval is not neutral. It affects the system."

Also, short-answer quizzes produced better results than multiple choice quizzes. Here are the results of students given information in three different formats.
A month later, the students were brought back to take a 90-item short-answer test that covered all three artists. This final test included some facts that the students had not reviewed at all. On those items, the students answered only 20 percent correct, on average. On the items that had been studied through rereading or through multiple-choice quizzes, the students averaged 36 percent correct. And on the items that had been studied through short-answer quizzes, the students averaged 47 percent correct.

I think this also underscores the need to have students write what they know, even if they simply summarize the learning for the day or list the ideas and knowledge that they have gained during a period of the day. I always liked a quote from Advancement Through Individual Determination (AVID), which stated, "How do I know what I think until I read what I write?"
The most damning quotes comes from Andrew Butler, a graduate student in Washington, who administered the aforementioned study.
"A lot of educators don't make the connection between their teaching tasks and their evaluation tasks," he says.
"The way that we typically do things in education," Mr. Butler says, "seems almost reverse-engineered to produce the least possible learning."

Well, let's test this out. After reading the article, here is your quiz:
What type of memory is most affected by immediate and frequent quizzing?
Describe the study(ies) that were used to come to this conclusion?
Enjoy your summer vacation!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Summer Reading

My summer reading list usually includes a little thoughtless fiction, some good spiritually challenging books, and something about literacy and leadership. This summer, I'm starting with a book that was on my list last summer, but never made the nightstand. A recent staff developer tried to scare me away, stating that it was too dense, or something like that. Maybe she meant I was too dense! That was probably a little closer to the truth. The book is Becoming Literate: The Construction of Inner Control by Marie Clay. It's a classic about early literacy development, and I'm finding Ms. Clay, who spent her life researching and studying early literacy is a fine writer. She's practical and witty and summarizes lots of research with clear and insightful applications. I'll be sure to have more to say about what I'm learning in this space over the summer.

A Sigh of Relief

The dust has settled on another school year and a sense of relaxation and rest is slowly, and I do mean slowly, coming over our household. The end of the year is full of activities, end of the year events, ceremonies, goodbyes, and loose ends to tie up. This year at Halecrest was eventful and successful by many measures. It was great to end the year with a solid increase in our Local Measures Reading and slight increase in our Local Measures Math scores. To top that off, our district came to a tentative agreement with the teacher's union the final week of school. This should alleviate that cloud that was hanging over everyone's head this year during the stalemate negotiations.

As I reflect on how physically and emotionally drained I felt at the end of the year, I can only sympathize with my classroom teachers who have the daily pressure of molding, shaping, sometimes herding, and ultimately teaching 20-30 pre-adolescents 7 hours a day/180 days a year. Teaching is a demanding, complex proposition that is not for the weak, disorganized, or uncommitted. Effective teachers, and I'm glad to say that Halecrest has a cupboard full of these, are invaluable to our local community and greater society. I make every effort to pass along to the teachers I work with a sense of their impact and importance in the grand scheme of things. I know that I do that poorly at times, even adding to their frustration on some days. However, I hope they know that their efforts do not go unnoticed and the lasting impression they leave on their learners will authenticate their significance for years to come.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Whirlwind Finish

The end of the school year is upon us. We all jump from one event to another to bring a fitting conclusion to all the commitments and programs that we have nurtured and supported throughout the year. As for me, I fluctuate between exhaustion and exhilaration every 2-3 hours. Missing a deadline knocks me back a few pegs, then some strong assessment data pumps me back up. Culminating this year with quality commemorative events is balanced with the need to sow some seeds for the year just ahead. It's all just a little overwhelming at times. I woke up the other morning (After a late night of planning) and the first thought that popped into my dreary head was, "Why am I doing this?". The biggest treat I can give myself and my staff and students is a solid night's sleep, so that would be my next stop tonight. Cheers!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Technology in service of Education

This post from Edustat underscores how technology as a focus is doomed to fail. Here is what they say must happen with our teaching so that technology can actually be of some use.

Move all rote curriculum to the web for immediate student review and to free teachers from the tedium of delivery and assessment chores of this kind of content
Design more motivating and rigorous assignments
Redefine literacy to include web literacy and global communication literacy
Shift the balance of control between learners and the organization of school
Redefine education from the child to the whole family
Redefine the job description of students to be content producers as well as consumers
Redefine the job description of teachers as building learning communities instead of teaching 20 individuals in a classroom
We need to redefine leaders to be innovators and team leaders instead of managers

Challenging thoughts, especially when one considers the high cost of keeping up with the technology bandwagon.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

BHAG for Halecrest

That would be a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) and it's one of the ideas in the book Built to Last from Jim Collins. There is a BHAG coming to Halecrest real soon. I shared this with our leadership team last week and will be sharing it with the rest of the staff any day now. Here's a sneak peak for those of you Halecrest folks who actually read this. Drum roll please...
90% of all 3rd graders will be reading at grade level.
This assumes that we will maintain that grade level proficiency through 6th grade. The goal is not unique. Kennewick School District set the same goal in 1996 and achieved their goal in 2006. You can read their story in Annual Growth for All Students, Catch-Up Growth for Those Who are Behind.

Here are some of the benefits for having one of these BHAG's:

1. It provides a clearly articulated focus for everyone to pursue.
2. It is measurable, allowing us to gauge our progress.
3. It provides a sense of urgency, and that tension that is needed for change. :)
4. It is energizing and motivating (fingers crossed on this one)

What do you think about our goal? Any downsides? What are some other benefits as you see it?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Fluency is slowing me down

We've been focusing on increasing fluency for our students since October of 2006. After reading a couple articles and having some district resource teachers give us tips, I'm surprised at the still superficial level of understanding of what it means to teach students to improve their fluency.

We have reminded ourselves that reading faster is not the answer. In fact, reading for pure speed will surely get in the way of comprehension. I have done a poor job of explaining the benefits of fluency (accuracy, expression, and comprehension) and how best to teach so that students become more fluent readers, and therefore, able to comprehend increasingly more difficult texts in larger quantities.

This phenomenon has reminded me how difficult staff development can be. It is complex work to present a strong case for a particular approach, then provide good modeling, followed by coaching and feedback before mastery is eventually accomplished.

I am reminded that I need to embrace this role as a teacher and consider my students' individual needs as I plan future staff development endeavors. If nothing else, I'm more sympathetic to my teachers who must make these same considerations with their little 4-11 year old learners.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I can't wait to take that test

It was Rick Stiggins who first introduced to me the idea that we should be creating tests that students can't wait to take. This idea was foreign to me because I grew up in American schools where it sure seemed like most tests were a hurdle to overcome, created by sadistic publishers in order to inflict the most damage to our self esteem as humanly possible. So, Stiggins comes along and says, "Develop assessments that your students are enthusiastic and excited to take because they know all the answers". (paraphrase)

I recalled Stiggins this week when a 2nd grade teachers was describing the attitude of one of her students who was preparing to take the California Standards Test for the first time. The little rascal was genuinely excited, which of course, is in contrast to many of our teachers, who are sitting on pins and needles for days as students take the test. Then, we get to wait 3 excruciating months until we view the results. So, why was our little 8-year old in such a good mood for this high stakes test that is supposed to make children vomit and cower in fear? I think the main reason is that this teacher has thoroughly prepared her students for this standards based exam. The grade level standards are well known, and the students are given ample opportunity to practice their application in a variety of settings. In short, the content and format of the test was not a mystery. The instruction in the classroom matches what is being assessed, and at least this one student, couldn't wait to show everyone what she had learned.

My hope and prayer for all of my principal and teacher friends is that your classes are filled with excited little learners as testing season rumbles through your campuses. Bring on the test booklets, and let the celebrations begin!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Here is more evidence that inspiring kids to read has many benefits. Some are trying to ascertain the longterm benefit of the Harry Potter phenomenon. Here's what one recent study found from some of J.K. Rowling's fans.

A 2006 study by Scholastic and Yankelovich found that the Harry Potter books have had a positive impact not only on kids' attitudes toward reading, but also on the quality of their schoolwork. The Kids and Family Reading Report surveyed 500 children ages 5 to 17 and their parents or guardians. More than half of Harry Potter readers said they hadn't read books for fun before the series, and 65 percent said they have done better in school since reading the books. The study also found that the reading habits of boys – who consistently have lower literacy test scores than girls – changed the most as a result of reading the books.

Did you get that? They hadn't read books for fun before the series! Given the overwhelming evidence to the benefits of reading quantity, this is a tremendous breakthrough for so man kids. One young man shows what an avid reader he has become.

Marcus credits the series for getting him interested in reading. He says his grandfather read him the first five books, but he wanted to read the sixth one himself. Since then, he loves to read medieval, fantasy, and science-fiction books, he says. He also now likes the many books he reads for school – even though the majority aren't his favorite genres, he says.

"I whip through 50 books a year," says Marcus matter-of-factly.

Whether it's Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, or some other reading craze, everyone is a winner when kids get excited about books.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Race is still an issue

I just finished Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink about the power of the subconscious mind to make decisions. One section of the book discussed race and our subconscious affiliation of stereotypes to certain races. He encouraged his readers to take the Implicit Association Test which would give you an idea if you favored one particular race to another I decided to take his challenge and let the chips fall where they may. After taking the test I was given the following summary:
Your data suggest little to no automatic preference between European American and African American.

Needless to say, I was quite pleased with myself. Though I didn't expect to come out as an out and out racist, I was afraid my subconscious was hiding some unspoken prejudices that might arise. However, I did cheat a little, in that Gladwell mentions that one of his students had gotten a better score after watching the Olympics earlier in the day, therefore he surmised that focusing on positive examples of African Americans would increase your chance of associating positive elements to African Americans. So, I kept that in mind as I took the assessment.

This book reminded me of the following video that depicts African American girls' opinions of race. This one will break your heart and, I hope, cause all of us to consider what sterotypical messages we are sending to students about race, gender, age, etc.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Flash Discovery: Reading is important!

I just got a little gift in the mail called, Annual Growth For All students, Catch-Up Growth For Those Who Are Behind, compliments of the National Children's Reading Foundation. The book chronicles a decade's worth of work in the Kennewick School District in Washington state. They set out in 1995 to get 90% of their 3rd graders reading at grade level, and by golly, they did it. They share all the gory details of how they got it done and their accomplishments are encouraging and challenging at the same time. This quote on page three dovetails nicely with the thinking I've been doing on the primacy of primary instruction in reading. Check this out.

Students who fail to learn to read in the primary grades rarely develop into great readers in middle and high school. They generally enter kindergarten behind, read two to three years below grade level in elementary school, and are still two to three years behind their average classmates in middle and high school. Districts that lack the organizational will to teach their students to read at or above grade level by second or third grade, when it is relatively easy and inexpensive to do so, rarely get them to grade level thereafter when it is much harder and more expensive.

That doesn't leave much wiggle room. Get to work in primary grades when you've got a fighting chance to make a difference.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Resistance to Change

Resistance to change is natural and inevitable with any break from the norm. Tom Peters likes the idea of ignoring stodgy resistance by accentuating the positive. That reminds me of the Whale Done philosophy that we have read and tried to put into place here at Halecrest. I've also found that some resistance, thought not all, is most helpful in crafting decisions that avoid pitfalls. I try and listen to folks who are resistance to make sure that our new course takes into account their concerns and this often leads to a different, and oftentimes better path, than we would have envisioned if everyone had just bought the new idea hook line and sinker.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Engaging kids through technology

This video from TeacherTube should get us all thinking about how we need to keep up with the technology for the benefit of our kids. I've seen plenty of bored to tears teenagers in high school and it pains me to see a few of those in upper grades as well. Technology isn't the only answer, but it can definitely be part of the equation.

Literature Circles

Here's a video on literature circles that would be great for our upper grade teachers to take a look at.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Engagement and Feedback Make a Difference

Two critically important factors for effective instruction - student engagement and teacher feedback - were sorely lacking in this study of 2,500 elementary school classrooms. It behooves all of us to reflect on our own practice to see if this is also true of our teaching. Do we value orderly, quiet environments over dynamic learning communities that can sometimes be a little messy?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Teens are Reading. Cheer Up!

Here's a great article that demonstrates that teens are buying and reading books in record numbers. I'm confident that the work we do with our pre-teens at Halecrest is the key to creating either a band of voracious readers or a horde of lethargic couch potatoes.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Drumroll Please...

And the winner is...

Decoding, Word Recognition, and comprehension scores in 1st grade are a better predictor of reading breadth in 11th grade than intelligence. How do you like them apples? Do you realize what GOOD NEWS this is!!! Let me clarify. Of the two choices, how much control do we have over our students' innate intelligence? Well, unless we are the mother or father, not a whole lot. Therefore, the area where we have nearly exclusive control - instructing the building blocks of literacy - turns out makes all the difference. The importance of those Kindergarten and 1st grade teachers to a lifetime of literacy success is incalculable. So, teach them well, O might primary teachers. Your work has a resounding impact for years and years to come.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Pop Quiz

Ann Cunningham and Keith Stanovich have unearthed some astounding findings in their research with plenty of implications for primary reading instruction. After establishing many benefits of extensive and wide reading, they went about to determine the antecedents of students who read widely. They performed a longitudinal analysis of 11th graders whom they had studied as first graders, which leads us to our pop quiz question. Which of the following 1st grade measures is the greatest predictor of 11th grade reading habits?

1) Intelligence

2) Decoding, word recognition, and comprehension

Stay tuned tomorrow for the cliffhanger answer... or just read the article and show your stuff ... or guess and hope for the best.

Monday, February 19, 2007

You call that wide reading?

I previously mentioned Anne Cunningham and Keith Stanovich's article What Reading Does for the Mind and will be making several posts from this research. They cited a study done by Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding (1988) which analyzed the out-of-school time use by fifth graders. Here are some highlights. The average student was reading about 5 minutes a day which equates to 282,000 words a year. If you improve that reading to 21.1 minutes a day you will read over 1.8 million words a year. Only 10% of the students in that study were reading at that rate. Imagine if we could get every student to read a paltry 30 minutes a day - which I believe most teachers "assign" regularly!! What would be the impact on vocabulary development, knowledge, and ability.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Emily Reads

Quotes on math

My foray into assisting with 6th grade math has got me thinking about the subject more than usual. Here are some great quotes about the validity of math instruction from a math teacher/blogger.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Reading early makes you smarter!

As the reading challenge kicks off today I found an article by Anne Cunningham that describes her study of the long term effects of reading on academic success and general knowledge. Check out this gem.
This is a stunning finding because it means that students who get off to a fast start in reading are more likely to read more over the years, and, furthermore, this very act of reading can help children compensate for modest levels of cognitive ability by building their vocabulary and general knowledge. In other words, ability is not the only variable that counts in the development of intellectual functioning. Those who read a lot will enhance their verbal intelligence; that is, reading will make them smarter.

More evidence to support a big push for simply getting kids noses into books. If you don't want to read the whole article (because you'd rather watch 24 reruns) Martha Brockenbrough has a brief summary at MSN Encarta.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

It's clicking....

The University of Oregon, the birthplace of DIBELS, from all I can see has a companion website on reading. It is a great place to go to get some understanding of the elements of reading that DIBELS assesses and the rationale for their approach to diagnosis and intervention. I'm finally getting my head around the term "phonological awareness". Hey, it only took 2 1/2 years!

Is there any argument reading is of primary importance?

The Education Commission of the States site is a wealth of research summaries to inform policy makers. Check out this quote regarding the long range implications of our failure to teach kids how to read - early.
Academic success, as defined by high school graduation, can be predicted with reasonable accuracy by knowing someone’s reading skill at the end of 3rd grade. A person who is not at least a modestly skilled reader by that time is unlikely to graduate from high school. (National Research Council, 1998)

Our work needs to move forward with a sense of urgency. We must teach all kids to read early or doom them to an academic life of futility, frustration, and ultimately failure. You can see more quotes like the one above right here.

Monday, January 22, 2007

IB interested

Here's an article about an elementary school that has been certified for IB.

Take a look

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Teaching Reading

Teachers, you all need to read this article. This is definitely worthy of our attention. Yes, we will have a very big philosophical debate (which is always kind of fun!) but the cost of doing nothing is paid for by students.