Sunday, November 27, 2016

Why Listening to Your Student Body Pays Off

When teachers flooded my email regarding the need to intervene and stop students from participating in the latest Internet challenge I had no idea what they were talking about. Not only had I never heard of this challenge, I had not come across any students talking about a challenge either. So like my contemporaries, I opened my Internet browser and Googled what my teachers were calling the Mannequin Challenge. 

The funny thing is after watching several videos, instead of being repulsed by this newest and latest challenge, I was actually intrigued. I saw the potential to give my students what they wanted and to create a sense of calm in my teachers. I saw the educational value of these videos and how I could use them to teach inferencing in the ELA classroom. I saw them as an opportunity to discuss and help students engage in healthy conversations around the current hot-button issues of the day.

So what exactly did I do?

I started with a short but very firm conversation with the student body. I shared with them what I was hearing and how I believed we could make their desire to do the Mannequin Challenge in a more controlled way so no one would be hurt or in need of discipline.  I politely asked them to delay their Mannequin Challenge and I invited them to speak to me about their idea. 

It did not take long for a group of 6th-grade students to request a moment of my time. They expressed their desire to do the challenge and they were asking me for my permission to do so. 

The idea of having 400 adolescents complete this challenge without teacher guidance or direction unnerved me. So rather than saying no, I asked for more time. I asked them for the opportunity to bring this request to the staff and get back to them later that week.

Later that night, I did a little more research and came across a video that would lead to our school's Anti-Bullying Mannequin Challenge. This video, unlike others I had seen, had a storyline. A story that was clear and easy to understand. 

Equipped with this new information, I pitched the idea to my teachers, who loved the idea and the order that such a controlled opportunity would afford them. Shortly after, I notified the students of the challenge and I gave them exactly one week to get it done. But this would not be the end of our challenge after the students had their chance to vote, the top three videos would be placed on our district's Facebook page and our school community at large would be given the opportunity to vote. The class with the most votes would receive a pizza party.

So what's the lesson here?

Giving students a voice in what happens at school, not only empowers them but also lets them know you care and value what they think. This is the most important lesson I learned from this experience. And this is a lesson I plan to carry with me for the rest of my life.

"Education is not a passive process." President Barack Obama

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

School Uniforms and the Prison Mentality

Had a brief conversation with a colleague regarding school uniforms. Although the conversation was not planned, the realization of how far apart our thinking was on the whole issue is the reason for this post. You see, I am a firm believer that uniforms in the public school setting prepares our children not for work and career but for prison. I believe  this because the semblance of order that many proponents of the school uniform movement say occurs after their adoption is never really achieved. 

  • Students still find a way to pick on those who are less fortunate or different than they are.  
  • Class disruption remains the number one discipline issue today. 

Why? Because uniforms don't hide those who have not from those who do. And more importantly, these policies don't create equity or draw students attention from those "less important" aspects of school like socialization. 

Were uniforms easy for me to manage as the parent, absolutely. But even that is not a good enough reason to mandate them. And let's not forget that a majority of these policies are in effect in geographical areas where the SES is at or below the poverty level and their is a high minority demographic. 


Ladies and gentleman, let's not ignore the obvious and let's call a spade a spade. Our schools today look more and more like minimum security prisons than schools. And we are to blame. We've allowed this monstrosity and we have convinced ourselves and the public we serve that this is right for kids. Are kids any safer today with their uniforms than they were yesterday? Are students more focused on their studies than their peers? No, they are not! And for this reason something has to change and that change needs to happen now. 

The picture chosen for this post was not haphazardly selected. I just want to know if you see what I see?

Until next time...

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Out of the Box, Where True Success Lives

Some time ago I wrote a post about the power of a PLN. My post talked about how individuals I have never met are helping me grow and learn in ways I never thought possible and it was my attempt at encouraging others to join and utilize this new and exciting resource. Today, I saw yet again the power of my PLN. I saw how one simple post resulted in some many new ideas and ways of seeing and knowing. Today, I received guidance from administrators both near and far. People who took time away from their already busy schedules to help me effectively resolve an issue that could not and should be resolved alone. 

So what exactly did they help me with?

They helped me find a lifeline for my dying PTO. They helped me see why it wasn't time to throw in the hat. Why moving beyond the box experience and tradition had placed me in could result in greater parent participation and involvement. 

So what exactly did members from Facebook's BSA suggest?

They suggested that I...

  • Invite students to perform
  • Handout student acknowledgments: Character Counts, Academic Awards, etc.
  • Host short meetings during the football and basketball halftime shows
  • Provide food

  • While I realize that this list does not contain all the many great things I am sure other schools are doing to get their parents involved, this list is a start. And as a result of this fresh wind, I am even more motivated today than I was in the past to breathe life into our school's PTO. 

    Thank you BSA, for your continued support! It is because of great administrators like you, that I am forever a work in progress!

    Until next time...

    Thursday, November 10, 2016

    Unpacking the Teacher Evaluation Process

    Today I found myself participating in a very dynamic exchange of words around our district's teacher evaluation process and the need to provide evidence of practice. Some sitting at the table believe that simply saying you do something is enough to warrant a satisfactory rating, while I and a few others did not. Whether my strong insistence upon the need to have this evidence is rooted in being penalized for not having it, I do not know. But what I do know is this, it's a less arduous experience when you have the evidence expected and you allow it to speak for you. 

    So whose responsibility is it to know what evidence is needed? 

    Great question, yours; and if you have not made this a priority, you need to start today. Truth be told, having a thorough understanding of how you will be evaluated can mean the difference between a contract renewal and a pink slip. 

    I know what you are thinking, I did not go into teaching for this. Like most of us, you entered the profession with hopes of changing the world one child at a time. And finding the time needed to unpack the Framework in your already busy schedule is next to impossible. You simply can't see how this can be done. 

    So how do you began to eat the Framework elephant? 

    You focus on the Domains in which you have the most control, Domains 1 and 4. The reason why they have been identified as such is because the work identified in these two domains are those which cannot be directly observed. Your principal is not with you when you write your plans, but saving a copy of these plans on your drive says that you do. Your principal is not with you when you come across a really great article related to education, but a reflective journal entry says you did and may even offer evidence as to how the information learned was used to enhance or modify your practice. Maybe you were really pleased with a lesson, but you decided to modify it to meet the needs of another class. Simply noting these changes in your plans would provide evidence of a consistent habit of reflecting on teaching.

    Now, what?

    While I could go on and on about why you need evidence and the type of evidence you could use, that is not the purpose of today's piece. My reason for writing tonight is to simply impress upon those in my profession to take ownership of their evaluation process. I encourage this regardless of what role you find yourself in, administrator or teacher. Know what's expected of you and what you can do to get it done! 

    And, remember, the evaluation process does not have to be something that happens to you, it can be used to make something happen for you. The answers to the test are printed on the rubric. Read it, know it and make it happen!

    Until next time...

    Wednesday, November 2, 2016

    We Know Data Drives Instruction, but Does Data Influence Leadership Behavior?

    After reviewing the data related to my classroom walk-throughs, I discovered that I had visited some classrooms more than others. While this was not intentional, it did cause me to find a more systematic way to plan my classroom visits. 

    After a brief Google search and a few trial runs with other options, I discovered Random Picker. Random Picker is an online randomizer created by Classroom Tools designed to help classroom teachers facilitate student participation. 

    The great thing about this tool is that it allows you to create a customized list you can save and use again and again. Each time you spin the wheel you are given a choice to keep the name chosen or to remove it, but what's even more amazing is that choosing to remove a name only removes it from the wheel and not the saved list. Your saved list is password protected and is provided with a unique web address. Therefore, I strongly recommend that you bookmark this site and let the magic begin. 

    Armed with this new tool, I have decided to begin each day with a minimum of four spins. Teachers selected as a result of the spin are guaranteed to receive a visit. 

    Does this mean that I will not visit other classrooms? Absolutely not! This tool is just being used to ensure that I get to every classroom in my building at least once per week. 

    Until next time...

    Tuesday, November 1, 2016

    How My Phone's Speech-to-Text Feature is Helping Me Get the Job Done

    Many who have read my weekly staff email often ask me how I am able to keep up with it all? Given the challenges of my position, one would think that I would take the easy way out and limit my staff emails to just information related to upcoming events or minor housekeeping matters. Well, the truth is, I would not be able to provide the type of weekly staff emails that I do without my iPhone's handy speech-to-text option. 

    You see, my phone has truly become more than just a device I use to contact parents or Tweet about the latest innovative things happening in the classrooms in my school. It is now my camera, my walkie-talkie (Voxer), my data collection instrument (Google Forms) and my writing companion.

    So what exactly do I do?

    First, I open a new Google doc at the start of each week. Once this document has been opened and saved, I pre-load my section headings. After this, I locate and open this same document, along with my classroom walk-through form on my iPhone. And last but not least, I began my daily walk, visiting every classroom for no more than 3 - 5 minutes (this is monitored by utilizing the timer interface on my Apple Watch. 

    With my phone in my hand and my Google Form open, I enter my first classroom. Once inside I select the appropriate teacher on my Google Form. As I walk around the room, quietly observing both the students and the teacher hard at work, I make mental notes about what I am either seeing or hearing. After my visit, I immediately stand in the hallway and reflect on what I observed and this information is recorded via the speech-to-text option right into my Google doc that will be shared with staff at the end of the week. All corrections are made Satuday morning and the final draft is shared with staff Saturday afternoon. 

    Until next time...  

    The Power of Focus

    Today I did something new, I wrote down exactly what I would be looking for as I completed my daily walk-through. While this may be the habit of other admins, it was definitely not mine. Even so, I can't believe how much more effective today's classroom visits became as a result of this one little change. No longer was I haphazardly visiting classrooms collecting data that lacked focus, which made it next to impossible to deduce the data gathered into information I could truly use to improve my teacher's instructional practices. I now have real data, data that I plan to highlight in my weekly staff emails. 

    Until next time...