Friday, June 23, 2017

Walkthroughs Don't Work!!!

This year, after 23 years in education, I will work in a school where we will not do walkthroughs. Why do you say? Well it's simple. 

Walkthroughs don't work. 

Think about it. What has a greater impact on student learning, instruction or assessment?  Obviously instruction is the variable on student learning and assessment is the gauge of learning. If we really believe in this idea about growing kids, then why are we only assessing our teachers when we walk in their classroom?

The research shows that walkthroughs don't improve teacher effectiveness.  Here's what I mean. Walkthroughs with no feedback negatively impact teaching.  Yes, they make teachers less effective. Observations with a form have no positive or negative impact on learning, so walkthrough forms have little impact on teacher effectiveness.  When observations are accompanied with coaching, teachers see gains in their effectiveness. In other words coaching is what helps teachers grow. 

So What Will We Do This Year?
If we want teachers to grow, we must admit that forms with checkboxes won't suffice. Ratings scales won't do either. To grow our teachers, we will replace walkthroughs with coaching visits. 

Yes, Coaching Visits!!!

Our teachers will receive coaching feedback that does 4 things.
1. Affirm positive practices in places
2. Identify missed opportunities. 
3. Pose questions for reflection and to open the discussion. 
4. Help the observer grow in their ability to help teachers grow. (MOST IMPORTANT)

The Goal is Simple. 
We will work to drop the imbalance of power that the term, walkthrough, brings forth. If we are truly instructional leaders, then we must realize that we must offer our teachers instruction on how they are doing and how they can improve, not just assess how they're doing. Furthermore we must provide a platform of reciprocity for teachers so that teachers can also instruct leaders on how they can improve at supporting teachers. 

Pure and simple, the purpose of a walkthroughs is to rate the teacher.   The purpose of a coaching visit is to improve both the teacher and the leader. Just as iron sharpens iron, so does one person sharpen another. If we truly want to make schools better, it starts by creating observation system that require feedback protocols for that is the most productive way to grow all educators. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

What if Kids had Learning Streaks???

Snapchat is everywhere, and kids are seriously addicted to it.  Seriously, they are, and why not?  It has a relevant goal that all kids want to reach.

STREAKS

Kids essentially are gamifying their connections to other kids, and when a kid loses a streak, it is devastating.  When my kids lose their phone privileges, it is heartbreaking.  The streak ends and they have to start all over again.

So How Can We Tie STREAKS to Learning?

It's pretty simple.  Kids need connections with other kids to accelerate their growth in learning.  In other words, collaboration is not just important.  It downright ESSENTIAL.  Below are a few ideas that we could use to get our kids to create learning streaks.

  1. Use Snapchat to share their learning with other peers during classtime.
  2. If technology rules prevent the use of Snapchat, use Twitter or Instagram for kids to tag their learning to a class account.  The consecutive days of tagging classmates to learning could become the streak.
  3. If technology is a problem altogether, build collaboration into your instruction where students can share their work with other students and have peers give written feedback or suggestions for improvement along with the student's signature to signify the learning connection and to curate the streak.

Honestly, this is a random thought running through my head and not really formalized into a completely rational thought.  I do however think that educators must leverage the relevance that students find in STREAKS and let this fascination serve as a tool for engagement and a relevant entry point for learning.  

What ideas or thoughts would you add?



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ending the Institutionalization of Education

One of the most powerful if not the most powerful institutions in our country is the public school. If you look around you, you cannot see anything or find anything that was not influenced first by the institution we have come to love.  There are so many positive actions that the institution of education has done to impact our country, but there is one action that has a negative impact on the future of education.


One of my favorite movies of all time is Shawshank Redemption. At a powerful moment on the story, Morgan Freeman's character talks about how prisoners become institutionalized because the institution grows on them and eventually becomes something they can't live without. In other words, the institution doesn't just shape thinking, it limits creativity and opportunities for growth.  Now I'm not saying that schools are a punitive place that imprison us.  What I am saying is that we lose sight of our moral imperative when we become driven by the structures, language, and labels that at times inundate schools.  





INSTITUTIONALIZED LANGUAGE
Reflect on this section and ask yourself this.

Do the following words institutionalize your thinking?


Passing - This word sterilizes growth. For some, passing is too high a standard and for others it's way too low.  When passing is the goal, learning is not longer the priority.  We must make this term a step towards excellence rather than the standard.

Intervention - In the mind of the institutionalized, it is a location or a separate segment of time in the schedule. What it should be is a mindset about learning and when any students fails to learn, we immediately respond.

Redirection - When students are misbehaving, we have been expected to redirect them. Let's face it.  Redirection is reactive, not proactive. We must anticipate when kids are showing symptoms of misbehavior and intercept behaviors before we have to sacrifice instruction to redirect them.

Grade - This word has been one of the greatest paradigm builders in education. It sorts kids into ability groups. Sure it rates proficiency, but it also stifles progress in creating schools that are kid- centered.  The question is this.  Does the almighty grade inspire all kids to pursue learning?

Leadership - When you see this word, do you think of the person in charge or do you think of a function that everyone in the school must assume.  From the custodian to the principal and everyone in between, schools need leadership to become a collective function of the school, not the person in charge of the building.

Schedule - To the institutionalized, this is a static structure that can never be altered for any reason.  For the kid-centered school, it must change to meet the needs of all kids.  Time is a constant, but how we use it to help kids grow in learning is the variable.  Schedules are tools to help us better help kids, not a structure to shuffle them through the day.



What would you add?
If we want to end the institutionalization of education, it starts with eradicating words and the thinking behind them that shackle us to the schools of yesterday.  We must view schools not as they are but as they must become if we truly want to prepare kids for their future.  Drop a comment to add your thoughts of other words that inhibit growth in education.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Don't Forget to Excel

Note - This post is my commencement address to the Blue Ridge Senior Class of 2017.

Seniors, Parents and Guests,

On behalf of the Blue Ridge ISD Board of Trustees, I would like to welcome you to the 2017 Blue Ridge High School Graduation Ceremony.  I am truly honored to have this opportunity to celebrate the senior class of 2017 for successfully completing their journey through public education.  As a parent of one of these senior, I address you with both a tear in my eye and an excitement in my heart.  Hannah we love you and are very proud of you.  To the senior class of 2017, I know that right now you are thinking, "Hurry up! I'm ready to move on from Senior to See Ya", but I would like to have just a minute or two of your time.

In our district this year, we created a new motto, Learn...Grow...Excel...  This motto represents the next steps that we should all take in life. The next steps are hard ones to make, and sadly steps that some fail to make, so today I would like to share with you what they are and how your life will benefit from them.

The 1st Step is to Learn.
Those who succeed in life realize that learning doesn't end after high school; it actually begins.  The minute you stop learning is the minute you stop living.  My greatest hope for you is that you never view learning as a pain, but that you embrace it as an exciting and joyful part of life.  Always choose to learn more about your faith.  Learn from your experiences, but most importantly learn from your mistakes.  I challenge you to fail and fail a lot.  Because the more you fail, the more you can excel

The 2nd Step is to Grow.
Life is a metamorphosis.  You've grown physically into the adults you are today, but the very best people in life grow both mentally and spiritually.  They grow in their love for friends and family, and they grow in their passion and zest for life.  If you choose to take the 2nd step, you will experience life in the way it was meant to be lived.  You will never settle for life the way it is, and you will never make excuses for bad things that happen to you.  You will always find a better way, and you always make it a better day for yourself and those around you.

The 3rd and Final Step is to Excel.
When I think about what it means to excel, I look to the words of our founding fathers who wrote the Declaration of Independence over 240 years ago.


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, 
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, 
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Those who excel discover Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness when they realize that their purpose in life is not to take but to give.  If our country is to continue to be the greatest nation on the planet, we need less takers and more givers.  The bottom line is that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not handed to you.  It is earned and it has to be earned every single day. 

Excelling is not about being the best; it is about giving your best to make a strong family.  It's about volunteering in your church, little league, in your school, and in the community, and most importantly it's not about waiting for someone else to do it for you.  It's about being an active leader in making your community and our country a better place for everyone.  

Think about this.  Who has stood out in your life and in your time here in Blue Ridge?  It was the people who excelled.  They did more than they were asked to do.  They were the ones who always stepped up to help you, and they were the people who invested in you.  Well now it's your turn.  Wherever you go and whatever you do, I challenge you to remember that the purpose of life is to make life better for everyone you come in contact with.  Then and only then will you find true happiness.

My final words to  you can be found in this 8 ounce cup.  To some it's just a cup, but to the senior class of 2017, it was your opportunity to leave a lasting impression on Blue Ridge (see video here).  From now on, every time I look at this ordinary cup, I will remember the legacy you left behind for future classes to follow.  I will always see your awesome personalities and special moments throughout the year, but most importantly I will forever see the potential that you have to make this world a better place.   I wish each of you the best luck and  I think I speak for everyone when I say this.

We will all miss you when you're gone.  

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Teacher's Summer Excellence Checklist.

Note:  The contents of this post are based on my new book, A Leader's Guide to Excellence in Every Classroom. 

When summer is in full swing, that means one thing for teachers; they are 6-8 weeks away from the start of another school year. Kids will soon begin shopping for items on their school supply lists, and parents will anxiously await the announcement of their child's teachers while they get their children ready for the start of school. But what about teachers?  What do they need to start off the new school year on the right foot?



Just like principals need a Principal's Summer Excellence Checklist to prepare their school for the best year ever, every teacher needs an excellence checklist of their very own that will help them set the stage to empower every student to reach excellence this year. 

The Teacher's Summer Excellence Checklist

Here is a list of the the top 10 things every teacher needs to create the conditions that will inspire every student to have their best year ever.

 Resources

Obviously, every teacher needs the tools of the trade, but great teachers surpass possession of tools by also possessing the skillful use of those tools to help every kid learn. The more technical the resource, the more necessary it is to learn how to be proficient at using that tool in a way that will empower kids to own their learning.

✔ Routines & Procedures

Every good teacher develops routines and procedures for their classroom, but great teachers have a plan to intentionally transfer the responsibility and leadership for those routines and procedures over to the kids. If the goal is learning for all, students need to own the routines and procedures that are designed to help them learn.  For each routine, great teachers have a plan to empower students to take ownership of it.

 Relationships

Relationships are important, but alone they don't get the job done. (See The 'Right' Relationships Matter).  Relationships for learning, however, require teachers to develop the optimal relationship with each child in order to accelerate each child's learning. To prepare for these relationships with new students, great teachers research their students. They learn their strengths, areas for growth and strategies that are proven to help each student learn, but they go the extra mile by making a plan to build a meaningful relationship with each child in an effort to inspire him to learn. 

✔ Relevance

Nothing is more boring to a student than sitting in a class that has no relevance. To engage kids, excellent teachers plan their instruction with one purpose: connect kids to the learning target during every minute of the day. Sure, great activities help develop relevance, but how great teachers structure their instructional time to keep kids engaged through those activities is what maintains and even accelerates engagement and relevance. Great teachers are developing or refining their plans with the specific purpose of optimizing engagement.

✔ Rigor

Rigor is about 3 things: planning for it, delivering it, and responding to it. Great teachers realize that rigor can't occur unless they, themselves, have the content knowledge and expertise first. From content expertise, teachers of excellence focus their efforts on transferring that expertise to students through the intentional use of assessments, instructional strategies and questioning techniques that take kids from what they know to what they need to know, and they do that at high levels of complexity. Excellent teachers are busy locating and curating all kinds of strategies that will lead every student to rigorous learning. 

Intervention

Great teachers know that even the best lesson will leave some students behind; therefore, they don't wait for failure. They plan for it.  They anticipate possible mistakes or misunderstandings that students will have and have automatic responses when those mistakes reveal themselves. The best intervention is prevention, and great teachers do a whole lot of preventing in their instruction.  These teachers are making plans to identify students with a history of failure and creating prevention strategies that will help these students overcome failure beginning with the first day of instruction. 

✔ Extension

While some kids need extra attention, other kids need extra extension. When kids learn a concept in a great teacher's class, they don't get more of the same. They are provided choices to apply their learning through personalized activities that matter to the student. Great teachers offer students a menu of extension activities that are on display for students on the first day of school, and this menu serves as great motivator to remind kids to work hard at learning.

✔ Collaboration  

Great teachers grow, and they grow by learning with and from their peers inside and outside of the school. Whether it is a collaborative team, their campus leaders or their PLN, great teachers are connected to a wide variety of educators and collaborate with them frequently because they believe their own continuous improvement is essential to help all students learn. Great teachers are gathering ideas and thoughts all summer long so that when schools starts, they can help their peers grow and their students learn. 

✔ Tech Integration 

Technology is a tool that supports learning, and great teachers integrate technology with one specific purpose, support the learning goals of the lesson. It is also important to note that they don't jump onto every tech bandwagon that rolls into town. They ensure that technology will enhance student learning by seamlessly integrating technology into their lessons. To enhance student learning, excellent teachers brush up on their tech tools and ensure that they work out the kinks with each tool, so that kids will have a smooth start using these tools in the first week of school. 

✔ Parent Communication

Parents are a valuable resource to support student learning, and great teachers tap into that resource by initiating, building, and maintaining parent communication through both face to face and digital interactions with parents. By keeping the lines of communication open through weekly communication with parents, they build support systems that reinforce student learning. Great teachers will have their communication plan ready to disseminate to students and parents on the first day of school as well as a system to keep the communication system effectively running all year long. 

What Else Would You Add?
Teachers of excellence aren't waiting for school to start. They are putting their plans in place. What makes a great teacher is their performance, but what makes their performance great is their preparation. They pathway to excellence is not through talent alone but through diligent preparation. By putting together a powerful plan to guarantee that every student learns, great teachers create a classroom culture that inspires, challenges, and empowers every student to discover the excellence that is within them. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Biggest Barrier to School Improvement

In all my years in education, one of the most confusing concepts is something that is disguised to serve as the great clarifier of learning. When progress needs to be defined, you go to it. When decisions are made about kids, you depend on in it. And when determining the best and worst, it is your number one go-to source. 

Yes, I'm talking about GRADING

Here's the problem that I have with grading. Every time a new idea about improving instruction is levied, the first question that pops up is this.  "How are we going to grade that?" A suggestion to move to project based learning gets a visit from "How will that affect our grading policy?"  When a kid who normally makes As is making a C in a rigorous class, grading once again shows up to be the catalyst for lowering standards. If a kid makes a 68 in a class for the grading period, it prompts a challenge to the grading system as a whole 

Ever Experienced One of These Issues?

Of course, you have.  The fact is that we have been institutionalized by the 20th century grading scale. To prove my point, can you identify the instrument in this picture below?


Everyone knows what this is and everyone knows that it is the basis for how we have determined proficiency for almost 100 years.  

Are Schools about Grading or Learning?

If we truly want to improve school, we have to make a decision if we are driven more by grading or more by learning.  This is the question that we all must answer when trying to do what's best for kids. The reality is that numbers don't tell the story of learning, and an "averaging" mindset simply will not tell me or other parents what their child is actually learning in school. 

As educators and ambassadors of Future Ready schools, we must be vigilant in creating learning spaces that are actually driven by learning instead of grading.  Sure grading is necessary to communicate progress, but it shouldn't inhibit schools from becoming progressive.   We must recondition ourselves and our students that we don't do work for a grade. Learning as an active pursuit of knowledge and mastery not so that we can figure out how to get the highest number we can in the gradebook. Finally, our moral imperative must end the idea that the smartest, best and brightest students are not identified by the average of an infinite set of numbers that are generated by mastery of an undefined set of skills which are to be judged by an arbitrary and partial grading system. 

We are better than that, and our kids deserve schools that are focused on learning first and how to rate or grade learning second. 

DROP ME A COMMENT BELOW TO LEAVE YOUR THOUGHTS...

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

6 Keys to a Successful STARTegy

The difference between a dream and a vision is action. Dreams fail to materialize simply because of the inability to act, or more specifically the inability to start.  Too many great ideas ended with a dream. 

So how do We turn Dreams into Reality?

So many strategies never materialize or they fall well short of the grandeur in its descriptive language.  Action in a strategy begins when the first step or STARTegy takes place.  Simply put, a STARTegy is the beginning movement or the actual implementation of your strategy. Sure planning is great, but plans are worthless until you implement them. This decision to start a strategy is often stalled by indecision about rollout, disagreements about first steps, lack of clarity in roles, or simply by making the strategy so complex that it collapses under  the weight of its utter confusion.  Any and all of these reasons paralyzes others so that action can never begin. 


6 Keys to a Successful STARTegy

  1. The simpler the strategy, the easier the STARTegy.
  2. Selling the WHY is more important than telling the WHAT.
  3. Mistakes are expected in order for the STARTegy to work.
  4. STARTegies can't survive without questions, input and feedback.
  5. Teamwork enhances the STARTegy.
  6. Reflection throughout the strategy is critical to success.


Strategies rise and fall with leadership.  The best leaders know that a successful strategy begins with a successful STARTegy.  With STARTegy, confidence in the organization grows.  Individual efficacy improves, and the overall culture excels.  The best organizations don't succeed by planning.  They excel by doing, and they start with STARTegy.