Sunday, August 7, 2011

Embarking On A Journey

Today at 3:00 p.m., 300 educators boarded four buses and headed out of town to Lincolnshire, Illinois. We will spend three days at Adlai Stevenson High school, the 'birthplace' of Professional Learning Communities, learning from some of the best in the world of education. Our administration team has attended a few more conferences than the teachers, but for the most part this is the second leg of our PLC journey as a district.

Very rarely do I travel without being behind the wheel so I'm taking this opportunity to catch up on my Google reader articles, finalize the related arts schedule, add finishing touches to the opening day teacher meeting agenda, and now blogging (all from my iPad). It's been a long time since I've written on the blog and it feels nice to be back at it.

There is a sense of excitement on the bus as we pull out of the parking lot. Following my Twitter feed it's clear the feeling is going through all the buses. These teachers are taking time out of their summer break the week before school starts.

We saw gains in student achievement after just one year of implementing the PLC framework and I'm very proud of our students' and teachers' hard work. Of course there are areas of improvement, mostly by me giving bad advice or giving answers to questions I really didn't understand myself. This year at the PLC institute we will know what to look for, what questions to ask, and what breakout sessions will be most beneficial to us.

Looking forward to a great learning experience, a Cubs game, and Embarking on our Journey!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Finding Education Everywhere

This past weekend my family and I packed up the minivan and headed west to St. Louis. We were going for my niece's 16th birthday surprise party. The trip was quick and everyone behaved themselves for most of the trip. I was excited to go and leave my educator's worries behind and really enjoy some time away from school work. Ah, the best laid plans. No matter how hard I tried to leave it all in Indiana, education followed me.

The first time I was brought back to education-land came during our visit to the St. Louis Science Center. As my children walked around the museum I started to think, "Why don't schools set out items for students to interact with?" Museums set out objects for everyone to use without any supervision or security. Why do museums trust total strangers with their supplies but some teachers have a hard time trusting their own students?

My second trip back into education came during the surprise party. My niece is a high school student who loves art. Since I first met her (she's my brother-in-law's daughter) she has loved drawing. As she has gotten older her art work has gotten better. She is an excellent artist and she could have a bright future in art if she chooses that path. The party was held in a local mall which had seen better times. Stores were closed/shut down throughout the mall and there was little foot traffic for a Saturday night.

As the mall was closing down stores, the local high school saw an opportunity. They leased a store and turned it into an art gallery to showcase their students' art. The store's name is 'Play Your Art Out.'  Now, every day, local shoppers walk by this store and get to see the students' work on display. In these tough economic times for schools, this school district not only celebrated art, they found a way to offset the cost of leasing the store. They have an area in the back of the store where people can come and create their own artwork. All of the materials are on site and for a small fee, you can make your own piece of art and take it home.

As some schools are cutting the arts programs, this district found a way to showcase their students' talents. Not just that but they also MAKE money in the process. We could all take a lesson from this district.

Great ideas are out there, maybe we need to visit a museum or go shopping to find them.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What Does That Mean?

My daughter is in second grade.  She participates in basketball (#7 in the picture), softball, and gymnastics.  I use the word participates because her main goal is participation.  Why?  She loves the interaction with the other children.  There are times when she just runs with the group.  There's no purpose in her running.  She isn't trying to get open for a pass and she certainly doesn't track down a fly ball in the outfield, but she loves participating.  She's what I would call a 'people-watcher.'  Many times my wife and I have to remind her not to stare at other people.  She isn't being rude, she's observing.

Today, her teacher wrote a note in her homework assignment book which read, "Energy level very high this week!"  My wife and I didn't see this until after church.  Now, I know what you're thinking.  You're both in education, you should have seen this right after school when you sat down for homework.  Well, we didn't.

After discussing her behavior and our expectations, we got her in bed, tucked her in, kissed her good night, and told her we love her.  As I stewed over these six words and my daughter's behavior, I couldn't help thinking, "My daughter isn't high energy all the time.  I know the behavior was out of the ordinary."  I'm not questioning the teacher's observation of the negative behavior, I'm simply wondering, "What does that mean?"

If my daughter is acting out in class, not following instructions, disrespecting adults, disrespecting students, disrespecting the class, etc., I would like to know.  Each of those require a different approach when discussing the behavior with your child.  How can I help my child if I don't know what that means?

Parents do care how their child behaves at school.  We need all the information about the inappropriate behavior so we can teach our children the expectations at school.  If you're going to send notes home about behavior (phone calls are much more effective and personal) be specific about what happened.  It will go a long way to build the kind of parent-teacher relationship we need in schools.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Where's the Fun in That?

A learning environment without fun is like a garden without soil. No matter how much fertilizer and water we give the plants, they won't take root.

When I was a teacher, education was fun. My lessons were fun, my students learned while having fun, and I had fun with my colleagues. I'm afraid that I might be losing my ability to have fun at school and that scares me.

There's an enormous amount of responsibility that comes with educating students and it requires a degree of seriousness, but I don't want to lose the fun in education. The best lessons I taught, and when most learning usually took place, involved elements of fun. Those activities are the ones students remember for the rest of their lives.

Teachers do such a great job of combining curriculum with fun. I'm blessed to see it every day and I hope I was half the teacher I have the honor of working with on a daily basis. However, the teachers need a fun environment too.

I believe in setting goals so here is my new goal: I will make learning fun for everyone at school.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I'm Not Racing

My three daughters, all under the age of seven, like to race wherever we're going and no matter what activity they're racing to at the time. When it's time to get ready for bed they race to be the first one to brush her teeth, get her PJ's on, and get in her bed. Each girl has her own personality and ways of dealing with this nightly competition. The middle daughter always wants to win. Always. Cries when she doesn't and taunts when she does and I'm sure she gets that behavior from her mother! I've noticed something recently though. The moment she realizes she isn't going to win she says, "I'm not racing." I thought about her today during our district-wide Professional Development.

We had the opportunity to hear Dr. Tammy Hefelbower speak about several education issues as they relate to our work: determining essential standards, creating 4 point scale work, developing assessments, and how we grade students. After her presentation in the morning (and a hurried lunch), all teachers met as grade levels and/or departments followed by building-level meetings.

It was a great day for all teachers who came with an open mind and a desire to improve. During the grade-level meetings, I facilitated the third grade teacher group. It was powerful listening to the teachers describe how each of the 14 elementary schools were carrying out the district's vision and goals. Some schools were more advanced than others while some schools seemed to be in the 'crawling' stage. My school is somewhere in the middle.

When we came together for our building-level meeting it was great to hear what my staff members had learned, unlearned, or relearned from their individual conversations. During our discussions a few teachers voiced their concern about our building not being as far along in the process as others while some teachers explained that we are farther along than most schools. It made me think of my daughter who says, "I'm not racing." This is a good point for all schools who are embarking on district-wide initiatives requiring paradigm shifts.

As educators it's important for us to do the work correctly, not quickly. Here is my mantra for the second semester: We're not racing!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Teachers As Leaders: Smaller Schools Can Have a Large Advantage

Working at a small school in a big district has brought some challenges, but it also has produced unexpected opportunities I neglected to see. Our district is working on several fronts: Professional Learning Communities, Response to Intervention, Marzano 4-point grading scale work, The Daily 5 literacy, curriculum mapping, and district/school-wide scheduling.

These professional development opportunities each require 4-6 days out of the classroom. Ask any teacher, that's a lot of time to be out of their classroom so these days had better be meaningful and produce positive results. So far, the PD has not disappointed! When you work in a large school, you have several teachers who can help share the load. When you work in a small school, the burden is carried by few.

The unexpected opportunity showed itself as I was compiling a list of all PD dates and which teachers would be attending. The list included every district-level committee, its members, and meeting dates. As I reviewed the list I noticed that EVERY teacher at my school volunteered to be on at least one committee, and several teachers are members of two or three. I want to say that again in case you overlooked it. They volunteered. They weren't forced. They recognized the need for leaders and they seized the opportunity.

A large part of the committee members' responsibility is to bring the new information back to their respective schools and share with the other staff members. My teachers are attending these PD days and coming back as strong leaders. As members of two or three committees they have the chance to see more of the district's 'big picture' and they come back to school with a clearer district vision and goal.

My teachers are effective and striving to become better all the time. That's not because of anything I've done. That comes from within each individual teacher. They possess the desire to become better and my job is to encourage their leadership and provide opportunities for growth.

Teachers are leaders at our school and I couldn't be more proud of the work they're doing!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ask Me How My Day Was?

You never know what the day will bring when you're in a school building.  In general, most days are very similar, or at least the schedule remains constant.  The small details are the ones that are never the same.  Each day presents new challenges.  Here's a short timeline of my day:

6:00 a.m.  Wake up and get ready for work
6:45 a.m.  Wake up three daughters and get them ready for school, pre-school, and daycare
7:00 a.m.  Get in the car and drive to work
7:45 a.m.  In the office preparing for a grade-level meeting
8:00 a.m.  Grade-level meeting digging into literacy groups and RTI
8:20 a.m.  Secretary calls me out of meeting for an urgent phone call
8:22 a.m.  Parent phone call
8:30 a.m.  Second parent phone call
8:40 a.m.  Phone...still
8:45 a.m.  Off the phone because I have important things to do right now...greet the students getting off the bus
9:00 a.m.  Morning announcements
9:15 a.m.  Served papers for student custody issue
9:20 a.m.  Classroom walk-throughs
12:00 p.m.  2 students get sick in cafeteria
12:25 p.m.  Picked up dog poo on playground (during my recess duty)
12:30 p.m.  More students trying to find something gross for me to pick up
2:00 p.m.  Teacher conference
2:30 p.m.  Parent phone calls and staff Thank You note
3:15 p.m.  Greet students as they get on the bus to go home
3:30 p.m.  PLC Coaches meeting
4:15 p.m.  Drive home and make 2 parent phone calls on the way
5:00 p.m.  Hug and kiss my three daughters and my wife
7:00 p.m.  Church
8:30 p.m.  Get three girls ready for bed and read 'just one more story'
8:45 p.m.  Talk to my wife about her day as a 6th grade teacher
9:00 p.m.  School work so I can be better tomorrow than I was today
12:00 a.m.  (hopefully) Get some sleep
Start it all over again tomorrow at 6:00 a.m.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

5 Things To Do Today

1.  Reach out to parents. As educators, the majority of our parent communication comes after a student has done something wrong. We seldom contact parents simply to talk about their child's academic progress. Today, contact a parent for positive reasons.

2.  Get out of the office. Too many days go by without getting into classrooms to see student learning in action. Classrooms represent the life blood of our schools and administrators need to know what's going on. When visiting classrooms, be an active participant. Schedule your visit in advance and let the teacher know that you would like to help. Lead a small group, read to the class, or simply walk around and help as needed. One of my greatest rewards as an administrator is working with the students. Today, get out of the office.

3.  Observe a colleague. Teachers rarely have the opportunity to observe their colleagues and this needs changed. Administrators must make it a priority in their school. I'll be the first to admit that I am lacking in this area. Today, arrange your schedule to cover a class so teachers can observe each other in action.

4.  Write a thank you note. Let's be honest, we all like to be acknowledged for our hard work. Your staff members need to be acknowledged too. Don't just think about your teachers. Include your support staff, bus drivers, food service workers, parent volunteers, community members, and anyone who has a role in your school. Today, write a thank you note.

5.  Share your ideas. Too often teachers become islands working in the sea of education. A professional learning community (PLC) or professional learning network (PLN) will help build a bridge between the islands. Sharing your work and ideas with colleagues expands your educational repertoire and helps you grow as a leader. Today, share something.