Thursday, December 27, 2012

New Year's Committment

In 2013, I am committing to completely redesign how my District offers professional development.  With all of the changes occurring in education, several things are clear:

1. The need for extensive professional development over a wide variety of topics exists.

2. Simply adding a professional development (day, hour, session, etc.) to teacher contracts will be insufficient to meet the learning challenge.

3. Traditional whole group 'sit and get' meetings destroy autonomous learning and must be dramatically scaled back.

4. Learning ownership must be transfered from the district/building level to the individual teacher level, thereby driving engagement and responsibility.

The re-design will be based in part on game-theory and tied to a set of District created teacher competencies, as well the teacher self evaluation and goal setting process in the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System.

If it works out my additional commitment is to share the entire system/process with others.

What is your big professional goal for the new year?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Using Your Email Signature As A Professional Development Tool

With the numerous initiatives that are swirling around education, initiative fatigue is a worry of mine.  The catch-22 is the amount of new information that needs to be in-serviced on, versus the capacity of teachers to absorb additional change.

As I have been thinking about how to capture the attention of the teachers I work with, I began to think about how I use my email signature line.  In the past I've had a quote, but I find myself ignoring these quotes more frequently as they have become common place.

In order to capture teachers' attention, I decided to move in a different direction with my email signature line.  It started off with the top three lines (see below), as a way to promote my professional digital presence in a unique way.

I then added the last line, which is a rotating article that ties into the change initiatives I am currently leading in my District.

Finally, I added the twitter section in the middle.  I firmly believe that wide spread adoption of personal learning networks is a key component in re-inforcing and encoding the shifts that are currently underway in the field.  We can't 'professional development' our way out of the change hole we find ourselves in.  Individual teachers have to be empowered to take ownership for their own professional learning and development.  As the time to teach this change is scarce, I'm using my email signature to promote and teach this as well.

The key, to me, is the unexpected place where the learning opportunity appears.  The uniqueness is what I hope will make it enticing for teachers to spend the extra few minutes to click through and be led to the information I have for them.

The second key is to vary they content of the email signature frequently.  If it becomes static, it will be ignored, just like the quotes I've been turning my head to lately.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Re-thinking Classroom Procedures to Promote Close Reading

With all of the attention paid to close reading and text dependent questioning in the Common Core, I have had a heightened awareness when I visit classrooms to look for practices that promote these shifts.

However, sometimes the best learning comes from seeing the antithesis of the shift that is desired in practice.

As I was sitting in the back of the classroom recently, the teacher proceeded to hand out a well crafted assignment document, one which detailed all of the particulars of an end of semester assignment.

The teacher then spent the next twenty minutes providing an oral summary of the document, as thirty teenagers stared back in various stages of disengagement.

All of the work that went into crafting the assignment sheet......wasted.

Any responsibility on the part of the students to read and comprehend a detailed, multi-step set of instructions.....evaporated.

What I saw was a classic display of the old paradigm of teacher as gatekeeper and rationer of educational experiences.

If, as an education profession, we are serious about a deep infusion of literacy in our classrooms, then we need look no further than the time honored tradition of the teacher orally telling students what to do for a place to start making change.

An easy way to promote close reading is to start with a complete makeover about how we expect students to get information on assignments they are supposed to undertake.

If you go through the trouble of creating a document that explains the task, make your students responsible for accessing the task information from the document.  Simply talking about the assignment and having the assignment sheet as a fallback is a waste of everybody's time.

Will this be uncomfortable at first?   Sure.

Will you have to practice re-directs that force students to return to the text for evidence about the assignment?  Absolutely.

Will your students become more independent, self-directed learners over time?  Without a doubt.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

HB 555 - Part II

On Friday afternoon (11/30), BASA issued an email (below) calling for Ohio educators to contact their State Senator regarding changes to the educational accountability system.

The updated Ohio Legislative Service Commission report on HB 555, which contains all of the changes as voted on and approved by the House, as well as the the BASA rebuttal talking points can be found here.

The most significant change is the increase in the percentage of students required to score proficient in order to meet an indicator from 75% to 80%.  This change, coupled with the increase in rigor (via increased cut scores and eventually test construct) could have a huge impact on school districts.

There are also significant changes to the gifted accountability measurements as well as the inclusion of Honors Diploma attainment as an accountability measure.

While there are many indicators that are within the control of districts to influence, there are parts of the accountability system that will be difficult for districts to affect.  For example, National standardized test participation rate and average score could be troublesome.  How can a district be held accountable for the number of students who elect, of their own volition, to take a standardized test on the weekend?  Another example is Advanced Placement (AP) participation rate and test scores.  The mere fact that there is a wide variance in the types of AP offerings around the State should be enough to take this off the table as a graded metric.  Look a little deeper, and there is more trouble to be found with the inverse relationship between increased access and test performance.  By exposing more students to AP, a District is creating exposure in the form of a potential negative test score outcome.  Exposure and increased access should be the goal, but districts will be forced to make tough decisions if a numbers balancing game ends up occurring in order to meet the metric.

Please take an hour of your time, browse the links, and share your thoughts with your State Senator.

A sample letter (that can be customized) can be found here.


To:          School board members, superintendents, treasurers and other school business officials

From:     Michelle Francis, OSBA — (614) 540-4000
               Tom Ash, BASA — (614) 846-4080
               Barbara Shaner, OASBO — (614) 325-9562

Date:      Nov. 30, 2012

Re:        Immediate Senate Contacts Needed on Report Card Changes!

Yesterday, the Ohio House passed House Bill (HB) 555, the school district report card reform bill. While there are a number of provisions in the legislation that we support, there are several issues that still concern us. We need your help in contacting senators now!

Lawmakers are telling us they are not hearing from school district representatives. So even if you have already made a contact about HB 555, it is crucial that you contact your Senate member immediately. The General Assembly is making changes to school district report cards that will affect you in the current school year.

HB 555 goes to the Senate Education Committee next week for consideration and is expected to move quickly. The full Senate could vote on the bill as early as Dec. 11.

Please use the following talking points when you contact legislators. These are changes we are seeking in the Senate. A rationale for each change can be found in our “Senate Amendment Request List,” which is available below.

1. The transition should not start during the current school year — changing the rules in the middle of the game is unacceptable!

2. Do not use letter grades for certain components on the dashboard that school districts cannot control!
• Advanced Placement participation rate and test scores
• Dual Enrollment Program participation rate
• National standardized test for college admission — participation rate and average score
• Kindergarten through third grade literacy rate

3. Do not dilute the value of the dashboard with a composite score. We oppose a composite score, both during the transition period and in the future.

4. Raising the student “cut score” on state tests through the anticipated PARCC assessments, while at the same time raising the “standard” for the passage rate for districts from 75% to 80% in HB 555 could impact districts dramatically. The simultaneous convergence of these factors (more rigorous curriculum, new and more challenging assessments and higher cut scores) has the potential to devastate students and districts unnecessarily. The movement of the 75% standard to 80% should be removed from the bill. We support raising the “cut score” but not the “standard” benchmark passage rate.

5. We need a “safe harbor” for school districts! Districts currently rated “continuous improvement” and above should not be subject to identification for purposes of EdChoice vouchers and charter school expansion as a result of the major changes anticipated with this bill for at least three years as HB 555 is implemented.

Important Links:
Click here for the rationale for the talking points: Senate Amendment Request List<>.
Click here for legislator contact information: General Assembly Website<>.
Click here for the current version of HB 555: HB 555 As Passed by the House<>.
Click here for a summary of HB 555: LSC Summary<>.

We hope you will make contacts with senators before the Senate takes up HB 555. Please let us know if you have questions about the bill.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

PBS Thoughts For The Mid-Year Blues

Over Thanksgiving break I experienced a PBS a-ha moment while standing in my kitchen.  My daughter had just deposited a half finished bowl of cereal (bathed in a sea of milk) on the counter.  While I wanted to huff and puff about waste, poor choices, irresponsibility, etc., I was instead drawn to thinking about several conversations I have had with principals recently regarding poor climates in their buildings.  Specifically, teachers' intolerance for relatively minor behavior infractions and the 'throw the students' out mentality that seemed to be gripping segments of their staff.  I then started thinking about how a true change in behavior for my daughter (and the kids in these teachers' rooms) can only be realized if I (and they) intentionally teach about the expected behaviors they desire to see (a core PBS tenant).  While all of this was going through my head, I grabbed my phone and filmed a quick PBS video using the cereal bowl story as the narrative prop.  Below is the remixed video, which you are free to use if you find it helpful in any way.

PBS Cereal Bowl Video

It is easy to love our students on the first day of school.  A true mark of a professional is the extent to which this love for our students is maintained and demonstrated throughout the year (even if it feels like it is waining on the inside).

UPDATE 11/28

In a serendipitous move, a counselor at my high school (@rosEcounselor) sent me the link to PBISworld yesterday.  It is a fantastic resource for positive behavior support strategies that cover a wide range of behaviors.  If you find yourself frustrated with a student, click on the behavior and then pick one or two strategies to commit to using for several weeks.  An important note is to make a firm commitment on the front end to persisting with the strategies.  Using a strategy once or twice and then moving on to something else when it doesn't take right away is a recipe for frustration.  Persistence and perseverance should be the words to live by when using PBS strategies.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

HB 555 - LRC and Accountability Changes

So here is an idea around a crowd-sourced response to the Ohio General Assembly re-write of the school accountability system.

I've drafted my response and change recommendations to HB 555 here.

Feel free to re-mix, mash-up, copy, add to, etc. this work.  The important point is to make sure your voice is heard on this bill that will have wide ranging implications.

The Legislative Service Commission Summary on HB 555 can be found here.

Find out who your State representative is here.

Below is the BASA legislative alert that summarizes their concerns.  While I don't agree with every point they make, it does serve as a frame of reference from which to approach thinking about recommendations you would like to make.

This bill is fast-tracked, so the time to have your voice heard is now.

To:         School board members, superintendents, treasurers, and other school business officials

From:    Damon Asbury, OSBA — (614) 540-4000
             Tom Ash, BASA — (614) 846-4080              Barbara Shaner, OASBO — (614) 325-9562

Date:     Nov. 15, 2012

Re:       Update on New Report Card Legislation

Earlier this week, the House Education Committee accepted a substitute version of House Bill (HB) 555, legislation that will make changes to Ohio’s academic accountability system. HB 555 is on the fast track and considered a priority for the lame-duck session. Amendments are due tomorrow and the bill could be voted out of committee on Nov. 28 with a full House floor vote on Nov. 29.

There are some positive changes to Ohio’s report card system contained in the bill. However, there are several provisions in HB 555 that are troublesome, and we need your help in making sure legislators are aware of the negative effects these will have on districts.

Please contact your legislator immediately on the following issues related to HB 555:

What we support:
• A report card that includes a “dashboard” approach that provides information on various elements — including items for public information purposes.
• Changing from an adequate yearly progress (AYP) measure to an annual measurable objective (AMO) that will measure the reduction of performance gaps within subgroups as opposed to meeting or not meeting annual performance targets.
• A plan to transition to a new system that allows time for districts to understand the changes and also to work with their communities to educate them on what is expected going forward.

What we want changed in HB 555:
• While the bill allow s for a transition period, attempting to allow for the implementation of the Common Core Standards, the transition doesn’t apply to the current school year! We believe changes to the report card system should not begin until the next school year (2013-2014).

• The bill postpones the implementation of a “composite” or “overall” score for the dashboard, but only for two years. We oppose the use of a composite score! An overall or composite grade should be removed from the bill for the following reasons:
-    A composite score would undermine the transparency of the various report card/dashboard components.
-    Each component of the “dashboard” may have different significance among districts and communities.  It would be impossible to determine an appropriate “weight” for each component in a composite score calculation that satisfies the needs and preferences in every community across the state.
-    With no “average” report card score, districts are more likely to successfully address areas where performance is lower.

• Some items on the proposed dashboard are beyond the control of the school district, or some districts may not have the resources to excel in those areas. Beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, the following items should be “reported” — but not “graded” — for that school year or any year thereafter. These items should be for information-only purposes. The information may be valuable for the district, parents, and even state policymakers. Districts should not be penalized through a letter grade for the following components:
-    Annual measurable objectives (replaces AYP).
-    National standardized test fo r college admission participation rate and average score.
-    Advanced Placement participation rate and test scores.
-    Dual-enrollment program participation rate.
-    Kindergarten through third-grade literacy rate.

• Eliminate the “percentage of students determined “not to be ‘college ready’” category completely from the dashboard. Current available data on students requiring remediation in college (often quoted as 41% statewide) does not accurately portray the situation and should not be used against school districts. In the event that data inclusive of all students going on to an institution of higher learning (public and private, in-state and out-of-state) becomes available, this issue can be revisited.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

2012 Ohio State Education Conference Roundup

Just got back from the Ohio Education Conference (formally known as the State RttT Conference).  I spent most of the time live tweeting sessions (search #ohedconf for the whole transcript, or follow me @scarletandgray for session specific tweets).  Lots of stuff to process so here we go.

Conference Summary Links

Storify summary of conference events

ODE Wordpress session summaries

Principals Toolkit on the ODE Homepage

Common Core deployment tools

College and Career Readiness - H.S. to College Alignment

The high number of students who have to take remedial courses upon entering college continues to dominate the news cycle as well as policy discussions.  Establishing effective and specific metrics, along with associated underlying performance descriptions, will be important in informing the work at the high school level.  In Ohio, there is draft policy language (that must be finalized by December 31), that sets the ceiling for acceptable CCR scores throughout the State for the public universities.  Moving forward, every public university will accept the same scores as evidence of readiness for entry level, credit bearing courses.  While obtaining these scores does not necessarily guarantee admission to a particular university, it does create a shared understanding throughout the state as to what the performance targets are that signify readiness for entry level courses without remediation at 2 and 4 year institutions of higher learning.  An additional component of this policy is the exemption of students from having to take placement tests in order to determine readiness if they meet the necessary cut scores on the identified assessments.  However, students wishing to be exempted from higher level university coursework could still be expected to take placement tests.

By December 31, CCR benchmark scores will be established for the ACT, SAT, Accuplacer, and Compass.  At the conference yesterday, the following ACT cut scores were shared as the minimum necessary to be considered college and career ready.

Draft CCR ACT cut scores
English 18
Reading 21 
Math 22

On the high school end, PARCC just released their CCR performance descriptors that will signify college and career readiness.  The consortium has chosen to use a five point scale, with the attainment of a 4 indicating a 75% likelihood of obtaining a C or better in an entry level ELA or mathematics class.  

The full document can be found here.  
The press release, with a surface level summary, can be found here.

Straight Talk Session with the ODE Brass

When I saw this session on the schedule I put a big circle around it and made a beeline for the front of the room after the opening keynote.  I'll give credit to ODE, they're trying to make the best of the legislative rock and a hard place they find themselves between.  The movement of ODE towards customer service and being seen as a resource is evident (my opinion).  The willingness of Michael Sawyers and Jim Herrholtz to run a session as a pure Q and A with no powerpoint was refreshing.  This type of transparent access serves to build trust and a sense of shared ownership with district level personnel in the transformative work taking place in education around the state.

1. The New Tests

This isn't really new anymore, but for those who haven't heard:

Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II (or an integrated pathway of Int. I, II, and III)
English I, II, III
U.S. History and Government
Physical Science and Biology

3 - 8 PARCC ELA and Math

5, 8 End of Year Science*

4, 6 End of Year Social Studies*+

*Not grade banded as in the past (good news)
+Pending legislative action

Kind of new stuff:

10th graders in 14-15 (and maybe next year) will have to take a nationally normed test that demonstrates college and career readiness, as defined in legislation to replace the OGT.  ODE is preparing an RFP for vendors to compete to offer this test.  Early money goes to either the PSAT or the ACT Plan.  In a conversation with a senior ODE staffer after the H.S./College alignment session, it was indicated that ODE will pay for the administration of the test with the vendor they select, but that districts could potentially choose an alternate test as long as it is on an ODE approved list.  This matters because Districts that have already begun CCR alignment work (most likely with ACT or SAT products) will not want to switch to the other vendor if a working system is already in place.

Here's the new stuff:

It has not been determined if these will be considered end of course or end of year tests yet, nor has the testing window been determined.  There is still considerable debate as to what 'computer enhanced' questions mean, as well as what the performance assessments will look like.  Early indications are that the performance assessments are shaping up like the old short answer/extended response questions (this is a concern).  ODE indicates that they are pushing back on this, as it doesn't fit with how PARCC initially sold this section of the test.

Current 9th grade students will be the last to be subject to the OGT and the old accountability system.

Current 8th grade students appear to be destined to a blend of the OGT (since they will be starting H.S. in 13-14, while the OGT still exists) as well as the PARCC exams when they are juniors (NOTE: This is reading between the lines.....ODE has not released a testing transition blueprint -we can expect one later in November 2012, which will include blueprints for the new 4/6 SS and 5/8 Science tests).

Current 7th graders will be the first group taking all of the new PARCC and State Assessments.

2. The New Accountability System

The first question is how high stakes are the new tests?  In other words, how many will you have to pass in order to graduate?

ODE appears to be moving away from the test as an add on requirement towards a testing paradigm that drives credits.  The thinking is that 20 - 30% of your final grade in a class will be derived by your performance on the end of year/end of course exam (ODE will set this level at some point in the future).  This moves away from the minimum proficiency mindset and rewards higher levels of performance.  Failure to do well puts passing the course at risk, thus jeopardizing the earning of the credit necessary to graduate.

A determination of how this would all be translated onto the LRC, as well as the meaning of the different CCR PARCC levels in terms of accountability for Districts, has yet to be figured out.

At first glance, this does place more value on student performance in a given course, and it decreases the disconnect between classwork and the hodgepodge of skills and content that made up the OGT.

The second question is how will the local report card evolve?  Lost in the concern over the testing transition is the fact that Ohio's NCLB waiver is conditional and will expire in June 2013.  In order for an extension to be granted, a new accountability system (this is where the A-F ratings and increased rigor in gap closing as a replacement for AYP measures comes into play) must be enacted by the legislature and signed by the Governor.  This work was supposed to take place this fall, but was sidelined by the attendance scandal.

Essentially what we should prepare for are a rolling wave of report card transitions, with different iterations in 2013 and 2014 before a final new LRC goes online in 2015.  For 2013 the LRC will measure the old metrics in new ways (A-F potentially, new gap closing measures, potential reduced V.A. weight, etc.).  The 2014 report card could add the new nationally normed college readiness test which by statute is supposed to replace the OGT (bet on the ACT Plan or PSAT, with the potential for Districts to choose).  Finally, 2015 will take the new tests and combine them with the then 'old' definitions of District performance.  As cut scores are being developed in 14-15 and revised into 15-16, the report card data will still be fluid.  Finally, how value added will be calculated and applied as a measure, both on the report card and for teacher ratings is anyones guess.  I'm assuming the V.A. system will have to be reset in 14-15 to account for vast difference between the old and new measures.

3rd Grade Reading Guarantee

There was lots of discussion about the mechanics of the law and the unintended consequences that are already being foreseen.  The biggest issue is with the requirement that students who are deemed to be not on track be placed with a classroom teacher that:
1. Has a reading endorsement or
2. Passes an ODE approved reading assessment (not currently identified) or
3. Is considered highly effective (based on previous evaluations, but not formally defined yet).

Michael Sawyers indicated that there is a push for legislative change during the lame duck session to waive #1 and #2 above for those students who are not on track based on the Diagnostic in K-3.

The other hot topic of conversation was the portion of the law stating retained 3rd graders should be given on grade level instruction in areas where they have demonstrated proficiency, and that mid-year promotion is required should retained third graders demonstrate proficiency either on the fall 3rd grade OAA or on the alternate test of reading approved by ODE (still undefined as well).  How this gets handled from a staffing and logistics level is a huge concern for districts.

Based on what I heard, I would get a hold of the alternate test to demonstrate reading proficiency, and I would make this the focus for every student who did not score at the minimum cut score (390 for 12-13 and 392 for 13-14) on the spring third grade reading OAA.  Summer school for these students would ONLY focus on reading, with the alternate test administered at the end of the summer session in order to get as many students through as possible to 4th grade.

ODE staffers did make it a point to emphasize that the intent of the law is about providing interventions and support for struggling readers prior to 3rd grade, and not about retention.  As a matter of policy, the intent is pure, but the needle of the conversation has moved towards the portions that are problematic from an implementation perspective.  Michael Sawyers indicated that less than 10 kids per district will be affected by retention (when looked at throughout the State).  However, for urbans, this number could potentially be much higher.  The point should be to implement the K-3 diagnostics with fidelity and remediate with urgency in order to avoid large numbers of students who could potentially be retained.  At the end of the day, we should want every student to be able to read effectively as a matter of life survival.  Looking at the law from the positive perspective as opposed to the negative bent will make the work easier to do.

IIS (Instructional Improvement System)

What was supposed to be the rollout turned into a generic overview of the system, as negotiations got hung up at the last minute between Ohio, Massachusetts, lawyers, and cross state procurement systems.

Every district in Ohio will be required to have an IIS (Instructional Improvement System).  The bottom line is you can go with the State system or adopt your own as long as it meets requirements outlined by the State.  Given the pricing structure the State is promising (no details yet but ODE reps were tripping over themselves to indicate how cheap it was) I would imagine most Districts will fall in line with the State product.  For 13-14 and 14-15 the costs will be picked up by ODE through RttT, and then costs transfer to local Districts.

Of note:
  • iLearn Ohio will be integrated into the IIS
  • An assessment bank will be included with the IIS (I asked an ODE rep about this directly after the session and was told that the questions will be provided by a third party provider and should come in at around 80,000 items).  The potential for shared work around the creation of common assessments is HUGE here.  This was not talked about in the general rollout session.  If the level of lesson planning and curriculum map sharing throughout the State actually happens in this system, it is not hard to imagine a scenario where Districts could collaborate on creating common assessments aligned to the standards and share the work.  This could allow for a degree of standardization between Districts and an ability to get beyond the subjectivity that plagues locally created formative and progress monitoring assessments currently.
  • The IIS appears to be a one stop shop for teachers, and is based on a dashboard model.
  • The announcement of the vendor has been pushed to mid to late November, and the initial rollout (along with the iLearn redesign) will be at eTech in February.
  • Field testing with pilot districts will take place in 2013, with the rollout scheduled for early 2014.
  • If you would like to put your District name in to be considered for the IIS pilot,                   contact Tom Walsh at ODE.

Social Media

If you haven't figured it out yet, ODE is making a MAJOR push in this area (and modeling what we should be doing as districts as well).

Two items I took away from the conference:
  1. Identify specific people who take ownership for the publishing of digital content, and clearly define their rolls.
  2. Set paramaters as to the types of articles/information that should be shared in each dedicated space.  For example, what types of information should be shared on a building twitter feed? This will make posting decisions easier and streamline the sharing process.
The post: Review: BYOD and Blended Learning Project Timeline from the Edlightenment blog provides more information about social media policy parameters within a BYOD context.

Final Thoughts

It's an exciting time to be in education.  The shift away from minimum competency standards towards college and career readiness for all is a huge change, but one worth working for.  As the pace of change  quickens, bold action is required to make schools relevant destinations for learners in the personalized age we live in.  Figuring out how 21st century thinking and learning tools can be integrated into daily instruction, and how the torrent of data points about students can be used to provide customized student support, will require creative action on the part of all teachers and administrators.  ODE, once seen solely as a regulatory watchdog, has moved towards a blend of oversight as well as supportive resource for all of the changes occurring in education.  Connect with others, stay positive, and remember that above all else, the work we do is about creating a better tomorrow for our students.

Finally, a special thanks to the tech director for my district, who I attended the conference with.  The professional dialoge and deepening of learning that arose from the shared experience mattered.  You can follow him @zjvv77 or

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sylvia Rimm OAGC Keynote Blog

As I wasn't sure what to expect, I went into today's keynote at the Ohio Association for Gifted Children prepared to just take notes.  The presentation was so good I went back and put the notes into a live-blog format.

Sylvia Rimm Keynote

Advanced organizers when thinking about gifted students.
  • Expectations need to be high but not unreachable
  • Gifted students need to develop a work ethic in order to continue to advance their giftedness (this is a component of Carol Dweck's work in Mindset and also shows up in Carol Tomblinson's work on differentiation)
  • Teach Competitive Resilience - Gifted kids get a lot of praise.  Help them to understand that dealing with not being #1 all the time is important.
  • Gifted kids can also be disabled (twice-exceptional)
  • Curriculum for gifted kids has to be appropriate MOST of the time (just like it should be for all students).  The point is, if things are too easy or too hard on a consistent basis, gifted kids learn bad habits (In other words, where is the sweet spot in the zone of proximal development in the lesson plan?)
  • From middle school on, peer environments matter.  The high gifted child is so far advanced that s/he can have trouble relating.  Pay attention to the environment you create/foster/maintain as a classroom teacher.
  • Parents need to be on the same page with each other when it comes to their gifted child (easier said than done).
  • Parents need to be advocates for their children in a responsible, adult fashion (again, easier said than done).  This means adult to adult conversations between the parents and the teacher without involving the student.  If students see their parents as adversarial with the teacher, the student becomes empowered to act the same way.  Parents who truly care about their child’s learning have to be respectful of teachers and civil, even during times of disagreement.  Ignoring this powerful social/emotional component can have grave consequences for the student.
  • Gifted students need appropriate role models who value work.
  • A reasonable balance needs to be struck between achievement and relationships in order to help gifted students flourish and be prepared to interact with others in the workplace after they leave the cocoon of formal schooling.
  • Encourage gifted kids to embrace arriving at the wrong answer or conclusion, as this is one of the most powerful ways people learn.
  • When parents reach out (no matter how difficult they are), an alliance has to be formed, because otherwise the child will fail to learn at a high level.

The Inner Circle Of Achievers

  • Gifted kids who achieve are predominantly motivated and have a strong sense of self-efficacy (the inner knowledge that by effort they can succeed).
  • In order for gifted students to not underachieve, it is critical that while they may like to win, they understand that they don’t have to win in order to consider themselves successful.
  • Anxious gifted children need parents and teachers who are sensitive, yet resist the impulse to do too much for the child.  The more these types of students are coddled, the less they will do for themselves, and the slippier the slope is toward depression.
  • Sometimes education is about getting through the work.  Learning to do boring things (memorizing math facts for example) is a part of getting an education.  Giftedness does not excuse a student from this.

Tips for dealing with a dominant personality
  • Dominant kids argue at home and at school.
  • In the classroom, don’t engage the dominant student in from of his/her peers.  Simply say something like, “I love your creative ideas for how you want to solve these math problems your own way.  Let’s meet after class so you can tell me about it”.
  • LISTEN to what the student has to say.  Verbal communication patterns give students a sense of control.  Listen between the lines for nuggets of truth.
  • COMPROMISE where appropriate.  For example, in the case of math you can have the student perform the odd number problems his way and the even numbered ones your way.
  • DOCUMENT any agreement you put into place, and keep a copy for yourself.
  • Over time, dominant students will see that we are on their side and the challenges will diminish.
  • Forming an alliance with a dominant personality student creates teachable moments that helps him/her understand that there are tradeoffs to choices, and that not everything can be unique and interesting all of the time.  The possibility of an alliance is dashed if process and produce outcomes in a classroom become a clash of wills between the teacher and the student.

When we treat all kids like they have to conform to our system or model, conflict inevitably happens with dependent and dominant learners.  The goal is to help students discover that effort pays off, and flexibility in this process is sometimes just what the doctor ordered when dealing with gifted kids who act like squeaky wheels.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Leading With Purpose

Sometimes we are the recipients of unexpected gifts when we force ourselves to do things we don't necessarily want to do.  This morning I was running late (as usual) for church.  As I dashed down the stairs I was thinking that just getting the weekly grocery shopping out of the way might be a better idea.  I quickly discarded that notion, hopped in the car, and headed on down the road.

I'm glad I did.

The sermon crystallized a lot of thoughts I've been having about leadership this week.  So, a special thanks to Caleb Henry for the inspiration.  If you are so inclined, you can find the audio here.  Once on the podcast site, here is what you are looking for to follow the audio trail:

So, here is a set of questions to ponder as you set about the business of leading your school and growing connected educators during the coming school year:

Are we on this earth just to find ways to pass the time through mindless, passive engagement?


Are we active creators of content and participants in life with a mission to uplift, inspire, engage, and serve others?

When you serve with purpose, you are entertained by the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual gifts that you receive by being a conduit of goodness for others.

Wishing you a wonderful school year.....

Student Learning Objectives Guidance

I've created a Schoology course for student learning objectives.  The course is designed with the State of Ohio Teacher Evaluation System in mind, but there are parts that are applicable to other states as well.  This year my District is having every teacher create one SLO, as a way to get our collective toes wet for the transition to the full OTES model beginning in the 2013 school year.  I am rolling this site out to my principals early in the week and then it will get rolled out to all of the teachers in the District (over 625) next week.

So, I'd like to get feedback prior to this launch, as a way to get the bugs out before going live.  Below is the access code for the course.  If you are not a Schoology member and want to sign up, an individual teacher membership is free.  Once you have logged on, you can click the 'Join' link under the 'Courses' drop down menu:

From there, enter this access code:

Finally, providing feedback under the Online tests/quizzes section (or providing it here as a comment) would be great.  I think the course is a pretty good start, but I can only improve it based on end user feedback.

If you find this resource useful, feel free to re-tweet the link to this blog post and my twitter handle (@scarletandgray).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It's not about how you feel now

The start of another school year is right around the corner, and educators across the country are preparing like elves on Christmas Eve.  The twittersphere has been awash with lots of back to school articles, some of which have touched on the concept of emotionally intelligent classrooms.

Below is a link to Kevin Washburn's blog post which should be required reading that all administrators assign to their staff members.

An important caveat is that while educators must stop and consider the emotional feel their classrooms will have, I believe that this is the wrong time of year to have such a conversation.  It is easy to get on the E.I. bandwagon when you are fresh from summer vacation.  It is much harder when you are fighting through the late winter doldrums of February and March.

So, if you're making a New Year's Resolution (teacher style, in August), here's one I hope you make (and consider in the middle of the year): redouble your efforts to create an atmosphere where every child matters and has the ability to flourish, even when it's difficult and you don't feel like it.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Double Meaning

This has been a great week of learning.  I had the privilege to hear Thomas Guskey from the University of Kentucky give a presentation on Improving Student Learning with Standards, Assessment, and Grading.

I was particularly challenged to look at the grading practices in my district and the ways in which teachers create great variance in student grades based on the mis-use of poorly understood practices.  With all of the work centered around the adoption of the common core, it would be easy to let a presentation like this go and not create an action plan around the learnings from the day.  However, there is a moral case for correcting wrongs once they have been discovered.  Luckily I work with a team of all-stars that aren't afraid of tackling big issues, even when their plates are already full.  Every leader should be so lucky.

What I feel compelled to write about is an anecdote that Dr. Guskey shared about perception and misinterpretation.  He told it in the context of grades and how they can be perceived differently depending on how you look at them.  I am applying the story as a cautionary tale to be remembered and pondered as the beginning of the school year approaches.

There were two brothers who had developed the bad habit of swearing.

On morning their mother decided that she was going to put an end to it by swatting her sons the next time they cursed.

As she began preparing breakfast, her sons came downstairs and wandered into the kitchen.  The oldest son asked what they were going to be eating.  Upon hearing that it was pancakes, he replied, "I don't want any G..Damn pancakes!"

The mother, keeping to her mental promise, promptly grabbed her son, grabbed a paddle, and lit into him.  Once she was done she sent him right to his room.

The other son, who was watching from the doorway, looked at his mother and said, "I don't know what he did, but I definitely don't want any G..Damn pancakes!"

This year, as we think about our students (especially our challenging ones), take an extra moment when you are agitated with them to consider how they have perceived what you have said.  Carefully consider the context of your spoken words, and before you get mad at Johnny or Jenny, ensure that there is no possible way that they could have come to a different conclusion based on their perception of what you meant (or didn't mean).

Education is a tough business, and the personalities teachers have to deal with do not get any easier as the years go by.  However, taking the extra moments in the heat of the classroom pressure cooker to consider all possible interpretations of situations prior to acting can save you a ton of grief in the long run.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

NWOET Conference Blog

Getting ready to hear Eric Sheninger give the keynote @NMHS_Principal

It is the few schools that think about re-inventing themselves that will make it in the 21st Century.

We know we are doing great things.  It is about creating a level of transparency that communicates our actions to our stakeholders.

Education is changing - The Characteristics of a 21st Century Education


Students are growing up in a world where designing, communicating, and collaborating take place all the time outside of the schoolhouse walls. (The question is how do we leverage this reality inside the schoolhouse walls).


Until 2009, Eric's school was closed devices in the name of attention and the removal of distraction.

Social media is so much more than Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.  Anything that engages people in conversation is a web 2.0 social media tool.


@NMHS_Principal showed us the Conversation Prism: #nwoet #nwoet12 (Re-tweeted from Michael Roush @mdroush)


Viewing the Social Media Revolution Video

Education is so much more than bubbling in answers on a standardized test.  Outside of school we see lots of examples of creativity.

Social Media is a multi-dimensional educational tool

The Six Pillars of Social Media
Public RElations
Professional Growth
Student Engagement


When you model social media as a professional tool, this is how your parents, students, and teachers will treat it.  When you lock down your social media, it is just like a locked down static website.

We need to meet our stakeholders where they are, which is in the social media arena.

New Milford has a YouTube channel and Streams live events on UStream (including last year's graduation).

They also reguarly use flicker and blogs to communicate stories

Eric's blog:

When you see brands, feelings come to mind, both positive and negative.  We want positive thoughts we people see and think about our schools.  We need to be purposeful in the messages we craft for our stakeholders.

9:47 - 60 plus principals who share strategies to boost achievement, cut bullying, increase engagement, etc.

In education we treat phones like a technological problem rather than a discipline problem.  If students are texting in class, it in NO DIFFERENT than passing a note.  If these things are happening, the student if probably bored and the lesson is most likely not very engaging.  We need to rethink how we leverage the free tools that students are bringing with them on a daily basis to school.

BYOD works because students are treated like adults and are taught about appropriate uses.  The students feel respected and are learning that their devices can be used for so much more than just texting or playing games.


We shouldn't be focused on finding new ideas.  Everything is already out there.  We need to focus on collaboration and creativity.  We need to take ideas and tweak them in order to fit the context that we exist in.

Anywhere, Anytime Learning - Breakout session lead by Eric Sheninger

Problems with traditional professional development - If it is not relevant, if it does not create connections, and if it lacks passion, it will most likely fall short.  In addition, professional development most often focuses on what worked in the past and what could be applicable in the present.

Successful professional development must give a nod to the future, be engaging, and provide opportunities to apply knowledge.

An alternative to traditional professional development is to create a Personal Learning Network.

PLN's allow us to devote our time and resources to learn about tools that will help us transform education.


Twitter allows you to mine the internet and distribute the best collective thinking to those you interact with.

PLN's allow us to get out from behind the walls of the classroom and connect with ideas that we are passionate about.  It allows us to connect with others who we would not otherwise see.  The literacy is then about how you create these personal learning networks.

Website with Eric's presentation information:
NOTE: This site is the one stop shop for accessing tools to create or augment a personal learning network.

Essential PLN Tools (The key is to determine what works for you)
Twitter, Blogs, Google+, Social Bookmarking, RSS Readers, Digital Discussion Forums

Eric's Delicious Page


Attending a presentation on Google Apps for Education.  Presentation and tools can be found here:

A new addition is the research tool that is now embedded in Google Docs.  This allows for instant citations.

A wealth of resources on twitter (guides, hashtags, videos).

Eric is super open to sharing so the wheel does not need to be reinvented.

The twitter backchannels for the conference can be found at #NWOET and #NWOET12

Specific tweets that are a companion to this liveblog can be found @scarletandgray


21st Century Collaboration Tools - Presenter David Harms

The key to flipping a classroom is to start small and then build upon successes.

When students are actively engaged with their learning, it aides with knowledge encoding and makes learning relevant.

In order to ensure that students take care of the flipped part of the homework (usually whatever they had to watch and respond to), design in class experiences that reward the completion of the outside work.  For example, students who watch the video lecture and take

PBL collaboration tools - Email them to get the full version for free

Songify - Allows students to create songs with classroom content.


Presentation will be archived on Slidesorter

BYOD in the Classroom

Watching two high school students present on their experience with BYOD - Report no thefts of devices during the first year of the whole school rollout.

Apps that they shared:

Adobe Reader
Geoboard - Rubber band creator (sounds corny but it is a great creativity enhancer)
Nova Elements - All about the periodic table.  Lots of content (including videos) as well as eye candy
Google Translate - An essential tool for districts that serve multilingual populations and are short on interpreters.
Scientific Graphing Calculator

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Asking The Right Questions to Stretch Performance

Getting past the monolithic approach of teaching to all students (towards the middle) is essential if we are going to get past the one size fits all method of education.

With all the attention that has been generated with student growth measures, value added metrics, and the flipped classroom, you would think that teachers would be rushing to the doors to differentiate their lessons and create multiple pathways for students to demonstrate mastery.

The reality is that changing the culture of the teacher centered classroom and moving it towards a student centered classroom is hard work that requires a shift in mindset.

There are three books that I'd recommend to leaders who are considering tackling the challenging work of culture change around where the center of the classroom gravity is (sage on the stage vs. guide on the side).

1. Drive by Dan Pink - While not an education book per se, Pink lays the framework for understanding the aptitudes and skill sets that are essential for those who want to be successful in the idea and knowledge economy of the 21st century.  Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose are the three essentials that Pink believes are the drivers of intrinsic motivation and outweigh external if-then rewards (that we are so good at using in education).

2. Mindset by Carol Dweck - This book examines the growth vs. fixed mindset and spends a great deal of time exploring behaviors that can move persons towards either side of the mindset continuum.  The takeaway for educators is that we have immense power to shape and create growth mindsets by the types of interactions we intentionally have with our students.  The power of language and its ability to mold student beliefs is a big takeaway.  There are parallels to Marzano's work on effective praise that will make you think twice before telling a student 'great work' the next time s/he tells you that 'A' is the correct answer.

3. Leading and Managing a Differentiated Classroom by Tomlinson and Imbeau - I must admit that I was guilty of thinking about differentiation as a set of classroom strategies that could be used as part of the larger teacher toolkit.  While there are certainly strategies involved, I discovered, after participating in a workshop put on by Marcia Imbeau, that differentiation is more about having a growth mindset as an educator and deeply knowing each student as a learning.  Only when one is committed to creating differentiated experiences for all learners that capitalize on their strengths will differentiation truly take hold in a classroom.  The tools from the Formative Instructional Practices (F.I.P.) workshops by Battelle for Kids fits perfectly with the structures for leading a differentiated classroom that Tomlinson and Imbeau lay out.  The bottom line is that in a differentiated classroom, time is not the constant.  Rather, student learning and mastery take center stage, and differentiated structures are put in place to help all learners master the content.

While all-star teachers and learners will latch onto books such as those above and are always willing to try new things, the key for leaders is to figure out how to get your reluctant staff members to the table in order to eat.  I believe that the use of thought provoking, discomfort producing questions is one strategy to help this process along.

A question to begin the differentiation conversation could be:

"What plans do you have for the students in your classroom who already get the material?"


"How can you ensure that learning is taking place for students who have mastered the content as opposed to just letting them sit there and wither while you review with everyone else?"

Too often we try and go for the homerun ball with every professional development, and the result is that the participants feel overwhelmed and nothing ends up changing.  By using provocative, discomforting questions, teachers get moved to the edge of their zone of proximal development and they will be forced to fill in the white spaces on their own.

If you were to begin to draw these questions out to their logical conclusions, differentiation is the only place where teachers can end up.  This is where you as the leader then backfill with work around mindset and shift thinking towards a classroom environment where success can be experienced by all students.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Early August Musings

It's back to school time and the brief break has faded into the late evening sky.

I made a purposeful effort to shut it down for a week and a half in order to clear my head....this included limiting my use of devices.  I felt more recharged than I had in a while at the end of that short respite.

Now August is here and the education world is churning fast and furious again.

A few quick items that have been spinning around in my head that need to be on paper:

1. Connected Educator Month is a model for how professional development could look like in the future.  There are daily events through the end of August.  Click here for the schedule of events.

2. In college my friends and I often would refer to each other as S.C.U.O.P (pronounce it however you like) under certain circumstances.  Since you already gave up, it stands for Self Contained Unit Of Pleasure (next side's been a  LONG time since I thought of that).  To reset this for an educational context, connected educators should take to calling themselves S.C.U.O.P.D (Self Contained Unit of Professional Development).  The primary SCUOPD vehicle is Twitter, which I've been preaching about to educators in my District.  I've purposely kept the list of those I follow small, in order to not be swallowed by my feed.  Follow me @scarletandgray to tap into my list (but if you don't want to follow me, do yourself a favor and follow @NMHS_Principal).

3. While Twitter is awesome and it is revolutionizing the spread of educational ideas and enhancing professional development, I have had to force myself to moderate to a degree.  This medium represents everything that is wonderful and terrible about the web all at the same time.  The wonderful part is the amazing range and breadth of information that is at our fingertips.  The terrible part is the amazing range and breadth as well.  Without developing clear cut guidelines for using this tool (Twitter), the sheer vastness of the information torrent will overwhelm you and render all of the information useless.  For me, I do my best to check my feed once or twice a day, but if I can't get to it I usually read only the most recent day's worth of tweets.  To go back and try to make up for lost time is tough in the Twitter world.  I also try and avoid tweets that talk about the top 10 this or top 15 that.  With as many tweets as there are, you have to be purposeful with your click throughs.  Finally, while Twitter is great, I've found that it has reinforced the bad habit I've developed of skimming everything I read.  Skimming is a great way to get through lots of content, but it is a terrible tool for encoding and retaining information (at least for me).  In order to exercise all parts of my brain, I have at least two books going at any one time in order to take care of the deep level substantive work that my job requires as well.

These are exciting times in the world of education.  Being purposeful and thoughtful about your personal professional development will only aide and add to the energy that this fast paced profession elicits from the best and the brightest.