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.