Friday, January 3, 2014

A Window Into the Classroom

Many times, grading papers and student projects is something a teacher does in isolation.  In other words, no one other than the teacher sees the student’s work.  What if analyzing student work became a collaborative process in your school?  How would looking at student work provide a clear window into the classroom?  As we transition to more rigorous standards in my state, we have been collecting student outcomes to analyze the quality of lessons and units intended to address these new standards and expectations.
After our first semester of collecting and analyzing student outcomes, I have come to the following conclusions:
  • Teachers are spending more time planning and preparing each lesson.
  • Teachers are hoping to learn about the effectiveness of their own instruction.
  • Teachers are gaining a better understanding of how students learn.
  • Teachers are developing more effective assessment types that also measure application and conceptual understanding.
  • Teachers who assign the highest quality work get it from their students.
  • The amount of trust is increasing among teachers and school leaders.
Principals play a critical role in setting the expectation and must monitor the process and most importantly, recognize a successful student outcome when they see it.  The questions you must prepare yourself to address include:
  • How often do you expect these teams of teachers to collaboratively plan and examine evidence of student learning?
  • What do you want the end product(s) to look like?  How do you communicate this to teachers?
  • How can teachers demonstrate that they have used this information to make the kinds of instructional decisions that would result in improved student achievement?
Viewing teacher lesson plans provide teacher intentions, however, analyzing student work will unveil what was actually learned.  This is one of the first steps in shifting the focus from teaching to a focus on learning.
We are using the Tri-State/EQuIP Rubric to evaluate the quality of lessons and units intended to address the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and ELA/Literacy.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Invoke Behavior

When it comes to change, which happens first…… a change in behavior or a change in belief?  This is an important question if you’re on a quest to see new ideas become reality in every classroom. In my experience, those who believe a change in belief comes first, end up talking about the same ideas year after year. On the contrary, those leaders who work to change behaviors end up opening the minds of their teachers resulting in a culture that sparkles with innovation, creativity, and a passion for learning.

Recently during a twitter chat, the following question came about: If you’ve been a part of an innovative school, what caused it to be innovative?

I responded:

You see, the leader within this particular building created a culture of innovation by answering the relevant question… why?  For instance: Why technology integration is important.  Why failure must be viewed as a success in learning. Why it's important for educators to take responsibility for their own learning. You get the idea.  The leader put specific, timely action plans or SMART goals in place that resulted in all teachers engaging in new behaviors.  After experiencing the effectiveness of such behaviors, we soon changed our belief.  Before long, we were all closing the gap between what we knew and what we actually did.

For some reason, almost intuitively, it seems like belief is a precondition to action.  Instead, let’s invoke a change in behavior.  Learning is useless if it isn't applied. Reading a recipe book is not the same as picking up a utensil and cooking.  Let’s work to get others cooking something new.  Who knows.... they just might like it!  
Are you the two boys talking about it or are you a Mikey and willing to take risks and try something new?  Something to think about.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Learning Is A Consequence of Thinking

How do YOU take responsibility for your own learning?  How do YOU continuously grow the gap between what you know and what you do?  How often do YOU think about your own art of teaching? What do YOU do as a result of those thoughts?  These are questions that I ask when interviewing and searching for the best of the best.  Many candidates respond with a blank stare and struggle with recalling the last educational article, book, or video they’ve read or watched.

Great teachers take responsibility for their own learning and do not wait for their district to tell them when and what to learn.  Most school districts are limited to five professional development days throughout the school year and I believe to be the very best, critical, creative, and reflective thinking must happen daily.  If learning is a consequence of thinking, then think.  Our students are depending on you.

How would YOU respond to such questions?  If you find it difficult, then it’s time to change the wayYOU learn.

“Change how you learn first. Once you change, you won’t be able to go back to teaching the same old way.” ~ Stephen Downes

Please comment and list those connected educators who not only cause you to think daily, but many times differently.  As summer approaches, it’s time we fortify and strengthen our own PLN.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Fostering A Continuous Gap Between What We Know and What We Do

As we already know, a gap exists between what we know and what we do.  Successful educators work to narrow this gap between new ideas and implementation.  However, I believe the size of this gap does not necessarily indicate one’s success.  Some educators are terrific at executing what all they know how.   The problem is, their pedagogy is out-of-date, irrelevant, and this gap has been stagnant for many years.  On the other hand, there are educators who engage in twitter, who subscribe to RSS readers such as Google Reader and Bloglines, who create personalized online magazines through tools such as Zite and Flipboard, and who curate content through platforms such as and  These educators have an enormous amount of growing knowledge. 

As leaders, which educator do you desire for your building?  The answer is easy but fostering such a gap takes intentional purpose on the part of the leader.

Fostering Knowledge
  • Recognize what your teacher wants to learn, as well as, what they need to learn.  Then, spark their curiosity.
  • Assist teachers in developing a strong PLN by introducing content specific educators who are both like-minded as well as those with differing viewpoints.
  • Assist teachers in curating content by creating an RSS reader and/or personalized magazine.
  • Assist teachers in subscribing to publications such as Education Week, Edutopia, Teaching Channel, E-School News, etc…

Fostering Doing
  • Embed time for teachers to develop new knowledge and on the job learning opportunities.
  • Urge teachers to take the time to practice what they learn. Knowledge is power only when we use it.
  • Commend good mistakes when risks are taken and lessons are learned.
  • Invite regular reflection. Encouraging teachers to establish a personal learning blog that documents what they learn is one of the simplest but most rewarding and valuable approaches.

As leaders, it is important to grow and maintain our own gap between what we know and what we do.  Otherwise, it will be difficult to assist teachers and be the lead learner within your school.

This is a working document.  Please share other strategies to fostering this important gap to remaining relevant in the classroom.  

Cross-posted at Connected Principals

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Dear Principals,

What if you were to ask your faculty and staff within your building this one question:

Who do you view as the instructional leader in our building?

Who do you think they would say?
Better question, who do you know they would say?

Something to think about.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Teaching Student Writing in a Digital Age

Guest post by Neven Jurkovic.

Consistent access to technology can enhance virtually any classroom, no matter the subject or grade level. One subject that can be especially impacted by the presence of technology is writing. This is because writing done for online spaces and audiences is in many ways fundamentally different than writing that has traditionally been done in the classroom, on paper, for a small, captive audience. With the help of technology, here are four key things teachers should do to help students learn how to write for an online audience.

Hook the reader, then keep it concise: Unlike captive classroom audiences, digital audiences have virtually infinite options of what to read. As a result, students must be taught to hook the reader with a catchy headline, title, or opening sentence. Once they’ve hooked the reader, the remainder of the piece should be concise – even more so than when writing on paper. Posting on Twitter, with its 140-character limit, is a great way for secondary students to get good at making a point quickly.

Mix written text with links, audio, and video: Whereas paper and pencil writing is limited to text alone, digital writing can include hyperlinks to websites, links to an audio podcast, videos, images, and more. Students must be taught to take advantage of these options, when applicable, to make their writing even more effective for an online audience.

Edit and collaborate more effectively: One of the best parts of writing on the computer is the ease in which students can edit their work – a few clicks can replace the previously painstaking use of erasers, editing marks, and proofreading marks. Students can also collaborate on writing more effectively: instead of being limited to an in-class peer editing session, virtually any number of students can work together to create and edit their writing in real time using Google Docs accounts.

Expect an audience: As mentioned above, students in the past expected their written work to be read or heard by their teacher and perhaps some classmates. Writing that is posted online, however, can reach a potentially global audience – but that audience must be earned. Students must be taught not only how to hook that potential audience but also to be thoughtful about what they choose to post online in light of that audience. Teaching students to be digital citizens who carefully consider the digital footprint they are creating is essential.

Digital writing is truly a separate skill that must be taught to students, distinct from offline writing. Students must be given frequent access to technology as well as specific digital writing instruction to ensure that they become proficient in writing for online audiences.

About the Author: Neven Jurkovic
Neven Jurkovic’s interest in teaching mathematics with technology developed while pursuing a Master of Science degree at Southwest Texas State University. Apart from publishing a number of papers on the application of artificial intelligence in elementary mathematics problem solving, Neven is the creator of Algebrator, a widely used math tutoring software. Currently, he lives in San Antonio, TX and is the CEO of Softmath:

Saturday, June 30, 2012

In The End, What Matters Most?

On June 29, 2012, I completed my final day as principal at Dibble Middle School.  As I packed the last book (What Great Principals Do differently: 15 Things That Matter Most by Dr. Todd Whitaker - It's always the first book on and the last book off my bookcase) I took out my phone for one last pic of my empty office.  I then embedded the pic in a tweet to my connected staff.  I immediately received many sincere and somewhat lugubrious responses. As I walked out the door for the last time, I wondered to myself: Did I make a big enough difference?  Will everything we worked so hard to put into place continue and improve?

At exactly 11:25 p.m., I received a tweet from one of my teachers, @MrsBeck25, who had altered and enhanced the picture that I had previously tweeted out.  To me, this picture says it all.

This photo will now be framed and represent the 16th thing that matters most:  
Instilling In Others, A Passion To Progress Forward

Thank you Mrs. Beck