Monday, July 25, 2011

Picasso's Masterpiece - A True Story

Mrs. Jackson... someone stole three of my crayons!,” echoed across the room. Quickly, I raised the lid to my pack of 24. That's right, no silver, no gold, no cool sharpener, only the classic 24. In disbelief, I shouted, “Mrs. Jackson, I'm missing four crayons.”  I mean, this was first grade. We haven't even learned how to steal, I thought to myself.

The next day, other classmates alleged the same crime. “I'm missing 3 crayons.” “I'm missing 4.” “Someone stole my favorite color, sky blue.” These phrases permeated the room. This time, Mrs. Jackson had all students take out everything in their desk. She was determined to find the culprit. What she discovered was that students who had their crayons in a plastic container, had no crayons missing. What could this mean?

This continued for two more days as Mrs. Jackson would begin each day by saying, “Everyone check to see if anyone is missing any crayons.” My classic 24 was now a lonely dozen. Thirteen if you count my white crayon. (Who really needs a white crayon anyway. It has absolutely no use whatsoever.) Suddenly, the answer to this riddle revealed itself. Two small teeth marks glared back at me. “Mrs. Jackson, come and look at my crayon box...HURRY!”

By the sound of the last bell, I had placed my remaining crayons in my backpack along with a note from Mrs. Jackson introducing our parents to our new crafty friend, the pack rat. The letter also encouraged students to bring a plastic container for our crayons.

The next day, Mrs. Jackson allowed all students to collaborate together to figure the total number of crayons this pak rat had confiscated each day. She then created an authentic story problem on the board. “If Picasso the Pak rat, took 53 crayons on Monday, 38 crayons on Tuesday, 62 crayons on Wednesday, 41 crayons on Thursday, and 20 crayons on Friday, how many total crayons did Picasso take? Yes, that's right, 214 crayons

To this day, you can ask any student from room 103, “How many crayons did Picasso take?”, and the response will undoubtedly be, 214. 

Within only a few days, a huge trap did it's job. Just inside the ceiling tile above my head, a huge nest the size of a pumpkin was discovered.  This magnificent nest was filled with shades of blues, greens, purples, reds, and yellows.  Crayons, 214 to be exact,were interwoven into a brilliant masterpiece! This was the week I learned to add double digit numbers.  More importantly, this was the week I learned to love math.

Thanks @thenerdyteacher, for the tweet heard 'round the world.  #schooldidagoodthing
Photo by Jason Liebig 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Transformation Dare


As the new school year nears, I have been thinking a lot about how to move any teacher beyond complacency, beyond mediocrity, and toward motivation and the desire for excellence. To do this, it will take competence, dedication, and the courage to speak about hard truths along with sustained efforts to improve when the going gets rough. It will also take the knowledge of a strong PLN.

Many of us are familiar with the movie Fireproof and the book, The Love Dare. What if we were to dedicate 40 days to a teacher? Could we move a teacher from good to great? We all know great teachers make great schools. Would you be willing to perform a simple act a day, to rescue a teacher?  

Now, here is where a strong PLN comes into play! For this to work, we need to develop 40 purposeful acts to be carried out by the principal that will ensure effective growth in teacher effectiveness. Some acts may require 45 minutes, others maybe only 5 minutes.  However, each act must serve a purpose.  For instance: Videotape the teacher for fifteen minutes during the instructional delivery. Together, watch the videotape and allow the teacher to analyze the dynamics in the classroom and to accurately diagnose weak areas while together, creating a road map for improvement. (This might be Day 16)  

I would like to start my first hash tag #TheTransformationDare  

I think it would be great if teachers and principals alike, respond with purposeful, authentic ideas that will provide valuable feedback to improve teacher effectiveness. I look forward to arranging and sharing your top 40 ideas on how a principal can lead and transform a teacher from good-to-great.  I think we all agree feedback one time a year is not enough.

Please Contribute

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Technology: The New Non-Negotiable

It's time for a new approach. For over a decade now we have been focused on the same expectations: Principals Must Model Technology or Teachers Need Extensive Training In Technology Integration...etc. Every day I read terrific posts such as All Principals Should Be Tech Savvy, by Lyn Hilt or Isn't Being Tech Savvy Just Part Of Our Job by Patrick Larkin or This Is Not An Option Anymore by George Couros. It's time for instructional leaders to create discomfort and stretch our teachers to their highest potential. This new approach begins with the principal.

It is not important that principals master the latest toys and gadgets as long as they become knowledgeable about the best ways to use these tools to enhance instruction. This is no longer the case! An effective principal must understand problems and difficulties that may arise and know how to quickly fix it. If you promote it, you must know, understand, and definitely have used it!

Principals need to Model! Model! Model! This is no longer enough! Principals must set specific expectations for technology integration along with an action plan. Principals, as instructional leaders, must be present in the classroom to provide hands-on support for teachers who are using a tool for the first time. It is important to eliminate any frustration and to ensure a pleasant experience so that the teacher will be more apt to use these tools more frequently.

Teachers must be offered extensive opportunities to learn how to employ technologies that will support student learning. For over a decade now, we have been providing much professional development in the area of technology integration in hopes teachers will get on board. Yet, many teachers still feel as if they have an option and choose not to change. The best way to learn is to take action. Put teachers in situations in which they must learn. Begin “Tech Tuesdays” in which different teachers lead sessions before or after school for 30 minutes. Create a blog or wiki to share best practices. Require teachers to submit and share at least two comments a week. The fact is, we can no longer attend professional development five days a year and cross our fingers and hope that each teacher will utilize technology.

What if we were to step into New Milford High School in New Jersey, you would probably leave inspired to initiate innovative tools in your instructional practice because of the effective leadership of Eric Sheninger.? He's doing more than modeling!

What if we were to head over to Plymouth North High School in Massachusetts. You would find Bill Burkhead following the latest technological trends and what sets his leadership apart from others is that he takes action by basing these trends on the schools' core values.

What if we headed down to North Carolina to check out the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. You will find Steven Anderson in action working and pushing teachers on how to harness the power of technology. He's not talking about it, he's showing them how!

And finally, with enough gas in the tank, let's make a quick stop over in Missouri to check out the Poplar Bluff Mules. There you will find Justin Tarte, a new, dynamic leader who already has created a formalized plan of action on how he will create a picture of what's possible with the use of technology.

It is time to do more than model! We must do more than talk about it! We must do more than give teachers extensive training! We must unleash our leadership skills and make technology non-negotiable! There are many examples as the one's I have mentioned, along with Lyn Hilt, Patrick Larkin, and George Couros, who are getting it done. It's not an option any longer because it's what's best for our students. Can you imagine a time when we must provide extensive technological training to our students so that they can stay up with our tech savvy teachers?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Give Me Your Very Best....Give Me More!

If I were to challenge you to give your very best to every student, could you do it? Would you accept this demanding challenge? Do your students deserve your very best? At the end of each day, how will you know if you gave it your absolute best? Well.......there really is know way to tell. Only you can really honestly answer this question. Sometimes it may seem like you think you did, but in reality you have more to give. More than you even know.
During this video clip, pretend you are the coach and the player is an unmotivated student in your class. Is failure an option in your class? Do you motivate through inspiration and create a picture of what's possible?

If you are a principal, pretend you are the coach and the player is a teacher. Do you push and demand teachers to give you more?  

If not........Why not?

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Easy Road Or The Hard Road

Recently I read an excellent blog post on Connected Principals submitted by Chris Wejr. Educators from around the globe added outstanding comments and I wanted to share some of my favorite It's Easy... It's More Difficult statements. I hope you will comment and add to this list.

It's Easy...
Posted by Chris Wejr

As educators, we are often faced with an opportunity to take the easy road or the hard road.  The easy road often works for us as parents, teachers, and administrators but it rarely works for kids.  The difficult road may be an immediate challenge and take much more time and effort but this is most often the road that leads to real learning.

It’s easy… to suspend or send a child home for misbehaving.  It’s more difficult to spend time WITH the child, actually listen to him/her, model and teach him/her the social skills needed to be successful in life.
It’s easy… to give a number or letter (grade) to a child as a way to mark or judge the work.  It’s more difficult to provide ongoing coaching, descriptive feedback and formative assessment that will improve the child’s learning.
It’s easy… to give a zero.  It’s more difficult to tell a child “I will not let you get a zero, I will continue to work with you to determine the reason you want to resort to taking a zero and then provide strategies to ensure you can demonstrate your learning”.
It’s easy… to give out tickets and bribes for good behaviour.  It’s more difficult to teach and model empathy, ethics, and care so that children are intrinsically motivated and will choose their actions because it is the good and right thing to do.
It’s easy… to kick a child out of class or place in a time out.  It’s more difficult to work with the child so that he/she feels cared for and actually learns the needed skills.
It’s easy… to keep your thoughts and opinions in your head.  It’s more difficult to share these with others through presentations, Twitter, blogs, wikis, and other forms of social media.
It’s easy… to close our door and teach our kids.  It’s more difficult to open the door, allow others to observe our class/school, reflect and collaborate with others, and receive input on how to improve our practice.
It’s easy… to give awards to top students.  It’s more difficult to seek out and recognize the gifts and passions of each student.
It’s easy… to place A and B students on an honour roll… it’s more difficult to honour each child for who they are.
It’s easy… to say NO.  It’s more difficult to say HOW CAN WE make this happen?
Sean Grainger added to the conversation:

It’s easy to… walk by trash in the hallways assuming the janitor or someone else will pick it up; harder to perceive every element of the school as “second home” to everyone who spends time there… to be mindful of every element and be as responsible for each as we expect others to be, including the physical environment
It’s easy to… wonder what’s going on in a kid’s head when we see a puzzled, distraught or distant expression; it’s so much harder to actually take the time to ask and do whatever we can to help mitigate the problem behind the expression
It’s easy to… know kids names; much harder to know their stories

Shawn Blankenship added to the conversation:

It’s easy to…. plan lesson by lesson. It’s more difficult to anticipate misconceptions that students are likely to have and plan how to overcome them.

It’s easy to…. plan lessons aimed primarily at entertaining students. It’s more difficult to design highly relevant lessons that will motivate all students and sweep them up in active learning.
It’s easy to…. cover the curriculum. It’s more difficult to relentlessly follow up with struggling students with personal attention to reach proficiency.
It’s easy to…. focus on teaching. It’s more difficult to focus on learning.
It’s easy to…. give a formative assessment. It’s more difficult to use the results to adjust and guide instructional decisions.
It’s easy to…. be the popular teacher. It’s more difficult to be the highly effective teacher students remember for a lifetime.
Bruce Palmer added to the conversation:

It is easy to listen and respond to active parents who have strong opinions on the issues that particularly effect their children. It is difficult to hear the voices of those students who do not have strong parent advocates.

Lyn Hilt added to the conversation:

It’s easy to hide in your office all day. It’s harder to step foot into a classroom when the meaningless tasks are piling up on your desk.

It’s easy to ignore a colleague who isn’t working to grow. It’s harder to approach the person and help them develop professionally.
It’s easy to work alone. It’s harder to collaborate.
It’s easy to read a post and not take the time to comment. It’s more difficult to compose your thoughts in response to someone else’s and start a conversation.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

QR Codes Can Add Mysterious Creativity

QR Codes can be an excellent way of directing students to content. With a quick click of a smartphone QR Code Reader app, you can reveal a hidden code instantly and experience a popular trend in the Japanese culture. How can we use this tool in the classroom? Check out the following assignment:  I encourage you to download a free QR Code Reader App and simply take a picture of the image.  You will instantly be directed to the appropriate article.

For this assignment, you will use the argumentative and rhetorical “tools” we have examined up to this point in class. Your task is to scan the QR Code displayed on the interactive board and analyze the structure of the argument. Once you have a good sense of how the argument is constructed and have determined whether that construction is or is not effective in making the argument, write an analysis of the argument. Remember, part of your task in writing this analysis isn’t just to show how the argument was constructed, but is to argue that your analysis is accurate and logical. Your task is not to argue with the argument, but to consider how that argument is made.

As we prepare to transition to Common Core State Standards, it is imperative our students learn and understand how to construct an effective argument. The QR Code in this assignment simply allows students easy access to the article and adds a little mysterious creativity to the lesson. Whether the code includes content from a book in the library, a YouTube video, a seminar room at a given time, or a fun scavenger hunt, students will be directed immediately with a quick pic on a smartphone.  What are some effective ways to use a QR Code in your classroom?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Do You Focus On Teaching Or Learning?

As the new school year approaches, do you begin with and remain focused on your textbook, your favorite lessons, and the same activities or projects from years gone by?  To put it in another way, do you focus on the teaching and not the learning?
Examine the following two lesson plans:
Lesson Plan (1)
Myth and Truth:  The "First Thanksgiving"
Students will complete a unit about Thanksgiving that is centered around the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. Students will read and discuss myths related to the Wampanoag Indians while creating a mural representing these myths. Students will complete a worksheet about five blessings in their life, prepare recipes from the first Thanksgiving, and construct and play a Native American game.

How many times do we see this type of activity in classrooms?  What is the learning goal? How will we know if the learning goal is accomplished?

Lesson Plan (2)
Myth and Truth: The “First Thanksgiving”
By exploring myths surrounding the Wampanoag, the pilgrims, and the “first Thanksgiving,” this lesson asks students to think critically about commonly believed myths regarding the Wampanoag Indians in colonial America. Students will begin by considering the difference between myth and historical truth by reading “Of Plymouth Plantation” by William Bradford. They will then, in a full-class discussion, reflect on common myths related to the first Thanksgiving. By using a “myth-breaking” process, groups of students will further explore one myth commonly believed about the Wampanoag and the pilgrim settlers. Finally, students will share their findings while providing evidence during group presentations.
What is the learning goal of lesson 2?  How will we know if the learning goal is mastered by every student?
Do Learning Goals Really Matter?
Visible teaching and learning occurs when learning is the explicit goal, when it is appropriately challenging, when the teacher and the student both…seek to ascertain whether and to what degree the challenging goal is attained, when there is deliberate practice aimed at attaining mastery of the goal, when there is feedback given and sought, and when there are active, passionate, and engaging people…participating in the act of learning.”  --Hattie, 2009, p. 22

"It is important when we plan, to keep the learning goal at the center of it all!" - Shawn Blankenship