Meet the #mdeschat Moderators- Greg Richards

gregrichardsGreg Richards has participated in many Maryland Elementary School Chats over the past few years.  He often shares pearls of wisdom from his years in teaching and is quick to acknowledge the contributions of others.  Greg is a great addition to the #mdeschat team.

Greg is entering his 11th year teaching and his 14th in the public school setting.  For thirteen of the last fourteen years, Greg has worked for the Prince George’s County Public Schools system.  He graduated from PGCPS in 1998 and considers it a privilege to work for such a wonderful school system.

Greg has taught every grade from pre-k to fourth, except third grade.  This school year he is teaching kindergarten.  Greg is passionate about education, the thirst for knowledge, the pursuit of learning and growth, and inspiring young people to be the best that they can be.  He has served as grade-level chairperson in the past and enjoys opportunities for leadership and growth.

Greg is constantly seeking opportunities to give back to the profession as a way of honoring the many teachers he has had the privilege of learning from.  Faith is important to Greg.  He serves as the chairperson of the Christian Education team at his church and is big on collaboration and the growth mindset.  Greg is excited to be a part of the #mdeschat team this year!

Join Greg and the other #mdeschat crew members every Thursday at 8PM EST!

Meet the #mdeschat Moderators- Bonita Bradway

imageBonita Bradway has served as a guest #mdeschat moderator in the past and joins our team this year on a regular basis.  Her blog, Learning Wholeheartedly, is a great resource for elementary teachers.

Bonita is a fourth year teacher at Tyler Heights Elementary in Annapolis, Maryland.  She grew up in South Africa and after studying computer programming for a year, took some time off and moved to the USA in 2006 to become a nanny. During the last 4 years of nannying, she earned her Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Phoenix.

Bonita is a passionate teacher who enjoys being in the classroom and learning with her students every day. Last year, she became the PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports) coach, and also accepted the opportunity to become the chairperson of the Professional Learning Committee at her school.  The committee allows her to learn with and inspire other teachers who are passionate about growing professionally.  She also spends time connecting with teachers from around the world on Periscope and other social media platforms.

Bonita is inspired by innovative teachers across the country – such as Ron Clark and Kim Bearden. She is always searching for new and exciting ways to make learning fun for her students, and to share positivity and professional learning with other teachers. She is looking forward to her third year as a fourth grade teacher and is very excited to connect and learn with teachers through the #mdeschat forum.

Join Bonita and our other #mdeschat moderators every Thursday at 8PM EST!

Meet the #mdeschat Moderators- Walter Reap

walt

Walter Reap returns for his fourth year as a #mdeschat moderator.  He is a past recipient of the Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Award.  He has served as a principal at Germantown Elementary in Anne Arundel County and Edward M. Felegy Elementary in Prince George’s County.  He recently accepted a position as principal at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Baltimore City.

Walt is a deep thinker who is constantly reflecting on his leadership practices.  His TedXAshburn talk is a “must view” for those who share his passion for discussing “intellectual speedbumps.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koXw_3I5GCo

Walt’s leadership approach is strategic, learner-centered, and deliberative.  He is excited to learn, lead, read, share, think, and dialogue around all topics with all people who are open to diverse perspectives.  Walt has worked in a range of educational settings from rural to urban areas.  He loves the city and its complexities!

Walt is eager to learn and grow around topics like culture, transformation, impact/sphere of influence, technology and digital media.  Walt is on a quest for the essential components of instructional alchemy and the quintessential skills to improve educator efficacy!  He is quiet, but not shy; simple, yet complex!

Join Walt and our other moderators every Thursday at 8PM EST!

Meet the #mdeschat Moderators- Evylyn Quiñones

evylyn

Evylyn Quiñones is a versatile and experienced education leader who will surely add to the depth of our discussions this year.  We look forward to her contributions.

Evylyn, born and raised in Puerto Rico, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico.  Started her career as a first grade teacher and, after 9 years of experience, was hired in 2005 by Prince George’s County to teach ESOL at Cool Spring Elementary.  In 2011, Evylyn transferred to César Chávez Dual Spanish Immersion School and earned a Master’s degree in Instructional Design and Technology. She has performed the duties of Testing and STEM Coordinator as well as teacher-in-charge.

For the past 11 years, Evylyn has been part of PGCPS Title I Technology Training Team and, as an Apple Foundation Trainer, she has facilitated several workshops and conferences.  Her commitment is to inspire and facilitate ways in which teachers can evolve from using technology to integrating technology in instruction.  In 2015, she earned a Master’s degree in Educational Administration.

Currently, Evylyn serves as an assistant principal at Phyllis E. Williams Spanish Immersion School.  It is her goal to continue to share her experiences with other teachers and inspire them as they develop the necessary 21st century skills of our future global citizens.

Join #mdeschat every Thursday at 8:00PM EST!

Meet the #mdeschat Moderators- Rian Reed

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Our #mdeschat crew has grown this year.  Over the coming weeks, we’ll be introducing them to our awesome PLN.  First up, Rian Reed (@missreed), who has served as a guest moderator in the past and has an extensive social media presence.

A native of Penllyn, Pennsylvania, Rian graduated from Millersville University with a dual Certification in elementary education and special education. Her passion in education stems from overcoming her own academic struggles. Having been educated by amazing teachers from the Wissahickon School District, she chose to live her life giving back to the community by being an advocate for a quality education for all students.

Rian has taught in a variety of settings including self-contained classrooms and co-taught classrooms in grades 2 through 8. She also has experience teaching in the Extended School Year program and has coordinated summer enrichment programs for middle school students.

Rian has a strong history of advocacy for Civil Rights.  As the past president of the NAACP Youth and College Division of the State of Pennsylvania, she was able to help in re-chartering four new youth and college division chapters.  She also led several voter registration drives and continues to speak out for the needs of children and education. Her gift of writing and passion for the well-being of humanity led to an opportunity to address the 8,000 attendees at her own college graduation in 2011.

Currently, Rian is pursuing National Board Teaching Certification and an Executive MBA. She will continue to stretch herself by teaching AVID this school year for the Prince George’s County Public School system.  For Rian, being a member of the #mdeschat crew is an example of her dedication to growth and collaboration as she continues to provide the best for the students she teaches on a daily basis.

Join us for #mdeschat every Thursday, 8PM EST!

 

Who’s got it better than us?

John Harbaugh, coach of the Baltimore Ravens and his brother, Jim Harbaugh, coach at the University of Michigan, have often used the quote above to motivate their players.  The quote was passed down to them by their father Jack, a life-long college football coach.  The words are a simple reminder to appreciate the best things in life.  They encourage us to be grateful for all that we have.

After 30 years in education, there is still nothing more exciting to me than the start of a new school year.  The sense of renewal and professional rebirth is palpable.  New teachers arrived in our building today to prepare for the students who will be here in two weeks.  They are so excited and energetic.  Their passion is contagious.  Our veteran teachers have been trickling in, too.  While tempered with wisdom and experience, their enthusiasm is equally strong.

The school year is long.  Challenges can come from every direction, but in August everything is possible.  New teachers can launch fulfilling, long-lasting careers.  Veteran teachers can re-invent themselves.  In education, we get to start anew every year.  This phenomenon seems unique to the field of education.  How many careers have renewal built into their calendars? Who’s got it better than us?

Before we launch into the new school year, let’s take a moment to reflect on how special our field is.  We get to play a small part in the lives of children.  That small part can lead to great things.  We should never take for granted just how far our reach goes.  What we do matters and it matters every day.  What tremendous opportunities we will have this year!  The staff is preparing.  The students are coming. Who’s got it better than us?

 

 

What is test prep?

This time of the year can be challenging for teachers and school leaders.  For many schools, state testing has either begun or is about to start.  On Thursday, Maryland Elementary School Chat (#mdeschat) discussed the topic of test prep.  The responses from those participating in the chat are worth sharing and may provide some comfort and clarity to those of us preparing students for upcoming state assessments.

What is test prep?

“Test prep can be a wide range of things from interaction with the test format to building intrinsic motivation for success.” –Greg Richards @jazzmeister2013

“Test prep is the good daily teaching/learning that takes place.  It’s intentional and specific to what students need to be successful.” –Walter Reap @WalterReap

“The best test prep is meaningful content created by teachers.” –Ken Willers @21stCenPrinKW

“Test prep is embedded in daily, sound, rigorous instruction.” –Helen Mateosky @HelenMateosky

What are the challenges of preparing students for state assessments?

“For ELL students, background knowledge and vocabulary development provide challenges.” –LaRae Whitely @LaRaeWhitely

“Challenges arise when technology is used to show evidence of learning.  This holds true for many students who lack daily access.” –Helen Mateosky

“Building teacher capacity for instruction in order to exceed the rigor.” –Vanessa Gilbert @vanlynn75

More thoughts on test prep:

“Test prep shouldn’t be singular in focus.  Understanding technology, format, and content is important, but assessment should support instruction.  Instruction shouldn’t be tailored strictly to the test.” –Greg Richards

“Test prep should be about preparing students to think critically and apply skills when interacting with unfamiliar content.” –Walter Reap

“Format is important for our kids’ success, but more important is the daily teaching and learning that should be the core of our work.” –Helen Mateosky

“I would like to see the term “test prep” used less.  Students often think learning stops for test practice.” –Andrea Zamora @AACPS_Zamora

“Test prep = discussing problems with students and talking through how you would solve problems together, not practice testing.” –Randy Aleshevich @raleshevich

These words of wisdom from an awesome PLN remind us that strong instruction is the best test prep that we can provide.  Teachers who know their students, analyze data, and make instructional changes on a daily basis offer their students the best chance at success.

The Strength of Character Education

This article, co-authored with Donna Usewick, appears in the Jan/Feb edition of Principal magazine, all rights reserved.

The relationship between character and learning is supported through years of educational research. Benefits include improved problem-solving skills, academic achievement, and school behavior. While there are numerous character education programs that school leaders may select for their schools, here are five foundational principles that should be in place before adopting character education as a whole-school model.

  1. Strong Leadership. Schools seeking to adopt character education practices need principals who are willing to fully invest themselves in the process. Principals can model their support for the initiative by holding schoolwide assemblies as well as through positive interactions with students. Best practice supports establishing a separate committee that is solely dedicated to character education. The principal should be an integral member of character education initiatives, but should not necessarily be the primary leader. Character education should be a shared commitment and staff need to have input and decision-making powers.
  2. Strong Principles. Schools that are committed to capitalizing on the benefits of character education can begin by selecting a few key principles to focus on. The principles should be chosen based on the needs of the school through the use of academic/behavioral data, parent/staff surveys, and most certainly the current school improvement plan. Once a school has firmly established a few practices, others can be added as needed.To further illustrate, if a school decides to focus on creating a caring community, it will need input from the staff regarding what a caring community looks and sounds like. They may brainstorm ideas, such as teachers greeting all students at the classroom door, providing mentors for needy students, a student buddy system pairing younger students with older ones, holding a new student orientation, and ensuring that the basic needs (materials, clothing etc.) of all students are met.
  3. Strong Character Traits. Determining the key traits to focus on as a school—patience, perseverance, kindness, and confidence, for example—is next step in building a foundation for character education. Schools can purchase curricula that contain pre-selected traits with guidelines on how to present them to students, or they can develop their own program to meet their needs. Focusing on one trait per month is a good practice. Schools can decide how to introduce and reinforce these traits, so that they become meaningful and purposeful for each student.
  4. Strong Connections to the Community. The process of integrating character education is not limited to the schoolhouse. Many of the initiatives that a school may want to implement require giving back to the outside community or the development of a service learning component. Such service could include food drives or accepting donations for a local animal shelter. Every community is different, so needs will vary. Schools need to become familiar with their surroundings and align their charitable work with one of their chosen character traits.
  5. Strong Evaluation. Once a school has made the commitment to infuse character education, it must evaluate the effort. The school should consider reserving one of their end-of-year meetings to examine the principles it has chosen and to determine which aspects have been successful and where things need to be tweaked based on clear goals. This can be accomplished through student and staff surveys as well as behavioral and academic data. For example, if the core character education principle revolves around the school community promoting ethical values, you should interview teachers to find out if they are observing those traits in the classroom. If the school has a way of tracking and positively reinforcing the traits, the committee will need to determine whether this is happening often enough or if the system needs to be adjusted. Any adjustment to the plan needs to be clearly defined to the staff first and then the student body.

Strong Results

Creating a positive school culture through character education is an on-going process that is ever-changing based on the academic and social needs of students. Hard work and determination are the key factors. Ultimately, it’s all worth it when you enter a school of character and observe a climate where students and staff are kind to one another and value their school community. These are schools where students are truly invested in the learning process.

Let’s make soup!

Thursday, February 4th is National Homemade Soup Day.  To celebrate, three members of the #mdeschat PLN shared what “ingredients” make a school great.  They offer the following food for thought, which is best digested with a nice bowl of homemade soup, you decide what kind!

“I’d say the three most important ingredients that will determine if a school is great are people, relationships, and mindset.  A great school doesn’t ever reach “greatness.” The stakeholders have a growth mindset and are always looking for ways to improve and adjust their contributions to improve the school. The journey to greatness is never complete.  You need people who are working to improve themselves, each other, and to teach the students a growth mindset. This includes all stakeholders, not just school staff.  The relationships between people is what will facilitate the school stakeholders in being able to learn and grow from each other. Basically, a great school is one that is better tomorrow than it was today.” Michael Donnelly, @mrdonnelly3, 6th GradeTeacher, Monarch Global Academy                   

“I think there are a lot of components that make a school great, but the number one “ingredient” is the ability to take feedback in all aspects and create change.  Feedback from students, parents and teachers.  Teachers accepting feedback from administration, parents and students.  Administrators taking feedback from students, parents and teachers and making changes.  Accepting feedback to make positive changes leads to a positive school culture where everyone feels like they have a voice in their child’s education which ultimately leads to student success.”-Ginger Henley, @miss_gingerann, Principal, Crofton Elementary

“Ingredients needed to make a school great: a great leader, fearless teachers, support, and creative freedom.  I think that a great leader is someone with a clear vision and the ability to both support and push staff members towards, not only that vision, but also reaching their full creative and professional potentials. To make a school great, teachers need to be fearless. They need to be willing to try new things (and possibly fail), take risks, and push themselves out of their comfort zones. Teachers will only be able to do this with a leader who will stand up for his/her teachers when necessary, otherwise there is so much extra “stuff” that will hold a school back from being exceptional. There needs to be out-of-the-box thinking, learning, and teaching happening to make a school great, and there needs to be a certain level of creative freedom in order for that to occur.” -Bonita Bradway, @boncheri86, 4th Grade Teacher, Tyler Heights Elementary

Wow, great advice from three exceptional educators!  Thanks to Mike, Ginger, and Bonita for sharing their “recipes” for school success.  Do you have any advice or thoughts on what successful schools do, or should do?  Add your ideas in the comment section below to keep the conversation going!

Pulling the Goat

After graduating from college in 1987, I served in the Peace Corps for two years.  I was assigned to the tiny island nation of St. Kitts/Nevis in the West Indies.  The islands in the Caribbean are beautiful, but the economies struggle due the challenges of maintaining industry and tourism structures.

The people in the West Indies were very accepting of Americans, although many of them thought that we were all just like the people on the TV show Dallas.  It was a life-changing experience for me.  In many ways it put me on a path that has taken me to where I am today.

When I arrived on the island, I immediately began doing the things people associate with the romantic vision of Peace Corps service.  I bought two chickens so that I would have eggs.  Neither bird ever laid an egg.  I eventually ate them both.  I also bought a goat with idea that it would keep the grass around my house trimmed.  Of course, it didn’t like the grass in my yard, so I had to walk it a half mile down the road every morning to a nice patch of grass that it preferred.

Walking the goat every morning taught me some important lessons.  I don’t know if every goat is the same, but mine didn’t like to be led or pulled.  He wanted to go in front and resisted every effort to be pulled in a direction that I wanted to go.  I eventually relented and usually got where I wanted to go a little faster with the goat leading.

That lesson has stayed with me for a long time and is a fitting analogy for the state of education today.  National and state initiatives treat educators much like I treated the goat.  Federal and state officials want to be out in front pulling the obstinate education reform goat along their own preferred path.  What they don’t seem to understand is that the goat has its own idea of where it should go.

Everyone outside the walls of the American schoolhouse seems to have a million ideas on how to improve education.  Everyone is an expert because they have all been to school. What would happen if state, federal, and district officials allowed teachers and principals to lead the school reform efforts in America?  What would happen if they let the goat lead?

I imagine if teachers and principals were allowed more autonomy they would be able to address the specific needs of their students without the burden of implementing one-size-fits-all curricula and programs.  There would be less testing and more relationship building.  Teachers would spend more time teaching and using formative data to revise their instruction.  Instructional changes would happen in a timely manner and students would make greater progress.

The ESSA signed in December is a start in the right direction.  It gives states back more control over reform efforts, although the carrot and stick funding formulas still exist.  Maybe states will begin asking for the opinions of teachers and school leaders.  Maybe local districts will consider letting the goat lead.  That wouldn’t be a baaaaad thing, would it?