Isn’t it time for an elementary TOY, Maryland?

According to, there are 1,424 public schools in the state of Maryland.  More than half (866/60%) of those schools are elementary level.  With a little investigating at one can discover that there are 33,000 elementary teachers (K-5) in Maryland and 24,544 secondary teachers.

The question I have is, if there are nearly ten thousand more elementary teachers in Maryland than secondary teachers, why has there only been one elementary level Maryland Teacher of the Year in the last eleven years?  This puzzling pattern is not just a state issue, but a local district issue as well.  I can’t remember the last time an elementary teacher won the county teacher of the year award in my district.

I am not suggesting that there is some kind of nefarious plot against elementary teachers, but there may be something as deeply disturbing afoot.  Have elementary teachers become the Rodney Dangerfield’s of education?  Is there a lack of respect for what elementary teachers do?  Are secondary teachers selected more often because they tend to specialize in specific content areas?  I have more questions than answers, but I am hoping that respect is not the reason.

I have great admiration for what middle and high school teachers accomplish every year.  They make an impact on the lives of students that often determines the direction they will take as young adults.  Yet, no one can tell me that their accomplishments are more meaningful or important than what elementary teachers do.

I get the sense that the people who sit on these selection committees think elementary teachers spend their days wiping noses and tying shoes.  While our teachers do those things gladly, they also provide innovative instruction in science, technology, reading, math and many other areas.  Elementary teachers form the foundation that middle schools and high schools build on.  Without that foundation, our educational system would crumble.

I am hopeful that selection committees across Maryland (and other states) will be diligent in evaluating candidates fairly.  Fairness starts with giving equal weight to the level that candidates represent.  Being a middle or high school teacher should not give one an advantage over elementary level candidates.  Perhaps members of the selection committees should spend a little time in an elementary school.  If they are brave enough to, it won’t be long before this conspicuous disparity is rectified.

The Supportive Role of Pupil Personnel Workers

One of my favorite educators, Debbie Wooleyhand, is guest hosting #mdeschat this Thursday.  I interviewed her from the other end of our couch to find out more about the role of pupil personnel workers.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a wife and mother of two children, one in college @LukeWooleyhand and one a senior in high school (not into social media).  I have worked in the same school system for 32 years and graduated high school from that same school system.  I started as a kindergarten teacher and worked in various positions leading me to the position of coordinator of pupil personnel.  The one constant throughout my career has been my passion to support families to ensure student success, especially our youngest learners.

As coordinator for pupil personnel services in a large school district, what is your mission and vision related to supporting schools?

The vision of the department of pupil personnel is to promote safety, equity, and academic achievement by building bridges between the home, the school and the community.

Our mission is to motivate, prepare and empower all students to become successful, contributing citizens.

What are the key skills pupil personnel workers need today?

Pupil personnel workers (PPW) serve a unique role. They are social workers and truant officers.Given the challenges many families face, PPWs must be able to collaborate with school leaders, agencies, institutions and parents because student needs must be met by the home, school and community.  Key abilities of PPWs include effective interpersonal communication skills, as well as knowledge of federal, state, and local policies and procedures.  PPWs must conscientiously fulfill professional commitments made to students, parents, school staff, and other colleagues and exhibit values that support the achievement of all students.

How do pupil personnel workers address students and families with attendance concerns?

PPWs serve as members of a school-based team that discusses various student issues including attendance.  While schools take a proactive approach to attendance concerns, the PPW becomes involved when the school has exhausted options.  PPWs typically conference with the student and parent to identify causes of excessive absences.  We can refer cases to the State’s Attorney’s Office and/or the Department of Juvenile Services.  We work with school staff to identify the root causes of excessive absences and put a plan in place to encourage daily attendance.  Ultimately, the PPW can file criminal charges against parents for failure to send their child(ren) to school.

What are some of the responsibilities that fall under your office?

The Office of Pupil Personnel processes special enrollments involving custody issues such as kinship or hardship, which is when a child is living with someone other than a parent or legal guardian.  We also address attendance concerns, handle residency investigations, enroll students experiencing homelessness, facilitate section 504 services, and process out-of-area transfer requests.

How do you see the role of pupil personnel worker changing in the future?

Currently, PPWs are assigned to specific schools. Given the increasing complexity of student enrollment and mobility of families, we are moving toward a team approach in which PPWs are assigned to a group of schools instead of specific schools.  For example, a cluster of schools made up of a high school, 2 middle schools and 6-8 elementary schools would be able to access a team of PPWs to assist with residency, custody, attendance and homeless enrollment. By working as a team, schools will have access to a group of individuals with a set of skills and knowledge of the families.  This should greatly increase their ability to step in and provide assistance.

Thanks, Debbie, your vision for pupil personnel services should mean great things for our schools!

Why Should Educators Blog?

I began blogging a year ago today. This is my 70th post in a calendar year. I was never the type to keep a journal. When I was eleven years old I was given a diary for Christmas from my mother. I dutifully wrote in that diary for six weeks, then my entries trailed off to nothing. Maybe it’s a guy thing. We’re just not a reflective gender. Nevertheless, I started writing Common Sense School Leadership on October 7, 2013.

For me, Twitter was the “gateway” from micro-blogging to full blown blogging. The connections and conversations I had with educators across the globe motivated me to better understand the issues that connect us all. Twitter helped me find my voice. It is a great venue for trying out ideas with an audience that is generally supportive and interested in a meaningful dialogue.

There are thousands of blogs out there. Mine is nothing special. So, why bother? Why spend the time writing about issues in education? Here are three reasons you might want to consider blogging:

1. To grow

Blogging makes you think deeply about your views and beliefs. Who knows how many people will read your blog? While we may hope that others find our musings at least minimally interesting, our growth comes through the writing process. The more you write about topics that you are passionate about, the more you understand yourself.

2. To connect with others

The opportunities to connect with colleagues are often limited by our schedules. How often do you have time to discuss important educational issues with others? Blogging (and reading others’ blogs) expands your learning circle. When you share your blog with others, you meet people from all over the world. The only thing you have to do is dedicate your time, energy, and willingness to the process.

3. To learn

The concept of professional learning is being redefined. It’s no longer about attending an “event.” Blogging cuts out the middle man. It gives you direct access to innovative thinkers and doers. You no longer have to wait for someone’s book to come out or for a great speaker to present at your favorite annual conference. Many blogs focus on the practical aspects of our profession. This means that you can get tips, suggestions, and ideas in real time, when you need them- no waiting necessary.

So, what’s keeping you from blogging? Not enough time? That’s the one thing no one can give you more of. Blogging can be done any time of the day. You just have to decide it’s worth it. You have value. You have great ideas. We need to hear them. Give it a try!

Six Tips for Growing Good Readers

I wrote following article for Forest of the Rain Productions this week (

In 2000, the National Reading Panel issued a report that served as the basis for reading instruction across the United States.  Many NCLB initiatives used the Panel’s report to justify a very narrow definition of reading instruction.  Their findings suggested that the best approaches to reading incorporate:

  • Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness
  • Systematic phonics instruction
  • Methods to improve fluency
  • Ways to enhance comprehension

Fourteen years later, as we prepare for the Common Core era, schools are hopefully shifting their focus to a broader and more comprehensive view of reading instruction.  Something significant has been lost with recent school reform efforts.  The creation of formulaic reading programs has moved schools away from fostering a lovefor learning in their students.

Before you can interest a child in unlocking the sounds associated with letters, you must at least light a candle of interest.  If you want children to become fluent readers who also comprehend, then show them how reading unlocks the world.  Schools wishing to elevate student success should encourage parents and teachers to consider the following tips on growing good readers:

1.      Talk to them

Vocabulary development and reading skills are linked processes.  The more you read, the better your vocabulary, the more you engage in conversation, the better you’ll be able to read.  Busy parents must take the time to talk with their children about a range of subjects.  Teachers must give their students opportunities to talk with their classmates.  While we can all appreciate the value of peace and quiet, our children will become better readers from ample opportunities to talk.

2.      Read to them

Oral comprehension supports the growth of independent reading skills.  Parents of young children should be reading to them every night.  Teachers should build read-alouds and books on tape into their daily instruction.  Older students also benefit from listening to others read.  You can turn the table on them by having students record themselves for others to listen to.

3.      Model good reading

Children tend to value what the adults in their lives show enthusiasm for.  If you want your child to be a reader, you have to model it.  Talk to them about the books you are reading.  Share your excitement about your favorite genre.  Have a quiet reading time in your home or classroom where everyone is reading at the same time.  Involve the extended family in sharing their reading interests.  Invite guest readers to the classroom to share their love for reading.

4.      Ask Questions

Questioning is the starting point for reading comprehension.  Good readers are constantly asking questions as they read.  Young readers should be encouraged to share what they are thinking as they are reading.  Reinforce questioning before, during, and after reading.  As children improve their questioning skills, raise the level from explicit to implicit questioning.

5.      Take them places

Background knowledge is vital for growing good readers.  Every trip a parent takes their child on, no matter how long or short, should involve literacy moments.  Trips to the store, to the park, or to the gas station can all provide teachable moments for parents.  Point out signs, letters, and numbers as you travel.  Have your child help you with the grocery list.  They can “read” it to you as you shop.  Children need to see the connection between reading and the real world.  The more background knowledge a child has, the better prepared they’ll be when the demands of reading get harder.

6.      Go to the library

You can never expose a child to too many books.  Our public libraries are tremendous resources for parents and teachers.  Many have very liberal policies when it comes to checking books out.  Your local library probably sponsors a summer reading program and many offer homework help for school-aged children.  In hard economic times, public libraries offer parents affordable and often free resources for growing young readers.

Good readers become great readers through a process that is part art and part science.  While phonemic awareness and phonics should be components of good reading instruction, we must remember to build a love for reading in our students.  A love for reading blooms in students who are exposed to a variety of literature using methods that actively engage them.

Let’s think of it this way:  the stem, leaf, roots, and flower are the phonics/phonemics of reading, the love for reading comes from the soil, sun, and water we supply.  If we provide the best of both for our students, they will surely become lifelong readers.