Meet the #mdeschat Moderators- Rian Reed

rian

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?

Turning a Cruise Ship

President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) on December 10, 2015.  According to the government’s webpage, the reauthorization of NCLB represents “good news for our nation’s schools.”

The bipartisan law proclaims to:

  • Advance equity by upholding critical protections for disadvantaged and high-need students.
  • Require—for the first time—that all students in America be taught to high academic standards that will prepare them to succeed in college and careers.
  • Ensure that vital information is provided to educators, families, students, and communities through annual statewide assessments that measure students’ progress toward those high standards.
  • Help support and grow local innovations—including evidence-based and place-based interventions developed by local leaders and educators.
  • Sustain and expand historic investments in increasing access to high-quality preschool.
  • Maintain accountability and action to effect positive change in our lowest-performing schools.

Edweek recently noted that ESSA will continue to hold states accountable to the Education Department.  States will have to submit accountability plans starting in the 2017-18 school year.  States will be allowed to pick their own accountability goals, both long-term goals and smaller, interim goals. These goals must address proficiency on tests, English-language proficiency, and graduation rates.  Interestingly, states will no longer have to do teacher evaluation through student outcomes as they did under NCLB waivers.

What does all of this mean for teachers and school administrators?  It means that they go to work tomorrow and the next day knowing that change is coming, but also knowing that the implications of ESSA will take a while to be seen.  Fortunately, most of us won’t be sitting around waiting for direction.  We will continue to work passionately and persistently for all students.

Watching education reform lead to measurable change is like watching a cruise ship turn.  The average cruise ship speeds across the ocean at around 27 miles per hour.  At an average weight of over 150,000 gross tons, it can take a long time to turn one around.  It’s a maneuver that requires the collaboration and teamwork of many people.  From the captain on the bridge to the mechanics in the engine room, everyone needs to do their job.

ESSA holds the promise of great things for our children.  Much like ESEA in 1965, NCLB in 2002, and Obama’s Race to the Top initiatives, ESSA has the potential to make a difference for American students.  Whether that potential is realized depends on a “crew” of politicians and education officials working together to turn the education reform ship in the right direction.  As 2016 begins, let’s watch and remain hopeful that the journey and destination will be worth the wait.

Views on Literacy Instruction from the Field

There are many experts on literacy, but sometimes it’s nice to hear from people who live it and breathe it every day.  Members of my PLN were asked to share their views on what should be seen and heard in a literacy focused classroom.  Here is what they said:

“What do I want to see children doing during the literacy block? Reading and writing! As much as possible, children should be digging into books, discussing them with each other, and writing about those books. The teacher should be the “guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.” In other words, teachers should slip in to offer guidance and support, then slip away to let the kids work.” -Beth Burke, principal, Shipley’s Choice Elementary

“We are focusing on “talk moves” here in PGCPS.  I love the concept of teachers explicitly teaching students through the use of anchor charts and modeling (out loud). They use turn and talk, think/pair/share, collaborative conversation protocols, pair and square talk, and an accountable talk protocol.  Students should be re-voicing, repeating, and reasoning.  All of these can take place throughout the day and across content areas!” -Walter Reap, principal, Edward M. Felegy Elementary

“I want to SEE students working on meaningful activities that correspond to the standards being taught during guided reading.  I want to HEAR students working cooperatively in some of those literacy groups to help create an engaging learning environment.  I want to HEAR students whisper reading and teachers listening to determine how to assist them become better readers.  I want to SEE teachers facilitating discussion through higher-level questioning and engaging students through purposeful talk.” -Jeff Haynie, principal, Solley Elementary

“I love to quote my reading teacher:  guided reading is learning to read, close reading is reading to learn.  It is important that teachers know the difference and the components and strategies for both.” -Donna Usewick, principal, Oakwood Elementary

“I want to SEE & HEAR children reading independently chosen books (after being provided with a lesson on how to pick a book that best fits their needs as a reader and a learner).  I want to see and hear children discussing books – sharing what they love about books and debating around books that they have shared, perhaps during guided reading lessons with the teacher.  I want to see and hear students applying whatever strategy or goal they were given based on a previous conference with the teacher.  Most importantly, children should be enjoying whatever interaction they are having with a text… whether it is reading, a response to what they’ve read, a project based on something they’ve read, or if they are applying a strategy they have learned – it should be engaging, to foster that love of reading and learning.” -Bonita Bradway, teacher, Tyler Heights Elementary

Great words of wisdom from an experienced group!  I would add that everything in a literacy block should be connected in big and small ways.  When students leave their guided reading group, they should be expected to complete independent work that will use the strategies and/or goals they are working on.  The work they complete independently should be collected and examined by the teacher to make instructional decisions at the whole-group and individual level.

In the spirit of visible learning, we must also remember to include our students in goal-setting.  Every student (some with a little teacher support) should be able to speak about what they are working on and trying to get better at.  Great literacy teachers never rest, they wake up in the middle of the night thinking about what they can do to help students make breakthroughs in reading.  Keep a notebook by your bed in case that describes you!

I am one lucky principal!

We’re coming up on one of my favorite holidays, Thanksgiving.  It’s a favorite of mine because it reminds me of the importance of reflecting on life and thanking those who make a difference.  Professionally, I am fortunate to work in a school that offers many reasons to be optimistic about teaching and learning.  Here are some of the things I am thankful for…

…kindergarten teachers who are patient, kind, and caring.  School culture begins in kindergarten.  Our kindergarten teachers are so good, they make children and parents feel welcome.  They assure parents that their children are in good hands.  Children never forget their first teacher, ours make sure that this is true by taking care of the whole child.

…first grade teachers who embrace the need to be the best literacy teachers they can be.  They are willing to collaborate, be observed, observe others, and attend professional development opportunities outside of the school day to hone their craft.  They laugh a lot and lean on each other when things get tough.  They demonstrate an undying enthusiasm for teaching.

…second grade teachers who work like a well-oiled machine.  They support each other in every way, personally and professionally.  They offer classrooms that are dynamic and active.  Our second grade teachers are independent thinkers who accept new ideas and immediately figure out how to integrate change in their classrooms.

…third grade teachers who always participate enthusiastically in school spirit events.  On any given day you can find them dressed as M & Ms, wearing their school spirit shirts, in Ravens gear, or dressed as green eggs and ham on Read Across America Day.  They look for opportunities to promote project-based learning with their students because they know it enhances engagement.

…fourth grade teachers who spend extra time every year planning for their overnight trip to the local outdoor education center.  Members of the fourth grade team have raised terrapins, organized the annual talent show, and volunteer whenever their colleagues need their help.  They foster relationships with students and families that last for years.

…fifth grade teachers who take it as a personal responsibility to prepare their students for middle school.  They promote STEM, a love for history, and bake cookies for the staff just at the right time.  Our fifth grade teachers organize the annual drown-proofing field trip and take their students to Philadelphia every year.  They give their students a final year of elementary school that they will never forget.

…cultural arts teachers who instill a love for music, art, movement, and literature.  This group reminds us that learning doesn’t just take place in the classroom.  They expose our students to new worlds that many would not see otherwise.

…special education teachers, speech pathologists, school psychologists, and occupational therapists who complete mounds of paperwork while remembering that the students they support are much more important.  They work long hours and are often under-appreciated for the work they do.  They advocate for the needs of their students and foster relationships with families in order to ensure that progress is made for all students.

…a school counselor who supports the social emotional learning of our students.  She supports families who need more than the school can provide by connecting them to social agencies and outside resources.

…resource teachers like Right Start Advisors who help new teachers succeed, ELL teachers who bridge the language gap for students, and support personnel who make sure technology does what it’s supposed to do, enhance learning.

…reading teachers who are consummate professionals.  They constantly work to support classroom teachers with the best and most effective strategies for teaching reading.

…teaching assistants who are flexible and willing to do whatever it takes to help students succeed.

…health room staff who take care of so many needs beyond just scratches and sniffles.

…custodians and cafeteria workers who quietly go about their work with little attention or recognition, yet make a difference to the entire school community.

…secretaries who serve parents, students, and staff members every day with a smile.  They are literally the face of the school for many visitors and their efforts tell parents that they are in a safe, caring place.

…our assistant principal who rarely sits still and supports positive behaviors throughout the building by developing a rapport with students, staff, and parents.

I am one lucky principal.  I have so much to be thankful for.  Teaching is tough.  I’m not sure that the average person understands all that goes on in an elementary school on any given day.  I do, and I hope my staff knows that their efforts do not go unnoticed.  I am proud to be their principal.

Managing for Success in Your Classroom

Opinions about the best classroom management practices are as varied as the teachers who use them.  Despite that variance, most agree that you have to have some sort of systematic approach to classroom expectations.  Starting the school year with a vague idea of what is acceptable behavior can make for a long and trying year.

Here are a few thoughts adapted from “The Dos and Don’ts of Classroom Management: Your 25 Best Tips” via Edutopia.  What others would you add?

Greet students at the door

When you greet students at the door it tells them that you are ready for them.  It starts their day right by reassuring them that their favorite person is in the building.

More rules doesn’t mean better behavior

Keep it simple.  Too many rules and expectations won’t be much different than none if the students can’t remember them.

Make your expectations clear from the start

Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”  If your expectations aren’t clear, repeat them.  If that doesn’t work, try rewording them.

Keep calm

There will be “those” days.  If you can keep your head on your shoulders and exude calm, your students will reflect it back.  If you don’t feel calm, act like it anyway.

Don’t take it personally when students misbehave

Battles of will are rarely won by either side.  Students need consistent responses and consequences that are free of extreme emotions.  They crave consistency despite behaviors that might suggest otherwise.

Manage transitions

Have a plan in place for any and all transitions.  That doesn’t mean every move has to be choreographed, but be thoughtful and intentional when moving around the classroom and school.

Be transparent

Routines and management shouldn’t be magic tricks that students stand in awe of.  Students should be included in the development of expectations in their classroom.  At the very least, teachers should make an effort to explain and model the reasons for the “why” behind what they expect.

Ask others for help

When all else fails, go find a colleague.  Teaching is too hard as a solo act.  Seek out a veteran or a teacher who has a similar class and ask for advice.  It could be the start of a long professional relationship.