We can do better

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

– Franklin D. Roosevelt

Such a timely quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt.  As educators, school leaders, parents, and involved citizens, we must remember our role in preparing students to choose wisely.  Education will always be important to the success of democracy.  As we end one year and enter a new, we should reflect on how we are raising and educating our children.

What will the world be like for the next generation?  What skills will our children need?  How will they gain these skills?  Who will influence our children the most?  As the world becomes more diverse, how will society change and how will our students respond to that change?  These are deeply philosophical questions, but they are at the root of democracy.  Looking at the roots of American democracy may help us in answering these questions.

“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

-Thomas Jefferson

The question is, where will our students get educated and where will their information come from?  How will they become informed citizens?  We all have a duty to make sure that our children are critical thinkers.  While protecting them from our personal biases, we should encourage them to look at a variety of sources before drawing conclusions.  Original thinkers built our country.  We need more.

“Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.”

-Alexander Hamilton

Modern politics is a mess.  It’s hard for me to believe that we have become a nation of extremism.  If you disagree, just start a conversation with a neighbor you don’t know well.  You’ll likely find that you have far more in common than not.  We can do a better job of making sure that our children respect the views of others, especially when those views are counter to ours.  You can find a middle ground with almost any fundamental belief.  Finding it is always worth the struggle.

“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

-Thomas Paine

We all want life, liberty, and the freedom to pursue our happiness.  They are such fundamental cornerstones of democracy.  The Declaration of Independence speaks to all of us, not a select few.  Our children need us to remind them that our country was founded on principles that apply to everyone.  More importantly, action is required by all of us to ensure those freedoms.  Democracies require participation.  We must be tireless in pushing our children to become active, contributing members of society, not sideline observers.

No matter your political beliefs, it should be obvious that our country can be and do better.  Other nations look to us.  We stand as an example to the world.  We stand as example to our children.  What kind of an example is the question?  We can do and be better.  We must.

Teacher Leadership Matters

Teacher leadership was the discussion topic for #mdeschat the other night.  Many great insights were shared.  Here are a few:

“A leader helps to create more leaders and inspires. That is exactly what I want to do as a teacher.” -Michael Donnelly @mrdonnelly3

“In the collaborative culture that we build, shared leadership is needed, we can’t do it alone!” –Cheryl Cox @CoxCherylcox628

“Teaching is so complex and involves so many variables; empowering critical thinking about what matters is key.” –Walter Reap @WalterReap

“In education, change is constant. By empowering teachers as leaders, they can implement systemic goals in a way that is meaningful to students.” –Dana Wiles @nfesgr2

“Teacher leaders affect student achievement exponentially by raising the expectations among colleagues.” –Elizabeth Curley @Curley_Liz

“Opportunities to collaborate with county resource staff allows teacher leaders to enjoy learning and sharing while inspiring others.” –Vanessa Gilbert @vanlynn75

“Shared leadership allows the school to capitalize on the different talents each member of the team brings to the community.” –Zipporah Miller @zipmiller

“Teachers, when empowered, learn a lot from each other.” –Todd Stanzione @toddstanzione

“Benefits of teacher leadership: teacher retention, student achievement, positive school culture, decreased isolation, enhanced collaboration.” –Andrea Zamora @AACPS_Zamora

“Leadership is about one’s vision of him/herself. Not about title or position, it is about one’s actions.” –Jill Snell @Jill_Snell81

“To grow, teachers need to step out of the classroom and see varying perspectives; grow from the strength of others and stretch their thinking.” –Stephanie Straw @ststoney16

“Teacher leaders are innovative, have high expectations for all, and are masterful at cultivating relationships to grow students.” –Denise Faidley @DeniseFaidley

“If the teacher is a facilitator and leader, she/he will guide students to discover and build their learning by solving real life problems.” –Evylyn Quinones @evyabel

Such awesome insight from a great PLN!  If others share these views on teacher leadership our children are in good hands!

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?

 

 

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!

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.

Summer Brings the Chance to Re-gain Your Balance

How will you spend your summer?

Summer offers us the chance to “sharpen the saw.”  Stephen Covey encouraged us to seek balance in our physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual lives.  When all four dimensions are in balance, the result is personal and professional synergy.  The sum of synergistic living is always greater than its parts.  When all four dimensions are balanced, everything falls into place.

The modern educator can easily be overwhelmed by the challenges of teaching and leading.  If we don’t take the time to renew ourselves on a personal and professional level, we won’t be effective in supporting the growth of our students.  The greatest gift of being an educator is that every school year starts anew.

What will you do to sharpen your saw this summer?  What books will you read for personal and professional pleasure? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment or posting your ideas on Twitter.  See below for a few summer reading ideas.

The Ultimate Summer Reading List for Teachers via Scholastic:

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/ultimate-summer-reading-list-teachers

The best books about educational leadership via Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/Best-Books-About-Educational-Leadership/lm/R1TJOMF4RU830V

Top Ten School Leadership Books via @AngelaMaiers:

http://www.angelamaiers.com/2010/06/top-10-school-leadership-books.html

Social Media In Schools: Why bother?

I am excited to present at the Maryland Association of Elementary School Principals conference later this month.  The focus of my session is on how social media can be used to enhance adult and student learning.  If you’re a social media regular, this is a message that you are more than likely familiar with.  However, we still have a large number of educators and leaders who are hesitant to capitalize on social media for the benefit of their schools.

I think this hesitancy comes from a lack of confidence with technology and worries about the potential negatives of social media.  If we are to harness the possibilities of social media, we are going to have to get over those feelings of inadequacy.  No one is truly a social media expert.  Technology and social media are changing and growing at such a rapid pace that no one can really keep up.

Motivation also seems to be a factor keeping educators from using social media.  Is it really worth the effort to use social media in our schools?  Will using social media improve academic achievement?  I think the answer to those questions can be found in a meta-analysis conducted by Waters, Marzano, and McNulty in 2003.  This study is often cited in journals and papers that examine the relationship between leadership behaviors and student achievement.

Waters, Marzano, and McNulty looked at 30 years of educational research and uncovered the leadership qualities that lead to improved academic achievement.  Here are a few of the qualities and behaviors they identified:

  • A willingness to actively engage the status quo
  • Quality contact and interactions with teachers and students
  • Establishment of clear goals while keeping those goals in the forefront of the school’s attention
  • Fostering of shared beliefs and a sense of community

Ultimately, school leaders are responsible for raising student achievement.  When developing school improvement plans, teachers and principals must ask whether their initiatives will lead to improved student performance.  Each school must be confident in choosing what to include and what to exclude from their plans.  Will the four behaviors above lead to improved student achievement?  The research suggests so.

Can these behaviors be enhanced by using social media?  If I am a school leader who capitalizes on social media, can I better engage the status quo?  Will social media improve my interactions with teachers, students, and parents?  Would social media be an effective way to keep my school’s goals in the forefront of everyone’s attention?  Can social media help me foster shared beliefs and a sense of community cooperation?

Educators tend to have strong feelings about where their priorities should be spent.  What if the answer to each question above is yes?  School leaders owe their students, teachers, and parents the opportunity to at least explore the potential of social media.  Perhaps George Couros said it best in his blog, The Principal of Change:

“There can no longer be an “opt out” clause when dealing with technology in our schools, especially from our administrators. We need to prepare our kids to live in this world now and in the future. Change may feel hard, but it is part of learning.  We expect it from our kids, we need to expect it from ourselves.  This is not optional anymore.”

Are you a resilient educator?

Are you a resilient educator?  How do you respond when things don’t go your way?  This week was challenging for me.  I’ll spare the specifics, but I’m finishing the day wondering where things went wrong this week.  The most alarming part of having a bad day or week is the feeling of losing control.  How can you get that control back?  Here are a few suggestions that might help.  I’m going to try and take my own advice.

Put Your Day or Week in Context

Everyone has their moments.  Was this day or week an anomaly?  Unless you’ve started a new pattern of behavior, next week will be better.  It has to be.

Keep Your Sense of Humor

If you can still laugh at yourself, you’ll be okay.  Humor doesn’t fix everything, but it signals the start of turning your bad mood around.

Re-center Yourself.

Take some time to reflect on what went wrong and why, but don’t get stuck there.  Make a conscious decision to get back on track.  Think of a few strategies that you can use next week to steady the ship.

Face the Music

If your week went wrong due to relationship issues, decide if you need to directly address someone.  Nothing keeps your stomach turning more than unresolved conflict.  Pick the right moment and have a heart-to-heart with those who are connected to your stress.

Get Some Me Time

Do something for yourself.  Go shopping, go for a walk, a run, a bike ride, or just go somewhere!  Time alone helps clear your thinking.  If you’re comfortable being alone with your thoughts you will always have a way to cope with stress.

Get Back on the Horse

Start the new week believing in a fresh start.  Avoidance is a poor strategy for anyone who wants to have a better day.  Hold your head up, smile, and say something positive to the first few people you see.  You’d be surprised how quickly you can build the momentum you need to have a great week!

Educators and school leaders can and should model resilience.  If we want students to respond appropriately to stress, we should show them how.  We don’t have to discuss every detail of our personal lives, but sharing anecdotes that illustrate the times we have overcome stress can help students develop their own strategies.  It’s okay to show your humanity.  Your students will be all the better for it.

Fostering the Standards for Mathematical Practice

Since the adoption of the Common Core Standards, many states have been working to foster math instruction that incorporates the Standards for Mathematical Practice.  These standards are viewed as the key practices that need to be in place in every math classroom, every day:

1.  Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

2.  Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

3.  Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

4.  Model with mathematics.

5.  Use appropriate tools strategically.

6.  Attend to precision.

7.  Look for and make use of structure.

8.  Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

The challenge for school leaders and teachers is understanding what these practices look and sound like in the classroom.  What do we have to do in order to foster the Standards for Mathematical Practice?  The following suggestions are gleaned from several sources (see links below) and should encourage a conversation around what effective math instruction looks like:

-Students should be talking with and interacting with each other every day.

-Math should be about real life problems, not isolated skills.

-Students need support and practice in learning how to communicate mathematical ideas.

-Manipulatives and technology should be used when they enhance understanding.

-Assessments should reflect the way math is being taught.

-Strategies to promote the practices should include giving students the answer to questions and asking them to decide what the question is; having students make up problems that meet some pre-determined criteria; and posing “What if?” questions about what might happen if a change is made to the quantity or any other aspect of a given problem.

-Students will need consistent strategies for reading problems and determining what the question is asking.

Practice number one might be our biggest challenge.  How do we get students to persevere in math?  Teachers can support perseverance through modeling and teacher talk.  A combination of practice, scaffolding, and encouragement can build a foundation for the resilience our students will need to meet success in math.

Standards for Mathematical Practice

http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Practice/

What Should I Look for in a Math Classroom?

http://www.utdanacenter.org/mathtoolkit/support/look.php

Implementing the Common Core Mathematical Practices

http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol8/805-parker.aspx

What does a literacy-rich classroom look like?

Early literacy efforts are, needless to say, an ongoing concern for school districts across the US and the world.  The pendulum on what methodology is best has swung in enough directions to make the average teacher dizzy.  What constitutes good reading instruction?

The International Reading Association adopted standards in 2005 that are research-based and worth revisiting.  The IRA recommends that effective early childhood educators:

  • Recognize the importance of language and literacy experiences relative to achievement
  • Integrate early literacy experiences into the curriculum
  • Connect physical, emotional, and social goals in the language and literacy curriculum
  • Develop appropriate language and literacy standards
  • Create a language and literacy program that is culturally competent
  • Participate in professional development opportunities to stay up-to-date on evidence-based practice

For more info, see the IRA link below:

http://www.reading.org/Libraries/position-statements-and-resolutions/ps1066_preschool.pdf

The question we must continually ask ourselves is, “What do those standards look like in the primary grades?”  What would an observer “see” in the classroom that demonstrates those standards?  The third bullet above is a poignant reminder that early literacy skills are best honed in a classroom that capitalizes on the social, emotional, and physical connections to learning.  Yes, strong literacy skills are a must for every teacher, but if they are unable to connect with students on a personal level, their success will be limited.

The other theme running through the IRA’s recommendations is that language and literacy are complementary skills.  Students in the primary grades must be exposed to a language-rich environment.  Reading skills will grow much quicker and deeper in a dynamic classroom that promotes discussion, movement, play, theater, and student autonomy.  A teacher who structures the classroom for student-choice will develop the independence in students that they need to succeed in life.

What do you expect to see in the primary grades when it comes to reading?  What indicators tell you that a classroom is literacy rich?  Join #mdeschat this Thursday 8PM ET and share, or add a comment below!