Monday, October 29, 2018

The Red Sox are the best team in baseball and 10 other hard truths I have had to come to terms with

Yes, the Red Sox are the best team in baseball and for this New York Yankees fan it has been difficult to watch.  However at the end of the day, the Red Sox were truly a great and dominant team.  It may be difficult to admit, but the evidence is clear and the parade is justified...119 wins and a World Series title.

Here is a list of 10 truths about education that some may find difficult to come to terms with, however the evidence tells us that they warrant our attention.

  • School schedules need to change to meet the needs of our students
  • Many past practices simply need to be abandoned
  • We need to take a hard look at how we collaborate and find ways to tap into our colleagues expertise and experience
  • The impact that social emotional learning has on academic achievement is real
  • Doing more of something isn't always better
  • Money alone cannot close the gaps for our learners
  • Some homework assignments do more harm than good
  • Meetings need to be well planned, short, and focused
  • Documentation and data collection has become an essential part of our profession
  • We need to have high expectations for all students

Monday, October 22, 2018

25 Years Burning Down the Road...Some Things Just Don't Change

This is my 25th year in education.  Some novice teachers who are reading this may say, wow, that's a lot.  On the other hand, fellow veteran teachers with even more experience may say, "Yeah, so what?"

I recently attended my 25 year college reunion and predictably there was a lot of reminiscing.  Looking back is typically what you do when you reach a milestone.  We look back and may smile, shed a tear, or probably cringe. We also realize how much has changed. During my first years of teaching the notion of emails, flipped and virtual learning, cell phones, iPads, Chromebooks, and smart watches were unfathomable.  And yes, I am one of those old timers that can still remember the moist feeling of a freshly mimeographed piece of paper!

It's easy to look back and see how many things have changed.  Particularly in education we often view those changes as progress.  It is more of a challenge to look back and see what has remained the same.  Let's recognize and celebrate certain practices that we know are, and always have been, right for our students.

10 Things that are as true today as they were 25 years ago

  • Building relationships is an important part of everything we do and can help students achieve their goals.  As teachers we are expected to follow the curriculum, build and manage procedures, create a stimulating learning environment, individualize instruction, foster social emotional learning, encourage collaboration, and about a thousand other things.  Is this even possible?  Absolutely, if you have a group of learners that are all on board.  They most certainly will be if you take the time to get to know and establish a relationship with each one of them.

  • Smile.  Yes, this is a simple gesture that can yield great results. When you greet students with a warm, inviting  smile, you have connected with them in a way that will help them to be better prepared to learn.  And when you are seeing them off at the end of the day, a smile is telling them that you are looking forward to seeing them tomorrow.

  • Responsibility needs to be given a chance to grow and the only way to do that is to provide learners with opportunities to flex that muscle.  When we shift responsibility to the learner we are building confidence and independence.  When individuals. of any age take ownership of their learning, they are more invested and have likely to develop intrinsic motivation to succeed.
  • The process is just as (if not more) important as the final product.  Think back to that diorama you made in 3rd grade, that trifold board in fifth, that essay you wrote in 9th,  or that presentation you gave in college.  Now ask yourself what you remember most about them and when did the learning happen.  We know this as adult learners and should be sharing this philosophy with our students.

  • Recognizing and capturing that teachable moment is important, however so is establishing an environment that allows students to create their own teachable moments.  When students are excited and engaged about what they are learning and we allow them the time and space to choose how they want to learn it, every moment becomes teachable.

  • Planning is not a bad word.  A group of construction workers didn't just show up one day with random materials and tools and build the structure you live in, yet your home is unique and has it's own characteristics.  So too are your lessons.  Let the curriculum guide you to where you need to get, but make a plan on how to get there that works for you and your learners.

  • Collaborating with colleagues will help you grow professionally and help you better meet the needs of your students.  The how, when, and where you meet is irrelevant, it should be all about the what - as in what are you going to give and what are you going to get.  Listen to concerns your colleagues may have and don't just give answers and share stories, but rather ask questions that will lead them to the answers that might work for them.

  • Using data to guide your work.  At the beginning of my career collecting data involved sticky notes, index cards, and a whole lot of time.  Today, collecting, analyzing, and using the data has never been easier, yet many in the field don't take full advantage of the tools we have available to us.  Relying on hunches and making spontaneous decisions are certainly part of teaching, but not when it comes to identifying areas of need and  providing targeted interventions.

  • Accountability.  This one has evolved for me personally over time as I have transitioned from teacher to administrator, however the spirit of it has remained the same.  Holding all members of the learning community accountable is an essential part of establishing and maintaining trust.  Whether as a member of a committee or through your interactions with parents, students, colleagues, or administrators, following through on plans and holding yourself accountable goes a long way toward achieving personal and collective goals.

  • Meaningful reflection is an important part of the learning process that shouldn't be overlooked.  Having students reflect on their work is certainly not a new practice and the benefits have been well documented.  It is however in danger of becoming stale and looked upon as something that just needs to be checked off at the end of an assignment. Students need to be trained to know what to look for, given the vocabulary to articulate it, and finally the opportunity to build upon their work.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

How the Baseball Card Collectors Club Introduced Me to the Deeper Learning Competencies

I've been thinking a lot about what deeper learning means in today's classrooms and the many ways it might look. Some may think that deeper learning is a new concept or just the latest buzzword, but it certainly isn't. I was able to identify an example of a time that I experienced deeper learning as a student. It happened nearly 35 years ago and it helped me get through middle school during a time when I was struggling both academically and socially. The interesting thing is that the experience had nothing to do with an academics (or technology) but had everything to do with me becoming a better, more confident learner, thanks to a science teacher who had a passion for collecting baseball cards and started a club.

Baseball Cards and Deeper Learning
How the Baseball Card Collectors Club Introduced Me to the Deeper Learning Competencies

Content mastery- I loved the back of the baseball cards even more than the front because that's where the numbers were. Despite struggling in math class, I had no problem calculating batting averages in my head. I used division with ease to figure out how the result of a batter's plate appearance would impact his overall average .

Effective communication- The room we met in after school once a week was often filled with lively debates about who the best players of the day were and the advisor was very much a part of the discussion. One game we invented to rank players was called "Hall of Fame or Hall of Shame".

Critical thinking/Problem solving- Any card collector knows that trades are a great way to enhance your collection, the conundrum was always whether to consider a trade based on value or simply because you liked a certain team or player. A great deal of thought was put in before parting with any card.

Collaboration- As a group we made decisions about what to do at our meetings and came up with ways ways to make our hobby even more enjoyable. I remember working together as a group with our advisor to draft a letter to administration requesting a television so that we could watch a game in school on opening day.

Learning ho to learn- I did not enjoy reading at all as a youngster but I begged my parents to subscribe to the Providence Journal, not for the articles but because I absolutely HAD to have access to the box scores. I would read them, cut them out, sort, and memorize them like flash cards, a skill that would benefit me years later.

Academic mindset- My perception of the the other students in the club was that they were academically superior to me and I felt intimidated by them. Nevertheless, when it came to baseball knowledge I had a certain confidence. That confidence eventually transferred into other areas of my life in and out of school.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

10 Simple things you can do that will help you have a great day

  • Greet students at the door with a smile
  • Pack yourself a healthy snack and lunch
  • Remind yourself that you will make a positive impact on the lives of your students today
  • Set a personal and professional goal
  • Connect with a colleague
  • Organize your work space
  • Thank a staff member for their hard work
  • Be sure every child leaves with a smile on their face and looking forward to the next day
  • Take a moment to reflect on all that you accomplished

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Being a Professional Educator

And so a new year begins.  Like last year and the one before that, we welcome the next generation of teachers and staff into our buildings.  Who are these individuals?  What skills, talents, and attitudes do they possess that will benefit the students they interact with?  Time will tell, but the one thing we do know that we want them to be is... professional.  This is a lot harder than it sounds. Whether just starting out or have been in the field for fifty years, being a professional educator can be challenging. Here are ten ways you can demonstrate  professionalism everyday.

  • Stay on top of the current trends in education by reading, listening, and collaborating with others
  • Be supportive of your colleagues when you see them taking risks
  • Respond to stressful situations calmly
  • Don't make quick decisions that you may have to back away from later.  Be deliberate and thorough in your thought process  
  • Look the part and dress appropriately for your setting
  • Choose your words carefully
  • Respect and support the decisions made by your superiors
  • Portray confidence even when you pay be at your lowest point
  • Don't succumb and promote teacher cliche's that portray you anything less than professional
  • Ask for help and support when you need it.  This is not a sign of weakness but rather shows that you care

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Do Yourself a Favor and Look Back

You know what time of year it is so I certainly don't have to paint a picture of what the last days of the school look like.  Before you pack up your room and leave the building, take a moment to look over your shoulder and say goodbye to...

  • The child who struggled with anxiety on the playground during the first weeks of school who is now playing soccer with his friends
  • The student who was well below grade level in math that has not only closed the gap but is excelling
  • The student who avoided reading who is now asking the librarian if he can take books home over the summer vacation
  • The new teacher that you met in September who will now join you for a summer book club
  • The child who came from another district that is now making play dates and planning sleep overs
  • The student that wouldn't even look at you last fall that is now hugging you goodbye
  • The student who came to this country and could not speak English who will go back home and share everything he has learned with his family and friends 
  • The parent that you had to call multiple times because their son was so disrespectful who is now handing you a gift thanking you for the difference you have made in their child's life
  • The student who wouldn't practice their instrument in front of anyone who is now performing with the school band
  • The child that was so mad that they didn't get the teacher they "wanted" that just handed you a card saying that you are the best teacher ever

Thank you to all the educators and support staff that make all this and so much more possible!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Internal Struggles of a Change Agent

The mere mention of the word change can illicit an array of passionate responses and this certainly isn’t unique to the field of education.  Whether the change is related to a major district initiative like curriculum and instruction, or something far more mundane like the lunch line procedure, you are likely to hear many of the following phrases uttered in hallways and teacher’s rooms.

"If it ain't broke don't fix it."
"I'm just going to keep doing it my way."
"This isn't going to work."
"If we wait long enough it will change back."
"We used to do it that way and it didn't work."

With all that said you may be wondering, “Who on earth would ever want to be a change agent?”  The answer to that question is actually pretty easy, a passionate and dedicated educational leader that cares about students, teachers, and their entire professional learning community.  The real question, and a much more difficult one is, “How can I be the change agent that my community needs?”

1.  Intellect vs Emotion
Most people can agree that change shouldn’t be initiated simply for the sake of change.  When policies are being developed and initiatives are being rolled out, change agents need to stand tall and gather consensus and support in order to put their plans into action.  The question then becomes, what is the best course of action to take in order to achieve this?  When attempting to inspire stakeholders, change agents must balance between appealing to their intellect and appealing to their emotion.  On the one hand you have data, which doesn’t lie and helps leaders make important decisions.  On the other hand, in our field we know that numbers don’t always tell the whole story and there is room for compassion and humanity.   

2.  Hurry Up vs Take Your Time
If you are a leader you know how important it is to adhere to deadlines and protocols.  A change agent also has to set milestones and benchmarks along the way when implementing a plan.  How do you respond when faced with time constraints beyond your control?  Maybe you need more time to collect data.  Perhaps you had to cancel a meeting or two because of weather or a school assembly. There are many unforeseen circumstances that can delay the implementation of any plan.  A change agent must weigh all factors when deciding to either rush a project to completion or to slow it down and take more time.
3.  Push Back vs Let It Go
The reality is that change can, and often times will be met with dissent.  Unfortunately, there will even be occasions when those dissenters will attempt to disrupt or even sabotage your efforts.  As a change agent you will have a decision to make.  Do you call those individuals out and confront them, or do you simply ignore the noise and move forward?  There are many factors to be considered when deciding a course of action in this situation.  For instance, do the detractors have a history of this sort of behavior?  Are your leadership credentials being challenged?  Do you have proponents that will stand by you?  What is at stake when it comes to the change that is being proposed?  This is a difficult decision to make and can possibly result in repercussions that will be felt for a long time.  

4.  Hands On vs Pass It On
If you consider yourself an agent of change you most likely possess leadership attributes as well.  In order to be an effective leader, colleagues need to know that you are willing to get your hands dirty.  You of course want to be an active participant in the movement, but how much involvement is too much?  The risk you take is that by being too heavy handed in your involvement, you may alienate your colleagues and stakeholders.  It is imperative that you allow space for others to become meaningfully involved and invested. Maintaining a balance between the two approaches is challenging to say the least, which is why each situation must be analyzed critically to determine where on the scale of participation you land.

5. Reconstruction vs Redesign
Despite all of your hard work and best intentions, there will be times when you are faced with the harsh reality that the changes you helped to implement aren’t yielding the results you expected.  In some cases it is even possible that your efforts have led to regression.  Leaders shouldn’t walk away from this problem, they need to decide what to do when this occurs.  Some initiatives can be so disastrous that they will call for a complete reconstruction.  In these cases any remnants of the original plan will conjure negative feelings.  However, sometimes you will be able to salvage parts and redesign the plan maintaining its original intent.  In either case, careful consideration needs to be taken in order to build consensus with regards to how to proceed.

It’s been said time and time again that change is hard.  I contend that being an effective change agent is even harder, but not impossible.  It takes courage and resiliency, but it also takes a willingness to look at each case individually before exercising your professional judgement.