Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Top 5 Posts of 2013

Inspired by many of the incredible bloggers I follow, I have also decided to share the 5 most popular posts of 2013 from Little Bits of Advice.  As educators I believe we are part of the greatest profession and I am honored to have the opportunity to contribute to it.  Thank you all for reading and sharing my blog.  I look forward to many more lists in 2014.  Happy New Year!

(Originally posted May 27, 2013)

10 Reasons you Remember THAT Teacher
(Originally posted May 18, 2013)

Change can be…Good!
(Originally posted June 6, 2013)

Ways to Make Parents Feel like Partners in Education
(Originally posted April 1, 2013)

Monday, December 16, 2013

From Good to Great...More than just Semantics


  • Working with teachers...to collaborating with colleagues
  • Giving Homework...to providing at home learning opportunities
  • Testing for grades...to assessing for information
  • Classroom rules to...classroom responsibilities and expectations 
  • Covering content to...deepening understanding
  • Giving praise...to providing feedback
  • Teaching technology...to teaching with technology
  • Answering questions...to asking questions
  • Students as receivers of knowledge...to students as producers of knowledge
  • A group of teachers and students...to a community of learners

Thursday, December 5, 2013

10 Changes in schools I have witnessed in my lifetime

Gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown

And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'

Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'

In Bob Dylan’s 1963 classic anthem, The Times They are a Changing, he could have been singing about today’s education reform.  I for one welcome change in education.  That statement is not meant to come across with any sense of bravado, but rather with appreciation.  I welcome change the same way I do a new pair of shoes.  Sometimes I decide the shoes I am wearing just don’t meet my needs, and other times I buy a new pair because the old ones are ruined.  Either way, it takes a little time to adjust, but once I’ve walked in them a bit they become the new normal.

My journey through education began as a student in the mid 70’s at May Westscott Elementary School.  The other day I stopped a first grader in the hallway to help me with an app I had just downloaded on my iPad. As I walked away, I had a sudden flashback to my own schooling experience and realized how much things have changed.  Some changes have been made because previous practices don’t meet the needs of the time, and other changes occurred because the old ways simply weren't working. 

What would schools look like today if these practices had never changed?

10 Changes in schools I have witnessed in my lifetime

  • Walking by the teachers room and being enveloped by second hand smoke
  • Writing “I will not talk in class” 100 times during recess  
  • Being good at math meant memorizing multiplication facts
  • Everyone’s favorite reward for doing well was going outside to clap the erasers against the building (I actually got to do that once!)
  • Any parent-teacher communication meant you were in a whole heap of trouble
  • Cooperative learning only happened on the playground during recess
  • Team teaching was when two classes were in the same room and the television was wheeled in and we watched The Electric Company (if you are under 40 years old, look it up!)
  • Being considered a good writer meant you had beautiful penmanship
  • Hands on science was watching the teacher conduct a demonstration
  • The annual ritual of passing out a stack of text books on the 1st day of school and writing names on the inside cover then never getting to the last three chapters

Friday, November 22, 2013

Humanizing Data

I was never really that friendly with Data.  It’s not so much that I disliked Data, but I use to feel like it was always trying to steal attention away from my students, as if it knew more about them than I did.  Over the past few years, I have had to work with Data more closely, and I am realizing it’s not that bad.  Sure, sometimes I strongly disagree with its methods, but it has good intentions.  Sometimes I don’t like what it has to say, but that can be true in any relationship.  Data is definitely going to be around for a while and so am I, and that is why we have decided to try to work together.  Who knows, we might make a really good team!

  • Data has a way of getting initiatives started
  • Data is great backup at any meeting
  • Data can give me information that I need in order to make decisions
  • Data can draw attention to issues that need to be addressed
  • Data can tell me if what I am doing is working
  • Data can motivate students
  • Data helps me keep parents informed
  • Data has good intentions
  • Data is there in good times and bad
  • Data never claims to have all the answers

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

10 Things You Might do After a Lesson Goes Horribly Wrong

Highly recommended…

  • Reflect on the experience and determine why it happened
  • Think about changes you will make next for time
  • Survey the students to discover their perception of the lesson
  • Seek support from a colleague or administrator
  • Approach the next lesson with optimism

Highly discouraged…

  • Make excuses and cast blame
  • Overreact and make impulsive decisions
  • Let it affect the other aspects of your day that are going well
  • Ignore it
  • Sulk or dwell on it

Saturday, November 2, 2013

What would you do with an extra hour a day?

Before we go to bed tonight we move our clocks back an hour, and almost magically gain time.  Wouldn't it be amazing if we had the power to add an hour whenever we wanted to during the school day?  If you asked students what they would do with an extra hour I'm willing to bet that the vast majority would want more recess or lunch, but what would you do more of with an extra hour?  Here’s my list.

  • Service Learning Projects
  • Healthy Debates
  • Read Aloud
  • Logic and Critical Thinking Puzzles
  • Passion Based Learning
  • Technology Exploration
  • Current Events
  • Guest Speakers
  • Team Building
  • Study World Cultures

Friday, October 25, 2013

How to get into an Assessment State of Mind

This week I seemed to have found myself in various professional settings discussing assessments.  The usual suspects of 21st century jargon were tossed around the room during faculty meetings, professional developments, common planning times, workshops, and courses.  You know the ones, high stakes, state mandated, performance based, standardized, formative and summative, standards based, and more.   As I reflected on what I learned and what I was reminded of, I realized that for all the talk we do about them, the nature of the actual assessment and resulting data matter very little unless it is coupled with a specific mindset that allows for both teacher and learner to do something useful with it.  What do consumers of assessment data need to keep in mind?

  • Loosen the definition of “assessment”, valuable information can be found in almost anything students do.
  • Ask yourself what the purpose of a particular assessment is before you assign it.
  • Recognize that self reflection can be a valuable piece of the assessment puzzle.
  • Immediate and constructive feedback is always important.
  • If there is a way to assess it an authentically, do it!
  • Be prepared and have a system in place to capture evidence of understanding for whenever students demonstrate it.
  • When assessing student work, right and wrong alone is not enough.  The process must leave room for “why” it’s right or wrong.
  • Be transparent.  Students need a clear understanding of what is being assessed and what the criteria is.
  • Create a culture in which assessments don’t have a negative connotation but rather are viewed as roadmaps to improving achievement.
  • Recognize that the same tenets we hold true for assessing our students should be adhered to when we are being assessed.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Was that my cell phone? 10 Uh-oh Moments

It is often said that to err is human, and teachers certainly are that.  In the fast paced world of schools, it’s inevitable that mistakes will happen.  Sadly, it didn't take me long to compile this list because it was born out of twenty years of personal experience.  I do however take pride in the fact that I learned valuable lessons each time. How many of these sound familiar to you?

  • Forgetting a password
  • Following a Monday schedule after a three day weekend
  • Not previewing a chapter before reading it aloud
  • Over/under planning for a lesson
  • Forgetting to mute cell phone
  • Misplacing a stack of important papers
  • Hitting reply all
  • Double booking a parent conference
  • Sending a reminder note home after the event has already taken place
  • Walking in late to a faculty meeting

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

10 Ways Twitter has Made Me a Better Educator

Last summer I sat with a colleague outside a coffee shop and she introduced me to Twitter. Here was my previous knowledge of Twitter; zero, nothing, nada. I had heard the word Twitter and was under the impression that it was simply a way for people under 20 years old to broadcast every inane thought that popped into their heads.  I had so many questions but was afraid to ask.  Instead I scoffed at the idea of using Twitter professionally.  As my friend talked I became very anxious.  I was nervous.  I was scared.  Were people going to take me seriously if I tweeted anything?  Who should I follow?  Who in their right mind would ever follow me?  I thought that # was called pound, what is this “hashtag” she keeps talking about?  Then it occurred to me, I was turning into that person I often grumble about, you know, the one who is afraid of change.  I am proud to say that I gave Twitter a shot, and with support from experienced “tweeps”, it has truly changed my professional life.  By the way, you should follow me on Twitter @ginosangiuliano, I promise not to post too many inane thoughts.

  • Having one of my tweets “retweeted’ or “favorited’ gives me confidence
  • I am a big fan of education which means I actually enjoy reading about it
  • It has been the pot at the end of the rainbow filled with resources
  • I have developed friendships with people I’ve met on Twitter
  • I have learned an incredible amount about neighboring schools and districts
  • Twitter has provided me with a national perspective on education I was previously missing
  • Twitter has connected me with people who offer insight into content and grades I do not currently teach
  • My professional learning network has exploded, and as a result I have been given new and exciting opportunities I never imagined
  • As we think about global education, Twitter is an authentic way to have meaningful and professional dialogue with teachers around the world.  I also think that it’s kind of fun
  • Interacting with like-minded professionals is extremely rewarding and inspiring 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

10 Bruce Springsteen Songs that could have been about Teachers

Bruce Springsteen is perhaps the most prolific songwriter of our generation.  His music and lyrics speak to people of all ages around the world.  To my knowledge, he has never written a song about teachers, but some of his song titles could certainly be interpreted as educational anthems.

Tougher than the Rest (Tunnel of Love)
Teachers are faced with challenges every day, many of which are beyond our control.  For the sake of students we need to remain strong and carry on.

Jack of All Trades (Wrecking Ball)
What do your students need from you today?  Whatever it is you will provide it.

We Take Care of Our Own (Wrecking Ball)
The definition of “our own” has certainly evolved over time.  Whereas it once meant a single classroom its definition is now much broader.

Working on a Dream (Working on a Dream)
Our students have dreams, and it is our responsibility to provide the learning opportunities that will help to achieve them.

Living in the Future (Magic)
The future is now, we are living in a time without limits.  Classrooms are no longer confined to a single room or school.

Better Days (Lucky Town)
As professionals we have the choice to believe that these are better days in education, and if we don’t it is our obligation to advocate for change.

Growin Up (Greetings from Asbury Park)
Students are not the only ones growing, through quality professional development and reflection teachers grow also.

Leap of Faith (Lucky Town)
Teachers and students alike will thrive when encouraged to take risks and given the opportunity to think outside the box.

Reason to Believe (Nebraska)
Sometimes you may have to search, but your students will give you reasons to believe in them every day.

Talk to Me (The Promise)
Communication is crucial to a school’s success. Between administrators, parents, teachers, students, or any other stakeholder, keeping one another informed and in the know helps create a culture of trust.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sights and Sounds that can make any Teacher Smile

Having been “on the road” as an Induction Coach the past two years there were many things about being in one school every day that I didn’t know I missed.   It doesn’t matter what or where you teach, there are just some sights and sounds unique to schools that simply remind us that we chose the right profession.

  • Academic conversations among students
  • The buzz as students enter the building
  • Youngsters lost in books
  • Children on the playground using their imagination
  • Taking part in a morning meeting
  • Learning alongside your students
  • The magic moment that a student “gets it”
  • The genuine excitement and curiosity when a new topic is introduced
  • Collaboration amongst students and colleagues
  • Meeting involved and supportive parents

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Advice to get you over the “Humps” of the First Weeks of a New School Year

I am not exactly sure what it is about a camel walking through an office asking, “What day is it?” that makes me laugh whenever I see it, but it does.  Of course from now until the end of time, every Wednesday, someone, somewhere, will shout, “Hump Daaaay Whoo Whoo!” 

The first weeks of school inevitably bring challenges to teachers and there will certainly be many “humps” to overcome.  The sooner you get over these humps, the more relaxed, happy, and productive you will be.

The Curriculum Hump:  Chances are that if you are reading this your school or district is implementing a new program, system, or curriculum.  This is a hump you can overcome with your colleagues.  Utilize the resources that are made available and collaborate.

The Personnel Hump: Each year there are bound to be new additions to your staff.  The importance of collaboration cannot be overstated, but it begins by forming professional relationships based on mutual trust.  You won’t know what others can offer to your practice if you don’t take the time to get to know them.   

The Balance Hump: The initial days of a new school year are usually described as overwhelming and all consuming.  It is sometimes easy to forget the other parts of your life in the midst of the chaos.  Once things are under control, make time for yourself to do what you love, it will make you a much more effective teacher.

The Relationship Hump:  Spend time early in the year finding out as much as you can about the learners in your charge.  This investment of time will yield dividends throughout the year.

The Parent Hump:  Make the effort to reach out to the families of your students before they reach out to you.   This may be via a phone call, email, meet and greet, or a ten minute conference.  It is extremely important to establish that you are accessible and approachable.

The Evaluation Hump:  Probably the most controversial hump to get over.  It is important to educate yourself with the process and become knowledgeable of the standards you are being evaluated on.   If you regard the entire process as an opportunity to reflect and grow you will find it far less daunting.  

The Planning Hump:  You don’t need every detail of every lesson planned out weeks in advance.  In fact, you will want to wait and let your formative assessments and student interests guide parts of your instruction.
The Technology Hump:  Don’t be intimidated by technology.  The more you use it the more comfortable you will become.  Spending time just mucking around with technology is the best way to practice and learn.

The Scheduling Hump: The need to be flexible is essential! School scheduling is a myriad of moving parts that involves room availability, contractual consideration, service providers, and student needs.   The sooner you come to terms with the fact that your original schedule may change, the quicker you will get over this hump.

The Procedures Hump:  Keeping our students safe is a responsibility that falls upon us and must be taken seriously.  Yes, it is sad and unfortunate that we have to prepare for the unthinkable.  Lock downs, buzzers, evacuations, and drills can be inconvenient, but reminding yourself you could be saving a life will help get you over this hump. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

New Initiatives: 10 Stages of Acceptance

If you are a teacher, this scenario may sound all too familiar.  You arrive at the designated meeting location on the opening day exercises of the new school year.  You spend time catching up with friends and colleagues, smiling and ready to take on the world.  You feel great because you have spent time over the summer reflecting and preparing for the upcoming year.  Then it happens, your district introduces a new initiative.  You begin to panic and look around the room.  Is this really happening?  The pit in your stomach grows as summer vacation suddenly becomes a distant memory.

If you have been in education for even a few years, you have probably experienced something like this already, and most certainly will again.  Relax, you are not alone! Change can be difficult but it can also be good (see Change Can be Good). The process of coming to terms with seemingly impossible demands is different for everyone, but recognizing your feelings is a good place to start.

  • Shock:  “We have to do what?!”
  • Denial:  “They can’t really expect us to do this, can they?”
  • Anger:  “I can’t believe they are doing this to us!”
  • Resistance:  “There’s no way I’m doing this.”
  • Acceptance:  “Fine, I guess I have no choice.”
  • Learning:  “OK, I kind of get it.”
  • Experimentation:  “I tried it,this is pretty good.”
  • Practicing:  “I am getting much better at this.”
  • Mastery:  “This is great, I’m on a roll now!”
  • Sharing: “It’s easy, let me help you with that!”
What are you doing in your daily practice now that once caused stress and anxiety?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What Teachers Need to Know but May be Afraid to Ask

The other day while on a walk with the family, my 10 year old asked us to solve the following riddle, “Mary’s mother had four daughters, their names were April, May, June, and what was the fourth daughter’s name?”  He smiled knowingly while the rest of us paused to consider the question and attempt to solve it.  Of course it’s one of those questions that you know the most obvious answer is the wrong one and the correct answer is right in front of you but you don’t see it.  When someone is new to the profession, or even just new to a building or position, there will be many questions and often time’s people are afraid to ask for fear the answer is right in front of them.  As you walk down the freshly waxed hallways this September and see the faces of your new colleagues, remind yourself that what is obvious to you may not be to them.  The fourth daughter is named Mary.

  • What does that acronym stand for?
  • What assessments am I required to give and when?
  • How do my colleagues and fellow staff members prefer to be addressed in the presence of students?
  • How do I get the supplies and materials I need?
  • What protocols are followed if I am having a volunteer or guest speaker visit the classroom?
  • Are there any passwords I need to have? (Copiers, printers, laminators, computers, tablets…)
  • Who are the individuals I need to introduce myself to as soon as possible? (Custodians, secretaries, specialists, department heads, technology director…)
  • Where is that room located?
  • What committees should I consider joining?
  • What traditions exist?

Friday, August 2, 2013

10 Aha! Moments I Experienced at the EdtechRI Technology Un-conference (Spoiler alert: None of them have anything to do with technology!)

Today was a very special day.  No, it wasn’t my birthday or anniversary and it wasn’t even the start of a long weekend.  No, it was special because I was part in an amazing learning community.  I’ll save you the trouble of looking at the date, it is August 2 and it is summer vacation.  This was not a district mandated professional development and no money or course credits were exchanged.  Nevertheless, nearly 60 educators from over 12 districts in 2 states descended upon the Barrington High School Library to learn about technology…from each other.  No presenter, no agenda, no assignments, no rules.  The tablets, smart phones, laptops, and netbooks were aplenty and much technology was shared.  For this list however, I am choosing to focus on a few other things I learned today.
  • It’s important to broaden our professional learning networks to individuals outside our own districts
  • When learners are given choices they are active and engaged (even adults!)
  • When you are given permission to “not know everything”, you relax and become a better learner
  • Teachers think about school in the summer…they really do
  • Teachers embody the phrase “life-long learner”
  • Educators of all grade levels and any content areas can and should learn together
  • Shared leadership is a wonderful thing
  • Collaboration is vital to success (for more on this check out http://goo.gl/FhSKea)
  • We all have something to contribute
  • Stepping outside your comfort zone can get pretty comfortable

Special thanks to http://teacherahamoments.wordpress.com/ and http://writesolutions.org/blog/

Sunday, July 28, 2013

10 Useful Leadership Tips as Demonstrated by 80’s Sitcom Icons

Yes, I am a child of the 80’s, and I watched a lot of television back then.  I had no idea that the characters I grew up watching would offer insight into well, anything.  In an effort to justify the endless hours I spent in front of the television, I’ve come up with 10 examples of leadership traits found in some iconic characters from a time when skinny ties were in and every kid had a Rubik’s Cube.
  • Be the voice of reason
Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) from Happy Days may not have gotten the attention that the Fonz did, but at the end of the day, it was his level headed nature that was the moral compass for the rest of the characters.

  • Display a caring nature
Edna Garret (Charlotte Rae) was more than just a housemother at a boarding school on The Facts of Life, she was also everyone’s friend, confidant, and role model.

  • Show common sense when making decisions
Judge Harold T. Stone (Harry Anderson) was faced with many ridiculous cases as he presided over his Night Court, but always seemed to weigh all the factors and make the best decision.

  • Tell a story to make your point
The highlight of almost any episode of Golden Girls was when Rose Nylund (Betty White) told one of her stories, something many effective leaders are adept at doing to illustrate a point or create a mood

  • Be confident
ALF, or Gordon Shumway as he was known on Melmac, owned whatever room he entered, whether on his planet or ours.

  • Collaboration is essential
Laverne DaFazio (Penny Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) from Laverne & Shirley were nothing alike, but each week they managed to get into and out of trouble by working together.

  • Think outside the box
Bosom Buddies was only on the air for 37 episodes, but  Kip (Tom Hanks) and  Henry (Peter Scolari) spent most of them in women’s clothes in order to live in an affordable apartment, be close to the woman of his dreams, and gather material for a book.

  • Be personable and quick witted
Who could ever forget when Norm Peterson (George Wendt) entered Cheers?  He was greeted with a chorus of “Norm” and answered with a clever retort before taking his corner seat at the bar.

  • Set goals
Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox) knew what he wanted from the moment he was born, wealth, and spent every minute trying to get it on Family Ties

  • Lead ethically
Governor Eugene Xavier Gatling (James Noble)from Benson may not have been the most conventional governor, and perhaps he was even a bit dimwitted, but he lead with his heart in the right place.

Did I miss any of your favorites?  What decade did you grow up in and what did you learn from those characters?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Vending Machine Education: 10 Selections that will help reach all learners

Taking courses this summer has been rewarding but not without its challenges.  The classes are longer and meet more frequently, my family is out doing “summer” things, and the hours unfortunately overlap with what is usually dinnertime.  My classmates are too polite to say anything but I know they hear my stomach growling.  At a break during a recent class I stood before the vending machine trying to decide what would subdue the monster in my belly.  Crunchy?  Chewy?  Salty?  Sweet?   All I had to do was push a letter followed by a number and I would be given exactly what I needed.  I imagined the implications for education if we could do the same for our students. Then it hit me, in some ways we do have that ability.  Through differentiated instruction practices and by tapping into student’s multiple intelligences we support their growth every day.  Of course choosing and providing the means to do it is not that convenient, but what if it were?  Here is what my vending machine would look like.

  • C-1 Cooperative Learning: The perfect snack for those who can share their treats with others
  • T-2 Technology: A taste so great it is sure to go viral
  • I-3 Independent Work: Sometime you just want to be alone and indulge in a decadent treat   
  • A-4 Arts:  A creative delight sure to be one of a kind
  • S-5 Sports/Movement:  This healthy bite will give you a boost of energy and get you moving
  • L-6 Listening:  Bite into this crispy bar and you will hear that delicious crunch even before you taste it
  • P-7 Performing:  Feel like a star when you pop these creamy morsels into your mouth
  • W-8 Writing: Rich, milky, delicious, mouthwatering, and scrumptious are just a few words to describe this goody
  • R-9 Research:  Made from an array of mystery ingredients that will leave you searching for the answers
  • E-10 Experimentation:   A “make your own” snack full of surprises and discovery

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Reflective Questions for Consideration: Part II – Summer Edition

Back in March I posted a list of reflective questions meant to generate thinking about decisions teachers make on a daily basis (http://www.littlebitsofadvice.blogspot.com/2013/03/reflective-questions-for-consideration.html). With summer upon us, now is the time to pose questions that provoke action and will build upon last year’s experiences.   The truth is that it’s much easier to ask these questions than answer them, but with one more check of the rear view mirror you will be ready to set your sights on next year.

  • Are there any technologies I need to become familiar with?
  • How were my relationships with parents?
  • Have I reviewed the standards that will be used for my evaluations?
  • Are there any professional development opportunities that I need to take advantage of?
  • Does my room (the physical space) need to be changed to better suit the needs of my students?
  • Has my district adopted any new initiatives I need to familiarize myself with?
  • Do I need to make any changes to how I began my school year?
  • Were my classroom policies and procedure in line with the school’s overall vision? 
  • What was by biggest hurdle last year and how will I overcome it?
  • What professional resource will help improve my practice?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

10 Educational Doctrines Likely to Never Change

I was recently on a bus trip to New York with some childhood friends, a few of which I hadn’t seen in over 25 years and none of whom are teachers.  During the three hour ride we of course reminisced about our time with Mrs. Goodwin in fourth grade and Mrs. Cunningham in fifth.  We surprised one another by throwing out names we hadn’t spoken in decades and shared what we knew about where they were today.  The more we talked about our school lives in the 1970’s and 80’s the more I realized that our teachers hadn’t the faintest clue about what the world they were preparing us for would be like.  As educators, we are now charged with the same responsibility.  How will we do?  I like to think that we are more informed and better prepared having been a part of this incredible time of change we are living in.  Our world is smaller, the stakes are higher, and I chose to believe that our future is brighter than ever.  No matter what happens, there are some things that will never change.

10 Educational Doctrines
Likely to Never Change

  • When students are engaged in learning, discipline problems disappear
  • Motivation increases when learning is authentic
  • The harder you work for students, the harder the students will work you
  • Asking for the specific behaviors you desire is more effective than admonishing the behaviors you want to eliminate
  • Proving students with clear and specific feedback will help guide them to success
  • Children are more likely to believe in themselves when they know someone else believes in them
  • Every learner is capable of at least one thing, trying their best
  • Mistakes don’t exist if we learn from them
  • Modeling is the most powerful tool accessible to us at any time
  • We learn and are able to think more when we are happy and feel safe

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Everything I Know About Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) I Learned in Little League

My first experience with organized sports took place on a rundown baseball diamond behind an old church in Johnston, Rhode Island.  I was part of a league that consisted of only four teams that weren’t very good but were coached well, played hard, and had a lot of fun.  More than three decades later I still look back on those glory days of my youth and recognize that the lessons I learned on that field went far beyond how to turn a double play and when to hit the cut off. 
I have had the good fortune of being a part of many professional learning communities over the past twenty years, and the best ones remind me of my first baseball team in many ways.
With that in mind, next time you find yourself at a little league field watching the players swing for the fences and round the bases, perhaps it’s not the next group of major league prospects you should be looking for but rather the next generation of educational leaders.

The best hitter on the team practiced his swing by hitting balls off a tee into a fence every day
The most effective educators are the ones who continually look for ways to improve their practice.

Before games and practices, a player volunteered to lead us in our stretching exercises
Professional Learning Communities are made up of individuals willing to take on added responsibilities

The players were responsible for the care and maintenance of the field and the equipment
In addition to the physical plant, attention paid to the school or district’s mission and vision will impact teaching and learning  

While sitting in the dugout, we cheered on our teammates
Entire staffs need to support and celebrate the accomplishments of its learners

When players committed fielding errors, excuses were never allowed
Professional educators are accountable for the teaching and learning happening in their schools

Drills and practices focused on things that happened during the previous game
In order to grow professionally, teachers and administrators must be reflective practitioners

When a fly ball was hit, we always called for it
Educators know the importance of communication

Keeping an accurate scorebook was expected
Documentation and data collection are an essential component of any professional learning community

We always looked for the signs from the third base coach
Formative assessments provide information that can be used to inform instruction

Our coach insisted we watch the best teams in the league play their games
Peer observations will make us better at what we do

Sunday, June 23, 2013

What this veteran teacher was reminded of by the beginning teachers he supported

This list is very unique for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, I am breaking my own rule of limiting it to ten items.  Secondly the list comes with a dedication to the 15 first year teachers that I was fortunate enough to collaborate and learn with every week.  Each item on the list was inspired by one of the beginning teachers I supported, however it is very likely that they will find themselves in many of the descriptions.  It is my hope this list captures the spirit and excitement that comes with one’s first year in the field and celebrates how much the next generation of teachers have to offer.

I learned…

  • Not to be afraid to try new and sometimes uncomfortable teaching strategies in order to meet the needs of all students
  • Organization and routines allow students to actively participate in managing a classroom
  • Professionalism means advocating for what you know is right even if met with resistance from colleagues 
  • Students will be positively impacted by a teacher’s enthusiasm for life and learning
  • Celebrating the unique talents of students will motivate them to cultivate even more
  • Clear and consistent communication with support staff will make everyone more productive and much happier
  • You get what you give, including respect
  • We sometimes don’t know what we are capable of until we accept a challenge
  • Teachers have the ability to create a safe and caring environment for students even when faced with challenging conditions
  • The needs of the whole child must be addressed and this can sometimes mean making difficult decisions
  • The most skilled teachers are constantly striving to get better at what they do
  • Persistence and dedication will be rewarded
  • Being a fluent user of the latest technologies doesn’t mean abandoning personal connections with others
  • Remaining calm and composed when things don’t go as planned is the right choice
  • It is important to take time throughout the year to look at student growth as well as your own

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Taking Control of Your Professional Development

As summer vacation approaches you may be wondering if this is a good time to think about professional development.  Of course teachers need to decompress following each school year, or time to catch up on the many things that have been put aside since September.  However, summer is also a great time to take control of your own professional growth.  If you take some action now, you will head back to school filled with new ideas, possibilities, and a sense of excitement rivaling any first year teacher!  The best part is you can do it on your own time and for FREE!

  • Explore new technologies and think about how you might use them
  • Get to know your teacher evaluation rubrics
  • Read about current trends and issues in education
  • Collaborate with other teachers and pick their brains about what works for them
  • Set a single professional goal and work toward it with fidelity
  • Attend or watch a school committee meeting (most are archived online)
  • Collect and analyze a set of data that is meaningful to you
  • Join a committee and attend meetings
  • Create relationships and expand your professional network anyway you can
  • Look at your school, district, and state board’s websites

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Change can be... Good!

June can be a time of great unknown for many teachers, particularly those new to the profession.  In some cases, and for any number of reasons, teachers will find themselves in a new room, grade, school, content area, role, or even district come September.  Change can be unsettling but also has the potential to be revitalizing.  This week’s list looks at some positives that can be taken away from accepting a new assignment.

  •   You will grow your professional learning network
  • It is a great opportunity to purge and update materials
  • Facing a new challenge will bring out the best in you
  • Your flexibility will be on display and appreciated by others
  • It is a learning opportunity that will positively impact your professional growth
  • You will discover how students learn at various stages of development or in different disciplines
  • With new surroundings come new opportunities, some you may not even know exist
  • Others will learn as you share your skills and talents as an educator with a new group of peers
  • Working with a new group of professionals can provide an emotional lift
  • Your positive attitude will provide the template for others who will share similar experiences in the future

Monday, May 27, 2013

Teachers and Rock Stars...More in Common Than You Think

If you want to make a teacher feel great, call them a “Rock Star”.  Lately this is what I have been hearing outstanding teachers referred to as.  There have even been numerous articles written and blogs posted about what makes a teacher reach this elite status. (Julie Adams from Adams Educational Consulting is one of my favorites http://tinyurl.com/qj6pemg).  This week I decided to take light-hearted and perhaps even a little nostalgic look at the two seemingly very different career paths one might choose and examine what they have in common.

If you are a “Rock Star” or a “Teacher”…

  • You are adored by your audience (See the Beatles arriving to the United States on February 7, 1964)
  • You don’t get better overnight, you practice (Stevie Wonder started playing when he was 4 years old)
  • You use whatever instruments you have available to create something unique (More cowbell!)
  • You collaborate, sometimes even with the most unlikely partner (David Bowie and Bing Crosby singing Peace on Earth)
  • You become a strong voice in your field and advocate for others (Who could ever forget We are the World?)
  • You are having fun when you are doing your thing (If you’ve ever seen Bruce Springsteen in concert you know what I mean)
  • You are recognized when you go to the local supermarket (Is that why Kiss wore makeup in the 70’s?)
  • You do things that are revolutionary (Bob Dylan went electric in 1965)
  • You don’t get too down when faced with setbacks (Does anyone else remember U2’s 1997 release Pop? Yeah, me neither!)
  • You provide others with memories that will last a lifetime (Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

10 Reasons You Remember THAT Teacher

  • That teacher cared about you
  • That teacher smiled a lot
  • That teacher prepared lessons that were engaging and relevant
  • That teacher wanted you to succeed
  • That teacher worked really hard
  • That teacher was honest
  • That teacher was creative and tried different ways to reach you
  • That teacher made you feel like the most important person in the world
  • That teacher gave you many chances
  • That teacher was always happy to see you

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Truths to Remember When Having a Bad Day

We call them “Bad Days”, and we all have them.  Maybe you spilled a bottle of paint all over yourself in front of the class, accidentally released a dozen live crickets in your classroom, or hit “reply all” on an email meant for an individual parent (yes, these all happened to me!).  Maybe it was having a difficult conversation with a colleague, a student breaking his arm during recess, or perhaps it was just a lesson that went terribly wrong.  In reality so many things happen around us in the course of a school day it would be impossible (and useless) to categorize them all as “good” or “bad”.   Nevertheless, no matter how hard we try, it is in our nature to dwell on the negatives and brush over the positives. With that in mind, I submit to you 10 truths to remember after a not so pleasant school experience.

  • You are not alone.  Whether it’s your district, school, grade level, or trusted colleagues, you are part of a network of professionals that are there to support you.
  • At times it may not seem possible, but if you think about your day, you will no doubt be able to take away a positive or two.
  • Students want to learn.  Sometimes it just takes a while to figure out how to reach them. 
  • When students misbehave, it’s not personal.
  • Remind yourself of all the reason you chose this profession.
  • At the risk of sounding like a bumper sticker, remember that what you do will make the world a better place.
  • Next time you face a similar situation, you will be better prepared to deal with it.
  • Parents and teachers both want what’s best for the student.
  • There are many things about teaching that are out of your hands (budgets, technology, class size, meetings, assessments…), but you alone can determine the nature of the relationships you have.
  • It may take hard work, perseverance, or even an apology, but you will have the opportunity to right a wrong

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Ten Relationships Every Teacher Should Foster

Chapter 4 of Michael Fullan’s book Leading in a Culture of Change is called Relationships, Relationships, Relationships. In it he describes that when people’s souls are linked to the organization they feel a deeper connection and want to be a part of it and make a difference.  There is no denying that the ability to establish and maintain healthy relationships is important in any profession and is especially true in education.  Teachers assume many different roles daily that require careful consideration for the relationships involved.  Here are some examples of things to keep in mind as we interact with these individuals and facets of our work.

·         Students- They are the reason we do what we do.  Each minute you spend with your students is precious and should be treated as such.  Use that time wisely to educate, enrich, and enlighten their lives with authentic and engaging learning opportunities.

·         Administrators- Whomever you consider your supervisor has earned that position.  Whether you are in awe of the amazing leadership skills they bring to your school, or vehemently disagree with every decision they make, it behooves you to maintain your professionalism with them at all times.

·         Colleagues- No one will understand your triumphs and troubles as much as a colleague will.  Strive to learn from and with each other daily.  Healthy, professional relationships among peers will greatly influence the entire learning community.

·         Parents- The foundation of this relationship can be summed up in a single word, communication.  It is vital to establish a respectful dialogue with the parents of your students.  The sooner you are able to do this, the longer you will reap the benefits.

·         School Committee- This is an important and often overlooked group of individuals.  They are an essential part of the entire system.  Know the names of the members, what they stand for, and try to stay informed about topics on their agenda.

·         Self- Perhaps the most difficult relationship to cultivate is the one with your own self.  To do so successfully takes time, honesty, and most importantly, courage.  The first step towards realizing this goal is reflection. (http://littlebitsofadvice.blogspot.com/2013/03/reflective-questions-for-consideration.html)

·         Research and Data- A strong relationship with these will go a long way towards improving practice and providing insight to your student’s learning needs.  Unfortunately they can often be underutilized during times of stress and chaos.

·         Support staff- Recognize and appreciate the network of amazing and dedicated individuals that help an organization run smoothly.  As you pull into the parking lot of your school tomorrow and walk to your classroom or office, take note of the efforts made by so many people that allow you to do what you do. 

·         Family and friends- Yes, you are an educator, but you are also a parent, sibling, son, daughter, spouse, aunt, uncle, friend…remember these relationships are part of what make you who you are and therefor balance must be exercised.

·         Technology- By now we all recognize that today’s students are growing up in a world that is very different than the one we lived in.  We mustn’t be intimidated or fear the technologies they enjoy, but rather become better acquainted with them and perhaps (gulp) even embrace them!   

Sunday, April 28, 2013

How educators show the world they love their profession

“If you choose a job you love you will never have to work a day in your life”.  The notion set forth by Confucius over two thousand years ago describes how many teachers feel about their chosen profession.  Within our own school communities we know for who this is true, but how?  Through everyday words and actions we project our passion for the work we do.  

  • They are eager to read anything that can improve their practice
  • They view attendance and punctuality as top priorities
  • They comport themselves in a professional manner
  • They are excited to share their successes and willing to seek support when they need it
  • They understand the value of collaboration (see post on March 17, 2013)
  • They surround themselves with others who love their work as much as they do
  • They always speak with respect about colleagues, students, administrators, and parents, even when they disagree with them
  • They don’t publicly count off the days until summer vacation
  • They don’t bemoan the fact they have to go to work every day, they look forward to being there
  • They voluntarily seek ways to improve their school community 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

10 Lessons Teachers Can Learn from Students

Like many teachers, I often call myself a lifelong learner, but what does that really mean?  Of course it can refer to learning in the academic sense, or perhaps picking up a new skill or talent.  When I am around students, however, it can mean something else.  As a teacher, I’m witness to attributes that I admire in others and am reminded to practice them myself.

  •  Laughter- Children don’t often take themselves too seriously, nor should we
  • Honesty- Sometimes it can be brutal, but there’s no denying it’s an admirable trait  
  • Technology- Have you ever heard a youngster say, “Oh no, did I lose everything?”
  • Flexibility- Schedules are constantly changed with very little dissent (Disclaimer: As a parent of two I would like to clarify that this is true of my students, not my own children)
  • Discovery- That light bulb moment we love to see in children
  • Imagination- Children like to ask, “Why not”
  • Activism- Youngsters have the will to change the world
  • Relationships- Watch a group of friends playing together and you’ll wish you were a part of it
  • Effort- When things don’t come easily they’ll keep trying until they figure it out
  • Resilience- We've all known students who have been through some trying times and marveled at how they bounce back  

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Are You an Effective Educational Leader?

·         Do you allow others to take risks?
·         Do you redirect credit accept blame?
·         Do you follow plans through?
·         Do you protect the reputation of your colleagues?
·         Do you make yourself readily available?
·         Do you provide a safe and comfortable environment?
·         Do you model best practice?
·         Do you ask questions?
·         Do you continually work to stay current in the field?
·         Do you foster leadership in others?

Monday, April 8, 2013

What we are teaching when we are not actually teaching: The importance of modeling behaviors

Most teachers would agree there is so much to cover in so little time.  Here are ways to address and encourage many important skills, behaviors, and attitudes that students will need in order to achieve their goals. The best part is that they don't take any time of your regular day to do at all!

·         Every time you speak COMMUNICATION is being taught
·         When designing lessons and thinking about ways to engage students in learning, allow your CREATIVITY take over
·         Don’t just tell students that READING is an important skill, let them know discretely by leaving clues and sharing examples of how it is an important part of your daily life
·         COLLEGIALITY is on display every time you interact with other members of the staff
·         If we openly examine, analyze, and reflect on our own practice, students will have concrete example of CRITICAL THINKING
·         It is not always easy to “get up” for a lesson, but students know and appreciate EFFORT when they see it
·         If an answer is not readily available don’t just say you will get back to them on that, explain the steps you will take to RESEARCH it
·         Smiling, nodding, and showing a genuine interest in what others have to say encourages ACTIVE LISTENING
·         When we tell students know how much we value time spent working with colleagues they are learning the importance of COLLABORATION
·         When you learn something new get excited and share it with your class,  they will see you as a LIFELONG LEARNER