Thursday, September 29, 2016

Two Simple Practices that Make a Big Difference

Kneeling Down and Keeping it Private

Whenever you speak to kids whether it be at their desk, in the hallway, or wherever… Try to get to their eye level.  As a school leader you don’t want to be viewed as a dictator and one of the simplest ways to connect with the students in your building is to get at their eye level.  This is important at any and all levels of education.  

Keeping it private means taking the effort to walk over and quietly address things as much as possible.  Yelling or speaking more than just a child’s name over a few others immediately puts yourself at risk of a power struggle and could embarrass.  There are moments and times for that, don’t get me wrong, but your practice should be to keep it private.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Instructional Rounds Season 3

So they say that a sequel is never better than the original and therefore the third installment is probably always the worst.  I hope this is not true as I embark on my third year of doing instructional rounds and our staff embarks on the second.

I write this as a timestamp to look back on later to see how we evolve throughout the year.  This is a major part of our professional development this year, probably the single most expensive endeavor, and hopefully the most meaningful as a staff.

The idea is to get 3 substitutes over 18 days, 54 substitutes ($7000+) total and have them cover classes all day so a day of learning can occur for each grade level.  At my school each grade level has 3 teachers.  Below is the basic schedule of what the day will look like.

So I will explain in bullets:
  • The day before the teacher being observed gives the others on the team a description of the lesson to build their understanding so they are not going in cold.  They are all same grade level, so concepts should not be too foreign.  
  • The team observation (Just say, 2nd grade team) (3 teachers).  One teacher is teaching, other 2 teachers, coaches (I have 2), myself, etc. are observing and taking scripted notes.  No inferences, only descriptive evidence, which can be pictures.  The student said.... The teacher asked.... The students were asked to answer the following questions....
  • The whole thing is being recorded for the teacher being observed to review later.
  • The team of 4-7 people spend 35-45 minutes in the room on the process of taking notes.  
  • Everyone breaks at 10ish and the teacher that was observed goes and watches the video.  We will use a SWIVL to record.  This is only for them to build context as to what they did and what they discussed.  They should take descriptive evidence of themselves at this time. 
  • Everyone reconvenes at 1:00 to debrief.  We all spend and hour or more talking about our problem of practice within the context of their lesson.
  • Problem of Practice - Increasing the cognitive rigor of lessons from recall and comprehension to metacognition, reasoning, creating, analyzing, self-actualizing etc. with an integration of technology that is meaningful.  All under the umbrella of addressing standards.
  • This debrief is professional and judgement free.  It is not about good or bad at all, but what the observed teacher and students did.  What were the tasks assigned and accomplished?
  • Then how could they have done it differently?  If I hear the words good or bad, I freak out and call it out as an inference and we move on.  
  • This is a diagnosis, that is it!  Can not stress this enough.  A diagnosis, there is no bad or good! This is the single most important emotional element that has to be facilitated or managed.  Then a prescription to improve.  
  • That is PD, real practice, real conversations, real growth.  Not a session, but practice analyzed.  I say forget all other forms of PD, this is it.  Analyze my job, give me ideas in a nonthreatening environment... please, does it get any better?
  • The last part of the day is to reflect, take some time to process, and figure out how to apply immediately.
  • We collect data all year on this to measure our growth. We have seen good growth from last year. Here is data from last year and a half

  • This is real data with all of 2015 and Spring of 2016 showing with over 100 data points a large decrease in recall/retrieving.  You will always need and see comprehension, but I was so happy to see analyzing, reasoning, and the other grow!  I was so proud of this work and this data.  My staff worked so hard at analyzing their own lessons to think differently. 
Has this meant the highest test scores in the state or the district, NO.  Has this meant that my staff more fully understand blended learning, they more fully understand lesson design, they more fully understand how kids need to think in the 21st century, they more fully understand how to be creators, facilitators, and educational leaders...

We are playing the long game. To play the long game takes discipline, practice, challenges, and struggle.  

I will be spending probably 25% of my budget this year on this process.  My staff knows it, or if they did not hear it before, because they were not paying attention, they will know it now.  After I share this with them.  This is a sacrifice, which I hope to have sponsored by a grant in the future, which we tried for this year, and failed.  You are what your budget says you are.  I like to think we are continuous improvers, sharers, not afraid of peer feedback, and doing what is necessary to produce experiences for "our kids" that are unparalleled. 

Go ahead and ask me for a "link" to any kids learning in my school, and I can give you thousands, any time, from anywhere, from any classroom, maybe more...  Just think about that?  

If they are just answering questions and nothing more they are not learning.  They are regurgitating information.  Without explaining and creating, analyzing, reasoning, and using metacognition they are just robots.  Why our problem of practice is what it is with the infusion of technology to create those "links" and experiences of learning that are real.     

Thursday, September 22, 2016

#GoOpen is not a movement and it is not a "thing".  It is a mindset, not a growth mindset, innovative mindset, or #MONDAY mindset.  It is an open mindset, a mindset that does not care about accolades, does not care about recognition, does not care about name dropping.  It is "here is my stuff, take it, leave it, change it, push it, whatever, but here it is!"

People way smarter than me will figure out how to curate and share this, but without you sharing openly, we have nothing.

It is a mindset that does not care if you are jealous, does not care if you talk about me, and certainly does not care if you critique my work.  It is a mindset that we all should have, a mindset that allows you to be free of perception and truly create your own.  If you are always worried about credit, your image, brand, product, or whatever, you are never #GoOpen.  If you promote yourself over your work, you are never #GoOpen.

#GoOpen is walking over to a lunch table of strange "cool kids," as an awkward freshman in high school, and telling them your life story.  Then sitting down and asking them about theirs.  Chin up, confident, knowing that with true transparency, and openness, comes true conversation and movement.  And if you get punched in that same chin, knowing you will get up and go to the next table with the same story.  You may make a few modifications to avoid being punched again, but the message is the same.  

That is what #GoOpen is at times to me. Sure we can get rid of textbooks, stop worrying about copying things, put things on digital platforms, etc.  But until we are ready to say, "here I am, take me for what I am and then you own it..." You are not #GoOpen.

Hopefully you understand my analogy in this.  If not, I am open to your questions and feedback.

Friday, September 16, 2016


Relativity in what you do and who you be
Believe me, what I know is not what I see

Experience, history, and life are unique
Each blink I think and think

How you feel, meshed, with what is in your sight
It is all relative, righteous, not necessarily what is right

At a loss I toss and toss
In my bed at night in a fight

Your ideas and your attention
Are relative to my perception

I find something important and you don't
What does that mean? My will... your won't?

Tell me this is the direction, I tell you stand back
You lack my understanding you never ran my track

Ever go up an escalator and not moved an inch
In a pinch do you cut corners and justify with a wink

Complaints are not mine, what's the pressure?
It lives in every conversation and every gesture

My stance is different than yours
You don't understand me, you've never been on my tour

Relative to your history, your story, and your worries
Experiences are all we have with our memories

Therefore relative to the lens that you apply with emotion
Commotion is a revolution within that moves your perception

What is hard for me is not for you
You lose! You applied you to me

It is relative, not an aunt, uncle, or even a mother
Confession... If it is all relative, why do I even bother?

Because being understood regardless of difference is the goal
Only variance that matters, is if you feel you are not heard at all

Thursday, September 15, 2016

I was asked to write for 8 minutes...

I was asked 2 nights ago to write for 8 minutes about who #cddolphins are... I did not write... I researched my own writing to find 2 blog posts that fit what we were supposed to write about...

I realize now after reading both posts again, that I did this exercise a disservice.  I do feel everything in those 2 posts, but they were from 6 months+ and over a year ago.

I actually probably should redo my 8 minutes of "who WE are". I am setting the timer on my phone and I am writing... NO edits, no corrections after 8 minutes... Here it is:

Who are We? That is so hard!  I start with dismissal.  We are families, mothers, fathers, grandparents, brothers, sisters, etc. picking up our loved ones!

We are TEC#, but not like what you would expect.  WE incorporate it now 3 years in with purpose, we may not have the greatest test scores, but we can "show" you learning like no other.

Come to Carrie Downie, you will see happy kids learning, creating, loving the process, struggling at times, maybe even shutting down.  But not forever, the staff is so dedicated to reaching every child that tears have been shed by me and others over how we have failed.

We have not the most difficult population in history, but we do more with less, than any other school I have ever been a part of.  We have so many kids and parents wanting to get in it is hard to say "no" to anyone.

We are who we are.  We do everything, every teacher, every educator in the building is everything for every child.  We are #cddolphins not a hashtag, but about 30 educators committed to making a learning experience for kids more than words, text, questions, and tests.  We are allowing "our kids" to create learning and making learning real.  Create a "link" that can be shared with world.

Our audience may be small, but it is a start.  Our mission is to allow, not make, students have a voice that does not stop at 3:25.  They need to think about those projects, assignments, and etc. way past our regular school day. We are creating learners, not regurgitates.  I have 14 seconds, I guess I am done.

I did spell check and grammar check past 8 min. SORRY! Otherwise I stuck to the constraints!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Best Practices - What are They?

If you are in education you have heard the term, "best practices."  What are they? What does that mean?  In delivering a prescriptive program a consultant will tell you about researched based "best practices" and how, if implemented correctly, you will teach the curriculum with fidelity and success.  I do agree with this, I have done my own case studies where I compared teachers that were trained in programs vs. those that weren't and their relative effectiveness.  This was on a very small scale within in one building, but I would agree with the statement; when a prescribe curriculum or program is taught within a context of "best practices" fidelity occurs and your maximum gains are achieved. 

But I want to go a little deeper.  What about the other 70% of the time you don't have prescribe programs.  What about "best practices" in those quick interventions, quality conversations, feedback sessions, management techniques, engagement tricks, etc. What are "best practices" in these situations?  Areas where you may not have been trained, but are still important.  We can never be trained in everything we do in education.

I feel they are individualized.  Your "best practices" may not be mine. I may not be an outgoing over the top actor in front of my class.  I may not be the most creative lesson planner.  I may struggle with technology. I may think outside the box continuously.  What are my "best practices"?

In these instances I believe "best practices" are individualized and repeatedly improved with coaching, conversations, collaboration, trial and error.  When you have never tried something before and you can find very little to go on as a guide, what are the "best practices"?  My opinion is that "best practices" are necessary at times, but growth in development as a lesson planner and teacher occur outside of "best practices".

They occur in "new practices" that become "best practices" after practice.  Sorry Allen Iverson, practice is important.  It just may not always be your best, which is okay if you are getting better.

So next time someone says to you "best practices" ask them what they mean?  Do you mean a program or that other 70%, because there is a difference in how we practice.  

Sunday, September 4, 2016

reality, relativity, reliability, really...

For months I have been working on writing about relativity in education, classrooms, and how perspectives are the driving forces beyond so much in our thoughts and feelings about school.  Then my thoughts shifted to how reliability in message, people, circumstances, and systems drives your relative perspective.  Thoughts were getting out of control.  This exercise brought on a reality that forced me to think about how history and experiences may be the actual reason we make decisions and have opinions.  I really want to be able to finish the writing, but struggling.  Because my reality is relying on reliable thoughts about relativity which is solely related to my own experiences and not others.  That is my problem on this topic!  It is all relative right....?  I have a headache...

It is really only one paragraph as I have deleted so much.  This is never going to get done and maybe it shouldn't.