Saturday, August 31, 2013

Did I Say Success? It's a Painful Process.

In my last post "Are You Set Up For Success? We Are," I matter-of-factly stated that we were ready for being successful in all that we did.  What I wasn't prepared for was what actually happened this week.

The first thing all leaders need to remember is that leadership can be lonely. Decisions must be made and expectations must be stated. And when these decisions and expectations are centered around change, there will be frustrations and there will be confusion. And the frustration and confusion can come from all levels.

We started by wanting our teachers to create a foundation for independent work - in every classroom. In all classes we wanted teachers to create the idea of work stations. Work stations are something that elementary teachers do on a daily basis. Middle school teachers? - not normally, in my experience. What we did not anticipate was that we would have to define "Work Stations." It took days for us to realize this important fact and that is lost time that our teachers will never get back.

A Work Station is a task. It might be something that students are doing in small groups. It might be something they do independently. It might be the majority of students in the class are doing it. But what we want is teachers with a small group while the rest of the class is working. The students need to know how to get resources They need to know how they should be working. And they need to understand that they are NOT to interrupt the teacher. The rules for this have to be established and modeled.  And this can take time. For example, a teacher may have all of her classes, but one, understanding this process. That teacher will have to continue establishing the norms for that one class. So we can't put an absolute time frame for this to be working in all classes. We can, however, put a deadline for all teachers to have the procedures in place.

To help the teachers we put some processes in place -"The First 17 Days." We suggested that ELA and Social Studies use "Guided Reading" as their first work station. We suggested "Problem Solving" as the first work station for Math and Science. Some teachers, with elementary experience, were ready. Some of them even decided that "how to work during a PBL unit" would be their first work station. But some of the teachers with elementary heard other teachers trying to understand the requirements and then they became confused about our expectations.

We had confusion going on at multiple levels. Then we added a new process for creating and posting lesson plans on top of this confusion. The posting part of that requirement proved to be the most problematic. We are using Google Apps this year and we wanted department heads to create a folder for their teachers. This is where they are to place their lesson plans.

I thought I had presented the process for creating and sharing folders but it turned out there were some huge confusions on this. On one end we had teachers very knowledgeable with Gmail but not knowing that the email address they needed to use for our Google Apps was different than their personal Gmail. On the other end we had teachers who had never used Gmail and were trying to figure out how to save things - never mind sharing things.

We now had multiple confusing things each with multiple levels of confusion. But we had a plan for making things better. On Wednesday afternoons we have meetings. This week's meeting was for all teachers. Easy: I would walk them through the Google process and the majority of teachers would, at least, be feeling better about that after that meeting.

Unfortunately all things Google require technology. And the first rule of technology is that you should never expect technology to work when you need it to work. At 3 PM CST I was demonstrating my presentation to our literacy coach and academic dean. At 3:45 when I was in front of teachers there were all kinds of issues. I became flustered, frustrated, and angry. Teachers became flustered, frustrated, and (some) off task. I blew up.

When you have spent over 20 years of your life in, and around, the military, there are certain expectations you inherently want to see.  In 20 years of life in, and around, education, there are certain expectations you end up seeing. Teachers, in many cases, don't pay attention to people talking to them. Teachers, in many cases, engage in conversations with their neighbors. Teachers, in many cases, arrive late to every meeting. Many of these same teachers expect their students to be quiet as a mouse, while paying attention to every word. And pity the student who arrives 30 seconds late to their class!

What happened next was terribly unprofessional, on my part. I unloaded on two of my male teachers in the back of the room who appeared to be off task and laughing hysterically. I didn't sleep very well that night and I made sure I talked with them the next day as soon as possible.

We are going to be successful this year. So I want to restate the last paragraph from my last post:
      As with any school, we will have teachers who will be at varying levels of expertise in this process. Some teachers may not get there this year. We have acknowledged this, as administrators, and we have conveyed this to the faculty. We will be setting the bar high. We will put systems in place to help those teachers who are struggling with facilitating these processes. But as the students walk in [on Tuesday morning], we are set up for success.

I may need to re-read that paragraph multiple times over the next few weeks. We do have systems in place. Our teachers will be successful. But we will need to help our teachers be the best that they can be. Again, stay tuned to this site for updates on how well it goes.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Are You Set Up For Success? We Are.

This week we will start a new school year at Decker Middle School. We have been working most of the summer so that our teachers and, in turn, our students become more successful. There are some things we have put into place for the first 4 weeks of school that should make a significant difference with the learning levels of our students.

First, through a grant, we were able to hire a literacy coach so that I don't have the load of instruction, literacy, and technology in my job description. We were able to identify some teachers last year who are much better than me with technology and are using it, daily, in the classroom. We will be asking them to help those who are less capable and have questions or concerns. We also added an Assistant Principal who is, technically, an intern and has a job description of "Instructional Coach/Principal Intern." She has IC experience and I'm calling her our academic dean.

Next, our Academic Dean, Principal, and I started (back in June) with planning some basic non-negotiables. They range from what our lesson plans will look like, to what our team plannings will look like, to a daily plan for the first "17 Days."

The First 17 Days (as we are calling it) is modeled from a system Austin (TX) ISD uses called The First 20 Days. Within this period most of the core classes will have completed their first instructional unit. Overlay number one is a plan to teach ALL students at DMS how to work independently. So, we have incorporated a gradual release and stamina method of getting students to go from 5 minutes to 20 (30?) minutes of work without input from the teacher.

Second, we are overlaying a few minutes of literacy that starts with Guided Reading (ELA/SS) or Problem Solving (SCI/Math). Again this is a gradual release plan where teachers model Think-Alouds of reading or problem solving. Then the teacher has students model the process. Finally students pursue reading and problem solving and incorporate interactive notebooks and/or journals.

Third, we are striving to become an AVID demonstration site. All of our students will be keeping Cornell Notes. Some will be kept electronically and some will be kept via conventional notebooks. But every student will be doing this. And, teachers will be using AVID classroom management techniques so that students see consistency from classroom to classroom.

Lastly, we are incorporating the use of Google Apps via the New Tech Network's LMS called ECHO.  Teachers are going from not using it, to creating classes, to using a daily agenda, to using an electronic filing cabinet during this initial phase of the school year.

Our goal is that when the 2nd 6 week grading period starts we have students who are able to work independently and have a system (both electronically and via traditional notebooks) to keep their knowledge in set places. They will encounter very similar experiences in all of their classes, and teachers will be starting to incorporate PBL as their primary mode of instruction.

As with any school, we will have teachers who will be at varying levels of expertise in this process. Some teachers may not get there this year. We have acknowledged this, as administrators, and we have conveyed this to the faculty. We will be setting the bar high. We will put systems in place to help those teachers who are struggling with facilitating these processes. But, as the students walk in on Tuesday morning, we are set up for success. Stay tuned to this site for updates on how it all goes.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Different Look to Back-To-School PD

Successful Answer to Competition
We didn't want teachers to come into school this week and sit for a couple of hours while we go over the daily routine, duty, emergency procedures, etc, etc, etc.... Nope. Aint gonna do it!

Instead we planned a couple hour activity that went like this:


Teachers were given a place to go as they came into the door. There were 6 places set up and 6 to 8 staff members at each place.  The first task was to get to know each other. Then they had to select a group name and create a video introducing each of the members of the group. The video was sent to me.

Each of the 6 sites had a different activity and each activity had an "expert" (one of our administrators, IC's, or librarian). We used Facetime as the means of communicating from the activity to the expert. Because of the possibility of tech/wireless difficulties, we had written copies of information.

At each site there was a team building challenge. The teams performed the challenge and the recorder shot a video of the success (or failure). The recorder sent the video, via email, to me. {Note:  I will be creating a movie from all of the video clips.} Once the video was sent, the groups contacted the activity expert, via Facetime, where they were given 3 words from this Colin Powell quote:  "There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure."

The six activities were named for educational concepts that we want to focus on this year. Activity one was "Higher Order Thinking" and entailed a challenge where they had to create a song. Activity two was "Literacy" and they had to decipher a nonsense paragraph and answer questions based upon the paragraph. Activity three was "Closing the Achievement Gap" and the teachers had to move down the hallway to set spots by moving different lengths of 2 X 4's between the spots and walking only on the pieces of wood. Activity 4 was L.C.R. (Learning/Collaboration/Reflection) and they had a team building activity with duct tape. Activity 5 was "Growth Mindset" and they had to do another team building activity like the peg game at a Cracker Barrel Restaurant. Finally, Activity 6 was "The key to student success" and teachers were given clues that took them to a bathroom mirror where they were to figure out that "They" were the key to student success.

At the end of 15 minutes teams rotated to the next station. If the task was not successfully completed the teams did not receive a piece of the phrase.  At the end of all of the rotations groups had to put the phrase in order and then they contacted their expert. At that time they had to state the quote and who is known to have said it originally. Some teams searched online for the quote and wanted to state the answer after only a couple of rotations. Teams were not penalized for being resourceful except that they had to wait until the end of the game to tell us the answer.


At the end of the game teachers came to the cafeteria where there were refreshments.  We discussed the importance of the quote, and how the quote and the activities relate to the upcoming school year.

Our administration reflected afterward with Likes/Wonders/ and Next Steps (See image)  The "U" in the Wonder column is for the U in our school norms - "Utilize what you've learned."  As you can see there were a lot of positives.

Just like in the classroom there is plenty of time to cover the "curriculum" or, in this case, the day-to-day requirements of running a school. It is more important to establish relationships if you want to have a truly collaborative group.  And with these two hours of team building we have created relationships that will, hopefully, be sustaining and will foster a faculty who works exceptionally well together.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

You Want to See Power of Twitter?

Official Skyrim Logo
At approximately 9:40 PM I opened Twitter and saw this tweet from my friend Bianca Hewes in Australia:  "Gonna buy an X-Box and some games for English faculty to help us teach games as texts. Can anyone suggest games with strong narratives?"

I stepped away from the computer and talked with my 14 year old son about this question and he LOVED the fact that I was asking him this. He was, actually, online playing a game with a friend and they both discussed it and gave me a recommendation that was PS3 only. So I  told him it had to be XBOX. He did his teenage boy discussion about how "all the good games are on PS3," and then said that Skyrim would be a good choice. I suggested L.A. Noire but he didn't agree with me - (I almost sent it to her anyway)

So, just before 10PM I tweeted: " @BiancaH80 my 14yo son suggested Skyrim and The Last of Us for great story lines but Last of Us is PS3. #wenttothesource "

Then I remembered that one of my best high school buddies has been writing for video game magazines for about 30 years and has been very influential in the business. I also knew a friend that I had met here in Austin a few years ago. Both are living in California but are in the video game business.

So, a couple of minutes later I tweeted: " .@vidgames@TallGamer friend of mine and tchr in Australial looking for XBOX game with Great Narrative for English Class - cc @BiancaH80 "

In the matter of 30 minutes a teacher in Australia had asked a question. She had gotten information from me: a teacher with a son who plays a lot of video games in Texas. And, she had gotten in contact with two professionals in the video game industry.

Well, as I was writing the first part of this I returned to Twitter to see if there was any other action on this tweet.  I saw this exchange between @Tallgamer and @BiancaH80:
     "@cfanch @vidgames @binacah80 what age students? " from @TallGamer
     " @TallGamer @cfanch @vidgames ranges from 12 - 18 boys & girls. Thanks :) " From @BiancH80
     " @cfanch @Vidgames @BiancaH80 I am going to say Mass Effect, the only issues are that it is rated Mature because of language and sex and viol " From @TallGamer
     " @cfanch @vidgames @BiancaH80 the other I would suggest is Bioshock it's a great narrative about a man with to much power and greed " From @TallGamer

This conversation continued with a suggestion from @TallGamer to subscribe to his Youtube channel and a discussion that they should talk via Skype. As I was talking with my wife and writing this, I said "You can't make this stuff up - it's writing itself!"  This is just one example out of hundreds (thousands?) of exchanges that happen between educators on Twitter. 

If you need more examples, just go onto twitter and tweet: "Anybody have great examples of teachers using Twitter to get great answers to questions?" Then sit back and wait for answers to flow in. Just don't forget to thank them for their help. Who knows you might even make a friend and start your own PLN.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Here's Looking to Another 103

Never Could Spell Our Last Name
This week my Aunt Pauline (Pauline Fancher) turned 103. As I was walking this morning I started thinking about her and her amazing life. Oh, she didn't rescue 100's from a huge catastrophic event. She was never President of the United States and she didn't have any children who grew up to be President. No, she was amazing for so many, many, un-amazing things.

For example, she never got a driver's license. But then everything she needed to do was within 2 miles of her house. She worked as an art teacher at 3 or 4 schools but the farthest was about 2 miles away. Still, she could be seen walking with her art supplies or some object or piece of art all over Winsted, Connecticut. She'd walk to church. She'd walk to the store. She just walked everywhere. No need to drive a car.

She was born in 1910. So, when the stock market crashed in October of 1929 she was already 19 years old and the oldest of 9 children. The 9th was just born so I'm assuming the crash kept it from being 10 or 11 children. Interesting side note: My dad was the same age, when I was born, as my grandmother was when she had my Uncle Bob. Maybe being in her late 40's is the actual reason for not having any more children.

By the time she was officially an adult of 21 she had witnessed men going of to The War to End All Wars. She had seen the Stock Market Crash of 1929. And, she had (probably) tasted some of the dust flying from the Dust Bowl of the Midwest into the North East.  Yet, she had another 80+ years to go!

In 1940, as Germany started pushing outward, she was turning 30 and, as the census image shows, she lived at home with 5 of her siblings and my grand parents. Notice that in the census record above people were already spelling the name Fancher wrong. Yet, as I searched for information about Pauline Fancher there were a bunch of Pauline Fanchers in the Connecticut/New York area in the early 1900's, so the name Fancher wasn't exactly a rare word.

By the time I was born, in 1958, she was nearly 50. She had been teaching for quite a few years. She had visited Europe and had traveled quite a bit around the Northeast. Her brothers and sisters were off being normal human beings having families and driving cars and such.  My Grandfather had died in 1950 and she was taking care of my Grandmother. My Grandmother didn't exactly need too much taking care of. She lived at home until her death at 95 and I never thought of her as an invalid.

Did I mention she never drove? Well she also didn't drink or have too many other things that we would call vices. She was always active in social clubs and her church which kept her walking all around town to meetings and events. And when she did want to go somewhere she just called one of her siblings (there were 8, remember) or one of her nieces or nephews. Because of these calls most of the nieces and nephews got a chance to have some "quality" time with dear old Aunt Polly.

The one I remember happened in around 1978. I was a 20ish college kid who was home for the holidays. The phone rang and it was my aunt. She told me how she had gotten tickets for Lawrence Welk in Hartford (almost 30 miles away!). She had two tickets and she needed someone to go with her and drive her to the concert. And I was the fortunate one. And I sincerely mean that. Oh, I rolled my eyes and probably did a bunch of complaining to my mom and dad, but a few days later I was sitting at the concert enjoying a really great show!

But that's how she rolled. And, for 103 years she has been rolling along enjoying life. Happy Birthday Aunt Pauline!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Doesn't Every School Have Leadership Retreats?

On Friday our principal set up a leadership retreat for 6 of us. We had 3 Assistant Principals, the Literacy Coach, and myself. We went from 8 AM until the bill was paid at dinner about 12 hours later. And as I was driving home I thought to myself, "Wonder if other schools do this?"

I have mentioned it before, but I feel very strongly about the fact that I have a very good principal. He is a self-proclaimed geek who loves to look at analytical relationships - "If I tweak this input variable how will it affect my output variable?"  He also shared with us that he enjoys conflict too. He looks at conflict and failure as places where the greatest learning occurs - and he's right! Although I have to admit I'm someone who prefers that "we all just get along."

The timing of the retreat was perfect. All of us were "officially" on contract and the school was closed because we are still on the summer schedule which has the schools closed on Fridays. We worked from about 8 until nearly 5 with lunch delivered. Then we drove to a nice restaurant where we ate and had a few drinks which just added to our bonding experience.

The image at the top has part of our agenda. Notice that this section of the agenda is titled, Leaders of Learning.  No mention of being administrators. We are all about learning. And so you'll see that we started by looking at Chapter 1 of "Instructional Rounds in Education," which focuses on "The Instructional Core."  This year we want to purposefully examine the relationships between teachers, their students, and their content.  The relationship between these three is the key to deeper learning according to the authors.

Next we looked at our Mission Statement. The year before we taken what had been called a mission statement but was more of a motto and we analyzed it and adjusted it so that it was concrete and measurable. We like to think of the mission statement as a challenge. And so our first task was to look at student data and find 2 areas to celebrate and 2 areas where we failed, as a campus. We wrapped this section up by focusing on creating a common goal for the year.

When we have "Brutal Facts," like having only about 10% of our SPED students passing the state tests and less than half or our ESL students passing, it's easy to see where we need to focus. But driving towards one main goal that will help those students and every other of our 800+ students is a different story. We know that literacy has to be our main focus but what does this look like in math? in art? in PE? We need to make a concerted effort to help every student in every one of their classes.

The rest of the day was centered on the backward design process (BDP) and response to intervention (RTI). We are using CSCOPE this year for our pacing and curriculum design. So we have created a process to take the information given in CSCOPE and transform it using BDP so that it fits nicely into a project planning form (PPF). That's right we do BDP on CSCOPE to create our PPF!

Our teachers feel a bit stressed because they will be using a new curriculum guide and will be putting that information into a PPF because they will be using PBL as their primary mode of instruction (for the first time) while having 1:1 iPads (for the first time). Just a bunch of whiners if you ask me. Kidding of course. (see my post here about taking care of my teachers ).

Looking at the Instructional Core again, we need to make sure the teachers, their students, and their content are in perfect balance. If the leadership doesn't develop a system to ensure our teachers are successful. And if we haven't identified those students who will need additional help. And, if we haven't given our teachers a way to deliver curriculum in a way that provides the students with a way to go deeper. Then we will not be successful as a school.

Waiting until after the entire campus is back to their normal working hours is too late. We need to give them things that will help them throughout the year right away. But we also need to balance that with NOT giving them too much so that they feel even more overwhelmed. It's a tricky balancing act but we will remain positive and do as much modeling as possible in the early days and weeks of the school year. Still, we could not have gotten this far into the process without a dedicated day totally focused on how we, as Leaders of Learning, can create a culture of learning.  Bring on the teachers! I'm ready to help them get started