Sunday, March 31, 2013

Using Facebook with Students

Social media has become an useful instructional tool and is used by more and more teachers to interact with their students and by principals to communicate with families and community. A recent report found that more than 70% of Americans have an account.

But there are legitimate concerns about how teachers and other employees use Facebook and other forms of social media with their students. In a recent post, Lisa Nielson provided five best practices for teachers when they use Facebook with students. At the top of the list is the importance of maintaining a professional demeanor and not mixing your personal site with your professional one. Nielson says, "You can create a page or group that students can "like" or "join" without being one another's friend or seeing one another's feed." That's really important. Nielson's other tips are equally useful.

In The School Leader's Guide to Social Media Howard Johnston and I share other ideas about how teachers can use social media like Facebook to improve instruction and how school leaders can use social media to improve communication. We'd welcome your thoughts about the use of social media in schools. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Social Media: Policy Trends

Social media is a term used to describe a lot of things. For many of us we associate it with Facebook or Twitter and we never think about the countless other ways we use social media technology in our professional and personal lives. Our most commonly used social media device is our phone, often called a "smart phone." Cell phones are no longer used for just making calls. They are now used for locating things on the Internet, sending short messages to friends or family, watching television shows or even movies, reading books, and locating a good restaurant or a nearby coffee shop. In other words, for many of us, our social media device (our cell phone) has become indispensable.

I work a lot with principals, superintendents and people who aspire to those roles. When I mention social media they often describe the perils of its availability and use in their schools. But more recently the tone of these conversations is changing from "how do I ban them" to "how do we use them effectively." That's a monumental shift and recognizes that social media technology and social media devices are just not going away. Some schools have adopted BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies that encourage students to bring and use their social media devices for instructional activities.

As a school leader how do you manage social media technology among your students and your employees. What sort of policy might you consider? What type of policy would be appropriate given the prevalence of social media devices and the powerful tools that social media provides for communication, collaboration, and teaching and learning?

One of my favorite online journals is THE Journal, a publication about current and emerging issues involving technology. Ruth Reynard wrote a really insightful article discussing current policy trends that try to control social media. She offers really useful ideas about how to shape policy so that social media is used appropriately and not in a harmful way.

In The School Leader's Guide to Social Media Howard Johnston and I discuss many of the same issues and provide examples of tools and strategies for using social media in schools. We'd really enjoy hearing from you about how social media is shaping your school and its instructional program.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Tips for Flipping Classrooms

"Flipping" a classroom is a new trend designed to provide more time during class for discussion of concepts, to work on gaps in learning to clear up misunderstanding and for the teacher to work more intensely with students who need additional instruction or support. for a teacher to work individually or in small groups with students needing extra support. When a classroom is “flipped” students’ homework is introduction to new learning through reading materials and watching online videos and other content prepared by their teacher. Labs and other application of learning occur during class when the teacher is available to respond to questions, provide clarification and assist and support students.

In flipped classrooms students take more responsibility for their learning. They watch videos or online lessons, read online material, and complete assignments and assessments outside of class. Specific instructional activities vary based on an individual teacher’s style and preferences.

Edutopia (, a site sponsored by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, reports that “flipping” the classroom results in far more individualized learning for students. They described how students move at their own pace and teachers have more time for one-to-one work with students in need of greater support. Students who are absent find it easier to catch up because they can watch lessons and access other materials online. Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams (2012), among the first teachers to "flip" their classroom found that students demonstrated deeper understanding of course content, assumed greater responsibility for learning, and became far more self-directed.

Flipping the classroom alters instruction by shifting from in class delivery that is often very teacher centered to a class that involves far more discussion and analysis of student learning. The model shifts the role of both teacher and learner as students assume greater responsibility for completing learning activities outside of class.

Useful tips for how to "flip" a classroom were provided by eSchoolNews in a recent article. They include the importance of beginning with two or three things and expanding as you become more comfortable. It's also important to recognize that almost everyone who "flips" their classroom experiences some discomfort because the role of the teacher changes. Finally, they discuss the challenges when students have limited access to the Internet outside of school. Two websites provide other resources on flipped learning. They are and

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Value of Zero

One of my students is an elementary principal in southern Michigan and he writes a weekly blog that is shared with his staff and others. This week he writes about the use of "0" in grading. When we use zeroes we can seriously impact a student's grade. I enjoyed his thoughts about this topic and hope you find it interesting and thought-provoking.

At the end he poses a fascinating question---Grades are a communication tool to students and parents, do your grades reflect knowledge or effort?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mentoring and Coaching Tips

Nothing a principal does impacts student learning more than having good teachers in every classroom. One of a principal's most important roles is cultivate a high quality teaching staff. Too often we get distracted by the unexpected events that occur in any school---an unplanned visit by a parent, a discipline problem, a request from the superintendent. But it is important to intentionally focus on the role of mentor and coach. But some of the most effective mentoring relationships are between colleagues---teacher to teacher. In a recent blog by Sheryn Waterman for Eye on Education suggests four important tips for maintaining a close, supportive mentor relationship among teachers. They include:
  • Proximity - Close physical proximity makes it easier to get together. But for school leaders more frequent visits and interaction can create proximity.
  • Frequent Contact - Talking with each other regularly helps to build a relationship that is central to successful mentoring.
  • Quality Conversations - Assure that the interaction is high quality, about teaching and learning.
  • Classroom Observations - Learning from observing and co-teaching deepens the relationship and the conversation. 
Additional information about how to nurture a supportive mentoring relationship is in the blog and in Sheryn's new book Mentoring and Coaching Tips: How Educators Help Each Other.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Last "Backpack Generation"

Technology is becoming far more prevalent in classrooms. Some schools have adopted BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs that encourage students to bring and use their own tablets, Smartphones, and other technology in school. Rather than being a distraction, technology has become an indispensable tool for both students and teachers.

This morning I read an interesting article in the ASCD SmartBrief about teaching today's students, often referred to as the last "backpack generation." Zachary Walker captures the excitement about mobile learning and provides three really useful reminders for teachers. He emphasizes that mobile learning is not about the tools, but all about student learning. They are important reminders.

We'd enjoy hearing from you about technology is shaping your work and impacting your students and they're learning.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Climate or Culture

I often hear the terms "climate" and "culture" used interchangeably but they are not the same thing. The culture of your school reflects those long-standing shared beliefs, those patterns of behavior that reflect those beliefs and the things that uniquely characterize your school. A culture is often evident in things like rituals and ceremonies in a school, the stories people tell about the school and the people in the school community, the way people are recognized and rewarded and the people who are held in high esteem.

A school's climate is far more immediate and current. The climate may be impacted by recent events like achieving high test scores, the arrival of a new principal, recent contract negotiations, changes in school funding or adoption of a new evaluation system.

Over time your school's climate impacts it's culture. The way you respond to events like those mentioned earlier signals something about the prevailing culture. So, when unexpected, or planned, events occur it is important to think about how your immediate response can, over time, shape your school's culture.

The way principals spend their time, the things they talk about, the way they build relationships with students, families and staff, and the way they recognize people are all an indicator of underlying values and beliefs, the very beliefs reflected in your school's culture. The most successful leaders recognize the connection and look for opportunities to positively shape their school's culture by being very attentive to the routine activities that contribute to their school's climate.

I'd enjoy hearing from you about how you work to shape your school's culture.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Homework Debate

The debate about homework never seems to stop. It's one of those perennial issues faced by school leaders. Proponents of homework suggest that a reduction would reduce academic rigor. Those questioning homework challenge it's link to student learning. What's interesting is that there's evidence to support both sides of the debate. A recent study by a University of Virginia professor found no significant relationship between time spent on homework and grades but did find a relationship between homework and performance on standardized tests.

What we do know is that a survey conducted by the University of Michigan found that the amount of time spent on homework increased 51% since 1981. So, what do we know about homework? First, busy work turns students away from learning and does not impact overall student learning. Second, when homework exceeds more than 60 minutes a day in grades 3-6, 90 minutes a day in middle level and 120 minutes a night in high school, the benefits decline quickly.

One of the best sources of information about homework and how to support effective homework practices is an ASCD publication Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs. The author, Cathy Vatterott, is a former teacher and school administrator. She provides teachers and principals with an explicit set of strategies for thoughtfully examining homework expectations and supporting homework completion. Cathy's website,, shares many of her presentation materials and tools.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Should We Teach Values?

I found a recent article in Education Week to be more than a little provocative, but provocative in a good way. It made me think a lot about teaching, values and ethics. I teach ethics to both Master's and Doctoral students and am fascinated by how each of us develops our own unique ethical code.

Too often schools choose not to talk about morals, beliefs and values because it smacks of trying to teach students our own values. Children grow up in families but they spend significant time in schools. These experiences in school help to shape their own development, and with it, their own identity.

I'm not a proponent of prescribing a set of values. But I do recognize that through our actions we model certain values and beliefs. The way we organize our classrooms, the way we build relationships, the way we respond it times of crisis all reveal our beliefs and values. Schools are not void of values. They're just not discussed.

The article suggests three things educators can do to embrace the role of developing ethical and civic identities in students.
  • First, leverage the Common Core State Standards. Use their implementation as a time to work with your community to talk about how to become engaged in their schools and support the study of global issues.
  • Second, evaluate your school climate to see if it provides an environment where students feel safe, and are supported and valued.
  • Finally, when designing culminating projects base them in both academic and community-service based activities. They can help nurture values like civic responsibility.
I'm really interested in how others respond to this article and to the idea of explicitly helping students develop values and beliefs in our students.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Identifying Effective Teachers

As a principal I was always interested in how to hire teachers with great promise. I recognized that new teachers become more effective with some experience. But I also noted that some teachers showed extraordinary promise in their first few weeks on the job. So, I am really interested in a recent story in Education Week about a study that examined the individual effectiveness of new mathematics and English/language arts teachers in New York City. It found that teachers who had the greatest impact on student learning in their first year on the job continued to have a positive impact. Teachers who had little impact during the first year continued to have little impact in later years. In other words, they had limited growth. "Teachers in the lowest 20 percent were still likely to be in the lowest 20 percent three to five years later." Similarly, teachers who were initially highest performing were by far the most likely to be the highest performing later in their career. The complete report is available here.

In many states it is far easier to non-renew a teacher during their first few years than later in their career. These results may tell us that, as principals, we need to be far more willing to make "tough" employment decisions during the first couple years of employment.

I'd enjoy hearing from you about the study and it's findings.