Thursday, April 25, 2013

Celebrating Students - A Reflection of School Culture

While talking with one of my students, principal of an elementary school in nearby Monroe, this morning she described her efforts to change the culture of her school. Her school was often the lowest performing school in the district but recently sixth grade reading scores have exceeded state averages and are now the highest in the district. She mentioned "Eagle Walks" that occurred at the beginning and end of each school year. I was fascinated by the idea and asked for more information.

The school's mascot is the eagle. Every year on the first day of school new students (kindergartners and others new to the school) arrive to find the teachers, staff and returning students and parents lining the hallways. As the new students enter, everyone cheers and applauds their arrival. The school's song is played on the public address system and there are small gifts for every new student. Similarly, on the final day of school, teachers, staff, students and parents line the hallways and applaud as the sixth graders depart for the middle school.

What a wonderful example of how a ritual or ceremony can become an important indicator of the culture of the school. The principal reports that students return to the school and always want to know if the "tradition" continues. It's one of those memories they carry with them for their lifetime.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Trust: Essential for Successful Leaders

I just finished a new book, The Trust Factor: Strategies for School Leaders, available from Eye on Education. It discusses perhaps the single most important factor in the success of any leader---trust. Trust can accelerate your work improving your school or the lack of trust can be a real impediment to your success. The authors, Julie Combs, Stacey Edmonson and Sandra Harris provide real-world strageiges that leaders can use to creating a trusting and respectful school.

One skill the authors identify is developing good listening habits. They describe eight listening habits to avoid if you want to create trust.
  • Do not say how you handled similar situations or how you would feel in their shoes.
  • Do not change the focus back to you. Avoid telling them about the time you had the same problem. Remember, this is not about you.
  • Don't try to start giving them resoruces or solutions unless they ask you for ideas. Active listenign does not mean you are there to solve their problems.
  • Don't judge them. Statements such as "What were you thinking?" or "That's awful!" imply they did something wrong. Avoid saying whether they are right or wrong. Judgment can increase their fears about sharing and cause them to withdraw.
  • Let them finish. It is easy to interrup or jump in, but these behaviors disrupt the conversation and change the focus of the conversatkion as well as your role as a listener.
  • Be comfortable with silence and pauses. These gaps are healtny; you do not have to fill all of the spaces with words.
  • Give them your undivided attention. If your mind wanders, grab it and bring it bac.
  • Do not think about your reply before they have finished talking and had a chance to say what they want to say. This action is ingterrupting without opening your mouth. Again, your role as the listender has been disrupted, and you are no longer focused on what they are saying or on their need to be heard.
    I'd enjoy hearing from you about trust and the strategies you use to build and promote trust in your school.

    Wednesday, April 17, 2013

    Favorite Social Media Tools

    Social media technology continues to transform how teachers, students and leaders do their work. We're amazed at the creative tools that have emerged to support our work individually and with one another. Here are a few of our latest finds.

    Popplet -
    This tool allows you to gather and organize ideas much like a concept map. It allows you to examine resources from different sources and organize an assignment or presentation. You can invite others in your group to add to the web/map. 

    Educreations - 
    This tool allows you to create amazing presentations on a recordable whiteboard. It captures your voice and handwriting to produce short video lessons that you can share online. Created as an iPad app they're working on an app for Android devices. Public lessons can be embedded on blogs or websites. Ron uses it all the time in his online courses.

    Idea Sketch - 
    This app allows you to draw diagrams and create mind maps, concept maps or flow charts. There is an option to convert from text or to text if desired. It's a great tool for brainstorming and illustrating concepts. Apps are available for iOS and Windows devices.

    We also want to include a tool that's been around for a while but just keeps getting better.

    Prezi - 
    This presentation tool allows you to organize and share ideas on a large whiteboard. A wide selection of templates makes it easy to get started. Once you begin you'll find Prezi easy to adapt to a whole variety of presentation needs. It allows you to embed photos, audio, video and links to all sorts of information on the web. 

    We hope you enjoy trying out these social media tools and would enjoy hearing from you about other's you've discovered.

    Monday, April 15, 2013

    The Success of Early College Programs

    One trend during the past few years has been a increased number of alternatives for students---charter schools, and alternative schools. Perhaps one of the most successful has been the early college movement. Early college programs are most often located on community college campuses and students learn college-level content and early college credit. Early college graduates earn an average of 36 college credits for free which is a substantial part of the credit needed for a Bachelor's or Associate's degree.

    Early college programs are very successful. A new report from Jobs for the Future (funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation) looked at early college programs and found that 93% of early college students graduate high school and 76% immediately enroll in college. Both indicators are far better than national public school data.

    Early college programs serve many underserved students. More than half of student are from low-income families and more than 77% from minority families. What's most noteworthy is that early college programs prove that all students can be successful at college-level work regardless of their background.

    More information about this report on early college programs can be found at the Jobs for the Future website and at the Jobs for the Future blog.

    Thursday, April 11, 2013

    Effective Teacher Evaluation

    In almost every state there are changes in the teacher evaluation system. Some are very directive. Others  provide districts with options. But in nearly every case the focus is on improving accountability for student learning and providing more defined criteria to measure teacher performance. But changes in teacher evaluation are not the only changes. Similar laws are being adopted to change the evaluation system for principals and other school leaders.

    I'm always looking for helpful resources that can inform the work of principals and recently found an article on eSchoolNews that identifies six steps to effective teacher development and evaluation. Three ideas stand out from the others.
    • include evidence of teaching and student learning from multiple sources
    • use information to provide constructive feedback to teachers, not shame them
    • adjust the system over time based on new evidence and feedback.
    While principals legitimately struggle with the mandates around evaluation, it is critical that we recognize one of a principal's most important roles, to hire, nurture and retain high quality teachers. Sound evaluation systems support these efforts and include a way to recognize the incredible contributions that most teachers make to student learning.

    I'd enjoy hearing from you about how your state or district is dealing with the changing expectations about teacher evaluation.

    Monday, April 8, 2013

    Managing Data to Improve Your School

    When I was a principal I often thought I was drowning in data and I was. Lots of data in the form of reports and spreadsheets came across my desk. What was often missing was the time to take that data and turn it into useful information, information that could be used to shape and guide our school improvement efforts.

    I've written about turning data into information and worked with principals and their school improvement teams on doing just that. Recently my colleague Barbara Blackburn and I wrote a blog post for Eye on Education that discussed four steps to manage data. Each step is discussed on some depth in the blog and in Rigorous Schools and Classrooms: Leading the Way. But here's a quick summary.
    • Step 1 - Be Clear About What You Want to Know - rather than generally talking about use of data, identify some questions that you would like to answer. That can help clarify the task.
    • Step 2 - Decide How to Collect the Data - You may already have lots of data but you may want other forms of information. Spend some time thinking about the multiple measures you will use to answer your questions.
    • Step 3 - Analyze the Data - Too often insufficient time is allowed to review the data, look for gaps, and get different points-of-view. I always liked to have several people, in several different roles, look at the data with me. These multiple perspectives almost always led to a more thoughtful analysis.
    • Step 4 - Set Priorities and Goals Based on the Data - Make sure you do something with the information you put together. Use the analysis to shape and guide your goals and areas of focus. Often, this will lead you right back to gathering even more data about your school's improvement.
    I'd enjoy hearing from you about how you use data to guide your school's improvement.

    Wednesday, April 3, 2013

    Getting More Diversity in Honors/AP Classes

    One of the most persistent issues in American education, and one of the least discussed, is how to address issue of lack of diversity in accelerated, honors and AP classes. While we talk a lot about the achievement gap, we rarely look at how admission to these classes does not reflect the ethnic and gender diversity present in ours schools. The College Board reports (2012) that while increasing numbers of high school students enroll in AP classes, the admissions/enrollment gap persists.

    A recent column in edutopia examined how accepted practices in many school perpetuate these gaps. The gap may be the result of the criteria used for admission to high-level classes. It may be a misperception among students and their families that these classes are for certain kinds of students. Regardless, the admission gap continues despite our knowledge that there is no inherent "ability" gap because of one's gender or ethnicity.

    In her blog Heather Wolpert-Gawron, a middle school teacher describes the plan her school developed to address the need for more diversity in honors classes. She provides a candid, but thoughtful analysis of the issues involved in addressing this issue. Her post ends with the question we all should be asking---what do you plan to do about this issue in your school?