Monday, March 31, 2014

Questioning the Value of Walkthroughs

A recent study found that principals spend an average of 12.7% of their time on activities to improve instruction and 5.4% of their time on classroom walk-throughs. The time was slightly higher in elementary school than in secondary schools. But what's really interesting is that the study found that classroom walk-throughs were negatively associated with student performance, as measured by standardized tests, particularly in high schools. On the other hand, the same study found that there were achievement gains when principals worked to improve the school's curriculum and/or spent time coaching teachers.

Principals reported that they used walk-throughs to "check up" on teacher performance and to be visible throughout their school. While principals saw the walk-throughs positively, their teachers found them less valuable and even intrusive.

The study published in Educational Researcher (Grissom, Loeb & Master, 2013), gathered data from the Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Observers followed principals one full school day for each of three years. Follow-up interviews with principals provided additional data. This article from Education Week summarizes the findings.

Walk-throughs are widely used in American schools as a tool for instructional improvement. But this study shows there is much to learn about their link to improvement. I'd enjoy hearing from you about the use of walk-throughs in your school. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Using Social Media for Instruction

Recently the Metro Nashville Public Schools decided to gradually allow access on their wi-fi network to Twitter and YouTube. It's a significant change for the Nashville schools because they've blocked students from accessing many social media sites, including Facebook, when using the school's wi-fi system. The restrictions will be lifted first in high schools and then in middle schools. The change is driven by teachers who plan on using more social media to improve instruction. This decision reflects the growing recognition that social media is a powerful tool to access instructional tools and resources. The policy change will also be accompanied by lessons about the appropriate use of the Internet and social media. You can get the details of the change in this article from The Tennessean, the local Nashville newspaper.

I'd enjoy hearing from you about the use of social media for instruction in your school.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dealing with Resistant Teachers

One of the biggest roadblocks to educational change is resistance from teachers, parents or other stakeholders. I understand that everyone deals differently with change. Some are more accepting, others more resistant. People often resist change because they are anxious about the implications. Often resistors have legitimate needs for information, training or support. There may be a conflict between their personal beliefs and the proposed change or there motives may be driven by concern for students rather than outright resistance.

While it is true that some people resist because that's who they are, they love being the "known resistor, most people don't readily embrace that role. They are genuinely concerned. A recent article on ASCD Express share strategies for "turning resistant teachers into resilient teachers." It outlines four categories of resistors and provides strategies and tips that school leaders can use to overcome the resistance.

I'd enjoy hearing from you about your experience with resistance and how you've worked to overcome that resistance.

Friday, March 14, 2014

STEAM rather than STEM: Adding the Arts

For the last decade there's been a discussion about the importance of STEM programs in schools (science, technology, engineering, math). But in the past couple of years educators have begun to add another component, the arts. The result is adoption of STEAM programs that include everything mentioned earlier but recognize the valuable role the arts can play in student learning. The prevalence of STEAM programs in several central Washington school districts illustrates the impact. A recent article in the Tri-City Herald (Pasco, Kennewick, Richland, WA) describes the positive impact of STEAM programs on students in several elementary and high schools in the area. Even though the program is having an impact there are still concerns that the arts will some how be lost in the curriculum.

I'd enjoy hearing from you about STEM or STEAM programs in your school. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Different Kind of AP Course

Across American high schools have added Advanced Placement classes. The program is booming. Those classes are known for their rigor and the way they help students prepare for college. But six years ago AP teachers in the Bellevue School District near Seattle teamed up with researchers from the University of Washington to make their AP government classes far more interactive and project based. Role plays and simulations are a central part of their curriculum. What began as a change in AP government and politics courses now includes AP environmental science and AP physics.

The results are impressive. Students in five dozen classrooms in Washington, California and Iowa score as well or better on AP exams compared to students in lecture-heavy traditional AP programs. For example, last year 88% of students in two high-poverty schools that are part of the program passed the AP US government test compared to 24% for comparable schools across the nation.

Here's a story from the Seattle Times describing the changes. You can also watch a short video about the program. I'd enjoy hearing from you about your AP program and what you think about this modification.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Interviewing for a New Job

It's the time of you when many school leaders think about looking for a new position. It's often a move to a larger school or a school at a different level. It might be a position in the central office or even the superintendency. I'm often asked by my students for advice about the process and how to be successful in that search. One of the resource I've found is the NW Jobs Career Center Blog. The posts offer really specific advice about how to be successful in your job search. Here are some recent posts that I found very helpful.

     A Job Interview is Simply a Conversation

     5 Tips for Creating a Positive First Impression

     How to Manage Job-Interview Anxiety

I'd enjoy hearing from you about your tips for being successful in the job market.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Twitter and Other Social Media for Instruction

One of the fastest growing trends in education is to encourage students to bring, and use, their own technology---smart Phones, tablets, laptops. Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs are underway across the country. The most notable challenge with these programs is that students know far more than most teachers about how to use the devices for tasks. Often educators focus on the misuse of technology but the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that most students use their devices appropriately. That's let many schools to encourage teachers to incorporate technology and various forms of social media as a way to both motivate and engage students. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently showcased the efforts in several Wisconsin schools to use Twitter and other social media, once banned, for instruction.

It's a rapidly growing trend and recognizes the powerful ways technology can transform teaching and learning. Howard Johnston and I wrote about the trend and how social media can be used with 21st century learners to improve their academic experience. Our book, The School Leader's Guide to Social Media, is available from Routledge Education, at and

I'd enjoy hearing from you about how your teachers are using technology and social media to improve instruction.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Collaborative Inquiry and Professional Learning

Professional learning is the catalyst for school improvement. An emphasis on learning reflects the reality that learning never stops and that the most vibrant and successful schools are those where everyone acts on the need to continue to improve. The most successful professional learning involves educators in more collaborative activities to examine their work and improve practice. Activities like book study, looking at student work, instructional rounds and collaborative work teams reflect these new norms. There is a growing recognition that when a school faculty comes together around a shared vision and a collective commitment to improved student learning, the results are meaningful and long lasting. 

Learning Forward, formerly the National Staff Development Council, recommends that professional learning focus on clear results and include activities that promote the growth and learning of teachers and administrators.  Activities should be based on standards, and they should be thoroughly woven into the job, rather than simply being an activity that is done as an “extra,” possibly outside of work hours or on staff development days. In other words, learning activities should be results driven, standards based and job embedded (NSDC, 2001).

Many schools use professional learning communities as a way to engage in professional learning.  A professional community of learners is a school where teachers and administration continuously seek to learn and grow professionally and then act on what they learn (Astuto, 1993; DuFour,, 2010). The goal is improve student learning by improving effectiveness and PLC's reflect these characteristics (Eaker, DuFour & DuFour, 2002; Hord & Sommers, 2008)
  • Collective Inquiry: Teachers and leaders work collaboratively to examine data about student learning and develop a plan to address students’ needs.
  • Results Orientation – There is clarity about outcomes with a “laser light” focus on achieving the desired results.
  • Supportive and Shared Leadership: Power and authority is shared by inviting teachers and families to provide input into decision making about improving student learning.
  • Action Orientation: There is a willingness to try new things and adopt a “whatever it takes” stance in support of student learning.
  • Focus on Continuous Improvement: Teachers and leaders recognize the value of routinely examining practice and making changes when appropriate. 

A post in a recent Education Week blog discussed collaborative inquiry as a way to nurture and develop teacher leadershipThe post makes a powerful case for collaborative inquiry as perhaps the most empowering feature of an effective learning community. I'd enjoy hearing from you about your experience with collaborative inquiry and PLC's.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Recognizing the Students Your Serve

I'm a voracious reader and am always looking for strategies and tools that teachers and principals can use to improve the educational experience of their students. This blog post from edutopia reminded me of how important it is to get to know the students in our schools and classrooms. When they know we know a little about them as an individual, not just part of the larger class, it's both motivating and engaging. In this post Heidi Olinger suggests three strategies for doing just that. Here's a brief summary. Read more in the complete post.

  • Ask students to write about themselves. The blog includes prompts that have worked with students of all grades.
  • Have a one-on-one conversation with students and ask them about how they experience the class.
  • Remember your time as a student and the nonacademic issues that competed for your time. They may be a springboard to learning.

I'd enjoy hearing from you and strategies you use to motivate and engage your students.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Intuition and Professional Learning

Great teachers and principals have an intuitive sense about both good instruction and their students. That's really valuable and important to nurturing and sustaining quality schools. But too often I've worked in schools where people want to rely solely on their intuition, or their experience, to make decisions about school improvement. Ever heard someone say "I've been teaching for 20 years and I know . . . " That's almost always an indicator that the conversation will focus on the individual and collective experience of the staff rather than on research, data and information about best practices.

In mid-January I read this blog post from the Center for Teaching Quality, What Role Do Hunches Play in Professional Learning Communities. It does an excellent job of advocating for deliberate reasoning when making school improvement decisions and challenges the idea of relying on "gut" reactions and hunches.

I hope you find this post helpful in your work as a school leader.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Instructional Coaching Tips

One of the blogs I follow is the  Culture of Coaching: Change Thinking . . . Change Practice . . . Change Schools blog at PIIC (Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching). It's funded by the Annenberg Foundation and the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The posts always make me think more deeply about instructional coaching and the way it can transform professional learning in schools.

Here are some recent posts I found helpful.

I hope you find this blog helpful as you work to improve instruction in your school.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Marker Spaces" - Promoting Student Creativity

At Monticello High School in Albemarle County (VA) high school the traditional library has been transformed into space where students can design and create their own work. The idea is to provide students with a place to gather, collaborate, study, read and do other creative work. For example, part of the library is now a music studio. Elsewhere they created a "hacker" room for computer programming, and a "genius bar" where students help one another fix problems with their computers. Students can use these spaces before and after school, during free periods or during lunch.

It's a program called "Marker Spaces" and the staff reports that the library has become the hub of the school. It's a place where students can pursue their own interests, different hobbies and activities and collaborate on creative activity like music composition and TV or video production.

Details about the transformation are described in an article from a local television station. I'd enjoy hearing from you about your response to "Marker Spaces."

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A New Social Operating System

I'm fascinated by the way technology and social media have transformed the way we communicate, nurture and sustain relationships and expand our learning. That interest made Networked: The New Social Operating System by Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman a good read. Rainie is Director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, major researchers on social media trends, and Wellman is a Professor at the University of Toronto.

Many worry that this new environment isolates people. But Rainie and Wellman suggest that social media actually expands our connections and creates larger, loosely connected circles of friends and colleagues. These networks expand our opportunity to learn, solve problems, seek advice, and become familiar with new ideas. It frees us from the natural limitations imposed by physical proximity.

Of course expanded networks require that we enhance, or even develop, skills to develop networks, maintain connections with others and balance what can be multiple, occasionally overlapping, networks. In my case I've limited my Facebook network to friends and family. I use my Twitter account to expand my professional contacts and my professional learning. LinkedIn is used to network with professional colleagues and others who share similar interests or backgrounds.

I'd enjoy hearing from you about your use of social media and how it's transformed your personal and professional life.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Parent and Family Engagement

The evidence about parental and family engagement with school is clear. When parents are active partners with their child’s school there is a positive impact on things educators care about, things like achievement, attendance and aspirations for the future (Epstein,, 2002; Henderson & Mapp, 2002). Virtually all educators recognize the importance of parents being involved in their child’s school but still struggle to develop viable plans for promoting such engagement particularly among families of limited means or who may be recent immigrants. This brief will discuss parent and family engagement but the primary focus will be on how teachers and principals can develop and implement plans that increase parent and family engagement among all parent groups but especially among these underserved populations. 

Joyce Epstein from the Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships at John Hopkins University ( synthesized the research on parent engagement and found that:
  • Just about all families care about their children and want them to succeed. They also want better information from their child’s school so that they can be good partners with the school.
  • Almost all teachers and administrators want to involve families but many do not know how to go about building positive and productive partnerships with parents and families.
  • Virtually all students at all levels, elementary, middle and high school, want their families to be more engaged with their school and knowledgeable about the schools programs. Students say they are willing to be active partners in supporting communication between home and school. (Epstein,, 2002)

The research also shows that affluent communities have more robust family engagement than economically distressed communities. It also shows that schools in more economically distressed communities more frequently contact parent about problems and difficulties than positive accomplishments. Further, single parents, parents employed outside the home, parents living far from school, and fathers are generally less involved.

The Good News - However, when schools develop and implement appropriate grade and school level practices each of these barriers can be reversed. Parent and family engagement is strong in economically distressed communities when teachers and administrators build positive relationships with students’ families, develop balanced partnership programs including contacts about positive student accomplishments, and scheduling school activities and opportunities for involvement at times and places that fit the needs of diverse parent communities.

Here are two resources that provides tools and strategies for increasing parent and family engagement.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Leading Schools in an Era of Declining Resources

American schools have been hit with a tsunami of budget cuts and retrenchments that have buffeted most, crippled some and devastated others. At the same time, they face demands for ever-increasing accountability for student performance, major curriculum revisions and more public scrutiny and criticism for lapses in performance.

Howard Johnston and I receive lots of requests from principals and other school leaders about how to respond in this environment. This led us to write Leading Schools in an Era of Declining Resources as a guide for leaders who must make practical decisions about how to adjust to, and even prosper in, this new economic environment.

Neither of us is an expert on school finance. But we've been in the same position as so many of today's school administrators---having to do more with less, sometimes a lot less, and sometimes quickly and definitively. We've both worked in states that experienced tremendous economic hardship and both faced the stress of cutting personnel, reducing or eliminating programs, and working with angry staff and anxious parents and students.

Our new book will is now available for pre-order at Routledge, or It will be available in early June.

Monday, January 20, 2014

10 Things School Leaders Do to Kill Enthusiasm for Technology

In late December NASSP sent an email that included links to the top articles of 2013. One of them caught my eye, Ten Ways Principals Kill a Teacher's Enthusiasm for Technology. I remember reading it earlier in the year but found the reminders very helpful. I work with lots of principals who struggle with how to balance the need for infusing technology as a valuable instructional tool with the resistance that is associated with any change. The dilemma is that our students often are far more knowledgeable about the latest technology and how the way it can improve teaching and learning.

The article is a helpful reminder about how leaders must model the use of technology, value its use and support teachers as they use it in their classrooms. Mandates almost always never work. Support, encouragement and adequate professional development do.

I'd enjoy hearing from you about how strategies you use to successfully work with your teachers to increase the use of technology.