Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Smartphones, Do They have a Place in #FutureReady Schools?

Well, I had a lively discussion on Twitter today, and I'd have to say that I wasn't prepared for it.  A post came up about cell phones being taken up as part of the teacher's classroom procedures.  My simple reply was that we owe it to kids to teach them how to use their phone for something besides socialization.  I got some push back about whether or not we should teach kids how to use their own devices, and there were good points on the topic.  But here's my point.  I don't believe we should teach kids how to use their phones.  They know how to use a phone, but I do believe that we need to raise the bar by asking this question.

Should We Integrate Smartphones into their Learning?

There are 2 ideas that one should consider before answering this question.

Banning vs. Ignoring
In schools that don't want cell phones in the classroom, there are 2 choices school have to make, banning or ignoring them.  If schools ban them from classrooms and punish kids for pulling them out, what are we teaching kids?  Cell phones have no place in learning.  If we turn a blind eye and ignore cell phones when kids pull them out, what are we teaching them?  Cell phones have no real connection to learning.  Banning or ignoring smartphones doesn't do anything but teach kids that cell phones are bad and have no real use in learning.

Competing for Kids' Attention
Kids are digitally connected, and there's no denying that fact.  How many times have we seen kids or heck even adults mindlessly glued to their device while ignoring the rest of the world?  The real battle is not in keeping kids away from their devices.  It is in competing against kids' efforts to connect with their technology.  Notification alerts, status updates and text messages cannot be avoided or ignored.   Teachers will always have the daunting task of competing for kids' attention as long as learning environments ignore the technology walking in the door.

Since you can't beat them, integrate them

Kids know so much about the tech tools at their disposal, but often times little of it has to do with the learning they need to be prepared for a college and career future.  But let's look at the positive here.  Kids can make videos, take pictures, access links, and use social media fluently.  As educators we must realize that our students' tech-savvy skills can be leveraged in ways that can actually accelerate their learning.   Showing kids how to use their cell phones to support learning can provide relevance that exceeds traditional lessons.  Sure, kids will check their Instagram or respond to a text when you allow them to use their cell phones for learning, but hey, they're already doing that in classes where phones are banned.

We are preparing kids to be #FutureReady; therefore, we must acknowledge that smartphones will be a huge part of that future.  Kids who graduate from schools that ban or ignore personal technology will be competing against kids who are extremely competent at using personal technology in their learning and work.  Furthermore, these #FutureReady graduates will know how to use their devices responsibly and at appropriate times while their tech-deprived counterparts will not.  We owe it to our kids to provide them an education that includes meaningful tech integration, and that education must include their personal device.   After all it is their future, not ours, and like it or not, personal technology will be the future.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

What Campus Leaders owe Schools if They're Leaving

I have been very fortunate to have some awesome leadership experiences in different schools, and when I made the decision to leave for a new job, the thought that I obsessed over the most was how I could set the next leader up for success.  The reason for that obsession was simple.  I cared about the kids and their future in the following years, so I didn't want to leave them hanging.  Furthermore, I knew that the teachers deserved as much continuity as possible from my leadership style to the next leader's style, and my information could help the new leader get a strong understanding of the campus, the culture and where to begin his/her chapter.

So Here's the Challenge.
No matter if you are leaving on good terms or if you are bitter about being let go, you owe it to the students and staff to set them up for success next year.  Your last act of leadership should ultimately move your campus forward, and to make that happen here are some things that you must do to set the kids and teachers up for success next year.

Leaders should leave behind:

  • Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment plans with
    • Last year's assessment calendar
    • Access to lesson plans and how what you expected from teachers,
    • Information about instructional initiatives
    • Technology integration plan
    • Narrative of how teachers and leaders worked within the CIA framework.
    • Ideas for how you would improve things if you were staying.
  • Intervention System detailing:
    • All of the interventions offered at the school,
    • How students and teachers could access interventions at each tier,
    • How frequently you met with teachers to discuss kids (include agenda),
    • What worked well in the system,
    • What improvements you planned on making.
  • Master Schedule including:
    • Times for staff collaboration
    • Courses that shouldn't be changed (include your reason)
    • Scheduling problems from previous year
    • Changes you would make if you were staying
    • All of the special schedules: early release days, pep rallies, testing days, crazy days.
  • Your expectations (new leaders deserve to know what has been previously expected so they can adapt their leadership to the current system as much as possible.)
  • Your viewpoint on the school's culture:
    • What is great about the culture
    • What is missing in the culture
    • Your plans for improvement if you were staying.
  • Access to the school Facebook, Twitter and social media accounts.
  • Access to school blog,
  • Access to Google Drive or Dropbox documents
  • Student Handbook (with suggestions for changes)
  • Personnel file with possible vacancies or changes
  • Leadership team with:
    • Names and positions of leaders,
    • Their general responsibilities,
    • Their strengths and areas for growth,
    • How you empowered the leadership team,
    • How you planned to better utilize them next year.
  • Staff directory with names, contact numbers, and positions

The reason that it is essential to provide all of this information is not so the new leader will use it all. The information is there to give the leader the clearest picture of how the school operates from the leader's role.  In essence, the information above serves as a launchpad for the new leader, and failure to provide a transition plan to the new leader is ethically irresponsible.

A Leader's Legacy
A legacy is not based on what was accomplished under your tenure; it is based on what remains long after you're gone.  But to be completely honest, I've never thought about my legacy.  I have been truly interested in helping kids in every way possible and that includes when I'm no longer there. If you want your leadership to have a lasting impact and truly be successful, then build strong systems.  Constantly revise them and improve them, and most importantly empower your staff to sustain them.  Ultimately this is what will help the new leader transition into the school.  If the system is strong and effective, a new leader will recognize that quickly and adapt his leadership to the system so that he can begin to move a school's system forward.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The 4 Stages of Failure

I really enjoy Justin Tarte's twitter feed as there is always a plethora of ideas and thoughts to apply to my practice.  This weekend, Justin pushed out this comparison between failure and failing, and it made me ask myself this question.

How much do we value failure as a meaningful part of the learning process? 

Well as I reflected on my own failures as a student and professional, I realized that overcoming failure is not that simple.  In fact, failure is very similar to overcoming grief or a bad habit.  You overcome it in stages.  In fact, I think there are 4 stages to overcoming failure.

When kids fail, frustration is a natural response.  Kids that see themselves as failures, never leave this phase.  When educators convince kids to see failure as a temporary event, they can overcome frustration and move to the next phase.

This concept is two-fold.  First kids must be able to acknowledge that failing is a natural part of the learning process, and second, kids must accept the fact that failure can become learning if accepted properly.

What can be learned from failing?  This question permeates the inquiry stage of failure.  If kids can stay focused on identifying the cause of failure,  they move themselves one step closer to learning from it.

Once students can identify the causes of failure, students stand firmly on a platform called "Learning from It".  Learning from failure is the pathway that starts with frustration, moving toward acceptance and asking how it was caused.  By moving through the 3 previous phases successfully, student can conquer their setbacks by converting failing into learning.

Failure is Learning in Action
Whether kids look at their grade as failing or look at themselves as a failure depends completely on how we counsel with the student.  In absence of a conversation with the teacher, kids will naturally see themselves as a failure when they see a failing grade on their report card.  The challenge for teachers and administrators alike becomes this.  How can we convince kids to see their poor performance as a temporary setback that is waiting for a comeback?  Every kid has the potential to come back when they fail.  The question we must continually ask ourselves is how do we motivate and inspire all kids to make the choice to overcome adversity when they fail.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Are You Ending this Year OR Beginning Next Year?

April is here and May will be here before we know, so are you counting the days or making the days count?  The end of the year reminds us that things are coming to an end.  Kids are excited about summer and transitioning to a new grade.  Teachers feel a sense of accomplishment in how far they've taken their students, and administrators gauge the health of their school based on how many kids were academically successful.  But the real question is this.

Are You Focused on the End of the Year or the Beginning of Next Year?

Sure, we have to close up the year.  We have to get ready for graduation and prepare the school for dormant activities such as summer cleaning, maintenance, and inventory, but in order to ensure a successful school year next year, a bridge has to be built, and that bridge must connect this year's kids to next year's learning.  As we near the end of another school year, it is critical to ensure that every student masters the essential skills for every course, but the real reason for this focus on learning is not so kids pass standardized tests.   Students have to be prepared for next year and ultimately what we do in the months of April and May has a huge impact on that preparation.

Just because kids pass this year doesn't mean 

they're ready for next year.

Next year is all about being prepared for next year's skills, and the key to next year is getting kids to  master this year's essential skills. The essential skills are those few but critical skills taught this year which serve as foundational skills for next year's standards.   If left unmastered, these prerequisite skills could prevent students from reaching success next year.

To identify those skills, teachers must collaborate with next year's teachers and identify which skills need additional reinforcement now.  Furthermore, teachers should discuss instructional vocabulary taught as well as strategies that are used to teach those skills.  If teachers can align how they teach these critical skills to students, April and May can actually be a head start on next year's learning, and wouldn't that be a huge advantage to all kids especially those that need additional time and support?

For more on Vertical Alignment Meetings, click here.

But aside from prerequisite skills, students must also master 4 more skills.  These skills are referred to as the 4 C's:  Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity and Collaboration.  These are not separate skills from prerequisite skills.  In fact, the 4 C's should be leveraged through meaningful and challenging activities to help students master this year's essential skills to a deeper degree of understanding.  Teachers should be aware of how next year's teachers integrate the 4 C's into their instruction and incorporate those strategies also into their instruction now.

Mastery can't happen without Intervention and Extension

To ensure that every student masters this year's essential skills, we have to remember that kids are different; therefore, how they learn and process is different.  To help every student learn, intervention and extension should happen simultaneously on a regular basis.  Without intervention and extension happening during regular instruction, learning becomes the variable.  Here is how it can work:

  • Intervention 
    • Intervention is all about remediating the essential skills that students need additional time and support with. 
    • Small groups can be pulled for students who share a common instructional deficit, or 
    • Individuals can be pulled for remediation on an academic deficit unique to the student.
    • During intervention, the teacher works with students directly and scaffolds concepts to help take kids from what they know to what they must know.

  • Extension  
    • Group work can be assigned to students and the work is tied to skills that need additional reinforcement.  In effective extension activities, every student must do their own work, but students should be encouraged to collaborate and communicate to help one another master the skills.  
    • The goal is simple.  All kids will demonstrate their learning.
    • Group work is not busy work.  It's challenging work that piques student curiosity and interest through critical thinking.
    • Individual tasks can be given to students that are based on specific skills that need additional practice.  These tasks should also be familiar to the students so that it will require little to no support from the teacher.   
    • Projects can be assigned to advanced groups or individuals as these tasks allow kids opportunities to apply their mastery of learning in creative ways.
    • Extension activities should increase communication between students as this is where students make sustainable meaning of their learning.
    • The teacher's role in supporting learning through extension activities is to monitor student engagement, provide feedback, and ensure that students complete the work.

The Future is Now
Instead of thinking about ending the year, I'd like you to think about April and May as the first 2 months of next school year.  As educators, our goal should be to guarantee the success of every child and the first step of that guarantee is to begin the transition process now by ensuring that all kids have a firm grasp of the essential skills. By personalizing our support for kids who struggle as well as challenging all kids to master this year's essential skills independently, we are giving every student the tools to begin that transition process on the right foot.

Are you finishing this year or preparing them for next year?  If we truly believe in learning for all, we will commit to student learning beyond the confines of a school year.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

14 Fun Ways to Flood the Twittersphere on #LoveMySchoolDay (April 11)

#LoveMySchoolDay is coming up on April 11.  On that day, educators across the country and are going to be sharing all the wonderful things that their schools are doing to help all kids reach their potential.  To get ready for the big day, I have 14 ways that you can use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to show how awesome your school is and why you love it.

All you have to do it share your message with the hashtag, #LoveMySchoolDay, and be a part of a movement that will celebrate the great things that schools are doing for kids around the world.

For more information about #LoveMySchoolDay, click here.

14 Fun Ways to Flood the Twittersphere on #LoveMySchoolDay

1.  Tweet about your School

2.  Take a Selfie

3.  Spotlight a Great Employee

4.  Take a Groupie

5.  Have your Students Blog about It

6.  Make a Vine

7.  Make a YouTube Video

8.  Parent Pics

9.  Athletic Teams

10.  Write a Post on your Blog

11. Have an Assembly

12.  Fly a Kite

13.  Show Your Work

14.  Share Your Vision