Saturday, September 29, 2012

What if We Quit Caring...

I was at the grocery store waiting in line and noticing the tabloids about the worst in every "important" celebrity. The headlines brought us the infidelity, divorce, weight gain, incarceration and every other bad thing that was currently happening to "important" celebrities right now.  As I processed the mindlessness of the headlines, I couldn't help but imagine. What if our society quit caring about all of the ridiculous stories about people that do nothing more than entertain us and started caring about the really important people, kids that desperately depend on the society that they live in?

  • Instead of the headlines that tell us about a bitter divorce between 2 superficial celebrities, we would see a headline about the importance and sanctity of marriage and how kids need both parents working together.  We could even read about 2 important people in pop culture that put their marriage above their careers. #wow.

  • Instead of the headlines talking about a teen pop star entering rehab for the 4th time, we could read about how a high school student body is working hard to battle against drug abuse and the community is actively supporting them. #canyouimaginethat

  • Instead of the headline reading that a leading actress is overweight or looking haggard, we could read about an organization that promotes the real beauty that we should see in young ladies that is grounded in self-confidence, intellectuality and modesty. #weneedthis

  • Instead of reading about the latest stupid act that some actor did that landed him in jail, we could be inspired by a community that has joined together to mentor disadvantaged youth to keep them from becoming a statistic of the criminal justice system. #thatdoeshappeninamerica

  • Instead of reading how America's schools are horrible because of a few that are not doing well, we could read the headlines about the actual reality of schools which is they do the best job ever preparing kids for a college and career pathway. #testscoresdonttellthewholestory

Let's be honest.  What we read and allow to enter our brains affects us.  It numbs our character and dims our wit.  In the 1940's & 50's, mainstream literature was grounded in character, examples of improvement, and obstacles overcome that motivated and inspired a nation.  What do we have today in mainstream America that is available to every American that motivates and inspires us?  There are too many examples of literature that tears people down which in actuality rips apart our nation's fabric.  As a nation and as Americans, we should and we must promote and provide our students with multiple examples of literature that will stimulate and inspire their minds in such a way that will encourage them to become something bigger and better than literature that they read.  #itcanhappen

So here is what I suggest that every one of us do.
Let's not wait for this change to take place and take matters into our own hands. What if we used our schools as the new source for meaningful news in our community?  Our kids could work with our local newspapers to write inspiring stories about the excellent education that they are getting and the issues that are important to them.  Our webpages, blogs and social media could feature the writing of our students and staff members.  If we want our children to be focused on this utopian type of  character, we must take purposeful steps to make it happen.  #wecandothis

We have the smartest kids in the world, and unlike other countries in the world, we don't limit their opportunities or potential due to socioeconomic status, race, religion, or disability.  Every child has an equal opportunity, and our schools do more for kids than ever in the history in the world.  We owe it to our kids, their future children and our country to demand that we all save and protect the character of our youth, not by eliminating or censoring literature, but by something bigger and better, diverting our attention from this trivial gossip.  This change would push our collective character to expose ourselves and our moral fiber toward meaningful literature that will challenge us everyday to be better individuals, to create a better community and a belief in a better America.

7 Traits of a Transformational Leader

Leadership is not a job. It is not a position. Leadership is a passion. It is a calling.

Leaders are not appointed.  They are not selected. Leaders emerge. They rise up in times of adversity while others stay seated.

In rereading Marzano's 'School Leadership that Works' for the umpteenth time, I zoned in on his description of the transformational leader. This is where the leader's behavior is characterized into "four factors: individual consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation and idealized influence". I attempted to synthesize this idea into 7 specific and tangible traits that every leader must possess if they want to move from being a transactional leader to a transformational leader.  Here is a description of the four factors as they are found in Marzano's work (Marzano, 2005, p14).

  1. "Individual consideration is characterized by giving 'personal attention to members who seem neglected' (Bass, 1990 p.218)"
  2. "Intellectual stimulation is characterized by enabling 'followers to think of old problems in new ways' (Bass, 1990 p.218)" 
  3. "Inspirational motivation is characterized by communicating 'high performance expectations' (Bass, 1990 p.218)"
  4. "Idealized influence is characterized by modeling behavior through exemplary personal achievements, character and behavior.(Bass, 1990 p.218)"

Loyalty - Leaders are loyal to the cause and to the people who are involved in the cause.  Their loyalty is manifested in helping everyone become better. Loyalty means putting others' interests before yours.  Loyalty is a character trait that is the foundation of Idealized Influence.

Learner - Leaders don't know everything, so they are constantly finding new ways to do things in a more effective and efficient manner from all kinds of people.  Leaders model Intellectual Stimulation to their staff by deepening their own intellectual capacity through constant inquiry and dialogue with all staff members, especially those staff members that are not seen as the teacher leaders of the campus.  By engaging them in conversation about practices, leaders challenge their own intellect as well as the intellect of the staff.

Enthusiasm - Leaders are enthusiastic about what they do, and they use their enthusiasm to motivate and inspire those that they come in contact with. They are enthusiastic about helping people. They are enthusiastic about making progress, and their enthusiasm spreads throughout the organization and its stakeholders. Enthusiasm can't be spread without a commitment to being visible. Enthusiasm, to me, is a required ingredient of Inspirational Motivation.

Accountability - Leaders believe in holding themselves accountable for the cause. Leaders encourage team members to hold the leader accountable, and when leaders are held accountable by the organization, they are able to hold others accountable for supporting the team in meeting campus expectations and goals.  Being accountable and holding others accountable is two-fold in transformational leadership.  Holding yourself accountable is Idealized Influence, and holding others accountable a key component of the 'high' expectations in Inspirational Motivation.

Discipline - Leaders are disciplined in their behaviors and in their organization. They structure their time and their days in such a way that they are able to support and serve others. In being disciplined, leaders do not let outside influences or distractions deter them from reaching their goals or staying focused.  This example of Idealized Influence is exactly what schools and organizations must see from the leader on a daily and consistent basis.

Empathy - Leaders are not always judgemental, contrary to popular belief. They are very interested in thinking about the individual person and the situation that they are going through before making a decision. Leaders think about why people make decisions that lead to mistakes. Leaders display Individual Consideration by helping others learn from their mistakes. The leader does this because he knows that empathy is the best way to overcome obstacles.  Additionally, Individual Consideration must be used with every staff member, especially those that are often overlooked.

Results-Oriented - All people want to see results; however, leaders know that all of their efforts put together maximize the results that they should expect to see. Leaders develop tight systems to monitor and evaluate all parts of the system to ensure that they are efficient and effective. Leaders use the data not to demonize those who fail to get results but to help them figure out how to improve and get closer to reaching the goal.  Most importantly, leaders can't get results without using a mixture of all 4 of the factors (Idealized Influence, Intellectual Stimulation, Inspirational Motivation and Individual Consideration).  These factors combined allow the leader to make decisions and changes that ultimately sustain and solidify the organization.

Bosses are a dime a dozen. They think about the results and have little consideration for building people or organizational capacity. As a result, they have to start all over again when a new and different result is needed.  Leaders, conversely, think about all of the other things that go into making the results happen. And in doing so, leaders get the best results, because they put all of their efforts into building people not programs.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Vertically Align your Interventions & Instruction Simultaneously

On our campus, we don't have faculty meetings.  I don't like them because what I need to announce, I can do through an email or a flipped video.  Instead we have Vertical Alignment Team (VAT)  meetings on the 2nd Monday of every month.  This is our time to come together and vertically align instruction, curriculum, assessments and anything else that needs alignment. 

Our focus this year is aligning interventions and collectively answering Question 3, "How Will We Respond If They Don't Learn It?".  This month we had a VAT where our teachers worked in teams to improve their interventions. Our teachers brought with them the high leverage skills that they were focused on for the first six weeks of school. Teachers from the same grade level worked in pairs to identify one high leverage skill taught during the six weeks, find the most common mistakes that students made in learning the skill, and prescribed possible interventions to eliminate the mistakes.  The purpose of this activity was to proactively address 80% of the reasons that kids fail to learn the given skill, so that they could have time in planning meetings to respond to the unexpected reasons that kids fail to learn the skill (the other 20%) after the instruction was delivered.

Meet with the Grade Level Below

Before the teacher pair could finish designing the intervention, the pair had to meet with the grade level below to ensure that the intervention prescribed was aligned with the way that the skill was taught in the previous grade. The two grade levels had discussions about methodologies of instruction as well as the learning styles of the students from the previous year to ensure that the intervention would be aligned with the method that the students learned the concept the year before. Prerequisite skills were also discussed to ensure that the foundation for learning and intervening was aligned.

The most important point for meeting with the grade level below is that intervention for the current grade level must be aligned with the instruction from the previous year.  Otherwise, your intervention will come out of left field and not from the instructional experiences that the student was exposed to in the prior year.

Meet with the Grade Level Above

After the teacher pair finished meeting with the grade level below, the pair then met with the grade level above to ensure that the interventions that they were prescribing would help the student be prepared for the next grade level. The interesting thing about this discussion with the grade level above is that the discussion was more about instruction than intervention. This great conversation helped make sure that what is taught in the current grade level will set the stage for the teachers in the next grade level. The importance of the conversation is that grade levels understand that what they are teaching must build schema in the way that students learned the prerequisite skills in the previous year.  Conversely, the current grade must be cognizant of the way that skills will be taught next year.  Failure for both grades to recognize instruction from both perspectives will result in more students failing to learn.

The most important point to consider from meeting with the grade level above is that dialogue must eliminate bad habits that students learn in the current year, so that the next grade doesn't have to lose value instruction and intervention time breaking those bad habits.  For you math teachers, I give you the best example possible, to cross multiply or not to cross multiply...

Considerations & Reminders

There are two important things to consider when having a VAT intervention meeting. First, we need to be clear in our understanding that Tier 1 interventions are for all students and that intervention begins where the student begins to have difficulty in learning a given concept. In addition, Tier 1 interventions should be tried frequently over a period of time to gauge whether or not the intervention is effective.

The second point to consider in a VAT intervention meeting is that we must ensure that our instruction is as effective as possible. We ensure that by having discussions about the methodologies and what quality instruction and student work look like and sound like from grade to grade. This discussion ensures that what we're doing in one grade directly leads the students to a solid foundation of how they will learn it in the next grade.

The most important reminder is that these meetings are not about the grade level below and what they didn't do to prepare kids.  The grade level below does the very best that they can to educate every child, and our discussions should always make both grade levels betterMutual respect, trust, and commitment to helping one another must always be the goal of a VAT meeting.

Put What We Learn to Work

The result of a VAT meeting should be answering question three for our weekly planning meetings, how to respond when students are not learning. This activity makes planning each week easier as teachers are able to draw upon the intervention plans that they created in VAT meetings. These plans must be in front of teams to guide the discussion weekly and make lesson planning more focused and efficient.

In addition, the result of a VAT intervention meeting should also create strong lines of communication from grade to grade so that when teachers or teams are having difficulty teaching a particular concept, they can have a conversation with the grade below to see how they taught the prerequisite skills.  Then, they can have a conversation with a grade above to ensure that the instruction that they plan to deliver will prepare all kids for the next grade.

Vertical alignment is usually put to the back burner for most schools.  Schools that excel make vertical alignment a priority and more important schedule it on the calendar regularly, so it does not get move to the back burner.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Are You Vulnerable as an Instructional Leader?

The other day I was having a great conversation with Bill Ferriter about flipping faculty meetings. In my discussion I was talking to him about some of my instructional goals for the campus this year and  how important it was that I have a culture where the staff could be vulnerable in their discussions about instruction.

Bill, a teacher himself, posed this question to me. "Well John, how vulnerable are you in your instruction?" He went on to say that it's real easy for the instructional leader to ask everyone to be vulnerable when he, himself, doesn't have to be vulnerable. This statement gave me pause as I started to reflect about how many times in my career I have asked teachers to do something that I, myself, didn't do at all.

As leaders, it's very important for us to set goals for the team. It is imperative to set a vision of where we want our organization to be. It's also vital to describe the behaviors and attitudes that we must all exhibit if we want to reach our vision and our goal.

So it all comes back to the title of this post, am I vulnerable as an instructional leader? I would say that I work hard to be an instructional leader because I have a good understanding of what curriculum should look like in instruction at all levels, what it should look like in an assessment and intervention,
and how the organization must work interdependently to link those things together.  I make plans to create the structure and culture to give teachers the autonomy and safety to discuss instructional practices and how we as a campus can improve; however, I think that I can do a better job as an instructional leader by putting myself in the place that I ask teachers to put themselves every single day.

An essential trait of an instructional leader is the ability to model instruction. Am I willing to put myself in front of the teachers teaching a lesson and ask for them to give me feedback on how to become a better teacher? Some ideas have emerged that I need to put myself in the teaching role, teach a lesson and have my teachers evaluate me on the things that I think are very important. One idea that I have started to implement is doing read alouds throughout the campus and asking the teachers to evaluate me using the district balanced literacy components on an effective read aloud.

When I sent an email asking my staff to help me become better at elementary instruction by doing read alouds, I received lots of positive feedback and requests for me to come to their classroom. Teachers were enthused and positive that I wanted to be a part of their instruction and that I was asking them for help.  This warm and welcoming reception made me feel more comfortable about being vulnerable in my own instruction.

I have two hopes in this activity that I'm about to begin. First I hope that the teachers will give me honest feedback on where I need to improve as a teacher, and second I hope that through their observations this will create a natural dialogue among teachers about what essential components should be in a read aloud to make them meaningful and focused on learning, as well as give the staff the confidence to be vulnerable with one another about instruction.  Ultimately, I want them to learn from one another, and as a bonus, I hope to get made fun of a little bit, so that I can be closer with my staff.

Are you vulnerable as an instructional leader?  If so, I would really enjoy your feedback and opinions about how you make yourself vulnerable as an instructional leader.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

E90X - Give your Best & Forget the Rest

My wife bought me P90X for Christmas this year and I have never been in better shape in my life. For those of you who have used the system, it is grueling to say the least. In order to get results, you have to commit to the daily regiment, diet and finally the understanding that improvement is small but steady if you commit. What is amazing about the program is that is it catered to those of us who presently struggle with our health.  It is designed to take us where we are in our physical health and bring us to where we want to be. 

In education it is no different, in order to be in the best intellectual shape that we can be in, we have to commit to a daily regiment of exercise in our practice and diet which is learning new things.  We have to challenge ourselves to push through the pain of the hard work in education and take time to fill our brains with healthy information and interactions.  Today's post doesn't focus on us as educators, but on how we can make our students commit to our E90X program.  Do we create the conditions for all learners to give their best and forget the rest?  Are our students intrinsically motivated by their learning environment to push themselves through the pain to reach their goal?  In order to transform our classrooms into E90X learning facilities for every learner, here are some important P90X concepts that should be considered if you want to lock every student into their learning.

Set a Goal

For every exercise, Tony Horton asks everyone to set a goal before they start the exercise.  How many times do we start an activity or lesson without making kids set a goal.  If we want to maximize our lesson (exercise), we must set a goal in our mind of where we want to be at the end of the lesson and what we want the kids to learn from the lesson.  We should aim for a level of understanding that we want them to develop from the lesson, but we shouldn't stop there.  We should challenge students to set a goal for where they want to be at the end of the activity.  Setting goals is the beginning of getting results and learning must have goals if we want to maximize results.

Quality over Quantity

Good form is the key to maximum results and Tony Horton harps on this thought throughout the program.  Do we as educators focus more on quality or quantity in our activities and lessons?  I truly believe that if we focus on quantity in the lesson, students will develop bad habits and gaps in their learning.  It is much better for a student to spend 10 minutes on one given task or problem and develop a deeper understanding than it is for the same student to rush through 20 problems at a surface level and have no idea what he just did or why its important.  If we choose to make our focus on developing good quality in our learning, quantity will not be far behind.  Students should know that quality of learning is more important than quantity as well.

Pain is what Makes Us Stronger

In the strength exercises, choosing the right weight and burning through the last 3 reps is what gets results.  Learning is very similar in that learning exists in situations where kids don't know all the answers.  It is where kids struggle in making meaning.  Pushing through the pain is hard and where lots of kids give up.  As their coach, you must coach them through the pain that is associated with learning and when they get through the pain, you must celebrate like you just won the lottery.  Pain is where we push ourselves to a place we have never been.  It hurts, but the results are worth it.  In the E90X classroom, pain and struggle are a normal part of the learning process, and kids can enjoy the exploration involved in the struggle if we make our environment safe.

Chart Your Progress

Every time I do an exercise, I chart my progress on a P90X worksheet.  The first day that I had to write my results down, I was, needless to say, humbled.  After 6 months of doing the program and several times of doing each exercise, I am blown away by how far I have come and that energizes me and takes my mind away from my current limitations.  As educators, we must provide opportunities for students to chart their progress as well.  RtI requires us to chart progress, but it is no benefit to kids if they do not chart their own results.  A suggestion would be to chart progress on individual skills that develop over time rather than grades.  Grades are subjective and don't tell the whole story about learning.  If students own their results and their progress, commitment to your E90X learning program will increase dramatically.


Keep Pushing Play

At the end of the 1st DVD, Chest and Back, Tony Horton reminds us that growth is gradual and at times difficult.  He tells us to keep showing up, continue to press play and never give up.  After 6 months of doing the program, I have to admit that it was and still is difficult, but I keep showing up, keep pressing play and never giving up.  As educators, the kids keep showing up because they have to, but do we inspire them to keep pressing the play button and never giving up each time they enter the classroom?  I believe that we must do our best to send that message every day.  It is not our words but our actions that inspire students to keep pressing play and never giving up.  It is our relationships and commitment to them that inspires and motivates students to come back mentally every day. In other words, we must keep pushing play in showing our commitment to them so they will commit to the E90X program.

Give Your Best and Forget the Rest

This phrase is said over and over through out the program.  To me it is the most important thought because my physical improvement is mine and can't be compared to anyone else in the world.  Like many people, I have been intimidated by others who are in better shape than myself, and that fear often stiffled my desire to improve.  I couldn't lift as much, run as fast or perform as well as them so why should I try?  Our classrooms must permeate with the P90X mantra of 'Give Your Best and Forget the Rest'.  There's only one you, and to be your best you have to forget about everyone else in the room.  Educators can't allow the students to feel inferior because they are slower than others in learning.  Learning, just like exercise, is a personal activity, and so there is no room for competition.  To find out if your room meets the criteria as an E90X classroom, gauge the commitment to learning in your kids that struggle the most.  If they are excited, engaged, determined to learn, and most importantly are not phased by the students that are ahead of them, your room is an E90X learning facility.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Give a Hoot about Parent Communication

Does your organization care about parent involvement or it is just another mandate that you fulfill? Schools are so focused on meeting governmental marks that they lose sight of what they are truly designed for, changing the world one kid at a time. How can schools change the world if they leave out their most important ally, the parent? The reality is that schools can't change the world until they start giving a hoot about parent involvement.

Some schools continue to view parent involvement in the 20th century: parent meetings, PTA organizations and getting things signed and returned. This effort, while still very important in schools today, fails to meet most parents where they are now, in the 21st century.

Schools must make the change and here are some ways to bring your parent communication into the 21st century.


Most every parent has a Facebook account, and they look at it daily. Every school must have a Facebook account and use it to share links, videos and make announcements on a daily basis to educate parents on current issues that affect their child and his learning. Facebook encourages dialogue with the school and other parents. Parents can also message you or have discussions through the comment feature and this is a great way to gauge what issues parents need more information on. 


Twitter is a another great way to send short messages less than 140 characters along with pictures, links and videos to parents. Twitter accounts can also be linked to your Facebook account so that you can reach more people in multiple ways. Some schools create hash tags so they can have Twitter chats with parents to communicate with multiple parents at once. At first, Twitter can be intimidating to beginner users because of the language used, so training may be recommended on the lingo that your campus would use.


This tool is amazing, and it brings all of your social media together and allows you to send one message over multiple accounts. You can also schedule your messages days, weeks or months in advance so that you dont forget to send that very important message to your parents at a time when the message is most pertinent to them.


Having a YouTube account makes it easy for you to create videos and share videos through your Twitter & Facebook accounts as well as email. Parents can learn campus processes and procedures,  see exactly what's happening in your school as well as learn new information through a short video, Video is a powerful communication tool to show parents what learning looks like in the 21st century.


Websites are not new, but many schools do not get maximum exposure from websites because they are overloaded with content or not maintained regularly. Schools must create easy-to-navigate websites with current, concise and parent friendly information. Websites must be simple in organization and content so parents will not be overwhelmed by information overload or by difficulty in finding information that they need.

Push your Information

If you want parents to get important information, it is important that you push information to them. RSS feeds, call out systems and text messaging systems for pushing grades to parents on a regular basis builds transparency and trust between the school and home, which translates into a desire to work with parents.

The days of sending papers home and expecting every student to get the information home, signed and returned is unrealistic, to say the least. Schools must step out, commit to over-communicating in a systematic fashion so that they minimize the chance that the message is not received by parents.

Schools that are most successful in parent involvement believe that they must do whatever it takes to involve parents in the education of their child. These schools also are successful in student achievement because their parents are active partners in supporting their children in reaching academic goals. In short, giving a hoot about parent involvement translates into student success.