Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Teacher Leaders - The Wind Beneath My Wings #SAVMP 2:5

So today I am going to talk about MY classroom! Yes, the school and its teachers are MY classroom, and just like a classroom teacher, I get jazzed when my students (my awesome team of teachers) take risks and grow and demonstrate mastery of their learning. 

I have one teacher who took the teacher leadership challenge, and she is helping others grow as well. Since it is appraisal season, I was having one of those sit-down conversations with a strong teacher at our school. I was discussing the topic of teacher leadership with her. I shared that I wanted her to take on more leadership roles. Because she is a quality teacher, she was not afraid to raise questions with me. She shared that she felt she had missed the opportunity to lead in formal ways because grade chairs, school improvement team positions, and other formal leadership roles were already distributed. That is when we got down to some "real talk." I shared with her that my vision for the school was of a collaborative work force, and that I wanted to see leadership formally and informally. SHE WANTED TO KNOW MORE. I explained that teacher leadership should be exhibited by all teachers who have something to offer others. I wanted her to take on leadership roles that were beyond the status quo. I wanted her to be a "go-to" girl for new teachers, for her colleagues, and someone who positively impacts our campus for the greater good of our students. I began to see a gleam in her eyes. This was a paradigm shift for her, but it was one she quickly adopted. Sitting in the chair in front of me and my assistant principal,  she paused for a few seconds, and then she said, "Can you give me some examples?" I was amused by her enthusiasm and energy. I shared that there were a group of new teachers on campus who needed some help with their action research plans. I shared that we needed to be able to assist some of the new teachers with getting activated on Twitter since we were coming up on our second school #EdChat (#CherryElem). She said, "Okay, I will do that." Well, she wasn't kidding. She was SERIOUS and she meant BUSINESS! She walked out of my office, and went directly to the new teachers and asked them how she could help. She called me about an hour later, as it was getting dark on campus, and she said, "Hey, I am helping this new teacher and we have a question about the action research plan requirements." I got a huge smile on my face, and I was speechless! We talked through how to support that teacher. Then, the very next day, she got one of the new teachers on Twitter which is the picture you see above. 

Staff empowerment is such an important gift for our teachers. Teachers should not have to wait for a CEO type Principal to hand down decisions from above. Teachers should be empowered to come up with creative and innovative solutions on their own with collaborative input and monitoring by administration.

This teacher, Tiffany, was empowered, and she used her empowerment to empower others. Her excitement for the opportunity to lead others inspires me and my assistant principal. She has recently helped host our second school Twitter chat, and her leadership example stirs the excellence in others. Just since this school year started, we have seen all but 3 of our faculty members join Twitter. It has become a #BragTag fest where the teachers share the awesomeness of their classrooms. It has become a school-level PLN where we share and learn from each other's practices. AND, it has become an encouragement network for supporting each other's efforts to be #RockStarTeachers.  This same teacher, Tiffany, spontaneously got us all involved in a #TweetMob celebrating #EdJoy a couple of weeks ago. 

I have many others like her on my campus. She, and other teachers like her... are the wind beneath my wings.... 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

#FETC Spreading the #EdTech Virus

Well, this year's FETC Conference was another amazing experience. I was exceptionally lucky to add to the richness of the experience this year by bringing three teacher leaders with me. Three of my Cherry Street teachers joined me in Orlando for FETC 2015, and I do believe they came back with the #EdTech Virus!

Valerie, Stefanie, Me, and Tiffany (all pictured here) got our #FETC Mojo going and have been on fire since our return. I am sure that each of these ladies could write their own BLOG entry on the amazing ed. tech. they have been integrating in their classrooms since their return. I hear wonderful stories about their use of Plickers: https://www.plickers.com/ and Kahoot: https://getkahoot.com/ as well as many others. 

Some of the sessions I attended this year were:

  • TechShare Live
  • Advanced Twitter Tips and Tools
  • Give a Kindergartner an Ipad
  • Kathy Schrock's Telling the Story
  • Augmented Reality and Mind Blowing Student Engagement
  • Neurological Benefits of Gaming
  • Advanced YouTube
...and as always each of the keynote speakers was fabulous. 

The hottest topics in Ed. Tech. are, of course, the gamification of learning and the maker movements. I, personally, get excited by all the augmented reality that is out there on the market. There were several augmented reality demonstrations I attended, and the Elements 4D app from DAQRI was crazy amazing: Elements

The elements from the periodic table are in wooden blocks. But when you use the app. via your tablet or SmartPhone, it turns the blocks into three dimensional cubes that contain the elements being represented. It is difficult to even describe this sort of technology, but the crowd was "oooo"ing and "awwww"ing constantly. A cube containing oxygen and a cube containing hydrogen, when paired together, became a cube containing water!

Here is a tweet from Tiffany during one of the keynote speaker addresses that shows 3D printing and several augmented reality examples. 

Here is a tweet from Stefanie during one of the sessions she attended.

Part of the greatness of attending the conference is not only what you learn while you are there but also the fun you have trying out the programs you learn about once you get home! I started using TweetDeck at the conference, and I was able to use it during our Inaugural #EdChat at Cherry Street this month. With TweetDeck, you can monitor multiple timelines, topics, lists and accounts. I love it! The multi-tasking fool that I am has three different Twitter accounts. It can get overwhelming without these amazing tools: TweetDeck

AND, most exciting of all, my three teacher leaders hosted our very first #CherryElem #EdChat. We followed the lead of one of my favorite BLOGsters, Amber Teamann, and her suggestion to modify the parameters of a regular Twitter Chat by allowing for 24 hour posting so folks can see the process and get initiated slowly. Here is that BLOG entry: Technically Teamann

I got to use another super cool program, Storify, at https://storify.com/, when we finished the #EdChat. I posted a summary of our #EdChat here: Storify.com/Enrjtk_Educatr/first-twitter-edchat-for-cherry-street-elementary

Lastly, I appreciate the comradery and the fun that I was able to have with my awesome team in Orlando. We created some great memories! I have been attending FETC off and on for twenty years. I have seen Jim Lovell from Apollo 13 and the lauded science fiction author, Ray Bradbury. FETC is the best!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

FINDING TIME FOR FUN ~ Time Management for School Leaders #SAVMP 2:4

Time Management for School Leaders - Finding Time for Fun!

The topic of Time Management is a critical one for leaders these days as we are being buried under an ever increasing load of paperwork. The paperwork can include appraisals of faculty and staff, school improvement planning, and federal and district requirements. I have previously written about my efforts to organize and manage my days in a post called: Time Management from the Perspective of an Efficiency Freak. This topic has come up again in my focus during the 2014-2015 school year but in a bit of a different way. With a little twist, I have begun to explore how I manage my time at home and continue to be effective in my other jobs: MOM, WIFE, DAUGHTER, FRIEND. 

As I entered into my third year as a school leader, I have been able to turn my gaze back to a "Search for Balance." That first year as Principal was a type of audit and inventory of my new environment. I used a facilitative leadership style where I just facilitated the life of the school while at the same time taking stock and shaping my vision for the future. That first year was very, very busy. It was the year I had to establish credibility, build relationships, and learn everything possible as quickly as possible about my new responsibilities. I felt like I worked ALL THE TIME--like till 1 and 2 A.M. most nights. The second year was a bit better for the total hours I worked per day, but it was at a more intense level as I used a pacesetter leadership style. I showed the faculty the vision and the pace, and I asked them to keep up or to look for a better fit--nothing personal. And, NOW, as I have moved into the winter of my third year, I feel as if the staff and I are unified and working together collectively to increase student achievement and impact student success in the life of our school. This is my favorite style, the visionary leadership style. Most everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction, and no one is trying to sink it! This has been a refreshing year, and it has helped that I have one of the strongest assistant administrators I have ever met working closely with me on all levels. We share the same vision and have similar kindred spirits. These elements have allowed me to work on the necessary balance between home and work life.

EXERCISE: First, I make certain I know what my focus is at home. Rather than coming home from work exhausted and binge eating in front of the TV, I am working to include exercise every day. On my birthday, my husband bought me a fitbit. I love goal setting, and this wearable technology meets my goal-oriented needs. Here is a picture of my progress today from the app. on my SmartPhone which synchronizes various times throughout the day. My daily goal is 10,000 steps every day. Of course, I would show a day when I met my goal! The Dashboard also tracks my meals and my sleep patterns. It synchronizes with my favorite calorie counter app. myfitnesspal. Both of these tools are at my fingertips and help me maintain my focus. 


During Christmas, I converted my garage into a mini-gymnasium. It used to be such a pain to get dressed for the gym, drive to the gym, and then work around everyone else on the nautilus equipment or the free weights. Now I have my very own gymnasium heaven! Here is a picture, and I jokingly call it my nightly date with "Gym."  My mini-gym has everything I need, and I especially love the DVD player where I watch my favorite CSI: Las Vegas episodes while walking on the treadmill. My gym is just feet away. I am grateful for a new focus on exercise that is quick and easy. 

FUN & FAMILY:  The next thing I do to keep my focus is I plot out everything on a weekly calendar (my only tracking item using traditional paper) that sits on my desk in my bedroom. I put all appointments like my daughter's upcoming soccer booster club meeting on my Google Calendar, but I put the little things on this calendar. Things like read my spiritual devotional every morning, play my DuoLinguo app., mail a package to my son in college, visit my father during the weekend, date night with the husband, movie night with my #CoffeeClubGirls, etc. etc. I am adverse to any paper calendars and PREFER the digital version in my apps. Google Calendar, G-Tasks, Google Keep, and Sticky Notes, but I still use this old-fashioned calendar when I am at home because when I walk in the door, I truly try to put the phone down and disconnect from the grid temporarily. This visual calendar gives me just a couple of items to focus on every day so that I DO feel accomplished during the week, and I don't succumb to  the hustle and bustle which can drain me at the end of each day. This daily focus allows me to get the important things done as soon as I get home, and then I am not panicking to finish everything during my two days off on the weekend.

And, after I complete the "first things first" I can download and do the fun things like reading a great book or watching my favorite crime drama on Netflix. Here are a stack of books I am working on now:

PAPERLESS: And, lastly, I am moving many things to paperless in our home. I am using Evernote frequently to journal vs. my old way of writing in bulky journals. Also, the digital version is quicker to write/type. I now have all of my papery type things accumulating in EverNote. I have all of my recipe collections, movie ratings, and a journal committed to my wonderful husband all building in Evernote. What would have taken shelves to house and time to write is now all contained in the Cloud and typed up quickly with all sorts of little bells and whistles that can be added with images, fonts, and it is all done within either my SmartPhone or on my laptop. I prefer paperless. 


Here is an example of all of the movie ratings I have been collecting in my Evernote app. I can add images of the movie ticket along with my commentary. I can scroll through these or even share them with a link such as this one to my American Sniper review: 

So, with this different twist I have shared how I have increased my focus at home so that I am as good at my night job as I am at my day job! I work very hard to enjoy my down-time and all those times I am able to unplug from the grid. My husband knows when I am trying to get things accomplished, and he calls this my "checklist mode." Just the other day, he told me that we must have switched roles because nowadays he is always the one in checklist mode, and I am the one trying to relax. LOL. I laughed, because he used to refer to me as his work-a-holic or captain of the NFL (No-fun-league).  I have been working hard to relax. Wow-What an oxymoron that is. I guess the better way to say it is, I have been using my time wisely so that there is time left for F-U-N. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Embrace Struggle #SAVMP 2:3

The Growth Mindset – Not Just a Kid Thing

The research by Carol Dweck has been so affirming for me as an educator. As a teacher, I always loved the most challenging students in my class because they caused me to grow and become a better teacher EVERY day. I was frequently setting goals and trying to grow and improve, and I also believed those same “hard to teach” students could grow at any second, minute, or hour of the day. I made it my personal challenge to meet them where they were and to unlock the key to their learning. Many times these were the students who were despised by other teachers. I even became the classroom where students who were kicked out of other classes ended up--yep, a new schedule was written with Rine as the new teacher! LOL. With my teaching eyes, I would size up every single student and ask myself the question, “How can I help you learn?” Many times, the obstacle was helping the student understand that they COULD achieve. Conquering a fixed mindset in a student can be a challenge.

With that sort of growth mindset in my teaching past, I have been so invigorated by Dweck’s research which is extremely popular right now. The growth mindset ensures that the opportunities for learning are present for the students. I am devastated, DEVASTATED, when I hear educator conversations that include statements like: “Oh, that teacher has (Insert name here) in his/her class. They can’t do anything with THAT child.” 

Our mindset has power. We can have a FIXED mindset where we let failure define who we are or a GROWTH mindset where we see setbacks as opportunities to grow and improve ourselves. I think of my short bout with cancer. I could be mad about the fact that I had to live through a season with cancer, and my life will never be the same because of it OR I can reflect on that difficult time and look for ways it has made me a stronger person. Probably the one way I see that experience as valuable has been the conversations and advice I have been able to give those who walk the "cancer walk" for the first time. I can share my experiences and help them know that it is not always fatal even though it will be traumatic. As teachers and educators, we encounter some very damaged children--maybe it is not cancer damage but we see physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, abandonment, and worse. I mourn that so many of them have seen so much evil in their short lives. But, I never count any of them out of the game. No matter how mischievous, lying or conniving a child might be, I show them the pathway to truth and life and especially the roads where education can lead them. I believe they can all grow. This  mindset can also translate to our impact on students. Do we view our students with a growth mindset and believe that they have the power to change their circumstances? Or do we view them with a fixed mindset that they cannot rise above their circumstances? To be a CHAMPION for a child, you must view them with a growth mindset.

Here are some resources from Project Happiness that compare and contrast the fixed vs. growth mindset. We are focusing on the growth mindset as part of our #SpeakLife theme this year at our school.

  Excerpted from: Project Happiness 

It Is up to you!
Belief that intelligence, personality and character are carved in stone; potential is determined at birth.
Belief that intelligence, personality, and character can be developed! A person’s true potential is unknown and unknowable.
Look smart in every situation and prove myself over and over again. Never fail!
Stretch myself, take risks and learn. Bring on the challenges!
Evaluation of Situations
Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart of dumb?
Will this allow me to grow?
Will this help me overcome some of my challenges?
Dealing with Setbacks
“I’m a failure.” OR “I’m an idiot.”
“I failed.” BUT “I will try harder next time.”
Avoid challenges, get defensive or give up easily.
Embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks.
Why bother? It’s not going to change anything.
Growth and learning require effort.
Ignore constructive criticism.
Learn from criticism. How can I improve?
Success of Others
Feel threatened by the success of others. If you succeed, then I fail.
Find lessons & inspiration in other people’s success.
Plateau early, achieve less than my potential.
Reach ever-higher levels of achievement.

Here is a video from Dweck that we watched during our pre-service training days. I encourage you to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. #YouCanLearnAnything

Friday, November 28, 2014

Standing United with Staff #SAVMP 2:2

Participation is Paramount for a Leader's Credibility 
#SAVMP 2:2

When asking your faculty and staff to take a leap of faith and try something new, it is critical that the leader step out in faith as well. I have joined with my amazing staff in hosting a program for our students. I always believe it is critical to be ready to commit to anything that I ask staff to commit to so that we are partners in the rewards AND my presence will continue to provide credibility and solidarity for our team.

This year we have begun a significant initiative to try and provide an after-school network of clubs and extracurricular activities for our students. Simultaneously, several of our teachers are taking the opportunity to tutor students since we have budgeted to provide transportation for these programs on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The longer we can keep our students on campus, we can be assured they are safe. We provide snacks, and we can be assured they are fed. We provide rich academic opportunities and content exposure, and we are assured they are learning!

Several teachers and staff have chosen to create and participate in rich experiences for our students. I have also chosen to be a member of our after-school activities.

Here is our COMING SOON flyer from last spring for the programs we have begun on campus: Cherry STEMS (STEM project-based learning club), My Brother’s Keeper (a mentoring program partnered with local community leaders to reach out to young boys), Cheetah Harmony (a Music Academy with exposure to instruments and community music programs), and a thriving Chess Club! The emphasis in each of these clubs is expanding the background knowledge of the students through exposure to high-level academic content and experiences.

In addition, this fall, as part of the STEM program, our STEM Teacher has begun a GEMS Club: GEMS is Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science.

I have been able to participate in two of the clubs myself and share in the joy! I attend every My Brother’s Keeper and Chess Club meeting. The experiences have been intensely rich for me.
The My Brother’s Keeper program is led by a local pastor who has scheduled to bring in multiple guest speakers. He first brought in local law enforcement officers to speak with students. He and one of our male staff members teach character lessons, and the pastor is currently developing a lesson for the boys that has an obstacle course in conjunction with our PE Coach. It is so awesome to watch how these developing young men respond to the instruction of these community and school mentors. Here are photos from the last session:

The other club, the Chess Club, has been the club that makes me laugh, and I leave each meeting with a huge smile! I have taught several students how to play Chess. It is very rewarding to turn the fledgling players loose and let them play other students. We have club norms like, “No bragging if you win.” AND….one young lady in 3rd grade asked me if she could check out a chess board to take it home to teach her family how to play. Now, that was a worthwhile experience for all the time that our team of three adults puts into the club. Here are photos from our first session:

I am grateful for the staff who extend their work day to provide these experiences for our students, and I make certain that I participate because we are ALL IN THIS TOGETHER!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Connecting with Video: Our School Community - The TouchCast #SAVMP

Connecting with Video: Our School Community- The TouchCast 

#SAVMP 2:1

Our district took a huge and worthwhile leap this year! We took on the cause of Professional Learning Communities. The … model flows from the assumption that the core mission of formal education is not simply to ensure that students are taught but to ensure that they learn. This simple shift—from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning—has profound implications for schools.” You can read more about PLC’s at the link below.

This process takes time, and the collaboration that teachers naturally use to walk through this process can get very complex leading to multiple levels of analysis such as student data reviews, test item analysis conversations, question formatting discussions, and ultimately standards dissection. This has been around for many years. I was involved in such a process at the high school level about 10 years ago, and the benefit was that I knew the standards for my curriculum, and I also knew when lessons and assessments were a complete mismatch for learning targets. I thoroughly enjoyed the process, and I also know how long it can take. I worked with a team of 8 teachers, and 3 of us spent several weeks during our summer vacation creating aligned curriculum to match our standards.

Due to the time required for such an undertaking, I have chosen to use alternative methods to communicate with our staff. We no longer have faculty meetings where we discuss procedural items. We have professional development opportunities. Further, I used to write a weekly Chat and PUPdate for the staff where expectations and celebrations were covered. I have continued with the PUPdate which is a simple Friday email full of images and sometimes containing videos and/or links to resources. However, rather than using the Monday Chat which required teachers to stop and read a document early on in their work week, I  now create a weekly TouchCast which is shared every Monday with faculty and staff. The video has a time limit of 5 minutes, and it allows staff to multi-task while watching/listening to the broadcast. I had one teacher tell me she watches on her phone while she is getting ready for work in the morning. I love that staff can multi-task and can replay the video or pause and reflect at any point. A nice feature of the TouchCast is that you can embed links and documents and videos that the viewer can use with TouchScreen devices such as tablets and smartphones. The viewer needs to only touch the screen (when viewing on TouchCast and not YouTube), and they can access all of the embedded resources at their fingertips. If they really like it they can download it instantly.
I think this is a way to give back time to our staff, and it certainly allows me to share a more personal method of communication with everyone as the nuances of speech, intonation, and facial expression are highly superior to a weekly Word document.

Here is my Thanksgiving TouchCast. I encourage you to use video at every opportunity. Video is a great way to communicate!

If you are using a smartphone you may need to use this link:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

     Our school district and our school have embarked upon a new adventure with the advent of Professional Learning Communities. What is a PLC you ask? The Professional Learning Community is a method of working in schools where educators are continuously improving teaching and learning through collaborative practices done in consistent and regular work sessions. Our district is following the research of Richard Dufour, Rebecca DuFour, Robert Eaker and Thomas Many in the book, Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work. 

     I feel like our school had a slight advantage in stepping into this initiative because we had been preparing for common assessments for two years. We spent the first year immersing our school in data analysis. The second year we spent reviewing data for student impact. This third year we are investigating and reviewing student AND TEACHER data to determine the differentiation needs and match them to the teacher practices! This is exciting work, and our campus has definitely got some pockets of greatness occurring. Even better, there is a collaborative dynamic all over campus, and it will only make us stronger and better able to serve our students. Everywhere on our campus we are moving forward which follows the greatest premise of the PLC mentality...

The goal is action, not perfection!

     Here is a video of our first grade team sharing their work through the PLC process. The items of brilliance to watch for are:

  1. Use of Norms
  2. Distribution of Roles
  3. Data Analysis of Student Achievement
  4. Alignment to the Standards and 8 Mathematical Practices
  5. Increased Rigor
  6. The use of other resources when the provided resources are insufficient
  7. Teacher-developed items formatted to the standardized summative assessment(s)
  8. The use of performance items
  9. The use of rubrics and progression scales
  10. Student self-assessment
     It is our hope to continue improving our practices at every opportunity, and this is definitely a step in the right direction. Click below to see the video on YouTube.