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:
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYvxA4A5IlA




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.





Friday, August 29, 2014

#SpeakLife ~ Use Your Words to Inspire



     Last week we had our first day back to school for the faculty, and that first day is always a special time as we set the tone for the coming school year. I live by themes and inspirational messages as they carry me through the tough times. During our first year together at Cherry Street (two years ago), we used a simple theme of "Oh the Places You'll Go" from Dr. Seuss's famous book as an attempt to unify a campus to begin moving together on the same journey. The nice thing about that theme was that the journey in that book takes some time, and that inference could also be used about the journey we were beginning together. During our second year together, we used the theme of Champions. This was based on Rita Pierson's inspiring message that..."Every child deserves a Champion -- an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be." The YouTube video of her dynamic message can be seen here:


     Every morning before school, our amazing media specialist, Story Lori, would play this song about Champions for our staff and students before the first bell rang so that we would recall, daily, our mission to be a student's champion. This song, called "Champions" was written for the Olympic Games and sponsored by Duracell.




     I strongly believe that our teachers and staff need inspiration and unity as we begin this upcoming school year. It is a difficult time to be an educator. Crushing regulations and hyper-accountability have put our teachers in a pressure cooker of performance. While the mission is especially challenging in high poverty schools, our schools have the ability to be high performing schools if provided with the best resources--incredible teachers.

     Our new theme for the 2014-2015 school year is #SpeakLife based on the song by TobyMac. We are focusing on the one thing that can make or break a classroom....the environment. The best teachers have strong classroom communities and cultures. You can walk into a classroom with a high performing educator, and you will be mesmerized because they weave a magic that captures their students' imaginations while at the same time they provide a structured and well-managed safe classroom where failure and struggle to learn are honored as part of the class community. According to Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Teaching, this trait is outlined as that ever important component 2A, Environment of Respect & Rapport. There are so many quotes that support this year's theme. For example, I have always heard, "They don't care what you know if they don't know you care." The thoughts about this approach to teaching are endless. With issues like bullying and cyberbullying escalating in our educational contexts, the #SpeakLife theme could certainly solve many issues if we tried to use it in every area of our lives. Check out the cool lyrics here below in a YouTube version of the song:  


     I never know what our teachers are thinking and if the things we do together resonate until they surprise me with wonderful emails or texts or notes. When I woke this morning, I received this amazing email from a new teacher on our campus. You can certainly tell from the tone of the message she is excited, and she has not only embraced the #SpeakLife message, but she has also brought it to her students. I have not included her name here because I have not had a chance to ask her permission to use her name in my BLOG, so I have left off her name. But you can see that good things are happening in her classroom. I have also added the video that she used parts of for her students. It is that same old bullying issue, and the symbolism in the video shows what can happen when children speak "life" to each other. What a FANTASTIC lesson for our children and for us ALL. Here is the email:

Here is the video she references where she showed parts:




     So, as you go through your day, #SpeakLife, and know that we are speaking it at Cherry Street Elementary!

#SpeakLife


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Innovation Everywhere!

     Yes, it has been a couple of months since my last post. Sorry about that, but I took a Blogging break. Life has kept me busy. My Father-in-Law had a stroke, and we just returned from a trip to visit him up north. Health tragedies TRULY make me grateful for my life more than anything else I know. I lost a mother to cancer, my father had a heart attack, and now I have experienced stroke in a very intimate way. All of these debilitating events put life in perspective and have caused me to value every minute of every day as a miracle.

     This past couple of weeks, I have been paying close attention to the changes I have seen in the medical industry. For example, when my Father-in-Law had the stroke, they were able to take an image of his blood clot in his brain. The brain is a remarkable piece of work. Here is that image in black and white. Such imaging along with the amazing new medicines and things like robotics being used for surgery make our medical industry better. Innovation has improved this industry and many others.


     When we returned from our trip to Ohio, I had my own appointment with a physician. Being on vacation, like many educators, I was trying to fit as many appointments in to this week as possible. The doctor I was visiting was switching to paperless documentation. Many doctors I have visited over the years have made the switch, but this doctor was using the "latest and greatest". His staff took my picture with the iPad, they had me sign waivers on the iPad with an index finger signature, and everything was documented via the tablet. There was no paper involved in the visit at all. 

     If you know anything about me, you know that I am stoked by technology and futuristic trends. I LOVE how quickly all the fields around me are shifting to use technology tools. Innovation is so exciting, and my Twitter Feed is full of articles and retweets about technology and ed. tech.

     During the last faculty meeting of our school year, I showed a video about Innovation (I have added it here) to our faculty. I wanted them to be inspired by the comments of Geoffrey Canada, president of the famous Harlem charter schools that are featured in the movie, Waiting for Superman. The movie talks about some of the struggles of public schools. I love his philosophy in this video where he talks about the need for innovation in our schools and how so little has changed in our pedagogy. He describes the things that research shows us need to be changed, but they have not changed. Just today, I read a tweet from another local principal. She was quoting a speaker at the PAEC Conference being held at the Bay Point Marriott this week.  The tweet was:



     Some of the changes that Educational Leaders will be making in the coming years are going to be difficult. As Geoffrey Canada says in this video, we are out of time. We need to begin changing now. If you get time, consider the things he says.....and dream of the future.



Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Just Part of the Family



     This past week I had the privilege to work with an amazing group of administrators as we embarked on a challenging new journey. The family of schools that combine to feed into Bay High School, the Bay High Family of Schools, met to start a partnership that will lead to stronger schools to better serve our students. The catalyst for the partnership was a comment made by one of our school board members during the last Principals' Meeting. The partnership might have occurred over time anyway, but it was this comment by board member, Ginger Littleton, that got all of us thinking! To summarize, she said that the high schools should be looking to strengthen the middle schools, and the middle schools should be looking to strengthen the elementary schools... or we were all missing out on opportunities to build stronger families of schools.
     Shortly after the meeting, it might have been a couple of days at the most, Jinks Middle School's new Principal, Britt Smith, sent an email asking all of our feeder schools to join him in a meeting to begin the unification of our school family.
     I was delighted to join in this process as we would all reap the benefits of stronger connections and communication in our pipeline of schools.

     Some of the great ideas that resulted from the meeting were:
  • ·       The collaboration of teachers for curriculum and grade level expectations across the full vertical team.
  • ·       The integration of student experiences across schools especially to support programs, special projects, and events.
  • ·       The formation of student communities/academies such as athletic and arts academies.
  • ·       The increase of press and public relations using social media and other outlets to declare the excellence at our schools.
  • ·       The promotion and building of relationships for students and their families among schools.

     I look forward to the future where I will see middle and high school students on our campus providing the excellent role models for our elementary students. I look forward to a future where our teachers are comfortable collaborating together to polish our craft and bravely accept all the challenges coming to each of our schools TOGETHER.

     I know of a team of schools who are partnering in Canada, using a Triad model. Here is an image of their Google+ page.






     The Triad DGM Google + Group was created to assist the staffs of St. Gregory, St. Daniel and St. Monica with their collaborative inquiry. Their Google + Group also challenged the Triad schools to use new technologies to keep connected throughout the year. Here is a BLOG entry posted by one of their primary grade teams (grades 1 & 2) of teachers that met, collaborated, and shared their work: 


     I have watched their model on Google +, and I hope that our group will use technology such as Google Hangouts to capture the great work that I am positive is going to happen as we begin this journey! I am proud to be... just part of the family!


Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Al Pacino of Education




     It was last summer when I really became acquainted, actually much closer than I would like, with our state's accountability system. I DO believe in accountability, but after much research, I had concluded that Florida state's school grading system was broken. The state had changed the target and moved the target so many times that it was like playing football with the goal post constantly moving farther and farther away and the referees always changing the number of points that it took to get a touchdown. Talk about frustrating!

     So, in my usual fashion I set out to learn as much as I could and to talk to as many folks as I could about the problems this presented for my faculty and myself in our goals to increase student achievement. I traveled to Tallahassee and met with the education commissioner, and I made an appointment to speak with our local senator (see those posts here: Learning from a State Leader and My Chat with the Senator). AND....I began to follow what was happening at the state level. That is when I became aware of one of my new heroes, and I want to introduce YOU to him.

     During my journey to learn about state grading, my own Super. started hooking me up with links to articles, and his staff shared a video with me from the state task force that was convened to provide some recommendations to then Commissioner of Education, Toni Bennett. The video which was a full hour long in just the first section was very intriguing. I watched it several times, and I became genuinely inspired by one Superintendent in particular. Alberto Carvalho took charge of the room and made the most sense of anyone on the task force because he was there, in the trenches, with his schools trying to survive the bludgeoning being issued by our state. He spoke confidently, eloquently, and passionately. I was hooked, and I believed that he would definitely go far in whatever he chose to do in the future. He is in charge of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the fourth-largest school district in the United States. I was so impressed with his logical and pragmatic points during the Task Force Meeting, that I felt he could make sense of the grading mess much better than I could.....so I scaled down the hour video to 6 minutes and showed it to my faculty during the summer pre-service training. I tried to embed that video here, but Blogger has its quirks, and it would not cooperate. So I have added a link to that video on MY YouTube Channel, and I captured a screen shot of what the video looks like on MY channel. 


             Click here for the video: DOE School Grading Task Force - High Points


     Now, after watching this video, I was also struck by how closely Alberto resembles on of my personal favorite actors of all time, Al Pacino....not only in physical appearance but also in his demeanor and style. The IMDB says Pacino is known for, "...his forceful and dynamic presentation." Well, that is how I see Alberto! As a matter of fact, my favorite movie with Al Pacino is Heat (1995) where he plays the role of LAPD Lt. Vincent Hanna who leads a team of cops in the Robbery/Homicide police division. His nemesis in the movie is none other than Robert DeNiro, and it is a great story line for both actors. Pacino's character is the white hat, and he wins out over evil in the movie. It is his confident and brash style in the movie that is so strong that help him to be so successful at his craft. Here is a picture of Al from the movie...see any resemblances?

 Image used from Movie Retrospect BLOG

    Ironically, during the course of hiring teachers during this past school year, I interviewed an applicant who had read my BLOG, and she noted my comment about him in the post about my visit to meet the Education Commissioner. She had met Mr. Carvalho during a FASA meeting, and she had his business card. She presented it to me as a gift, and ....of course, wouldn't you know it?....the back of his card contained ALL of his social media. He rocks!



     Almost a year after learning about him and zeroing in on his strengths and his potential, I learned that he was named Florida’s 2014 Superintendent of the Year as well as the 2014 National Superintendent of the Year. Further, he was named by Scholastic Administrator as one of "The Fantastic Five" educators making a difference in America. I guess I picked a winner! LOL.

     The biography on his website says: "AC successfully transformed his district’s business operations and financial systems with the implementation of a streamlined Strategic Framework focused on a singular goal of student achievement. Miami-Dade County Public Schools is now widely considered the nation’s highest-performing urban school system, and was named as the 2014 College Board Advanced Placement Equity and Excellence District of the Year as well as the 2012 winner of the Broad Prize for Urban Education.  On November 6, 2012, following four years of extraordinary District performance, Miami-Dade County voters confirmed their faith in their public schools and their Superintendent by passing a $1.2 Billion Bond Referendum for school construction."

     He is definitely an educational leader I will continue to watch with wonder. I am following him on Twitter, and who knows, I might end up writing another post about him in the future -- I really don't think he has shown us all that he can do. He has amazing potential.