Maintaining Balance for Learning During Crazy Times: A Thoughtful Guide for Parents and Educators

In honor of November being the month of Gratitude, Dr. Aili Pogust and Dr. Spike Cook will be hosting a 5 part weekly series on maintaining balance during these crazy times. There is no cost for the workshop and if you are interested you can sign up here. We are asking those who are interested to attend all 5 sessions. 

About the series 
Is what you have been doing to maintain your balance working for you these days? You are living in a crazy time. Perhaps you’ve noticed that you can no longer follow the paths to which you’ve been accustomed. Creating new paths, however, requires a better awareness of how the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of your life need to remain balanced.

Your children and your students are counting on that. Before you can help them you have to help yourself. This workshop will offer you some thoughtful tools to get started. In closing, here’s something to consider. Our western culture has focused intensely on the physical and mental aspects of our lives. Notice if you have an urge to attend only a select date. What might that be saying about your state of balance?

Dates and times 
Tuesday on November 10, 17, 24, December 1, 8 (2020) Time: 7:00 PM EST – 8:00 PM EST (Zoom link will be provided to those who register.) Register here. Registration ends November 9 at 10:00 PM. 

Overview of each week 
November 10

  • You will assess how you currently utilize the four aspects of your life physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. You will also learn and practice a four-step balancing process: Set intention. Self assess. Select options. Survey progress.

November 17

  • You will learn and practice tools to balance your physical body. Application to children/students will be explored.

November 24

  • You will learn and practice tools to balance your emotional body. Application to children/students will be explored.

December 1 

  • You will learn and practice tools to balance your mental body. Application to children/students will be explored.

December 8

  • You will learn and practice tools to balance your spiritual body. Application to children/students will be explored.

Register here for the series

About the Presenters
Dr. Aili Pogust 
Aili has been an educator for over 40 years. She has taught elementary, middle and high school grades as well as graduate school. As an educational trainer, consultant and coach she has focused her work with educators on supporting effective practices in teaching literacy, communicating well and infusing curriculum with the social/emotional aspects of learning. Her focus as an educator is centered on the process of learning rather than the process of schooling. Aili received her doctorate from Temple University. She authored the book entitled: Communicating With Clarity: A Pocket Guide for Humans.   Aili is the co-founder of The Pogust Group: Mining the Gems of Human Potential

Dr. Spike Cook
Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click Away; Breaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Dr. Cook is also on the Education Advisory Board for Whole Health Ed. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

5 Observations on Education During a Pandemic

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Schools across the globe have been forced to close their doors in a sweeping response to the COVID 19 pandemic. Many educators found this out with little to no time to prepare and it has been challenging for everyone. The school buildings are closed but the learning is continuing and it is revealing a lot about the state of education.

Here are 5 Observations on Education During a Pandemic:

  1. Socioeconomics continues to be one of the major factors impacting education. This debate (and unfortunately it has been a debate) continues as many people are seeing that those families living in poverty do not have an equitable access employment, technology or food. This hasn’t changed with the closing of school, it has just become more apparent.  The big question is…. what are we doing about it?
  2. Educators who lead with a Growth Mindset in regards to technology and remote student learning are having the most successes. If you are being asked to change your mode of instruction (sometimes with less than 24 hours of notice) there is not a lot of time to remain fixed about what teaching and learning is going to look like. By and large educators have taken risks, tried new things and gone out of their comfort zones to ensure that students continue learning during this unprecedented time.
  3. The need to “play school” in the 19th century sense is still alive and well. Those who are trying to play this type of school are struggling. Many educators report that they are “business as usual” or that they are “keeping the curriculum moving forward.” This can be a troublesome approach since the variables of educating students remotely have been drastically increased.  How can we approach business as usual when parents are responsible for balancing their jobs (if they still have them), ensuring that their children are following the remote learning plans, all while everyone wonders what the long term impact of this pandemic will be?
  4. Collaboration is key. Educators collaborate all the time during the traditional school year. Teachers use formal and informal ways to collaborate while in a traditional school setting. During remote learning, educators have had to investigate new forms of communication, attend virtual meetings, use back channels and recognize the importance of social media. Teachers are doing this while also taking care of their own children.
  5. Many were prepared for this. There are countless educators who have sacrificed their mornings or evenings to attend Twitter Chats to grow and connect with others outside their school walls. They listened to Podcasts, joined Voxer groups all in the hopes to learn something new or connect with like minded educators. Numerous educators gave up their Saturdays to attend EdCamps where the un-conference model allowed for an innovative, learner-centered professional development that they were not getting inside the school walls. Thought leaders such as Will Richardson, Eric SheningerDiane Ravitch, Baruti Kafele, and Rafranz Davis were telling us over the last few years that we needed to look at the education paradigm differently, uniquely because we are in a new age.

So where do we go from here? 

Eventually we will head back to the school buildings but the hope is that this experience will force educators to reflect on the current mode of education and to determine what changes they will need to make moving forward to connect with students on a deeper level. Maybe the teachers will be able to take charge of the curriculum again and force state and local legislatures to put the kid’s needs first. Maybe, just maybe the public will see that all of the teacher bashing that has been en vogue over the last 20 years needs to stop and we need to work together for our kids!

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

Non Negotiables in Middle School

6 Non Negotiables at LMS

In the spring, our staff worked collaboratively to identify a climate and culture goal for the 2019-20 School Improvement Plan. As part of the process, we did a compare/contrast on Pearl Cohn High School in Nashville. This school was featured in Edutopia’s School Climate section.

We spent a considerable time reflecting on where we were and where we wanted to go. We surveyed parents, students and the staff to help us determine a specific area (s). One of the areas that resonated with the staff was Pearl Cohn’s emphasis on Non Negotiables. In fact, one staff member said, “That is exactly what we need. We have to be on the same page with the Non Negotiables.”

Prior to the conclusion of the school year we identified our Non Negotiables (which are very similar to Pearl Cohn). We had a parent meeting to discuss the ideas to improving the climate and culture of the building. Staff met with students to ensure they were a part of the process, and even had them do a compare/contrast with the Pearl Cohn School.  Over the summer, the administrative team operationally defined and organized the Non Negotiables. We also developed a script and a response protocol.

At our Staff Welcome Back we officially “rolled” out the Non Negotiables. As everyone knows, the Staff Welcome Back time is precious but we scheduled a considerable amount of time so that we all understood the “why” and had opportunities to interact with the Non Negotiables. It was time well spent.

Our staff worked collaboratively to develop “real middle school life” scenarios and practiced how we would address these scenarios. This activity added to the ownership that is needed to make an initiative like this work. We have very creative writers and actors in our staff!

Beginning of class script (every period, every day)

“In this class, I expect that you will follow our non-negotiables. We do not use cell phones, we respect each other, we are dressed appropriately, and we do not use profanity.”

End of the class script (every period, every day)

Before we enter the hallways, remember we walk to the right, we keep our hands and feet to ourselves and we keep our voices down.

We are off to a great start. Many staff members feel that this is one of the best openings we have had at our school. We are very mindful that we need to work together as a team in order for this initiative to work. We are dedicated to doing everything we can to improve the climate and culture of the building!

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

Tell Your School’s Story Through Blogging, Tweeting, and Facebook

Recently, our district participated in Digital Learning Day. Volunteers took time out of their day to share their learning. I shared how we use Social Media to tell the story of Lakeside Middle School. Take a few minutes to watch and let me know how you use Social Media to tell your school’s story!

I want to thank Alicia Discepola and Lauren Daigle for inspiring and coordinating this special event. Want to see more of the awesome presentations from Millville, click here.

About the Author 

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

Standing Tall with @StandTallSteve

Spike Cook with Stand Tall Steve

Recently, our school hosted Stand Tall Steve for a motivational assembly and it had such an impact on our school I had to blog about it. Maybe your school could benefit from his enthusiasm and message.

Stand Tall Steve is focused on inspiring students and educators to “Stand up” as leaders, innovators and learners. Throughout his high energy presentation, he motivated our students to understand the following:

  • Importance of a healthy morning routine
  • Importance of respecting each other and adults in the building
  • Standing up as leaders to achieve your best
  • Remembering to have fun!

His assembly was fun! Kids and teachers were up and out of their seats, dancing and most importantly learning. He also involved staff in the presentation so it impacted everyone!

As the Principal I felt he was able to impact our climate and culture throughout the day. It was clear that everyone was able to enjoy his message while learning what it takes to Stand Tall!

If you would like more information on Stand Tall Steve checkout his website.

About the Author 

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

Using Google Classroom to combat information overload for staff

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Teachers have an unbelievably long list (that grows each year) of information, deadlines and requirements. How can administrators (who have a growing list themselves) create a platform to streamline all this information? I have been using Google Classroom the past two years to try to combat this information overload. Here are 4 things I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Information over load is real. We need to help teachers manage all of this information and not be consumed by it. Teachers are required to adhere to deadlines with numerous acronyms such a SGO, PGP, GCN to name a few. Utilizing a platform such as Google Classroom has allowed our staff the opportunity to sync their calendars with the deliverables, provide an opportunity for quick access to information and to model the learning that they are using in their own classrooms
  2.  There are many times I wonder where the 90 minute delay schedule is or who I have to observe for the second round or what our policy is on the dress code. Instead of shuffling through papers or asking someone, “Where is the ____ fill in blank?” I can do it myself. Then, if I look on the classroom and I can’t find it, I know I need to put that information in.
  3. Gather information. We have so many meetings happening throughout the month it is hard to keep track of the notes from the sub committees, department meetings, PLCs, school leadership meetings etc. We created shared folders with easy to use Google documents that are accessible through the classroom. It makes everyone’s life much easier and organized.
  4. Collaboration. Using Google Classroom to collaborate is extremely valuable. Staff are able to comment on a post or direct message me regarding information posted. Eventually, we will be able to use the classroom space to hold meetings that teachers can attend on their own time.

Our Google Classroom is a living document that changes as we go throughout the year. Each year the classroom gets more and more user friendly and streamlined based on the demands of the profession as well as feedback from the staff. It wasn’t easy to get the buy-in first but as we have developed, staff have consistently placed it as an important tool to help increase communication!

How are you using Google Classroom with your staff?

About the Author 

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

 

Top 5 Posts from 2018

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Each year I take some time to reflect on the blog posts on this site. It is a very cathartic process as I re-read the posts from the year, and it also inspires me to keep blogging. At it’s core, this blog serves as a digital footprint of my year as a learner!

Here are my Top 5 Blog Posts from 2018

5. You Can’t Pour out of an Empty Cup 

This was originally posted on December 2, 2018 but was shared throughout the Holiday Season. I wrote this to both remind everyone (and myself) of how important self care is to our longevity!

4. How to Spread Gratitude at your School 

This January 7, 2018 post was one of my most meaningful posts of the year. Gratitude has been an integral part of my life since October 2016. The daily practice of Gratitude has transformed the way I see the world. As I become more comfortable with the practice, I shared it with the staff and students at Lakeside Middle School. It is amazing how much it has grown!

3. Celebrate Two Staff Members a Day 

I wrote this post on January 15, 2018 after interviewing Lindsy Stumpenhorst on the PrincipalPLN Podcast. Lindsy developed a system of recognition cards with her secretary to celebrate teachers throughout their building. Her secretary keeps track of the list to ensure that everyone is included. When Lindsy comes into her office every morning there are two cards with teacher names. Lindsy’s sole mission for the day (on top of all of the tasks she already has) is to fill out the cards and get them to the teachers. I tried this and received a lot of positive feedback. As with anything, if you do not stick with it then it goes away. Re-reading this post has encouraged me to go back to this recognition process.

2. 5 Takeaways from the National SAM Conference

I love learning at conferences and the 2018 SAM conference was such an amazing experience. Not only did I turn 44 during the conference, I got a chance to hear inspiring keynotes, breakout sessions and to connect with educators from around the country!

1.  School Security: A Serious, Comprehensive Issue 

I wrote this post after the Parkland, Florida tragedy. I was very specific with my intentions of this post which is why I wrote a disclaimer, “This post, however, is not about the politics, mental health or gun debates that are currently filling up social media networks as well as local, state, and national news. This post is about the seriousness of school security and the reality of being a principal having to deal with it.” Since this post our district has increased our training and preparation to better equip students and staff in case of an emergency. I have learned so much more and have enjoyed working with local, state and federal law enforcement officials.

I want to thank you all for your support of this blog. Very soon in 2019 Insights Into Learning will turn 7 years old! Stay tuned for more and Happy New Year!

About the Author 

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

You can’t pour out of an empty cup

Photo by Braden Barwich on Unsplash

This is a busy time of the year for educators. On top of al the professional responsibilities such as teaching students, dealing with the demands of lesson plans, assessments, Professional Learning Communities, Student Growth Objectives, Observation and the list goes on and on, it is the holiday season, winter, daylight savings time etc. Wow is that a lot to balance! So, how do we ensure that our cup is filled so we can help others?

Here are 5 things you can put into place to get you through this tough stretch:

  1. Unplug. Chances are (and the blog stats would back this up) you are reading this on you phone having been exposed to the link through social media. Although I have written extensively about the benefits of social media (here is a link to my book) there are a lot of drawbacks. The one big draw back is the impact this is having on your brain. Don’t believe it? Watch this Manoush Zomorodi talk about what technology is doing to us.
  2. Exercise. There are countless research studies and anecdotal stories about the power of exercise. If you do step one (and unplug) you could use 15 minutes that you would normally be cruising through social media to go for a walk.
  3. Go to bed at the same time (and probably a little earlier than you currently are going to bed). Getting at least 8 hours of sleep should be more than just a goal for you, it should be a requirement. When the body doesn’t get the proper rest the results can be catastrophic! Check out this research by Dr. Matther Walker.
  4. Start a Gratitude List. Every morning, upon waking, I take a few minutes to reflect on the prior day and write down 5 things that I am grateful for. This has transformed my world view and it has reprogrammed my brain to always look for the things I have rather than what I don’t have. Here are a some resources from my experience with Gratitude: School resources, personal Gratitude Practice.
  5. You are in control of how you react. I love the quote, “I didn’t cut you so don’t bleed on me.” This is particularly powerful as we deal with people on a day to day basis. You can’t control others but you can control how you react and many situations can be disarmed with a calm, kind response. Not everyone will appreciate that but then again you can’t control that.

So as you go through this holiday season with all of the added pressures and responsibilities, remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Be sure to take some time for yourself and recharge your batteries. Remember… breathe 🙂

About the Author

Spike C. Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two book through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards.  Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

Gratitude changes your world

Photo by gabrielle cole on Unsplash

For the past few years I have had the blessing of learning the power of Gratitude. I’ve written a lot about it on this blog and my school blog. I truly believe it can change your world.

Last year our school began identifying students that the teachers were grateful to have in their class. Of course teachers are grateful for each of their students so it was powerful to see the variety of students who were chosen and more importantly why.

We continued the Gratitude Project this year and it was expanded as well. Our Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) team started “Gratitude Grams.” These handwritten cards were distributed to teachers and they talked with the kids about how to fill them out. Kids chose other kids and staff members. I even received a few and one of them that really impacted me because the student said, “I wanted to give you a Gratitude Gram because you always talk about it. It’s your thing.” Wow, I do talk about it a lot and honestly it is my thing!

Prior to sending out the 275 Gratitude Letters to the parents of the students selected, I read through the comments. This activity restores my faith in our profession. Our teachers, who are underappreciated in society, take time out to say the most beautiful things about our kids. They also thank me for the activity because as one said, “It forces me to look for the good in everyone.” That’s it! Sometimes we need to just simply be grateful for who or what we have.

Here are some of the most touching comments our teachers wrote in the Gratitude Letters.

His dramatic explanations of what we are learning in class have brought a smile to my face many times. He has a way of explaining things that help classmates understand information in a humorous way.

She is a selfless and kind student, who is mature beyond her years. I am grateful to have such a respectful and hardworking student in my class.

“She is not only an excellent student, but she has a heart made out of gold. She is a sweet and compassionate young lady, who I asked to assist me with a particular student, who needs extra reassurance. She did not hesitate to take on this responsibility, she is an excellent role model, and example of what our six grade students represent here at Lakeside Middle
School!”

This year I filled out about 20 Gratitude Letters myself. Prior to starting, I was feeling like we all feel prior to a break… I had so much to do and not a lot of time. After I wrote out my Gratitude Letters I can say that I felt different. It changed everything, it changed my world!

About the Author

Spike C. Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two book through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards.  Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

5 Ways to Increase Higher Order Thinking Skills

Student led Socratic Seminar in LAL

Our school is going through the revalidation process to continue being an AVID National Demonstration School. Based on the feedback from a prior visits, the staff have been working on increasing Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS).

Starting this year, the AVID site team began providing weekly instructional practices, developed a Google Form to collect best practices, and they meet with me on a monthly basis to coach me how to use HOTS in the weekly email, staff meetings, and for teacher feedback.

We also began correlating the McREL Walkthrough data from last year as the compare the instances of remembering and understanding with analyzing and evaluating. The revalidation process has definitely caused our school to reflect on where we are and to improve in areas to make student learning better.

Here are Five ways we are increasing Higher Order Thinking Skills …

  1. Highlight areas where it is happening. Just because the administrator doesn’t see it in the walkthrough or in the observation doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. We created a Google Form to encourage teachers to share their HOTS on a weekly basis with the staff
  2. It starts at the top. This year I made a pact with our AVID site team to hold myself accountable to modeling Higher Order Thinking Strategies. Prior to meetings, weekly blog/email to staff, and professional development I share with the team and they help me to take it to the next level!
  3. Let the students take the lead. In the Google Form one of our advanced math teachers shared this powerful insight, ““Students were amazed at some of the great strategies they were taught by their peers. One of the best classes. I’ve had in awhile. The students taught each other and became competitive looking for better ways to solve problems.”
  4. Point of Confusion. This AVID technique is extremely powerful for students as they engage in their weekly tutorials. They identify an area they are struggling with and share it with their peers. Their peers are taught to use questions to assist the students in understanding and making connections with the material.
  5. If the teacher, then the student. We made this chart to help teachers and students make small changes to increase HOTS.
If the teacher…. Then the student will ….
Starts with why Know the relevance of the topic
Allows students to embrace the struggle Be able to implement Growth Mindset and participate in HOTS activities
Makes judgments based on criteria and standards` Use the text citations to support their claim
Identifies patterns or relationships See the interconnectedness of their learning
Plans questions ahead of time Be able to see concrete examples of HOTS Thinking
Allows student to produce knowledge learning takes place Students will add their original thinking and ideas
Asks questions with more than one possible answer and with evidence from the text Students will be challenged and have more opportunity to participate

This process is something that can be put into practice at any school or level. The most important aspect to this is the professional relationship between the staff and the administration with identifying and solving the problem collaboratively. Everyone becomes the expert and everyone improves!

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.