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.

Reflections on Summer School 2018

Students watched the inspirational Ted Talk with Nick Vujicic

In my previous post, Summer School:It’s More Than Just The Grades, I discussed the process of selecting and implementing a vision for our Summer School. Out goal was to provide more than just academic remediation but to also focus on the root cause of why they were in Summer School. I feel that the approach we were able to take allowed us to provide both academics and motivational interventions.

The academic core of the program was the Exact Path program through Edmentum. The students pent between 45 minutes to an hour each day working through their path based on the results of the Diagnostic Assessment. Over the course of the summer, we saw gains in both Language Arts and Math. In my next post I will break down the results as the kids are finishing up their final Diagnostic Assessments this week.

In terms of their progress with the motivation progress, students reported that they feel more confident going into next year. They identified areas they struggle with in the social realm of middle school such as other students (even friends) distracting them, as well as not doing basic assignments. When prompted about this the kids shared with us that their friends do not always support them in their quest to get good grades. They realized that this is something they will need to really focus on as they move onto the next grade level.

As for their reluctance to do basic assignments, the students reported that they sometimes do not see the relevance or have difficulty connecting with the work. Many students said that their teachers were willing to accept late work or would allow them to redo assignments but that they chose not to.

We asked them what message they would send to next year’s  students who could potentially go to summer school, and here are some of their responses:

  • You have to try harder
  • You have to set goals for yourself
  • You need to develop a Growth Mindset for school and learn as much as you can
  • The teachers are willing to help if you just ask them
  • Keep reminding your friends that you need to do good in school and not to fool around in class

So in a few short weeks the students were able to evaluate where they were and set goals for their future. In their culminating activity (due this week) the students have to submit a final essay on why they feel they should be promoted to the next grade level. We hope that these essays can be shared with the teachers when they return in the fall. The students worked hard and I feel that all of us involved with the Summer School have such high hopes for their continued success in the future!

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.

Summer School: It’s More Than Just the Grades

Officer Rick Kott speaking to the students about overcoming obstacles.

Two years ago our school implemented a Retention Policy. Prior to that, as I was told, we allowed students to be promoted with 2, 3, 4 failures in academic classes. Teachers were frustrated, students were being sent mixed messages, and parents were under the impression that No Child Left Behind meant we were unable to fail anyone.

The School Leadership Committee (SLC) worked for a year on drafting a Retention Policy. They looked at what surrounding schools were doing, did some research on the impact of retention, and eventually came up with a progressive Retention Policy. We implemented the policy in the fall of 2016. Students, parents and the community were made aware of the policy which basically retained 6th graders if they failed all 4 classes, 7th graders if they failed 3 or more classes, and 8th graders if they failed 2 or more courses. During the 16-17 school year teachers, guidance counselors and administration worked with students and parents on this policy. There were increased face to face meetings after each marking period, additional resources assigned to students and more referrals to the I and RS team. At the end of the year there were 8 students who were scheduled to be retained. Each of those students either transferred to another school or enrolled in our Alternative School. The SLC closely monitored the policy and ended up requesting that we revise the policy for the 17-18 school year due to a lack of rigor.

The revised policy for the 17-18 school year was far more rigorous than the previous year but there were additional assistance added in. The new policy, which was throughout all 3 grade levels, required any student who failed more than 2 year long classes to be retained, and anyone who failed 2 classes would be required to attend summer school. As we went through the year, we continued to monitor the academic progress of the students in danger of being retained, increased our contact with parents, and added in additional resources.

At the conclusion of the 17-18 we had 17 students retained and 38 students eligible for summer school. Due to some poor planning on my part, we also didn’t have a budget for summer school. I wasn’t able to hire any staff. I had to ask all the 12 month guidance and administration in the building to assist me in running the summer school. We were also very fortunate that our contract with the online learning platform Edmentum still allowed us to use the diagnostic program Exact Path. So, in a sense, the academics would be taken care of through the online program.

As we analysed the students who were eligible for summer school, we noticed a few trends. First, these students were not your likely candidates. Very few had high levels of discipline and even fewer had attendance issues. We scoured their report cards and read the comments from the teachers.  It was through this exercise that we were able to identify the main reason these students were in summer school. Want to take a guess at what the main factor was?

If you guessed motivation than you would win!

The major theme of the teacher comments on the students centered around motivation. It was not a case of “can’t do” but rather a case of “won’t do.” Armed with this data we developed a summer school that would get to the core of the issue for the students so that they could use this time to change their mindsets about school, learning, teachers, and most importantly, themselves.

We are only one week into the program and of the 31 students who chose to participate, we have a 90% attendance rate. Students are doing daily gratitude journals, practicing mindfulness, analyzing their 17-18 school year, and learning about the impact of growth vs. fixed mindset. They spend about half their time working on their academic areas of concern and the other half working on themselves. We show daily motivational videos and we have scheduled local community members to visit and talk with them about overcoming obstacles.

The 5 staff who are working the program have learned a lot in one week. As we have read through their essays and journals it has become clear to us that these students have so much to offer our school. Some of them are dealing with a mountain of obstacles both personally and in their community. They will admit that school was not their top priority but they are now seeing the value.

What will the next 4 weeks hold for the summer school? We hope that we continue to build the students motivation and understanding of their amazing potential. We will continue to expand their horizons and have them begin working on their service learning projects. There are even a few students who are going to be developing a presentation to the administration to show the staff based on the popular book If She Only Knew Me. Stay tuned for more as the summer school develops.

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.