Mr. Carter’s Office: Where learning is the constant. My Skype with Dwight Carter

This is the fourth in a series of educators making a difference in education.

Dwight Carter

When Dwight Carter thinks back to the days when he entered into social media, he can’t help but remember how difficult and skeptical he was. In fact, he wasn’t even thinking of social media; he was focused on building an additional wing onto his high school. All the signs for Clark Hall were pointing to the 21st century in terms of technology, learning spaces, and even scheduling. Before Dwight could fully engage in the planning process, and truly understand 21st century learning spaces, he had to become a 21st century school leader.  So he did what any other person who is seeking a change would do … He went to Boot Camp (now referred to as fastforward camp).

About 3 years ago Dwight Carter, and other administrators from his district, went to fastforward camp. At the fastforward camp, Dwight learned about twitter, and blogging, as well as personalities such as Shelly Terrell, Patrick Larkin, and Eric Sheninger. He read Shelly’s The 30 Goals Challenge. When he reflects on that process, Dwight feels that it was a mindset shift. He admits that the eventual success of Clark Hall would not have been possible without the help of his participation in social media.

Be great!

Blogging was scary at first for Dwight. He understood the 21st century mindset shift that occurred during his days in fastforward camp, but he still had difficulty with putting his words into cyberspace. Eventually, he started blogging because, as he says, “Reflection is at the heart of my leadership, and blogging provides a platform for me to do that.” Dwight quickly became a “rock star” on twitter, and through his blog, began to attract a lot of followers. During this time, the learning space across the street was being built, so was Dwight’s passion for 21st century learning.

Clark Hall opened as a multi-use learning space. From the floor to the ceiling, from the chairs to the tables, the paint, the

Clark Hall

space, everything was designed to foster collaboration, creativity, and technology. When I asked him about a typical day in Clark Hall, he said, “Students check in for the first 15 to 20 minutes. Then they decide how they are going to spend their time for the rest of the day. They continue to check in with their teachers throughout the day. There are no bells, no lockers, no remnants of 19th century learning.” There is even a new type of library at the high school, an “un quiet” library that allows students to talk, connect, and collaborate.

 

Clark Hall – Government Room

Social Media, as I am learning, can be a double-edged sword. After reading, “Disconnect to Reconnect” you really get a chance to understand what was recently going on with Dwight for the past few months. One of the perils of 21st century learning, and participating in social media is the toll it takes on the individual. As we discussed in our conversation, it was evident that Dwight had to take a break. He told me he went through a time where everything was a potential blog, or tweet, and he was losing focus. He sees the role of the principal as the chief communicator for their students, and with that comes a lot of responsibility to be true to yourself. Dwight absolutely loves being a principal, but he had to take a break from Social Media to eventually reconnect!

As for the future of Mr. Carter, he is looking forward to being a principal for as long as the district will have him. He is excited for the beginning of the second full year of Clark Hall. In fact, he will be presenting the Clark Hall story at The Jostens Renaissance National Conference in Orlando, FL.  According to Dwight, “It’s one of the most uplifting and inspirational conferences for educators. They treat all educators that attend like first class citizens! The speaker lineup is powerful including speakers such as Todd Whitaker and Kevin Carroll.” Dwight wrote about the conference in his post Something to Believe In!

As Dwight would say, “Be great!”

Look for upcoming posts on other educators making a difference such as  Chris Wejr, Erin Klein, Todd Whitaker, Curt Rees, Jessica Johnson, Shelly Terrell, Kelly Tenkley, and many more….

Previous posts dedicated to educators making a difference: George CourosJustin Tarte, The Nerdy Teacher

Resources:

Clark Hall

Dwight Carter

The Physical Environment Matters 

Social Media, Consumerism, and Gadgetry” Dwight discusses social media

The Nerdy New Year’s Resolution: My Skype with The Nerdy Teacher

This is my third post in the summer series about educators who are making a difference.

The #edubros with Moby

When the Skype conversation started, and being the aspiring comedian, I asked, “So, do I call you Nerdy? Nerdy Teacher? Nick?” He laughed, and I knew that he had a sense of humor!

It was January 2010, and while most people made New Year’s Resolutions that lasted a few minutes, hours, days, or maybe weeks, Nicholas Provenzano began his foray into social media. Fast forward two and half years, and he is still going strong! The Nerdy Teacher began as a goal for Nick to write more. He was in the process of earning an educational technology degree, and heard some chatter about blogging, twitter, etc. His first post, The Nerdy Teacher, had about 4 reads. To date it probably has 20. To those who are just starting out, doesn’t this sound familiar?

The Nerdy Teacher 2.0?

The Nerdy Teacher credits his social media god-parents Kelly Tenkly (@ktenkely) and Shelly Terrell (@shellterrell) for giving him the early encouragement. They began to take an interest in The Nerdy Teacher by re-tweeting, commenting, and showing a general interest in his pursuit of storytelling. Later that year, he attended ISTE10, and he met so many people who were “connected.” His global perspective broadened, and he saw the importance of being connected.

For a long time, The Nerdy Teacher was the only person in his district using social media. He had a supportive principal and department chair who allowed him to explore ways to use social media to teach, instruct, and assist students. Slowly, more teachers got on board, but he admits, there is more work to be done. The students he teaches, he says, totally get it!

The Nerdy Teacher is a writer at heart, and his blog provides the venue to convey his message. He doesn’t follow any traditional rules with his writing. His blog process is informal. He sits down, writes, gives it a once over, and posts. Although, he does have some ideas that are “slow cookers” and he waits to write, then post. He doesn’t like schedules or deadlines because he feels it hampers his creativity. There are times that he may post 4 days in a row, or may take 10 days in between posts. To the Nerdy Teacher, his blog is a reflective place, and he wants it to stay that way.

Nick talked about his series about watching TV shows, and connecting it to education. These posts were popular with readers because, as he says, “A lot of us grew up watching the same things. We had a shared experience that impacts our views on teaching, learning, and even blogging.” He finds making a personal connection to something a form of inspiration for his blog. The Nerdy Teacher also credits his father who had some foresight, and purchased a Macintosh computer when Nick was young. “My Dad was so right,” he said. Yes he was right!

Classic vacation picture

The Nerdy Teacher sees the future of education being a place where learning is individualized, using growth models, and more technology – all of this, he says, won’t be cheap. As for the future of The Nerdy Teacher, according to his Dr. Nerdy? post, he is considering pursuing a Ph.D. or a school administration degree. Tough choices that he allows, you the reader, to help him with. Send him your opinion, as of now he already has 21 comments! Tell him what think!

Look for upcoming posts on other educators making a difference such as Dwight Carter, Chris Wejr, Erin Klein, Todd Whitaker, Curt Rees, Jessica Johnson, Shelly Terrell, Kelly Tenkley, and many more….

Resources:

The Nerdy Teacher

The Life of an Educator: My Skype with Justin Tarte

 This is the second in my summer series on educators who are making a difference.

Mr. and Mrs. Tarte

I Skyped with Justin Tarte on Thursday, July 5 fresh off of the Fourth of July holiday. We started at 9AM my time, which for Justin was a little earlier. Justin, who was recently named Director of Curriculum & Support Services in the Union R-XI School District in Union, Missouri, and I sat down in his living room(and I was in an office) for a discussion on all things education. 

Justin’s rise in administration has been quick. Prior to becoming the Director of Curriculum and Support Services, he was an assistant principal at Poplar Bluff Junior High School in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. He taught German at Seckman High School in the Fox C-6 School District in Arnold, Missouri. He loved being a teacher, and he put a lot of time into building connections for his students, and expanding their horizons for a global perspective. He began his pursuit of graduate studies to grow both personally, and professionally. It was through the connections he made in graduate school that he learned about this new-fangled thing, social media.

The Tarte’s dog

Upon learning the power of social media, Justin began to integrate it into his German classroom. He created a facebook page, twitter account, and a blog. He felt that being a German teacher easily lent itself to using social media as a tool to help his student gain a global prospective. They did, and so did Justin. Through social media, he began to see a whole new perspective on learning, professional development, and global connections. As Justin transitioned into administration, he continued developing his digital footprint, and those around him.

When I asked Justin about the age old question (how do you have the time?) he said, “Right now, this saves time. I am actually more available, resourceful and knowledgeable as a result of using social media. It actually makes my job easier.” Justin is passionate about the power of social media. He continued by adding, “I have evolved as an educational leader through the use of social media. I am learning as much, or at times more, then when I was in my doctoral program.” That is powerful!

Justin believes we are on the cusp of a new age in education, but we have a long way to go. He feels we have to celebrate our accomplishments, tell our school’s story, and not be overly critical  of our mistakes. He sees the future of education as a transition that will combine new, and old ideas alike. Justin feels that the way education will transition best is through the human resources departments. “The human resource departments in schools need to be held to higher importance. We need to attract top tier candidates, and also go out and recruit.”

In his new position, Justin is spending a lot of time getting familiar with the trends in curriculum, instruction along with best practices in professional development. He sees the future of instruction and the integration of technology as one in the same. Ideas such as on- to-one, and BYOD are “no brainers.” He would like to see teachers painting their walls with white board paint to spurn creativity. When asked if technology will put educators out of business, Justin responded, “If it puts us out of business, then that’s our fault.”

We are all cheering on Justin because he plays an important role in cheering on members of the PLN. The Union R-XI School District is fortunate to have Justin as their new Curriculum Director, so they get a BOOM! (This is a common response Justin provides on tweets, and blogs that he supports) In addition, we will all benefit from his new position because we will continue to learn from his blog posts and tweets.

Check back for the following educators who will be featured in the series: The Nerdy Teacher, Dwight Carter, Chris Wejr, Todd Whitaker, and Erin Klein. In addition, later in the summer you will read about Patrick Larkin, Lisa Dabbs, Jessica Johnson, Curt Rees, and many more!

Resources:

Justin Tarte: Life of and Educator

What do you stand for?

 

IDEA Paint

It’s not about TIME, it’s about PRIORITY: My Skype with George Couros

I challenged myself this summer. I decided that I was going to seek out instructional leaders making a difference in education. I wanted the selections to be people I have never met in person. So I scratched off Steven Anderson, Tom Whitby, Lyn Hilt, Joe Mazza, Ned Kirsch, Katrina Stevens, and Eric Sheninger (All folks I met in person at ASCD 12). They are making a difference in education. I wanted a real challenge for myself since I am somewhat new to all of this. I wanted to connect online, Skype, write, reflect, learn, and post. Here is the first in the series.

@gcouros

I went through my twitter account, and the first person I looked up was George Couros. By now, we all know George. In fact, he was the first “education” person I followed on twitter back in January. George is the driving force behind Connected Principals, #cpchat, Blog 184, #learn365, and a host of other initiatives. Currently, George is the Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning with Parkland School Division, located in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada. With a super-supportive administrative team, this position was recently created to allow George to do what he does best: innovate, and motivate students, teachers, parents, and other administrators!
Our discussion covered a plethora of topics, and lasted close to an hour. George was fresh off of an exciting trip to ISTE12 in San Diego, and after he completed his day, he and his brother Alec were preparing for a trip to Australia for a few weeks to speak, consult, train, and spend time with educators “down under.”

Source: @gcouros

George gave me a brief history lesson on his social media journey. Similar to most, George was very hesitant to join in on social media. It was through constant prompting from his brother, Alec that George decided to give it a try. He dove in with everything he had. Back then, he said, there were a lot of teachers online. He continued to hear a constant theme; I wish my administrators understood the power of social media and connectivity. The rest, they say, is history.
We spent a great deal of time discussing blogging. George is very passionate about blogging, and he has a unique approach. He views it as an online portfolio, a space where he can write what he wants and about what intrigues him. He eschews editors and rarely cues blogs for future posting. Rather, he gets inspired, writes, posts, and walks away. His inspiration comes while he is running, spinning, or just whenever. He wants his blog to be personal. He doesn’t over think it. He wants the readers to see the struggles, the mistakes, and the occasional error.

Source: @gcouros

On June 9, in Fall Apart; Fall Together, George set Twitterverse into overdrive. He shared a very personal struggle that he had been dealing with during the past few months. He was not himself, a bit off, maybe disillusioned or burnt-out. What helped him the most was helping others. He spent some time with animals in the Edmonton Humane Society. After this experience, he used his influence through Twitter to encourage people to help out animals who needed a home. He learned a lot about people through this experience. He also put it out there for everyone to see (and read). He told me that he received such an outpouring of responses to that blog post. Yet, people were not necessarily responding on his blog or on Twitter. It was through email, and direct messages that he began to see something emerging. He discovered there were many people out there with the same state of mind, and searching for something or someone to help them. These people were school administrators, teachers, parents, businesspeople, etc. These people were hurting. George’s blog posted helped them.

George and his dogs. Source: @gcouros

So as we go through the summer, know that George will be in Australia (and I am sure blogging and posting), and we can continue to follow his journey. What I think we can all learn from George is for us to be real, and even vulnerable in our blogs, leadership positions, classrooms, and even at home. You never know who you may help out.

Look for upcoming discussions with educators who are making a difference: Justin Tarte, Todd Whitaker, The Nerdy Teacher, Jessica Johnson, Curt Rees, Erin Klien, Chris Wejr, Dwight Carter, and more!

Resources:

The Principal of Change, George Couros

Interview with George Couros by Howard Rheingold:

History, Independence, and Ice Cream

Cook family at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA

Over the weekend, many South Jersey communities lost power because of a quick, but violent storm that crashed through the area. We lost our power on Saturday, June 30 around 3:00 PM. Since we were hosting our nieces, we decided to get a hotel for a night. We quickly learned that all of the hotels in our area were booked, and ventured to Philadelphia for a room.

We stayed in the Holiday Inn (right next to the Philadelphia sports stadiums) in South Philly. I was able to go out for a run on Sunday morning, and the views were breathtaking (especially for a Philly fan). I ran past Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field, and the Wells Fargo Center!

Right behind Independence Hall

Later that day we took the kids into the historic section. We walked around Independence Mall, the Carpenter House, the Second Bank of America, and Ben Franklin’s House. The kids held up considering it was scorching hot!

Get in line

Throughout the trip, my 14 year old twin nieces continued to suggest that we visit Franklin Fountain. They said that they had seen it on the Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food, and had to try the Vesuvius sundae. Honestly, I thought it was a real fountain, but they explained that it was an ice cream place. Around lunch time we arrived at the famous Franklin Fountain. I was amazed at what we saw.

Eric speaking with the famous author, Robin Weir

Walking into the ice cream store was like walking into living history. There was nothing modern in the store. Everything was decorated as if it was the early 1900’s. After everyone ordered, we went outside to enjoy the treats. I struck up a conversation with a gentleman from England. He explained to me that he had been in Philadelphia studying, of all things, ice cream. He had visited many of the famous places, but raved that the Franklin Fountain was the best.

Eric spending time with the cousins

Right before we were about to leave, one or the owner’s, Eric, came outside. We talked with him, and I explained that my nieces were determined that we had to visit his store. I asked him about the British gentleman who was at the store earlier. He told us that the man we were talking to was the world-renown ice cream historian, and research, Robin Weir.  We took some pictures with Eric, and we went on our way.

There are many lessons that I took away from this experience.

  1. Everything happens for a reason
  2. Spending time with the family is refreshing
  3. You never know who you will meet
  4. Ice cream is delicious, and some people research it
  5. Being in Philadelphia around the 4th of July is special and I highly recommend it
  6. Make sure to visit Franklin Fountain, and their candy store Shane’s

Resources:

Robin Weir

Franklin Fountain

Man vs. Food featuring Franklin Fountain :

Framework for Success: My Conversation with Ceri Dean

Creating the Environment for Learning (Framework for Instructional Planning fig. A.1 p. XVI)

Spike Cook and Ceri Dean

Setting the Objectives The purpose of this blog post is to share my experience with Ceri Dean, lead author of Classroom Instruction That Works, (CITWs) second edition. She visited my school in May of 2012 as part of the ASCD and McREL film series on the new CITWS which will be launched later this summer. Ceri has been with the Mid- continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) for 20 years. She is currently the Vice President of Field Services. In addition to holding a variety of positions with McREL, her career in education has included being a high school math teacher and an editor. She earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Connecticut at Storrs.

My desired outcome of this post is for the reader to understand more about Ceri and to apply the tenets of the new CITWs through our shared conversations and observations during her visit to our school. My overarching goal, through my learning and application, will be to provide the rationale for your learning.

Providing Feedback

Celese Nolan going through sound check

Ceri is such a cool individual. As I observed her during the filming at my school, I was amazed with her ability to help us with our pre-filming jitters. “She was a calming force for us,” remarked Jaime Sutton. Celese Nolan, who was involved in two classroom filming sessions, immediately felt a connection to Ceri. “She is an extremely knowledgeable educator,” Celese noted.

Providing Recognition

Ceri was very busy during the first day of filming. This was her opportunity to show the world what Millville has been learning and to celebrate the stories of the students and teachers who were participating. She made sure to watch both filming sessions, talk with the teachers and the students.

Reinforcing Effort

Ryan Hudson after filming

After Ryan Hudson’s filming session, he walked right by me to get to Ceri. He later said, “No disrespect Spike, but I wanted to hear what Ceri thought!” Ceri took time to talk with Ryan about his lesson. She listened to him as he explained what he was attempting and what he felt he accomplished. Ceri gave him specific feedback that reinforced his objective!

Helping Students Develop Understanding (Framework for Instructional Planning fig. A.1 p. XVI)

Cues and Questions

I asked Ceri to discuss the important aspects of the new book. Here are some of the concepts I wrote down as we talked:

Emphasis of the new book:

  • Clarify the concept around strategies
  • Cooperative learning
  • Positive interdependence
  • Not always focused on social skills
  • Keagan strategies
  • Is this cooperative learning?

What is McREL?

  • McREL is a learning organization
  • Our mission statement is really important to us. “Making a difference in the quality of education and learning for all through excellence in applied research, product development, and service.”
  • We are focused on changing the odds

How can schools improve?

  • If schools are focused on the use of strategies with intentionality and quality and fidelity
  • Using CITW makes you think more deeply about instruction
  • Framework is there for continued improvement  (Success In Sight)
  • School leaders and teachers need to ask and answer questions together
  • Question your data
  • Teachers should be seen as action researchers and learners
  • Everyone must work collaboratively (students, teachers, parents, administration, community)
  • One person can’t do it all
  • Own your projects!

Non-linguistic representation

I showed Ceri my blog to provide her with the context in which I would be writing. We talked about how the image of the school can impact on the learning environment.

Summarizing and Note Taking

Jaime Sutton and Ceri Dean discussing CITWS

As Ceri talked, I was feverishly taking notes. Here was someone with a wealth of knowledge that I wanted to learn from. I asked her about something I have been pondering for some time: the evolution of school administration. As a new principal I see how much the job has changed. She was involved with the National Awards Program for model Professional Development in late 1990s. In order to win this award, schools were required to go through a detailed evaluation process. There were site visits, and teams of evaluators determine how Professional Development really made a difference in the school. What the process revealed was the importance of Principals in action. The administrators were breaking the mold of what was expected at the time. They were the first who were transitioning away from management towards leadership. They were also the ones who developed the patterns in which most administrators are required to accomplish.

Assigning Homework and Providing Practice

Lights, Camera, Action!

Where is the research in schools? Ceri talked about the 10 regional educational labs throughout the country that are sponsored by the Department of Education and provide research opportunities to school districts. They conduct randomized controlled research studies. These labs have produced a substantial amount of research that has assisted the educational community. Recruitment can be difficult because who wants to be in the control group? Not to mention that there are a lot competing priorities in schools and districts such as parent support, time, State Assessments, and resources.

McREL, creating a place where every person needs to be a learner. Ceri spoke very highly of the tool that McREL uses to understand and build their own learning community through using Gallup’s strengthsfinder® survey. Each member takes the survey and there are 34 strengths. Everyone displays a card with their top 5 strengths on their desks. It assists the teams as they work together. Strengthsfinder® helps individuals and teams maximize strengths. Often times, they ask each other, “What is working well? How can we build on what we are already doing?”

Now discover your strengths. Purchase the book and the code will be at the back of the book. http://www.strengthsfinder.com/home.aspx?gclid=CNSF9J-qnrACFak7OgodjBQkWA)

 

Helping Students Extend And Apply Knowledge (Framework for Instructional Planning fig. A.1 p. XVI)

Identifying Similarities and Differences

I am sure I am not alone in wondering how McREL was going to fill the void left by Robert Marzano. Often referred to as “Marzano’s strategies” or simply “Marzano” the first edition of Classroom Instruction That Works (2001) became an effective tool for educators to improve instruction.

Our discussion compared the 2nd addition with the 2001 edition.

2001 Edition

  • Lead authors Marzano, Pickering, and Pollack
  • Best-selling Book
  • Meta-Analysis up to 1998
  • Book was grouped based on 9 strategies

Same

  • Can be used with Power-walkthroughs
  • 9 strategies
  • Focus on best practices
  • Framework for success

2012

  • Lead authors Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, and Stone
  • Update on the research since 1998
  • Chose the conservative results
  • Strategies are grouped within the framework for instructional planning (3 parts)
  • Sought to understand what the updated research looked like
  • Used narrative reviews, qualitative, and theoretical literature
  • Some strategies hadn’t been researched at all since 1998, so they kept the original data
  • The small number of studies for some strategies are a result of more restrictive definitions
  • Technical report on CITWs was not included in the book for easier reading, but can be found on web(http://www.mcrel.org/PDF/Instruction/0121RR_CITW_report.pdf#search=%22technical%20report%20on%20CITW%22)

Generating and Testing Hypothesizes

ASCD Crew and RM Bacon Crew

McREL’s theory is that the school improvement is within everyone’s reach. They have developed a Success in Sight program to help schools turnaround. Through the Success in Sight, McREL assists schools in understanding the change process. Are they dealing with 1st order or second order change? The solution is simple. Schools need to use research based strategies. They must (1) use data to set and monitor goals, (2) use research-based practices to make improvements and increase student achievement, (3) foster and engage in shared leadership for improvement, (4) create and maintain a purposeful community, and (5) apply a comprehensive and systematic continuous improvement process. Understanding how to manage the change process is part of what teams learn through the Success in Sight process.

Conclusion

Spending time with such an incredible educator as Ceri Dean was one of the highlights of this school year. Ceri, as stated prior, is a really cool person. She is funny, intelligent, and insightful. It is clear from my time with her that McREL and the Classroom Instruction That Works series is in good hands.

Resources:

Classroom Instruction That Works (2nd Edition)

Ceri Dean

Success in Sight

 

The Importance of Being Earnest: Do You Walk Your Talk?

A trivial blog, for serious school leaders

Source: classic-literature.findthedata.org

I am sure, at one time or another, you have come across The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Recently, I was reflecting on the play, and wondering how it connected to leadership. An important aspect to the play was Wilde’s attempt to expose the Victorian Aristocracy for all of it’s contradictions.  In essence, I had to ask myself, as a leader, do I really walk my talk?

Argyris and Schon (1974) wrote the seminal piece, Theory in Practice: Increasing Professional Effectiveness. Since then, many researchers and educational leaders have discussed the concept of espoused theories (what I say I would do) and theories-in-use (what I actually do). I return to this time after time because I believe it makes me a better leader. The difficult part is that my theories-in-use (what I actually do) are understood by those who observe me. We all know that everyone has a different perspective. How do I know how I am doing?

When I talk with other leaders, or read their blogs I always wonder how their theories-in-use are observed by those they lead. I am sure they do the same with me! How would we ever really know? Does it really matter?

As leaders we are never going to please everyone. Our decisions impact the lives of students, parents, and teachers, and therefore are delivered with a lot of responsibility. With the ability to make those decisions, we must understand that there will be those who criticize our every move. This is certainly something that they try to teach us in graduate school, but it is only completely understood when you embark on your leadership journey.

Source: austin-williams.com

This year there were times when I struggled with decision making. I am not sure why. Maybe it was because I wanted to please everybody. Fortunately, I had (and have) supportive school leaders who I could turn to for advice. Eventually though, I would hang up the phone or the conversation would end, and I would have to make the decision on my own. I can only hope that my espoused theories and theories-in-use were in sync. Did I make the right decisions? Did I walk my talk? Only time will tell.

As luck would have it, I was recently reading Shifting the Monkey by Todd Whitaker. He has a chapter titled, “Make Decisions Based on Your Best People.” In that chapter, Whitaker (2012) sums up the decision making process with these guiding principles: “1) Treat everyone well. 2) Make decisions based on your best people. 3) Protect your good people first.”

There really is a lot of importance in being earnest!

Resources:

The Importance of Being Earnest:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Importance_of_Being_Earnest

 Espoused theories and Theories in use:

http://www.infed.org/thinkers/argyris.htm

Shifting the Monkey, by Todd Whitaker

http://www.amazon.com/Shifting-Monkey-Protecting-People-Slackers/dp/0982702973

Tell Me Your ZIP Code and I Will Tell You Your Score

This is less a blog post, but rather an open letter looking for help. I am not blaming anyone. I just need an example (s). Please, someone, show me the way. There has to be someone who defied the odds of their ZIP code.

I am the Principal of a recently designated “Focus” School by the State of New Jersey. According to the State’s Department of Education, a Focus School is, “a school that has room for improvement in areas that are specific to the school. As part of the process, focus schools will receive targeted and tailored solutions to meet the school’s unique needs. There are 183 focus schools.

The designation for my particular school is, “Lowest Subgroup Performance: Schools whose two lowest performing sub groups rank among the lowest combined proficiency levels in the state. Schools in this category have an overall proficiency rate for these lowest performing sub groups of 29.2% or lower.”

Ironically, when I found out that we were designated as a Focus School, we were not given specifics. So, I really don’t know (other than lowest performing sub group) why we are designated. In the past, this type of Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) was determined by the students who were enrolled in the school prior to the start of the school year. I have heard, but cannot confirm, that the new designations were based on whoever took the test in the school, no matter how long they have attended. (For instance, my sister school RD Wood, a Priority School,  has had over 200 transfer in/outs this year alone.)

As I looked at the breakdown of the state data, something began to really stick out. It seemed to be correlated with ZIP codes and performance. According to the NJDOE website, District Factor Group (DFG) designations were, “First developed in 1975 for the purpose of comparing students’ performance on statewide assessments across demographically similar school districts. The categories are updated every ten years when the Census Bureau releases the latest Decennial Census data.” The NJDOE explains that there are six variables that further assist in determining a DFG:  “1) Percent of adults with no high school diploma 2) Percent of adults with some college education 3) Occupational status 4) Unemployment rate 5) Percent of individuals in poverty 6) Median family income.”

So, “A” is the lowest designation and B, C, D, E etc. are progressively more affluent districts. You get the point. As I looked over the report, I found some really interesting details.

Of the 75 Priority Schools, 81% were categorized as DFG A, and 100% were designated as Title 1 Schools.

Of the 183 Focus Schools, 54% were categorized as DFG A, and 70% were designated as Title 1 Schools.

Of the 112 Reward Schools, 4% (5 schools) were DFG A, and 32% were designated as Title 1 Schools.

(Please note that the vast majority of schools in NJ will not be found in any of these categories, and at the time of this blog, do not have a designation.)

Still, I’m not blaming anyone, but why so few DFG-A’s that were designated as Reward Schools? Why are so many Priority and Focus Schools?

I am looking for examples of schools who, despite their socio-economic status, achieve high test scores on a regular basis. I have some criteria, though, because I do not want to play the shell game. These schools must fit this criteria:

–          Is not a magnet school

–          Has not recently been “redistricted”

–          Is not a school for the “gifted”

–          Maintains the same type of demographics (sub groups included) from the onset of being identified as low performing (failing to make AYP for multiple years) to achieving a status reflecting success (Reward or not on the Focus or Priority list).

See, I am cautious when presented with examples of schools who overcame insurmountable odds to achieve high levels of success on high stakes testing in their state because there are usually a few asterisks. Under NCLB, schools who were not meeting Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) were designated as such. Some districts, with the best intentions, decided to spread the wealth (or in this case, non-wealth) and re-district. I cannot blame them. Some districts changed the nature of the school and once again, I cannot blame them.  They probably discovered Chicago’s Nettlehorst School, a “national example of a turnaround,” and decided to follow suit. Did you know that the poverty rate at Nettlehorst School went from 83% in 1999 to 34% in 2010? (Read more about this here)

 

What about the teachers? There is a drum beat pertaining to teacher effectiveness sounding in our media, dinner table conversations, and administrative meetings. I am sure that effectiveness can be improved, but I wonder about the vast throngs of teachers who do teach in DFG- A schools. Is it statistically possible that in the number of priority and focus schools in New Jersey that they have the least effective teachers? I can speak for my teachers and tell you that they integrate technology, best practices, and research-based methods, attended the same Universities as their counterparts in wealthier districts, and do all this day after day and year after year because, well, they think they can make a difference. Not to mention, they were “guided” by the State of New Jersey through the now defunct Collaborative Assessment and Planning for Achievement (CAPA).

 

So I ask you, I beg you, and I plead for your assistance. Can somebody please send me examples of schools that have defied the odds and have achieved sustained success on their state’s high stakes assessment? *Please remember, no shell games.

Resources:

Overview of Current Designation: http://education.state.nj.us/broadcasts/2012/APR/11/6423/Memo%20re%20accountability%20and%20Regional%20Achievement%20Centers.pdf

List of Priority, Focus and Reward Schools in NJ:

http://www.nj.gov/education/reform/PFRschools/Priority-Focus-RewardSchools.pdf

Nettlehorst Article:

http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/January-2011/Nettelhorst-Elementary-Schools-Remarkable-Turnaround

Changing demographics at Nettlehorst:

http://iirc.niu.edu/School.aspx?source=About_Students&source2=Educational_Environment&schoolID=150162990252370&level=S

Cymbolic Symbolism

Just minutes before the Spring 2012 Concert

As an Elementary principal I have had the opportunity to play floor hockey, football, kickball, challenge students in math, substitute teach, write essays, and even tried Double Dutch  with the students, and teachers. Up until the other night, one thing I had never done was perform with a School Band.

Growing up I had an appreciation for music, but never had any interest, or patience in playing instruments on my own. A lot of my friends played the guitar, drums, and even the Tuba, but not me. So in order to grow as a professional, I came out of my comfort zone and played the cymbals in our Spring Concert!

I have to admit that during the practices, I felt just like a kid, and I was treated like one! My fellow band members had little patience for me at first. They would say, “Dr. Cook, you are supposed to play on 23 and 29. See its right here!” I had to inform them that I didn’t read music. They laughed at me! Before long I wore them down, and they all chipped in to make sure I met my marks.

As for the actual playing of the cymbals, I needed a lot of practice. All I was required to do was a cymbal roll. I was told to start in the middle and “roll” towards the outside of the cymbal. It was not easy. I played too quiet, I played too loud, and I messed up a lot. One of the kids in the percussion section told me, upon seeing my frustration, that I needed to play with more confidence.

I got a lot better through one word…practice! I attended as many practices as I could leading up to the performance. I thought about my part, I talked about it to other musicians. I felt like I was a part of something.

My main goal for participating in the concert was to show kids that they could achieve something if they set their minds to it, and used their resources. I tried to show them how difficult it was for me, and that I too have challenges in my life.

Mr. Mazza leading the chorus

I also learned a little more about the correlation between playing in a band and leadership. Although the conductor is in charge, everyone has their parts, and with that everyone needs to be on the same page. Each instrument has its purpose, and there are times for solos, playing along with everybody and letting others take the lead. Every0ne has to work together for the music to sound beautiful. You have to trust that everyone else has practiced, and that they are following the script. Mistakes are bound to happen, and sometimes those mistakes are only heard within the band.

Thankfully, it all came together on the night of the concert. I welcomed the parents to the Spring Concert and admitted that I was nervous (but I didn’t tell them why). Once the concert started, I got into the zone. I remained focused on my objective…cymbal roll. I felt such a rush after we finished our first song. Although I probably missed a few of the notes, I was on cloud 9!

RM Bacon kids working to the crescendo

Thanks to everyone who supported me in my first concert, self-titled, “Cymbolic Symbolism.”

A year of firsts!

With only a few days left in the 2011-2012, I would like to reflect on this school year. This was the year of firsts.

Here is a list of my firsts:

– First full year as a principal

– First year on Social Media: facebook, twitter, pintrest, google+, edmodo

– First ASCD conference!

– First school blog!

– First personal blog!

(And I am sure I forgetting some things!)

It is been such a rewarding year being principal here at RM Bacon Elementary. I could not have accomplished this without the symphony of musicians playing the beautiful music that is our learning.

Here are some things we have accomplished as a team:

– Successfully implemented the “Your Image is Our Image” theme

– Started an Edmodo group with a school in Wisconsin

– Redesigned our Basic Skills Instruction to mirror the RTI process

– Raised thousands of dollars for charities

– Implemented a new math series

– Increased teacher and student use of technology

– Hosted ASCD film crew for Classroom Instruction That Works 2nd edition

– Began an “un” professional development model on Fridays focusing on technology integration and application

– Updated our PBIS model

– Received approval for 21st Century Learning Program for next year

(And I am sure I forgetting some things!)

In addition to all of this, I had an amazing year working with parents, teachers and students on the ambitious goal of being the highest performing Elementary School in Millville within 3 years and  in the County within 5 years. We have established a process-centered approach to being world class.

I am already looking forward to next year…when “Impossible is Nothing!”