Insights Into Learning

Archive for the ‘School Based’


The Greatest Job in Education

principalcastTonight on the PrincipalCast podcast we will be discussion the greatest job in education…. the principal…

Why is the principal the greatest job in education?

What do principal’s do all day?

Do we really need principals?

Join us for the discussion on why we feel the principal is the greatest job in education….

 

We (Jessica Johnson, Theresa Stager and Dr. Spike Cook) love our jobs because we get to:

  • Work with dedicated professionals who are committed to educating our youth
  • Interact with students (learners) who have the capacity to transcend obstacles and love coming to school
  • Collaborate with community members to improve the area surrounding the school
  • Watch students collaborate, question and connect
  • Listen to students creating music
  • Watch students creating art
  • Provide the opportunity for learning new ideas
  • Be the cheerleader, coach, leader, and model for an entire school

 

Want to add to the list? Challenge it?

 

Tune in tonight to www.teachercast.tv 

 

 

#MPSWC Opening Day 2013-14

Every year our district hosts an Opening Day celebration for all staff members. Approximately 1300 employees from all areas descend on our Performing Arts Center to reflect on the previous year, welcome new staff members and set the agenda for the new year. Want a sneak peek at the trailer for this year? I can share it with you (but you can’t tell anybody). Enjoy!

 

 

Missed last year’s trailer? Check this out

 

 

The end is coming…

summer sunYes, the end is coming to  the 2012-13 school year. We are in our last days. We are so close….. so why does that matter?

 

I feel the traditional school year (based on the agrarian calender) is antiquated and I am not alone in this thinking. For many students we provide something they are not getting at home, or in their community… What a juxtaposition… In a few short weeks teachers and administrators will be cheering, celebrating, and making their summer plans a reality…. and many students will be sad, upset, and realizing their summer will pale in comparison to the school year. Sad isn’t it.

I certainly do not have the answers but I sure do have a lot of questions as to why we continue to follow this antiquated system.

summerlearning1-10b

- Do we make school calender decisions based on our needs, or student learning needs?

- Could we restructure the school year to build in more time for students (Currently we have 180 days beginning in September and ending in June, can we get everything accomplished during this time?)

- Does the current calender maximize student and teacher effectiveness? (I hear a LOT of chatter about burn-out during certain times of the year)

- If given the opportunity to restructure the calender, what would YOU suggest? What are some other states, countries doing to maximize their calenders?


 

Let’s discuss… I’ve got all summer :)

 

 

 

 

 

You need to watch this… I will not let an Exam…

I was just sent this video by a good friend of mine… Besides feeling like I am a generation away from this spoken word artist, I had to step back and listen (twice) because he was teaching ME a great lesson… I hope he does the same for you (no matter what your generation)

 

 

Let’s discuss!

 

The kind of day that makes blogging easy

On February 22, 2013 I had the kind of day that makes blogging easy…

@JerseyAlicia assisting with the inter-district Skype!

On the way in to work, I was perseverating over our growing discipline numbers in the month of February. I was out the school the day before at a workshop, and I hoped that I wasn’t walking into “one of those days.” Well, in a sense, I was right! It would turn out to be one of those days that makes blogging easy.

 

Prior to the start of school, I had a great philosophical discussion on the transition to Common Core with some teachers. We challenged each other as to how we could make this transition, why the transition was occurring,  and even asking the BIG question… WHO is behind this? I love a heated philosophical discussion with colleagues! (Challenge the Process!)

 

Inter-district Skype

The school day started smoothly. I had a few teachers that invited me to learning events. I made sure to update my calender, and I was off to a meeting to … spend money on our most precious commodity… our students! based on the budget, I will be able to start a 5 week Saturday program, extend our before/after school programs, and purchase more devices to enhance student learning! What a great meeting!

 

I was running late (this is a constant) to my observation in Kindergarten armed with my iphone (this was my first attempt to capture an observation on my iphone). As I tried to observe the staff member, I had students come up to me to talk. They wanted to tell me about the book they were reading, what they ate for dinner last night, and how they were improving with swimming. I joked with the teacher that they seemed very engaged today. She laughed, and said, “Welcome to my world!” After the observation, I attempted to leave, but the rest of the class wanted to tell me how the Superintendent came to visit them at swimming. Hmm, I thought, I haven’t even made it to swimming  yet this season.

 

Mr. Hudson was covered with numbers before the activity even began.

I scurried up to 5th grade (running late again). One of the 5th grade teachers was working collaboratively with another group of 5th grade students from across town through Skype. I watched as the kids introduced themselves to each other and began to work. I tried to do a walkthrough on the other class. I asked a young man what he was learning and why it was important. He was able to tell me that they were working collaboratively on reading a passage, and that it was important to identify vocabulary for understanding. What a great experience!

 

@mrsbensonsbunch preparing the volcano!

I then ran upstairs to the 3rd floor to observe a Volcano Experiment. The students were on the edge of their seats the entire time. She set the stage, engaged the students, had them write down their predictions, and eventually …. poof… a learning memory. These kids, for the most part, will never forget that experience. They all had smiles and were so excited. Impossible is really Nothing!

 

After I finished with the Volcano Experiment I ran down to the gym for math class… Yes, the same 5th grade class that was skyping earlier in language arts were set to test out another activity that they developed for math. I had to recruit a team (I picked the math supervisor  the curriculum coach and our SuccessMaker facilitator) to compete against the students. In the first activity, well, let’s just say we lost. All we had to do was solve the problems by finding the correct numbers that were placed throughout the gym. During the activity, we were penalized for running, and solving the problems out of order. We came in 4th place. The kids were howling! The next activity required us to read a list of problems, solve the problems, find the answers scattered throughout the gym all while connected at the arms. This really required us to work collaboratively. We redeemed ourselves and won! I love winning against 5th graders in math :)

 

Our new Media Specialist, Meg Finney,  challenges students with 21st Century learning opportunities.

I made sure to congratulate the students on a job well done, and was off to prepare for our monthly PBIS meeting. I knew we had big problems to identify and solve! As I reviewed the data, I was somewhat encouraged. Compared to last year, we have nearly 40% fewer Office Discipline Referrals. As I ate my lunch, I thought to myself, there are some positives here, the data tells an important story.

 

@drgentilemps takes the Minute to Win It Challenge

As I arrived to the PBIS meeting I remembered that our Superintendent would be joining us. Pressure. We reviewed the data during our meeting. We talked about root causes, trends, possible solutions and ideas for improvement. We dug into some of the data and established that 24 students (out of a school that has 320), were responsible for over 85% of the Office Discipline Referrals. We brainstormed ideas to help these students. The superintendent told me afterwards, “Basically, Spike, you have to adopt those students, assign them mentors, and keep them engaged in the process. You guys will be fine!”

 

Bear Buck Challenge. Spend a Buck to enter the room!

Our committee went down to unveil the monthly “Bear Buck Store” where the kids can cash in their bucks for rewards. This month we tried something new. We wanted to create a buzz for the positives! For a single Bear Buck, a student could enter a door to compete in a challenge. In addition to the challenge, they could spend their bucks on homework passes, time on ipods, or even time with a teacher. The students who chose the challenge walked into a room with tables lined with rigatoni. They were given a piece of dried spaghetti, a few instructions, then had a “minute to win it.” If they were successful  they kept their Bear Buck. At the end of each session we explained the importance of earning Bear Bucks and how next month we would have similar activities for their reward! (Its simple, students earn rewards for Being Safe, Being Responsible, and Being Respectful!)

 

The end of the day went off with out a hitch. There were no discipline referrals for the day! The buzz of learning, innovation, and 21st century skills prevailed!

Basically it was the kind of day that makes blogging easy!

 

 

Happy Birthday, and don’t forget your image!

Happy Birthday from the entire 5th Grade

Yesterday was a special day for me. It was my birthday.

 

The days started out as usual. I had to wrangle the kids out of bed, while my wife got their lunches together. Fortunately, the kids were “morning drama-free.” Once everyone was ready, they sat me down for my cards and presents. My family knows me all too well. Coffee mug, and coffee. Yes!

 

When I arrived at school everything appeared normal. I knew I had a weigh-in for our Biggest Loser competition. By the way, I love weigh-in day. Most of our school, who are competing in teams, gathers near the Nurse’s office. We are very competitive, so there is a lot of banter. I lost another 2 pounds, and considering the week I had, I was happy!

 

Office with tin foil everywhere

We had our announcements (Which I announced everyone else’s birthday, but conveniently forgot to mention mine), and security drill squeezed in before an administrator meeting at our BOE office. At the administrative meeting, my colleagues wished me Happy Birthday, and made lots of funny comments about getting older. After the meeting, I had a few folks to catch up with which proved to be very productive. I rushed back to school. I knew I had a busy schedule ahead of me with walkthroughs, meetings, and a bunch of loose ends to be followed up on (I had been out for a day and 1/2 this week).

 

As I walked through the parking lot at our school, I heard a few kids inside say, “Here he comes. Here comes Dr. Cook.” I entered the building and went up to the room where I heard the chatter. They were working on “math” and everything appeared normal. I went to my office and noticed that everything was NOT normal. While I was out, staff members (who have remained anonymous), tin foiled my entire office. Pictures, clocks, computers, chairs, papers, staplers, the list goes on and on were tin foiled. I went into my office bathroom and the toilet, sink, mirror, and anything else were tin foiled. Wow.

 

My bathroom was also covered with tin foil

As I mentioned earlier, I had a lot of walkthroughs to perform, meetings, and items to follow up on, so I just left my office with the tin foil all over the office. Then, as I walked around, a great deal of my staff gave me that Cheshire cat smile as they wished me Happy Birthday. They knew something, but no one gave up any names. The rest of the day was a blur.

 

After everyone cleared out at the end of the day, I finally was able to start making headway with getting rid of the tin foil. I just wanted to be able to sit in my chair and work. I left a bunch of the tin foil up for Monday. I then went through the cards from the students and teachers. Reading the cards was the best part of the day.

 

Before one of the suspicious jokester/teacher’s left, she reminded me that tin foil could be a symbolic message. “Dr, Cook, remember what you always say, Your Image is Our Image. Have a Happy Birthday!”

As a Principal, how will I deal with this?

I just posted on my school blog. That was the most difficult post I have ever written…. until now. As a reflective educator, who admittedly does NOT have all the answers, I am left with this question…. How am I going to deal with this? I am supposed to have all of the answers. I am supposed to be strong, brave, committed, and everything else that comes along with being a leader. Me? I am reeling from this tragedy  just like everyone else.

 

I spent yesterday morning reading the tweets of Dawn Hochsprung the Principal of Sandy Hook Elementary who was killed by the shooter defending her school. I hope to think that I would have had the same courage as Dawn, when faced with the same situation. I know through her tweets that she was doing everything she could to make her school safe, as well as create an atmosphere of learning for her students and teachers.

 

I have received several emails from my staff that have outlined their concerns about our safety and security. These valid concerns have made me rethink almost everything about our school. I will begin the process of working with the staff on Monday morning, but once again, I know that I don’t have all the answers.

 

In an attempt to be proactive, I have set up a meeting with parents on Wednesday evening before our Talent Show. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss their concerns about the tragedy, and to ensure that they feel comfortable sending their children to our school. It is my hope that this meeting will be a springboard for the future as we embark on a lengthy process of examining our entire school day from 6:00 AM – 11:00 PM.  Again… I do not have all the answers.
Then I had a epiphany….

 

I read a blog post from my friend Angela Maiers that really helped me. In the post, There is No Lesson Plan for Tragedy, she discusses how WE know what to do because, “Together we are smarter.” I truly believe that statement. Once I get away from the notion of I, and change to WE, I feel more confident, brave, and ready to face the challenges of leading an elementary school after this horrific tragedy. WE will continue to create a world class school, WE will help each other heal, WE will create a safer school, We are a lot stronger because WE work together to solve problems.

 

I know how to deal with this…. WE will deal with this!

 

Resources

There is no lesson plan by Angela Maiers

Dawn Hochsprung tweets

How to talk to kids about a school shooting by Dr. Laura Markham

Useful resources from Larry Ferlazzo

More resources Dr. Michele Borba

Sandy Hook Elementary information

 

Moneyball, and the importance of systems-thinking, process-centered leadership in education

It was the day after Thanksgiving 2012, and I was not able to fall asleep. As I flipped through the channels I stumbled upon Moneyball. I remember when the book came about about 10 years ago and I really wanted to read it. I also remember when the movie came out last year that I really wanted to see it. So, finally this was my chance! Kids were asleep and I had control of the TV. Nice!

The importance of systems thinking

The importance of systems thinking

Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics with the help of his assistant General Manager, was looking to operate a team with limited financial resources. Their process, known as sabermetrics, was contrary to the conventional wisdom prevalent in baseball scouting for over 150 years. Scouts were looking at prospective players in terms of feel, disposition, and even looks. They asked questions of each other like, “How did the ball sound coming off his bat?” or “Does he have what it takes?” when referring to the players. In a sense, they were looking at the intangibles until Billy asked a familiar question that is often overlooked in organizations, “What is the problem?” I wondered to myself if Billy had gone through Six Sigma training.

 

Billy and his assistant GM used data to discover which statistics really mattered in Baseball. Instead of the flashy statistics that fans usually paid attention to such as home runs and stolen bases, they focused on batters getting on base, pitch counts, even where the ball should be hit. This paradigm shift caused an uproar to the scouts and baseball pundits who had been steeped in traditional baseball analysis. Throughout the rest of the film, Billy remains committed to this process-centered, sabermetrics. There are people within the organization who question him and even challenge him, but he remains process-centered. Eventually, the team found consensus and won. The data worked!

source: the Yankee Analysts

My school incorporates the utility of data analysis for everything. For instance, within the realm of Response to Intervention, we facilitate Universal Assessments for all students, and we use that data to determine whorequires basic  skills instruction in reading fluency, reading comprehension, and/or math. Then, after a cycle of individually and research-based interventions, we analyze the data to determine if the intervention cycle was successful. We also analyze our Office Discipline Referrals (ODR’s). We compare our ODR’s against the previous school year, where the referrals are occurring, and which students are committing the referrals. This data advises us on how to provide appropriate remediation. We no longer have to “guess” if a student needs basic skills or if the discipline is “out of control.” We use the data to inform us and keep us process-centered.

 

This movie reaffirmed Six Principles I have learned about leadership and systems thinking through working in the Millville Public School District with the assistance of our PEG consultants:

  • Organizations need to take time to understand their mission and vision – Why do we exist?
  • Leaders need to assemble key stakeholders to undertake a problem solving matrix
  • Processes need to be charted or flowed to identify how/why things happen
  • Action plans that are developed must be time bounded, and an “owner” needs to be assigned, and held accountable
  • Innovation is important, and there should be processes in place to allow people to push the limits, and take chances
  • Periodic updates on the process ensures a better flow communication, and helps everyone stay connected

 

The story of Billy Beane, and the Oakland Athletics ends with the notion that Moneyball and sabermetrics changed baseball.  They were able to prove that money doesn’t solve everything. I agree. All too often in education we are always looking to “buy” the latest program, or solution as opposed to determining the root cause of the problem and doing the difficult work to solve the problem. If we follow the methodological framework of revered systemic thinkers to identify problems at their core, we will find ourselves true competitors in a 21st century educational environment that we call schools!

 

Moneyball Trailer

Resources:

Moneyball 

Performance Excellence Group

Back in the Saddle Again

I’m back in the saddle again, Out where a friend is a friend, Where the longhorn cattle feed On the lowly gypsum weed, Back in the saddle again ~Gene Autry 1939

One of “my” classes

Yesterday I had the opportunity to get back in the saddle again. The idea came to me as I read about No Office Days, You Matter, and the importance of being a Lead Learner. So, thank you to Patrick Larkin, Jessica Johnson, Angela Maiers, and Joe Mazza for your inspiration for me to get back in the saddle! 

Basically, this monthly program is designed to recognize teachers, and allow them to spend a day collaborating with their peers while I teach their classes! Its a win, win, win! Free Professional Development for teachers. Free time to collaborate with other teachers in the building or explore online learning. And here is the kicker – I get to teach again.

 

I arrived at my assignment a few minutes late (Cut me some slack, I was trying to get the building started). Once I arrived at the classroom I took on the persona of a guest teacher. I started from scratch and gave myself a pre-test. How many names did I really know? In my first class, a paltry 6 out 16. Yikes. As I went through the math lesson with the students, I was able to shake off the cobwebs and get down to some real teaching, and learning.

 

Here is what I learned:

- First day jitters never go away

- After about 10 minutes, the kids forgot I was the principal

- Before teaching the subject, you have to take time learning about the learners

- Interruptions require flexibility – I still had to take a few calls, speak with teachers all while teaching

- I needed coverage for a bathroom break

- I did get a walkthrough by our Fine and Performing Arts Supervisor, and I really want to know what he thought

- My Assistant Superintendent, upon hearing what I was doing said, “Your crazy, but I still love you!”

- Slate drills elicit participation, but the markers smell, so I had to keep the windows open

- Technology aides such as SMART boards, videos from EnVision math, ipods, and computer centers assist with application of learned math skills

- Since I missed recess duty, the other 4th grade teachers said I owe them 15 minutes

- The art teacher, when I handed “my” class off to her, wondered when I am going to choose a special area teacher for this program

- Teaching is still the best job, bar none

- My random songs, which used to be a lot better when I taught full time, still make kids smile

- I still have it (well, at least I think I do)

 

I am sure you are wondering how my assessments went through the rest of the day. In the middle of the first class I gave myself another, and I scored 10 out 16. At the conclusion of that same class, with the kids clapping and cheering, I earned a 16 out of 16! In my second class, my pre-test was 10 out of 19. I scored a perfect 19 on both the middle and the post test. Once again, the kids were cheering and clapping. What fun!

 

Most importantly, the 4th grade teacher who spent the day collaborating with other teachers came to me at the end of the day, beaming! He was able to get into about 8 classrooms throughout the day. He team taught, facilitated centers, and assisted teachers with any questions they had regarding math. It was so obvious that he really grew as a professional! And, he loved it!

 

So what is next? Well, I have a 3rd grade class later this month and a Kindergarten class next month. I can’t wait to get back in the saddle again!

Is this what I signed up for?

Mrs. Lunemann has lead the charge to create a 21st century classroom within a welcoming, student-centered learning space

After everyone cleared out from another successful Back to School night, I sat in my office in amazement. Maybe it was part exhaustion, part reflection, but never mind all that. This had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with my family.

See, when I started at RM Bacon Elementary about a year and half ago I was told of this theme: “Then, Now, Always Family.” I like themes, and see their importance played out on a daily basis. But there is something very different happening at my school. It’s not just a theme, its reality.

Everyone does Back To School Night, and so does our school, but we do it very differently. Well, I have to be honest, we do EVERYTHING differently! No matter if our teachers have one parent, or they have standing room only, they embody the principles of solid classroom instruction. Each session I went into last night had technology at the forefront. Smart boards, videos, blogs, interactive math and LAL lesson, sign ups for remind101.com, anything that is used during the day was on display last night! Not to mention the traditional “All About Me” posters, artwork, and messages to parents. Our teachers do it all!

 

A united front in 3rd grade!

Another thing that struck me, and I will go on record that I had nothing to do with, was the collaboration. Two of the grades decided to scrap the individual presentations, and worked collaboratively on grade level presentations. As a parent, I would have thought… united front! As a principal, I beamed.

Special area teachers, resource, and basic skills interventionists, were not to be outdone. They milled about the school talking with parents, assisting with anything that was needed, and made the parents feel welcome.

I received so many well wishes from excited parents. I can honestly say that they trust us with educating their children. We do not take that responsibility lightly. They asked about the upcoming activities, and many signed up for our Home and School Association.

Here was our Back To School Trailer:

This IS what I signed up for!