Beyond the Bake Sale, Our Visit to Knapp Elementary

The Background

Our vision for RM Bacon Elementary is to provide a world class school for all of our stakeholders. We work tirelessly to develop our teachers, and provide the best instruction to our learners. But when I looked into the reflective mirror, I realized that we were not engaging our family and community members as well as we would like. So this year I made it my mission to improve in this area. I started out by finding a teacher who was willing to take on this quest with me. Leigh Simpson, our music teacher and aspiring school administrator, volunteered to join the team. I then met with our Home and School President, Beth Markee, and asked her to join our team and help us increase our family and community engagement beyond the traditional avenues.

 

The Research

We scanned the twittervese researching family and community engagement. We looked at a bunch of schools and districts to see who we could model ourselves after. We quickly came to one conclusion…. Knapp Elementary embodied the type of engagement we were seeking. Knapp uses twitter, facebook, newsletters, events, to enhance their school culture and engage the family and community unlike anyone else. So we fueled up the car and went on a ROAD TRIP.

 

The Visit

Our team was comprised of Leigh Simpson, Parent and Community Engagement Chair, and Beth Markee, Home and School Association President, and myself. Fortunately for us, Knapp Elementary is only an hour and half drive from my school so we were able to accomplish the visit in one day.

Welcome to Knapp

When we arrived at Knapp we paid close attention to climate and symbolism of the school. We were welcomed by very pleasant and excited secretaries who were happy to see us. We scanned the foyer and soaked in the pictures, artwork, and design that sent a clear message…. Welcome to our home!

 

 

 

Welcome in different languages

Joe Mazza, the lead learner of Knapp, came out to greet us. I have known Joe for about a year and have seen him speak, read his tweets, and blogs, but it was especially refreshing to see him in his element… Knapp! He introduced us to Gwen Pescatore who is the President of the Knapp Home and School Association. After we exchanged pleasantries, we headed to the conference room to get to work. Even though we were there to learn from Joe and Gwen, they wanted the conversation to be a collaborative, learning opportunity for both schools. They asked us to talk about our school, the successes, challenges, and what we wanted to learn. As we were talking, a quote on the wall caught my eye, and I had to capture it (see “in this house”).

Our conversation flowed easily for about an hour. Joe and Gwen talked about Knapp and their journey to provide true engagement beyond the bake sale. Knapp Elementary has more languages spoken at home then most schools have classrooms… 22! They admit that their journey has been and continues to be a work in progress. Joe and Gwen’ s overarching message was simple… the core of true family and community engagement  is face to face contact with caring teachers. According to Joe, “First impressions are happening every day.”

We toured the building and visited a few classrooms. As we walked the building the message that we saw in the front of the building extended to the rest of the school as well…. Welcome to our home.

Art work was on all of the walls

A fish pond in an out-cove

Joe talking about family engagement

Discussing the takeaways on the ride home

As we drove away from Knapp we identified 7 key lessons we  learned from the experience:

1. Face to face contact with caring teachers

2. First impressions are made everyday

3. Make sure to have a menu of offerings for families and communities including social media, and traditional avenues

4. Televise HSA meetings in case parents are unable to attend

5. Think of the school as a 5 star hotel, and work to make it look like one too

6. Make sure that the HSA resembles the cultural make up of the school and community

7. Have designated places to recognize students

 

Since the trip we have increased our focus on family and community engagement. Stay tuned because we have just begun our journey. We are looking forward to report back on our progress as we embark on this extremely important endeavor to get beyond the bake sale, and into real family and community engagement.

Resources

Joe Mazza’s Blog 

Knapp Elementary School Twitter 

Parent Teacher Chat on Twitter

 

 

Don’t forget the spark!

source: prattcenter.net

I love the spark! I love being in a workshop and getting the spark, or being the one to create the spark!

 

I recently had the opportunity to talk with about 50 educators in a nearby school district on web 2.0 tools, Project Based Learning, and Social Media. For information about the presentation or resources, feel free to check out my website.

 

Going into the preparation phase for the presentation I didn’t want to make assumptions about their knowledge or understanding, but it was clear to me early on that these folks (and their schools) were not very “connected.” I think it was when I said, “I am having problems with my prezi,” when someone politely asked, “Whats a prezi?” In my mind I thought, “He is right. Great question!” Hmm, the spark?

 

As I went through the presentation I heard such deep, and rich conversations. It was so refreshing to hear their enthusiasm, or trepidation regarding these 21st century teaching tools. The questions that I was presented with showed me that they were looking for a good place to start. Ahh, the spark?

 

There were many amazing outcomes to the workshop. At least 5 teachers signed up for twitter. About 5 more who had twitter accounts were able to understand more about the “life of a tweet.” There were a few teachers who were interested in connecting with my skype resources Lauren Cooper, Sean Wheeler. Yes, the spark!

 

I am sure that there will be a new set of bloggers, pinners, tweeters, and edomodos as a result of this workshop. I know that this district will see the beginnings of PBL, and I am sure that there will be a few “flipped” classrooms. It will just take some time, but these students will benefit from their teachers willingness to try new things. Spark!

 

So my message to everyone out there looking to discover Web 7.89, or who snubs your nose at “un-connected” educators….. there is still a lot of work to be done at the introductory level to create the spark!

 

If you would have asked me to participate in a similar type of workshop just a year ago I would have asked the same questions. I would have had the same trepidation, or even more. Yet, thanks to those who helped me get started, I can now present on this same information. And sometime in the future, there will someone from this workshop presenting to me, and recreating the spark!

 

Resources:

insightsintolearning 

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!

What if our schools were like 5 Star Hotels?

What if our schools were like 5 Star Hotels?

source hotel images – google

Picture this- you walk into your child’s school and are greeted by a concierge, not a security guard. This person knows everything about the who, what, where, and why of the school. As you gaze around the walls and the floors everything is in tip top condition. Mirrors are clean, the floor is immaculate, and the artwork on the wall symbolically represents the culture and climate of the school. Not to mention there is  fresh water and you can see the mint leaves, and orange slices at the top of the jug. Ahhh, and its fresh!

Your concierge takes you to your destination, and for this day you need to pick up your child. By the time you get to the office, your child is patiently waiting, chatting with the receptionist about her day (Somehow it was communicated that you were there and to get your child from class – no waiting). You swipe your license and you are able to take your child. But, we are talking about kids, so she tells you that she forgot something, and you both venture to her class to get it.

As you walk to her classroom there is a staff member in the hallway who greets you with a smile and asks if there is anything they can help you with. While your daughter is getting her work, the  staff member talks to you about the school, and seems very informed on the educational goals and objectives of the school. She even can share an anecdote with you about how your daughter helped her clean up spilled milk the other day in the restaurant (cafeteria).

Then, as luck would have it you need to use the restroom, so the staff member personally takes you to the restroom and makes sure the students aren’t in there. You look around at this “student” bathroom and the fixtures are all polished, there is artwork on the walls, everything is clean, and smelling fresh. As you wash your hands with the automatic sink, the smell of cucumber soap waifs through the air. This is a student bathroom, you think.

In the hallway, there is another person waiting for you with your daughter and the three of you walk to the exit. On your way out of the door, the staff member reminds you to scan the QR code. You remember hearing something about this at back to school night, but you haven’t tried it yet. The  staff member scans the QR code for you and on her phone she shows you how to access the days events, the teachers blogs and a 15 second tout from the assembly earlier that day. She then helps you scan it and laughs, “Just don’t drive and watch the tout because we don’t want you driving off the road. Off you go to the doctor’s appointment, knowing that your daughter is getting the 5 Star treatment at school!e

I want to be your Felix!

Dr. Gentile and Dr. Moore, (My Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent)

Source: thefoxisblack.com

Last week I am sure you saw my email to the staff titled, “Teachable Moment.” In the email, I encouraged the teachers to show the historic sky jump of Felix Baumgartner. Unfortunately, the jump was unable to happen that day.

Today, as I was eating lunch in Dallas, TX I watched Felix make the historic jump. I was amazed at the whole production: five years of training, corporate sponsors, innovation, data, and family support. This jump really struck  a chord with me. I want to be your Felix!

If you are looking for something to challenge the status quo, to be innovative, or even different, I am your guy! I know that I learned a lot from the jump and I can’t wait to see the documentary on this epic journey. There are so many parallels to what we are trying in our school district. I my humble opinion, he was able to make this jump for the following reasons:

– Ultimately he was researching product advancement such as space suits, technology, etc.

– Someone had to do it, so he worked with a team of individuals who helped him accomplish the task.

– The information collected will help the space industry.

– His team believed in him, and supported his “calculated” epic jump.

– No one told him “no” or it cost too much or it was “impossible.”

– There were many process checks along the way to ensure safety.

So, next time there is something you want to try, or something I want to try, let’s work together and break a record, or two. I will be the one that jumps! I will be your Felix!

 

Why I keep blogging

It takes a lot of work to blog. You have to be committed (or you might become committed). I would say the most important thing you need to be committed to is the why. Just like organizations, teaching, administration or even golf, if you know why you are doing something (think mission/vision driven) it makes things a lot easier. For me, it is all about my insights into learning. Simple as that!

 

Sometimes blogging can be lonely. For me, it is a commitment of time that I could be doing something else. I let my family know I am going blogging, put headphones on, and get to work. Sometimes it takes a few minutes, other times it can take an hour. Sometimes I hit post, and other times I just hit delete. Its all part of the process.

 

Recently, I had two encounters that reaffirmed  I am not the only one benefiting from this blog.

 

It was a Friday afternoon and a parent came in to pick up her daughter. She is a teacher who works in a neighboring school. When I came out of my office, I was immediately greeted by this parent. She said, “You! (she pointed at me, smiling) yeah you. I have been waiting to tell you this since Back To School night. You are such an inspiration. The best principal I have ever seen. Tell me to jump off of a bridge, and I will only ask you which one!” I walked over to her, and asked her for a hug. I told her I was humbled by her statement, and that I appreciated her feedback. Wow, I thought, a bridge?

 

That same weekend I attended a wedding for my wife’s friend’s son. My wife and her friend worked together for 10 years, and they were a supportive network for each other. We really enjoy spending time with her and her family! As we were leaving the reception, on one of the most important days in her life, she took the time to tell me this, “I love reading your stuff. I get so inspired. Keep going. Don’t stop!” Gulp, someone is actually inspired.

 

I am thankful to have a supportive network that allows me to grow as a blogger, and as a person. Whether it is my family, staff, central administration team, other bloggers, friends or readers, I appreciate the support.

 

But I know that at the end of the day, it comes down to the why.

 

This is why I keep blogging!

 

“It’s harder to hate up close”

Drumthwacket

It’s easy to “hate” someone when you see them on TV in snippets and sound bites. It’s easy to hate someone when you are told to hate them because they are a certain way, or come from a party with a different symbol. What I learned today from Governor Christie was:  It’s harder to hate close up. (he told a story using that line)

Hate is such a strong word. I never hated Chris Christie. Honestly, I’m not sure if I have ever hated a politician. Maybe I didn’t understand him? Or maybe I just never took the time to see things from his perspective? Maybe I made him a scapegoat for things when I didn’t get my way?

#NJED tweeps William Diaz, Kevin Carroll, and Brad Currie

I had the fortunate opportunity to meet with about 30 other educators from around the state this morning for breakfast at Drumthwacket. It was great meeting my #NJED tweeps Brad Currie, William Diaz, and Kevin Carroll. After breakfast, Chris Christie appeared in our room. His first comment was, “Can I get everyone who is sitting in the Harry Potter room to join us?” We all laughed because there were several tables in the adjacent room that looked like, well, something out of a Harry Potter film. For the next 45 minutes, in a relaxed discussion, Chris Christie talked to us, made us laugh, and most importantly, made us think.

Chris Christie speaking to NJ educators

Chris is extremely proud of the legislation that was just passed last week regarding tenure reform in NJ. He is most proud because he finally felt like he was able to accomplish this seemingly insurmountable task with the help of the state’s biggest teacher union, the NJEA.  For the last two years, there has been a public battle played out in the media between Christie and the NJEA.  He now hopes things will be different with the NJEA moving forward.  Christie admits that there are things he has said in the past that he regrets, but he makes no apologies for trying to reform a system that had basically been untouched for over 100 years.

Governor Christie is well aware of the performance of NJ education (which has easily been touted as one of the best in the country), yet he challenged us all to realize that the highly performing schools in this state are basically serving suburban families.  For urban students, their experience in NJ public schools is nowhere near high performing. He is afraid that the students in underperforming, urban school districts are not getting the same opportunities as their counterparts in the suburbs. He knows that that money is not going to solve the problems (just look at the amount of money that was infused into urban districts since the landmark Abbott v. Burke case).  He even said, and this resonated with me, that he realizes the parents in the urban areas are not voting for him, so his passion for them goes beyond politics, and votes.

Of course I had to ask the first question!

When he took questions my hand shot up immediately. He called on me and I explained how I am a principal of a recently designated focus school, which is in an urban setting. I thanked him for the Regional Achievement Centers (RAC), and asked him why we don’t have a shining example in this state that has sustained success on assessments. He told me and everyone in the room, that he is as frustrated as I am that there are no examples to share. He questioned the assessments, and if they are doing what we are asking them to do. He feels that these students need more time (extended into the summer, extended days, anything) to help them achieve even if their parents could care less. Wow, not the answer I thought he was going to give! He told me to continue to care and not give up. I told him to give me some time, and that my school will be the example!

There were a few questions from my colleagues that received quick, and well thought out responses. One superintendent asked about the caps on salaries. To everyone’s surprise he said that they are doing research to amend it, but they need data. Someone else asked about the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) process, and he said he was done with it, and we would be too (everyone applauded). He wants to pay teachers more money, but he wants to ensure that they are all working hard, and producing results! He wants principals to hold teachers accountable, and not just accept mediocrity. Based on the new legislation mentioned above, school districts will not need to waste millions of dollars and valuable time to hold a bad teacher accountable. No excuses anymore!

Another colleague mentioned charter schools, and why they are being opened in areas that have high performing public schools. Christie said that shouldn’t be happening, and that the charters are designed to help parents have a choice (without tuition) in underperforming schools.

Chris Christie said he is excited for the future. He is going to work on being less “hot” but he is not going to stop advocating for kids. He said he is open to ideas, and to criticism. If you have questions, make sure to contact his office, or Commissioner Chris Cerf’s office. Or your could tweet Chris Christie.

As I walked away from the discussion, I was left with more questions than answers.  I thought about the comments and questions from my previous post. Many people think he hates teachers, and shouldn’t be making educational decisions. To those who feel that way, I encourage you to do your own research, and familiarize yourself with Christie’s policies. Don’t just rely on the media hype, and the discussions in the teachers’ lounge because you may end up seeing him in a new light.

It is really harder to hate close up.

What would you ask the Governor?

Source: (AP Photo/Mel Evans) blogs.edweek.org

I received a call on Sunday from a good friend and respected colleague, Steven Engravalle. He asked me what I was doing on Thursday, and I said, “Probably working, but nothing special.” Steve said, “Good, because now you are. How would you like to sit down in a small forum and talk with Governor Chris Christie?” As you can imagine, I agreed. We talked for a few more minutes. I had to ask, “Steve, how did I get picked?” Steve told me the Governor is looking to discuss education with a small group of committed educators representing various positions, school districts, etc. He went on to say that Governor Chris Christie wants honest dialogue, “And that, my friend, is why you were chosen!”

Anyone that knows me, knows that I will be honest in whatever setting I’m in. Anyone that knows Governor Chris Christie, knows that he will be honest in whatever setting he is in! We have some things in common besides our honesty. Governor Christie has made education a top priority in his administration. Some of his laws, policies, and theories on education have required people to question the status quo. Although I haven’t agreed with everything, I admire his courageousness. I also admire him for taking the time to speak with people like me, who have access to people like YOU!

After calling my loved ones and friends to share the good news I did what any connected educator would do… I Tweeted, posted on Facebook, and began writing this blog. Why? Because I am not just representing me when I meet with the Governor, I am representing everyone within my PLN (Personal Learning Network).

I ask you this… If given this same opportunity, what would you ask?

One time, at Pad Camp

I had the opportunity of attending Pad Camp on August 16, 2012. This “un-conference” was held at Galloway Township Middle School, in Galloway, NJ. I want to start out by thanking Kevin Jarrett for his work in organizing the event!

The first session I attended was hosted by Jeff Bradbury. He had educators engaged, and involved throughout his session on imovie. After a brief introduction, he got us working right away in small groups on a film project. Within 45 minutes, educators who hadn’t necessarily worked with each other before, or with imovie, were able to produce projects.He connected this session to how you can have students, and or teachers develop back to school videos for the upcoming school year.

During the second session, I caught up with my tweeps Danielle Hartman, and Dana Sirotiak. Normally, we are only able to collaborate through twitter, so this gave us a chance to share best practices for student engagement. I think I learned about 20 new apps for my ipad!

At lunch I was able to catch up with Jeff Bradbury, and learn about how teachercast.net has grown. He shared with me his recent experiences at ISTE12, and his pod cast project. I highly recommend to follow him on twitter, and to stay tuned to his podcasts!

After lunch, the #njed tweeps attended a session on nearpod presented by Hannah Walden. She did an excellent job of walking us (there must have been 50+ people in the session!) through the nearpod app, and how it can assist students and teachers in the classroom. Great job, Hannah!

@Teachercast hosting a podcast for #njed tweeps

For the last session, we requested that Jeff discuss pod casting, and to record an actual podcast. We grilled him with questions for about 15 minutes on how our classrooms, schools, and districts can utilize pod casting (For more information on this, I recommend to check out his 1st and 2nd pod casts). Once you get the equipment (basically an ipod, ipad or iphone will do, a microphone, and an itunes account, you will be set) pod casting can be an excellent way to have students interview/report/present on various school activities such as parents, teachers, administrators, guests, field trips, commercials, events, announcements, etc. I know that RM Bacon Elementary will be producing pod casts as a result of this session!

Today was a very inspiring day. I really enjoyed hanging with my #njed tweeps, learning, laughing, and continuing to become a 21st century leader.

Let me know about your experiences with un-conferences…..