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

 

Watch out 21st century world, our kids are Blooming!

Isaiah working on one of his experiments

One of our 5th grade classes recently conducted a “make over” on their class. This idea emerged after a group of students requested a “real” 21st Century learning environment. Their teacher, Mr. Hudson, asked them, “So, what does that look like?” Well, they took him up on the challenge and asked if they could replace their desks with tables in order to increase collaboration. They told their teacher that they really liked his teaching, but they learn more when he lets them take what they learn and “run with it” through a variety of projects and activities with their classmates. “Fine,” he said, “Then what?” Well, then they said they each wanted their own device (ipod touch, ipad, computer, or laptop, etc.). “OK,” he replied, “I might not be able to get one-to-one in here, but we can get pretty close.” They compromised…for now.

 

Here is the imovie trailer the students made about their classroom make over:

Anthony met Millville Mayor Tim Shannon and presented an idea for a skate park

 

So after they completed their filming project with Pearson’s EnVision Math (Yes, they were picked out of hundreds of classrooms to highlight the new math program) we treated them to new tables. They really have been working hard this year! Did I mention that they are all avid bloggers? This class, through kidblog.org has been actively blogging before, during and after school not to mention the weekends and some long after they should have been sleeping. Their blog, Bear Necessities, is comprised of the teacher, the entire class, librarian, principal, parents, and even former students. This learning environment allows them to create ideas, complete class projects, and pontificate on what the town needs to do to improve. Did I mention that this is all optional and not required by the teacher? Neither is the “H” word… Homework. Students in this class have designed their own learning games, study guides, and blogs in the most self-directed manner…. because they want to, because the culture of the room encourages it, because no one has to tell them no. It’s a culture of yes, a culture of innovation, of experimentation.

 

Recently, Mr. Hudson’s class enthusiastically accepted a unique opportunity to host TeacherCast for RM Bacon’s FIRST EVER live podcast. The students invited the superintendent, assistant superintendent, and me for a 45 minute session on education. They read our blogs, tweets, and even our resumes to formulate their questions for the podcast. In fact, TeacherCast was so impressed with these kids that he is starting a section on his website for students!

 

RM Bacon’s first podcast was hosted by Mr. Hudson’s class

Administrative walkthrough reports from this class have produced some interesting data trends. 27% of the observed time, this class has been engaged in Generating and Testing Hypothesis, specifically problem solving. 100% of the time the students have been able to articulate the learning objective. 94% of the time there has been teacher directed technology, and 100% student directed technology. As for student grouping, the class was observed (Whole group 33%; Individual 6%; Small Group 44%; Cooperative Group 11%; Pair 6%).

 

After applying what they have been learning through technology, the students realized they hit a glass ceiling in terms of their classroom infrastructure. Ironically, the walk-through data supported their findings, reflecting cooperative group activities identified 11% of the observed time. Hmm, it makes me think how cool would it be to pilot student walk-through’s? Empowered with problem-solving skills, they analyzed their current situation, evaluated what they needed to enrich their learning experiences, and are now in the midst of creating their very own 21st century learning environment. Our students are truly “Bloom-ing” in their very own and student-designed 21st Century classroom. 

 

Resources:

Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd Edition 

Bear Necessities

TeacherCast 

 

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!

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!

 

Opening Day in Real Time using Imovie Trailer

Using the Imovie trailer app on my ipad has allowed me to create an easy to use medium to document the amazing events happening at RM Bacon. As you may have seen from previous posts, we have had a lot of fun making  trailers this summer. The Extravaganza, This just in became internet sensations, and were completed in less time than it takes to watch a theatrical release (and a lot cheaper).

During my first staff meeting, I invited the teachers to make a trailer for Opening Day 2012. The first in this series (many more to be released soon) was from our 5th grade team. Here is their spoof on how they were paired together this summer with only 2 weeks before school was to begin.

During the second day of staff development, we simply ran out of time to do another trailer. So, we challenged ourselves. Our idea was to film the parents and students arriving for Opening Day, and then play it minutes later at the assembly. Since our “Red Carpet Welcome Back Theme” fit so well with the trailers, and we were able to get a real red carpet, we gave it a try. Here is what we were able to show the parents just minutes after “making” the trailer. Truly amazing!

I plan to do a whole separate post about the Opening Day 2012, and to thank everyone who assisted with making it a reality. I would like to specially thank my music teacher, Leigh Simpson, who’s creativity and determination to make the red carpet a reality for our students!

Ipad movie trailers are easy, fun, and allow you the ability to put something of professional quality in a matter of minutes.

 

“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?