Monday, July 25, 2016

No Excuses

It's been over a year since I've last written a blog post.

I have four drafts since last August, but I haven't completed them. I did get around to developing titles for them, though.
  • Seven Months in an  Affluent School - Lessons Learned
  • My Fourth Middle School in Three Years
  • The Importance of Building Relationships
  • Lessons Learned
In addition, I keep making excuses for why I haven't written any posts. The vast majority of them all come down to time. This past year, I devoted a large amount of time to working in my building; including working 12+ hour days, and spending countless weekends with school-related stuff spread out all over my dining room table. I know many educators would respond with, "That's just how it is, especially when working with high risk populations of students."

It really shouldn't be that way, though. I've worked with high risk populations the majority of my career and managed to find a reasonable work/family balance. In addition, I always had a small amount of time to think outside the box to develop solutions to pressing problems. I've also made time to keep up to date with trends in education through the Marshall Memo, EdWeek, ASCD, MindShift and of course my absolute favorite PLN, Twitter!

Once again, I didn't do any of that this year, though; and I suffered for it. I feel I worked very hard this past year, but not nearly as smart as I should have.

That's why this post is entitled "No Excuses". I don't have a valid excuse for not posting this past year..or not doing any of the things which energize me on a professional level. Yes, I had a challenging year, and yes, I didn't use my time as wisely as I should have. Just as I have done in past years, I am making my "New Year Resolution"  at the beginning of a new school year.

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Don't let school get in the way of my education. 

Sound familiar? Mark Twain said something similar. Of course, he meant for us not to let going to school get in the way of learning about the world around us.  My biggest strength is to look at a problem and take creative measures to develop and implement a solution. I'm taking Mr. Twain's thought a little more literally. If I let myself get bogged down with the everyday issues I have to tackle in my building, I will not be good to anyone. If you are feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to center yourself again. Do something that gets your creative juices flowing. Need an idea on what to do? Here's a REALLY COOL INFOGRAPHIC with 40 of them.
I'm approaching this school year with a really different mindset than last year, and I know I will be better for my students and staff because of it.  I challenge you to do the same!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

How is Your Master Schedule Looking?

Spring...a time in the realm of public school education that is better known as the roller coaster ride. It's a wild ride after spring break! In the midst of year-end assessments, award assemblies, and IEP meetings looms something that keeps many school administrators up at night...the master schedule!

For some, it is a spreadsheet. For others, it's a series of sticky notes on a white board. For me, it's a board filled with magnets of different colors. I'm kind of crazy that way. I sincerely enjoy working to solve the very intricate puzzle/house of cards that makes up the schedule in our building. Someday, I'm going to teach a class on master schedule construction. Regardless of what your method of master schedule instruction looks like, here are a few points to consider as you construct the schedule for your own building. 

Does your schedule line up with your school improvement plan? 
  • What are your building's goals? Does the current structure of the schedule support those goals, or does it hinder them? For example: If you want to promote the effective use of the PLC framework, do your teachers have opportunities to plan together during the school day? Do your exceptional education teachers get to plan with teachers they collaborate with? 
Does your schedule accommodate your exceptional students? 

  • When thinking about exceptional students, don't forget to take into consideration those students who are in gifted or honors-level classes. Is a student enrolled in Algebra 1 also able to take Earth Science if they want to? On the flip side, is a student able to take self-contained english and collaborative social studies while being able to get their first-choice elective? I'm not saying you should be able to honor every student's course request, but you should construct a schedule which would enable you to accommodate most of them. 
Does your schedule make your teachers' lives easier? 

  • When I first started creating a master schedule for this school year, I was pretty proud of myself that things were coming together so easily. Then I started to take a closer look. While the schedule looked like it was going to work, things were going to be difficult for the teachers; especially for those teaching more than one subject/level. The way the schedule was originally set up would have required teachers to teach multiple sections on any given day. By moving around some sections, I was able to construct schedules which more or less had teachers teaching the same course back-to-back, or one section on one day, and another section on another day. 
  • On another note, don't leave your teachers in the dark about the scheduling process. Talk with them about the process. Answer their questions. Get their opinion on possible scheduling scenarios. It's likely in this day and age the teachers in your building have been there longer than you have, and have seen things done several different ways. 
In the end, make sure your master schedule is what's best for kids. If it doesn't work for your students, it won't matter how pretty it looks. It's simply not going to work in the long run. That being said, don't be afraid to get creative as you construct your schedule. Just remember to be transparent about your process. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What's More Important...Computers or Skills?

I can honestly say these past two years have been an incredible learning curve for me. I had an opportunity to change jobs, not once but twice, and took both of them! The first was a lateral move from one school to another in the same division. The building itself was the same exact floorplan of my former school. They even underwent renovations at the same time. The layout was where the similarities ended. Each school had its own distinguishable heartbeat. The students, staff, parents and community members made both buildings amazing in their own unique ways.
Just when I felt as if I had my bearings about me in my new environment, opportunity once again arose. Timing however, was lousy. The position had posted at the end of August, and I was excited about starting the school year where I was. We were scheduled to get Chromebooks for every student, and were anxious to see how this would change how teaching and learning would take place. Regardless, the position was an advancement that was too good to turn down. Needless to say, I got the job!

For the third time in my career, I was starting a new position in a leadership role after the school year had already started. While it seemed really inconvenient at first, I ended up being really glad things happened the way they did. I got to see a school full of students and teachers experience 1:1 learning for the very first time. A week and a half later, I was in a completely different school system working with students and teachers who have known 1:1 learning for over a decade. 

Looking back on the experience, I learned something pretty valuable. Just because you have given every student in your building or division a laptop, tablet, or Chromebook; it doesn't mean you have done anything innovative. How that tool is applied to the instructional process determines innovation. We live in an age during which the majority of our students in the US have access to some form of mobile technology in their daily life. Kids are walking into school expecting to have access to technology to complete their schoolwork, record assignments, and work on projects. Collaborating and sharing online are second nature to them. 

Things like presenting, organizing, problem solving, and working with others, however, are not necessarily second nature. I've seen plenty of people who know their way around a computer who don't have any of the other "21st Century" skills I mentioned above. 

This is a time of year during which many of us in education turn towards the planning process for the upcoming school year. Some of us may be tasked with preparing for a 1:1 initiative. My advice to you? Make sure your teachers and staff are comfortable with teaching 21st Century Skills, or those skills needed to be successful in the modern learning process. If they aren't, you are just going to end up with a lot of kids who know their way around a computer. We have plenty of those already. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015


This past weekend, I participated in a Twitter chat called #satchat. In my opinion, it is one of the best run edchats out there right now. Though it takes place at 7:30 in the morning, I try my hardest to participate each week, as I am always learning something new from the amazing people who also participate. It's a HUGE component of my PLN. The topic was centered around the concept of ensuring students are learning in an environment that will help them to succeed in a world that is growing smaller by the day thanks to advances in technology. During the chat, educational best practices were discussed, including the use of the PLC (Professional Learning Community) framework to drive instruction. One of the chat participants brought up a very interesting question - is there a difference between an PLC and a PLN (Personal Learning Network)?

I've spent the past couple of days seeing what other people say about this. 

Lorraine Boulos shares the following in her blog, Making Shift HappenIt seems to me the "PLC" has become synonymous with Professional Development and often, it is the principal, consultant, coach, or whomever the "Instructional Leader" is in the building, that decides what everyone needs to learn about.  How and why does this happen?  These instructional leaders are not just being arbitrary. They are looking at student results, looking at the gaps, and then they are using professional resources to determine what is the best strategy to meet the needs to close those gaps.

Furthermore, Russell Munkler put together a great slide presentation to help explain the difference between the two:

From what I can best gather, a PLC is goal and data driven - within the field of education, that goal is usually student academic success. A PLC is basically designed to function for the good of the group. A PLN, however, is designed by the individual, and its purpose doesn't necessarily have to be aligned to that of your school or organization. A PLN is broad, and it doesn't share the constraints of time or location usually placed upon a PLC. In addition, the "P" in the PLN appears to be interchangeable. While in most cases, the "P" stands for "personal", I've also seen it stand for "professional". 

If you read back to my other posts, you'll find I am a BIG fan of the PLC framework. I've witnessed AMAZING things happen as the result of educators buying into and working as a PLC. That being said, I am beginning to wonder if we shouldn't shift our thinking. Is the PLC too constraining? Can you still have a common goal working through a PLN? If we are asking our teachers to prepare students to be successful in a global society, I think it is something worth looking into! 


Monday, February 16, 2015

Lencioni is Right

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Lencioni is right. That whole pyramid is pure genius. If you want to achieve a goal, then you have to start from the bottom and work your way up, especially if you are new to an organization. Even if your position is that of a leader, no one who works under, above, or alongside you has to put their absolute trust and faith in you on day one. 

So I’ve been in a new building for a little over four months now, and I know exactly what it feels like to be on the bottom of that pyramid. However, I’ve also had some experience in climbing it. Since I can be sort of a klutz, I’ve learned slow and steady is the best way to do it. I’ve been working hard these past few months to establish relationships with my colleagues and build trust. Building that trust is a two-way street. While people are figuring me out, I’m figuring them out as well. It makes me wonder if I should consider a different model of pyramid to refer to.

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Perhaps, I should take the route of the individualized pyramid approach. Not unlie an IEP, everyone, or at least every department gets its own pyramid. It’s a pretty fair assumption that I am further up the pyramids pertaining to those I work closest to. My other thought involves the use of a “skewed” pyramid of sorts like the one the left. 

With people entering and exiting an organization, and new initiatives coming and going, I'm not sure there are many who have the opportunity to climb such a pristine pyramid like the one above. At least, in my world, the one on the left is a little more realistic.

Regardless of what your pyramid looks like, one cannot deny that a pyramid exists within every organization. Make sure you are well equipped to scale the one that exists in yours! 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Remember the Past, But Always Be Present

I absolutely LOVE working with kids because it gives me a legitimate reason to keep up with pop culture. If it wasn't for children, I may very well have succumbed to a life of "90s music stations and watching NCIS years ago. Not that there is anything wrong with either...

Today was one of those days that I was happy to be living in Virginia...71 and sunny at it's the beginning of February. I paid homage to the Beetle convertible sitting in the garage by washing her off, shining her up, and driving her around town with the top down in this GLORIOUS weather. At one point, Wil Smith's "Summertime" came on the radio, and it almost felt like summer (if you could forget about the fact that all the trees were bare). I have to admit that I probably did turn up the volume to a slightly obnoxious level at one point today. 

I bring this up because while I enjoy a '90's moment like that from time to time, I also work very hard to live in the present. Why? Because it is what the kids I work with on a daily basis are living in ALL THE TIME.  

It makes me cringe sometimes when teachers and staff members I work with reminisce on old materials they worked with, and wonder why they can't work with them anymore. Living in the now is a very important concept when working with children. It's all they know. The past is "old school" to them, and they treat it as history as opposed to nostalgia. While it is OK to be nostalgic about Cole Porter, Frank Sintra, The Beatles, Aerosmith, NKOTB, or Britney Spears...yes, Britney Spears; as educators, it is so important to have the ability to acknowledge the past, but live in the present. Your students live in the present. You need to be able to relate to them. There are actually organizations in corporate America that encourage it's staff members to to read People magazine. 

Take time this week to truly relate to your kids and the world they live in. You may actually enjoy it! 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Getting Ready For A Safety Audit, and Blogging About It!

The nice thing about preparing for a safety audit within a few months of starting a new job is that I get to learn my new building inside and out in record time. The audit performed by our school division is pretty comprehensive: over 130 pages of checklists and requests for artifacts. Ratings range from "fully implemented" to "not implemented". I actually spent a good chunk of my winter break pouring over these checklists to make sure I had all my ducks in a row for a successful safety audit.

Here are some things I learned in the process:  

Review your previous audit, even if it was from a few years ago, and criteria have changed.
  • What were commendations and recommendations made by the audit team?
  • Are there any recommendations that weren't acted upon? Why weren't they? 
Have a variety of different people perform a "pre-audit" of your building.
  • People who don't visit your school on a daily basis are a great resource because they will look at the safety of your building from a completely different perspective. 
  • Ask staff members to tour parts of the building they wouldn't normally go. You will be surprised with what they will notice!
  • Talk with your parents and students. Get their thoughts on how safe they perceive their school to be. 
  • Police and Fire Personnel – Many secondary schools have police contacts, but not everyone takes the time to include the local fire captain. Reach out to them. Invite them to tour your building and give them an open invitation to your safety committee meetings. These individuals can be especially helpful in making sure drill procedures and routines in place are appropriate for the situation. 
Keep your safety related artifacts in one location.
  • Each section of the audit in our division has a page that tell us which artifacts the team will be reviewing.  Much of the time I’ve spent preparing for this involved gathering these artifacts. They include copies of facilities manuals, MSDS information, maps, protocols, and handbooks. Thankfully, most of these are available in an electronic format, and the school system allows us to share the artifacts electronically. I took these artifacts and loaded them to a Google site I created. This way, auditors only have to go to one location to look at our artifacts. 
Many school divisions perform safety audits of their facilities every two or three years. Safety protocols and procedures can be effectively reviewed on off years by maintaining an active committee tasked with making sure components of the protocol remain relevant. Keeping those components in a format that is easily revised (like Google Docs) is helpful when corrections/additions need to be made.