Thursday, January 30, 2014

Three iPad Apps I Use Everyday

I can't believe it's been three years since the school system I work in gave every administrator an iPad. It was an eye-opening experience. We were required to attend a professional development session during which our instructional technology staff walked us through setting up our devices. I remember one person celebrating when she realized her iPad still worked after she spilled coffee on it. I also remember one person in tears when she dropped her iPad in the parking lot (the screen cracked, by the way) as we were leaving the session.

My iPad and I have had a GREAT working relationship. When I first got it, I tried to do everything on it. As time went on, though, I figured out what tasks were appropriate for iPads and what tasks should be left to the computer. I'm pretty fortunate to have a laptop with a docking station in my office. So as the title indicates, I want to share the three iPad apps I use every day.

#1 - Observation 360 
Our school system requires us to enter all teacher observations in a program called Observation 360. It's part of the PD360 family. While one is able to use Observation 360 on any computer, I really do find it less imposing if I sit in the back of the room typing away on my iPad. What I really like about Observation 360 is that I can sit in a classroom, perform an observation, and send a copy of it to the teacher as soon as I finish. In most cases, I try to send the observation to the teacher before I leave their classroom. In addition, I also send them a calendar invite for their follow-up conference at the same time!

#2 - Notability
I have tried several note-taking apps, and keep going back to Notability. I find it very versatile and easy to navigate. If I'm in a PLC meeting or PD session, I can open a note page and just start typing away. If during that session I see something I want to take a picture of, I can take a pitcure with my iPad camera and upload it to that note. I can then use my stylus to write notes on that picture. I can even embed hyperlinks to cool websites shared during that session. Later, I can share my notes with my colleagues with the click of a button!

#3 - Twitter
I'm quickly beginning to realize why people become addicted to Twitter. If I have a second during the day, I'll take a quick glance at my feed. I will say that I've been a lot more methodical about setting up my Twitter account than I have my Facebook account. Facebook is for fun. Its where I stay connected with my out-of-state fans and post funny cat pictures. Twitter is for work. I follow all my favorites including @RickWormelli, @SirKenRobinson, @RichardBranson, and @ArneDuncan. I also follow CNN, the Huffington Post and ASCD just to name a few. It's amazing the ideas that can be generated from reading 120 characters of text.

I know there are other apps I use on a daily basis, but the ones I mentioned above are the ones that get opened for one reason or another every day. I would love to know what you may use to help support your own professional growth and development if you care to comment.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Supporting Teacher Leaders

In professional learning communities, I am a firm believer that they should be able to run effectively whether or not I (the school administrator) am present. A few years ago, I worked with a phenomenal teacher who I convinced to become my grade level PLC facilitator, and she did an amazing job making sure our grade level functioned as a well-oiled and completely child-centered machine.

After working alongside her for awhile, I asked her if she ever thought of going into administration. "Not on your life!" was her response. She went on to tell me that while she enjoyed the contributions to her fellow staff members and school, she was happiest working with the students.

The majority of schools have people like my fabulous PLC facilitator who serve as teacher leaders. In most cases these people go above and beyond without any extra compensation. There are, however several things we as school leaders can do to recognize and support these AMAZING individuals.

Get Them Some Leadership Training
When I pursued my degree in school administration, I learned that working with adults was going to be a lot different than working with children. Thankfully, I've been able to acquire some skills to work with them. Our teacher leaders are often expected to serve on committees, plan new initiatives, and provide coaching to their colleagues without any leadership training. If you are in a larger school system, work with your professional development department to establish a series of training or coaching sessions your teacher leaders can attend. In addition, many higher education institutions are also beginning to offer workshops and programs geared towards teacher leaders. For example, Virginia Commonwealth University (my alma-mater) offers several programs designed specifically for teacher leaders. Read more about it at

Lend Them Your Ear 
Including teachers in the decision making process is a key component of developing a strong professional learning community.  Your team leaders, department chairs, and grade level facilitators are great people to begin talking to, as they can also pass on information. When assessment data comes in, teach them how to interpret it, and get their opinion on what they notice about it. In addition, make sure they are playing an active role in the development of your school improvement plan. Teacher leaders often have a unique read on the pulse of the school, and can provide a different point of view how a new plan can affect the school on cultural and instructional levels.

Celebrate Their Accomplishments
While we may not be able to pay them what they deserve, we can certainly shower them with praise. These things should be done for all teachers who deserve it.

  • Thank you notes - I have gold star cutouts that I write notes to teachers on. These are for the little things they do every day. I know they mean a lot to the teachers because they are hanging on doors and bulletin boards in classrooms all over the building! I also write more formal letters for larger accomplishments and put a copy in their personnel file. I will also share major accomplishments with our division leaders. 
  • Performance reviews - I could write a whole post on performance reviews because they have changed dramatically in the past few years. When writing a summative evaluation, be sure to include the contributions the teacher has made. Sometimes we get focused on what happened during the classroom observation, and we all know there is so much more to this job. This will provide documentation that they have gone above and beyond their daily duties. 
  • Opportunities - Your teacher leaders should be attending conferences (and presenting at them), serving on division level committees (so others may know how fabulous they are), and acting as mentors for new teachers. 
I can't fathom having to do my job without the support of these individuals who are willing to step up and support their colleagues, their community, and their profession as teacher leaders. It's only fair that I support them in return by making sure that they have the skillset to thrive as a leader, that they have a voice in the decision making process, and that they get the recognition they deserve. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

When Students Get Chromebooks

This fall, every middle school student in the school system I work for is going to receive a Chromebook. As a middle school administrator, I've been spending a fair amount of time researching Chromebooks in education, and even created a Pinterest board dedicated to the subject to share with colleagues. In my research, two major themes related to Chromebooks in education have surfaced:

  • Implementing a Chromebook program within a school or school division
  • Ideas on how to teach with Chromebooks
Ironically, there are very few sites dedicated to getting started with Chromebooks once they end up in the hands of the students. I am a firm believer that well-developed and implemented procedures and routines are one of the key components to a successfully run class. Effective teachers have procedures for practically everything: For handing out and collecting work, for whole-class and small group instruction, for keeping notebooks organized, for transitions...I could go on, but if you've been in a classroom, you probably get the idea. When students get these Chromebooks, they are going to potentially become their backpacks, lockers, textbooks, notebooks and libraries all rolled into one. 

 Picture From -
The interesting thing about the Chromebook versus the laptop is that all student work is stored in the cloud using Google Drive. I can still imagine students losing their homework, classwork or projects within their Google Drive if they haven't been properly instructed on setting up folders for each class, with homework, classwork, and project subfolders set up within the class folders. I can also imagine them getting off task while surfing the web if teachers aren't frequently checking in on students. It's my belief that there will need to be an established set of schoolwide procedures and routines in order for teachers and students to be successful with the Chromebooks. That being said, there will still be a group of students who will require some extra supervision. 

The teachers who are going shine brightest through this initiative are the ones who  realize there will be a need to rethink their teaching practices right down to the very procedures and routines they may have been using for many years. This is going to be a MAJOR culture shift. As school leaders, we can facilitate this process by doing the following: 
  • "Walking the Talk" - We need to make these apps part of our everyday lives if we are expecting our teachers and students to do the same,
  • Conversing with teachers regarding their apprehensions over an initiative so large,
  • Providing short professional development mini-lessons to ease these apprehensions during faculty and PLC meetings; and enrichment sessions after school for those teachers who want to take the program a step further, 
  • Asking teachers for their assistance in developing some general school-wide procedures and routines to help them get started,
  • And carve out time during the instructional day for students to successfully set up their Chromebooks
    • I understand I may get some pushback here, but taking some time at the beginning of the year to get everyone on the right page to begin with will make things go a lot more smoothly later on. 
While I anticipate some people getting frustrated and discouraged along the way, I also anticipate some wonderful success stories as well. Lending a sympathetic ear to those who become frustrated will be necessary. However, It will be equally important to celebrate successes, to provide opportunities for teachers and students to share what they have learned, and to keep student success at the forefront of everything we are doing. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Teambuilding with Marshmallows

There are LOTS of uses for marshmallows...smores, Moon Pies, Fluff, hot chocolate. I could keep going on and on. Some of my best and worst memories include marshmallows. I remember my marshmallow falling off the stick into the campfire at girl scout camp, and being told to just eat the graham cracker and chocolate. I remember sitting in the kitchen eating peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches when I was younger, and then doing the same for comfort after I had grown up. 

My fondest memory involving a marshmallow had nothing to do with eating the marshmallow. It actually involved watching students of mine impale a marshmallow with a piece of uncooked spaghetti. Why would anyone do that, you ask? It's actually part of a great teambuilding activity developed by Tom Wujec called the Marshmallow Challenge. If you follow the link to his page, you can see the TED talk on the whole thing. I've tried it with students of all ages, and with the teachers I work with. 

According to Wujec: "The task is simple: in eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top." 

Sure its simple...until you have to put the marshmallow on top. 

Why is this such a great teambuilding activity? It encourages planning, collaboration, critical thinking, and reacting to the unexpected. The unexpected is that marshmallow. Sure, we consider them to be light, fluffy, innocent even; but not when one stands atop a tower of uncooked pasta held together by tape and string. An observer can also see which team members surface as leaders. 

To make it more meaningful for your group, consider posing these follow-up questions:

  • What have you learned about your teammates during this activity?
  • How did roles and responsibilities get divided during the process?
  • How was conflict addressed?
  • How would you approach this activity differently now that you know what to expect? 

The next time you need a team building activity, try it! I think your audience will find it to be engaging and educational. More importantly, I think they will learn a lot from one another as well! 


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Being an Introverted Administrator

I have gone WAY out of my comfort zone this year.

In previous posts, I have shared that I have transferred buildings. Did I mention that I am INTJ - the rarest of the personality types? Going from a building of 800 students to a building of close to 1400 students has been an adjustment. How have I coped? I'll be honest, it wasn't easy at first; but now I feel like I'm thriving!

I took advantages of two opportunities during the summer.
  • I already knew the principal I was working for. We worked together in our master's and doctoral programs. We did need to adjust the parameters of our relationship, but it was part of the change process. 
  • I had the month of July to get to know the building and core staff. The master schedule was incomplete, so I had to work through the one month I normally get off to work on it. However, it was time well spent! I got to know the core office staff and the custodial team, and they got to know me. I know I'm a slow to warm up personality, but I do warm up to people. 
By the time August came around, I had begun to form a relationship with these key stakeholders. I was comfortable in the building, and ready to meet the teachers, students, and parents.

Part of being a successful INTJ is knowing my own strengths and weaknesses. My strength is that I'm a servant leader. I lead by example, inspect what I expect, and make sure those I work with have all the resources they need to be successful. In addition, I make sure I take every opportunity I can to put myself out there, even if the opportunity goes beyond my comfort zone.

Opportunity #1 - Let's take orientation night for example. I knew I needed to use my strengths to help establish my credibility and relationship with parents. During orientation night, students and parents get their schedules and have the opportunity to walk the building. Some students don't get the schedule they requested. The lines for schedule changes were backed up, so I started helping parents and students out with their schedules. This gave me the opportunity to work one on one with parents and students, to get to know them, and to hear their opinions of the school. It also gave them the opportunity to know me.

Opportunity #2 - The first PLC meeting - So...the teachers have arrived back at school, and this is my first time getting to know them as a team. I had one shot to make a good first impression. I don't talk a lot, so I don't waste a lot of time. I made sure I developed a solid PLC agenda that set the stage for meetings to come. It included opportunities for teachers to get to know my philosophy, to understand how our meetings were going to function, and to see that the framework we were building would work for future meetings to come. Instead of doing all the talking during this initial meeting, I introduced myself, talked a little about my background, and then started asking open-ended questions which led to rich, productive discussion among the teachers. I actually had teachers coming up to me saying they appreciated that meeting because they felt they had a voice in the decision making process, and that they looked forward to future meetings.

The most important thing I've learned about being an introverted administrator is that I need to be true to myself. Going into a potentially stressful situation such as an angry parent meeting, job interview, or a tough teacher conversation pretending to be something I'm not is a recipe for disaster. If I enter these situations well prepared, ready to listen, and ready to respond; I'm likely to succeed. If I don't, I'm likely to fail, and I have no one to blame for that but myself.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Who's to Blame When We Don't Get Results? Bill Belichick Knows...

I was born and raised fifteen minutes from Gillette Stadium, then Foxboro Stadium and before that, I think Shaffer Stadium...I think. Regardless, when you grow up in the Boston area, you are likely to become a fan of Boston sports. Winning or losing, those who grew up in Boston tend to be pretty loyal to their teams. Though I have lived away from Massachusetts for close to twenty years, I still consider myself to be a New Englander and a fan of Boston sports.

As a school administrator, I spend much of my time listening to teachers thoughts on the students they work with. When our students produce failing grades, we as educators are quick to blame them, their families, the weather, the phases of the moon...anything but ourselves.

Getting back to Boston sports, there have been many times in the past year when I have been proud to call myself a Bostonian; beginning with the response to the Boston Marathon tragedy. I still have hanging outside my office, the phrase "Tough, Proud, Brave, Free, Strong...Boston". My most recent feeling of Boston pride comes with Bill Belichick's response to the Patriots' loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship. When asked about the loss, his response included the following quote:

“I wish we could’ve done a little bit better job today — especially me,” 

While Belichick indicates that he felt the players could have performed better, he also factors himself into that equation. He took some of the blame for that loss. He held himself accountable for his actions.

I know I get frustrated when I hear teachers blaming performance on the kids. I get so frustrated sometimes that I start blaming the teachers. Though this process is unproductive, it needs to happen for a few moments anyway. Hopefully it happens within the confines of your PLC or team, and hopefully this "placing of the blame" causes us to look at all stakeholders...even ourselves. Before we can improve student performance, we need to include ourselves as a key component of the equation.

As we get into assessment season, I hope that we as educators are looking at all facets of accountability, including that facet which we have the most amount of control over: ourselves.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Encouraging Differentiated Instruction

The building I work in has undergone so many changes in the past few years. Can we say four principals in three years? Oh, and I'm new there too. We have spent a lot of this year establishing trust among the teachers we work with while taking a "back to basics" approach to the way teaching and learning takes place. We've had to think long and hard about the changes and initiatives we've decided to implement this year.

For example, I have been working with SpEd teachers on increasing the use of differentiated instruction strategies. There were a lot of factors which led to our decision to move forward with this. The main factor was that our SpEd students just weren't performing as well as they should, and a learning walk showed that there wasn't a lot of differentiation going on.

So, here's what we have done so far

We've taken a pulse
  • We obtained different viewpoints from department chairs, instructional specialists, and also talked with classroom teachers about their needs
  • When we conducted our learning walks, we all used the same observation form, and when we completed our observations, debriefed as a group, and recorded our findings on one form.
  • We shared our results with the teachers, as well as our plan for providing assistance.
We developed a data-driven plan
  • We worked with our division instructional specialists to provide training to SpEd teachers and the core content teachers they collaborate with
  • We made sure the professional development included some strategies that teachers would meet instant success with if they tried them
  • We provided follow-up activities during department and faculty meetings
We tweaked the plan
  • We conducted follow-up observations
  • We talked to teachers during post observation conferences. It was also a great opportunity to reflect with them on their past experiences. 
  • Articles of interest were emailed to teachers, and discussions surroundings those articles were held during department meetings
  • During faculty meetings, we showcased those teachers who were having success with these strategies so that their coworkers could share in their success, and
  • We plan on starting this cycle all over again...
When implementing any sort of initiative, you need to remember that as a school leader it all starts with you. Your teachers and staff will follow your lead. You need to show your passion and enthusiasm for this, be willing to model and inspect your expectations, and continue to do so for any initiative you want to see become a permanent part of your school's culture. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Different Way to Think of Remediation

I'm all for thinking outside the box.

I'm lucky to be one of three assistant principals in my building of 1400 students. We each oversee a grade level (I have 6th grade this year) and we are each responsible for specific departments. This year I am responsible for the science, math, and SpEd departments.

Our school system gives us algebra readiness funds to assist in providing our students with remediation in math. It's not a lot of money, so we need to spend it wisely. We want to make sure we are getting the biggest bang for the buck so we are trying a different approach to remediation this year. A lot of what we are doing goes along with the Dufour's thoughts on remediation, which include providing students with additional time for intensive instruction.

As we are planning to launch our intensive math remediation program in the second semester, we are currently in the planning process. We are developing remediation sessions according to concept instead of providing "extra help" sessions like we did in the past. This prompts teachers to look at the specific areas of remediation their students need, and also allows students from different grade levels to participate in the same remediation session. In addition, we are looking at web based programs like Buzzmath to provide additional targeted practice for our students.

Here's where the time is coming from:

  • Saturdays - Yes, Saturdays. Each Saturday session will be dedicated to a specific concept. Students will also be given a snack break, given lab time, and possibly even have time to play games. Part of any remediation program should include opportunities for students to learn to LOVE the subject they are struggling with. Topics will be revisited as we get closer to assessment season. 
  • After school - Right now, we are considering having computer labs open twice a week after school. These labs would be monitored by math teachers. Students can come in, work on the computer, and get small group or one-on-one help. 
  • During school - We actually have an advisory period dedicated to enrichment and remediation. This is an ideal opportunity for those students who may have transportation issues. These will need to be mini-lessons which will hopefully act as a "turbo shot" of math information. 
I'm excited about our plan, especially about the opportunity for students to learn to love something they were once struggling with. I may seem overly optimistic, but when working with children, one has to shoot for the stars!