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The Common Core – A Challenge or an Opportunity?

When looking at the Common Core, I see more opportunity than I do challenges. I see the opportunity for teachers to engage more in the “art” of teaching. I see the opportunity for greater focus and financial support to integrate the 21st Century tools our students use in their personal lives. I see the opportunity to take all students to application and synthesis as part of their learning.   I see the opportunity for teachers to engage in the art of teaching. As a profession, we have spent significant time and resources on training our teachers in the science of teaching, direct interactive instruction and implementing researched based curriculum in a structured and consistent manner. The importance of this can not be understated as we consider Bloom’s taxonomy and providing our students with the foundational skills needed and acquired through gaining knowledge and developing skills to support comprehension. However, as we get into the higher levels of learning that support students as critical thinkers where they begin experimenting, comparing ideas, evaluating outcomes and imagining possibilities, we need to engage with them from the heart. Teaching and learning involve emotion. We can inspire a student. We can also bore a student. The Common Core with it’s focus on critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration create opportunities for teachers to engage the mind and help students understand the “why” of their learning and the “why” of what they are learning.   Part of the transition to the Common Core will be in changing the mind-set of educators on how they approach the presentation of lessons in the classroom. There will have to be a shift in professional development, the tools used to support the learning of both the teacher and the student and how we teach students to express their understanding. It will take a while to adjust from a long-held practice of filling in bubbles and circling the correct answer to supporting students in articulating how they have arrived at their conclusions, but this approach will ultimately engage the learner in much deeper learning.   Transitions can cause trepidation. Thirteen years after the No Child Left Behind Act, a policy that strongly encouraged a very regimented approach to teaching, our educators are being asked to make quick shift in their practice. It will take time to make the mental adjustment, to engage in professional development and reading that support our teachers’ expertise and to implement changes in the classroom that support the Common Core. Educators are by a nature a conscientious group of people. They want to do what is best for their students. They want to meet the expectations set forth by their profession. It can however feel challenging to have to sway with the winds of both the State and Federal legislature as politicians define the focus of instructional expectations and the funding that is allocated to support the changes of those expectations.   It is our responsibility as administrators to teach our teachers and our communities. It is our responsibility to support our educators in understanding the origin of and the “why” behind the Common Core. It is our responsibility to assist our teachers in understanding the caliber of input that was provided by our professional colleagues toward informing this educational policy.   In order to successfully make this shift with buy-in from the teachers who are charged with modifying their current practice, we need to provide them with the knowledge, tools, professional development and time to adapt their practice. This will be done through an allocation of resources that will allow for the opportunity to engage in study and professional collaboration combined with the sharing of ideas, successes and failures. A well-organized Professional Learning Community focused on the successful implementation of the Common Core can support this. As the teacher’s pedagogical approach shifts they will need access to 21st Century learning tools that will support their instruction in conjunction with on-going professional development on how to incorporate these into the classroom instructional model.   Ensuring and monitoring the success of Common Core implementation will be measured not only by the data collected from students’ Smarter Balance testing results, but also by how teachers’ instructional practices change, the tools they use, their knowledge base and comfort level with teaching to the higher level of learning that the Common Core has set forth as well as student work samples and projects. In order to evaluate on-going progress and success, site leadership should take time at the beginning of the year to collect baseline information on their staffs’ comfort level with the new standards, how confident they feel in the professional development they have been provided with, what tools and instructional strategies are currently being used in the classroom, the level of buy-in they have to the Common Core. After gathering this information, site staff and it’s instructional leadership team can decide on goals for the year and what type of professional development should be provided to support the goals for the site as a whole and for individual teachers looking to gain specific areas of expertise. The same survey given at the beginning of the year should be given to the staff again at the end of the year. Once the results are analyzed, they should be presented to the site’s instructional leadership team and then to the full staff. This process should be cyclical and can become a part of the planning done during the spring to plan for the following school year.   Are these challenges or opportunities? I understand the mind-set of viewing these as challenges, particularly in terms of funding a transition of this magnitude, but I do see great opportunity in the process of making this change. It appears that as educators, we may be participating in a revolution of our education system; a revolution that may have a similar impact on how we teach as the industrial revolution did. I suspect this period of history will one day be studied for the influence it is having on society in the same manner in which the impact of the industrial revolution is studied for its effect on our culture. This is an exciting time.

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Flipping PD with Google Docs

IScreen Shot 2013-10-20 at 1.12.18 PM‘ve been impressed by the Flipped Learning Concept from the moment I saw my first Khan Academy video. My son, who has a gift for mathematics, was in the fifth grade at the time and we had several years of well intentioned mathematics instruction behind us. We knew we were coming to a particularly crucial point in his education as he got ready for his middle school years. During his 6th grade year, he sat in a classroom with a pre-algebra book, largely teaching himself, while the teacher conducted the regular 5th grade math lesson for the rest of the class. Thank you Samuel Khan for coming to the rescue. We spent evenings watching instructional videos and his class time was spent working on math problems with little interruption to the teacher for clarification.

Fast forward a few years and I’m impressed by my teacher colleagues who have adopted this approach to teaching by personalizing their own flipped instruction using resources such as Google Docs, Show Me, YouTube, Screencast-o-Matic and SnagIt. As a principal and instructional leader who appreciates how valuable my staff’s time is, I have decided to embrace the concept of Flipping Professional Development. Rather than using our staff meetings for presentations, resources on information on the professional development topic will be shared with staff prior to the meeting and the time will be used for staff to collaborate on improving their professional practice.
The next staff meeting/professional development session will focus on collecting baseline data and writing baseline statements for IEPs. Information and resources will be shared via a Google Presentation prior to the meeting with the expectation that staff will review the materials prior to the professional development session and with the hope that they find the material relevant and worth their time.
With a nod to walking the walk when it comes to baseline data, a Google Form will be sent to staff prior to the session to collect data on their opinions to participating in a Flipped PD model. The data will be presented at the beginning of the staff meeting. The meeting will end with a post session survey collecting data on staff’s opinion regarding their participation in the Flipped Model Session. With gratefulness to those who have gone before me and shared examples of what has gone well as well as what didn’t work, I have prepared our first Flipped PD session.
For those of you reading this blog who are already flipping instruction and PD sessions, I invite you to leave comments about your successes as well as what you’ve learned from when it didn’t go as expected. I believe the most valuable part of this post could end up being found in the comments section as we share our experiences.
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Investing in Motivated Lead Learners

Screen Shot 2013-10-12 at 2.44.34 PMInvesting in teachers, support staff and their professional development is one of the most important responsibilities of the educational leader. I have been blessed to work in an organization that believes in people in the number one resource for student success and when hiring uses the motto, “Hire for character, teach for skill.” This philosophy has created a culture of motivated adult learners who continually seek to improve their professional practice and knowledge base.

Four  years ago, under the vision of a gifted program specialist and assistant superintendent who believed in investing in employees as professionals, what is now referred to as the Core 7 Professional Development Model began. The goal was to develop teacher expertise in evidence-based practices for students on the autism spectrum. (See the National Professional Development’s Center AIM Resources – http://www.autisminternetmodules.org/user_mod.php). Since the onset of this vision, the program has grown to include one full release day per month for morning teacher collaboration directed by the teachers themselves. This is followed by an afternoon of group training which includes the expectation that management staff participate in the learning of the practice being focused on for the month. In addition, monthly staff meeting time has become a focused professional development session on the topic of the month. Parents, community members and educators from other districts are invited to attend as well as classified staff who are paid for their time.

One of the greatest discoveries of diving into these practices was finding out that these effective strategies are not limited to success with students on the spectrum. Rather, these practices are a foundation for good teaching in general. For example, looking at classroom structure as an antecedent based intervention to support positive student behaviors is effective in all educational environments. We see evidence of video-modeling across skill and subject matters as the Flipped Classroom grows in popularity, not to mention how often youtube videos are used on a daily basis by the average learner to support picking up skills such as learning how to tie a tie.

It is now the fourth year of implementation of the Core 7 Model. The results are a certificated and classified staff of motivated adult learners, as well as the ability to attract highly motivated applicants for open positions. During the interview process, when we begin with the question, “Tell us about why you are interested in this position?” it is not uncommon to hear responses such, “I’ve heard that you in invest in the professional development of your people and they’re trained to be successful.” “I want to work with children and I heard you have good training that would be help me do a good job.” These results and responses serve as a powerful testimonial of the importance of investing in our educators as Lead Learners who are than able to collaborate, coach and train with each to become expert educators.

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Building Trust – The First Step

ImageI recently had an experience in which my trust relationship with an employee was broken. The experience has been cause for a significant amount of reflection in which I’ve been asking myself what was missing in the foundation of the expectations. How could I have responded differently to the situation? The trust wasn’t just broken from my perspective. I feel comfortable that the employee feels the same way. Knowing this has led me to ask several reflective questions: How do I lead in repairing the relationship? Why is it important to repair the relationship? What was missing to start with that allowed the event to occur? The more thought I give the situation, the more I see that there is a crack in the foundation.

The Crack in the Foundation

ImageAs a principal and instructional leader, there is an inherent responsibility to provide staff with a clear understanding of the organization’s foundational values and vision. The larger vision on which our education system is built is to teach students to become independent citizens. In this case the instructional goal that supports that vision was to have students with severe handicaps participate in a general education lunch while developing skills to be able to transition to participating in this activity independently. Yet, as I reflect on the practice that was occurring, it strikes me that the goal wasn’t clearly communicated, the steps provided in the training weren’t being implemented and the materials to support the training weren’t available. There is a huge crack in this foundation.

The “glitch” in the goal was the difference in understanding that the expectation for achieving independence is expected in all activities on campus, not just the classroom. Directions have been given over a series of years that support a generalized concept of taking students to lunch which is very different from, “Use the prompting model and visual supports (training and materials provided to meet expectations) to support students in walking to the cafeteria, getting their lunch, sitting at the assigned table and taking in their meal with 100% independence by the beginning of February.” This goal than needed to be broken into clearly defined objectives to provide staff with an understanding of the process that it will take to get there. For example, an objective such as, “Support students in getting their food by using visual and gestural prompts after oral directions have been given. Provide 5 seconds of wait time in between prompts.” In clearly defining the goal and the objectives, staff would have had more knowledge on how to apply the training they have received in this specific situation. Clear expectations go a long way toward building trust.

In this particular situation, I noticed that staff didn’t have the visual prompts that have been created to support the prompting model built into the training they have received on how to support students with both receptive and expressive communication. It struck me that staff may not be clear that these materials are to be used at all times and not just during specific curricular activities. Again, clear expectations go a long way toward building trust. Staff need to understand what is expected of them at all times in order to be successful.

The situation has turned out to be blessing in disguise. We continuously look at how to improve programs and while the situation was incredibly uncomfortable, it has allowed for the realization that there are cracks in the foundation. The expectations were not as clear to staff as management thought they were. We’ll side step for a moment, fix the crack in the foundation, continue to build trust and grow strong programs for students.

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A Moral Responsibility

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As educators it is important that we have a clearly defined personal philosophy of education. While this seems like a straightforward and obvious statement, defining that philosophy, allowing for it to develop with our experiences, articulating and defending it require careful thought. As I reflect on my personal philosophy of education, I see how easy it is to jump into the catch phrases of, “I believe all children can learn,” “I believe all children should be able to attend a safe and welcoming school,” and yes, these are parts of the ethical considerations, but if we were to apply Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to this study, these statements would fall at the foundational level of meeting the physiological, safety and belonging needs.

It is in looking at the level of self-actualization including morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, prejudice and acceptance that one’s true philosophy can be found. Thus stated, I believe we have a moral obligation to presume competence on the part of all students. While the American educational system espouses a desire for higher levels of achievement, the system is set up to support mediocrity. It is imperative that we meet learners where they are. It is essential to engage the gifted student in ways that challenge them to grow intellectually in ways that the student finds engaging and relevant I find it heart-breaking that the Thiel Fellowship http://www.thielfellowship.org/ is where our most gifted students have to go to reach their potential. It is through dropping out of college and our educational system that their gifts are being developed. I am grateful that Peter Thiel has created this fellowship and has taken on this moral responsibility and saddened that our society and legislature function in a system so focused on a standardized process that we do not support the innovators of our society.

At the same time, we also have and equal responsibility to students who are labeled as disabled. There are gifts and far higher levels of understanding among these students who do not blend or express themselves in non-traditional methods of communication than most give them credit for. There is a moral obligation to assist all members of society in finding and providing the means for them to express their voice and to engage their minds and bodies to reach their highest levels of potential.

The importance of combining both the art and the science of teaching as well as the research based with the innovative cannot be understated. It should not be either or. Education has an obligation to be creative, to combine the planned with the spontaneous, to let go of pre-conceived notions of learning, particularly those designed around a system designed for the industrial era, to let go of our prejudices and be open to considering the multitude of modalities available to engage, teach and inspire.

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21st Century Pedagogy

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There are times when we all come across something that we know must be shared and shared widely. As part of my coursework for IEASC (Innovative Educator Advanced Studies Certificate) I came across a math video put together by Dan Myer. I was so intrigued, I googled him and discovered his fabulous web page – http://blog.mrmeyer.com/

Regardless of what subject you may teaching, your student may be learning or you may be supervising, I encourage you to watch the Youtube video above explaining how video can, perhaps should, be used to support instruction.

If you are interested in learning more about IEASC, this excellent certificate coursework is on-line instruction.  It is offered by CUE and Fresno Pacific University and includes a Leading Edge Certification. http://www.cue.org/ieasc

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Diving In – Why Lead?

ImageIt’s time…time to finally start the blog, to share the thoughts and the inspirations that are helping define a career in education. 

Let’s start with, “Why Lead?” There are many reasons one may end up in a leadership role, but why the choice? For myself, leadership is the venue in which I find the opportunity to serve others, specifically other educators and students. After 17 years of teaching, I had experienced the good, the bad and the ugly when it came to education leadership. The most inspiring leader to come across my path during those this time was a middle school custodian who I imagine would not characterize himself as a leader.

Oscar is a man who does dive right in. If there is a need, he makes sure it is met. If there is a student who needs something, he quietly makes it happen, if there is a classroom that needs some extra attention, he is there to provide it and most profoundly, I watched Oscar take one at risk student after another under his wing for many years. Quietly, understated, never looking for attention or credit, Oscar connected with students who found themselves not being successful in the classroom. He modeled what it means to be a servant leader.

As a teacher of the “intervention” and special education students, I had frequent opportunities to connect with Oscar. While I often struggled getting the support I was looking for to help my kiddos when I sought this from administration, I quickly found that if Oscar knew there was a need, I or my student would end up being connected with the right person. Ultimately we ended up with a team of four. None of us ever spoke of what was being provided for our students. Nobody saw it as being anything special – just helping kids out. Now that I am in a new role with a different organization and focusing more on the study of leadership, I see the power and the impact of the leadership Oscar provided.

Students were provided with clothing, food, groceries, showers and mentors in jobs in which they could see themselves aspiring to. I suspect several of my “at risk” students will end up being custodians, school cafeteria workers and school office administrative assistants. They are likely to model this same style of leadership, have the same impact on another generation of children and do it in a quiet, understated manner, never seeking credit.

So, why lead? I have chosen to lead through the role of an administrator. I lead to support the work of and clear the paths for the the teachers, custodians, bus drivers, classroom assistants, cafeteria workers and volunteers who aren’t just showing up for work, but showing up because they believe in giving to others and supporting the potential of each student they come into contact with.