Wednesday, December 18, 2019

It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Final Exams

As we embark as parents with a high school freshmen, we have had many adjustments. No adjustment has been more difficult than the preparation for finals. I’m going to be upfront - we need to get rid of this archaic practice of assessment. Now, before you stop reading or roll your eyes, I did some action research in talking with some educators across the country (and even some at my son’s school). 

Here is what I learned:
  1. We do finals because that’s what we’ve always done. Yep. we give students a final exam because we had final exams. Ridiculous.
  2. It’s part of our student learning objective (SLO) that is tied to our evaluation. Okay. Let’s dig deeper. If you are measuring success you probably started with a pre-assessment at the beginning of the year. If you did you have a way to measure growth. Establish a scale that honors growth over performance. 
  3. The final measures learning. Wrong. The final measures how well the student used the study guide that you gave them to prepare for a test. Let’s not even mention that many of these assessment assess Quad A Learning.
  4. We need to have it as part of the education program. Wrong. I talked with a high school administrator in another state and they don’t give finals.

So what do finals do for students?
  1. Creates unnecessary stress. 
  2. Reinforces facts are more important than deep critical thinking. 
  3. Reduces a semester worth of work in to one grade that isn’t an accurate reflection of learning. Note: This sounds eerily familiar to a state accountability test that most teachers oppose because it’s one moment of learning in time for an entire year’s or work.
  4. Develops a game out of learning - only focus on the study guide. 
  5. Lowers the overall grade for the semester (in most cases according to a high school teacher).

What can we do instead?
  1. Build collaborative opportunities for end of semester projects. Allow students choice in selecting topics from the semester (either from a list or on their own). Give them a rubric for the expected learning. Offer them to work independently, partners, or in groups. 
  2. Have a conversation. Meet with students individually or in small groups to talk about their learning. Let them share orally their learning and growth. Have a conversation. They can even put in writing what they learned.
  3. Give them a new topic. Based on the skills acquired over the semester, have them research and present a topic that extends the curriculum,
  4. If you MUST give an assessment (really ponder why first) whatever you do don’t weight the assessment. If you have a culture of respect and trust (relationships) than they will do their personal best. You don’t need to weight it to “make it matter”.

Why did I write this? Besides getting off my chest and stepping on a soap box (let’s admit it’s a pretty high step), it’s to generate conversations. Let’s rethink, reassess, and reorganize our mindset around the purpose and value of assessments. With that in mind, I’m off to help my son study for his Spanish and math final exams. Good thing he has two loving parents to support him at home.

Monday, July 22, 2019

It's a Beautiful Day for a Neighbor

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?

These lyrics always instill two emotions from me: happiness and sadness – both – at the same time.

I vividly remember watching Mr. Rogers and feeling a sense of joy that the world is going to be okay, as long as we do our part to make the world a beautiful place. Then, I think of the world today and all the violence, anger, and frustration – it makes me sad that so many have forgotten these easy thoughts.

With the resurgence of both the documentary and the upcoming movie release starring Tom Hanks, I was inspired to write this blog today based on the love Fred Rogers shared that will live in infamy.

As school leaders, we have a moral obligation to lead and model the way to be a beautiful neighbor. “So let's make the most of this beautiful day” and check out these
three quotes Fred Rogers states (based on the trailer) and let’s explore the implications for our work as eduleaders.

1.    “We are trying to give the world many positive ways to deal with their feelings.”
As school leaders, we must create opportunities each and every day for our students and staff to express their words and feelings in healthy way that are open and honest. Make time each morning to conduct a classroom meeting to discuss the day’s events of the previous evening. Or share a situation that occurred in school yesterday and break down how to handle the situation differently next time. We need to model in our classrooms each and every day how to handle situations when conflict occurs.
Note: Regardless of your level (elementary, middle, or high), we must call out inappropriate behavior and give alternatives for ways in which we handle challenging situations. We are called to help all kids be successful – we must develop positive relationships with students first then worry about our content second.

2.    “Sometimes we have to ask for help and that’s okay.”

School is a place where we learn from our mistakes. No one likes to be wrong and make mistakes. We must push students to try and fail. Then, reflect on our learning and grow from the experiences. Many of our students are fearful of making mistakes (let’s be honest – so are we!). We need to create safe environments where we can ask for help without feeling ridicule, sadness, or embarrassment. Use a quick Google Form and ask your students if they feel comfortable asking for help? What do you find out? How do you respond? Develop a focus group of students and adults to review the information. Act on the findings. Ensure school is a place where mistakes are okay, and help can be given to those who need it. Check out Way #33 in Instructional Change Agent” for more information.

3.    “I think the best thing we can do is to let people know that each one of them is precious.”

When is the last time you told a student he/she is valued? When have you told him/her you are glad you are school today? We may think we do this, but do we enter into a conversation with each student every day? When I taught secondary level, I had 100+ students and I felt disconnected from my students because there were just so many to keep track of each day. I found myself worrying about the masses and not the individuals. So, I pulled out a secret from my own middle school teacher Cindy Kiefer. I greeted each student at the door, shook his/her hand, and told him/her I was glad he/she was at school (or other variations).
I also divided my class into fifths. I made sure each day I spoke to those students about life, interests, and things outside of language arts. This was a challenge and felt a little forced at times. But, I stuck with it and became more natural. I spent less time ‘on the list’ and more time on the conversations. All students need to know they are precious and special. We must go the extra effort in ensuring they feel this way. Remember, students won’t learn from people they don’t like. By working each and every day to build a solid relationship we are ensuring that we help students reach their potential! Each student needs to know they are precious. You can make that happen.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Minute Meetings: Giving Students a Voice to Improve School Culture

 Originally posted on the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Shaped blog.

This blog post is part of a series on how school leaders can become instructional change agents. In last week’s post, Adam Drummond offered insight into how education leaders can serve as instructional change agents. 

When was the last time you intentionally talked to a student about his or her learning? How did that conversation go? What did you do as a result of the feedback you received? With whom did you share that information? How does the student voice impact your culture?

Research tells us that when we include students in decisions, we save time, energy, and resources.
ked to a student about his or her learning? How did that conversation go? What did you do as a result of the feedback you received? With whom did you share that information? How does the student voice impact your culture?

See more here:

To learn more about improving school culture and acting for impact in your district, join Adam Drummond, Author for ICLE, and learn his new book, The Instructional Change Agent: 48 Ways to Be the Leader Your School Needs.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

How School Leaders Can Become Instructional Change Agents

 Originally posted on the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Shaped blog.

This blog post is part of a series on how school leaders can become instructional change agents. In next week’s post, Adam Drummond will offer advice on how to determine ways to improve school culture.

I glance at the clock, and it reads 6:30 p.m. on a Friday night. I sigh heavily and return my focus to the dual screens at my desk. The screens show a teacher evaluation I’m working on, as well as the upcoming round of NWEA testing for students. Email notifications continue to chirp in with messages from teachers, district folks, and parents. My fourth-grade son is hanging out somewhere in the school while I stare at the countless “to do’s” piling up before my eyes.

See more here:

To learn more about improving school culture and acting for impact in your district, join Adam Drummond, Author for ICLE, and learn his new book, The Instructional Change Agent: 48 Ways to Be the Leader Your School Needs.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Student Discipline - Another Way to Support Students & Teachers

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and getting the same results. This is how I felt as a new school principal when I dealt with discipline. Within a few weeks, I could tell you exactly what was going to happen when a discipline issue made its way to my office.

  1. Teacher calls down to office about student.
  2. Student either comes to office or I escort them to office.
  3. Teacher shares what happens and leaves (because they have students in the classroom).
  4. Student is upset.
  5. Student either yells, cries, or goes silent.
  6. Student eventually shares what happened.
  7. Student and teacher story doesn’t match.
  8. I wasn’t there and am now batting cleanup. The need to support the teacher is necessary, yet the student perspective weighs on my heart.
  9. Offer a solution that isn’t really going to change behavior. I tried to use natural consequences.
  10. I’ve spent anywhere from 15-30 minutes on the said discipline issue.

Sure, the steps may have varied time to time. But, this was the Groundhog’s Day experience.

Somewhere in my second or third year as principal two things made me turn behavior upside down in some cases.
  • Teachers give up control when they send a student to the office and loss of respect and trust occur between student and teacher.
  • The discipline issue almost always had a broken relationship between teacher and student.
Instead of following the 11 Steps of Madness, I turned the entire process on it’s head. I probably should have warned the first unknowing teacher what I was about to do. But, it came to me as I walked to her room from the office to retrieve a student for their 100th time (it seemed like it).

I got to the door and the teacher shared all the infractions that said student did. She had him at the door ready to leave. He heard it all and I could see the anger in his face.

I asked the student to wait inside the classroom and asked the teacher to join me just outside the door. Then, the following happened.
  • I shared that the only two people who can change the behavior in the classroom is the student and the teacher.
  • I will support you (the teacher) in any consequence and even help brainstorm the consequence with you. But, you are going to deliver the consequence to the student.
  • But, before the consequence you must spend 10-15 minutes talking with the student to learn his perspective, share your perspective, and get to the root cause of why the behaviors were occurring. The key is for you to listen to his feelings and perspective.
  • You need to develop a plan that you can both agree upon.
  • While you do this, I will teach your class.
You read the last bullet correctly! I traded spots with the teacher. While she had a conference with the student, I worked with the other 26 students in her classroom. What’s my thinking you are asking right now…
  1. I am going to spend 15-30 minutes dealing with the incident and I wasn’t there.
  2. The relationship is between the student and the teacher. By her conferencing with the student, the perceived power rests with the teacher and no longer with me. I am now just a “Yes Man”. I support and reiterate the decision of the teacher.
  3. The teacher and student work on his/her relationship.
  4. I get to work with 26 other students – something we rarely get to do!  I get to build different relationships because many of the students I rarely get to spend time with. Plus, I get to hone my own teaching skills so they don’t get rusty and I get too far removed from the art and science of teaching and learning.
The process worked beautifully. Did it solve all behavior issues? Of course not, but there were far less incidents. I didn’t use it every single time, but I used it frequently enough that we started to see our culture of discipline slowly change. There were less referrals, students were less angry at teachers, and everyone seemed to love what they did a little bit more.

Sure, there was a learning curve for everyone – students, teachers, and me. But, the benefits outweighed the challenges.

Remember, 100% of the students, 100% of the time. Think outside the box. Above all else – be tenacious! 

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Power of Reflection

If you've been an educator you know that more than 1000 decisions are made in a single given day. From instructional design choices to feedback for students, we are in a mentally exhausting position each and every day. Please note mentally exhausting does not mean that we don't love what we do. That's hardly the opposite. To know that we have the ability to impact three generations of family members each year is an opportunity that inspires, challenges, and if we are honest - terrifies - some days or weeks.

Sometime we are challenged in the day to day decisions that we make that we forget to stop and reflect on the actual work we are doing (think of a hamster wheel right now)! it's easy to get caught up in each moment and those moments pile on top of each other. But, a critical piece in making the BEST decision in our classrooms and schools occur when we have spent time in reflection about the work of you - the educator - and our students.

I know you are thinking, "My internal voice is reflecting with me all day long." I get it. But, what I am talking about is a different type of reflection. This is a deep, purposeful reflection on the work that happens in your role as an educator. We need to spend time thinking critical about how our students are learning, and how my voice impacts that learning.

Consider the idea of Friday Reflections to build purposeful reflection in your daily life.

Friday afternoons: Let's face it. End of the day Friday is often the least productive day of the work week for many. So, instead of wasting this time let's put it to good use. Spend 30 minutes every Friday after students leave and journal about how the week went for you. Consider these questions:
  1. What went well this week and, why did it go well?
  2. What did not go well this week, and why did it not go well?
  3. What one activity assumed the most amount of time for the week, and how did it better the school because of the time spent?
  4. What are your three goals for next week, and how will you achieve these goals?
  5. What do you identify as a major obstacle for next week, and how will you manage the expectations for this task?
      Consider keeping a weekly journal as you answer these five questions. What you will find by spending time in personal reflection around these questions is that you feel accomplished about your work week (who doesn't want to feel good?), and you have your priorities set for the next week before you leave for the weekend (a focus for the next week eases anxiety and offers direction). 

      Give it a shot. Commit to the next four Fridays. It could change your outlook and your effectiveness. If nothing else, you give your brain some mental space to breathe! We all need that every now and then! 

      Hint: If you want to keep your responses electronically, consider creating a Google Form (see image). Happy Friday. It's almost time for me to reflect on my week. How about you?

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Patience is a Gift

It's the time of year where we count our blessings, love our family and friends, and appreciate the wonderful season of the Holidays. But, after the lights are down, the holiday food is over, the real challenge can often begin. It can even be harder for our children of all ages.

The first of the year can be a challenge for our students as they return from a holiday break that might not mirror the love and hope we experienced in our home. They return to school with needs having been unmet. We come back to school and there are many days of learning back to back to back. So, what's the best gift you can give your students to the start of 2019?


You can give patience.

Yes, we have been in school for a semester and they should know what to do.
Yes, it should be no surprise that students are expected to work independently during independent work time.
yes, we should be kind to our peers and to the adults.

But, let's face it that is not always the reality. When those moments occur that disrupt the 'natural flow' of learning, give patience. It's not something that is guaranteed or promised to anyone. But, I promise giving patience can make the difference between a great day and a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day!

Try these three strategies to give the gift of patience for the new year.

1. Breathe deeply. There are moments in our classroom where we may have to repeat ourselves several times or a student says something they should not to you. Resist the urge to jump on your emotions. Take three deep breathes and determine the choices you can make. Three deep breathes can make the difference in how we deal with a student issue before we make a mountain our of a mole hill.

2. Laugh often. See the humor in circumstances. When a little child decides to skip in line instead of walking down the line as she should, chuckle to yourself. Be appreciative that she has that much joy and love in life that skipping sounds so fun. In fact, try letting everyone skip. See what happens. Lots of smiles. High school friends - they may not skip in the hallway, but there are some great one liners kids say. Enjoy them and call them out!

3. Give Options. There are some 'battles' not worth fighting. If a student needs a pencil and doesn't have one, have options ready. Perhaps it's a borrow basket, ask a friend, or use a pen. A student asking for a pencil means she/he is wanting to work! Celebrate the small things. Anticipate options that allow choice for students to ask. When we have options its easier for us to practice patience.

Give patience as a gift. If you don't, who will?

It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Final Exams

As we embark as parents with a high school freshmen, we have had many adjustments. No adjustment has been more difficult than the...