On Reflection (is it right to mandate a late work policy school-wide?)

homeworkLast year we created a late work policy for our freshman class.  We asked teachers to let them have two weeks past the due date to turn work in, and if they did so, as long as the work was satisfactory, the work would receive a passing grade.  The idea was not to allow these students to take an F on an assignment.  If a student had missing work, the assistant principal would literally hunt them down….well call them in, and design a plan to for them to get the work finished.  This plan usually included a call home and assignment to stay after school and attend our teacher led study tables.  This did not cure all of our freshmen, but it made a very big impact on a group of these students.  It did make some more work for the staff, and I commend each and every one of those teachers for taking the extra time to make sure that students had their missing work and for grading those assignments.  There are students who literally owe those staff members and Mr. Cox, our assistant principal, a huge debt of gratitude for saving them credits and possibly giving them a chance to graduate with their class.  Okay. So that is the story about last year.  It was semi-successful.  So what should we do about it?  We (admin team) decided that we should expand it school-wide.  All students should be given extra time to complete work for passing credit.  No student should be allowed to simply take a zero and not turn things in.  I asked my staff what it is we are measuring?  Are we measuring the behavior of turning things in on time? Or, are we measuring growth and learning?  If we allow students to take zeros, we are saying that the learning is not important…..in my opinion.  If assessing progress on a particular skill is important enough to assess it and make it a part of a student’s grade, then we should make sure they do it right?  If we don’t, how do we know they can do it?  How do we know if we successfully taught the skill or concept? Some of my staff and I do not see eye to eye on this and that is alright.  What is not alright though is to continue to do things the way they have always been done and expect different results.  I am malleable on this issue.  If someone has a better idea than me, so be it.  Last week I caught part of a chat on Twitter that was exploring about late policies and exchanged in a dialogue with a fellow administrator:

I think Reed has some good reasoning in the linked policy above.  What do you think? I realize that I may have made this top down decision without making all the considerations I should have.  Maybe I should have spent more time with staff thinking about it out loud and addressing their concerns.  In my mind, education is a practice much like medicine.  Sometimes we find out what we have been doing was the exact opposite what we should have been doing.  We (I) need to be smart enough to assess what we are doing, gather the evidence, do a little research, and try things to address the “what do I do to get kids to turn things in” question.  I want your thoughts and opinions here!  To be continued…..(are we just putting a band aid on a symptom here? Is the real issue the fact that we are asking our students to do things that are completely irrelevant to them?  Tune in next week…..)

Photo courtesy of Nathaniel Watson’s photostream on Flickr

What Does Student Engagement Look Like?

boredEngagement, as a condition that exists in the classroom, is not always easily defined.  To steal a quote from Justice Potter Stewart when describing something hard to define: “I know it when I see it.” There is a certain energy in a classroom of engaged students.  There is movement, chatter, discussion, disagreement, and no one person is the center of attention.  We can say all we want about student centered learning, but until we realize that students want to be in charge of their own learning, we are going to have a hard time engaging them.  Do not get me wrong, we have to guide, persuade, sell, and curate their direction, but learners want to be actively involved in the lesson.  So many times I walk down the halls at PHS and notice the varied degrees of active student learning.  When students are not passively listening or completing desk work, they are much more involved….engaged.  I can watch the same student in various classes and see the difference an active classroom has.  The engaged class is not waiting for the bell to ring, they are disappointed that it does.  The challenge for teachers is to make the content available in an active exercise.  In an engaging classroom students interact with information, resources, each other, and perhaps the world at large instead of being dependent on a text or the teacher for their learning.

Photo courtesy of Roobee’s Flickr Photostream

I See You, I Got You, & I Love You

IgotuWhat happens when 75 adults and 300 teenagers “lower the waterline” and let others really know them?  What is the affect of bullies telling their victims they are sorry in front of a large crowd of their peers?  How do students react when they find out that many of their school peers have experienced some horrible emotional situations?  What is it like for students when their teachers, school administrators, school board members, and other community members share true stories about their lives and shed a tear or two?  What is the affect of six hours of laughing, dancing, listening, crying, hugging, and caring for people in ways never thought of before?  CULTURE CHANGE!  The building of empathy and understanding. The realization that we are all so much more alike than different.  The awareness of what we say, do with and to others has a major effect that can be both life affirming or devastating.

I have said before, many times, that our students don’t care what we know until they know we care.  We have tried very hard to build school community and trust here the past several years in an effort to improve school performance.  I think we may have really turned a corner this past week.  We shut down the bell system, slowed down the prescribed learning and perhaps learned the most important lesson of all; We all matter!  I hope what we have seen the past several days is a new normal.  That we can all continue to have each others’ back and be real with one another.  I know that initially this past week’s activities have made an impact.  You can see it and feel it in the hallways and classrooms.  Our new challenge is to keep this new “attitude” alive!  I know it is up to me and I am the change!  I hope you will join me and commit the same pledge.

Some very real tweets from PHS students this week:

So glad that  #challengeday brought out the good side of people at pchs! Now let’s keep it that way

 

I will never forget what it felt like to cross the line today… Don’t be the reason to make anyone else. 

 

The most life changing day of my life… #challengeday

 

To those of you that went through #challengeday today; know that “i see you, i got you & i love you”

 

Today was amazing & i hope everyone can become better people & always be there for others no matter what #ChallengeDay

 

When you realize you’re not alone ❤ #challengeday

 

Saturday Morning Musings 2/2/2013

groundhog

Groundhog’s Day.  Officially, according to the famous Pennsylvania rodent, spring will be early this year!  Maybe we can get through another school year with no snow days?

 

 

phsread

I have decided to revive using a hashtag on Twitter to cultivate information and articles that I think deserve consideration by staff and the school community.  For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter and hashtags, no worry, I plan to publish a link to the cultivated content on this blog as well as our school Facebook page.  I spend up to three to four hours a week reading education based articles and blogs shared on Twitter by colleagues across the nation (actually the world).  Reading the thoughts and ideas of others about education and related issues keeps me informed about trends and key developments in our quest to make our school the best it can be for our students.

A couple of articles from the #phsread stream that have me thinking:

http://t.co/bVZRTZWv  (link to blogpost) “On Task” is not a waypoint on the route to engagement. By Gerald W. Aungst.   My thoughts after reading:

Engagement, as a condition that exists in the classroom, is not always easily defined.  To steal a quote from Justice Potter Stewart: “I know it when I see it.” There is a certain energy in a classroom of engaged students.  There is movement, chatter, discussion, disagreement, and no one person is the center of attention.  We can say all we want about student centered learning, but until we realize that students want to be in charge of their own learning, we are going to have a hard time engaging them.  Do not get me wrong, we have to guide, persuade, sell, and curate their direction, but learners want to be actively involved in the lesson.  So many times I walk down the halls at PHS and notice the varied degrees of active student learning.  When students are not passively listening or completing deskwork, they are much more involved….engaged.  I can watch the same student in various classes and see the difference an active classroom has.  The engaged class is not waiting for the bell to ring, they are disappointed that it does.  The challenge for teachers is to make the content available in an active exercise.  In an engaging classroom students interact with information, resources, each other, and perhaps the world at large instead of being dependent on a text or the teacher for their learning.

 

After reading a little bit more on the subject of engagement, I came across this post on NPR’s Mind/Shift Blog: http://t.co/VNsnGgCg  7 Essential Principles of Innovative Learning  By Katrina Schwartz.  My thoughts after reading:

This is an account of a study that endeavors to identify those classroom qualities that create student engagement. It is easy to talk about engagement and quality learning environments without really saying much of anything.  Schwart’s post was helpful because it used some research from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and a book they published about innovative learning environments,  The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice. Their top indicators of innovative and engaging learning environments:

1.Learners have to be at the center of what happens in the classroom with activities focused on their cognition and growth.

2. Learning is a social practice and can’t happen alone.

3. Emotions are an integral part of learning.

4. Learners are different and innovative learning environments reflect the various experiences and prior knowledge that each student brings to class.

5. Students need to be stretched, but not too much.

6. Assessment should be for learning, not of learning.

7. Learning needs to be connected across disciplines and reach out into the real world.

I really want to encourage staff to get out and watch other classrooms during your preparation time.  It does not have to be often.  We have some teachers who are really doing a great job of finding ways of doing these exact things in their classrooms and it is very  obvious that students are engaged therein!

17082816997Book Study Teaching With Poverty In Mind by Eric Jensen

 

I missed both discussions this week (Tuesday at noon and Thursday after school)but I was very encouraged by this email from the book study leader Nathan Ogle:

We had a great conversation yesterday. We spent a lot of time talking about the concept of students losing ground over summer vacation. We spent some time discussing the challenges of moving to a balanced schedule. Then, having decided that at least for now that isn’t a realistic solution, we came up with the idea of a summer enrichment program. The study being cited said that the problem with summer break is when that time is not “academically oriented”. So many of our at risk students aren’t spending their summer breaks going to the library, museums, the zoo, or anything else that would help their minds stay focused on learning. We all got pretty excited about the idea of having a summer program designed to give that experience. We envisioned a program that contained a book club and a few field trips. It wouldn’t be prescribed like summer school, but would be open to any student who is interested. For those on free and reduced lunch, we could maybe get community support to not only help fund the program, but also to waive any fees for those students. For those who are able to pay their own way, we could come up with a fee similar to that of summer school. We could even make it more appealing by awarding some elective credit for satisfactory participation.

Our challenge will be how to fund it, but we have to try find a way!

If you have read this far….thank you! (Mom) Until next week, let’s continue to make a difference in every student’s life.

 

Owning Who We Are

17082816997This semester a teacher on staff asked if we could do a faculty book study on a title he had read in one of his administration classes.  When staff members step forward to lead learning and change, I think it is very important to support them as well participate in their efforts.  We managed to scrape up the resources to purchase enough copies for a group of teachers to read and discuss.

The book we are reading is Teaching with Poverty in Mind | What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It, by Eric Jensen.  As a school in a small and shrinking mid-west community, we see the devastating effects of poverty on our student population.  In the past twenty years, our school has shrunk from a student population of 800+ to a student body of 550.  Although our student body has shrunk, the percentage of students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch has increased from just under 20% to 55% over the same time span.  The demographics of our school are a reflection of a community that has lost many of its middle class wage earning positions and has seen many of our local businesses close up, unable to compete with the new local mega store. Our community is very dependent on the agribusinesses that are associated with the farming industry located in our region.  The nature of farming has also changed.  Smaller farms are disappearing as land is being consolidated under larger land holders.  There are families who send their children to our schools still, but many of them are now farmers that “cash rent” as opposed to owning their own land.

Although we know we have a high population of students who experience the effects of poverty, we (I) fall into the trap of misunderstanding why our students act the way they do.  I know I often lose sight of the fact that I come from a background where education was valued.  I was rewarded for doing what school expected me to do well.  I was taught to set goals and take steps to achieve them.  Teachers as a whole are people with very similar backgrounds.  They usually did well in school and at times it becomes easy for them to  forget that they did not experience some of the physical and environmental variables that cause their students to misbehave, not care, and in many cases, not show up.  I know that I have fallen into the trap of blaming students, parents, state policy, …etc, for why some students seem bound to fail.  What this book is forcing me to do is to look into the mirror and find what I can change, what we as a school can change to better accommodate the students in our charge.  The real challenge is to be a school that can challenge all of our students.  In order to that, we have to own who we are.  Next in this series: What are we doing well.  What are we doing wrong.  What needs to change NOW.

Being a Learner

cheesecake<——Looks good huh?  Double Mocha Cheesecake.  Made by yours truly. Two layers even! Don’t ask me why, but for some reason I had a yearning to learn how to make cheesecake.  The effort you see here is cheesecake number four for me….in the last two weeks.  My family thinks I am off my rocker a bit.  This new learned skill is a little tough on the waistline, but it is palette pleasing.  Why do I share my new passion?  I would not be a school leader if I did not demonstrate a little imbalance from time to time. It may be a little weird for me to be making cheesecakes but I am stretching my abilities.  I think it is important for all educators to show that they continue to learn on a regular basis.  We should not expect our students or staff to stretch themselves if we are not willing to.  My school community knows that we are building a new building and I cannot begin to describe how steep the learning curve is for me.  The new building and all of the research and decision making will affect education in Paris for years to come.  With all the energy expended with the new building, I cannot help but think that I have been neglecting current staff development and student learning.  A few weeks ago I announced I will be considering buying some Chromebooks for several classrooms.  As we move closer to a 1:1  learning environment, I want my staff to learn more ways to engage student using in-class technology.  Edmodo is one online system to manage classroom activities and resources.  I do not know much about it, but that is going to change.  Cheesecakes may become a little less common. (my belt will be thankful!) I am going to learn to use Edmodo and challenge my staff to do the same.  Ok, so I never really answered the question: What do cheesecakes and Edmodo have in common?….They are “things” I must conquer!  Learn on my friends!

1:1 I Want to Know Your Story

Dear Fellow Educators,

I work with a group of educators in a school that is not flush with resources (imagine that). Money has to be spent very strategically and I am determined not to make the same mistakes we have made in the past.  Twenty years ago we put TV’s and VCR’s in every room because teachers and students needed to access the video that could be provided.  After studying the use pattern, very little changed in the way of pedagogy and student learning.  Five years ago we put interactive white boards in all but a few rooms.  Some teachers have learned to use them very well, but for many it is simply a digital white board.  I am not blaming teachers.  I am blaming short sighted decision making and lack of support provided by administration (read….me, although the tv’s came while I was teaching).  One to one computing gets a lot of attention now days.  I have visited a few buildings where every student has a computer.  I have not spent enough time in any one classroom to see if there has been a transformational change in student learning opportunities.  To be honest, the classrooms where I have seen 1:1 computing,  the activities there still seemed to be very teacher centered. (disclaimer: again, I have not spent enough time in any one classroom or school to make any kind of enlightened conclusion).  What I would like to know from those who are working in schools that have implemented 1:1 initiatives is:

  • 1. What did your district/school do to prepare both students and teachers for learning in a 1:1 environment?
  • 2. How has student learning activity changed in your room/building?
  • 3. How has teacher practice changed?
  •  4. What would you do different if you had it to do over again?

 Picture courtesy of Joe Wilcox’s photostream on Flickr

Giving the Greatest Gifts

This is one of the toughest times of the year for our high school staff. They are trying hard to finish up the final unit of the semester, preparing final exams as well as trying to catch up on the mountains grading. There is so much to do it can be downright overwhelming! Throw on top of all that the fact that all of the students are anticipating being away from school for two weeks and the effect of the Christmas rush and I believe that the faculty can feel as though it’s burden is unbearable. I, like all of the other staff, get immersed in my job and what I consider important and sometimes miss opportunities to help where help is needed. As Director of Paris High School I am very focused on our new building, data and PSAE results, school safety issues, staff evaluation, our interest based academy agenda, staff development, budget development and problem solving what seems like a million day to day questions from students, staff and parents. I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to integrate technology into instruction, how to motivate students and how involve the community in improving our program. I am always looking toward the future and trying to learn new things.

…..But it never fails, a situation will occur or a conversation will happen that causes me to take a step back and consider what is really important. Several years ago, around Christmas time, a student came into the office and asked for withdrawal papers and informed me she was going to drop and get a job. As always, whether it is me or the assistant principal, we try to take the time to discuss this decision with the student and try to reason them into considering all options rather than dropping out. At first the student did not want to discuss her decision with me. Her mind was made up. She was of the age that she did not have to have parental consent and she seemed determined to carry out a plan that did not include finishing high school. I knew this student fairly well because I had been her elementary principal and had developed a rapport with her to where we would talk to one another when we saw each other and tease each other about our favorite sports teams. On this day, however, she was not in any mood to talk to me and refused to tell me the reasoning that had led her to this decision. I knew this student had developed a good professional relationship with a teacher on staff, and as a last ditch effort I called this teacher in to talk with the student. What unfolded, as I witnessed it, was a remarkable conversation between a teacher who cared for her students and a student who both liked a respected her teacher. I could tell that their relationship had become one in which the teacher had a vested interest in the student and that the student felt cared for in her presence. I will not divulge the content of their conversation, but suffice it to say, the student remained enrolled, graduated, and went on to a two year technical school. Last I heard, she was married raising a child and gainfully employed in a good job!

Sometimes you will never know the affect you have had in the way that you deal with your students. Sometimes, just giving your time and caring is the greatest gift you can give. Even though this time of year can be very tough for us, it can be even tougher for our students for various reasons. Our staff does a great job of doing what is important….and that is keeping students our number one priority!

Photo courtesy of HaniAlYousif’s photostream of Flickr

Take the Risk….I Dare You!

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving.  A story about a group of people seeking a new life, willing to sacrifice everything and dedicated to working hard to make their dream of a new civilization come true.  They were willing to make a voyage of discovery to find a new life and it paid off because of the willingness to take risk.

 

A ship in the harbor is safe – but that’s not what ships are for.

– John A. Shedd (yes he is going nautical again!)

We cannot afford to stay anchored in the what we have always done.  Everyday we must force ourselves to take some risks, tackle the unknown, and enjoy the fruits of discovery.  Consider the following:

  1. RiskOf course it is always easiest to stay with what is known. Staying within one’s comfort zone, not attempting to try new things, is easy (until the hull rots and the ship sinks) for there is no challenge. But if we choose to set sail, risk the unknown, we learn a lot about ourself during the journey and could possibly find a whole new world at the end! Whether it is trying a new strategy in class, attempting a new schedule for classes, taking on a new responsiblity, or cutting ties and moving on, we will certainly gain (if only experience) for making the attempt.
  2. DestinationSometimes it is not the destination that matters at all. It is the richness of the journey that is most important. O.K. so getting there is only half the fun. I think that as I gather more experience as an educator, the more I am moved to believe that there has got to be a better way to prepare high schoolers for the real world. Maybe the destination should be, if we’re willing to take the risk, a remodeled high school where students collaborate with each other, with teachers(as facilitators) and professionals from the real world of work to prepare for their life’s vocation.
  3. DoldrumsDefined as period with no wind to catch the sails, leaving a ship “stranded” in place on the ocean. If we are not making progress or we see hard work having no effect, we are like a ship stuck in the doldrums. Although not technically anchored in the harbor, sometimes we feel no progress is being made despite all of our effort. We must maintain our effort to make the journey happen even though it seems like we have lost all momentum. We must not let those who would take the wind away from us stop us from making progress!
  4. Discovery–The reward for leaving the comfort zone. The satisfaction of conquering the unknown. The feeling of accomplishment after reaching a goal. So many times I have found that it is the risk takers who are the ones who enjoy their tasks and make the most progress. Even though I doubted I could ever run 13 miles at one time, I found that not only could I do it, but I could enjoy it and feel better about myself for having attempted it. The same is true in our profession. I know several teachers who were afraid of using technology until they tried and now they are pioneering new things in their classrooms for the benefit of their students.

What about you? Are you willing to take some risks….step out of your comfort zone? Start by clicking on the comment link below a start a discussion on change!

Photo Courtesy of UGAardener’s Photostream of Flickr