Thursday, January 22, 2009

We Need Change

Whether you are a coach or a lead teacher or an administrator, you know that part of your role is asking teachers to reflect, adapt, and sometimes change their practice. This topic of change has been on my mind lately, because this year, in particular, we've challenged teachers to stretch further than they've ever been in the area of technology. Our instructional technology coach, Melanie, has them using tools like google docs, google maps, wikis, blogs, and google reader. She's also been supporting them as they pilot a new on-line grade book. This level of change creates disequilibrium and it has been interesting to watch how different teachers have handled this added level of risk.

If, like me, your role requires you to ask others to take risks and change, you may be interested in reading these two blog posts.

Change is inevitable, but how we embrace it widely varies. I find it critically important in my work to have a firm handle on why I am asking teachers to change, and these two posts are certainly part of why change in education must happen. I worry that if, as a system, we continue to stick our head in the sand, we will fail a generation of digital natives. And, I think we all need to shoulder our share of the responsibility for that.
Image: (Seth Godin, The Big Moo, 2005, p. 36)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Standards-Based Bulletin Boards Focus Walks

Every other Wednesday, as CCE teachers, we enjoy Early Release. Our students are dismissed 75 minutes early so teachers can have a dedicated time to participate in professional development. The pd topics vary, but one thing remains the same--the content is selected by design. Throughout the year, the Leadership Team is gathering qualitative and quantitative Check Spellingdata to make decisions on short-term needs and long-term goals. This information is analyzed and decisions are made for whole group and small group pd topics, much like a teacher would do to prescribe instruction in their own classroom.

So, today our task was to focus walk Standards-Based Bulletin Boards. We decided on this content for several reasons:
1. The End of the Year Survey indicated that teachers would like more feedback on their Standards-Based Bulletin Boards. They pour valuable time and energy into their classroom instruction, gathering of student work, and creation of the board, so specific and constructive feedback to move their work to the next level would be put to good use.

2. The boards allow a window into a teacher's classroom instruction and into students' performance. The quick snapshot breeds collegial conversation about student work and allows teachers to benchmark their own work to the work of their colleagues.

3. Conversations among vertical teams about the standards, tasks, and student work gives teachers the opportunity to see beyond their grade level. They see the span of work produced from Kindergarten through Grade 5 and are able to see the global picture of student performance. The walk also allows teachers to see if we have total alignment K-5 among our subject areas. If there is a gap, it is discussed, analyzed, and solutions brought to the forefront.

Standards-based Bulletin Boards collapse the four walls of the classroom, take student work out of the portfolio crate, and make student performance visible. From a coaching position, days like this are purposeful and powerful, and one I would highly recommend for any school.

If you are in a school were Standards-Based Bulletin Boards are the culture, here are some quick and easy steps to make a day like this happen in your own building:

a) Set up a meeting time of at least one hour.

b) Create a focus walk observation sheet.

c) Walk the hallways--roster in hand--and record the type of board that is up for each teacher.
d) Strategically divide your teachers into small groups. The most effective groups tend to be those that represent multiple grade levels and content areas.
e) Strategically decide which three boards each small group will visit. Boards can be visited more than once, but make sure they are visited at different times.

f) Record the team members names and boards they are to visit on the feedback form. Make copies.

g) Have teachers bring clipboards and pencils with them as they meet, assign one person as the leader of the group, and have them visit the three boards in the order they are listed on the sheet. Each member must fill out a feedback form as they walk.
h) Teachers turn in their feedback forms to the coach as soon as the walk is complete.

i) Coach compiles the data on each board and individually emails each teacher their feedback. (Usually within a couple of days of gathering the forms. Most teachers are eager to hear what their colleagues thought of their board.)

j) Coach keeps a record of which boards were visited so you can provide each teacher with feedback during the next visit if their board was not selected for this visit.

To get a closer look at some of the boards we walked, stay tuned to my next posts.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Grade 2 Focus Walk

Early in December, our Grade 2 ELA team spent a day together planning for an upcoming non-fiction reading and writing unit. They analyzed the standards, wrote lessons, and discussed expectations. Today, I strolled through Grade 2 on an informal focus walk to see the non-fiction work that is unfolding.

In one classroom, students were surrounded by non-fiction books on their self-selected topics reading, taking notes, and discussing with peers their new learning. One student was using his K-W-L chart, from a previous lesson, as a reference, looking up the answers to his questions, and copying down his new learning. You could tell that students were thoroughly engaged and excited about this new learning adventure.

In another classroom, the teacher was conducting a Guided Reading group using a non-fiction text while the rest of the students were independently reading in their reading nooks. Strolling through the third classroom, I saw students meeting during the mini-lesson as the teacher modeled for them how to use their schema to approach a topic. She then modeled how to use a graphic organizer to record your schema, then read a text on your topic, and finally fill in your new learning. At a later point in my walk, I observed students in one classroom taking a non-fiction reading assessment. All in all, a clear picture emerged that this unit has gotten off to a good start.
I can't wait to revisit these same rooms a couple of weeks from now to see the progress they will have made. Happy learning to the little researchers and notetakers!

Looking Toward the Future

Not surprisingly, I've been giving much thought about the future of our professional growth. At Chets, we have 1,250 students and 88 teachers. In years past, we’ve had upwards of 3 coaching positions. We’ve filled these three with one full- time coach (me) and four part-time coaches (coach half day, teach half day). In my opinion, this has been an ideal situation because most coaches keep a foot in the classroom, have gained the utmost respect from their colleagues, and share the most relevant rich professional development.

This year, that ideal has changed due to budget cuts and now we are carrying two coaches. One full time instructional coach (me) and an instructional technology coach. We opted for the technology coach so we could begin digitally warehousing and sharing information on-line, and promote self-learning opportunities. This cut has us relying more heavily on lead teachers who run PD in their content area at their grade level. With that said, they also have full-time teaching responsibilities. Therefore, without coaches with release time, we have gone from substantial in class coaching to virtually none. What implications this will hold are forthcoming.

In Florida, like many other places, we are continuing to hear of the dismal financial situation which will cut deeply into the pockets of schools. Next year, our district is likely to have a $139 million dollar cut, so where will that leave us? And, how can we prepare for cuts that run this deeply? It could be a reality that schools won’t be able to carry coaching support.

So, to prepare, I have four ideas:

#1 Capture, edit, and upload as many videos as possible from classrooms and warehouse them on our Setting the Standard ning.

The following video is an excellent example of what I mean, and will give our teachers--and others--open access to classroom observation and teaching.

#2 Digitally warehouse grade level content, assessments, and other resources on wikis.

This first grade wiki is an example of what I mean, and is the central data bank for a grade level. It can also easily be added to and deleted from to keep the most current information. In time, I'm sure it will even contain student work that supports each standard and/or lesson.

#3 Form PLC’s based on needs and passions rather than by grade levels.

Last week, a Grade 3 teacher did a writing demonstration lesson for four colleagues from Grade 2-5. The professional conversation that occurred in debriefing after the lesson was the richest dialogue I’ve heard exchanged between teachers yet this year. So many times, we form PLC's just by grade levels, but I'm wondering if we aren't sometimes missing the mark without these vertical teams also in place.

#4 Lead our teachers to be self-directed learners, avid readers, collaborative workers, and community contributors.

Collectively as a community of learners, thanks to technology, we can continue to move forward regardless of the financial constraints placed on us. Will this be a burden and a barrier? Perhaps. But with a strong will and determined spirit, we will move forward. To move forward with no coaching support, I think all teachers will have to be self-directed, avid blog and professional readers, and collaborate and share ideas with the whole community.

Are you facing the same bleak financial outlook? If you are, what are you doing to prepare your school community for the future?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Bullying Stops Here

This week, our behavior interventionist and a dedicated member of our Foundations team kicked off our first anti-bullying campaign. They began with a PowerPoint of quotes that our Media Specialist has heard from students this year like, "He hurts me everyday in the hallway when no one is looking.” “I don’t tell on him because he told me he would choke me, just like last year.” Then, continued with data collected in a survey of teachers, parents, and intermediate students.

Simply put, I was shocked. You see, Chets is an educational utopia, a close knit learning community where we all feel safe and supported...or so I thought. The data collected, may look outstanding to an outsider, especially if they work in rougher schools, but led to the alarming fact that although the greatest majority of our students feel safe within our classrooms, more unstructured areas like the hallways, cafeteria, restrooms, playground, and bus stops are an area of concern. And, many students, at one point or another, have been the target of bullies, have bullied themselves, or have been a witness of bullying. Students in the survey say...

I was physically hurt by a student and hit, kicked, grabbed or pushed.
•37% of third graders agree.
•52% of fourth graders agree.
•20% of fifth graders agree.

I was picked on or teased in a mean way by students.
•26% of third graders agree.
•48% of fourth graders agree.
•29% of fifth graders agree.
I felt left out by other students.
•38% of third graders agree.
•57% of fourth graders agree.
•29% of fifth graders agree.

So, in an effort to turn these percentages into 0%, the Foundations team has put in place a week of anti-bullying activities and among other things will be educating students through closed circuit T.V. Below is one video that will most likely be shared with our students.

If you have other helpful anti-bullying literature or campaigns going on in your school, please post a comment so I can share it with our team to ensure that all CCE students feel safe, unbullied, and appreciated. After all, even one student being bullied is too many. In my mind, I think, what if it was my own son?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

7 Things You Don't Need to Know About Me

Melanie Holtsman tagged me for the Seven Things You Don't Need to Know About Me meme by Anne Oro and Bill Genereux . This meme is not an easy one for me because I don't know that anything in my life is kept personal. Most of my school family knows me very well. But, I have trouble saying no to Melanie.

1. I grew up in a village, population 300, and my sister is raising her own children in our childhood home. Most people who know me now have a hard time picturing me in this setting, but it's true. I was raised in Turtlepoint, PA and my three siblings and I spent most of our days next door at my grandfather's farm. We played hide and seek in the hay loft, feed the pigs, helped milk the cows, and built what we thought was a pretty impressive play house across the creek. My sister still lives in our hometown and is now raising her children at our old homestead.
2. I grew up on the same road as all of my first cousins. My mother is one of seven children who were all raised at the intersection of Annin Creek Road and Longhollow Road. My grandfather owned and farmed hundreds of acres on Longhollow, so as his children wed, they each were given a few acres of land to build their homes. Each of the seven children built their homes within the first mile up Longhollow Road and raised their families. My dad was one of two children and his brother built his home across the street from ours, so my cousin from dad's side was also my neighbor.

3. I hated to read as a child. I started school at age four and was a struggling reader for most of my childhood years. My first grade teacher (now my step-mom) can attest to that! It wasn't until college that I felt competent and wasn't until I became a teacher and began reading professionally and personally that I developed a love for books. I did however like being read to and I can remember each teacher who read to me and which books they read.

4. I loved roller skating as a kid and wish my children could have had that experience. Coudersport, PA had a roller rink and on special occasions, my mom would let my brother and I ride a bus from our school to the roller rink for an afternoon of roller skating and archade games. The loud speakers would play all the latest songs from my favorites--Kenny Rogers and Olivia Newton John!

5. I was an active member of my high school's Student Council and was Senior Class President, of course my graduating class only had 87 students. :)
6. I entered college at Clarion University to become a psychologist but thankfully switched my major as a sophomore. I received college credits from three different universities before getting my masters...Clarion, University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, and the University of North Florida.

7. I've worked four different jobs. I worked as a waitress (not pretty), a deli worker at the hometown grocery store (nearly lost a finger), as a glass factory worker (to pay my way through college, pictured here), and as an educator (my life's passion).
Now, I tag the following people: