High Expectations

Lunch as Learning: A Commitment to Excellence

Guest post by Lesley Corner

Before the 2016–2017 school year, Camden High School provided after-school tutorials and after-school homework centers for English and math. These methods of academic assistance increased student achievement, but we couldn’t reach some of the students who needed the most help due to their after-school obligations or transportation issues. After extensive research and school visits, we remodeled our schedule to include academic assistance during the school day for all students. Our model includes two types of assistance: Individual Learning Time (ILT) and Structured Learning Time (SLT). (more…)

Payson High School, Part 2: Building a School Culture of Responsibility through Embedded Intervention

Guest post by Jeff Simon

Last week, I discussed the importance of building a positive school culture by utilizing a one-hour lunch period for clubs and activities that foster school pride and for innovative labs that encourage enthusiasm for learning. This week, I will share how we’ve built a culture of personal responsibility at Payson High School by providing a positive support system for student learning through embedded intervention.

(more…)

Payson High School, Part 1: Building a Positive Culture of School Pride and Enthusiasm for Learning

Guest post by Jeff Simon

Indiana Jones was my hero growing up—I wanted to be just like him. And now, as high school administrator, I get to do that every day, because not only did Indiana Jones study culture, he taught it to inquisitive minds and instilled passion in curious students to become lifelong learners.

Principals know that as the culture goes, so does the school. From Day 1, our administrative goal at Payson High School has been to build a culture that focuses on pride in our school and enthusiasm for learning. (more…)

Take the Challenge

The questions came in fast and furious on Twitter during the conversation between Carol Dweck, author of Mindset and the Lewis and Virginia Eaton professor of psychology at Stanford University, and Daniel Wong, author of The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success, during the opening Thought Leader session at Ignite ’14.

Former National Principals of the Year Laurie Baron, superintendent of Evergreen School District in Montana, and Trevor Greene, professional development specialist for the Association of Washington School Principals, facilitated the discussion on stage and on Twitter. The results of this engaging live/virtual discussion are presented below. (more…)

New Family Tours: Do They Get What They Expect?

Jimmy Casas

Guest post by Jimmy Casas:

I still remember the day I received the phone call offering me the principal position at my current school.  That was twelve years ago!  I can honestly say, like many of you, I have invested my life into our school community in many ways.  Growing up, my parents demanded hard work. They expected it, they modeled it, and they lived it.  They convinced me that hard work was the key to success.  They took immense pride in the fact that what they lacked in education, they made up for it in terms of work ethic.  My father would often holler at me, “You get out of it what you put into it!”

Ironic how the things our parents said to us when we were children often return full circle, not only in our expectations, but in how we behave.  They even get passed down from generation to generation at the expense of our own children sometimes, which I am sure my kids would attest to. His words have hung with me all of my life, sometimes to a fault. Sometimes though, his words move me in a way that makes me proud to be his son because his words make up a part of who I am.

Last week I had the distinct privilege of touring three new families who were trying to decide which school to enroll their children in.  Like the hiring process (of someone wanting to teach in our school), the idea of a family possibly wanting to enroll their student in our school gets me jacked up! It is something I look forward to so much that at times I literally cannot sleep the night before because I cannot wait to get to school the next day and share our school community with them.  I do not apologize for my energy, my passion, or the excitement I share with the families when they visit. I am proud! I am proud of what our school has to offer our students, our staff, our families, and our community.  I once had a visiting superintendent tell me that although the school was a large school, it had a small school feel to it. That was the biggest compliment anyone could have given us because to me it meant that it felt like a caring community. I have never forgotten that comment and to this day aspire to maintain that same feeling in our school.

I am always honored when I am able to take time and showcase our school community.  Here are a few examples of our best and next practices in touring new families:

  1. Schedule the building tours with the principal – In many high schools, this practice is often delegated to a school counselor or other building administrator.   I have always wondered why any principal would not take advantage of the opportunity to be the first person to welcome a new visiting family or more importantly, to spend time getting to know a potential new student.  Think about the message you are sending when you won’t give a new family and student 90 minutes of your time.  Mindset:  Models to student and family they are the most important people walking through our doors every day.
  2. Office secretaries can make or break the deal before a new family ever walks in the door – Don’t ever underestimate the importance of the impact your office secretaries can have on a new family regarding their choice for a new school when they are calling to inquire about a visit/tour.  A positive first impression goes a long way with parents and a negative first impression will quickly decrease the chance of a new family selecting your school ten-fold.  Trust me. I have had many families tell me they crossed off school XYZ because of the way they were treated by the Principal’s secretary.  Mindset:  No student or family who calls or enters the main office is an inconvenience. In fact, they are the purpose of why we are here.  Never forget that.
  3. Tours should be scheduled during the school day – If at all possible, I would encourage you to schedule all visits during the school day.  It is critical for the visiting student and his/her parents to get a feel of the climate in our school and what #BettPride is all about.  This is nearly impossible to simulate without students in the building. I want them to experience first-hand how welcoming our students & staff are to new students.  I want them to see how our school community cares for one another and values the teaching and learning that transpires throughout the building on a daily basis.  Mindset:  Be proud of the school community in which you spend most of your waking hours and deliver your message with passion, purpose and with a humbled spirit.
  4. Spend time getting to know the student – I will often spend the first 15-20 minutes talking to potential new students one on one in my office before a tour in order to learn as much as I can about their talents, strengths and areas of interest.  Two questions I ask new students are, “What part of school do you value most and why?” and “How do you want to be remembered when you leave your high school?”  Mindset:  Want to show students that this is an environment of great expectations that will challenge their inner core and expect them to leave a positive footprint on their school community long after graduation.
  5. Always be yourself – Be sure when giving a tour you conduct yourself in the same manner you would if you were walking the building on a normal day.  In other words, be you.  This is not the time to try and portray a side of you that is not genuine.  By doing so, you will quickly lose the trust of your new family and send the wrong message to your current students and staff. Mindset:  Rather than be disingenuous, use these opportunities to recognize areas for potential growth in your own leadership style and then establish a plan to make a needed change.
  6. Encourage them to visit other schools – Believe it or not, I always encourage new families to visit the surrounding school districts. I emphasize to new parents that there are many good schools in our area to choose from and that it is important for them to contact other schools to schedule visits.  Honestly, I tell them they need to walk into different schools and determine for themselves, which school community “feels right.”  I want a new student (and their parents) to feel good about his/her choice in a new school knowing full well I may lose them, but in the long run it is the best measure of success.  If they do not select us, then it wasn’t the right fit.  Mindset:  I believe the most critical factor in determining the success of any student is the culture and climate of a school.  My attitude going into any meeting with a new family has to be one of quiet confidence and trust that we have cultivated the right culture for kids to be successful and that new families will feel that this is a special place.
  7. Let them ask questions of the students and staff – I always encourage our new families to ask students and staff questions as we tour.  In fact, I will often purposefully distance myself so our students and staff can have an open and honest discussion with new families free from my presence.  In addition, I tell families before we begin the tour that they are welcome to enter any classroom they choose and that our students and staff do not know they will be visiting. Mindset:   I never want to give the impression that I am somehow trying to influence the responses or comments from my students and staff.  I want them to know that what they see is what they get; this is who we are every day.
  8. Show new families where to find your school/district data – At the conclusion of the tour, I always return to the main office to give the student and family time to digest what they have just observed and to provide an opportunity for any follow up questions.  This is also the time I provide families our school profile data information or walk them through on how to access the information from our district/building website.  Mindset:  I want to be transparent with our school data, although I find most families have already accessed it long before ever setting up a visit.
  9. Share your personal information with them – Parents always appreciate when I hand them a business card and take time to inscribe my personal cell phone number on the card and encourage them to contact me day, night or weekend.  I share with them that I recognize that choosing a school can be very stressful on not only their student, but the entire family as well. Mindset:  I want parents to know I care about them and their student and am accessible 24/7 should a need arise sooner than later.  The message I want to send is that being a school principal is not a job, but my life.
  10. Invite them to a school function – One of most positive steps we take to encourage new families to select our school is to invite them to attend an evening event as our special guest.  This is especially true if the event they attend is an event in which the student has a personal interest. This is one area that we added on as part of our practice this year after seeing tremendous results of families selecting our school after attending one of our events.  Giving a new student an opportunity to see and feel what it would be like to be part of a club, group, or team is a powerful way to let them experience the pride and spirit of our school community. Mindset:  Allows students and families to see up front the value we place on our co-curricular activities. We want our students to not only feel connected, but be connected beyond the bell schedule.

I approach every student/family visit with the intention of giving of my time and more importantly, of myself.  I have tremendously high expectations of myself and of my staff when it comes to cultivating a culture that places a significant value on giving of our time to others in a positive and caring way. My mindset is simple; in the words of my father, we as a school community will get out of it what we put into it.

As leaders, we are responsible for raising the bar to exceptionally high levels when it comes to how we want both new and existing families to feel about their school community.  I am honored to be a part of this wonderful community we call Bettendorf and I am extremely proud because I know that although I have invested my life in our school community, I am just a guest like everyone else until the next principal comes along.

So I challenge you to reflect…do your new families get what they expect?

Or do they walk out of your school receiving so much more than they ever expected?

This entry is a cross-post from Jimmy Casas‘s blog. (@casas_jimmy) Principal of Bettendorf High School, will present Building Community Through Social Media on Friday, February 7, 2014 at Ignite ’14 in Dallas.  For more information and to register visit www.nasspconference.org.

A Schoolhouse for Today’s Learners

Guest post by Dwight Carter:

In most cases, one of the last places affected by school reform is the schoolhouse itself. It’s expensive to completely redesign an entire school, and we are used to school looking a certain way: long corridors, square classrooms, rows of lockers, trophy cases lining the walls of the lobby, a large bland cafeteria, narrow stairways, and little natural light.

Today’s learners–Millennials and the “iGeneration”–need a new kind of school. They are wired differently than any generation that has come before them, due in part to the integration of technology in everyday life. Millennials include those born between 1977 and 1998 or by some definitions 1982 to 2000.

According to The Learning Café and American Demographics, today’s generation of students are creative and collaborative by nature; they don’t know life without connectivity; they multitask; they want positive relationships with their teacher, administrator, or boss; they want things personalized to their interests; and they want to rewrite the rules. They see institutions as irrelevant, and schools are often seen as institutions to them. Understandably, traditional school design hinders how today’s learner want to interact and engage in school.

At Gahanna Lincoln High School, we were facing a challenge: With 2400 students, we were at capacity and had the opportunity to do something creative to provide more space and, at the same time, meet the needs of today’s learner.

With the vision of former Superintendents Gregg Morris and Mark White, along with a team of curriculum coordinators, business directors, and highly qualified teachers, we built Clark Hall. Clark Hall is a 51,000-square-foot, three-story work of art. It doesn’t resemble a typical American high school at all; rather it’s more like an innovative office building. The goal was to create an open, modern, bright space that evokes creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, choice and fun. It houses fourteen classrooms, each with its own conference room, enterprise strength connectivity, natural light, laptops for every student, and collaborative spaces in hallways so students are able to use the entire space for learning.

We traded in the traditional rows of desks and chairs for soft, brightly colored modular furniture, some exercise balls, a few rocking chairs, and a couple of Adirondack chairs. We created two large commons areas that can be used for just about anything we want: smaller classroom space or large presentation space. A few of the classrooms have colorful carpet squares that make up a soft seating area of the sort you might find in a modern coffee house or redesigned university student union. We abandoned the “bargain-basement beige” paint for splashes of primary colors and bright white. We worked with the architects to include as much natural light as possible to evoke energy and creativity.

With flexibility built into the daily schedule, teachers have more time to interact with students on an individual basis, students feel more relaxed and are more compelled to engage in the learning process, and collaboration among students is the norm. Additionally, collaboration among teachers of different content areas has become a natural part of the day because they are not separated by department. We have an art teacher next to AP psychology and personal finance teachers, for example.

Because today’s learners like and need structure, we work with them at the beginning of each school year to develop expectations for the space; as a result, we have few discipline problems. Teachers no longer hover over students to make sure they are on task. Students appreciate the freedom and understand this freedom is a byproduct of responsible behavior.

Clark Hall has inspired change on our main campus as well. One of the main hubs of most schools and universities is the library. We wanted our library to have the same feel as Clark Hall, so our Librarian, Ann Gleek, dreamt big and made some significant improvements. Changes like removing some of the book shelves, painting the walls, and removing some of the traditional furniture have made for a more social, collaborative and inviting environment for students. There is still a quiet room for study, but the largest part of the space is open and collaborative.

Educational reform must include reforming or transforming the physical learning environment. According to Daniel Pink, design is one of the elements of the right brain that we must tap into. We have to look differently at the space we have now and spruce things up… a lot… for the sake of learning.

I will discuss this in more detail as well as its impact on student learning during my presentation at Ignite 2014!

Be great,
Dwight

Dwight Carter (@Dwight_Carter) is principal of Gahanna Lincoln High School in Ohio. Dwight was named an NASSP Digital Principal in 2013. He will be presenting Digitally Creative Learning Environments on Friday, February 7 at Ignite ’14 in Dallas. For more information and to register visit www.nasspconference.org.

Sources:

  • http://apps.americanbar.org/lpm/lpt/articles/mgt08044.html
  • http://fluency21.com/blog/

School Showcase Feature: Tefft Middle School

At Tefft Middle School, we have a motto: Moving all students forward, whatever it takes… together. This motto has been our driving force in how we approach student learning and success.

Moving All Students
Tefft serves a diverse population of students. We strive to make all of our students feel comfortable in our building, to think of it as a second home. It is our goal to ensure that all of our students grow during their time with us, no matter their ethnicity, language, special needs, or income.

Whatever It Takes
Strategic supports, interventions, and initiatives help us to meet the needs of every student.

Data transparency is one thing had has contributed to our great success. Student data journals let the students analyze scores of school, district, state, and national assessments, decide what they did well and what can be improved, and make goals for that improvement. Their data means something to them and becomes more than just numbers to take home.

When students bring their families to school for student-led conferences, they demonstrate ownership over their work by creating portfolios to share with their parents. Parents hear about their children’s progress right from their mouths, and students feel accountable for their own progress. Parents are able to ask questions and help their children set goals.

In addition to these two initiatives, we also have common learning targets and academic vocabulary, which hold students to high standards and provide them with continuity of learning. Daily intervention classes, which utilize software for those students who are below grade level in math or reading, provide additional practice in the skills students need to grow. Common assessments in each class provide us—and students—with data to help set goals and drive instruction.

Together
Grade-level teams share the same students and therefore provide close relationships and a feeling of family within the school. Department teams ensure continuity of content and push each other to improve student performance. Professional learning communities at faculty meetings allow staff to discuss issues from all points of view and analyze student data. Our parent-teacher group provides parents the opportunity to share ideas about their children’s education.

Taking on challenges and initiating change based on our data helps us continually strive for success.

Tefft Middle School will be one of 22 schools featured at the Breaking Ranks School Showcase at Ignite 2014. The Tefft team will be presenting Harnessing the Power of Transparency and Data to Create and Sustain a Culture of Accountability on Thursday, February 6th. For more on Tefft Middle School, check out the article published in the May 2010 issue of Principal Leadership.

School Showcase Feature: Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School

For thirty years, the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) has championed a skills-based approach to secondary education that emphasizes learning to use one’s mind well, solving real problems, and demonstrating mastery of a limited number of essential skills and areas of knowledge. One of the CES’s Ten Common Principles states that “the aphorism “less is more” should dominate: curricular decisions should be guided by the aim of thorough student mastery and achievement rather than by an effort to merely cover content…”

At the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School, demonstration of student mastery and achievement happens daily as students work with their teacher-coaches to complete assessments and projects in interdisciplinary classes. These individual pieces of work are assessed using school-wide standards and rubrics in thirteen different skill areas. Often students engage in revision after receiving feedback; once their work meets standards, it becomes eligible for inclusion in the student’s portfolio. To advance through Parker’s six-year program of studies, students are required to meet the school’s standards for Divisions I, II, and III, though they may do so at the rate appropriate for their individual development. Students demonstrate mastery of curricular standards in each Division through “Gateway Exhibitions” in which they present and defend their academic portfolios. The final Gateway is graduation, for which students complete special Graduation Portfolios and present a year-long senior project.

Gateway Exhibitions are more than milestones—they’re also an opportunity for reflection and for recognizing that not all learning is captured within the portfolio itself. Here’s a Parker parent talking about her daughter’s Gateway Exhibition in Math/Science/Technology last spring:

“During A’s Gateway this spring, she spent time discussing one of her MST pieces that she failed. She said that she was glad that she had failed because she had learned more from failing than she would have learned if she had succeeded. Not only did she speak articulately about drag and flow and volume, she spoke about learning to ask questions, and that how now she asks questions not only to clarify and extend her learning, but because she is curious!”

Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School will be one of 22 schools featured at the Breaking Ranks School Showcase at Ignite 2014. The Parker team will be presenting Common Principles, Uncommon Results: Whole-School Approach to Authentic Assessment and Inquiry-Based on Thursday, February 6th.

School Showcase Feature: Fossil Ridge Intermediate School

Better. This simple word has characterized and driven the work of the members of the Fossil Ridge learning community. Through this desire to become better, Fossil Ridge has developed a collaborative culture focused on guaranteeing high levels of learning for every one of their students.

Opened in 2003, Fossil Ridge Intermediate has become increasingly diverse over the last several years, with 24% of its students representing minority groups and approximately 50% of its students enrolled in the free and reduced-price meals program.

The root of school improvement at Fossil Ridge lies in the school’s culture. A tremendous amount of work has been put in to aligning the beliefs, behaviors, and practices of the school. This focus on an effective culture has allowed subsequent structural change to flourish and enabled an entire learning community to focus on what matters: improving individualized student learning.

After its culture was firmly established, the work turned to focus on struggling students via a modified bell structure, a new pyramid of interventions, extended learning time for struggling math students, and additional interventions in reading.

Fossil Ridge’s school-wide intervention system provides immediate, specific intervention to identified students who require extra time or more individual assistance in meeting a particular standard or criterion. Students are required to attend specific interventions with other students considered deficient in the same concepts. Students who demonstrate competency for a given week are offered the choice of a variety of other classes designed to provide extra learning opportunities during the REAL Time block.

Over 5 years, Fossil Ridge has seen dramatic increases in student learning with increases of 18-30% on end-of-level assessments and individual subgroups. As a result of this work, Fossil Ridge was selected as a national model Professional Learning Community School by AllThingsPLC.info in 2011.

As further evidence of Fossil Ridge’s high levels of learning, they were recognized as a 2013 National Breakthrough School by the NASSP. Even with a change in leadership and varied personnel, the culture of learning combined with the inherent desire to get better continues to drive the work of this nationally recognized school.

Fossil Ridge Intermediate School will be one of 22 schools featured at the Breaking Ranks School Showcase at Ignite 2014. The Fossil Ridge team will be presenting Preparing for Take-Off: Specific Actions that Make a Difference in Student Learning on Thursday, February 6th.  For more on Fossil Ridge Intermediate, check out the article published in the May 2013 issue of Principal Leadership.