Personalization

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.

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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…)

School Showcase Models Community Values

The schools who presented in the school showcase at NASSP’s Ignite ’14 brought a little piece of themselves to share with their colleagues. I was fortunate enough to attend three of the packed sessions and came away having experienced a bit of what happens in each school.

It may not be common for professional development sessions to begin with singing, but maybe it should be. The native song that started the session with the Native American Community Academy (NACA) in Albuquerque, NM, established the reverence for community, identity, respect, and balance that characterizes the school and its leaders. (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.

School Showcase Feature: Woodbridge Middle School

Creating sustainable, quality education programming is a driving force for all public schools. We all look deeply and rationally at our students, striving to identify their needs. However, with all that is before us, it can seem like an overwhelming task. Here at Woodbridge Middle, we spent some time researching, analyzing, and planning such a program that would benefit students regardless of their achievement level or demographic. With this in mind, we established an opt-in Same Gender Program based on the research of Dr. Leonard Sax.

Currently fifty percent of the students at our public, coed middle school receive their instruction in language arts, math, science, and social studies in an all-boy or all-girl setting. We have multiple learning community structures in place which extend beyond simply building time in the master schedule so that teams and departments can meet. Our structures provide opportunities for teachers to constantly examine how we do business, what impact we have on students, and what we need to consider for improvement as we move forward. Our goal is to continuously search for better ways to meet the academic, emotional, developmental, and social needs of our students. Our Same Gender Program is one example of how we have worked together to meet the needs of our students.

The all-boy program’s objective is to establish an environment in which middle school boys can learn best. Through research and student observations, we have developed an active, kinesthetic-learning environment where boys can succeed. An all-boys lesson modifies the topics, activities, and instructional delivery to increase student engagement. Within the all-boys program, we have developed a House System where students participate in healthy competition in both academics and extra-curricular activities. The House System also serves as our behavior management tool, in which students take ownership of their own behaviors and adjust their social tendencies. At the conclusion of our program, we hope to develop young men with good character and the motivation to succeed.

Similarly, we have developed an all-girls program with the aim of building leadership, integrity, and self-awareness. By excluding the distraction of gender stereotypes and building upon gender differences, we have, as Dr. Sax put it, “got beyond pink and blue.” We see girls as individuals and understand that they do not need to be trapped by certain feminine stereotypes, such as “girls are not good at math and science.” Instead, we create opportunities that allow them to succeed by modifying their environment. For instance, we expose students to female scientists, mathematicians, and authors in the hopes of providing examples of greatness. We also utilize texts with strong girls as major characters who have attributes with which they can identify.

Additionally, we spend a great deal of time providing a safe place where girls can express themselves without the fear of failure or competition. As reporter Sara Rimer of The New York Times explained, “being an amazing girl often doesn’t feel like enough these days when you’re competing with all the other amazing girls.” Our teams seek to reduce the anxiety many girls experience by citing mantras such as Failure Leads to Success, Be Flexible, and Practice Balance. These keys of excellence help the girls release the deep-seated feelings of insecurity many of them have experienced throughout their academic and social careers. It also gives them permission to take risks where they may not historically have done so.

The middle school experience can be isolating and overwhelming for many students.  By understanding how boys and girls learn differently, our school has created a welcoming place where All are Respected  and Achievement is Expected regardless of gender, demographics, and other characteristics. While we have by no means perfected the model, we are confident in its effectiveness and continue to build upon our successes.

Woodbridge Middle School will be one of 22 schools featured at the Breaking RanksSchool Showcase at Ignite 2014. The Woodbridge team will be presenting A Same Gender Option: Boys and Girls are Different! on Thursday, February 6th. For more on Tefft Middle School, check out the article published in the May 2012 issue of Principal Leadership.

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: Bloomfield High School

Guest post by Chris Jennings:

What happens when you create an opportunity for students to choose where they will go and what they will do during the school day? Chaos? Anarchy? At Bloomfield High School in New Jersey, we discovered that students may surprise you.

During the 2011-12 school year, a group of students and administrators met throughout the year to discuss how we could work within the confines of our existing seven-period day to create more opportunities for students to have independent time for clubs, extra help, and teacher meetings. When I opened the discussion to the staff, one of our teachers recommended we take a look at Princeton High School’s “Wednesday” schedule. We did, and we adopted a similar schedule for the 12-13 school year. We have not looked back.

The basic premise is this: Each Wednesday, we shorten each period by eight minutes to allow for an activity period that runs during normal school hours – in our case, from 1:40-2:35. During this period, every school employee is unencumbered and available for students. Teachers and counselors can meet with students individually, in small groups, or as a whole class. Tests are retaken or made up, labs are completed, homework is done, and questions are answered.

You get the picture – but the catch is that at 1:40 school is dismissed, and students can choose whether or not they participate in the activity period. This is the part that made the grown-ups nervous. What if they all choose to leave? It took a leap of faith, but a year and a half later we consistently have 1,000 students choosing to stay in school and work with teachers. We relax school rules about hats, iPods, and cell phones during this period, and students are allowed stay for just ten minutes or beyond the duration of the period. We trust students to make decisions that are in their best interest, and they genuinely appreciate having the freedom. In my seven years as principal at BHS, I have not been involved in another decision that has been so universally accepted by students, teachers, and parents. The Wednesday Activity Period has become an important component of our approach to differentiate school for our students.

Chris Jennings is the principal of Bloomfield High School. Bloomfield High School will be one of 22 schools featured at the Breaking Ranks School Showcase at Ignite 2014. The Bloomfield team will be presenting Transforming a Title I High School through Culture, Collaboration, and Curriculum on Thursday, February 6th.  For more on Bloomfield High School, check out the article published in the May 2012 issue of Principal Leadership.