positive school culture

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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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…)

Recognizing Student Success: Creating a Positive Culture for Students

Guest post by Matthew Younghans

Motivation and success are what drive individuals in any profession. In the school setting, it is critically important that we celebrate and recognize the outstanding things that students accomplish, both inside and outside of the building. Watching students grow and accomplish their goals is one of the main reasons most go into education, myself included. The recognition of students fosters strong relationships among students, families, faculty, and the community and creates a positive school culture where students feel valued. (more…)

Creating Culturally Responsive Schools

Guest post by Helen Gladden

Schools that strive to be culturally responsive believe that there is no one right “set” of experiences, beliefs, and values. They know that each student’s cultural set is his or her self identity. Most importantly, they understand that students are far more likely to fully engage in the learning process when their self identity is understood, accepted, and valued. They are committed to building trust with and among their students, and they know that trust is built through respect. (more…)

How School “Brand” Determines Student Outcomes

Guest post by Baruti K. Kafele, an award-winning educator, internationally renowned speaker, and best-selling author, who will lead two sessions at Ignite ’15, February 19–21.

The brand of any school tells a story. It reveals to everyone—students, staff, parents, and the community—who you are as a school. Your school’s brand can be defined intentionally, or it can evolve organically; but a brand that evolves organically may not be the one you most desire. Your school’s brand matters—it determines student outcomes.

Here’s a brief illustration that I share in discussions with educators about school brand: There’s a popular Southern-based restaurant chain, and whenever I enter these restaurants, a very unique experience consistently occurs. Someone behind the counter yells out, “Welcome to [our restaurant]!” The consistency of their greeting speaks volumes about their brand. (more…)

Transforming At-Risk Schools: It’s All About Attitude

Baruti Kafele’s students will never forget him. He was the guy standing at the front door every morning to greet students as they entered. Why? He was the principal. And as far as he’s concerned, that was one of the most important things he could do in his role.

A principal for 14 years, Kafele led four New Jersey schools with at-risk student populations to success. Now an internationally renowned speaker, author, and consultant, he has quite a bit of insight on the topic of improving schools with at-risk students—which he will share at Ignite ’15 this February during his session, “School Leadership Practices for Transforming the Attitudes of At-Risk Student Populations.” (more…)

Creating an Environment for Innovation Though Evaluation and Feedback: 8 Tips and Warnings

Guest post by Anthony Scannella and Sharon McCarthy:

Which do you think helps individuals and systems flourish during these transformational times: a bit of risk, a bit of failure and a good deal of feedback–or safely doing what has always been done? If you favor risk, failure and feedback, please read on. If you choose safety in complacency, save yourself some time and make a different decision.

We define effective feedback as a tool that supports professional growth in your school or system. But before we talk about what makes feedback effective, it is essential to consider the much celebrated belief that “there is no such thing as failure—only feedback.” In theory, this is supposed to help our egos cope with our mistakes. In reality, most of us secretly hope to be told how amazing our teaching or leading is, and hearing otherwise makes us both uncomfortable and defensive. Keep that very real human tendency in mind when sharing feedback.

Below are 8 suggestions for leaders whose focus is growth, in folks and in systems:

  1. Ask others how they prefer to receive the feedback. This is the baseline for respect.
  2. Know that while sharing feedback will help you and your colleagues improve, it will also cause most folks to squirm a bit—that is OK.
  3. Differentiate feedback based on the rating of the performance. (Please see: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-03-15/the-ideal-praise-to-criticism-ratio.html)
  4. Provide feedback in a way that caters to the receiver’s value system. People pay attention more to things they find important.
  5. Follow feedback basics: Feedback should be timely, specific, actionable, and connected to goals and practice.
  6. Create a structure for feedback—one that consistently communicates how things are going.
  7. Keep in mind that people generally change their behavior when provided with an environment that encourages change and specific cognitive maps that outline a “plan” in their heads. Therefore, the onus is on the leader/evaluator to ensure that the environment and maps, which Art Costa refers to as “mental rehearsals,” are clearly communicated in a culture of high expectations. (Costa, Arthur & Garmston, R. Cognitive Coaching. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, 1994.)
  8. Remain keenly aware of the fact that the meaning of your communication is the response that it elicits, regardless of your intentions. As many have experienced, the intended message is not always the received message.

How educational leaders model the practice of effective feedback for teachers not only helps teachers in improving their own performance but also provides mental models of effective practices for teachers to use with their own students. Feedback matters in every relationship in the schoolhouse! Synthesizing more than 900 educational meta-analyses, researcher John Hattie has found that effective feedback is among the most powerful influences on how people learn. (John Hattie, Know Thy Impact. Educational Leadership, Feedback for Learning, September 2012, Vol. 70, No. 1.)

Please join us at Ignite’14 to share thoughts and practices regarding this most fundamental of educational practices for positive transformation.

Anthony Scannella (@edufea, scannella.anthony@gmail.com) and Sharon McCarthy (@ienvision, ienvision@mac.com) will present Sustainable Results for Great Schools on Saturday, February 8 at Ignite ’14. For more information visit www.nasspconference.org.

Read their article “Teacher Evaluation: Adversity or Opportunity?” online in the January 2014 issue of Principal Leadership.

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/