resources

Moving from Analysis to Action—Building Capacity through Conversation

Guest post by David Johns

Numerous tools exist to help Professional Learning Communities (PLC) grow. There are checklists to ensure that the right roles are assigned. There are accountability documents to ensure that teams meet on time and in a common location. There are even the four timeless guiding questions from Rick DuFour to keep PLCs focused on the work of improving achievement. So why then do most PLC conversations stall out once we’ve looked at student work? Why don’t we turn our attention to actions we need to take as educators to address what we see? (more…)

Fostering an Environment for Teacher Growth

Guest post by Michele Paine

An area of passion for me as a school leader involves facilitating teacher growth. One way I work on this is by hosting several professional book studies during the school year.

Our district pays teachers for two days of flexible professional development time each contract year. Teachers can choose from a variety of options, including conferences, regional training, and state-led events. With all of these choices, however, I feel it is important to foster collegial discussion and professional reading. (more…)

How Educators Can Support Grieving Students Through Learning

Concentration and learning difficulties are extremely common for people dealing with grief. This is true for adults, as well as children. However, because learning is the main work of school-aged children and teens, these common challenges pose a risk of serious academic problems.

As one grieving student explained, “It was hard because I couldn’t concentrate on my work. If I was reading, I would read the words, but I wouldn’t read the story. I would think about something else … .”

That reflects some of the typical experiences of grieving students. (more…)

Support for Grieving Students: A Team Makes It Happen

When a student experiences the death of a loved one, what should schools do? One essential step for a school supporting a grieving student is to work as a team in their efforts. Here’s an example.

Fifth grader Elia’s family was devastated when her older sister died in a car crash. Elia’s school stepped up to give Elia and her family whatever support they could.

Her teacher touched base with the family right away, attended the funeral service, and made adjustments in Elia’s coursework to ease her transition back to school. (more…)

Just the PiL You Need: Microsoft Partners in Learning Network

Guest post by Wendell B. Sumter:

In the spring of 2012, kindergarten teacher Stephanie Barber and I gave lengthy answers to questions about how our school integrated technology in the classrooms and used it to propel professional development. We then submitted our application to Microsoft to be considered a Microsoft Pathfinder School. At the time, we were very enthused about the possibility of our school being named. We knew that it was a long shot. We were a small rural school in Chester County, South Carolina and a title one school, but we didn’t allow that to deter us from applying for such a great opportunity and honor.

In October 2012, Microsoft named our school a 2012 “Innovative Pathfinder School.” The honor came from The Microsoft Partners in Learning Program, a 10-year, nearly $500 million commitment to transform K12 education around the world by connecting teachers and school leaders in a community of professional development. The program also helps school leaders foster innovative teaching practices and 21st-century learning by providing tools and resources they need to better impact student participation.

Three years ago, when I arrived at Great Falls Elementary, we had a basic computer lab. Some teachers had Promethean whiteboards, and there were two computers in each classroom. Since then, we have increased student access to technology in various ways. Technology doesn’t take the place of authentic teaching; the most important thing to me is that teachers are able to use technology to enhance student achievement.

When we were selected as a Pathfinder School by Microsoft, Mrs. Barber and I had the opportunity to attend Microsoft’s “Partners In Learning Global Forum” in Prague, where administrators convened to share their schools’ tech success stories. We also had the awesome opportunity to form partnerships with other schools and continue professional development with Microsoft’s Virtual University.

We teamed with 11 other schools, including a mentor school from New Zealand, to focus on customizing lessons and training teachers to effectively use technology tools. Through virtual meetings, we continue to brainstorm and share ideas and resources. Collaborating is a big benefit of being a Pathfinder School; I have the ability to say to my colleagues, ‘Did you try this at your school?’ and ‘How did it work?’“

So if you’re looking for a cure to your technology woes; if you’re looking for ways to improve your technology skills or those of your staff; if you’re interested in partnering with other schools across the world; if you’re looking for ways to gain recognition and bring powerful resources and tools to your campus to transform the learning environment through teaching and learning, we have just the PiL you need! Come learn about Microsoft’s Partners in Learning Program and opportunities to be an attendee at the Partners In Learning Global Forum! In this session you will learn about free resources, valuable international networking, and opportunities to become recognized as an Innovative School! Join the network and become an innovative school by visiting www.pil-network.com/schools.

Wendell B. Sumter is Principal of Great Falls Elementary School in South Carolina. Wendell joins Byron Garrett, director of the innovative schools program at Microsoft, to present Partners in Learning! Microsoft Innovative Schools Program on Saturday, February 8 at Ignite ’14 in Dallas. For more information and to register visit www.nasspconference.org.

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.

Make the Most of Your Opportunity to Connect

Guest post by Carrie Jackson:

One of the greatest benefits connected educators and leaders enjoy is the opportunity to share with one another and have others push our own learning. Through Twitter and other media, school leaders have become more connected and reflective than ever before. However, the very best part of being a connected leader, in my opinion, is the opportunity to interact face-to-face with our online colleagues. This is one reason I eagerly anticipate NASSP’s Ignite ’14 in my beloved state of Texas.

Ignite ’14 captures the spirit of collaboration and brings it to life with personal interactions. NASSP intentionally built office hours and networking sessions into the schedule so that participants can easily find and converse with nationally-recognized authors, speakers, and practitioners. Learning labs and Technology Showcase sessions offer brief small-group discussions on topics of interest and direct application to professional practice.

Most impressive, in my opinion, is the way social media interactions on Twitter, Instagram, blogs, and more blend seamlessly with in-person learning events. Live-streaming conversations bring participants closer together and enhance connections.

So how does the Ignite ’14 participant make the most of this year’s gathering in Dallas?

Engage with Twitter…now. If you are not already a connected learner, you will be surprised just how much your interaction with others on Twitter will enhance your experience. Set up your account, and start by following @NASSP. Then take a look at who NASSP follows and mentions. Those are good people to follow. Check out what these folks are saying, and chime in when you are ready. By the time you get to Dallas, you will feel as though you know quite a few of the Ignite ’14 participants already.

Visit the networking sessions. You are missing out on something special if you pass up the speaker office hours, the Technology Showcase sessions, and the learning labs. These are great ways to extend your learning, capitalize on new strategies, and connect with new people personally.

Make time to connect with colleagues. Whether you hang out in the designated social lounge areas or hold informal Tweet-ups, capitalize on the opportunity to meet in person the colleagues you have come to know online. If you really appreciate a speaker, stop by and let him/her know during office hours. Engage with other learners and your experience (and theirs) will be better.

I look forward to seeing you at Ignite ’14, and I hope you enjoy your time in Dallas!

Carrie Jackson (@jackson_carrie) was named an NASSP Digital Principal in 2013. Carrie will be presenting Stylish New Social Tools for Schools on Saturday, February 8 at Ignite ’14. For more information and to register visit www.nasspconference.org.

AP Viewpoint: IT CAN BE DONE!

Guest post by Matthew Willis:

William C. Hinkley High School in Aurora, CO is using many of the “Breaking Ranks” frameworks to crush the high-school-to-prison pipeline and diminish systemic poverty in our community.

Creating hope, opportunity, and addressing a traditional disciplinary process simultaneously is a best practice for meeting these goals and transforming underperforming schools. The assistant principal plays a vital role in transforming school culture and its system of discipline.

Crushing the high-school-to-prison pipeline takes a commitment to creating a culture of care through restorative justice, circles, conferences, and other relational practices. We must commit to working collaboratively and intentionally to repair every breech in relationships. Unbelievably, Hinkley high school had over 260 physical aggression referrals (category C) and over 400 minor infractions like disobedience, defiance, and profanity referrals (category B) in 2008. As a result of our work with many community stakeholders, including the Aurora Police Department and Dr. Tom Cavanagh from Colorado State University, we are transforming Hinkley high school and working to create equitable practices in every classroom. As is evident from the graph below, our work to create a positive school culture that is safe and welcoming for all is coming to life. PBS NewsHour will be joining Dr. Tom Cavanaugh and the staff and students of Hinkley High School for a day in January to discover and share many of our best practices.

Just 10 days before the 2012-13 school year began, a theater shooting killed and wounded many people in the Aurora community. Having restorative justice, relationships with our students and community, and a culture of care provided a mechanism for us to deal with this devastation.

I look forward to the Ignite ’14 conference in Dallas and the opportunity to share data, best practices, and stories from William C. Hinkley High School.

Matthew Willis is the 2013 NASSP/Virco National Assistant Principal of the Year. Matthew will present the Assistant Principals Viewpoint on Saturday, February 8 at Ignite ’14. For more information and to register, visit www.nasspconference.org.

Ignite ‘14 to Feature Turnaround Principals

Is your school currently in ‘turnaround mode’? For all but a very few high-performing schools the answer is a resounding yes.

Schools are in the center of a vortex consisting of three major, long-term change initiatives; 1) new, higher standards with accompanying assessments and accountability measures, 2) new teacher evaluation systems, which include data from student test scores, 3) new state data systems for holding schools more accountable, which include attendance, school discipline, and graduation rates.

To further complicate matters, many schools have faced multiple years of tight budgets and are being asked to do much more with larger class sizes and less experienced teachers. At the same time school leaders are being asked to address a twenty-five year low in teacher satisfaction brought on, in large part by the ‘fire our way to Finland’ reformer mindset, an all-time high student poverty rate, and an increasingly diverse student population.

This so-called ‘perfect storm’ of school reform places dramatically increases pressures on school leaders to enter into ‘turnaround mode’ to improve student achievement by increasing rigor, changing staff expectations, and enhancing teaching practice. It is not surprising that 75% of principals say their job has become too complex.

Turning around a school—simultaneously raising student achievement in the face of more rigorous standards, changing attitudes and expectations, and improving teaching requires a “different kind of leadership.” In keeping with NASSP’s commitment to supporting school leaders, the Ignite ‘14 National Conference will include practitioners who have successfully turned around low-performing schools.  In fact, all three are currently in their second turnaround school.

Not only have these schools dramatically improved test scores, but they have reduced course failures, improved attendance, reduced student referrals and discipline incidents by more than 70%, and significantly improved reading and writing scores.

What do these leaders and their schools have in common?

  1. Clear Vision
  2. A laser-like Focus
  3. High expectations resulting from a growth Mindset
  4. Collaboration and Shared Leadership
  5. Strong Staff and Student Relationships
  6. High levels of Student Engagement
  7. Dramatically improved student Behavior
  8. Sizeable increases in student Attendance
  9. A schoolwide Commitment to Learning for all students
  10. Consistent Instruction resulting from a Defined Set of Instructional Practices
  11. A long-term emphasis on Schoolwide Literacy
  12. A strong Culture of Accountability

In addition to my own presentation titled Instructional Leadership: From Inspectors to Builders, school leaders from the three schools with whom I have worked over the past several years will be presenting in separate concurrent sessions:

  • Eric Jones and Teresa McDaniel, J.O. Johnson High School, Huntsville, Alabama
  • Brad Perkins, Muskegon High School, Muskegon, Michigan
  • Kasey Teske and Amy McBride, Twin Falls, Idaho

In addition, Dan Duke, author of Differentiating School Leadership, will discuss what his research has uncovered about the keys to long-term school improvement and turnaround. Dan and I will also be presenting together in a second session, Differentiated Leadership (Part II), on the practical applications of his findings.

Improving schools requires readily available, low-cost, research-based resources for teachers. Former National Teacher of the Year, Sarah Brown Wessling, and I will discuss the resources available from The Teaching Channel and how I have used those resources to enhance classroom practice. As I have done for the past two years, I will continue to emphasize how I used the Doing What Works resources to help schools successfully implement school wide literacy initiatives as well as to reduce dropouts and improve graduation rates.

Restorative Practices: An Answer to Many School Challenges

Guest post by Steven Korr:

Educators face so many challenges today. The pressure to foster student achievement at higher and higher levels is enormous. At the same time, educators find that students don’t seem to be socially and academically prepared to excel. Students often don’t know how to work successfully in groups. Many lack a sense of caring about others that can result in hurtful and even violent behavior.

The upshot is that we’re all seeing more disrespect and disruptions in classrooms. Many teachers wonder, “How can I teach when the problems are so great?” After all, learning requires risk-taking. But if students don’t feel safe, how can they be expected to take necessary risks?

Clearly, these conditions have a detrimental impact on learning. Still, when educators go into the classroom they are expected to teach. And students, for all their challenges, need them to do just that.

The old answers for handling these problems are failing. The current trend across the country is to repeal zero tolerance policies. The data shows that those policies weren’t working anyway. But if we can’t just throw kids out of the classroom or school when they disrupt learning, what are we going to do? Our answer is to institute “restorative practices.”

At the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), a graduate school based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, we start from the fundamental premise that people are happier, more cooperative, more productive, and more likely to make positive changes when those in authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.

In a school building, this means that we have to take a look at how we can build connections and strengthen relationships between everybody in the school – teachers, students, administrators, staff, and even secretaries, bus drivers, hall monitors and cafeteria workers.

This doesn’t mean instituting yet another new program that’s going to be forgotten in a few years’ time. Instead, restorative practices provide a framework for changing the thinking and behavior of those in authority, to consistently do the things that good educators and leaders have always done—thereby changing the way everyone in the school building relates to one another.

Restorative practices provide ways to address student behavior when things go wrong. More importantly, they improve the learning environment so that kids feel safe and effective learning can happen.

Steve Korr is a trainer and consultant for the International Institute for Restorative Practices (iirp.edu). He was a counselor and principal at an alternative school for at-risk youth for more than a decade. He has helped schools across the country, both urban and rural, implement successful restorative practices programs to improve school climate and positively impact learning. He will be presenting a breakout session at Ignite ’14 on Saturday, Feb. 8th from 8AM to 9:15AM.

To learn more about restorative practices and whole-school change, visit SaferSanerSchools.org. The article “What Is Restorative Practices?” by IIRP Founder and President Ted Wachtel also provides an excellent introduction to the topic.