Sunday, December 27, 2009

Relationship...the most important "R".

My nephews are huggers. At Christmas and other family gatherings they want a hug, they expect a hug, maybe they need a hug. They are about relationships, much like most of the students in our classrooms today.

I'm either a late Baby Boomer or an early "Gen Xer". I have a lot of "whatever" in me and I expended a lot of energy avoiding my teachers, parents, any adult who wanted to get closer to me. YET, it were those adults that engaged me and prodded, poked and insisted they try to break through my shell that I remember and who influenced my life the most.

Today's students are more open to involvement and engagement for the most part, but are in a lot of cases being taught by teachers who are not. Out of the old three "Rs" - Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic (Kinda says something that two of the three do not begin with R) and the new "Rs" - Rigor, Relevance and Relationship, I feel the last (Relationship) is the most important. And maybe we have data to support that statement.

A year ago we were both happy and concerned after breaking down our ITED scores. We had jumped above state-set trajectory levels in all three of our subject areas, Math, Reading and Science.

So initiatives in Reading and Math were either tweaked or created. Although I was pleased with the ideas (Not relevant to my post today) they were only going to have 2-3 months under their belts with them before the next round of high stakes testing.

I had requested our counselor develop and administer a survey to students on ITEDs and organize the homeroom teachers to review past scores, set goals, and talk to students on how to effectively take the ITED test and why it was important - "to them".

We showed them we could project ACT & SAT performance, but only if they relaxed and tried their best. Our counselor effectively developed and worked with our teachers to administer this right before testing time.

Our Juniors came through. Our reading landed 20 points above the projected mark, at 82; Science was a gaudy 86; and Math was eight above the projected, coming in at 73.

Research would back that our initiatives hadn't had the time to effect the scores that much. With a school our size I feel I can infer that our increase was due to the fact more kids took the tests seriously and gave their best effort.

It's my contention we can draw a line between students trying harder and the relationships and engagement they were receiving from our teaching staff in homeroom and in the classrooms.

We didn't look at it from a "school" perspective, rather a "student" perspective...which is was these dang tests are supposed to be used for in the first place.

We took the time to engage the students and tried to help them frame it from their perspective.

Relationship...the most important "R".

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Stepping towards better classrooms

In the span of the last two weeks I have rapidly increased the development, and more importantly cultivation, of my "Professional Learning Network" PLN.

Next is getting my staff going with PLNs. You see we took technology, and provided staff with quality staff development. They received the computers months ahead of the students, they were giving over a year of staff training, guided by a very skilled AEA13 Technology consultant, Judy Griffin. We did it right by the "old model of Professional Development".

Guess what? Our results are not where I would like them to be despite doing it right, despite educating teachers first, despite old model quality support.

"When's Judy coming?" a teacher would say. Another, "Is Judy coming on the 14th?"

The "obvious" thought that came on last week during the Will Richardson day at Ames is - "Judy's available EVERY DAY!

Via email, Skype, Twitter, Yahoo and Blogger, Judy's out there and probably available. That's the theme or point I will repeatedly make, along with "I'm available", when moving my staff towards their own development of a PLN.

At the beginning of next semester, I am going to roll out some PLN information and show them what I am doing. They will be exposed to many of the things you all are exposed to and given a re-energizing plea from me to re-tool their blogs and work to keep them, and their websites, updated. But central, and first, develop a PLN.

And most importantly ... why am I asking them to do this. Why?

Because they need to understand the power of the PLN so they can look at how to expose our students to the power of the PLN.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My day of transformation - "Networking the New Literacy"

I was feeling pretty good about our technology integration during year two of our one-to-one initiative. Then yesterday's session with Will Richardson went down. I now have a clearer vision of where we're heading.

While I'm more inspired today, by his words and the work going on in several district's in the state, I'm reassessing where CAM High School is as a building. You see we may be falling short in the area of teaching students how to access the learning communities in "the cloud".

Personally, I'm just starting to establish a learning network and my eyes are opening wide to the possibilities. I now see how several colleagues can wax on so eloquently about their vision and where their districts are heading.

My biggest take aways from yesterday.

The Shift - Education will change. How and when is uncertain, but the facts are the abundance of learning tools online, and the networks you can join and become a part of, means it will either change willingly, or kicking and screaming. My bet is on the later. Allowing students to network with "anyone" is inconceivable to many people. Even though outside of the school day they will be doing that anyway.

We need to unblock everything and teach everything - If not us, then who? 'Nuff said. Get it done, address patron's fears, teacher's fears, everyone's fears head on. Teach Digital citizenship, how to use social networks for learning and that's for everyone.

Bring everyone together - Sure we got everyone on board for one-to-one computers. That wasn't that hard of a sell. The problem is until 24 hours ago, I didn't exactly know what I was selling. This conversation will be different..vastly different.

We/students need to be Googleable - Student's need to be found in the cloud and their work needs to reflect positively on their new literacy skills. This goes against many people's ingrained mis-conceptions.

We need to dive into the CLOUD head first - Get your PLN set up, get your teachers involved in setting up a PLN and get your student's work out there for everyone to see and then promote it!

We need to get moving now, get teachers involved and get everyone to the table. These are exciting times, but we have to be ready to empower patrons and faculty to overcome their fears.

The students don't have them.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow days - just another school day?

If we take our essential skills, create a student-centered classroom, create and embed authentic assessments, create and maintain online learning environments - then snow days would be more like a typical day - not a complete and total stoppage of school.

We are mired in a "blizzard" in Iowa and most schools have canceled, some for the second day in a row. Teachers who have till Christmas to wrap up their semester just had their plans condensed, fine arts programs preparing for holiday concerts are scrambling and looking for times during the day to practice.

Students are connected via internet (75% of our students have access at home) or most have cellphones that have apps if not browser access on their phone. If we made these tools part of our curriculum delivery then physically having the student's logging seat time would be unnecessary.

Regular days and snow days could be administered to anyone and everyone, whether they were at school or not.

The questions are limitless and are often stumbling blocks for reform in education by using technology. A total shift to online curriculum looks impossible.

But is it? We have two classes that have 60-90% or their curriculum online and if they had too, they could have instructed students to refer to their sites these past two days. Definitely something I'm going to bring up at the next leadership team meeting.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

"You Tweet???"

I'll admit. Twitter was a just another one of those Web 2.0 applications that I just didn't want to deal with. After all it was getting athletes and celebrities in instant trouble. Sarah Palin Tweeted...It just wasn't for me.

Folks, we live in a world where you need to embrace and at least try EVERYTHING that comes out new and gets buzz. Yes, everything has their trivial and meaningless side. But EVERYTHING has it's beneficial and productive side.

And the beauty is ... you can do both ... alternatively at the same time. As I check email, facebook or edit personal pictures, Tweetdeck (a twitter application) buzzes me with education posts that my professional network is tweeting.

Most of the Twittering I do as to do with Technology in education. There is a nightly discussion on education issues at "educhat". The information that I read and see is relevant, interesting and mostly backed with real data.

What if we did that with students in our district with students across the country?

Twitter is amazing. Twitter is trivial. That can be said for a lot of Web 2.0 applications.

I was just invited to check out Google Wave...the next new thing from Google.

It just keeps coming

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Helping with homework

Many parents ask how they can best help their students with homework. I understand how helpless a parent may feel trying to explain a math concept, science concept or even how to assist in an accounting assignment.

First off, you must help the student organize their time AND have an idea of what they are actually doing during that time. They can tell you they were working, but if you haven't dropped in on them or engaged them during the process, you will never really know.

But after that it's HOW you ENGAGE them that matters, not your content knowledge.

I, personally, didn't know some of the math terminology my son was working on last year and had to take a pause.

So instead of having the answer, which really isn't an ideal thing to provide, I had to evaluate the problem and work with him to figure out what was needed. After some frustration, he worked through the issue, with my help (mainly cheerleading and encouraging) and then was able to answer the questions.

This is why, at all levels, we need to de-emphasize getting the right answer. It's the process.

So, at home when you're asked how to help define a themes for a student in English, or which verb tense is needed in Spanish, ASK your students questions about what they're doing in class, what the teacher said, what is available online. Help them think through the process and come up with answers AND questions for the teacher.

Teacher's can answer specific questions about material and problems generated from student's attempting to solve problems. "I don't understand it," means the student hasn't tried to solve it themselves.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

High School Parent-Teacher Conferences this week

We will hold one night of parent-teacher conferences this Thursday from 4:30 - 8:30 p.m. only at CAM High School. CAM Middle School and the elementary schools will be holding conferences during the last week of October.

It is important to the success of your student that you attend if possible.

High School staff and the leadership team agreed that it would be beneficial to hold conferences soon after mid-term to allow teachers and parents to get together and formulate strategies to help improve their student's performance BEFORE the end of the quarter on October 16.

Please stop in the office to see your student's lunch balance. You have received a copy of the report card so we will not have them in the office. Teachers will have a progress report ready for you in each of your student's classes.

Please keep your conferences to 10-20 minutes and if their is a line behind you, respect that and maybe schedule an individual conference for early the following week if you feel you need more time.

The key is for both to look ahead and see what needs to be done in the future. Too often we focus on what didn't get handed in, why a particular test or project was graded in the fashion it was graded.

I stand firmly behind our staff and their efforts to be FAIR while having high expectations for turning assignments in, being responsible and accountable for their work. I have looked into dozens of situations and all but ONE was an issue of the students trying to manipulate me, the teacher and yes, their parents.

The one case the student was responsible, went to the teacher and together they resolved the problem with the student's grade. In another instance I pulled a group of students in and told them what they needed to do. Defiantly they did not follow one of my instructions and will be disappointed in the grade they earned.

Our entire staff wants your student to succeed and prepares hard. I can say I've worked personally will all of the teachers and especially our first year teachers or teachers in new areas. They have all worked hard to make their classrooms dynamic and engaging and have made significant adjustments.

We hope the new format will yield improved performance in the classroom as we end the quarter.

See you there!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Homecoming wraps up with students dancing

What a great week. Homecoming week 2009 was an undeniable success.

The Dance was well attended and most students danced the full two hours allotted.

A victory in district helped with the mood as well as every player seeing the field that was able against the Hawks. It was a good release before starting preparations for district rival CRB.

A big thanks goes to the student council and sponsor Larry Hunt. They organize the theme, dress-up days, the auction, coronation, bonfire, parade, game presentation of homecoming court and dance. That means a lot of phone calls, time writing coronation script, making sure each class knows what to do and when among many things.

Another big thanks goes the staff for organizing and supervising float building, supervising events and decorating the field, the coronation and the dance. Also for keeping a focus on academics as well as allowing for the students to enjoy the week.

You see, at the beginning of the year there was a wild rumor that the administration had canceled all homecoming festivities. Now two years ago we did make a decision to limit the elementary's involvement to the parade, but we have never talked about eliminating homecoming activities.

What we DID do was reduce the amount of interruptions during the school day during homecoming week. We had all of our float building and decorating during Wednesday, when anyone taking IWCC classes could be free to participate. We did our "anything goes" competitions on Monday night (In the gym because of the rain) instead of during the school day. So in the end, other than Wednesday, we missed no class time (other than reduced day on Friday for the parade).

We have made a few notes for next year, but I would look for homecoming week to have a similar feel.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mid-term approaching and JMC

The first date in grade analysis for the district is Friday, September 18th when the mid-term of the first quarter for 09-10 hits. Teachers will be balancing units grading and points which are supposed to run up to and on that date. But after the grade cut off, there is grading and entering so grades will be printed on Wednesday, September 23rd and sent out that day or the next morning.

Grades are available to all parents on our JMC online parent access page connected to our website. There are buttons for High School, Middle School and Elementary. You have an username and a password which can be provided to you by request from any of the school offices.

We ask that you focus on grades year round, instead of just at these flash points, because we have seen many students involved in activities find themselves ineligible and parents are frustrated.

Because we have grade checks weekly, teachers are required to update at least once and week and most update more than that, often posting assignments ahead of when their due.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Project Lead the Way (PLTW)

Project Lead The Way (PLTW) enters it's second year at CAM High School and will beging the year with a flurry of activity.

We added a second class, Principles of Engineering. We have increased numbers in Intro to Engineering and Design and the Kern Family Foundation is coming out September 14th to evaluate and hopefully certify the district.

Mr. Miller is teaching Intro to Engineering and Design and Mr. Arp is teaching Principles. Both are excited and anxious to get things rolling and working towards getting students online and working with the software.

We've experienced a problem as we didn't get supplies and computers ordered and will start a couple weeks behind with the software. Both classes have activities to do in the mean time to get things going.

We're excited to offer the opportunity to young people who can engage seemingly difficult concepts in a hands-on, real-life manner.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bumps on the road of technology integration

I would be lying if I said our one-to-one has gotten off to a smooth start this year. We were pushing to get the computers to the kids on Thursday, then Friday and then had to settle on Monday.

Well, there's something in the air with Apple Computers and their wireless "airports" (play on words intended) and updating their firmware. So long story short is we're hoping for Wednesday, at the latest Friday to get the computers out to students.

The positive in all this is our teachers get to use the critical thinking skills to substitute any lessons that were relying on the Macbooks with either different lessons or find another source of technology to replace them. The good thing is the teachers have their computers and the airports are functioning for them at the moment.

For me it will be a "teachable moment" in faculty meetings, individual conferences and professional learning team gatherings.

For teachers and students they will have to go a little longer without the computers.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Extending the day and CAM Reads

A direct relationship has been established between the school day being extended and the high school implementing a free reading period CAM Reads. A negative vibe from the kids indicating they blame the extra time in school CAM Reads.

Though I can see where that thinking has come from, it's inaccurate. As a Principal I'll admit that the change in the school time should have been brought up in the newsletter and at registration. Along with simply putting the schedule in, and explanation of where and why we are implementing CAM Reads and what we were also considering.

There has been considerable discussion about the school day since it was shortened from 3:30 to 3:00 when our whole-grade sharing situation first began. This past spring we decided to give it a look and with the blessing of both transportation departments we decided to put the instructional time back into the school day.

After that decision was made we looked at just adding the time back into the block, pull-out and homeroom options, several initiatives in reading and math among other things. We received very good information about "Reading Volume" and the amount students can and should read each year. We decided on establishing a free reading period between blocks 3&4 and 7&8 (and after lunch on Wednesday) and titled it "CAM Reads".

I will post more about CAM Reads in the future, but I will say it is the first step for this district to improve our student's ability to read and comprehend but giving them a no-pressure, low impact reading period where they will simply have to discuss their book with a partner or the class. If they simply participate and fill out their log sheets they will get an elective credit.

As I told one student, we could have simply divided the time up to the four classes each day or put them through some repetitious test-prep drill work.

CAM Reads is a great option.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A portal to media literacy

This Kansas State professor is on the cutting edge of digital learning:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Staring down the barrel of professional development days

As a principal and instructional leader, building manager, certified staff manager and curriculum director I always get to the point where I feel I'm staring down the barrel of professional development days.

I habitually start beating myself up starting about July 4th. Sitting watching fireworks with the kids, spawns a knot in my stomach. A voice starts talking, "you need to inspire them out of the shoot, you need to dazzle them." On vacation I tote my laptop and do little things, searching for videos and website, nuggets to lay out for them to pick up and take into the year. Never really leaving my work behind for my free 12th month the anxiety level rises as you try to balance family, friends, work while off contract.

Then there's August. The whirlwind of meetings, professional and building, the smattering of teachers that arrive and the issues that need solved now and not in a week or two like you would like them to be solved. What gets pushed aside to solve these problems and help teachers get ready? Preparation for professional development. Never mind that your partners in education (the local AEA reps) are off contract and you each have a folder of things you discussed in June that continue to gather dust.

But we get there, we prepare and we do our very best (I might add we do better and better each year as we further implement effective professional development models like IDM or DDL or and effective PLT program). And it comes. Day one with teachers.

Thinking of title to this post I realize as I feel I'm looking down the barrel in July and August, the teachers show up and it's being pointed at them with no regard to the short time they have to get ready. We have rolled out very good sessions over the past three years, but you can't hide the fact the teachers are looking down the barrel of another gun - THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL.

Teachers do come in some during the year, but many count on those three days to prepare.

So as administrators and educational partners we fire the gun on the first day with teachers yet they see another gun pointed, cocked and aimed at them.

Truthfully, it's not that dramatic and we do an effective job at balancing our professional development time with preparing for students. But the compressed time, and the problems that pop up that need teachers and administrators attention make it a pressure filled three days.

The key is to have "bullets" of learning that are not for the teachers to absorb in those few days. They should be starting points for initiatives that are ongoing and are addressing district needs.

Professional development is not a gun or a bullet, but we can make it feel like we're firing out knowledge and putting teachers in the cross fire of PD and getting ready for school.

Oh, and I'm writing this with a pile of things I need to have ready for Monday.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Better get updated

Saw my blog on Scott Mcleod's wiki...Thought I'd better at least update the blog.

Will do a better job as we've had great dialog today.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

End of the year approaching

The end of the year is fast approaching. Prom next weekend, Senior's last day May 12, Graduation May 17 and everyone's last day May 21st.

Computers have been in the hands of students all year and will have to be taken in an serviced for the summer. All personal files, music and the like need to be saved elsewhere as the computers will be re-imaged and we do not back up those files. The students will most likely get the same computer back (some will get a different computer) next year cleaned up and updated.

Please find your chargers and bags as students have been reminded by staff for the past few weeks they need to find those items. A charge for the charger and bag will be assessed if they are not returned.

Please call in students who are not going to be at school as attendance monitoring will be stressed as the year concludes.

It's amazing how fast things have gone.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Happy New Year! - Plus five weeks

Been too long between posts. There are so many things to blog about and so little time to get to blog about them.

Freshman "Ning" pages: Freshman english with Mr. Rapier are in the midst of a grand project where the students and teacher are putting assignments on a writer's social network page called "Ning". Students are encouraged to get parents and friends to check their pages out and what they have commented on and what their thoughts were.

D.C. Trip: March 22-27th is coming up and I hope those of you who have students going are excited. If you don't, please don't give in to the "we're not doing anything" excuse because so many students are gone. Teachers know to keep those here doing relevant things and to try out new technology ideas and units.

PLTW - Project Lead the Way is moving forward into the new year with the addition of 1-3 new class offerings. Principals of Engineering and Civil Engineering look like courses to investigate as well as offerring Digital Electronics one way or the other. These are exciting additions to Intro to Engineering and Design, a class that we currently offer.

Those are just a few things, I'd blog more except my duty taking money at the basketball game is almost over.