Friday, October 23, 2015

Mediocre Practices

I have been in a bit of the October funk.  All teachers normally go through this in October; there are many articles written that discuss this phenomenon.  Usually, I can go through October without feeling that, but this year, I cannot shake it.  All month, I attributed this to a litany of excuses, most of them surrounding the zillion managerial tasks that I must accomplish for many compliance components of my job, and that may be true, but I am allowing my focus to be strayed. I am feeling mediocre.

In my summer of learning at Harvard, there was so much new information learned, thought about, reflected upon; the volume was massive that I continue to be impacted in my practice and thinking.  What is creeping into my soul is Kim Marshall's day with us on teacher walk throughs.  He highlights mediocre practices that we, as principals, should be looking for when we go into classrooms.  Mr. Marshall suggests we identify the practices and eliminate them from our classrooms.  I was so impacted by this, that I put his list in my staff handbook in our instructional norms section.  I am not seeing these practices in my classrooms at the moment, because I cannot get sustained time in them to determine if they are in play or not.  Why?  I, myself, am swimming in mediocre principal practice!

While Mr. Marshall's research and efforts point towards a teacher, they can be pointed directly at any administrator as well.  So, I am self-diagnosing my mediocrity.  What are those mediocre practices, you ask dear reader?  Here is his list for teachers:
 Teacher texting or doing e-mail during class
Going over bell work for the first 25 minutes
Round-robin reading
Teacher lecturing, students tuned out, heads down
Teaching while side conversations go on
The COPWAKTA syndrome ( calling on the person who already knows the answer)
Accepting one-word answers and moving on
Low-quality worksheets, lots of dreary test prep
One-week delay getting work back to students
Finishing a class early and giving students “free time”

What would be the list for principals?  I am not sure, but mostly I am thinking about time spent in my office, when I have been on campus, on tasks that do not directly impact instruction would make the list.  Normally, my Type A self would have found time in the evening or on the weekend to make up that difference; however, a sixteen year old girl with two homecomings to attend has not helped me in that avenue either.  Thus, further exacerbating the October doldrums I have felt.  Perhaps I am over thinking this, but they are my feelings and I am going to own them.  I have high expectations of the principal I strive to be and I am falling short of my own expectations.  If I am falling short of my own expectations, how are my teachers perceiving this?  I am certain that they would extend much more forgiveness, as we are our own "worst enemy".  I am the only one who can change this feeling and I am going to work hard to make the last week of October finish with concerted effort to make November better.  

I have so many things that I want to get better about as a principal that will impact instruction that I know I need to slow down and let those things happen.  It will get better because I want it to get better.  

If you have an encouraging thought to share on this topic, I welcome your comments below!  If you are interested in learning more about Kim Marshall and his thoughts on teacher walkthroughs and practice, here is a nice, concise article that summarizes his best efforts: 
 .  .

Thanks for reading!

Recess--What it Means to Me Today as an Educator

If you ask any group of children what their favorite subject is in school, I bet an overwhelming response will be RECESS!  So many fond memories of classmates and life's lessons are built on the playground.  Children are free to be themselves at recess and stretch their imagination.  The test of friendships occurs on playgrounds.  FUN happens on the playground.

Today, I personally feel that recess is even MORE important than it was when I was in school.  Our kids lives are lived at a frenetic pace.  If they are not overscheduled themselves, then their family has so many more commitments to attend to today than in the past which limits our kids time to free play outside at home.  Screen time is at an all time high for kids today; they often associate play with a tablet or device. This definition of play is one I really do not want them to retain!  These external factors today are why I feel it is even more important for our kids to experience recess during their school day. Additionally, at our campus, recess may be the only time that some of our second language learners feel less pressure to try out speaking English with their friends without the teacher overhearing. Our children need free play time to explore the boundaries of their creativity, as they often do not have those experiences when they come to us.

When I first became principal, one BIG change I made to the campus schedule was to switch our schedule so that children went to recess first.  There was a study that I had read about the flip of recess and lunch, and will include the links to resources and research below, which resounded with me, and my already firm belief that kids love and look forward to recess.  There is so much pervasive anxitety with kids today about the school day(see all the reasons above) that recess is the one portion of the day that they really look forward to at school.  Why prolong it until after lunch?  The study I read found that when kids get their energy out first, then they are more likely to sit quietly at a lunch table and eat the nourishing foods that will sustain their learning for the remainder of the day.  If you will think to the times when lunch is first, you will recall children who rushed to eat in anticipation of play, the voices in the lunch room where highly elevated as that anxious spirit looked forward to what was next in their day--recess!  When we switch that up, children are able to focus themselves to eat a good lunch and prepare themselves for learning for the remainder of the day.  I have noticed that a lot less food goes wasted everyday as they are really hungry for lunch after getting their recess playtime out first.  It'll take a alot of convincing for me to ever go back to the old model of lunch and then recess after seeing how it has worked on our campus for the last several years.

Our Wellness Committee is a group of educators on our campus who sets goals for our entire learning community--teachers included.  One of the large focuses of their work over the course of the last couple of years is improving the recess experience for children.  They have helped get our playground bags full of activities that the children can play during the outside break.  One of their bigger ideas has been to paint the playground with permanent games that can be played with a ball or with the children themselves.  This has been a huge project in the making and I am so excited to reveal the pictures below of their hard work.  I want to thank all of them for their amazing efforts to make our space outside a welcoming area for the kids to play.

Recess before lunch resources/research:

The benefits of recess:

Student who NEED recess:

Professional Book Review: RTI with English Learners by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Carol Rothenberg

I am reading a REALLY great book on ESL RTI Strategies, Implementing RTI with English Learners by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Fray and Carol Rothenberg. I am thinking it may be a summertime PLC as there is already so much great stuff I have learned. One thing that I wanted to share from my reading is their definition of Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 intervention. In the way that they shared, I had a lightbulb moment of clarity. Thus, I wanted to pass it along to you, in hopes that it will reframe your thinking as well.

According to the authors (please don't turn me in for my non MLA proper citations!): "Tier 1 is the regular instruction that all students receive. This does not mean that all student receive the same instruction because core instruction accommodates differentiation. But differentiation within Tier 1 is not considered to be intervention. " They go on to explain that Tier 2 students , based upon assessments, provide supplemental intervention that is designed to catch them up to grade-level expectations. Tier 3 interventions are even more individualized and intensive and require frequent assessments to determine their impact.

The lightbulb, for me, and where I struggle to better define what I have in my head to be Tier 2 is that you can't count Tier 2 intervention when it is part of the curriculum. We expect small groups in the course of instruction. Do those sentences resonate with you? I will share more as I come across more, but I am really enjoying my reading so far. It's provided me some clarity and a lot of affirmation that the excellence we are seeking in our instructional path is all the stepping stones we are putting into play right now. You all are doing a great job implementing the new math and science. I love the flexible groups we have working. I can't wait for our students to grow more this semester!

Part 2 published in a March Smore with the staff:
In a previous Chronicle, I shared some thinking out of a book that I am currently reading (at a snail's pace, I might add) called Implementing RTI with English Language Learners by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey and Carol Rothenberg. I think that the more I read this book, the more I feel like it should be a PLC for next school year. As we transition to having one ESL Specialist on campus, the responsibility for language acquisition and development really falls upon our ESL certified teachers. This book has GREAT thoughts about helping students and would be great to discuss in a group.

In our last look at the book, I shared the author's definition of the tiered system of instruction. The further that I read, the more information there is that supports the model that our district is moving towards for the ESL children on our campus. For students to achieve, Tier 1 instruction has to be solid for ELL students. That is why it is best for the classroom teacher to be equipped with strategies to help ELL students scaffold to learn IN THE CLASSROOM. The old pullout model only serves to continue the gap that those students come into school with from the start. We must use all the bags in our certification toolbelt to keep the kids in the classroom.

The authors discuss how important peer collaboration is for ELL students in the tiered system. They write that the purpose for having conversations and seeking assistance in teaching ELL students is that it removes the assumption that "each teacher is an independent contractor who has ALL the answers, resources, and skills to meet the needs of all the students in the class." Not one of us can be equipped to serve all the needs of our campus, we must work as a team to help our kids. I strive for our campus to embody this philosophy for the good of all our kids.

As I read more, I will share more. One resource that is too good to go long without sharing is the following link: . It is a gold mine of helpful ideas. I hope you will check it out!