Friday, December 28, 2012

What's the Big Deal About Twitter

Why use twitter for educators?

Professional Development
Twitter is basically a big classroom if that is what you make it.  It's a whole bunch of people sitting around reading journals, articles, blogs, books, etc.  Then, when someone finds something worth reading, they share it with you by posting a link to that article.  

Get involved in a conversation
Some hashtags are set up so that everyone gets together at the same time and talks.  On Saturdays, for example, you can sit in your living room and have a conversation with other school administrators from around the country (and the world) at 6:30 am using #satchat.  The moderator has a list of questions that are asked one at a time.  You respond using the hashtag #satchat at the end of each of your tweets.  You can then read the entire conversation that you are having with others in this chat.  You can find these kinds of chats for different groups of teachers such as social studies (#sschat) or Nebraska educators (#nebedchat #nebedu #namle_ms).   

On your own time
You don't have to make a big deal out of being on twitter.  Sometimes people think that a person who tweets several times a day is spending way too much time on twitter.  The reality is that it takes the same amount of time to tweet as it does to send a text.  Sometimes less time.  As I am reading a book on my kindle app on my iPad, I simply highlight  a section and press share.  In that case, I never even got on twitter but anyone who follows me now gets to read a quote that I shared.  As you follow someone, that may spark an idea for the next book you want to read.  Sometimes I'm reading an article online.  Just copy the link and bam, you have another tweet.  You might even throw on a hashtag so others with common interests will see that article.

Follow a topic (hashtag)
I might search #cpchat to see what some principals are talking about.  By following a hashtag, I limit everything to just what I am looking for.  If I want articles related to Nebraska education, I check the hashtag #nebedchat or #nebedu.  You figure out overtime different hashtags.  You can also simply search for education and find information.  As you read the tweets, you can see which hashtags you might be interested in following as they same one appear repeatedly. As you read tweets by following hashtags, you also begin to figure out what people you should be following.

Easy to use
It's as easy as a text message.  Once you get used to the # (which link you to a topic) or @ (which sends messages to a person) it is very easy.  Twitter automatically shortens the links you put into the tweet.  That means you can easily insert links into your messages and stay under 140 characters.

Entertaining and Informing
Sometimes you might be bored.  Pull out your phone and read the latest tweets.  Not only do I read tweets from education, but I also follow hashtags related to my favorite sports teams or if a hashtag is up during a TV show, you can follow that hashtag.

The Power of Twitter
All the sudden, you are reading more education articles.  It doesn't require you to subscribe to a journal or go find a book at the library.  The books, articles, etc. are all right in the palm of your hand.

Democratic and Public
Everyone gets a say.  Nobody edits out or limits what you can find.  You are the editor, you are in control of the information.  Most people have their accounts public.  You are accountable for what you say.  As long as you are using good digital citizenship, you have nothing to worry about.  Now, you have the opportunity to learn from everyone and make decisions on what you want follow.

Dream Big, Fail Big

"Dream big, fail big."  I don't think this is an original statement and I know for sure that it's not my original statement.  When Andy Farber came to Arlington to be the High School principal, this is what he told our staff.  This mentality is needed to do great things.  It is the acceptance that not everything will be perfect the first time.  It is permission to try something big.  Without big ideas, nothing would get done, nothing would ever change.

Creating an environment where innovation is valued is important and freeing to the staff.  It's the idea that even when we aren't 100% sure it (whatever it is) will work, we still try.  We still innovate.  We still take risks.

Dream big, fail big and support each other in ideas that attempt to do what is right for kids.

Positive Interaction Challenge

I want school to be a positive place for kids to come and learn.  I want excitement and joy to be associated with school.  I want teachers who want to be around kids and enjoy their jobs.  This has to be an everyday part of the school culture.

It's easy to get stuck in the negative.  It's easy to only make a call home because we have to address a negative.  What if every parent received a call from the school? What if this time, the call was about how great their child did on an assignment or how well behaved the student is in class?  What if the call was about improvement? What if the call was simply to say I enjoy have your daughter in class.

My challenge to begin the next semester
  • Find a positive in every kid and let them know about it  
  • Voluntary to participate-with the challenge to get all teachers to participate
  • Record the positive contact in a google doc for all teachers to see
Nothing earth shattering. Nothing that hasn't been done before.  Hopefully something that will connect the school and home in a positive way.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Developing a Culture

The staff at Johnson Crossing had a unique opportunity this year to develop a new school.  Johnson Crossing is the 5th and 6th grade building in Fremont Public Schools.  This was a departure from previous years in which the district was set up with a K-5 (8 elementary schools) and 6-8 (one middle school) configuration.  Like any school, we have many challenges, some of which I hadn't previously realized would be challenges.  Developing a cohesive staff with a common purpose and common school culture is at the center of what we have done and must continue to work on through the rest of the school year.  Developing culture can't happen over night.  Here are some thoughts on some important elements of school culture and how we have started this work in our school.

Developing Culture

  • Leadership Team-The leadership team is made up of leaders of teams, departments, and others.  Ideas are discussed by this group and then taken back to teams and departments.
  • Team Leaders-5th grade is split into 5 interdisciplinary teams and 6th grade is split into 4 interdisciplinary teams.  Each team is assigned a team leader.  These team leaders meet monthly.
  • Department Meetings -Department Meetings have taken the place of full staff meetings.  Departments meet grades 5-8 and at each grade level.  Department chairs also meet as needed.
  • Scheduling Committee -This committee will answer what is important to us in terms of how we spend our time in future years.  This committee is completely voluntary and consists of about 1/4 of our staff.
  • Grading Committee -Answering the question of what is important to us in regards to grading.  This committee was developed completely on a voluntary basis and, similar to our scheduling committee, is also about 1/4 of our staff.
  • Coffee with Colleagues -We have developed an informal conversation using twitter, blogs, and in person conversation. The basic idea is that we are professionals sharing ideas with other professionals.  
  • The cross over -During October and November, 5th grade teams (3 teachers) met with 6th grade teams (2 or 4 teachers) in small windows of time.  This offered the ability to get to know each other in a fairly informal way and find out what the other half of the building was doing.  Each team met with another team at least two times. 
  • Community Time -Administration, counselors, and para-educators meet with entire student body to discuss the character education lesson for the month.  This also allows teachers to meet as a grade level department more regularly and not outside of the school day.
  • Small Teams-See above (Leadership, Team Leaders, Teams, Departments, etc.)
  • Tiger Achievement Center-Designed to help students who need assistance.  Eventually this will be expanded to high ability students.
  • Tiger Success Program-Designed to make sure that all students complete homework.
  • TIGER Skills-Clear set of skills established for students to learn and follow.
  • Start right-Start with a lesson and set expectations on day 1.
  • Behavior and Academics-A group of teachers will evaluate high expectations on behavior and academics.  The grading committee has already begun to evaluate academic expectations and have discussed ways that will create a "never give up" feel in our school.
  • Actions are aligned with words
  • Consistency
  • Knowledge
  • True trust takes time to develop

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Scheduling for what Matters

Curriculum driven Schedule
Our students need a broad education that will prepare them for a wide array of future interests.  Time is a finite resource and therefore scheduling is the allotment of resources based on a variety of factors.  Below is a framework of factors such as research based effect sizes, state accountability, important curriculum areas outside of the state accountability system, support systems, and a variety of logistical factors.

Hattie's Effect Size-
These items are research based, can be addressed in a schedule, and are said to have the greatest impact on
student learning.  

  • Adapt Schedule for student's prior cognitive ability (HAL and Sped)
  • Instructional Quantity
  • Create a schedule that allows acceleration
  • Schedule programming to consider home factors (Homework like TSP)
  • Bilingual programs
  • Peer Tutoring program (homeroom)
  • Allow adequate teacher in-service education
  • Parent involvement
  • Schedule to allow remediation and mastery learning (Enrichment and Intervention)

Nebraska State Accountability
Areas of greatest emphasis

  • Reading
  • Math

Other Areas of Emphasis

  • Science
  • Writing

Curriculum Outside of the Nebraska Accountability System
Social Studies, Music, Art, PE, Band, and Computers/Media/Technology

Support Curriculum
Character Education, Homeroom, Enrichment and Intervention, Sped and HAL

Logistical Scheduling issues

  • Flexibility vs Dictating minutes for each class
  • Common Plan Time-Interdisciplinary
  • Common Plan Time-Department
  • Team composition-3, 4, or 5 teacher teams

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Case for Teaming in the Middle Level

The transition from elementary to middle school can be improved through the use of teams.

A Connected Curriculum
For good reason, the impact on student learning is always a significant component of any discussion in education today.   One of the key components of interdisciplinary teams is the ability to connect learning with real life by not compartmentalizing learning.  Teachers can make significant connections with what is being taught in other subjects.  By reading a book in Language Arts about the Revolutionary War at the same time Social Studies is learning about the Revolutionary War, connections can be made.  Science might incorporate lessons about the medical procedure used at the time or the topography of the land in the colonies or whatever fits the science curriculum.  Math can use examples from the Revolution and story problems that fit with the other subjects.  All of the sudden, the curriculum starts to come to life and the teachers and students can feed off of each other.  This of course is a significant part of teaming, but teaming can also have other positive benefits to a school.  In an elementary school, this can happen as a bi-product of the fact that one teacher has the student for most of the day.  In the middle level, this needs to be coordinated intentionally through teaming.

An opportunity to huddle
On a football team, after each play, the offense huddles up and calls the next play.  Some teams use a no huddle offense so the communication doesn't happen through a huddle but it still happens.  Imagine a football team with no huddle and they didn't call a play at the line of scrimmage.  They'd all just run into each other, some would be going out for passes, the linemen would be blocking down field and other would be in pass protection.  It would be quite a sight to see (Wisconsin fans-no need to bring up last week's Huskers at this point in the blog). Now imagine a group of teachers with one opportunity per month to discuss curriculum and their students.  This team of teachers would be disjointed and unable to really work as a team.  So we give teams an opportunity to "huddle" using common plan time.  Teachers are able to discuss interdisciplinary projects like described above.

Teachers are also able to create and implement plans with individual students.  By solving student problems at the team level, teachers are able to increase instructional quantity, which is the 4th largest influence on achievement according to Hattie's Effect Size.  How are they able to increase quantity of instruction?  By keeping the student in the classroom (and out of the office) and discussing the student during team plan.  Teachers can then discuss the student with the counselor, administrator, parent, etc.

What kind of team?
An argument can be made that the teams should be by department.  This works very well for planning common curriculum among all 5th grade math teachers.  This is essential for the curriculum side of teaching.  However, we don't only teach math, we also teach 5th graders.  Therefore, it is extremely important to have the opportunity to get together with the teachers who teach the same course and it is important to team with others who teach the same students.

Get to know your students
In elementary schools, students are in one class for a large part of the day.  They might leave for PE, Music, Art, etc. In high school, teachers are much more specialized in a subject.  How do we move from one teacher to 8 different teachers in a day without making the student feel that they are left out on an island? Teaming allows teachers to focus on the student.  We are able to transition the student into the future high school model without losing the 9 year old child in the "big school."  We can essentially create a small school within the school.  If you already have a small school, common plan is still important as you are able to discuss the student help them feel as a part of the school.

Teacher Job Satisfaction
School climate matters.  Teachers are in a profession where they see 100-150 people in a day.  However, these people are 9-15 year old.  It leads to a lonely existence.  By being able to have adult conversations, it advances professionalism and helps create an environment where you are not out there all by yourself.

A teacher is accountable for a group of students.  The social studies teacher is now connected to the reading,  writing, math, and science results for a student.  The students belong to the teacher.  The teachers work for a common goal when teaming is done right.

Teaming as a Luxury or Necessity?
Teaming is good for teachers and students.  It is not a luxury.  Our students need us in this time of their life more than ever.  Graduation rates are effected more by middle level educators than any other grade level.  Understand that they are not just a cog in the educational factory. They are at a time when they need someone looking out for them.  Someone to be their advocate.  Someone to love them at their most unlovable.  Teaming allows for positive and proactive measures to assist students in this time of need. Teaming allows for a group of adults, not an individual (hope you got a good one) teacher looking out for the child.