Welcome to my ramblings!

Welcome to my Blog. Here you can find the ramblings of a old high school principal. I've created a number of blogs over the years for a variety of reasons. A large number of them I use with my staff which are password protected from the outside world. This blog is for my fellow educators and anyone else who wants to read the ramblings. I guess my target would be building administrators, future administrators, teachers and educators in general.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why Do They Need Us?

Why Do They Need Us?

Today I re-watched a Ted Talk by Diana Laufenberge: "How to learn? From mistakes." Her message about learning from failure is a powerful one. But I'd like to focus in on only a very small proportion of her presentation. At about the 5:45 minute mark she spoke about when her grandparents, parents and even when she was in school. She used the words "information shortage". Today, she added a new set of words "information surplus".  All of this lead to the following question, "Why do students need to come to school when they already have access to the information?"

Let's take a moment and take apart what I believe she meant.
  • When our grandparents and parents (maybe even us) went to school the information we needed to know was hard to come by. We had textbooks, library and encyclopedias. But for the most part we got a lot of our information from the teacher. Let's just say they became the parter of the information.
  • By "information surplus" I believe she's stating how easy it is for students to access information today. Let's be honest, how often have you Google or Youtube something you had no idea about? In a matter of minutes and even seconds the information was being provided.
  • So if we see the role of teachers to be the parter of information like we did decades ago, "why do our students really need us now"? They simply use their devices.
Yes, I know many of you have already jumped to some answers to why they need to come to school. But before we jump to soon let's take a moment on the message here. How many teachers still see their role as the provider of the information?  If you're reading this, your probably NOT one of those folks. But maybe if we all share Ms. Laufenberge point with those around us we could get a few more reflecting on the role they play. Maybe, even get a few to change.

Now, lets look at why they still need to come - IF we do our job.
  • Who's going to teach students on how they can quickly access this information on those devices?
  • Who's going to teach them to determine what is valuable or correct information vs. incorrect information?
  • Who's going to teach them to be critical thinkers about the information so they can form educated good decisions?
  • Who's going to get them excited about things they have no idea that they can be excited about?
  • Who's going to open up the world to them?
The role of the educator is changing and some of this change is being caused by the development of new technologies each day. If we don't adapt as educators we are not preparing our students for their future!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Spring Parent Teacher Conference - We Need to Think Different

Several years ago our district decided to reinstate our spring parent-teacher conferences. Our reason was at the high school we change courses at semester and a number of students end up having new teachers. Our parents need to have the opportunity to visit with this new teachers like they did at the start of the year.

So on Tuesday we have PTC 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and then on Thursday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with Friday off. If you factor in 70 teachers and the cost to employ them for two days. You would expect a large turn out from 1200 student parents. 

Clearly, since I'm writing this you've already guessed our turn out is poor.  I believe PowerSchool (our parent notification system) helps keep parents more aware of their child's grades and less need to come see the teacher. Then many of the parents who do show are ones we really don't need to see. 

So, how can we use this time more productivity? You might think we just cancel our PTC but we are a district and our elementary schools feel the need for this time. Factor in the union we clearly can't have students here if others don't or professional development when again others are working with parents. 

Here are a few ideas I'm kicking around:

  • Train teachers to focus on student skills and how those skills prepare them for college, workplace or the military. Then our meetings are focus to help parents with their child's next step not the grade. I understand we do that but I'd like to create a building focus approach.
  • Look at our Career Planning program and setup meetings with parents and teachers to discuss their child's current plan and how they are progressing.
  • We currently do provide some guidance on next years enrollment we could expand that to incorporate more information. 

I'm sure some of you might be doing some different and I would love to hear from you. To comment just click on "comment" below. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Would I hire you?

Just wrapped up interviews for a teaching position and thought I would  share some thoughts. I'd also like to get some of your thoughts at the end.  

Those around me give me a hard time on how I interview future teachers. Before I tell you why they give me a hard time let me share our process.
  • We create a team which includes the Chair of the Department, Instructional Coach, Assistant Principal (if they are involved in the curriculum area), Associate Principal and myself. On rare occasions our superintendent and maybe our HR director will sit in. 
  • We go around the table asking questions like most. We are free to build on another's questions if we feel the need.
  • I rely on my team to ask the instructional and knowledge questions. 
  • At the end we give the individual a chance to ask us questions.
So here's the part that my team gives me a hard time about. I feel it is my duty to challenge the individual. I want to put them under pressure and see how they think. I want to see how they will handle difficult situations and/or students. Therefore, I role play couple of situations. 

Let me share couple. Understand that the power comes with the role play and I can't really give you a true experience in a blog. 

So I ask them, I'm a student in your class who is passing your test with A's and B's. However, I don't do your homework. Therefore, I assume I'm not passing your class? The standard answer is "yes" or on rare situations "you wouldn't be doing well". At this point I ask what will you do with me and the role play begins. Here are some standard actions:
  • They ask, "why don't you want to do the work" ... my response, "It's a waste of my time."
  • "Why is it a waste of time?" ... my response, "Why do I need to do it, I pass your test?"
  • Usually I start hearing about how important it is to do the work to help me learn which again leads me to say, "Why I pass your test!"
  • Then it normally turns to, well in life you need to do things you don't want to. Sometimes we hear this early but normally during all interviews this is statement that comes up. My response is "Why, if I felt it was really important I'd do it!" I might give an example on how I do things outside of school that I don't like to do but because I feel it's important get done. 
  • Often I hear "Well if you don't do the work your not going to get the points therefore your going to fail." My response "Then I will fail! Thats the problem with education your to worried about me wasting my time to do homework that serves no purpose - I hate school because of this!"
  • At this point we go all kinds of directions but normally it always comes back to "I need to do the homework" and I keep saying, "No I don't because I pass your test!" Bottom line - I continue to challenge them  why do I need to do homework if I'm passing their assessments? I only take them off the hook when I say, "Enough lets change the situation."
The new situation is a failing student who doesn't do any work or pass any test. Again I ask what will you do? Usually I get some standard actions:
  • "I'd talk to you" ... my response, "I don't care", "just leave me alone", "I plan on dropping out".
    • Usually the individual will say, "what do you like," "what are your plans after high school," etc. Which I say, "I don't care just leave me alone." I might tell them how I plan on working for my uncle who dropped out who owns a tow truck business.
  • Then comes, "I'd call your parents" ... my response, "We (parents) understand, his been like that since elementary and we've given up." I might add, "we plan on dropping him out at 16." 
  • "I'll talk to my peers" ... my response, "I have the same problem," "I've given up on him," and "good luck with that kid".
  • At this point I might get "I'll talk with the principal or counselor"  ... which again I would say, "Oh man, his a pain and I don't know what to do with him either."
  • Usually it always gets back to talking to the kid again which I reply, "if you just leave me alone we will be ok but if you keep bugging me there will be a problem." This situation continues to grow until again I say enough.
The blog doesn't allow for me to show you how I use tone and actions to add to the stress of the situations but believe me it does.

Now, I could let you in on what I'm looking for but that wouldn't be any fun. I will tell you I've seen individuals get mad, faces turn red, become speechless and I've even heard they cried after the interview (not my goal). 

I will tell you I've been very lucky and have hired a great number of good educators.  Not all have answered the role play the way I wanted but they show me insight of what I'm looking for. 

So, would I hire you? I would love to see some comments below on how you think you would handle my role play. I might even comment on your comments. 

If you like share what you think the goal is with the questions.

Last blog entry "Check-in Window Now Open"

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Check-In Window Is Now Open

Check-In Window Is Now Open

Today I met with several members of my leadership team and IT about how we will collect the 600 iPads this spring when schools out. Here's our plan and I would love to hear suggestions from others.
  • Last day we have an optional 1/2 day we call "Early Release".  Students can leave or hang around and work with teachers during the afternoon. Our plan is to collect the iPads before we dismiss.
  • Our last hour teachers will be asked to do the following after their final.
    • Check the ID number of the iPad against the list provide by the office.
    • Teachers will walk students through removing "Find my iPad" since it's creating issues for us.
    • Teachers will walk students through "Resetting" the iPad back to factory.
      • If there is a problem with resetting or removal of "Find my iPad" the student will be sent to a near by IT table in the halls to trouble shoot.
    • Teacher will place a label onto the jacket that has the students name, ID number and bar code (using library system to track check-in) . This label will also be provided by the office. Any label not used will be returned to the office to track missing students.
      • If a label is missing - teacher will create a hand written label and then submit the name of the student to the office.
    • Once all this is done the teacher will sign and give the student the check-out sheet that indicates the student has completed the task and the teacher has checked the ID number. 
    • IT representative will come to your classroom.
      • Will collect the iPad and do a quick check for damage.
        • Scan the bar code.
        • If there is visual damage this will be noted on the sign in sheet and both the student and the IT representative will sign the sheet.
        • If there is no damage that will be noted and again sheet signed.
      • The sheet will be collected by the IT representative.
    • Once all rooms have been covered we will dismiss for the year.
Any suggestions or advice?

Previous Blog - Windshield Time

Monday, February 10, 2014

Windshield Time - is that the right name?

Should I change my blog title?  Since I started my blogging (Windshield Time) many years ago around the time I spent behind the steering wheel things have changed.  I no longer spend near the time behind the wheel. It got me wondering if I should change my title? But as I reflected on this I broke down how I used my time.   

Let's exam the different components of Windshield Time. For the reader, I've added some reflective questions.
  • Internal discussions/thinking - spending time talking through issues in your head (maybe out loud). My discussions helped me exam possible solutions of issues I was facing or planning next steps. I realize I still have these discussions but now they are more spread out, when I find myself alone. Do you have these internal conversations? If not, how to you reach your decisions?
  • Organizing thoughts -  When I was driving I often used my cell phone (thanks Siri) to record voice memos to help remind me of things. Reflecting I realize I still record my thoughts now more often with a note pad (digital or paper) and occasionally with the phone. What do you do to organize your thoughts? But then, maybe your better at remembering then me.
  • Rehearsing - I use to drive and practice what I wanted to say. This might of been a rehearsal for a one on one meeting or it might of been preparing for a group. Working through the details. I still do this at home and on rare occasions in my office. Probably my number one location for this is still behind the wheel of my car. I sometimes just go for a drive now to do this.  Do you rehearse for meetings or presentations? What is your best way to rehearse?
  • Knowledge - One of my favorite benefits of driving involved listening to books. Honestly, I really haven't found a good replacement for this. I try to read books on my iPad but I don't seem to read as many as I did when I listened to them.  Are you a reader? What is the best way for you to gain additional knowledge?
  • Decompressing - This was a huge benefit for me when I took my new job 5 years ago. For year I had a 45 minute drive one way. This was great (except those real late nights) for decompressing. I could reflect on what I needed to do on my way to work and about my day on the way home. Now, my drive takes less then 5 minutes. My method of decompressing now is to go out and sit by my Koi fish pond (when it's nice). I go out before work and steal 10 minutes before leaving and go home after work and just sit. How do you decompress? Hopefully, you have something in your life that allows you to let go.
So after writing (reflecting) this blog I believe I'll just leave it titled "Windshield Time".  While I may not be driving as much I'm still doing what matters - reflecting.  Besides what else would I call it "Ramblings of a Crazy Man"?

Previous Blog - iPads Oh My (some true insight to our 1 to 1)

Friday, February 7, 2014

iPads - Oh My! Another Angle

iPads - Oh My!

Another Angle

Go ahead, Google about 1 to 1 iPad Program or for that matter Computer Program. Most of what you will find has it's purpose but don't be surprised there are a lot of hidden challenges waiting for you. 

Taking a new job 5 years ago and coming from a school that had a 1 to 1 laptop program, I saw the need to have technology available in the hands of our students when they needed it, not when it could be scheduled. Therefore, the very first day on my new job I started pushing for a change (honestly, probably during the interview). At the time of my arrival I was told that my new staff really didn't do much with technology outside typing and research. I referred to it as a glass ceiling and it appeared we had a long ways to get there. So on my first inservice day I stood in front of my staff and asked them if it was true and why. I was told that the technology didn't work well all the time and a number of other excuses. So I told them we were going to shatter that ceiling and put pressure on the powers to be. 

Within the first year we were already causing major cracks in the ceiling. The district was struggling with bandwidth, access points, working hardware and more. It was clear that the staff might of been right on a few points but we weren't going to stop. 

During year two I asked them to fight through the challenges and struggles. I told them we need to break through the glass. I started visiting with the powers to be and said that my staff was showing a willingness to implement the technology. They just needed it to work and needed more of it. At this point the board and superintendent started talking about a 1 to 1 program. I believe this was a goal of our superintendent when they hired me. 

Year three a grant surfaced that gave the district and opportunity to take a step towards the 1 to 1 in the middle school. It also allowed us to use the technology to align with some major changes coming down the tracks in our math program. We had decided to do away with traditional courses like Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2 and replace them with Math 1, Math 2 and Math 3.  Our math folks decided they didn't want a new textbook. Yes I said, they did NOT want a textbook. So the question was how could we develop a tool that would provide our students with the material they needed. So in 8th grade we launched the 1 to 1 in our middle school math rooms as part of the first step to our new math.

iPads wasn't just automatically accepted. The question what kind of device did we need? Laptops, tablets or iPads was the question. Central Office suggested the iPad and even though there was a feeling that there were limited APPS for math at the time the fact Central Office was willing - why not!

I need to be honest at this point. I didn't know a lot about the workings of the iPad. I understood the laptop so much better. How to control it, filter it and more but the iPad - no clue. This would later create some problems for me. 

Year four we purchased iPads for all freshmen as part of our math change. We had dropped Algebra 1 and replaced it with Math 1. Math 1 incorporated some Algebra 1, Algebra 2 and Geometry. We moved most of our Algebra 1 concepts to 8th grade math. Since math was our focus we only worked with our Math 1 teachers on implementing the iPad. We told other teachers they could do as they please but our focus was only with Math. By focus I mean, offering training and technical support. I believe the reason for this was dollars. We had limited funds committed to training and the more folks we added to the group the less we could do. Today, I believe that was a mistake.  Leaving other teachers out left teachers to fend for themselves. In turn, we did not get the full use of the iPad in year one and left students to use the iPad in non-productive ways. This lead to some discipline challenges, poor P.R. with staff and parents. Doing over, I would include all teachers at the level that would be impacted with the new device.

As we approached year five we invited our Core Teachers to attend a summer training. The purpose of this training was to provide those teachers the opportunity to work together developing lesson plans that would incorporate the iPad. We had hoped that in some ways we could rekindle the excitement and willingness that we got from our math folks. Of course we took several years to get the math folks where they were and we were asking others to change over summer. So it was no surprise that we had limited success. While we working with the staff Project Based Learning was introduced.

While those who lead the training over the summer were outside presenters. We knew there would be a need to provide support once school started. This involved several actions:
  • We asked our chairs to work with our instruction coach in hopes of providing more instructional support.
  • Since we couldn't get additional plan time for these teachers we create a "common plan". For example: all our 9th grade Language Arts teachers had the same plan time. We asked teachers with common plans to meet at least once every two weeks to develop a common lesson (more explained in earlier Blog entitled "Plan Time). These groups were known as "Mini Focus Groups"
  • We organized our monthly inservice around the iPad. This included our Learning Management System (Canvas) and various APPs. The Leadership Team recognized our staff development needed to be tailored to the level of our teachers. We setup breakout sessions that focus on those with beginning knowledge or advance. We were able to move slow enough for those just getting started and faster for those who had already grasped the technology. 
It may surprise you to learn that when the fall started we did not give all of our staff iPads. Again, a decision driven by the all might dollar. Only those in our Mini Focus groups received an iPad. About midway through the fall semester we were able provided our full staff with their school iPad. With their own iPad we could really focus our training on teachers needs. This I believe is key to allowing teachers a chance to become familiar with the device. 

We a course had a number of other issues during the first semester. I think the simplest way is to list them below:
  • Filter Issues - we were filtering the device at school as far as browsing, but not at home.
    • This meant students could download APPS of their own. Students had gaming APPS as well as APPS like snap-chat that created some poor P.R. with staff, parents and upperclassmen.
    • At home we had a small handful of students browsing where they shouldn't. Again, causing some poor P.R. with parents. Making matters worse, at the start of the second year we told parents that we would be filtering the device at home. Something IT had plans on doing. As I write this blog that still isn't occurring adding more P.R. issues. 
    • Camera which maybe more about controlling the iPad then filtering but we had some students using the camera in ways that added more poor P.R. with parents. 
  • Classroom Management - while we spent time discussing how to handle the device in the classroom we discovered teachers had issues managing the device.
    • Teachers who had some issues before with classroom management now had another challenge on their hands.
    • Teachers who only used the device sparingly or never had struggles. While teachers who used the device often seemed to have very little problem. 
  • Working APPS - we found some IT issues. An APP might work one day but then not the next. Often this was related to our filter system.
  • Parents - in a handful of cases parents came in anger or frustrated with the iPad. The student had locked the device and wouldn't allow the parent in. If enough attempts were made with false log-ins all history of the device was lost.  So no surprise this created poor P.R. with parents. When we launched this program it was our hope to work with parents and teach students the rights and wrongs. I won't say it was amazing but we did learn that a number of parents simply don't have control of their kids. Their own child would just tell mom and dad "no I'm not going to ..." and the parent has no idea how to handle it. As my instruction coach has said, if parents have poor parenting skills then this becomes and issue. One of our solutions was to create a Parent iPad Academy offering sessions in the evenings. We will be launching our first class in February. 
  • Parents 2 - We've also found that the device becomes the center of attention in a few of our lower income homes. This would be a device that they could not normally own. Therefore, it became a family device. Storing photos, providing entertainment, listening music and more.  We've actual had some kids who said they didn't want to take the device home or take it home and hide it from the family. 
  • Breakage - during the first year we had a number of devices broken. We chose a simple case. The second year we went out and got a military grade case and our breakage has dropped to almost none. The cost of the case was around 70.00 but clearly worth the investment.
  • Home Use - we required parents to purchase a 50.00 policy on the iPad should they wish to take the device home. Our board agreed to split that 50.00 cost but cutting our textbook rental in half. However, we still had parents who couldn't pay the 50.00 or wouldn't pay it. Then we had some parents who requested their child not be allowed to bring it home after paying deductibles or because the parent could not handle the situation at home.   (Note: With the number of students we decided to take the 50.00 and provide our own insurance. With 600 devices we were netting 30,000 used to pay for broken devices. Next year we will have around 1200 which gives us about 60,000.00.) However, requiring insurance before taking the device home did create some issues.
    • How do we collect iPads that shouldn't be going home? We created two check-in points at the end of school. One location is the library the other is the counseling office. We do this because we have a very large building and there are two exit points. The devices turned in at the counseling office are transported to the library to be charged for the evening. When students arrive the next school day they check-out the device in the library.
    • How do handle kids who violate the right to take it home? This was a little challenge. To no surprise students wanted to sneak out the device. We had to track students down and have a one on one conversation at the beginning of a semester. In some cases taking disciplinary action and if necessary taking the device away for a period of time. I do not like taking the device. (Blog post coming soon about taking iPads from kids.)
    • How do teachers assign homework? We tell our teachers they can NOT assign anything on the iPad that requires Internet at home. However, we do expect students to complete work. Since we are on a block schedule students still have the opportunity to get work done while at school over a two-day period. We have homework lunch and after school tutor time if they need.

  • Learning Management System (LMS) issues. During year one we did not have a LMS. I believe this was a mistake. The ability for teazhers to be able to delivery and accept work is so much easier in a LMS. At the conclusion of year one we did research on various systems. We finally landed on Canvas and for the most part are very happy. I do believe that all LMS have limitations and you have to swing with the punches. We chose Canvas because we felt it was one of the easier ones for our staff to learn. Our challenge was we had no one on staff that had worked with Canvas. So using youtube and reading manuals several of us started working with Canvas.  Our only draw back was those doing the research were not classroom teachers therefore limited on day to day experiences.  Fortunately once launched in August 2013, we had teachers who ran with it and have become our trainers. 
  • I don't have my iPad - As a teacher how do you handle a student without an iPad when your lesson is designed for the device? We have approach this similar to no textbook. Simply make the assignment and the student looks off another's device. Then expect the student to complete the work on their own time. The real problem is the handful of students who don't have a iPad due to disciplinary actions. (Blog post coming soon about taking iPads from kids.) Some teachers have chosen to provide an alternative assignment.
  • Upperclassman with no iPad - while this is our last year with this problem, we did have to deal with it during our first two years. There were a number of classes with mixed grade levels. Our solution was to give those teachers an extra iPad or two (whatever there largest number for one hour). This created a few technical problems. Items like letting a student use their iTunes account to download APPS then trying to use that device with other kids. To avoid this we tried to get our teachers to use their own iTunes account so the device was under their control.
  • Theft - we've had couple of iPads walk away. So far they've all found their way back. But this has involved detective work on our administrative staff  and our local law enforcement. We even had couple of iPads make the local pawn store. But here's the question - what do you do with a student who takes an iPad from another? Do you take theirs away? What about the following year, do you continue not to trust the kid and not give him an iPad? (Blog post coming soon about taking iPads from kids.)

  • Communicating with IT - One of the greatest challenges we seemed to face was our ability to communicate with our IT Department. Administrators struggle understanding the ins and outs of the iPad from the technical side. For IT communication would help them explain the challenges they were facing. Let me list a few out: (We are still working through some of these issues.)
    • Find my iPad - this APP while sounds like a great idea created us problems. If a student turned this on and then moved away leaving their device locked limited what we could do. 
    • Procedures for breakage - where does the student go when the device is broken? What about students who have broken devices but still work. They continue to use it without reporting.
    • Procedures for check-in -   Check-in occurs when a student transfers from our school as well as at the end of the year. We are still working on improving our check-in for this upcoming May..
    • Procedures for new students - Getting devices checked out to new students after the year started. The past two years we've done this through our math class. Next year with 1200 that's not going to work. 
    • iPad in the shop - When an iPad needs repairs how does the student get the loaner. 
    • Students with APPS that are not school approved - Without administration touching the iPad we had no idea a student had unapproved APPS. But IT had the ability to run reports but that information isn't communicated to administration. 
    • Setting up our LMS - We had to work through issues like getting classes and students enrolled. How to transfer classes from first semester classes to second semester classes. 
Now as we enter the last half of our second year we realize we need to spend more time getting our teachers to do more transforming uses of technology. Taking a short study we see most of our technology use is adapting. Adapting means doing something that really could be done with or without technology. So after comparing "Grapplying Teachers with Technology" and SAMR we have decided to do some training with SAMR. More of this after we get this rolling. 

We are launching a Teacher Tech Team. We identified at least one teacher in each hallway that could help trouble shoot their neighbors. This team will be trained on the iPad and our APPS.  In addition serve as a committee making policy and procedure recommendations. We hope to have this team up and running by March and full operational by year six (Fall 2014). 

As we prepared for year six when all students get iPads we still have a number of issues under discussion. We still have a lot more to learn. If you like to ask questions or offer suggestions please feel free to comment. 
  • What APPS do we need and how do we go about selecting them?
  • Do we lock down the device so that students can't download games, snap chat, etc.? We understand to do this may mean we can't add APPS later to the device without going through some major work. The black list vs the white list argument.
  • How do we check out 1200 devices at one time? How do we check that many in?
  • Do we filter at home?
  • Moving our staff to the higher points on SAMR.
I'm sure I forgot about 100 other issues or items during our past few years. But hopefully this can help others who are getting ready to move forward with their 1 to 1. Again, please feel free to comment and share your thoughts. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Preparing for Questionable Weather Day

Preparing for Questionable Weather Day


As building administrators we need to be prepared to handled the challenges that occur when students come to school during or just after bad weather. There are couple of thoughts I'd like to share.

  • I come in early to setup the office. I work with my attendance clerk to make sure we have a plan with our staff on taking attendance at the start of the day. (We have a few staff that sometimes forgets to take attendance and this is not an option on a questionable weather day). Once we have attendance we match it up against the bus list of any bus that had not arrived and the phone calls we've received.  I make sure there are other administrative assistances available to answer phones and more importantly call parents when we can't account for a student. 
  • Send out a reminder to my staff to check their neighbors and let the office know if a teacher fails to report to their classroom. This way we can call and find out where they might be and if we need a sub.
  • When I was getting my Master's in administration the instructor talked about how administrators needed to delegate responsibilities. One of those he referenced was accidents before and after school. He stated that if that occurred to send an assistant or let law enforcement handle the situation. Then over the years I heard several administrators say the same thing. Well, I disagree! When a student is involved in an accident no matter how minor I believe it is extremely important that the student and parents see the head administrator on the scene. We need to be there to check to make sure the student is safe and ok. Be ready to handle parents who maybe upset or beside themselves. Our presence helps assure them that the school cares.
    • On day's like today (13 inches of snow over the past two days) I come prepared to hit the road. My 4X4 truck is full of gas. I'm dressed for the weather. Survival kit in the back seat. Local law enforcement knows to call me if we have a student involved in an accident and out the door I go. 
So my fellow admin what else do you do to handle those crazy days?

(Previous Blog: Hess and Rigor)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Hess and Rigor

Hess and Rigor

Last spring I was sitting around a table with my Instructional Coach Fred Hollingshead after completing a meeting with my Leadership Team about Rigor.  We had just developed a definition for Rigor and I asked "How can we measure rigor in our classrooms?" Fred was quick to answer, "HESS Matrix".  My reply, "How can the HESS Matrix measure rigor?" He reminded me of the Webb's training he had done the previous semester with our staff. Using our staffs knowledge of Blooms and Webb's we could apply the HESS Matrix to our teachers assessments. 

So in March (2013) we used our inservice to train our staff on the HESS Matrix. We identify each category on the Matrix by a number. For example "Blooms Remember" and "Webb's DOK Level 1" became our 1-1.  Our goal was to get our teachers to focus on 4-1 or higher. (See Table)
                  Webb's 1     Webb'2      Webb's 3    Webb's 4
Remember    1-1              1-2            1-3              1-4
Understand  2-1              2-2            2-3              2-4
Apply           3-1              3-2            3-3              3-4
Analyze       4-1              4-2             4-3               4-4
Evaluate     5-1              5-2             5-3               5-4  
Create        6-1              6-2             6-3                6-4
During the March inservice our teachers noticed that most of their questions were in the lower level (Blue Category above). Number of teachers jumped the gun and started discussing how they could change their assessments to get higher level questions. At that moment I stopped them. I told them they could make their changes but only after we had some baseline data of where their assessments were when they walked in today. So totals were taken and submitted to their chairs to create a total for each department. 

Then we started the conversations and boy were their conversations.  The conversations were rich and in time I may blog on a few of them for now here are just a few of the topics:
  • The type of questions can create rigor.
  • How a simple word change could change the rigor of a question.
  • The role of lower level questions.
  • Science discussed that they felt their subject automatically lent itself to rigor.
  • Fine Arts got involved in what was "Create" vs "Applying" a skill.
After walking through the Matrix and allowing the discussions to take place for awhile we broke out into our departments after lunch. Teachers were asked to actual project questions on the board and have discussions about the rigor of their questions as well as ways to make them more rigorous. 

In the mean time, I took the totals from each department and created our baseline data. It should be noted that while the chairs turned in the total number of questions for each category on the Matrix they also included totals for individual teachers. We chose not to look at individual teachers to begin with. Our focus was on the departments to get our school moving forward. 

So starting in March (2013) we asked our staff to take one of their assessments each month and break it down on the Hess Matrix. To make sure our staff was still on the same page we made sure to revisit the matrix in August with a review during inservice. 

Below shows the growth for our building. We decided to lump our categories to help with the visual ability to track our growth.  

Our results showed that our lower level questioning Blooms 1 &  2 declined. Even our Webb's 1 &  2 showed a little decline. On the other hand we saw Blooms 3 &  4, 5 & 6 as well as Webb's 3 &  4 climb.  Through the fall semester we were excited with the results. It should be noted that when we talked about increasing rigor on our assessments that our staff realized that they would have to increase rigor within their instruction. If we didn't increase rigor within our instruction we couldn't expect our students to do well on our assessments. 

As we enter our third semester of tracking two issues have surfaced. 
  • Tracking student scores - while we were tracking the assessment we were only tracking what our teachers were doing. We did not have any data on the success of our students on these higher level questions. We understood that when we started but did not want to overload our staff with the challenge of tracking individual student data. There was some discussion on trying this during the second semester but the staff wasn't ready. Now that we have entered the third semester our core teachers seem to be ready. We have asked them to identify 1 or 2 higher level questions on their assessment and record how their students perform. 
  • December Final - We require our teachers to give a final at the end of each semester. We do allow the teacher to choose whether it is comprehensive or just a test at the end of a unit. Most teachers choose comprehensive. When the results from the finals were tabulated we saw a major drop in all the categories that had seen growth over the past months as well as an increase in the lower level questions. This lead to even more conversations on why? While the discussion were taking place we decided to take a hard look at individual teachers results. This lead us to a discovery. Department scores did not represent the major of the teachers. For example: Social Studies department has 7 teachers. Two of those teachers had finals with at least 100 questions, many of which were low level. One of those teachers had actual given a two part final with the early portion given a week in advance. That early assessment had higher level questions that was not included in the matrix results.  The other 5 teachers had created finals with very few questions but the ones created were higher level.  These shorter finals were also comprehensive like the ones with over 100 questions.  One of those teachers even said that he had only 5 questions (all higher level) and his students did better on this final then over the past few years. 
Side note: What do teachers think about all of this?
  • Some still see this as something they have to do and a waste of their time. But let me share one  of those groups comments. During their PLC they were asked "How has the Hess Matrix impact your assessments?" Number of them said, "Not at all." Yet, as they continued talking it was clear they were far more focus on asking higher level questions then before. 
  • We have one department who still feels their subject is rigorous by itself and they are struggling to make changes. So many of their test questions continue to be lower level with right and wrong answers. 
  • On the positive side many of our teachers are more focused then ever on finding ways to create higher level questions. This includes finding ways to ask higher level questions that allows students to still give those lower level answers.  
  • Grading time continues to be a challenge. Clearly, moving from multiple choice, matching and true/false to more open ended questions requires more time to grade on the teachers. This is why we are working with our teachers to ask fewer questions or breaking down their assessments into multiple assessments. 
In conclusion, our plan is to continue to collect the matrix monthly. I hope to have some conversation about the May final in hopes of getting better results. We will also have discussion over the sumer on what our next step will be as we enter the fall 2014 school year. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Rigorous Questioning

Rigorous Questioning

An area of focus for the 2013-14 here at SHHS has been to create more rigorous questions in our classrooms.  We started back in August 2013 during inservice when we identified one of our Best Practices as Questioning. We had our instructional coach Fred Hollingshead develop some training that would be used throughout the first semester. With each monthly inservice a group of our teachers would work with Fred on ways they could improve questioning in their particular curriculum. 

To help assess our teachers we added questioning as part of our walkthrough template with and expectation that we would hear higher level questions in the classroom. There were several components of this walkthrough which included selecting Blooms and a section that showed the teacher was using our best practices. 

It started out as simply as asking more "WHY" type of questions of our students. We asked our teachers to stop just accepting the answer and force the student to explain "why" they gave the answer they did.

Let me share an example:

U.S. History classroom - the teacher asked the students "What did we do on the home front to help the war effort during World War I?" The first student said, "We purchase War Bonds". The teacher said yes and prepared to move onto another student for another answer as normal but then stopped to implement what we were asking them to do. He turned to the student who had just given the answer and asked - "How did purchasing War Bonds help the war effort?" The student didn't have a clear answer so he followed with "So what are War Bonds" and again the student couldn't answer. So he turned to the class and started the questioning process. "With your partners he said discuss what  War Bonds are?" He gave them a brief moment and followed up with a classroom discussion which lead to a discussion on CD's vs. Savings Bonds. Once he had a clear answer of what the War Bonds were, he turned to the student again and asked him to put in his own words what War Bonds were. Once the student had done that he restated his original question "How do you feel War Bonds helped the war effort?" The student gave a nice answer at this point. How often do we as teachers take the correct answer and just move on without really knowing how well the student understands the answer they just gave? 

This teacher did several things right. He asked a student for more then a right answer. He asked them to be able to explain. When he discovers the student didn't know the full answer, he allowed the class to assist in developing and answer. More important he went even farther where I see many teachers fail. He came back to the student and had the student put the answer in his own words and he asked the student to give the answer to the original question. 

Besides asking higher level questions we have included other factors in our process. This includes:

  • Random selection of students - to make sure we are holding all students accountable for a possible question our teachers are using various ways of selecting students. This includes using Dice, Cards and various apps on the iPad. 
  • Strategies - we have been working with our teachers on how to handle situations like a) you ask a question and get no answer, b) you get the wrong answer, c) ways to help take the student off the hook, d) how to get the class involved in the question. 
  • Supporting Evidence - as we implement Common Core we are working with our students to provide evidence from various resources to back up their answers. This occurs often in our math classroom who have been at this for several years and we are seeing more of it in our other core areas now. 
  • Higher Level Assessing - each month we are asking our teachers to take one of their assessments and apply it to the HESS Matrix (will have a blog on this in the near future). This helps the teacher see how many higher level questions are being asked as well as what kind of higher level questions. More important it helps create a focus for the teacher on asking higher level questions.
While we are seeing more rigorous questions there are still issues.
  • Time - it takes time for students to answer the longer questions. With the U.S. History example the teacher spent roughly 5 minutes on what he would of normally taken less then a minute. When you do this often it adds to your class time. But when I hear teachers talk about how much time something takes I use an example I heard years ago. During the Civil War we learned that washing our hands helped stop spreading of disease. In a field hospital a surgeon was moving from patient to patient without stopping to washing his hands. When someone said something to him his response was "I don't have time to wash my hands I'm to busy saving lives." If educators take that same approach we will have a lot of students dying from disease we need to slow down and make sure we are getting it right.
  • Skill - being able to develop quality rigorous questions in the heat of the classroom can be a challenge.  To assist teachers who are struggling with this we have asked them to create a few questions in advance and create follow up questions so their better prepared. To be honest, this strategy hasn't been very popular and I believe most teachers are taking the more I practice the better I will get.  
  • Off Track - when you ask higher level questions and work through the process there are times that the questioning can take you on a track you didn't plan. In some cases teachers struggle to get the students back on the right track or forget their original question.
  • Story Telling - this occurs mainly in the Social Studies classrooms but as the teacher is lecturing or what I often call story telling they ask a lot of lower level questions to help drive their story. I believe this creates a different type of classroom culture. The students become use to answering the simple questions and then when given the higher level question struggle or in some cases I've seen teachers ask lower level questions quickly and in the heat of telling the story give the answers. Again, the classroom culture develops that if I the student wait long enough the teacher will answer all questions. 
The last piece of advice I want to offer is keeping this on the front burner. As educators we are busy and most of us are willing to try new things. However, if we struggle or are allowed to loose our focus on something new we tend to fall back on what we've been doing for years. Teachers need to know they will be held accountable for asking higher level questions until it becomes old hat. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Teacher Plan Time

Teacher Plan Time

I want to first state, I believe "Time" is in short supply for teachers. As you read this blog you may think I'm not aware of how short time can be so I wanted that out front. Now that is said, let me also share that I believe "time" is what we set as priorities in our lives. If something is important enough we seem to find time and in teaching there are things we can ask others to do or simply not do all together to find time. 

I'm sure we've all heard teachers say "I just don't have time for that," or "If I only had time I could do more." So here at SHHS we are trying to find more time for our teachers and along the way hopefully convince them what we are asking needs to be a priority. 

So what can we do to help teachers with more time? Most districts give time to teachers through "Plan Time" which in my building teachers call "Their Personal Plan Time." Here at SHHS it's a challenge because we run a seven block system which in turn only allows teachers three planning periods a week or if they teach third hour (which is shorter) four planning periods a week. 

We use other ways as well which include "Staff Development Time". These are monthly scheduled in-services driven by the needs of our building and organized through our Leadership Team. Hopefully, we have provide the type of staff development that is considered beneficial. In our district we have a half-day of inservice almost monthly and half-day Professional Learning Community. That PLC time is driven by the PLC leadership and time is used as they see the need. 

Speaking of PLCs our district has allowed us to have a late start Monday which means we meet on a weekly bases. Again, this time is governed by the PLC Leadership and is often focused on items like curriculum alignment, resources identification, training and more. 

Even with all this time it seems we haven't given our teachers enough to work in small groups on direct ways to improve classroom instruction. So this year we launched something new that we call "Mini Focus". We identified teachers in the four core areas that would work together. When we built the schedule we gave them the exact same "Plan Time" (Personal Plan). We understood this would mean some lost alone planning/grading time, but felt by working with others they would still be able to plan lessons. 

Let me share what we expect:
  • Plan a lesson (backward design)
    • We asked they meet at least once every two weeks if not once a week.
    • Identify what you want your students to know as you build your lesson.
    • Develop a Common Assessment to see if your students learned it.
    • Common Strategy or Activity for ONE days lesson for the whole unit. We understood they would be developing a unit of study but wanted them to at least take one activity or strategy and develop it together. This allowed for a common discussion ground where we could compare apples to apples. In addition - we ask them to challenge themselves and develop this activity or strategy outside their comfort zone. Something new to them.
    • When teaching the lesson we get subs so all teachers involved get to watch each other teach that one activity or strategy. 
    • Meet later (called debriefing) and discuss their observations, determine if this is something they want to do again and how they can make it better.
    • Meet later and discuss the results of their assessment to see how well students did. Breaking down what they taught in common and what they taught on their own. We do this to see what works and what doesn't.
    • We do this once a month and we call this our "Mini Focus" group.
  • To help them we also gave our Chairs a second plan and expected them to lead these meetings with the help of our instructional coach. In addition we meet with our Core Chairs together once a month to discuss expectations, leadership, etc.
Yes, we have some teachers who are not happy with common plans. They see loss of their personal plan time to grade, copy papers, etc. A few I've even seen watching the clock while they are meeting. On the other hand, I've seen teachers who have embraced this idea soar. They are doing lessons they would of never done had they been left alone behind closed doors. They are clearly focused on student learning. 

Next year we are looking at giving a whole department the same plan time. For example all 10 Language Arts teachers would have the same plan time. This would be in addition to our weekly Professional Learning Community time and our monthly in-service time/PLC time. Hopefully, in time all our teachers will see this time as valuable. 


Oh the world of Twitter! Over the years I've had a Twitter account and as I look back I noticed that on two other occasions I started "tweeting" only to give it up a few tweet's later. Then I attended the 2014 USA Conference in Wichita and listen to Dr. Whitaker talk about how administrators were missing the boat if they weren't using Twitter. So right there I reopened my Twitter account.

Returning to school on Monday I met with my admin team as well as my instructional coach and shared what I had heard. Quickly, I had my account going again and I started following my instructional coach Fred Hollingshead. The wealth of resources came at me at hundred miles per hour. While I was struggling getting my head around Twitter my administrative assistant Shelby Hoytal shared with me tweetdeck and folks that's all it took. I was off!

After a week of living in the Twitter world I started missing my Windshield Time so here ... I'm back! Hopefully, I can share some wisdom or at least some random thoughts for others to reflect on.

Raising the Rigor Without Penalizing the Student

Sorry it's been awhile since I posted one of my Windsheild moments. Last night my reflective thought came at home as I relaxed. Deals with how do we handle the challenge up raising the bar within a classroom without penalizing a student's GPA. Yes, I know the GPA shouldn't be the number one concern but at the secondary level it is with many students and parents.

The Challenge

  • How do we increase rigor for students who are getting easy A's without creating challenges for our current struggling students?
  • How do we increase rigot for students who are getting easy A's without penalizing their grade where by they get lower grades then students who don't have the challenging assignments?