The purpose of this blog is to share insights into educational issues affecting Jerome Middle School. These could be new teaching strategies; new ways of grading; new ways of holding students accountable; new ways of getting students involved in their learning; or even new ways of getting parents more involved in the events at school. I hope that these posts will help answer some questions about happenings at JMS!

Monday, December 6, 2010

“Donuts and Discussion” to begin monthly at JMS

As part of my involvement with the "Connected Principals" group (a collaboration between principals from around the globe), I have been able to participate in three Live Elluminate sessions - two in which I was fortunate enough to be one of the speakers.

The October session dealt with Parental Involvement - getting parents more involved in the learning process of their children. One of the ideas that I gleaned from the session was having informal meetings open to any parent that would like to attend. One of my goals for the year is increasing parent activities at Jerome Middle School. It was during this session, and then at a School Improvement Team meeting that "Donuts and Discussion" was hatched.

So, the first monthly open meeting for parents entitled “Donuts and Discussion” will be held Thursday, December 9 at 8:15 – 9:00. The purpose of these monthly meetings is to invite parents to come and discuss programs at JMS. The agenda will be “open” so that parents have the opportunity to have conversation with JMS administration. We look forward to spending time with parents sharing successes, goals, concerns, and plans for students at JMS.

I plan to write an additional post after our first meeting to reflect. Thanks to all my colleagues at "Connected Principals" that inspired me to move forward with ACTION towards getting parents more involved.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Why Power of "I"?

Power of "I" - for those of you who don't know what this is - it is the Power of the "Incomplete".

Why do we use this program at Jerome Middle School? Why do we give students a "second chance" to complete and redo? Why don't we just "give" them zeros and "F"s if they don't get it right the first time? I heard many of these questions from parents at last week's parent/teacher conferences. Some were confused at the difference between an "I" and an "F". They were confused as to why we would allow students to "redo" - they (the parent) didn't get to and it was just fine for them(that is a quote from one mother).

So, why Power of "I".........

I first heard of this concept from an educator named Toni Eubanks at a Hight Schools that Work/Making Middle Grade Work Summer conference. I went to her session looking for ways to motiviate students, and came out with an "aha" - we can't let students take the easy way out.

It has taken us many years to realize it, but students do not learn in the same manner, or at the same rate. We present a concept - plan an engaging lesson - have students practice said concept - assess the students - then find out some of them just didn't "get it." We need to move on for those who did; but, we also need to allow those who didn't a chance to learn that concept. Power of "I" does just that. It doesn't allow a student to just take a zero on a project - that "I" remains until they complete it - and complete it in a manner that demonstrates they truly understand the concept. The old way of giving a zero for not done assignments, or an F and moving on, did nothing for the learning of the student. Nor did it tell the teacher anything about what the student truly knows and can do.

Some students do not do well on "tests". At JMS, staff also have begun utilizing Standards Based Grading. Tests are broken down by standard/objective - students must show mastery on each section of that test. They receive an "I" on any section that didn't show mastery - students have the opportunity to redo. Sometimes that means being retaught by the teacher; sometimes it means demonstrating the concept through writing; sometimes it means additional practice before redoing the test.

At JMS we believe that all our students can learn - Power of "I" ensures that. Teachers identify what I call the "by-Gods" (excuse me) - these are the critical concepts that all students show know and be able to do before moving to the next level. These "By-God" are what teachers focus "I" assignments around. "I"s are not given for "practice" - they are given for "summative" assessments that demonstrate knowledge during and after a unit of instruction. Sometimes those assessments are in the form of a test while others are projects students complete.

So why Power of "I"? Because we have high expectations for students - we expect and give them the support needed to reach those expectations.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

What JMS Teachers "Used to Think"

Wednesday, September 1 was the first day my staff joined me back at Jerome Middle School. We began the day in a district meeting, and then after lunch, we joined together in our library for the first faculty meeting of the year. @wcarrozza, a principal I follow on Twitter, said it best. That first faculty meeting of the year is one of the most difficult for a principal - it is the one where we set the "vision" or "focus" for the entire year. This year will be one full of challenges, so I wanted to begin the year on a very positive and motivating note.

There were a few things we did - but one of them I stole from a blog by "whatedsaid". She took the time earlier this summer and wrote about what she "used to think", and what she "now thinks". I began talking to my staff about the fact that I truly appreciate all the hard work and improvements we have made over the years since I have been an administrator in the building - first as an assistant principal, and then as principal (this is my 5th year - 3rd as principal). I didn't want them to be frustrated about the fact that we didn't meet the requirements for AYP (missed it by a VERY narrow margin - subgroup) - I wanted them to focus on what we have learned about teaching, students, learning, etc. in the last few years. The following list is what JMS teachers used to think, and now they think....

JMS Staff 2010-2011 - “I Used to Think….Now I Think”

I used to think we had to cram for the ISATs…
Now the learning is more transparent.

I used to think we all taught in our own little boxes…
Now everything we do is interconnected.

I used to think elective and support staff were isolated….
Now we are an integral part of learning.

I used to think teaching standards was teaching to a test….
Now I think teaching standards guides instruction and shows mastery.

I used to think re-testing shouldn’t be an option…
Now I think without re-testing proficiency and mastery aren’t possible.

I used to think the textbook was the curriculum….
Now I think the textbook is only a resource.

I used to think that student effort = proficiency…
Now I think that teacher effort and the student = proficiency.

I used to think there was ONE best way…
Now I think there are MANY great ways.

I used to think tests were just for measuring…
Now I think testing should guide my instruction.

I used to think technology was just for the teacher…
Now I think technology is great for everybody!

I used to think I had to grade everything…
Now I think learning can happen without a grade.

I used the think I had to teach the “same way” to all students…
Now I use differentiated learning.

I used to think grades were important…
Now I think learning is important.

I used to think all positive feedback is good…
Now I think feedback should be specific and individualized.

I used to think I would never take a pay cut….
Now I think I will survive with a pay cut.

I used to think that all kids can learn and grow…
I still think all kids can learn and grow.

There were many more things we did in that beginning staff meeting, but my hope is that this exercise let the staff think about the great changes we have made - and look forward to a great year to come.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Warning: Don't Be Your Own Worst Enemy

This week, my staff will be returning to prepare for the coming school year. I have been back for a couple of weeks now - gearing up for staff and students to return. Every year, I am excited for the new school year to begin - I just imagine the possibilities for great things to occur, and look forward to seeing many of them come to fruition as the year unfolds.

I have enjoyed hearing stories of summer exploits from my staff as they have dropped in - from weddings to new babies; camping trips to college trips. I was disturbed, however, by a report from one staff member.

As she was getting her "back to school" haircut her hairdresser asked if she was ready for school to begin. She shared her excitement for the new year, and talked about going in to work that day to get her office set up. The hairdresser then said "You are the only teacher I have talked to lately that is happy to be going to work." What a sad statement.

This is a difficult year for teachers - all around the country - in Idaho, each district had to decide what to "cut" - salaries, days, programs, etc. I understand that teachers are frustrated - and feel beat up by politicians and policy makers. BUT we need to remember what we are here for: OUR STUDENTS.

I remind my staff that we are our own PR department. Our responses about our school is what parents and community listen to - it forms their opinion of us. If we aren't excited to get to school and make learning happen, why should they send us their kids? If we don't keep our passion, how will we be able to instill it in our students?

We need to remember that our students are not to be punished for decisions made by politicians who don't know them. Our students count on us to be on our best game. Saying things like "I am not going to put in one minute over contract time because...." doesn't hurt the politicians, it hurts the students and gives fodder to the politicians to say we are "lazy". I do NOT know a lazy educator.

I know that times are tough - and they may get tougher. Don't be your own worst enemy - don't take those frustrations out on our students. BE EXCITED to start the year - I know I am.

I plan to make this the best year ever!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Virtual Journey Continues

I haven't posted in a while - I was trying very hard to stay "disconnected" while we were on Spring Break. I needed to that in order to spend some quality time with my family - "reconnect" with them, if you will. We took a short trip up to Boise and went swimming, watched Alice in Wonderland at the IMAX, went bowling, and visited our newly remodeled Capitol building. I wasn't able to completely stay "disconnected" - I corresponded with @mrspal concerning the "muchness" discussed in Alice in Wonderland, and how that related to education. She has a great blog post about it!

But...I digress. The purpose of this post is to discuss what occurred just before Spring Break started. We have many "new" administrators in our district this year - I put "new" in quotes, because they aren't brand new, but in new positions. Our Superintendent, Business Manager, HS principal, UE principal, and Federal Programs director are all in new positions this year - lots of learning going on in our district! So, we held a "strategic planning" meeting last Thursday - I know, I know - curb your enthusiasm! We were all so looking forward to spending this time together - planning. BUT what a great day it turned out to be!

Through the discussion of the day (we had an outside person "coaching" us through the process--really a taskmaster.), we discovered what our vision for our students REALLY is. AND, the idea of "technology for learners v. technology for learning" came up. I grabbed the chance, and "confessed" my twitter habit that had developed in the last month. A great conversation erupted from my "confession" to these professionals.

Through my "testimony", I was able to share a glimpse of why I have been tweeting. Our district "tech" guy, who was leery of my obsession at first, was beaming with excitement. I have not always been known as a tech expert by any stretch of the imagination, but what I had been doing is exactly what he wanted to see in classrooms. I shared my skepticism of this social media platform as a "learning" tool, and how the skepticism had quickly turned to excitement and amazement in all that I had learned. I found myself so excited to share what I had learned, and the excitement became contagious.

We discussed some of the "negatives" to this idea - the fact that many of us (us being digital immigrants) see too many "bad" things associated with the Internet. Because we ARE digital immigrants, our students know much more than we do about this whole venture. I shared what I have read in multiple tweets - we are dealing with digital natives - whether we like it or not, social media is their world. We might as well teach them how to use it for "good" rather than for "bad".

By the end of the day, I was able to whet enough appetites, that this discussion is going to continue. In fact, our curriculum director has asked that I do a presentation for ad council (all our admins) about how I built my PLN, and how they can do the same. I am still in the process of learning all of this, and am honored that they want to learn from me.

What started out for me as an experiment - a trial- has turned in to an adventure that may possibly change the direction of instruction for teachers, and learning for students, in our district! I can't wait!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Morale is a Team Effort

Last week our edchat topic was concerning teacher morale. There was great discussion as to how it may or may not affect student achievement. One member of our PLN challenged everyone to raise someone's morale the next day.

I took this to heart and began to think of ways to raise morale in my school. As the instructional leader, I take this very seriously. I expect teachers to focus on the positives with their students in order to help relationship/rapport. I need to model this as well. However, morale boosting is not just up to me - it needs to be team effort.

Here are some things I have been doing to raise morale (some of these were done before last week's edchat).

1. We began our year with a FOCUS. We do have school improvement goals, team goals, department goals, and individual professional goals. All those "goals" can get overwhelming unless they all have a common focus. I used the "Starfish Story" as the basis for our focus this year. We are remembering that if we can make a difference for just one child in our jobs, then it is worth it. I use a starfish on all my presentations to staff - just keeping that focus in front of all of us.

2. Two staff meetings were dedicated to staff collaboration in answering two questions - What makes JMS Special? and What do we Value? Staff put a lot of though into this interactive activity - posters were hung up in our faculty lounge and staff commented on each others ideas. Now we are making them into permanent posters to be hung around the building.

3. Frequent walk throughs. The purpose of the walkthroughs is two-fold. One - to see what great things are students are being asked to do; and Two - to show students that the administrators value what goes on in classrooms.

4. "Starfish Awards" I took some time out of our most recent faculty meeting to recognize staff members who had made a difference in the last week. I recognized four groups/individuals, and then asked for others to share - and give out their own awards. Not only did more people get recognized for both little and big things that they do each day, we all learned what great things were occurring.

5. During this time of the year (Feb, March), I also ask staff to keep a "positives" journal. We get so focused on all the stress and negative things that our students are doing, we forget that we have great students too. I ask staff members to find at least one positive thing that occurred during the day (even if it is - I didn't kill any of my students today)! :-)

Just as it is easy for our teachers to get focused on negative aspects of our jobs - unmotivated students, apathetic parents, budget cuts, etc. - it is also easy for administrators to get pulled into the same vortex. That is why it is so important that building morale be a team effort. The instructional leader is just one piece of the puzzle. I just try and do what I can to lead the morale in the right direction.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Starting a Journey

A couple of weeks ago, our MMGW consultant visited our school. During her two day visit, she assisted in our building's Idaho Instructional Review, and met with our Focus Groups to check progress. On the second day of her visit, when she met with Focus Groups, her schedule wasn't as busy as previous visits - so she and I were able to spend some one-on-one time.

It was during this time, that she shared her PLN on Twitter. "Twitter"?! I thought. I couldn't believe she was promoting a social networking site - I just couldn't imagine "wasting" my time on my iPhone and laptop "tweeting." What she shared with me over the course of the day opened my eyes to a whole new world of professional development. Little did I know what a vast resource she was introducing me to. In addition to Twitter, she also showed me the multiple uses of Google Docs, Diigo.com, and Twitter4teachers.

That evening, I went home and created a profile on Twitter and "followed" Nancy. To my amazement, within minutes (probably more like seconds) she tweeted my tweet and introduced me to a world of fabulous educators. She sent me links to lists of "people to follow". In addition, I was able to open some links she had shared with me earlier, and comment on said links. That weekend, I was able to participate in the Live audio conference with Alfie Kohn - quite the eye opener. By listening to Mr. Kohn, and following on Twitter, I was able to find even more fabulous educators to follow.

I now have a Twitter, Diigo.com, and ning account (educator PLN). With the diigo account, I bookmark great sites I find when tweeting - that I later share with staff in my building. By joining the Educator PLN on ning, I learned of edchat. I have been able to participate in two edchats, and one onecom chat. I would say that I have been able to get more professional development in the last two weeks, than I have in the last six months (and it is FREE)! :)

I am getting "teased" by my staff members for "tweeting" - they are sure they have lost me to some virtual world. But, as I share the gems and tidbits I learn when I tweet, the teasing is turning to "where do you find this stuff?" I have to thank Nancy Blair for sparking my interest, and encouraging me when I started. I just hope that I can contribute to this web 2.0 world as much as I am learning.