Friday, August 31, 2012

Flying with Children?

How many miles high does a commercial airline typically fly?
(Yesterdays garden pictue was taken in front of The Jewel Box in Forest Park of St Louis.)
Remember the airline steward reviewing the flight procedures before the plane takes off?  She says "put the mask on the others before yourself!"

Contemplation of this thought begins our Friday post,  especially due to the labor day holiday coming up and what it takes to lead others around us.

As leaders, we must always take care of ourselves first.  Just like an airline steward really says put the mask on ourselves first.  As leaders we must guard our emotions, our physical well-being, and mental state, maintaining our own health before we can take care of others.  This includes personal discipline, training, and contemplation and the vision of the team.

Our emotions must be self-disciplined and not based on the behavior of our wards.  Often times, they are trying to engage us in their internal struggle.  They need us to maintain control and demonstrate a calm demeanor. This exemplifies self-control, a characteristic of maturity necessary and a by-product or result of a good education.  Our steady pacing will assure our students of a safe environment where student feel an educational risk is worth taking!

We all require exercise of our bodies as well as our emotions.  As leaders, we carry many of the burdens of the team or group.  Every problem, issue and concern feasibly travels through the leader's scope or vision.  Physiologically releasing these burdens  through exercise aids the cleansing necessary for both mental and physical health.  Hence, the justification for regular exercise.

Finally, as leaders, we often see far into the future of where the group is going.  We can recognize a speed bump in the path and act accordingly.  Our ability to articulate these upcoming obstacles with the group determines the rate of change, progress and effort necessary to navigate the path ahead.  Our ablility to discern becomes our asset to the group.  As leaders, we must connect with our audience by sharing things on their level, interesting to them and appropriate for their ability to comprehend and execute.  Unfortunatly, leaders often share things that interest few and have little or no application to their crowd.  This lack of connection prevents many groups from their fullest potential, creating a cieling or governing effect that limits or holds them back.  Therefore, the craft or skill to practice is engaging and speaking with our audience things they want and need to hear and address their goals and objectives.

Selfish?  No.  Leadership!

Oh yeah!  The steward does not say put the mask on others first.  She knows we must take care of ourselves before we can take care of others.  Traveling or flying with children?  Take care of youreslf first!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Gardening Steps or Teaching Steps?

What is most effective at helping folks grow?

Not your regular garden?  Anyone know where this picture was taken?
(Answer to the City Scape of the last post:  North from the Coit Tower of San Francisco)


Think about a garden.  How do we know if it is a good garden?  What do we do to make it better?  How do we tend to its needs? 

Ask these questions of a classroom and our answers are defined by those struggling the most, by those who are insecure in their efforts or by those afraid to take a risk.

In a middle school, this seems exaggerated, almost enlarged.  Those that struggle a little, seem to fall farther behind.  Those with insecurities naturally, still look for positive and healthy relationships.  Those least likely to take a risk, resort to avoidance behavior and often become paralyzed with a fear of failure and won’t even try at all.

As educators, we are fortunate enough to be right in the middle of student growth.  We get to see folks try, make mistakes, accept encouragement and then finally reach their goals.  We also see them struggle, quit and resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms because they know no other technique for managing stress in their lives besides self-mediating.  But like a gardener, we are also there to prepare the soil, prune, fertilize and wait for the fruit to ripen.  Let’s connect gardening with the classroom.

Relating this metaphor to education, we see soil preparation as forming relationships with our students.  They really don’t care how much we know till they know how much we care.  This care must be expressed in terms our pupils can comprehend, in their language and at their level.  Often times this is uncomfortable for us as adults, to step into their world and make that connection but frequently, this act demonstrates care better than any other.

Pruning, like in gardening removes the weeds, distractions and competition.  A thistle in one garden becomes a centerpiece in another.  Similarly, behavior in one setting is welcome in another since it prevents students from paying attention.  Consistency, fair and just discipline and classroom management are the educators pruning shears.  These skills take practice, just like a gardener learns which bugs are healthy (ladybug) and which bugs eat leaves (Colorado Beetle) and how to foster one and discourage the other!

Fertilizer comes in a few forms for the garden as well as the classroom.   Fertilizer is the additive that gives the plant the boost to flower and fruit, but ensures our students outperform others in the similar circumstances. This looks like the actual praise for hard work, support for the insecure, attention given to the needy, endorsement for right answers, encouragement to persist while making mistakes and cheering supplied to the showman.  Thus part of our responsibility is to understand the flower and supply the nourishment appropriate for that type of flower to flourish.

Finally, we water while we wait for the maturity to happen.  We can’t force it, hurry it along or rush things.  But we can water, and tend to our garden while waiting for the fruit to ripen.  Picking apples is a wonderful example.  The color might be there but if it is too hard to remove from the tree, the fruit will not be ready.  Maybe sour or maybe tart but definitely not sweet.  Pre-tests, post-tests, formative and summative assessments are all monitors of progress, tugs to see if the fruit is ripe and the students are ready.

I have often thought that if heaven had given me choice of my position, it should have been on a rich spot on earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of a garden. No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of a garden.”
-Thomas Jefferson

 thanks @sagittariusA1 
A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read. -Mark Twain

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Press on" Calvin Coolidge

Anybody recognize the city?  Hint below.

As leaders, we have a revised, higher, enlarged or magnified set of standards.  Putting ourselves in leadership positions pulls us from other subservient postures.  We truly are called to be above things, act differently, even if is initially an act and portray behavior fitting the position.  Sometimes, this may take adjustments and a shift in perspective.  That shift re-focuses on:

Realizing relationships come before rules.  Bringing our wards alongside, letting them mature to their potential and reach their goals is a mark of leadership.  People come before programs, every time!  Is our organization established to serve people or things?

Truth and transparency must supersede the agenda, using discretion as the better part of valor.  (Think Valedictorian) Each day, problems and encounters offer opportunities for leadership, teaching and sharing of the vision.  As the leader, we must portray the actions befitting a leader and not a follower. 

Finally, repetition is a key component of goal attainment.  Overnight success takes 5 years, or 10,000 hours, whichever comes first!  Talent is not the determining factor to success.  Hard work overcomes many obstacles.  Just because we miss, fail or get a wrong answer, leaders carry the vision to persist, even when others work to give up and give in!  Remember Calvin Coolidge?
Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
Calvin Coolidge
The City above is ____ ? 
Hint:  The bridge there took 4 years to build and 80,000 miles of cable to suspend it.
Was this city built in a day, week or even a year? 
How long do we expect folks to practice before they improve?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Success via Collaboration

Collaborative Teaching

Which is more effective at improving student achievement?  Competition or collaboration?

Research has demonstrated collaboration as the most effective way to help students.  That's right!  When teachers talk and share, students improve.  Why?  To begin, competition among teachers can't be helped.  Of course we want to know how we stand.  Are our students learning more or less than others?  How do we compare to other schools, districts and even other classes?  But when this competition begins to focus on winning at the cost of the relationship to the point where the looser pays the price and walks away ashamed, we wonder if the cost is too great.

Nothing happens alone.  We all need others to find success, foster learning and grow dendrites. 

At our school, we are fully ingrained in the professional learning community (PLC) model that fosters collaboration among staff.  An earlier post addressed culture and again, we see that a good culture is vital to pure collaboration.  Defining collaboration as teachers talking among themselves, we notice all students have opportunities to benefit from the advice as one teacher advises another.  This is advice is only freely given when there is a mutual relationship between each member.  It's also freely received if the recipient does not feel pressure to follow along but can incorporate the ideas and methods into their own teaching presentation.  Insecurity and doubt among staff, prevents this true collaboration from actually occurring.

Of course, collaboration obviously allows teachers to share ideas, methods and pedagogy.  An unforeseen outcome is the level of confidence a teacher gains by talking to other teachers, who also dealing with these same students.  Sharing and not commiserating over students becomes a healthy alternative that promotes success for the students individually which raises the bar for all in the learning environment. 

Watching teachers work together for the benefit of everybody becomes the ultimate outcome goal as administrator.  Seeing cooperation in action at school seems to validate the research and data about collaboration. 

Therefore, an administrator's success is measured by the success of every individual present.

Just as a leader succeeds, only if all others succeed!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

# 2. A Culture of learning is...

CULTURE:  Two of Seven

 What does it look like?  What does it mean to have a culture of learning? How do we know if we've arrived?  How do we know if we missed the mark? Can we adjust midstream or is culture an all or none proposition?

Building and creating culture takes time and often the goal is elusive as we begin the journey.  We may think we know what it looks like but often we know more about what it does not look like.  We know what doesn't work and need to get together to determine what does work.  We know how we don't want things but can we articulate what we do want?

Maybe this is where the leader comes into play?  Does the leader carry the vision, focus on the vision and share the vision with the community so others can join in that common quest?  Does the leader view decisions based on the common vision?

This pier extends into the distance and we can't really see the details right now, but we trust that the foundation will support us and the journey will not be too much for what we have inside.

In a culture of learning, EVERYONE should be involved in the learning process.  We all should remember and understand what a risk looks like, how it feels, and the insecurity lurking behind every chance!  Failure is necessary for advancement and learning but does that failure mean we are failures?  Does the leader model what it looks like to fail and still return to the contest?  Without failure, we are stuck in a rut, which is just a grave with both ends kicked out!

In a culture of learning, everyone is comfortable taking risks, looking for opportunities to grow and areas needing additional attention.  It is a place where failing does not make one a failure!  A true learning environment ferments when there is some level of discomfort for all!  We know we have reached the acme when everybody is willing to take a chance, from the leader all the way through the organization. 

An examination of the culture leads to another though?  Is it poison?  Is it fostering?  Does it promote growth, maturity and development or does it stifle creativity, expressiveness and exploration? Is it like this below?

I remember this quote from my childhood, back in 1969...
I noticed it today and thought it was still timely...
This describes a culture of learning!

The assembly today allows us to celebrate our accomplishment and kick off the next chapter in our change.  We know change is constant but growth is optional!

We are Winfield and we are on the map!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Literacy, Technology and Emotions

My nephew, a digital native, maybe 3 or 4 years old found my mothers cell phone and had located the games with no direct instruction.  It was truly like second nature for this child to navigate the operating system. 

Will this effect the child's future, societal future and even our community as a whole?  Will language development speed up or slow down due to the shift in learning?  Will the child still need as many words and adult contact in the developmental years under 5 or will technology suffice?  These are questions that time and society will address.

We can't wait for the answers.  Our State Standards will require deeper articulation and language development sooner than later.  Reading, interpretations and applications of understanding will form the basis of our latest set of standards, which really seems like a deeper understanding of prior curricula.  Research verifies children develop emotional stability as they mature, especially hearing words and healthy adult dialogue as youngsters but, what effect does technology have on abstract concepts and their development?

For instance, today, while popping in a reading class, the teacher was using an interactive smart board to help students (6th graders) draw pictures of abstract concepts, like emotions, feeling and reactions.  By equipping these students with language, they were able to begin to express themselves in a healthy manner, without frustrations as they searched for words to describe their emotions.  By drawing a picture or sketch of an abstract concept, the students were able to "see" the emotion (or at least the effect of the emotion) and better understand the concept.  (well done KS)

This evidence and practice of language development becomes the means and not the ends, which outlines our question.  Like all tools (think hammer or drill), educational tools align.  (Think technology, writing, reading or ciphering)  These tools require training in safe operation, maintenance and even application.  (think about hammering with a drill!).  These tools begin simple but increase in difficulty as the use matures. 

So what do we do?  We teach people, whatever they need to know for their future!

Winfield Middle School is on the map!

Answer:  Redcliff Colorado is the Green Bridge on the prior post, not to be confused with the New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia as seen below.  (Great guess MW)

Friday, August 17, 2012

One Picture = Thousand Words: How to express this first week of school!

Anybody know where this is?

To ponder this first week of school, it was tough to express the feedback, till this picture came along!  Four components are key in this picture that convey the ideas and successes we saw at Winfield Middle School during this first week of the 2012-13 school year.

To begin, the creek at the bottom alludes to a primitive form of travel or communication.  Rafts, boats and walking all remind us of strenuous effort necessary to build this country, across the frontiers, facing daily continuous dangers of the unknown.  Often times, it is the fear of the unknown that far surpasses the actual danger.  Communication that takes us literally seconds via technology would take weeks at best through mail being carried on foot and delivered by hand.  For our students, the fear of coming to the middle school seemed to melt by the end of the first day and by the end of the third day, students expressed the desire to be here, verses home.  (itself another commentary for another post)

Above the creek, the road symbolizes the advanced efforts of the assembly line that solidified during the early part of the industrial age, where we mechanized our efforts and looked to machines, electricity and efficiency to make our lives easier.  Communication through the form of telegraph and electrical circuits lacing the country side made our connections even quicker and more efficient.  We still needed an interpreter that could help us articulate our thoughts into the most sparse of messages as we sent telegraph messages into the Morse code and back to letters and words again.  A school metaphor may indicate the need to have multiple types of communication to meet multiple types of learners.  So many teachers used so many various forms of communication and connection and students had multiple opportunities to respond in every class.  This came through an engaging staff willing to combine technology, their own personalities, establishing a secure environment where students felt a risk was worth taking, especially an educational risk with a true demonstration of tough love and safe boundaries.

The train tracks parallel to the road, infer our communication became standardized as the width of most of the tracks in the US became  the constant four feet and eight and one half inches across.  Thus folks joined the norm, benefited from the commonality of community and improved their lot.  Communication wise, the telephone removed the need for an interpreter to translate things into and out of the code of dots and dashes, sort of like a computer translates everything into zeros and ones.  At school our connection becomes the way the curriculum adjusts so educations across the communities become equitable, fair and balanced.  neighboring communities can benefit through the communication enjoyed by all.  Students enjoy teachers at WMS that share common passion for helping, caring and reaching into their native generation that uses technology for much of their personal interaction.

Finally, the bridge represents the successful connection built from one side to the other, from one generation to another, from one individual to another.  Like Green Eggs, it begins with one party reaching into the life of another, demonstrating a true interest in helping and showing what it means to display unconditional live for a person, separate of their actions.  Like the person but not what they are doing!  The bridge crosses the gap, saves time and energy by not going around and forms a direct link over the chasm.  The staff at WMS have begun a very successful building process, laying a foundation for huge leaps and gains in so many students. Thank you, to any that may read this!

Can I express how well this first week of school went? 
         Not in a thousand words, due to my lack of articulation skills, but maybe this picture will help. 

GREAT JOB Winfield Middle School.   We are on the map!

Anybody know where that picture was taken?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How was your first day of school?

Here on the second day of a great school year, some students and I were discussing their first day of school.  I asked them "how was school yesterday."  I actually heard one say “I did not want to leave!” and then 3 more agreed.  This did not sound like a normal answer so I asked another and heard “I could not wait to come back today!” 
We had attendance rate of over 98%, on day one.  Six students out of 311 were missing!  These children seemed to be excited to be at school.  They felt like their teachers cared they were there.  They seemed to enjoy the positive interaction with the support staff as well.  Their bus behavior was outstanding both to and from school, even with the bridge out and one bus having to take the very long way home.

Students seemed to respect the struggling newcomers to the building, even offering aid opening lockers and finding classrooms. Technology was in use everywhere: the classrooms, the library, even the commons during PE and before school while waiting to go to class.  It seemed like everyone was working to speak to these technological natives in their own tongue.  It’s like, we went to reach them on their level!

We were only Winfield, now we are on the map!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How to be a good Middle School Principal?

Ensure you are surrounded by good middle school teachers.

I woke up last night at 2am. I wondered what I had to worry about because it was the first day of the school year. I considered the wonderful staff in the building, and fell back asleep till 5:30!

I got to school and folks were already setting things up, preparing for students and looking forward to success. #endthemeetingnow The staff had investigated technology and some even posted their first tweets. #winwar (Winfield Warriors)  Technology was everywhere. and are just the beginnings to the technological natives in our seats.

Of course, we all understand Dr Seuss was talking about relationships when he wrote Green Eggs and Ham and without a relationships, we would have little impact and less influence on the people around us, the wards under our care, or even the children in our classes or the kids in our family. All day was filled with activities that are designed to intentionally engage students in their own learning process.  Worksheets don't grow dendrites and we worked accordingly.  Well done, middle school staff.

Reflection: Today was the first day of our SY and as we walked the halls and popped into classrooms, we saw many great practices. We saw teachers allowing students to interact with technology in front of the entire class. We saw smiles and heard laughter. We had over 97% of our registered students show up. Staff were engaging with students on both a surface level as well as an intentional deeper level for future interactions of deeper levels of knowledge. We observed and overheard evidence of students wanting to attend school to see what their teacher had thought up for them. Parents came to check things out and even popped into classrooms with us. We saw the foundations for success. We are preparing to put Winfield Middle School on the map.
If today is any indication of where we are going, we are reservedly excited and I think everybody will be back tomorrow! Well done staff.
We were only Winfield, but now we are on the MAP!
PS. Did anyone see our high stakes testing scores released from DESE last year? Out of the park!  Kudos again.
PPS. How to be a good Middle School Principal? Someone said one trait was being a little goofy!  I say surround yourself with good middle school teachers!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Success by chance or choice?

Success by chance or choice!

What a great bunch of staff.  If first impressions are lasting impressions, we are going to be on the map.  It is inevitable.  There seems to be no obstacles to preventing huge growth and great success.

A premise of J. Collins in Good to Great is getting the right people on the bus.  Assembling the right group of people becomes the priority.   It has been done.

The great interactions, the earnest conversations, tweets of #timetoworkinclassrooms and #endthemeeting, and exploring Outlook, SMART boards, technology and discussing what it means for our students and their future as well as ours.  The quotes, the binders, the stuff, Literacy,, blogs around the world, does technology reduce relationships? It was a wonderful first day back to school!  The cookies and donuts, the laptops and EVERY SINGLE PERSONS great attitudes. Thank you.

Students do NOT have the right to fail.  Not here.

Winfield Middle School is going to be on the map!

Fun quote for later:  If you are not living on the edge, you are taking up too much space!

Student Centered or Teacher Centered lessons...

How about a story? 
So there we were. Two of us were just assigned a co-teaching assignment, aka CWC, where there were two teachers; a content teacher and a Special Education teacher; to serve a very diverse group of students.  We wondered what it would look like.  During some effective professional development, we were introduced to six techniques for working as a team. 

Our Favorite:  TEAM TEACHING.  In team teaching, both teach at the same time, interacting together in front of the entire class and talking through the content.  The results were often dynamic and interactive after some practice, but tough to pull off if insecurities and competition exist between the two professionals.

While teaching one day, I was standing in the back of the room, "playing" dumb while the other teacher was explaining things to me while I roamed the room and we presented the lesson.  IT WAS WONDERFUL.  The next hour however, I missed the benefit of the co-teacher in the room and felt like an ingredient was missing.
Then it hit me.  I COULD HAVE A STUDENT ACT AS A CO-TEACHER, standing up and writing on the board.  I could continue to roam the room, watch students working at their desks, and "play" dumb in the back of the room.  This evolved into students sharing in the actual instruction, connecting with their peers and actually taking ownership in the learning. 
It was a step away from a teacher centered classroom to a student centered classroom!  It was also fabulous.

Suggestion: Take a risk this year and commit to trying a few new techniques.  Then provide feedback to peers and celebrate successes and failures! 

I heard once, "a wise man learns from other peoples mistakes!"

We may be only Winfield, but we are going to be on the map.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012



Our leadership team has rallied behind these 7 Cs or our Core Beliefs.  We see these as pivotal components for a successful school, where we measure success by the success of our students...

Content, Culture, Collaborative Teaching, Collective Decisions, Critical Thinking, Creative Thinking, Communication
These 7 topics will form the basis of a series of blogs devoted to student's success, improving teaching and creating great schools from good schools.  Check back regularly for their interpretations.
Content, rigor, fidelity, standards, curriculum, are all terms that describe our subject matter, the things we are mandated to teach and the things students learn.  There are multiple types of content:  Written content, mandated content, planned content, actual content, taught content, tested content, learned content and remembered content, all describing what a student actually "learns" while at school.  As educators, our responsibility is to align these together as tightly as possible.  Our pedagogy should strive to ensure all these adjectives describing our content, with the teaching addressing a thought, idea or content appropriate for our students.  We should strive to teach what the students "need" to know.

The educational PLC model even begins with the corollary question of "What do students need to know?"  At first glance, this seems simple enough.  Teach math. Teach communication arts.  Teach behavior.  Teach procedures.  TEACH PEOPLE.  Help them with what they will need to know.  Equip them with the tools they will need for their futures.  This is where a masterful teacher wants to spend the majority of their time.

Effective teachers are efficient and align all these characteristics but not without struggle.  Not without conflict and not without collaboration and not without help from others.  But that is another C! - Collaboration

Here at Winfield, we have an acronym SWBAT - "students will be able to..."  This expression reminds us that worksheets are only activities and they do not develop dendrites.  What we want students to know is not the same as what we want students to do.  We want them to know, interprets or understand the causes of the Civil War, for instance.  We may use a skit to portray the actions of the Lincoln.

For example:

SWBAT ...  understand the political issues of the middle 1800s  (this strives to describe what the students will learn)

AGENDA...  assign actors to play various roles of that era... (this describes what they will actually do)

SWBAT...  worksheet 4.3  (this tells us nothing about what the students will learn that day)
We put these on the boards, in student friendly language that they can understand, not for us, not for the principals but for the students!

How can we improve what we are doing?

Where could we use extra training?

Beginning the articulation process actually helps define areas needing extra attention.  Self-reflection is key for adult learning as well as student learning...

We may be "only Winfield," but we are going to be on the map!

Monday, August 6, 2012

How do we define good teaching?

What does it take to be a good teacher? 
How do we measure teacher effectiveness? 
"I taught it but they did not learn it!"

There are a few components necessary for students to learn.  Of course one of them is a relationship with a caring adult.  This may not necessarily be with the actual teacher but often times, especially in challenging situations, the teacher must build a bridge into a struggling students life to be able to influence the student to change.  A master teacher often pulls from past experiences many tricks and tools for eliciting the best from students,  lighting the spark of intrinsic motivation and confronting without being confrontational to the point of antagonism, and getting more from the student than others.  This is the relational component and vital for sustained growth.

Continuous assessment for student learning is also vital to determine the pace of instruction, the depth of the content and expectations of higher standards.  Gone are the days where we can administer a single exam and hinge an entire semester or annual grade on that event.  Frequent formal and causal assessments provide a better pulse or picture of student learning.  A pre-assessment, followed by multiple formative tools and wrapped up with a summative component that assembles all the various parts.  Thus we can claim "we taught it" after we verify "they learned it!"

All content hinges on literacy and reading.  These become the backbone, foundation and in some cases a predictor of future success.  A student that lags in their reading will often portray avoidance behaviors that prevent that confrontation that tends to make the struggling reader feel even more discouraged and the cycle continues to exaggerate itself to the point of perceived hopelessness.  Remember hope is another vital component for effort and intrinsic motivation and without hope, there is no reason to try! 

These trends are aligned with the Common Core State Standards ( CCSS ) and there seems to be a direction towards some component of teacher accountability.  From our federal government (NCLB, although Missouri received a waiver) to state provided evaluation documents for teachers and principals, discussions about what it means to be a good teacher are becoming more and more common.

DESE (department of elementary and secondary education) supplies these three resources to articulate in what it means to be a good teacher and expect districts to incorporate similar if not matching rubrics for evaluations.  (EES = educator evaluation system)

Educators in Missouri would be inclined to review these above documents as provided by our state department of education. 

How do we define good teaching?  Good learning!