Friday, April 25, 2014

Be Inspired and Inspirational!

Welcome Back!  On Monday, we will all return after some well-deserved rest and relaxation!  This past week, many educators in our district were vacationing, spending time with friends & family, catching up on home improvement projects and doing a bit of spring cleaning.  We have also been planning for an amazing finish to the school year!    This blog post is a collection of inspirational videos, blogs and advice that will continue to guide our work as educators, understanding that sustaining and fostering positive relationships is the key to a successful conclusion to any school year!  Be Inspired and Inspirational!

TED Talks Education: Rita F. Pierson
  • Relationships - The Key to Learning
  • "Kids don't learn from people they don't like!"
  • "You say it long enough it starts to be a part of you."
  • "We teach anyway... because that is what we do! We are educators... We are born to make a difference!"
  • "Every kid needs a champion!"

You Tube session featuring @TaylorMali
  • "Teachers are miracle workers!"
  • "That's an excellent question, what do you think?"
  • "I'm a teacher, this is what I do!"

The Kid President gets it!  
Great advice from @pernilleripp

  • "Our brain still has mysteries to ponder." 
  • "Make Each Day Count!"

12 Things I Want To Hear My Students Say by @terryheick
  • "Ohh, now I get it."  
  • "Signs that the student is beginning to face themselves as a thinker."

Education Images via @justintarte
  • 10 education images to inspire you this week!

I am inspired each day by our students and the many talented faculty at our school!  I am also inspired by user-generated content that I find online.  Many of the inspirational items listed above I saw on twitter.  I enjoy following dedicated educators.  It can be very uplifting, providing differentiated professional development while connecting with great educators around the world.  It can also be a bit overwhelming due to the amount of blogs, videos, and information available at all hours of the day.  I try to keep it simple and scroll my twitter feed two or three times a day.  It only takes a couple minutes.  Yes, I do not see it all, and that is fine because there is plenty of inspiration to go around.  I don't read every blog I come across, just the ones that might support our growth as a building or my own professional growth.  I do make it a point to read The Colorful Principal and Bailey & Derek's Daddy each week.  I have never met these two individuals but their blog inspires me to be a better principal.  They have great energy and passion for educating children and supporting professional growth.  Check them out if you get a chance.  I would also encourage all of you to sustain positive relationships and surround yourself with individuals that are passionate about their work, inspiring you to be the best educator for your students.  Be Inspired and Inspirational!  

I look forward to finishing another school year with an amazing group of teachers, support staff, parents, and most importantly... students who inspire us each and every day!  

I hope everyone enjoys a fantastic finish to the 2013-14 school year.  Enjoy sustaining positive relationships… it is the most important thing we can do for learning! 

Keith Howell
Be positive and passionate about the greatest job in the world… teaching children!  

Friday, April 18, 2014

What is Active Participation? Diving into the depths of one's mental and physical learning!

In the early stages of being a principal, I attended a district workshop series hosted by SVSU focusing on effective teaching.  The presenter spent a lot of time focused on Active Participation.  We learned about the importance of classroom engagement through a teacher’s genuine passion for the subject, having intentional plans throughout their lessons to support active participation among all students during classroom discussions.  Many of the ideas seem simple and obvious; however, due to the pacing of curriculum, we sometimes forget to slow down and make sure students are getting a depth of knowledge that is necessary for cementing learning through active participation.

Charlotte Danielson suggests the following within Domain 3b of our teacher evaluation process:

·    Quality of questions/prompts:  Questions of high quality cause students to think and reflect, to deepen their understanding, and to test their ideas against those of their classmates. 
·    Discussion techniques:  Effective teachers promote learning through discussion… pose questions and invite all students’ views to be heard, enabling students to engage in discussion directly with one another, not always mediated by the teacher.
·    Student participation:  Teachers use a range of techniques to ensure that all students contribute to the discussion.  

These three concepts fit nicely with Active Participation, supporting all learners during classroom discussions and cognitively involving them throughout the learning process. 

So, what is Active Participation? 

Active participation is consistent and sustained covert and overt involvement of students being cognitively engaged within the learning process.  Active participation can be as simple as:

1.      Think
2.      Share with a friend
3.      Tell what you said or heard from your friend. 

It can also be more complex, diving into the depths of one’s mental and physical learning as highlighted below:  

Covert – Mental Learning  
  • Think about… put your thinking cap on…
  • Ponder this…
  • Examine…, consider this…
  • Imagine… etc.
  • Depth of Knowledge Wheel (DOK Wheel) – Many of our teachers keep this wheel posted in their classrooms to quickly initiate questions.  They utilize the DOK vocabulary to describe, explain, and interpret content during classroom discussions, enhancing the mental process of learning new material.
Overt – Physical Learning
  • Write
  • Oral response
  • Choral response
  • Signal – thumbs up, exit slip, etc.
  • Check out my previous post (Engagement Strategies to Empower Learning), which will provide some overt active participation strategies.  

During the covert and overt process it is necessary for teachers to consider wait time, which is needed to generate thinking.  There are three levels of answering questions:  fast, slow, and collaborative. 

When and why would you use these levels?

Level 1:  Fast answering can be used during mental math practice or basic recalling of information during subject review.
Level 2 – Intentional wait time:  Slow answering should be used during classroom discussions.  This is when teachers are providing three to five seconds of wait time to enhance the mental and physical learning during classroom discussions.  Three to five seconds of targeted wait time will cause focus and improve retention of material, generating higher level thinking and responses. 

Level 3 – Collaborative answering can be used during classroom discussion and/or guided practice.  Answering as a collaborative team allows for more volunteers, longer answers, increased inferences, increased responding, and builds confidence, allowing the teacher to become the facilitator of learning, enhancing empowerment and encouraging students to take charge of their learning.  

As teachers plan lessons, it is important to be intentional with strategies and techniques that support active participation during their lessons.  It is important to have targeted questions (Five Powerful Question via Rebecca Alber Edutopia Consulting Online Editor) to generate thinking and increase responses.  I encourage all educators to make a conscientious effort to increase wait time and be intentional about their active participation practices, making sure all students are actively engaged in learning!

Enjoy teaching and learning!  Have a great week!

Keith Howell
Be positive and passionate about the greatest job in the world… teaching children!!!!  

Information adapted from Saginaw Valley State University Workshop Series:  Instructional Supervision

Webb, Norman L. and others. “Web Alignment Tool” 24 July 2005. Wisconsin Center of Educational Research. University of Wisconsin-Madison. 2 Feb. 2006. <>

5 powerful questions via Rebecca Alber Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Achievement & Student Growth Philosophy - What is truly important?

It is inevitable, teacher evaluations are becoming increasingly important at the state level and it filters down to districts and school buildings where principals and teaching faculty are expressing varied opinions.  No matter the opinion, we are in the thick of the evaluation process and this is the time of year when many of us are in the final stages.  As I was working on my own evaluation I noticed some common “catch phrases” and “acronyms” regarding achievement data and student growth.  I am sure you could guess what they are: 

·        Data Drives Instruction – I say that a lot…
·        RTI approach to differentiation
·        Achievement dashboards
·        Progress monitoring with fidelity – My RTI committee loves this! 
·        SMART Goals
·        Data Binders to triangulate data… I think I just like saying triangulation!
·        Standard Based Grading
·        F&P tracking documents
·        Digging Deeper Assessments
·        Data Notebooks created by students
·        MEAP, NWEA, GPWA, FASTT, TTM, GES3, MLPP, Class A… ok, you get it!

It really got me thinking… what do I want to showcase in my evaluation regarding my achievement and student growth philosophy?  I summarized with the following:

There are many phrases and acronyms that educators utilize when talking about assessment data and student growth.  Many of them are stated within my evaluation.  Simply measuring student learning and reviewing data does not increase learning… Good Instruction Increases Learning!  Data should inform our decisions; however, educators need to be careful, not to get hung up on chasing classroom/building data, but to focus on the following:

-          Building relationships that support a culture of learning
-          Motivating and creating a love for learning
-          Maximizing instructional time
-          Increasing student engagement, empowering to be life-long learners

Rather than chasing data we should be focused on creating a culture of achievement, one where assessment data is used to gauge how to create lessons that maximize effectiveness of student engagement and learning.  Educators should utilize assessment strategies that are informal in nature; and that drive decision making, emphasizing flexibility and responsiveness to individuals during the learning process.  The most important informal assessment data educators should be looking at is student engagement and excitement for learning.  If educators are able to build positive relationships, maximize instructional time, and create a love for learning that motivates students to be cognitively engaged throughout the day then we should not need to worry about summative achievement data… they will achieve! 

I feel this sums up my assessment philosophy for my evaluation.  So, as you think about the many summative assessments we give each school year; I want you to focus on what is truly important:

-           Building relationships that support a culture of learning
-           Motivating and creating a love for learning
-           Maximizing instructional time
-           Increasing student engagement, empowering to be life-long learners

Thank you for always putting students first and not thinking they are a number, recognizing their individual needs!  Educators are the best!

Have a great week of teaching and learning! 


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Autism Awareness – Show Appreciation!

April is Autism Awareness Month.  I always think it is bizarre to have a month dedicated to a particular cause; are we not aware the other 11 months out of the year?  We should be!  However, I do appreciate the sustained awareness throughout the month of April.   Now more than ever, we need to be aware of Autism.  New studies show that 1 out of every 68 children will be diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  This is something we all need to consider, and support ongoing efforts to understand Autism and the effects it has on families.  

Our school is doing many things to bring awareness to our community:

·         On April 2nd our entire school was wearing blue.  We Lit It Up Blue for Autism Day!
·         Student and staff will be “Lighting It Up Blue” each Friday throughout the month.
·         Daily student led video announcements will provide facts about Autism.
·         We will be sending weekly e-alerts to our parents, highlighting facts shared during video announcements. 
·         Links (student group learning about and supporting our students with ASD) will provide Autism Awareness ribbons/puzzle pieces- some colored, some have facts to decorate the halls of our school.
·         Student created Wordles/Tagxedos about Autism will decorate the halls. 
·         Students will be selling Autism Awareness bracelets at lunch time to spread awareness. 
·         Teachers will be provided with resources from our ASD teachers to support awareness in the classroom. 

We are looking forward to the many learning opportunities.   More importantly, this is a perfect time to reflect, and say thank you!  It is a time to appreciate those who support people with Autism each day. 

We appreciate our ASD teachers! 
The ASD teachers at our school are amazing!  Their approach is one of relational trust, built on consistency and understanding, supporting an empathetically calm and inclusive environment.  We are lucky to have such caring individuals who love their students as if they were their own children.  They are terrific models for all of us, supporting our professional growth and increasing our understanding of Autism.  Thank you!

We appreciate our classroom assistants and professional support staff!
You support our students each and every day with a smile, utilizing effective strategies, brainstorming as a professional learning community and taking the lead to support classroom teachers and our students with ASD in all settings.  Your presence during lunch and recess is incredibly helpful; not only do you monitor behaviors and interactions, but you play and interact with your students, encouraging and modeling relationships with others in a fun and safe manner.  Thank you!

We appreciate our classroom teachers! 
You encourage all students to be part of your classroom, creating a family environment.  You model and coach your class on the effective ways to support and communicate with our students with ASD, encouraging interactions and working as a team to enhance a diverse community of all leaners.  You teach that fair isn’t always equal and that students do not always get the same thing… they get what they need!  You work collaboratively with ASD teachers, parents, and support staff to enhance your learning environment, making it conducive for all learners.  Thank you!

We appreciate our students! 
The caring, understanding, and willingness to support your peers truly makes our school a unique place.  You are patient and helpful, joining our Links program (peer to peer student group learning and supporting autism) and befriending students with ASD and many other students who have diverse learning styles without judging.  Thank you!

We appreciate our parents of our students with Autism!
Thank you for supporting us and providing the school with your experiences.  We appreciate working together, supporting each other and learning about you and your family.  Thank you for being trusting and understanding that we don’t have all the answers, but we are working hard to support you and your children, making our school the best possible place for socializing and learning.  Thank you for being brave and teaching others about Autism.  Know that we all care about you, your wonderful children and your family.  Thank you!

Most importantly… We appreciate our students with Autism!
You make our school and community a better place to learn.  You have taught us all how to be better at listening, modeling, reacting, and supporting.  Thank you for teaching us that behavior is communication, helping us understand your learning style.  Thank you for teaching us that you can sense much more than you can communicate, allowing us to encourage you to do great things.  We appreciate your energy, passion, and courage.  Your smile is contagious and can light up our halls and classrooms.  For that… We all say 

So, as April comes and goes, take time to thank someone who has been touched by Autism.  It might not change what they are going through but it will show them love, which we all need in April and throughout the other 11 months of the year. 

Thank you for reading!

Keith Howell
Be positive and passionate about the greatest job in the world... teaching children!