Sunday, December 18, 2016

Reflection 2017

The conclusion of another calendar year is always a great time to celebrate successes while reflecting on how to improve our craft as we make resolutions for 2017.  Educators continually reflect on the effectiveness of district and school improvement plans, culture and climate, instructional strategies, district initiatives, curriculum and assessment, etc. Our Professional Learning Committees do an amazing job of collaborating while setting and monitoring goals to support learning.  With that said, success of individuals, buildings, or districts depend greatly on self-reflection, asking questions that hit the core of our professional growth.    

Any job needs honest self-reflection.  Asking profound self-reflection questions, while understanding yourself and how stakeholders might view you, will truly improve your performance and maybe even the quality of your work experience. Examples of profound self-reflection questions:

  • Do my students like me?  Do I like my students?  Do I connect with them by creating authentic relationships?
  • Do my parents like me?  Do they know how much I care for their children and enjoy teaching? What would they say about my ability to communicate with them?
  • Do I surround myself with positive people?  Do I like my job?  Can I do better?
  • Do my colleagues like me?  Do they feel supported by me, or do I create anxiety for them?
  • Do I create a collaborative culture of safety and empowerment within the learning process, where students can be risk-takers?
  • Do I automatically go to a negative place when hearing about new initiatives or do I consider the positives aspects that might support my craft?  
  • Do I cast judgment rather than providing support and understanding?
  • Do I let disappointment in educational politics and uncertainties creep into the classroom?
  • Do I find the professional growth process (evaluation) as a nuisance or a chance to grow and develop my craft?
  • Am I defensive when receiving constructive criticism?  Do I make excuses, or use constructive criticism as a chance to grow professionally?
  • How do I respond to others that are negative?
  • Do I create my own stress?  Are my greatest strengths creating weakness?  Am I blinded by my own ambition?
  • If everyone at my place of work had my attitude, what kind of work environment would it be? 
  • Do I have a growth or fixed mindset? Do I self-create opportunities to grow professionally through attending professional development workshops, reading educational blogs and articles, collaborating through twitter chats, etc.
  • Am I the voice of “all good things” in education or the echo of what is wrong?

I feel extremely fortunate to work in a positive district, with amazing people; however, even the most positive educators should ask these questions from time to time.  These are questions that I utilize when reflecting, which sustains my focus of being the best that I can be for the district and ultimately our students.  If one truly want to sustain professional growth, then one must think deeper than traditional performance-reflection questions.  Genuine self-reflection will get to to core and drive professional growth.

As you reflect and set goals for 2017, start thinking about deeper self-reflection questions that will support your motivation and positively carry you into a new calendar year.  Pick one or two that might resonate with you and try to improve by giving the “extra degree.” Always remember the importance of being the “positive voice” in education!  Continue to grow and embrace change, creating opportunities for professional growth, while enjoying the best job in the world… teaching children!

Thanks for reading and make this holiday season a time for family, friends, and reflection.

Enjoy the conclusion to another great year!  

Friday, November 11, 2016

Tips for Conferences

When I was a principal, conferences were among my favorite times of the year!  Time after time, they reaffirmed a key belief that I hold: our teachers are great!  As parents were leaving the building, many would stop by my office to give accolades about our teachers and praise the learning experiences their children were having throughout the year.  This provided terrific informal data that supported the positive relationships and learning environment we created together.  What a great feeling for our teachers and families!

Fall conferences might be the first time teachers are meeting parents, other than the friendly, "hello" during drop off/pick up, and the occasional family night.  Conferences are a time when teachers get 10-20 minutes (depending on the district) to showcase academic/social/emotional learning goals and experiences that students are setting and demonstrating throughout the school year.  Sometimes, parents don’t know what to expect … and neither do teachers!  It is extremely important that we are confident in our abilities to showcase the academic, social, and emotional progress and future goals that empower students to grow throughout the school year.  

Ten Tips for Productive Parent Conferences  is a timely read with great suggestions to organize successful parent teacher conferences. This article was adapted from Your Best Year Yet! A Guide to Purposeful Planning & Effective Classroom Organization by Shoshana Wolfe, © 2006, published by Scholastic.  There are many takeaways from the article and three resonated the most with me: relationships, concrete examples, and organizing an intentional plan of communicating progress, concerns, and future goals.  


Parents want to know that you love teaching all children and you love their child.  It is important to showcase the positive aspects of our profession, school, and district.  Parent want to know that you love your job and truly know and understand their child.  One great way to create a positive relationship with your parents is by making sure you have great knowledge of their child.  Know your kids, ask them questions, and show that you genuinely care for them.  Ask the following questions of your students:

1.       How do you learn best?
2.       What stops you from learning as well as you could?
3.       What needs to happen in our classroom to help you become a better learner?

Asking these questions of your students will create relational trust within your classroom while providing you with talking points during conferences.  It will also support your understanding of students, allowing you to articulate what their child needs to be successful.  Most importantly, it will show that you involve students in the learning/planning process, allowing your students to assume some responsibility to their own learning. Parents will fully appreciate and know that you understand and care for their child with this approach.  

Concrete examples:
Parents want to see example of their child’s ability and progress.  Have a portfolio of work samples and pre/post assessments.  This will provide concrete talking points surrounding a child’s ability and progress over time. It will also help when establishing future goals and individualized instruction.

Organizing Thoughts:

Going into a conference without a plan can be detrimental to establishing a positive relationship with parents.  To help organize thoughts you can use a Parent Conference Form (PDF).  This can include strengths, concerns, and future goals.  It will also help you stay organized when you are on your 15th conference of the day.  

In conclusion, teachers, as you enter into conferences, make a great impression! Help parents believe what we already know: your classroom and school are the best, with amazing teachers for their children!  Make sure they leave your room with no doubt in their mind.  Parents should be saying, “there is no better teacher and place to learn for my child!!!!!”

It all comes down to positive relationships with teachers, parents, and ultimately students that will enhance success during conferences and throughout the year.  Feel free to share your positive parent/teacher conference experiences and ideas in the comments.  Let’s sustain professional learning together!  

Enjoy conferences, making it a great experience for everyone!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Goal Setting

The administrative team is in the process of using the School ADvance Administrator Evaluation System to set goals and reflect on progress throughout the school year.  We have formative and summative rubrics to guide our work along with an overall framework of five domains (Results, Leadership, Programs, Processes, and Systems) accompanied by many subdomains.  The administrators will be evaluated on eight or nine specific characteristics within four of the domains while being evaluated on all characteristics of the result oriented domain.  Without going into further detail... it is intense and overwhelming.  I am positive that teachers can relate! 

With that said, I believe it is important!  If done though the right mindset an evaluation can allow for sustained reflection, professional growth, and improvement.  As I organized my thought last night surrounding my professional goals, I was reminded of a blog that I posted last August.  The post highlighted the importance of establishing purposeful goals rather than thinking of the evaluation as a process of “jumping through hoops” and completing paperwork.  The post focused on being intentional, exhibiting a growth mindset, narrowing the focus, and setting an action plan for success.  It also focus on the importance of embarking on all goal setting with a basic question... Is it good for children?  Embedded in the blog is a great post titled Goal-Setting for Teachers: 8 Paths for Self-Improvement via @cultofpedagogy.  It is a timely read to get you started on a path of sustained professional growth.  Check it out!

I always value the work teachers and administrators do each and every day!  Our jobs are difficult but extremely rewarding!  Try not to let the evaluation process be an activity of "jumping through hoops." Set goals that will support your professional growth and stretch your learning.   Use the process to take your performance to the next level while motivating and challenging yourself and your students throughout the school year! 

I am now ready to take my own advice and tackle the School Advance Administrator Evaluation System with more positive mindset!

Have a great week! 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Welcome Back!!!

Summer is a great time to reflect and become rejuvenated to start a new school year.  We hope you all had an amazing summer.  No doubt, you are excited to meet your students and reconnect with colleagues!  This is the time of year when the proverbial slate is wiped clean with the hopes for another amazing year.  It is also when individuals will be setting goals for the upcoming school year.  Most people have New Year’s Resolutions… We have School Year Resolutions.
It is essential that our curricular, instructional and environmental goals and initiatives are clearly developed through the basic question of:  Is it good for children?
We truly believe that children will not learn from people they do not like or if they do not feel safe within their learning environment.  It is important to make connections that will last a school year.  Watch this inspirational TED Talk by Rita F. Pierson, which showcases the importance of making connections.
  • 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!"
We are fortunate to work with a faculty that views positive relationships as the most important consideration within their classrooms, creating environments where students want to spend their days.  This happens because we have an amazing staff who intentionally builds relationships and genuinely loves educating children.   It also happens because we sustain conversations regarding the importance of relationships throughout our culture and within any new initiative that we establish.

Without relationships you cannot get to content.  Creating a safe environment where students feel loved and important is essential to a successful school year:  Some simple ways to start the school year at any level:

·         Setting expectations together:  Allow students to assume some of the responsibility of creating classroom expectations, promoting respectful, responsible, safe, and kind behaviors.

·         Teaching procedures:  Daily teaching of classroom expectations, rather than relying on rules, will enhance any learning culture.

·         Being consistent: Students will respond to a teacher that is consistent in daily practice.

·         Communicating in positive terms and be intentional about your teacher tone:  “I listen to one person at a time… thanks – works much better than, BE QUIET!”  Love and Logic Teacher-ism.

·         Remaining competent and calm in challenging moments: Modeling that you are in control of your emotions will showcase to students the appropriate response when handling their own emotions.

·         Teaching differentiation:  Let students know that everyone gets what they need.  Students need to feel comfortable knowing that everyone has different needs and it is OK.

·         Enjoying teaching with enthusiasm:   Modeling that you love what you do is contagious and students will feel comfort in knowing their teacher loves to learn.

·         Making and responding to mistakes:  Students need to understand that they can be risk takers within the learning process and mistakes are part of learning.

·         Focusing on teacher proximity:  Be present during independent work, supporting students and noticing their efforts throughout the day.  It is even ok to stop by the cafeteria, be in the halls, go to a game, or even shoot a basket or two during recess.  Positive proximity doesn't need to stop in the classroom.  The extra 2-3 minutes of positive proximity outside your classroom will enhance the community feeling that you are establishing in your classroom.

·         Encouraging reflection:  When things go wrong, one must encourage reflection rather than scolding for inappropriate behaviors or actions.  Consequences might be necessary; however, make sure students understand that it is the behaviors that you do not like, always showing empathy for the child.

As this new year begins, we encourage you to sustain a relationship goal.  Going to a workshop on relationship building might be beneficial but setting a goal, which is maintained over time and a focal point to everything you accomplish, will provide results.  “You say it long enough it starts to be a part of you” and it will be a part of your culture as well.
Be a champion” for your students and enjoy a wonderful start to the 2016-17 school year.  Please feel free to contact us if you need anything!  

Rules provided without relationship result in rebellion.
Consequences given without relationship lead to resentment.
Rewards without relationship feel like bribes.

Love and Logic Teacher-isms

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Quality #finishstrong

There are only a couple weeks left in the school year.  The weather is AWESOME, which leads to the inevitable:  thoughts of SUMMER VACATION!  Kids are more interested in recess this time of year rather than producing quality work.  I hear many teachers talk about students who are rushing through assignments with an urgency for completion, rather than quality.  
When I was a fourth grade teacher, I would talk to my students about the importance of being responsible, and when they didn't meet expectations, I would keep them in for recess or after school to complete and/or improve their work.  The result was students who resented the assignment and even me at times… can you believe it?!   Not to mention, parents didn’t appreciate the generic letter that I would send home asking for help.  I didn’t know any better… I was young and many of my colleagues were using similar strategies with limited success.   I thought I was providing my class with a lesson in responsibility, but my students were still uninspired when the weather was hot, and it was a struggle for them to complete assignments or produce quality work late in the school year.  Who wants to work when the weather is so beautiful?  

There is a positive from this; I did learn!   A wise mentor asked me a question, "Do you know what it means to do quality work?"  Naturally, my response was, "Of course I do!"  She then asked me if my students knew.  I could tell she was setting me up for a professional growth experience.  She asked if I ever taught my students about the simple definition of "quality".  She explained four activities to put students in charge of their learning.
1. Teach a mini-vocabulary-lesson on “quality,” and help students understand the simple definition according to Merriam-Webster dictionary:  

Simple Definition of Quality:
  • how good or bad something is.
  • a characteristic or feature that someone or something has
  • a high level of value or excellence
2.  Create classroom anchor charts together on the following:
  • What does high quality look like?
  • What strategies can you use to improve the quality of your work?
  • Why is it important to produce quality work?

Anchor charts are a great way to record student thinking and highlight important parts of the lesson. The classroom created charts will help “anchor” student thinking, and students can revisit that thinking as the charts hang on the walls.  This helps validate their ideas, and in this case, allow students to increase ownership and move towards producing quality work.  Creating anchor charts on the concept of quality will help your students understand the "why" behind doing their personal best.  Children need to know their purpose.  They do not need rewards or even consequences, they need to feel empowered to do an assignment.  
3.  Revisit and sustain student understanding through journal writing.  You can even have students blog about their position on the word “quality” through a student blogging site such as Kidblog.  Blogging can give students a meaningful purpose and an authentic audience.  Students can be motivated to write for their peers and parents though a safe blogging space where teachers monitor all content before it goes live.  Some example journal or blogging prompts:   

  • What does quality mean to you?  
  • How will you showcase your best quality on your assignments?
  • What do you think quality will look like when you are in (next grade) starting the 2016-17 school year?
  • What is quality digital citizenship?  
  • What does it mean to be a quality friend?  
4.  Lastly, encourage students to place the letter "Q" at the top of all completed assignments to represent their quality work.  This reinforces their understanding of quality and gives them a reason to be proud of their efforts.
Wow!  Empowering students rather than giving consequences worked!  I quickly noticed a difference.  Students took ownership for their assignments, quality increased, and missing/incomplete assignments decreased.  I received some great advice from a quality educator! Early in my career, I was very fortunate to be surrounded by some amazing teachers.  They shaped many of my current educational beliefs and practices.  Twenty years later, that trend has continued.  I am still surrounded by many great educators who are always sharing and creating opportunities for students to feel empowered to learn.  
Let's keep the synergy and sustain learning together.  Please share a positive way to empower students to do their best in the comments.

Enjoy teaching, engaging, and empowering your students to do “quality” work!  

#finishstrong and enjoy the summer!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Modern Learning Questions

I was recently asked, "How would you design a classroom for today?" Great question!  I would take it a step further; how should we design our classrooms for tomorrow?  We need to think creatively as budgets continue to shrink and learning expectations (along with technology needing to be an "accelerator" to learning) increases.  

Last year I attended the MACUL15 conference where I had the good fortune to attend a session hosted by  @KleinErin @ShawnCRubin @thomascmurray on Personalized Instruction for ALL Learners and Create a Brain-Friendly, Blended Learning Space. The information provided by the presenters inspired many and generated great questions that we should use to guide our actions regarding modern learning. Some questions to consider:

  • How much has changed in past 100 years?  Why do classrooms still look the same today as they did 100 years ago?  
  • Where do you want to go to school?  
  • In what type of world will our kids live?  
  • How can we enhance what we already do well?  
  • What motivates our students?  
  • Can we make learning memorable?  
  • “Kids are instant!”  How can we prepare curriculum and instruction that matches their learning style?   
  • How can we personalize instruction?
  • What digital learning tools are needed to enhance personalized instruction and student collaboration?
  • How can we restructure our day?  
  • What are the learning outcomes we want for our students?  What technology is to be the “accelerator” to those learning outcomes?  
  • What should we “put up” in our classrooms?  Should we ditch the desks?  
  • How should we arrange the layout in the classroom?  What does good design look like?  
  • Should we create “Maker Spaces” within our classrooms and schools?  
  • Are we Future Ready?  
  • What is best for kids?  

What will education look like in the near and extended future? My hope is that these questions will continue to drive our educational beliefs and decision-making about modern learning.  I look forward to using these questions as a guide to enhance personalized instruction for all learners while creating a blended learning space that is brain-friendly.  What exciting times in education!

Please share how you would design a classroom for tomorrow!
Enjoy teaching and learning together!

“We should strive to be the teacher that we want our own children to have!”  @KleinErin

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Reading Month---What can parents do to help?

During March, Reading Month in Michigan is celebrated! Schools all over the state, along with State Superintendent, Brian Whiston, and our very own @GPSchools will be focused on planning literacy-related activities to motivate children and sustain positive habits of lifelong reading. What can parents do to help cultivate good reading habits at home?  My suggestion would be family reading!  

Family reading is one of the most important things we can do for early learners.  Reading to your children will build listening skills. Asking questions about stories your children are reading will increase comprehension and retelling skills.  Taking turns reading aloud together; this will enhance oral language, phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, background knowledge, comprehension, story organization, problem solving, and listening comprehension…  wow!  Not only is family reading a nice way to spend time as a family, but it also helps cement great reading skills that will be used in school! 

As you know, reading is the “foundation to success” and is essential in all subjects.  Good readers activate background knowledge and are able to predict, infer, and question while reading.  Fluent readers can put themselves into the text, making self-to-text-connections.  When reading stories together, stop and ask questions, predict, put yourself into the story, and ask, "what would you do?"

Sample Questions:

· Describe the main character.  Where does the story take place?  When does it take place?
· Name the supporting characters.
· What do you think the characters are feeling?  Why do they feel that way?
·  What is the problem in the story?  How does the character deal w/problem?
· Could the character do something different to solve the problem?
· What is your favorite part of the story?  Why?
· Have you ever read a story that is similar to this story?
· Does this story remind you of anything in your life?
· If you could come up with a new title for the story then what would it be?
· How did the story end?  Would you change the ending?  Why/How?
· What is the most interesting part of the story?  Why?
· Did you learn something new?  Give three new facts?  How can you apply this lesson to your life?
· What are the main character's traits?  How is the character like you/different from you?
· What do you think will happen next?  Why do you think that?  
· Tell an opinion you have about the story.  Tell a fact from the story.

Set a purpose or objective for reading, and allow time to make connections, such as:  text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world.   It is important to have conversations to enhance comprehension skills and understanding of the material being read.  Simple “making connection starters” could include:

· This story reminds me when I went swimming because…
· This story reminds me of when (character from different story/chapter/etc.) made a new friend  because…
· This story reminds me when my teacher did ______ because…
· This story reminds me of when we went on vacation because…
· This character reminds me of my neighbor because…

I am sure you can think of additional questions or connection starters.  Understand that it is not necessary to use every question or connection starter during your family reading.  Pick a couple that will enhance your reading experience.  The goal for family reading, besides great family bonding, is to support a natural transfer of skills into the child’s independent reading activities, enhancing comprehension, reading fluency and fostering a love of books. 

Enjoy reading!