Sunday, September 11, 2011


I guess it is the behaviorist in me that wants to define the "teacher behaviors" in the classroom that lead to actively engaged student learning.  My thought is that these defined behaviors can be replicated or modeled in other classrooms to yield the same "actively engaged learners."  I think I know what an actively engaged learner looks like.  They are participating in the learning activity as a partner with the instructor.  Decision making on how to accomplish learning outcomes is shared and the actively engaged learner has ownership in the activity.  The class as a whole has built an environment with relationships of trust, support, and inquiry.
I would like to build a model of teacher behaviors that create actively engaged students.  I want to know if these behaviors are replicable and are there particular skill-sets required. I really believe most teachers want to develop these skills.  I know that there are thousands of principals and experienced teachers out there that can share insight into these behaviors.  Please post a comment with your experiences and observations of teacher behaviors that create "actively engaged learners."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Expanding the Adopt-College Advisory Activity

I've been doing a lot of talking about the adopt-a-college activity with students, teachers, parents and administrators.  I have to admit that it is one of the most popular things we have done in several years.  It has been awesome to see the staff celebrate and share their collegiate experience with our students.  There seems to be a new avenue of communication between all the stakeholders in our school along this common theme.

This has prompted me to think about to this idea and consider other ways expand upon it.  One of my first thoughts is to use blogging as a means to reach outside our school walls.  Each year we send kids away to 4-year universities and every year a percentage of kids return home to attend the local junior college or they just give up on school and go to work.  There are many reasons for this which include: money, grades, lack of interest, boyfriends/girlfriends, homesickness, or just a general lack of direction.  At the same time, we have high school kids that have questions about college and anxiety about expectations.  I want to try to bring these problems together and create a positive support mechanism for the freshman away from home in college and the high school students with questions about the future that awaits them at the university.

I want to create a blog for our students and graduates that posts a weekly prompt about adjusting to college life.  We would invite our graduates to subscribe to the blog and post comments that respond to the posts.  Likewise, we would post prompts to our students that would solicit their concerns and fears about going away to college and encourage our graduates to respond.  My idea is that this blogging experience could create a support mechanism for kids away at school and also a support for our students dealing with the anxiety about college preparation.

The more I mull this over the more I think about how doable this is for this school year.  These blogs could be moderated by the advisories and each advisory could adopt specific graduating seniors to follow in their first year out of of high school.  Tell me what you think!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Adopt-A-College: Promoting Post Secondary Educational Institutions (PSEI)

Meyer Carillon Bells
Missouri State University
Our school is located in a middle income community with only about 50% of our student population attending a post secondary educational institution (PSEI). About the same percentage of adults in our community have attended some type of PSEI.  Many of our kids parents have little or no college background but have a strong desire for their children to gain some type of education beyond high school.  For some of our kids their education after high school will consist of military training, vocational school, junior college, university studies or a combination of these experiences.  The roadblock that keeps many of our kids from attending a PSEI is a lack of knowledge about the admission process, costs, or understanding how the program offerings at the schools are tied to employment. We have a goal in our high school to limit the road blocks and increase the number of students PSEI programs.

Jesse Hall University of Missouri
We harvested an idea from Julian Elementary, also a 2010 CEP National School of Character.  We call this program the Adopt-a-College program.  It is a function of our student advisories.  Each advisory had students select one university, college or vocational institution to adopt.  After the selection was made the class created bulletin boards to display general information about their school which included admission requirements, costs, housing information, and information about student activities.  We have some pretty elaborate bulletin boards.  Last Friday we had a teacher college t-shirt day the faculty members wore their favorite school's t-shirt to school.  We will be having our first "Fight Song Friday" coming up.  We have asked each advisory to send in copies of their schools fight songs to play over the intercom in the morning before school.  We want to create some of the fun and excitement that goes along with college life.

Truman State Logo
Other activities include an advisory college day and a college fair mini-indoor parade.  For the advisory college day each advisory will host a representative from their adopted university to talk about their school and the kids will invite students from other advisories to meet the representative.  For the College fair mini-indoor parade classes will decorate a wagon or other wheeled device homecoming style to represent their adopted school.  We hope to include middle school and elementary kids in the parade.  Students will pull the wagons through the hallways while the student body sits along the walls of the hallways.  Instead of having marching bands we are looking for kazoo bands and mp3s of the colleges fight songs and Alma Maters.

St. Louis University Gates
We want kids to be excited about the college admission process, recognize the costs and opportunities for scholarships.  We want our kids to understand the PSEI's school programs and how they relate to employment in their future.  A lack of experience and understanding has stood as a roadblock to many kids attending PSEIs.  We believe that these activities will open doors and remove the roadblocks for more of our students.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Citizenship in the Digital Age

Citizenship has always been a part of classroom evaluation.  In that traditional classroom citizenship was based on treating others with respect in both your words and your actions.  Grades were distributed on a scale of (S)atisfactory - Needs (I)mprovement - and (U)nsatisfactory.  It was generally pretty easy to get a good grade in citizenship.  Although, I grew up in a small town and I had 14 aunts and uncles, two grandmothers and a couple of great-aunts that lived nearby.  If I wasn't a good citizen at school or in our community my mother usually knew about it before I got home.

Today, we live in a digital age where defining citizenship may be a little more challenging.  I think the expectations can be very similar.  That is, treat others with respect in both your words and your actions.  In the digital age the classroom and community has expanded to include areas never considered before.  Words and actions take on a whole new powerful meaning.  In the digital age students are communicating with the world through internet blogs, e-mail, social networking, cell phones, texting, and websites.  Educators still recognize the need for their students to practice good citizenship in the classroom and these values are taught everyday.  However, it is easy to overlook how these same values apply to the digital world.  This new age technology has given us freedom from cords and cables but not from good citizenship!  Why do people behave badly when it comes to these new age tools.  I believe it's because they don't know any better.  Schools have failed to embrace the technology and therefore failed to teach our kids the appropriate use of these tools

My challenge here today is for educators to address citizenship in the digital realm.  The following constitute a list of areas in the digital world that need to be addressed immediately.

Cell phones - talking when others are speaking or talking on the phone while talking with someone else.  This has probably provided the most opportunities for poor citizenship to both adults and children.  "Don't talk when others are speaking."  How many times have you seen someone walk up to a fast food counter and order food while talking to someone on a cell phone.  I have been in a meeting where the facilitator asked a question. A participant at the meeting was answering the posed question when the facilitator's phone rang.  He answered the phone a had a 5 minute conversation in the middle of the meeting.  I don't believe in either of these examples the people involved meant to be disrespectful.  Bystanders all recognized it as bad behavior.  Why didn't the cell phone users?

Texting - texting while driving, while in class, texting non-stop!  I've included this video from ATT because it involves real people from my home state of Missouri and because in the end we see how meaningless most text messages are that we have to read right now!

I have sat in a restaurant with my kids and had to tell them no texting, put your phone away, take your headphones out, unplug from the electronic world for 30 minutes and plug in to the human world for that time and chat live with your family.

Social Network Sites/Email
       Twitter - don't tweet when you are supposed to be listening to someone else speak.  It's just not polite and is a terrible form of listening.  I will admit in the twitterverse some speakers encourage    twittering during presentation and even provide quotable tweets during their presentation.  In situations like that twittering is not only o.k. but it is part of the learning activity.
       Facebook - Same as sending notes when we were kids.  Don't write it down unless you are willing to own it and in the internet world if you write you own it forever!  Sarcasm in online communication is really risky business.  Sarcasm is generally not good in face to face communication but in online communication you can't read body language, facial expressions or tone.  The potential for misunderstandings is huge when you use sarcasm online. "Don't air your dirty laundry in public."  No one wants to read line after line of hateful obscene language while two friends have it out online in front of the world.  If you have a beef with someone, go meet them and speak in person or at least pick up your cell phone and call them.
       E-Mail -  I'll be honest there are a lot of emails people send me asking questions or wanting clarification on policies and such.  I just won't answer them.  Most of the time I'll call and talk on the phone or go by and visit face to face.  It's probably more poor writing ability.  I look at it this way: I have already written something that has created confusion about an issue.  Can I write my out of the confusion or will I just add another layer of muck on top of it?  Exactly, that's why I call. As stated earlier, don't write it if you don't mean it and aren't willing to own it.  If it's a business email account then make sure the message is about business.

Digital Photography/Digital Movies & You Tube Videos - Photo shop is not for creating new embarrassing photos of your soon to be enemies.  It was meant to enhance photography.  Many friendships have been lost over photo pranks that were meant to be funny but instead were viewed as harassing and hurtful.  Nude images require a signed release from a model that is at least 18 years of age.  Otherwise it's not called photography its called kiddy porn! And it is against the law to have it on your computer or your phone.  You should always have permission of the participants before you publish a video to the internet.  Just because it might be legal doesn't mean that it demonstrates good citizenship.

Laptops/Ipads/Tablets - Just because I own a hammer doesn't mean that I will walk into your classroom and begin banging on the desktops.  Likewise, use your office tools where it is appropriate to use them.  If you are sitting at a choral concert, enjoy the live music.  You can catch up on your Google reader later.

IPODS/MP3's - Get the buds out of your ears.  You won't believe the conversations you are missing.  It's just not polite to have a conversation with someone with buds in your ears.  It's like saying: "I need to talk with you but I can't bear to listen to your voice without the soothing tones of ANTHRAX blasting in my ears."  Just because headphones are the size of rosebuds and when you are wearing them you don't look like a pilot getting ready to take a heading down runway one-niner in a Boeing 747 doesn't mean it's o.k. to tune everyone out.

In education we have a responsibility to embrace technology, even the annoying technologies that make us uncomfortable.  By embracing technology we get the opportunity to demonstrate the proper use of these tools and to teach our kids to be good digital citizens.  My old shop teacher "L.G." taught me a lot about using a hammer and a screwdriver.  If I was in his class today I think he'd be teaching about how to use my electronic tools.

Friday, February 4, 2011


I recently had a power-lunch with about ten teachers to talk about education.  Our PD comitteeman @justintarte selected a few videos for us to watch and serve as a springboard for discussion.  One of the videos (very humorous) - "Teach Different," featured various men and women with rather ironic statements about their future vocation in education.

They made statements like:  "when I become a teacher I want to sit in the teacher's lounge and complain ...," "when I become a teacher I want to lecture all day long ...".  But the statement that stood out to me the most was the woman that said, "when I become a teacher I want to be the sage on the stage."  At some point in our careers, in some narcissistic kind of way, we probably all have wanted to be the sage on the stage.  A Yoda kind of character that everyone focuses on for all the answers.  It's kind of a high that comes from being valued and recognized.  The sages reality is that the high is short-lived or never comes at all.  The irony is that the high, the value and recognition comes by playing exactly the opposite role.  Being the "guide from the side" or that person that leads others to discover their own truths and watching as the students around you each find that "ah huh" moment.  That is what creates the greatest high and reward in education.

When I became a teacher I wanted to be the guide from the side that let my students define their world and everything in it.  At times, I was better at this than others.  As a principal, my purpose hasn't changed a whole lot. I still work to be a guide from the side only now my students include teachers, students, custodians, cooks, aides, librarians, and other administrators.  Sometimes I'm better at this than others.  Sometimes I witness that "ah huh" moment.  The high that comes from sharing in that moment never wains and always brings a sense of pride.  This is really about giving the students and staff that you work with a voice and choice in their learning and professional development.  Mandates and directives will influence the charted course but the learner is the one steering the boat.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Shared Leadership:Essentials to Success

Shared leadership is an important part of any successful organization.  Economics has squeezed budgets and staffs down to bare minimums leaving everyone stretched to their limits.  At the same time expectations, mandates, and needs continue to grow.  How does a leader create a culture of shared leadership?  It requires a commitment to staff development, modeling, and risk taking.  It is an investment in the people of the organization that yields success on a grand scale.

Common Purpose:  The successful implementation of shared leadership requires a common purpose.  Everyone within the organization must share the mission, vision, and goals of the organization.  It means they must be defined and not just on paper.  They must be defined by the actions and words of the stakeholders.  Everyone should place value on the same things and direction is defined by the groups action.  This is an essential beginning, but often it is given lip service rather than voice.  Taking time with this step limits the risks for the leader.  We are all acting within the same parameters.

Equality: Shared leadership requires that everyone has equal importance to the organization.  Decisions are made through collaboration and there is a sense of shared responsibility as well.  Tasks and accountability become team responsibilities.  Each member has a voice and choice in determining their role and tasks.  There's not one artist with one brush on the canvas, there are multiple artists with multiple brushes.  The final painting may be subtly or even greatly different than the individual leaders.  But, with common purpose the canvas will bring forth a masterpiece none-the-less.  This is a scary piece of shared leadership.  Administrators tend to be "A" type control freaks that want to have all the answers.  The truth is, the more a leader thinks that they have all the answers, the less they really know about the organization.  The organization really controls what is the truth and action.

Ownership:  Equality leads to ownership.  Staff members that take ownership in the mission of the organization are engaged.  You don't have to tell them to get to work.  You have to tell them to take a break. You don't need to schedule a meeting to plan, because an engaged staff will be planning continuously.  You can't require or make expectations high enough for the staff member that has taken ownership of the organization.  There is an intrinsic value on the success of the organization.  This staff member will not let the organization fail.  You can't pay someone to feel this way.  It's about what you give them in terms of destiny.  Some leaders fail to recognize the need to allow someone to do it their own way.  I was a social studies teacher in the late 80's and early 90's.  I believe for that time, I was a pretty good teacher.  My kid's success was most important.  Today, I supervise social studies teachers.  It's hard to allow people to do things their own way, especially when you believe that the task is something that you were pretty good at and they aren't doing it the way you did.  But everyone has to have the opportunity to use the brush and paint the canvas as they see the picture in the organization's vision.

Success:  Success comes to the organization through shared leadership by creating a deeper understanding of the challenges faced in accomplishing the goals.  There is a broad base of followers working to accomplish the goals and they are looking forward to prepare for future challenges.  There is a lasting impact of the change that has taken place.  Understanding the challenges creates the opportunity for divergent solutions and allows people in the organization to use their unique skills to accomplish the goals.  Ownership leads to a broad base of followers.  This broader base includes a larger variety of talent and creates a culture of change within the organization.  People that own the change will hold on to that change even after a leader leaves.  Lasting change isn't about the leader, it's about the common vision.

Twenty years ago, I thought leadership was about proving what I could do when given a task.  I've discovered that leadership is really like working at a marina.  I simply untie the ropes and point the ship in the right direction.  Shared leadership is really about turning followers into new leaders.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

3-D Student Evaluations: Testing, Assessments, and Learning Goals

This is a difficult time for educators to embrace the vocation of teaching.  It's not difficult because there is a lack of passion or desire among the professionals working in the field.  The challenge is the result of shifting paradigms that move like the sands of the Sahara searching for some anchor to attach and expectations that bounce around like an onside kicked football in a political arena that looks only to blame someone for the shortcomings of an entire system.  Assessment has become a dirty word to many professionals in education.  It suggests for some, a means to separate wheat from shaft, winners from losers,  the good from the bad. Testing is a bad thing used by the politicians and administrators to tell us how bad our teachers perform, and how poor our schools compare to the rest of the world.   Learning Goals and Backwards design imply the stifling of creativity and is a paradigm that can only be accomplished in lecture halls by disengaged students.

A recent professional development survey of my staff revealed that of 100 teachers not a single one indicated that assessment was their number 1 interest for future professional development.  ZERO!  It's important to note that the survey asked about assessment not testing.  My teacher's know it's important but who needs another reminder about the big high stakes event at the end of the year. We work hard to focus on the results as opportunities for curriculum evaluation rather than good teacher/bad teacher.  But, for many educators working in this high stakes testing environment, I'm afraid that assessment has become synonymous with testing.  Testing has become a BAD thing.  What I have learned about testing and assessment is that both are critical to effective education.  The problem is when either of these tools are used inappropriately or are used without balance they are ineffective and misleading. 

Assessment is broad term that can take many forms in a classroom.  It might be the observation of a students  creative designs posted on a webpage about a particular area of study. A puzzled look offers one assessment, while another comes from an essay. It could be the evaluation of a students interaction during a classroom discussion or even the evaluation of a students performance on a quiz.  It's an evaluation or quantification of a students progress towards a goal.  It doesn't stifle creativity, it doesn't demoralize a students self-esteem, and it doesn't create unmotivated students.  It's OK to have learning goals and to work towards achieving them.

These formal and informal assessments or evaluations serve the purpose of providing feedback to both the student and the teacher in terms of progress towards the learning goals.  This feedback should be used to provide and prescribe alternate experiences for the student, if needed, to meet the goals.  Using assessments in this manner means recognizing that some kids will get to the end on a completely different highway of thought.  But, in the the end, they will have accomplished the goal.  These evaluations are taking place all the time during instruction.  The great teacher uses them in combining the art and science of teaching.

Testing, whether the unit exam or the state standardized exam are both formal assessments.  They provide a sampling of the learning that has taken place.  It generally comes at the end of a learning activity and provides a sort of post mortem.  I say sort of because the formal assessment provides only a sampling of what has been learned and only single viewpoint.  It is difficult to evaluate a students performance of mastery based on this single perspective.  This is where testing begins to develop the bad rap.  The results, in recent years, have come to be viewed as a single measure of mastery.  I taught the lesson, Johnny failed the exam, therefore Johnny must not have learned the lesson... "F".  As educators we blame the politicians.  But we created this system and based our entire grading structure on it.  The politicians took an unauthentic assessment system that we created and used it to measure us, the way we have been measuring our kids. Testing has become viewed as the X-ray for what must be ailing schools.

An assessment system needs to use both formal and informal evaluations that are mixed into the learning process as both formative and summative assessments.  We need to embrace assessment as a tool for learning. Formal testing is only a tool to provide a partial measure of mastery, but alone it doesn't define mastery.  The current view of assessment is that of a tool all right.  It's an Axe at the end of the lesson to chop the hands off the students that didn't learn the lessons and stole valuable class time with divergent ideas and learning styles.  Testing is viewed as a single definitive measure that comes at the end.  I don't think educators believe this and I know that students don't believe it.  But it's easy.  That is where the challenge is for educators. We need to create an assessment system of measures and evaluations that provide three dimensional pictures of student learning.

Three dimensional systems of assessment would use data from informal observations, learning activities, class discussions, student questions, and yes, formal tests -even standardized tests.  All of these things combined would create an overall evaluation of a students mastery of learning outcomes.  Academia acknowledged a long time ago that quantitative research could not provide all the answers.  Qualitative research was developed to help provide a clearer picture to questions and inquiries that could not be accurately quantified with surveys and tests.  Like this, a three dimensional assessment system needs to be defined and implemented that provides answers to those inquiries about student learning that can not be quantified simply by testing.