Category Archives: Uncategorized

Looking for New Administration

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I am a bit anxious about next school year.  We will have a new adminstrator and assistant principal. Change is good, but the unknown makes me nervous.

Anyone interested in relocating to a small town in Kentucky?  This position offers the opportunity to work with over 850 young, vibrant, creative minds.  You will have the chance to lead a staff of motivated, driven teachers.  As an added bonus, you will be in the back yard of one of the most beautiful recreational lakes in America, Lake Cumberland!

So what would I like to see in our new administration?  Someone who…

Cares about students and has students at the center of every decision.

Is a visionary- innovative, ready to take risks, creatively uses resources.

Will lead and push our faculty beyond anything we ever thought we were capable of achieving!

Will set high expectations for us and hold us accountable!

Is willing to listen and question our decisions to ensure positive impact on student learning!

Can walk into our classrooms, acknowledge what we are doing well but also make suggestions that will cause reflection, helping us continue to grow as educators.

Is a life-long learner and leads learning at RCHS by example.

Am I asking too much? I don’t think so.  A wise person once commented… “if we always hire the best, we will always have the best to offer our students” …and that, in my opinion, is the bottom line.

The actual posting for Russell
County High School on kde’s website reads:  Head Principal position with strong emphasis on Curriculum and Scheduling. School population is app. 860. All applicants can go to http://www.russell.kyschools.us to fill out application or email to rita.voils@russell.kyschools.us or pick up application at 404 South Main Street, Jamestown, KY 42629

There is an assistant principal position posted as well. 

Looking forward to a new era and keep reminding myself…change is good.

*this is not intended to be a reflection of past experiences with any administrator(s), only a wish- list for what is to come.

THINGS that Steal Our Attention

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How often do we allow “THINGS” to take us away from our students, while sitting there in the middle of our classroom with them?
 
Earlier this evening I read a post by Stump the Teacher reminding me how I should “Be There” for my students.   He shared an experience with his own children – and how it brought reflection on his own classroom.  Here’s a link from the tweet:  
Be There: Stump the Teacher #edchat  Retweeted by @johntspencer

As I read his post, it made me smile, thinking back to student responses from earlier today…

I began the day with a simple index card survey…the last question being, “What do I do well as a teacher…that makes me effective?”

One response, “not sitting at your desk and you should keep doing this,” is something that makes me an effective teacher (huh? really?) and I should continue doing it?  I was a bit perplexed.  I asked my student to explain.  Simply said, I rarely sit at my desk-always up, walking around – they said to either answer their questions, point out a mistake, a pat on the back or keep them on task.  The student went on to say, that if I didn’t keep doing this, they would likely not work as hard, probably even try to sleep or talk and distract others sitting nearby.  Ok, that makes since now.

I guess I assumed that since this is how I and many of my colleagues teach – most everyone does the same…is this not so???

Another post from the same blog “Having Kids Made Me a Better Teacher,” – I couldn’t agree more.  Having a school-age child, it makes me angry to think there are teachers who are never focused on their students.   Those students sitting unengaged in those classrooms are someone’s children…could be even be mine* – quit wasting good educational time!  Administrators – if they’re not doing their jobs to a level of excellence – tell them to get on board – or they’ll walk the plank!  And follow through!!!

Education is NOT just a job.  It is where you share your passion for learning!  You get the opportunity to encourage, challenge and help young minds dream about their future.  Yes, there is much work to be done – every day is not easy.  But when you start getting those notes, emails from former students saying you made the difference for them – you know you’re in the right place.

I know of several times, I’ve given anassignment and went to my desk to catch-up on grading, etc. but, Stump the Teacher’s post made me realize how important it is for my students to know I am in that classroom for them and their learning.  If we want our students to be engaged – then we must model that for them.  I only have them with me for a short time each day – I need to be fully aware of them – focused on them, to give them the best learning experience possible.

Why are my students engaged during classtime?  Because I am engaged – they have my full, undivided attention and my actions prove it to them…they told me so!

*my child’s teachers have been amazing to say the least…and for this, I am thankful!

“Can I do some more homework?”

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This afternoon 2 things happened – that’s never happened in all my years of teaching.

2 students asked if they could use my room to pray…the halls were too noisy, so I said, “Sure!”  This group of kids is not shy at all about sharing their faith.  Each morning, they circle up in the hall and open their day in prayer.  Yes, I realize what I see in the halls & classrooms may be different that what goes on outside of school halls – but there is something different about this group.  They are not snippy.  They are kind.  They smile and offer encouraging words to others – which makes me believe their faith is the real deal.

The 2nd thing was – after our first “official” unit assessment, I had students asking if they could practice some more over the weekend, come in on Tuesday and show me they really can do the “stuff” they messed up on.  Really?  Asking to do homework ….over the weekend?   Really.

Sure enough, I’ve had students asking this week for more opportunities to practice after taking our target quizzes – I’ve received messages for help through our class blog – the site stats are showing that students are looking for help/examples.  A student brought me a set of flashcards she had created – I gave her a verbal quiz, a couple she had trouble explaining, but she could write it out to show me what she now understood.  Another student without internet access asked for a hardcopy of a some of the resources. 

This afternoon, after the last bell, a student came back to my room to see what they had not mastered on their assessment – “felt good about it, but apparently I wasn’t as ready as I thought.”  We sat down to look over it – listing areas of focus – 3 big ideas the student repeatedly made mistakes on – but now knows the areas for growth.

I’ve read others’ blogs / experiences with SBG.  I half-heartedly believed them.  I wanted them to be true – but thought, “I’ll be amazed when…”  This week felt like my first real week in my groove.  I felt like we got a lot accomplished – in each of my classes. 

Our first progress reports come out next week.  I am looking forward to responses from parents.  I am fortunate to have a colleague who is also a parent – who can ask questions when looking at our parent portal.  I have the opportunity to “see” what my input looks like from their point of view.

I am so blessed – to be where I am in this life!  I look forward to being in my classroom every morning – I’ve got the best job in the world!  I was in a rut last year – but after some great blogs/suggested readings from my PLN/colleagues on Twitter – I am shifting my mindset.  The experiences with my students -looking to improve – both today and all week, helped me realize I am moving in the right direction.

 

And They’re Off!

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…so, I’m off to a great start this school year!  Its been a smooth beginning so far – and looking forward to this group of students.  Here’s what I love so far – their attitude, their effort, their go get-it-ness!

We were looking at simple arithmetic and geometric sequences – students were asked to create their own and write an equation to model; as well as look for other math sequences and a famous sequence.

Of course we had several examples of great sequences – the two most common were the Fibonacci and one I was not familiar with – the Morris sequence.

As part of my “borrowed” idea WCYDWT?  I offered up a bouncy ball…with the intent to lead into a couple of data collection labs related to the sequences.

lots of ideas brainstormed…circumference, radius, diameter (hmmm. but can we directly measure all of those???), weight, compare different size balls and their rebound heights with a fixed drop height (how do we determine size? weight or diameter?), drop height vs. rebound height, drop height vs. # bounces (oooh, Zeno’s Paradox…what’s that?), how long does it take to drop from different heights, how long does it take to reach its rebound height- the list goes on, but asking the students to look at everyday objects mathematically…this is going to be a fun weekly adventure!

As part of their “HW” assignment, I simply asked that students think about how the highlighted examples are related…a few students had some good thoughts jotted down – but the student who found a bouncy ball and actually collected the data…and explained the relationships to me verbally – I think the student has the right idea!  Right on it!!! 

It was interesting to listen to them “read” what they found on Zeno’s Paradox…but how cool to see a twinkle of interest in some of their eyes.

Just now getting into our assessments, the first target quiz today – went just as I wanted – after asking students to self assess on each of the learning targets – they went a step further and made specific notes to themselves – as to what mistakes they needed to look out for next time.  Ensuring that I am purposeful in my assessments. 

We’re just getting started, but its going to be a gr8 year! 

3 Questions…

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1. What are the major reasons we use report cards and assign grades to students’ work?

2. Ideally, what purposes should report cards or grades serve?

3.  What elements should teachers use in determine students’ grades? (for example, major assessments, compositions, homework, attendance, class participation, etc.)

These 3 questions were posed by Dr. Thomas Guskey this morning at a presentation in a near-by school district.  (Thank you for allowing us to attend!)  When I consider my answers now, today, they are much different than 2 years ago.  I sat eaves-dropping the teachers behind me, who sounded much like the old teacher in Room 148. 

Here’s what I find quite intriguing about Dr. Guskey – he shares his ideas and research, not in a condescending manner, he is not pointing the finger and telling me I am wrong in my practices.  He simply poses each idea – allowing the audience to ponder, reflect on their classrooms and then, he shares his new view.  You see, he’s been in the classroom and had to make the same choices I’ve made…some were good, others, through learning he’s realized needed to be changed.  He helps you realize where you can make improvements in order to help your students.

Averaging…I am a math teacher – therefore, I average.  But his example of a martial arts student…wow…I cannot argue with it.  A beginning student has a white belt and works up through the degrees, eventually obtaining a black belt.  However, with my averaging, this student would have to settle with a gray belt. 

It reminds of a former student, I’ll call them Bob.  Bob had poor attendance, rarely did homework, simply uninterested.  As the first quarter ended, Bob’s grades had improved to a whopping 40%.  He continued doing minimal, but finally realized this was not getting him where he needed to go.  Bob’s attendance improved, was still hit-n-miss with HW, but through classroom participation and effort on his midterm, he pulled it to a D…again, due to averaging. 

Spring semester, I was excited to see the turn-around Bob had made.  He was actively engaged in class (still minimal effort on HW), earning almost an A at the end of the second semester.  However, with our school policy, his high B and D averaged to a C – which kept him “out” of the honors class his sophomore year.  Bob suffered through, bored, not being challenged.  Even his teacher shared how bored he seemed in class.  However, I am proud to say Bob worked his way to the College-Prep classes the last two years of high school, graduated and will be attending college this fall.  Had I known then, what I know now, I would have broken the rules (:o gasp!) and made sure Bob had “the grade” needed for placement in a more challenging environment.

Progress – taking a student from point A to somewhere beyond point A.  The destination may be a little different for each student, but that’s our goal – to allow them the opportunity to grow.  In order to show growth – we must pre-assess, using some type of diagnostic and communicate with them, allowing them to see areas for growth.

The process may look differently for each student as well.

In the end, the Product – based solely on achievement – what the student knows and can do is the ultimate grade, in my opinion.  I understand how important student behaviors are – how they often directly correlate to the student’s achievement.  However, we shouldn’t punish a student for not following our “prescribed process.”  We cannot tie their behaviors to the academic achievement. 

Grading will forever be debateable among educators.  In my next post, I will share what I did last year, what I learned and what I will be doing this school year.  It may not be the answer for everyone, but in the words of Dr. Guskey, “it works for me.”

 

Coming Full Circle – Focused on Student Learning

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Yesterday in a conversation with a colleague, the statement was made “I am just scared and overwhelmed and afraid that I’m really not a good teacher at all, deep down.”  It saddened me at first because from what I know and have observed, this teacher is amazing – bringing a variety of experiences, travels and ideas to enhance teaching in their classroom.  This teacher is very strong collaborating with others – sharing ideas, using both research-based and practice-proven strategies, with one sole focus – student learning.  This person is a passionate learner, which in turn leads to a passionate teacher. 

A teacher, who is flexible and willing to adjust based on the students in front of them at that point in time, is a good teacher.  If your plan doesn’t produce the learning you intended, you step back, reflect and move forward with a new plan of action.  I believe all teachers at heart question whether they are “good” or not along the journey.  Accomplished teachers truly focus on student learning and consider how their choices will impact student learning. 

Good teachers realize teaching does not always equal learning.                                                                                   

While thinking about this past year’s experiences as a Teacher Leader for my district in Kentucky’s Leadership Network (KLN), I am starting to see it coming full circle.  It reminded me of National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’ Architecture of Accomplished Teaching Helix

While searching for a graphic of this, I stumbled across a report Measuring What Matters and absolutely lovedEllen Holmes’ My Copy Machine Epiphany (page 35).  She wrote “As I sorted the originals into the feeder, I had my teaching epiphany:  How did focusing on what I was going to cover for the next six weeks in any way match up to what I was learning about accomplished teaching as a National Board candidate?”  

This past year in our KLN meetings, we have focused on:

Characteristics of Highly Effective Teaching Learning (CHETL)
Assessment Literacy through work with Stiggins’ Classroom Assessment for Student Learning (CASL)
Deconstructing the new Common Core State (K-CAS in Kentucky)
 
We know our students. (CHETL)
We know our content and set the goals (KCAS). 
We determine how to assess. (CASL, SBG)
We deliver instruction. (CHETL)
We assess to evaluate student learning and reflect determine if the goals were met. (CASL)
We take the next step…sometimes its looping back through with the same content if students have not met goals, sometimes, it’s moving through the helix with our next unit of study… 

At times this past year, I have been frustrated.  It seemed like SO MUCH STUFF to consider.  I felt bombarded and could not figure out how it all tied together.  I felt I would cave in at any moment.  How was I supposed to be a teacher leader in my district when I could not get a grasp of it all???      

The purpose of KLN is to provide quality PD resources to EVERY district in Kentucky, allowing teacher leaders to return to our districts and share, working alongside our administrators and helping plan and provide training.  The idea is to ensure EVERY teacher has the resources to grow, bringing quality instruction and learning opportunities to EVERY classroom, so EVERY student has a chance to receive the highest quality education possible.

Now that I have made a connection with each component of KLN’s process to something I already know and understand, the Architecture of Accomplished Teaching and I can move forward.  I can encourage others who are feeling the weight on their shoulders – helping them realize our destination is still the same…it’s called student learning.  The goal is to realize every student may need different paths of arriving – and it’s up to us to make sure they get there. 

 

Time for Innovation – Fed-Ex Prep

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“Fed-Ex Prep.  Is this a model for delivering instruction?” I laughed as I skimmed the title of a blog tweeted this morning.

I was reminded at a meeting this past week that, much like our own students, we are all on different levels of teaching, learning and leading.  Where SBG is old news and mastered by several, I am new to this circle and it seems to be a pretty new topic within my building, even district in certain grades.  But by sharing our experiences, we give others opportunity to challenge us, encourage us and help us along the journey.

When we tap into our own resources – you know, the teachers in our local classrooms – I think we’ll find our most innovative ideas.  We are educators – we are professionals – we are learners.  When given the opportunity and time to sit with other educators, great ideas are brought to the table!  When given an opportunity to choose an area of research or growth, we will pick something of interest – something that will allow us to focus on ourselves as teachers, in our own classrooms – we play the part of learner and finally through sharing with colleagues – we are leaders.

I enjoyed reading Chris Weir’s post on Fed-Ex Prep.  Very interesting way to distribute prep time among teachers.  Note it was voluntary – kudos for those who accepted the challenge!  With limited time and money – this is a fantastic way to give teachers some flexibility in their professional growth… time to develop some innovative projects for their classrooms.  Wow.  The connection between the administration and classroom that evolved.  It’s sharing ideas like this that taps into our minds.  Only 3 of the 16 took him up on the idea – but what an impact in those classrooms and that school.  I am sure this will lead to even move innovative ideas in their school/district.

Our leadership may have many ideas of how to reach our goals – sometimes those are great ideas and other times, not so great.  But when they seek teacher input and ask teachers to share research/practice-based strategies, that’s when I think we’ll see true professional growth.  I believe this is part of the big picture with our Leadership Network in Kentucky.  Teacher Leaders from the district level bring information from the regional meetings – to local PLC’s.  Valuable communication between real-time teachers from different buildings is now possible and the abundance of valuable resources will finally be shared.

Currently our district PLCs are focused on Math and ELA within grade at the elementary, and departmentalized at the middle and high schools – for the simple fact that we now have the New Common Core Standards.  However, this is a learning model – I truly see our district eventually asking for teacher input on what growth needs they have and those suggestions will determine future PLCs.  For example, wanting to transition to Standards Based Grading, I hope to find Primary teachers (who, from what I’ve observed, are masters at SBG) to share ideas / strategies with me to make my/my students experience a positive one.  Collaboration between a high school teacher and a primary teacher – isn’t that what’s its all about?  Just having the time / means to sit down and have those discussions is the challenge and probably the reason its not happened as often in the past.

If we “buy-in” to what we’re learning, we are motivated to learn more – we become excited and start talking about the “cool stuff’ we’re learning, which leads to others becoming interested, which leads to their motivation – and the cycle continues.

I appreciate Chris Wejr sharing his reflection on prep time- it truly is innovative in itself, but without the FedEx model available to me, I’ll be happy to learn from anyone willing to share with this radical rational…

More Meaningful Grades

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Guskey Articles & Resources

I am a believer in Standards Based Grading.  Throughout the school year and all summer long, I’ve read and searched and read some more.  I am no longer on the fence of “that might work” – I know it will and am ready to sit down with my colleages as we outline our “map”.

We’ve determined our Learning Targets – and gotten our curriculum outlined, a course organizer ready to go.  The skeleton’s of our Unit Organizers are complete – now we’re ready to look at our assessments, how we will “grade” them and report to students and parents.  I like Dr. Guskey’s questionnaire – it helps me think about my own practices and reflect on which areas will need the most focus/change.

The key to success in reporting multiple grades rests on the clear specifications of indicators related to product, process and progress. Guskey, 2006

Our grades are out of sync- they’ve gotten everything but the kitchen sink averaged in and when a parent asks how a student is doing – well, their achievement, behavior and progress are all rolled in to one big number – so, I may / may not be able to give them a specific answer.  Guskey suggests reporting all separately.  Often times, its easier to show how a students process – lack of participation / completetion of assignments and home work are affecting his/her achievement (product), thus lack of desired progress is seen.  It just makes sense.  Guskey reports parents prefer this more comprehensive profile of their students learning and performance in school.

This strategy for student grades will add value grade reports since they will truly be a tool of communication for what the student has mastered, the process / effort they put into the class and a look at their individual progress throughout the school year.

 

RCHSAlgebra I Outline- June 1 2011

 

 

 

Stop Waiting for the Map

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“Please stop waiting for a map. We reward those who draw maps, not those who follow them.” – Seth Godin

I totally stole my first blog title from Brian Nichols post earlier today.  As I read his thoughts, I realized how I’ve been looking to find a map to follow, instead of just creating my own.  Like any directional device, if it’s not updated, I am not quite sure how to use it or I enter the wrong information, following its given turns may lead me down a dark path.  I know where I want to go and I am researching different ways to get there, but in the end, it is my first step that will lead to success in my classroom.

In May 2010, I was handed A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O’Connor.  It was a small book, so I thought it would take only a few days to read it.  However, those few days turned into a couple of weeks.  To be honest, I was angry at times and had to put the book down.  I found most everything I had practiced as a teacher being questioned by this guy.  As the ideas began to seep into my brain, I realized I was wrong about many, many things.  (#1 let’s get this straight – I am a good teacher, who cares about my students and my ultimate goal is to help them get closer to their own goals.) However, I had given zeroes for missing and incomplete work – thus deflating a student’s grade so much, there was little hope of recovery.  I had given bonus points for participating in events like a food drive – don’t get me wrong, service projects are good things, but should not be connected to student grades; at times students were rewarded with points for effort – not learning – in the name of wanting to help them succeed.  I had to redefine what a grade was – its purpose was to communicate learning – not how well a student behaved, how hard they worked or how many extra credit projects they (& their parents) were willing to complete to get the golden “A”!

After sharing the book with other colleagues, we all agreed, things had to change.  We would not go about the grading business as we have in years past – though some of this was going to be quite difficult, maybe even uncomfortable – to break out of the known, our comfort zone. We made efforts to get rid of the fluff, the inflated (& deflated) grades and truly let our grades become a tool to communicate student learning and in walks formative assessment.  We’d gone through some afternoon PD’s during faculty meetings and knew what it was – yes, I’ve always used informal assessments to guide my instruction – but it didn’t really sink in the changes that were needed until after I read 15 Fixes and started sharing my thoughts with my colleagues. 

With the blessing of our administrator, we started our year with new grading policies.  It was an unknown path for us.  We were learning as we went.  We were drawing our own map.  Nearly every week, we would discuss questions / issues that arose – How/When do we reassess? Is there a limit to how many times we allow a student to reassess? What happens when the student does worse, does that mean their grade is lower? Our students and parents were not used to the “no bonus points or extra credit” policy.  It was an adjustment for everyone involved.

We are a little more versed, still reading and looking for models – but on Monday next week, we are sitting down to draw our own maps as we outline our policies / plan for this school year.  This journey will be shared through “the radical rational”…happy trails to you!