March 28, 2011

21st Century Learning....I love new toys!!!!

     I have always been a big fan of using technology.  While I started as a Mac guy, in my travels to various districts I have had the chance to enjoy both PC and Mac and while I have a preference, both machines can do great things and the key is - kids love using both of these machines as well and they may very well need to learn to use either.  What is obvious to all except the most stubborn of Old Schoolers and traditionalists, which are still extolling the greatness of things like reading by candlelight and the great audio of AM radio, is that the digital environment is here to stay and all we can do is hang on for the ride.  Don't feel frustrated that your cell phone is outdated even before you buy it or that a laptop is only cool for about 6 months.  These are just tools to access the digital content that is out there for us all to access.  That being said I was so excited to get my new iPad that I could barely contain myself.  I have been showing it off, using it everywhere I could (and I am finding that is almost anywhere in any situation) and trying not to bankrupt my online account as I purchase cool app after cool app.  There is so much you can do with it, and I am really wanting to get this tool into kids hands, except my own kids....just kidding, I do share it with them.  However my daughter is on a reading obsession right now with the Warriors series by Erin Hunter and I cannot afford to buy that many books nor will I share my iPad as often as she has been reading.  So I drop her off at the Library while I play with the iThoughts app in the parking lot or read the iBook version of Ken Robinson's The Element.  I have been fortunate enough to fall in with a district that is also supportive of the belief that we need to prepare kids for the future by gettting them using technology now.  We are looking at updating our practices as well as our policies if they are not in line with that vision.

     I hope we can find a way to provide these new tools to our students in the future, but in the meantime we will do our best to integrate them into the classroom as much as possible and try to maximize the tools we do have in our building and classrooms.  And I, well, I will keep buying those toys I love and make sure that I stay on the cutting edge so at least I can inform staff of all they can do with the new toys once we have the funds to provide them for our students.  (Don't tell my wife but I have already started saving for the iPad2).

February 2, 2011

Continuous Improvement- Why Change is Good

Being a former Physical Education teacher brings with it a  certain prejudice of what you know about reading and teaching in general.  To be honest I used to feel a little inadequately informed myself.  In order to overcome this I have joined every professional education group I could find as well as began to read voraciously all of the well known authors and researchers on educational practice.  I am finally fairly confident I have a pretty good knowledge base when it comes to teaching, especially in the area of reading.  It probably drives my staff and even my superintendent a little crazy when I start quoting Robert Marzano, Richard Allington, Timothy Rasinski, Grant Wiggins, Jay McTighe, Charlotte Danielson, and Douglas Reeves amongst many others, but I have a deep belief in their research and writings so it is hard to not support my beliefs with their writings. My wife happens to be an elementary teacher (one of the best I have ever seen) as well as a voracious reader, although she has mostly moved on to Barnes & Noble Fiction, but she loves seeing me progress from former caveman to intellectual.

I have had some philosophical struggles with our current reading program since I have come to my new district, but still I tried to embrace it where I could, besides the evidence that it was pretty successful was clear.  While our district reading scores have been very good, we have also seem to hit a plateau.  We continue to have a small percentage of students that struggle with the Direct Instruction program we use.  One of my other concerns is that  it appears our common approach for addressing the kids that struggle with reading is to give them more of the same program.  In all of the reading I have done on quality reading instruction, I had reservations about the program we were using.  When staff members started coming to me with many of their concerns I decided to try to become better informed.  Yep, I read another book.  While I had read plenty already and listened to many keynote speakers,  I was looking for further confirmation of what I already knew.

I found an excellent book called "Readicide" by Kelly Gallagher.  Mr. Gallagher is a High School English teacher and while much of the focus in the book is geared toward high school and middle school, there is still some very good practical information for all teachers of reading.  What was most important, in what I gleaned from the book, was that with our drive to improve our students' reading scores on standardized tests, we have turned them into test taking machines that no longer read for enjoyment, and that was exactly what I was seeing when I went into classrooms. 

I started talking with teachers last year about our reading program and what their thoughts were on student engagement and the amount of time kids were given to actually read on their own.  Both answers were discouraging.  I had already read the Daily 5 book by Moser & Boushey and I knew my wife had used it in her classroom in her previous district.  There was a strong interest from the staff to have my wife come and speak about the use of the Daily 5 in her classroom, so much so that she came and spoke to the staff twice about the subject.  I have convinced many of my teachers to drop the dreary workbooks and to start using student created projects to provide practice and create better formative assessments.  I am looking forward to creating lifelong readers of our students and I am thinking the more they like to read and the more authentic learning and assessment we give them, the better our tests scores will become as well.  I will keep you posted on this process as it is bound not to be easy or smooth.  Why?  Because change is never easy, but often it is worth it.

January 17, 2011

Becoming a Better Team

I have been working with the best administrative team I have been associated with these past two years.  This year we have had to discuss some big issues that I could tell we had varying concerns and beliefs about.  The problem seemed to be that we were all afraid to discuss our feelings on the subject.  As these concerns and issues seemed to continue and new ones arose, it became apparent that the concerns weren't going to be beaten up and or debated so that the team could see all aspects of the decision to ensure we made the best choice. 

 I decided to talk to my Superintendent about a book I had read and was using with my staff to make sure we were doing a good job of building trust and being an effective team.  She thought I might be on to something and that we should not only read the book but also go through The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team training.  It was a great and somewhat humbling experience.  It is not easy to admit some of your faults  and have your teammates point out what they believe to be your weaknesses as well.  It was a great growth experience.  The best part of it all was that we seem to be a far more effective team now.  Team members that used to mostly sit silently through a meeting have now found their voice and are comfortably arguing their opinions about every major topic raised.  If you work in a team environment at all I highly recommend this book by Patrick Lencioni.