Thursday, 14 April 2011

Field day

Today was a day of learning that had nothing to do with classrooms, books, or even laptops. Today's learning was about giving back to a community who continually supports education. It was about watching educators see a need, rally to the occasion, and create a plan to make a difference. It was about being motivated by a heart-felt speech of appreciation from someone who had lost everything. It was about coming together with another school district to achieve a common goal. It was about working side by side friends and putting aside differences for at least one day. It was about feeling the physical pain of manual labor and also the emotional pain for the families who had lost so much. It was about being reminded how quickly life can change. It was about watching some kids in their natural environment lead the way, while others who were out of their environment rolled up their sleeves and got a little dirty. Ultimately, it was about seeing the tears in the eyes of some area farmers. Although we only made a small dent in Mother Nature's devastation, it felt good to be "educated" in the fields even if it was for just one day.

Friday, 11 March 2011

San Francisco

This past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the National Association of Secondary Principals Conference in San Francisco, CA. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the West Coast, I was most moved by the opportunity to meet principals from all across the country. I spent time talking with principals from New Jersey, Michigan, Alabama, Texas, California, South Dakota, and even Canada. It was energizing discussing programming, and class offerings, curriculum and instruction, schedules, and professional development with these administrators. Although educators are in the “people business”, it can also be a very isolating profession. This time away gave me a chance to take all those balls I juggle on a daily basis, pull them out of the air, and look at them a little closer. I would like to share just some of the quotes, statements, and tidbits of information that I took away from the conference that really challenged my thinking.

*32 states currently have virtual schools.
*8 states have online learning initiatives.
*2 states require online courses for graduation (Alabama and Michigan).
*“Our goal should be to close the gap between what we know we should be doing and what we are doing.” Tim Westerberg
*“If you want different results, do things differently.” Spence Rogers
*Changing our grading system is not an incremental change, but a fundamental shift.
*What does a B- mean to you? to a parent? to a student?
*Homework has be assessed - it can’t just be a completion number otherwise the student never receives any feedback on his/her learning.
*How can compliance and behavior be a part of a grade that is supposed to reflect learning?
*“In many classes there are grades based on work habits such as doing work on time and complying with teacher requests as opposed to verifying that learning did take place for a specific target.” Excerpts from Grades Don’t Matter
*Our current grading system allows teachers to be able to speak to student completion rates instead of student mastery. Tony Donen
*Learning is developmental and will grow with time and repeated opportunities. New evidence of learning should replace old evidence of learning. Billie Donegan
*Zeroes should never be used in averaging on a 100 point scale (poor practice and poor math). Billie Donegan
*Information in grading reports should be organized by evidence of performance standards and learning goals, rather than by assessment methods (quizzes, tests, homework etc.) Billie Donegan
*“We are faced with the irony that a policy that may be grounded in the belief of holding students accountable, actually allows students to escape accountability for learning.” Billie Donegan
*“The most real and most lasting learning comes not in doing, but in re-doing!”
*“There is little or no evidence that repeated failure makes people more responsible (or motivated).” Billie Donegan
*The threat of a low grade is much more likely to motivate high achieving students (often for the wrong reasons) than low achieving students. Billie Donegan
*“I am overwhelmed, but not challenged.” quote from an AP student
*“Knowing nothing is very different from doing nothing.”
*“Don’t show me what students are doing - show me what students are learning.”
*“If we believe all children can learn, we must also believe that all educators can learn too.”

This conference was definitely a learning experience for me! As you can see, I attended several sessions on grading practices. After our district spent an afternoon of professional development with Matt Townsley, Director of Instruction in Solon, IA, I know this is an area we need to focus on in the near future.

By the end of the conference, I felt invigorated, but I also felt a little overwhelmed. I know we still have a lot of work to do, but I am also confident that our teachers are dedicated and committed to providing the highest quality of education for our students. I am lucky to be a part of a district that supports the professional development of its people, and although I enjoyed the Frisco Bay, I am very glad to be back home at Newell-Fonda.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

It's Semester Test Time

Once again it is semester test time. This year our high school teachers have really re-evaluated their semester tests. Because we want this final assessment to be a valuable learning experience for our students, many of our teachers have created semester projects that assess (and require students to use) all the essential skills taught throughout the semester. Instead of the traditional multiple choice test, our students will be creating, collaborating, communicating, and synthesizing all of the learning that has taken place during first semester.

Here are a few reminders for students and parents during semester tests:

*Students are required to be in school ONLY when testing. Do not loiter in the halls when not testing. You must be in the study hall or out of the building.

*The study hall is to be used as a quiet study area during semester exams. This area will be supervised.

*Punctuality is essential during semester tests! Students will NOT be allowed to take a semester test if they are more than 10 minutes late to class.

*Students missing exams for reasons other than excused absences will receive an “F” on the exam.

*All students must stay in their testing room at least 45 minutes after the beginning of the test. PLEASE be quiet in the halls after your test - other students may still be testing!

*Look at the test schedule posted in the commons and write down when and where your tests will be held.

*When you are off school grounds during the day, please act like young adults and drive safely. Community complaints will end the open campus concept for semester tests in the future. Some students have lost open campus privileges in the past. Also, remember that students with school permits should NOT be driving around!

*All students with over-due books, unserved detentions, unpaid art bills, shop bills, or any other discipline issues, will NOT be eligible for open campus. ALL detentions must be made up prior to December 17th.

*REMEMBER the NO PASS NO PLAY rule that was passed by the State of Iowa. This is not limited to athletics it is for ALL extra curricular activities (example: Speech)

*Lunch will be served Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. However, if you sign-up for a lunch you are expected to eat. You will be charged for the lunch whether you eat it or not.

*Buses will leave school at regular times:
Monday and Tuesday - 3:15 p.m.
Wednesday - 2:30 p.m.


Thursday, 14 October 2010

A Day of Learning

On October 20th, over 38 schools and 500 educators will be collaborating to learn more about the technology infused classroom. As teachers, one of the best ways to make life-long learners out of our students is to model learning as adults. It is no secret that the learner who walks through our school doors today is very different from the learner we educated even five years ago. They crave opportunities for interaction, collaboration, and communication, but they also need to be taught the importance of professionalism and what it truly means to be an educated digital citizen.

On the 20th, Newell-Fonda is proud to be the host site where educators from all over the state of Iowa will gather to network and learn. We will also be teaming up with Sigourney CSD to share a Ustreamed speaker from the November Learning Team. Brian Mull will be discussing the importance of building a Professional Learning Network and using blogging and Twitter to enhance education. In addition to this, teachers will be attending informative sessions to learn more about technology and the impact it can have on learning. We will also be providing time for teachers to collaborate with other role-alike educators from different schools to discuss specifics strategies that can be used with their subject matter.

Overall, this will be a great opportunity to build relationships and challenge the status quo. If you are interested in following the conversations of the day, join us on Twitter using the hashtag #NWILA.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Driving Toward a New School Year

One of the best parts of summer is having more time to read.  Although I did spend my fair share of time reading mindless, "by the pool" books, I also enjoyed several intellectually stimulating reads as well.  One of those books was Drive by Daniel Pink.  Pink's book touts to provide a "strong, science-based case for rethinking motivation."  As an educator, I have always been challenged by what motivates students.  As a high school principal, I am now faced with the challenge of exploring not only what motivates students, but also what motivates adults.  It should be no surprise that students are not really that different from adults when it comes to motivation.
     Pink states that "enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on a project, is the strongest and most pervasive driver.”  To me, this quote is applicable not only in the classroom, but also in the workplace.  This also led me to think about our technology initiative.  Our 1:1 environment gives students and teachers alike the opportunity to tap into that creativity and design a more autonomous work environment.  By nature we are wired to be curious and self-directed (Those of you who spent any time with a toddler this summer know exactly what I'm talking about!!), and it's a shame to think that it might actually be school that discourages this curiosity. As the new school year quickly approaches, I challenge us all to tap into that intrinsic motivation that engages us and makes us feel the excitement for learning that a small child understands so well.  
     Finally, on Leadership Day 2010 I am once again reminded that although technology is a wonderful tool, it is truly the emphasis on learning that will earn the greatest rewards.  I will leave you with a final thought-provoking quote from Drive, “If you believe intelligence is a fixed quantity, then every educational and professional encounter becomes a measure of how much you have.  If you believe intelligence is something you can increase, then the same encounters become opportunity for growth.”  I hope this school year will continue to provide countless opportunities to use technology for creative, engaging, and active learning for both our students and our adults!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

End of the Year

It's almost hard to remember all the snow of winter as the temperatures soar into the 90's!

I wanted to summarize the expectations for the final three days of school.  Students will be taking their semester finals on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

  • All students should arrive by 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday.  If a student needs to ride the bus, he/she should report to study hall at 8:30 a.m. to prepare for his/her finals.
  • If a student is on the Down List, he/she must stay in school from 9:00 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.  Down List students do NOT have Open Campus privileges on Wed. and Thurs.
  • All other students will be able to leave after their finals are complete.  
  • Please keep in mind that if a student is over 10 minutes late to a testing room, he/she will not be admitted and will be given an "F".
  • All students must remain in their testing room for at least 45 minutes.
  • All fines must be paid by 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday in order to receive Open Campus privileges.
  • All buses will run on their regular schedule.  If a student plans to leave early or arrive late, he/she must provide his/her own transportation.
  • On Friday, the first test begins at 10:00 a.m. and the last test ends at approximately 1:30 p.m.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

"That" Teacher!

     Because this is my first year as the principal at Newell-Fonda High School, I am in the process of hiring my first teacher.  As I pulled out my interview questions that I had used in my previous school, I made the startling realization that these questions just wouldn't work at Newell-Fonda.  Being a 1:1 school has made me realize that the standard interview questions just aren't applicable anymore for our school.  I realized I wasn't concerned about how much the candidate knew about American Literature or proper grammar.  Don't get me wrong, I still believe content knowledge is very important in hiring a new teacher.  However, as I developed questions for the interview I wanted to know how my new teacher was going to think outside the box.  How he or she was going to challenge our students beyond just knowing who wrote The Scarlet Letter or where to put a comma.  I wanted to know what online resources he/she had used in his/her classroom.  I wanted to know how he/she used Professional Learning Networks to find innovative ways to teach American Literature or essay writing.  I wanted to see that he/she was excited about the possibilities that the 1:1 environment creates for a teacher and a student.  Ultimately, I wanted him/her to be able to articulate how "special" this 1:1 learning environment is.  I needed to know that he/she understood that in order to truly prepare our students for THEIR future, our teaching strategies have to meet our students' learning styles - and that is where technology fits in.
     In the end, I'm not sure I'm looking for a "new" kind of teacher, but I am looking for a different skill set.  Just as we are expecting from our students, I am looking for a teacher who is willing to collaborate and create.  One who can communicate and network.  One who is willing to take risks and go outside his/her comfort zone.  I want to hear about Twitter and Facebook, blogs and wikis, Google Docs and digital portfolios.  I want to know that he/she is willing to try new things, and I certainly don't expect him/her to have all the answers or know every American author (that can be Googled if someone really wants to know).  I also wonder if our universities have prepared these new teachers for my interview questions because I won't be asking them for their strengths and weaknesses or how much they know about Walt Whitman or Edgar Allan Poe.  Yes, I still want to know about their ideas or experiences with classroom management and assessment.  However, what I really want to know is how they plan to use technology to enhance learning, and how they will use their classroom to produce digitally articulate, creative, collaborative students who are prepared for THEIR future!
     Finally, after all this reflection, I realize that I am definitely excited and encouraged about the challenge and the opportunity to find "that" teacher!!