Friday, June 23, 2017

Walkthroughs Don't Work!!!

This year, after 23 years in education, I will work in a school where we will not do walkthroughs. Why do you say? Well it's simple. 

Walkthroughs don't work. 

Think about it. What has a greater impact on student learning, instruction or assessment?  Obviously instruction is the variable on student learning and assessment is the gauge of learning. If we really believe in this idea about growing kids, then why are we only assessing our teachers when we walk in their classroom?

The research shows that walkthroughs don't improve teacher effectiveness.  Here's what I mean. Walkthroughs with no feedback negatively impact teaching.  Yes, they make teachers less effective. Observations with a form have no positive or negative impact on learning, so walkthrough forms have little impact on teacher effectiveness.  When observations are accompanied with coaching, teachers see gains in their effectiveness. In other words coaching is what helps teachers grow. 

So What Will We Do This Year?
If we want teachers to grow, we must admit that forms with checkboxes won't suffice. Ratings scales won't do either. To grow our teachers, we will replace walkthroughs with coaching visits. 

Yes, Coaching Visits!!!

Our teachers will receive coaching feedback that does 4 things.
1. Affirm positive practices in places
2. Identify missed opportunities. 
3. Pose questions for reflection and to open the discussion. 
4. Help the observer grow in their ability to help teachers grow. (MOST IMPORTANT)

The Goal is Simple. 
We will work to drop the imbalance of power that the term, walkthrough, brings forth. If we are truly instructional leaders, then we must realize that we must offer our teachers instruction on how they are doing and how they can improve, not just assess how they're doing. Furthermore we must provide a platform of reciprocity for teachers so that teachers can also instruct leaders on how they can improve at supporting teachers. 

Pure and simple, the purpose of a walkthroughs is to rate the teacher.   The purpose of a coaching visit is to improve both the teacher and the leader. Just as iron sharpens iron, so does one person sharpen another. If we truly want to make schools better, it starts by creating observation system that require feedback protocols for that is the most productive way to grow all educators. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

What if Kids had Learning Streaks???

Snapchat is everywhere, and kids are seriously addicted to it.  Seriously, they are, and why not?  It has a relevant goal that all kids want to reach.

STREAKS

Kids essentially are gamifying their connections to other kids, and when a kid loses a streak, it is devastating.  When my kids lose their phone privileges, it is heartbreaking.  The streak ends and they have to start all over again.

So How Can We Tie STREAKS to Learning?

It's pretty simple.  Kids need connections with other kids to accelerate their growth in learning.  In other words, collaboration is not just important.  It downright ESSENTIAL.  Below are a few ideas that we could use to get our kids to create learning streaks.

  1. Use Snapchat to share their learning with other peers during classtime.
  2. If technology rules prevent the use of Snapchat, use Twitter or Instagram for kids to tag their learning to a class account.  The consecutive days of tagging classmates to learning could become the streak.
  3. If technology is a problem altogether, build collaboration into your instruction where students can share their work with other students and have peers give written feedback or suggestions for improvement along with the student's signature to signify the learning connection and to curate the streak.

Honestly, this is a random thought running through my head and not really formalized into a completely rational thought.  I do however think that educators must leverage the relevance that students find in STREAKS and let this fascination serve as a tool for engagement and a relevant entry point for learning.  

What ideas or thoughts would you add?



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ending the Institutionalization of Education

One of the most powerful if not the most powerful institutions in our country is the public school. If you look around you, you cannot see anything or find anything that was not influenced first by the institution we have come to love.  There are so many positive actions that the institution of education has done to impact our country, but there is one action that has a negative impact on the future of education.


One of my favorite movies of all time is Shawshank Redemption. At a powerful moment on the story, Morgan Freeman's character talks about how prisoners become institutionalized because the institution grows on them and eventually becomes something they can't live without. In other words, the institution doesn't just shape thinking, it limits creativity and opportunities for growth.  Now I'm not saying that schools are a punitive place that imprison us.  What I am saying is that we lose sight of our moral imperative when we become driven by the structures, language, and labels that at times inundate schools.  





INSTITUTIONALIZED LANGUAGE
Reflect on this section and ask yourself this.

Do the following words institutionalize your thinking?


Passing - This word sterilizes growth. For some, passing is too high a standard and for others it's way too low.  When passing is the goal, learning is not longer the priority.  We must make this term a step towards excellence rather than the standard.

Intervention - In the mind of the institutionalized, it is a location or a separate segment of time in the schedule. What it should be is a mindset about learning and when any students fails to learn, we immediately respond.

Redirection - When students are misbehaving, we have been expected to redirect them. Let's face it.  Redirection is reactive, not proactive. We must anticipate when kids are showing symptoms of misbehavior and intercept behaviors before we have to sacrifice instruction to redirect them.

Grade - This word has been one of the greatest paradigm builders in education. It sorts kids into ability groups. Sure it rates proficiency, but it also stifles progress in creating schools that are kid- centered.  The question is this.  Does the almighty grade inspire all kids to pursue learning?

Leadership - When you see this word, do you think of the person in charge or do you think of a function that everyone in the school must assume.  From the custodian to the principal and everyone in between, schools need leadership to become a collective function of the school, not the person in charge of the building.

Schedule - To the institutionalized, this is a static structure that can never be altered for any reason.  For the kid-centered school, it must change to meet the needs of all kids.  Time is a constant, but how we use it to help kids grow in learning is the variable.  Schedules are tools to help us better help kids, not a structure to shuffle them through the day.



What would you add?
If we want to end the institutionalization of education, it starts with eradicating words and the thinking behind them that shackle us to the schools of yesterday.  We must view schools not as they are but as they must become if we truly want to prepare kids for their future.  Drop a comment to add your thoughts of other words that inhibit growth in education.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Don't Forget to Excel

Note - This post is my commencement address to the Blue Ridge Senior Class of 2017.

Seniors, Parents and Guests,

On behalf of the Blue Ridge ISD Board of Trustees, I would like to welcome you to the 2017 Blue Ridge High School Graduation Ceremony.  I am truly honored to have this opportunity to celebrate the senior class of 2017 for successfully completing their journey through public education.  As a parent of one of these senior, I address you with both a tear in my eye and an excitement in my heart.  Hannah we love you and are very proud of you.  To the senior class of 2017, I know that right now you are thinking, "Hurry up! I'm ready to move on from Senior to See Ya", but I would like to have just a minute or two of your time.

In our district this year, we created a new motto, Learn...Grow...Excel...  This motto represents the next steps that we should all take in life. The next steps are hard ones to make, and sadly steps that some fail to make, so today I would like to share with you what they are and how your life will benefit from them.

The 1st Step is to Learn.
Those who succeed in life realize that learning doesn't end after high school; it actually begins.  The minute you stop learning is the minute you stop living.  My greatest hope for you is that you never view learning as a pain, but that you embrace it as an exciting and joyful part of life.  Always choose to learn more about your faith.  Learn from your experiences, but most importantly learn from your mistakes.  I challenge you to fail and fail a lot.  Because the more you fail, the more you can excel

The 2nd Step is to Grow.
Life is a metamorphosis.  You've grown physically into the adults you are today, but the very best people in life grow both mentally and spiritually.  They grow in their love for friends and family, and they grow in their passion and zest for life.  If you choose to take the 2nd step, you will experience life in the way it was meant to be lived.  You will never settle for life the way it is, and you will never make excuses for bad things that happen to you.  You will always find a better way, and you always make it a better day for yourself and those around you.

The 3rd and Final Step is to Excel.
When I think about what it means to excel, I look to the words of our founding fathers who wrote the Declaration of Independence over 240 years ago.


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, 
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, 
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Those who excel discover Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness when they realize that their purpose in life is not to take but to give.  If our country is to continue to be the greatest nation on the planet, we need less takers and more givers.  The bottom line is that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not handed to you.  It is earned and it has to be earned every single day. 

Excelling is not about being the best; it is about giving your best to make a strong family.  It's about volunteering in your church, little league, in your school, and in the community, and most importantly it's not about waiting for someone else to do it for you.  It's about being an active leader in making your community and our country a better place for everyone.  

Think about this.  Who has stood out in your life and in your time here in Blue Ridge?  It was the people who excelled.  They did more than they were asked to do.  They were the ones who always stepped up to help you, and they were the people who invested in you.  Well now it's your turn.  Wherever you go and whatever you do, I challenge you to remember that the purpose of life is to make life better for everyone you come in contact with.  Then and only then will you find true happiness.

My final words to  you can be found in this 8 ounce cup.  To some it's just a cup, but to the senior class of 2017, it was your opportunity to leave a lasting impression on Blue Ridge (see video here).  From now on, every time I look at this ordinary cup, I will remember the legacy you left behind for future classes to follow.  I will always see your awesome personalities and special moments throughout the year, but most importantly I will forever see the potential that you have to make this world a better place.   I wish each of you the best luck and  I think I speak for everyone when I say this.

We will all miss you when you're gone.  

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Teacher's Summer Excellence Checklist.

Note:  The contents of this post are based on my new book, A Leader's Guide to Excellence in Every Classroom. 

When summer is in full swing, that means one thing for teachers; they are 6-8 weeks away from the start of another school year. Kids will soon begin shopping for items on their school supply lists, and parents will anxiously await the announcement of their child's teachers while they get their children ready for the start of school. But what about teachers?  What do they need to start off the new school year on the right foot?



Just like principals need a Principal's Summer Excellence Checklist to prepare their school for the best year ever, every teacher needs an excellence checklist of their very own that will help them set the stage to empower every student to reach excellence this year. 

The Teacher's Summer Excellence Checklist

Here is a list of the the top 10 things every teacher needs to create the conditions that will inspire every student to have their best year ever.

 Resources

Obviously, every teacher needs the tools of the trade, but great teachers surpass possession of tools by also possessing the skillful use of those tools to help every kid learn. The more technical the resource, the more necessary it is to learn how to be proficient at using that tool in a way that will empower kids to own their learning.

✔ Routines & Procedures

Every good teacher develops routines and procedures for their classroom, but great teachers have a plan to intentionally transfer the responsibility and leadership for those routines and procedures over to the kids. If the goal is learning for all, students need to own the routines and procedures that are designed to help them learn.  For each routine, great teachers have a plan to empower students to take ownership of it.

 Relationships

Relationships are important, but alone they don't get the job done. (See The 'Right' Relationships Matter).  Relationships for learning, however, require teachers to develop the optimal relationship with each child in order to accelerate each child's learning. To prepare for these relationships with new students, great teachers research their students. They learn their strengths, areas for growth and strategies that are proven to help each student learn, but they go the extra mile by making a plan to build a meaningful relationship with each child in an effort to inspire him to learn. 

✔ Relevance

Nothing is more boring to a student than sitting in a class that has no relevance. To engage kids, excellent teachers plan their instruction with one purpose: connect kids to the learning target during every minute of the day. Sure, great activities help develop relevance, but how great teachers structure their instructional time to keep kids engaged through those activities is what maintains and even accelerates engagement and relevance. Great teachers are developing or refining their plans with the specific purpose of optimizing engagement.

✔ Rigor

Rigor is about 3 things: planning for it, delivering it, and responding to it. Great teachers realize that rigor can't occur unless they, themselves, have the content knowledge and expertise first. From content expertise, teachers of excellence focus their efforts on transferring that expertise to students through the intentional use of assessments, instructional strategies and questioning techniques that take kids from what they know to what they need to know, and they do that at high levels of complexity. Excellent teachers are busy locating and curating all kinds of strategies that will lead every student to rigorous learning. 

Intervention

Great teachers know that even the best lesson will leave some students behind; therefore, they don't wait for failure. They plan for it.  They anticipate possible mistakes or misunderstandings that students will have and have automatic responses when those mistakes reveal themselves. The best intervention is prevention, and great teachers do a whole lot of preventing in their instruction.  These teachers are making plans to identify students with a history of failure and creating prevention strategies that will help these students overcome failure beginning with the first day of instruction. 

✔ Extension

While some kids need extra attention, other kids need extra extension. When kids learn a concept in a great teacher's class, they don't get more of the same. They are provided choices to apply their learning through personalized activities that matter to the student. Great teachers offer students a menu of extension activities that are on display for students on the first day of school, and this menu serves as great motivator to remind kids to work hard at learning.

✔ Collaboration  

Great teachers grow, and they grow by learning with and from their peers inside and outside of the school. Whether it is a collaborative team, their campus leaders or their PLN, great teachers are connected to a wide variety of educators and collaborate with them frequently because they believe their own continuous improvement is essential to help all students learn. Great teachers are gathering ideas and thoughts all summer long so that when schools starts, they can help their peers grow and their students learn. 

✔ Tech Integration 

Technology is a tool that supports learning, and great teachers integrate technology with one specific purpose, support the learning goals of the lesson. It is also important to note that they don't jump onto every tech bandwagon that rolls into town. They ensure that technology will enhance student learning by seamlessly integrating technology into their lessons. To enhance student learning, excellent teachers brush up on their tech tools and ensure that they work out the kinks with each tool, so that kids will have a smooth start using these tools in the first week of school. 

✔ Parent Communication

Parents are a valuable resource to support student learning, and great teachers tap into that resource by initiating, building, and maintaining parent communication through both face to face and digital interactions with parents. By keeping the lines of communication open through weekly communication with parents, they build support systems that reinforce student learning. Great teachers will have their communication plan ready to disseminate to students and parents on the first day of school as well as a system to keep the communication system effectively running all year long. 

What Else Would You Add?
Teachers of excellence aren't waiting for school to start. They are putting their plans in place. What makes a great teacher is their performance, but what makes their performance great is their preparation. They pathway to excellence is not through talent alone but through diligent preparation. By putting together a powerful plan to guarantee that every student learns, great teachers create a classroom culture that inspires, challenges, and empowers every student to discover the excellence that is within them. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Biggest Barrier to School Improvement

In all my years in education, one of the most confusing concepts is something that is disguised to serve as the great clarifier of learning. When progress needs to be defined, you go to it. When decisions are made about kids, you depend on in it. And when determining the best and worst, it is your number one go-to source. 

Yes, I'm talking about GRADING

Here's the problem that I have with grading. Every time a new idea about improving instruction is levied, the first question that pops up is this.  "How are we going to grade that?" A suggestion to move to project based learning gets a visit from "How will that affect our grading policy?"  When a kid who normally makes As is making a C in a rigorous class, grading once again shows up to be the catalyst for lowering standards. If a kid makes a 68 in a class for the grading period, it prompts a challenge to the grading system as a whole 

Ever Experienced One of These Issues?

Of course, you have.  The fact is that we have been institutionalized by the 20th century grading scale. To prove my point, can you identify the instrument in this picture below?


Everyone knows what this is and everyone knows that it is the basis for how we have determined proficiency for almost 100 years.  

Are Schools about Grading or Learning?

If we truly want to improve school, we have to make a decision if we are driven more by grading or more by learning.  This is the question that we all must answer when trying to do what's best for kids. The reality is that numbers don't tell the story of learning, and an "averaging" mindset simply will not tell me or other parents what their child is actually learning in school. 

As educators and ambassadors of Future Ready schools, we must be vigilant in creating learning spaces that are actually driven by learning instead of grading.  Sure grading is necessary to communicate progress, but it shouldn't inhibit schools from becoming progressive.   We must recondition ourselves and our students that we don't do work for a grade. Learning as an active pursuit of knowledge and mastery not so that we can figure out how to get the highest number we can in the gradebook. Finally, our moral imperative must end the idea that the smartest, best and brightest students are not identified by the average of an infinite set of numbers that are generated by mastery of an undefined set of skills which are to be judged by an arbitrary and partial grading system. 

We are better than that, and our kids deserve schools that are focused on learning first and how to rate or grade learning second. 

DROP ME A COMMENT BELOW TO LEAVE YOUR THOUGHTS...

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

6 Keys to a Successful STARTegy

The difference between a dream and a vision is action. Dreams fail to materialize simply because of the inability to act, or more specifically the inability to start.  Too many great ideas ended with a dream. 

So how do We turn Dreams into Reality?

So many strategies never materialize or they fall well short of the grandeur in its descriptive language.  Action in a strategy begins when the first step or STARTegy takes place.  Simply put, a STARTegy is the beginning movement or the actual implementation of your strategy. Sure planning is great, but plans are worthless until you implement them. This decision to start a strategy is often stalled by indecision about rollout, disagreements about first steps, lack of clarity in roles, or simply by making the strategy so complex that it collapses under  the weight of its utter confusion.  Any and all of these reasons paralyzes others so that action can never begin. 


6 Keys to a Successful STARTegy

  1. The simpler the strategy, the easier the STARTegy.
  2. Selling the WHY is more important than telling the WHAT.
  3. Mistakes are expected in order for the STARTegy to work.
  4. STARTegies can't survive without questions, input and feedback.
  5. Teamwork enhances the STARTegy.
  6. Reflection throughout the strategy is critical to success.


Strategies rise and fall with leadership.  The best leaders know that a successful strategy begins with a successful STARTegy.  With STARTegy, confidence in the organization grows.  Individual efficacy improves, and the overall culture excels.  The best organizations don't succeed by planning.  They excel by doing, and they start with STARTegy.


Monday, April 17, 2017

The Hours for Excellence

Excellence isn't found during business hours. If it was, everyone would find it.  But to be more precise, excellence isn't really found.  It's made and it's only made after hours, before hours, when no one's watching hours, while no one's around hours, and where others won't go hours.



SO, ARE YOU WORKING DURING EXCELLENCE HOURS???

People believe that what you do from 8-5 will lead you to excellence, but the secret is this.  What you do, why 
you do it, and how much you learn from it separates excellence from the rest.  Excellence isn't awarded during business hours. Sure you may accomplish great feats during working hours, but the work that lead to your excellence is earned outside those hours. 

The temptation called mediocrity deceives us into believing that we're special and therefore entitled to be the given the rewards and titles of excellence because we show up.  But mediocrity won't accept the cold hard facts of what it takes to be the best.  To mediocrity, hard work and extra work are the obstacle.  To excellence they are the price to be paid every single day.



SO WHAT ARE EXCELLENCE HOURS???

Excellence hours aren't actually hours.  They are behaviors, beliefs and commitments to continuous improvement.  Here are just a few characteristics that the best people in their business exhibit during their excellence hours.

Humility - Excellence is about recognizing and accepting the fact that you are always growth in progress.  The constant goal is turning your weaknesses into strengths.
Obsession - Excellence hours accelerate growth when those hours are no longer about clocking in and out but being obsessed with your growth.
Unveiling - Excellence is about finding new things about yourself that you never thought you could do or would do.  
Research - Excellence hours are about searching for next steps, the latest research and the best practices that will make you better.
Slump - Good people work extra hours only when they are in a slump.  Excellence hours, however, are in place to prevent slumps from ever forming.

To become excellent at whatever endeavor you choose, it's never about time.  It's about focus, practice, reflection and practice some more. 

Good, better, best.  Never let it rest
Until your good is better and your better is best.


Bonus - 5 Tips to Succeed in your Hours of Excellence




  1. Find an area that you would like to improve in.
  2. Determine your plan of action to address this area with 3 tasks or less.
  3. Schedule a regular time in your day to work your plan.
  4. Set a deadline to check your progress.
  5. Check your progress 
  6. Repeat steps 1-5.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

#LoveMySchoolDay 2017: Year 4 of the Real 411 about Education

It is hard to believe that #LoveMySchoolDay is at its 4th year.  Every year that we have flood the Twittersphere has always been a complete inspiration to see the wonderful things happening in schools across the globe. As I think about this wonderful celebration, a thought comes to mind. 

This Story Can Never End. 

There is always someone calling for a complete change to education today. After all, the ills of our society have to be the fault of the someone, right? And it's a quick and easy fix to blame those who are actually working hard to prevent failure. Here's the thing.  What most people don't understand or even see is that schools are doing  great and amazing things for all kids. 

Here's What People Don't See
  • They won't see the work you do to close the learning gaps created by generational poverty. 
  • They won't see the collaboration your teachers do to learn how to better serve all kids. 
  • They won't see the beauty of makerspaces, fine arts, enrichment activities, or technology integration that advances and inspires a passion for learning. 
  • They won't hear the excitement kids have when a science experiment matches their initial hypothesis or the discovery of something new. 
  • They won't see the hard work of counselors and teachers who teach kids the lessons of conflict resolution. 
  • They won't see the fun you are having.

Do you see where I'm heading?

So Why Even Have #LoveMySchoolDay?
Reason #1 - Educators must give the world the 411 (thus April 11th every year) about the great things happening in schools across the country.  In this fast paced world, not everyone can come to the open house or parent event. Schools must realize that their social media accounts are their proverbial open house that is open 24/7/365.  #LoveMySchoolDay is a world-wide open house for the entire world to attend.

Reason #2  - Legislators are making policies and passing laws based on what they hear.   Many times legislators know little to nothing about the impact of their laws on education because they are only getting their information from lobbyists who many times are not concerned with yours or the kids' best interest.  If they aren't hearing from schools and the people inside them, chances are that future policies and laws will not be made in the best interest of your school. 

Reason 3 & THE COLD HARD TRUTH - If you want schools to get better, it starts with YOU telling YOUR story of the great things inside your school.  People must see and hear the growth that is occurring and listen to the people you work with who are making your school a success.   YOU must be your school's storyteller in chief.  If not, someone else will be.


4 Tips to Tell your #LoveMySchoolDay Story 
  1. Use the #LoveMySchoolDay hashtag in all of your posts. 
  2. Tag your legislators, school leaders, colleagues, and other influential people to your posts or images. 
  3. Use pictures and video as this increases your post engagement and interactions. 
  4. Share or Retweet great stories that you see on the hashtag. This keeps the story going. 

If you need ideas, here are some ideas:

Don't miss your chance to tell your story.  It's being written by the best authors in the world, you!!!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Eliminating The Excuse of Enough.

I had the pleasure of learning at the Future Ready Superintendent Leadership Network where a panel of 5 innovative superintendents reflected on their vision of public schools in the coming 20 years as well as the change that must be made to transform that vision into a reality. Steve Waddell and Jeff Turner reflected on their work and shared a powerful thought that leaders must always remember if they truly want to create schools that lead kids to the future they deserve.   

If we want to create the kinds of schools that truly prepare kids for the future, it is high time that we eliminate the excuse of "Enough".

If you think about it, they're right.   This barrier of scarcity is something that we too readily claim as the reason we can't move forward when in fact it is merely a figment of our imagination.  Here are just few "Enough" statements that prevent schools, leaders and educators from moving forward, and some of my thoughts on these obstacles to organizational improvement.




We don't have enough time.
The fact is you have the exact same amount of time as high performers. Identify where you are wasting time, and you'll find enough time. 

We don't have enough money.
There are countless examples of high performers who had less money and resources. How are you optimizing what you currently have?  Answer that question before making the decision to  spend more. 

We don't have enough personnel. 
This is the same as money. Schools with fewer personnel achieve high performance through synergy of professional growth through ongoing collaboration. Are you truly working as a professional learning community at work that is focused with laserlike precision on improving the adults in the building?   

We don't have enough parent support. 
Educators control 90% of the factors that impact student learning, so blaming parents means that you don't own the potential of your own impact. What are you doing to build the optimal relationships with your parents before you need to access them to help with their children?

We don't have enough information.
Lack of information is a real thing, but the stalwarts of the status quo use this as their main reason to say, "we can't abandon the comforts of today to create the classrooms of tomorrow because we need more information".

Enough is Enough!
The fact of the matter is that we have enough if not way too many excuses that stop us from reaching our goals for school improvement. The question is not if we're going to say enough is enough. The question is whether we will be so focused on guaranteeing that every kid learns that you won't even allow these excuses a seat at your table of continuous improvement. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Answer is Always in YOU!

Leadership is influence. It is guidance. It is empowerment.

The only way to determine if your leadership is truly transformational is by defining your YOU. How do you answer these simple questions:

1. What do YOU believe is essential to lead your organization to excellence?
2. What are YOUR expectations for making that happen?
3. How do YOU know if the expectation is being met?
4. How do YOU hold others accountable for not meeting those expectations?
5. How do YOU empower those who are meeting and even exceeding expectations?
6. How do YOU create a culture of continuous improvement?
7. How do YOU celebrate accomplishments along the way?

Do you see the opportunity in YOU?
Transactional leaders miss the opportunity to capitalize on YOU because they believe YOU means "I", and YOUR means "My".  Transformational leaders, on the other hand, see YOU as a powerful opportunity. To them YOU means "We" and YOUR means "Our".

YOU consists of everyone in the organization, as well as supporters who have a vested interest in seeing it grow. The question is never what will YOU do. The challenge before you is how will YOU specifically create a system where YOU all get the job done.  

The challenge is yours. Will you accept it?

Friday, March 3, 2017

4 Questions for Building an Excellence Support System

Who believes this statement?

No intervention can replace poor instruction.

Then if you agree that no intervention can replace poor instruction then raise your hand if you have an intervention system for students.

Now keep your hand up if you have an intervention system for your teachers that is as targeted and focused as it is for students.

This is what inspired me to write the book, A Leader's Guide to Excellence in Every Classroom.  We have focused on supporting kids, but we, leaders, haven't put the same laser-like focus on helping our teachers reach excellence.  The fact is this.  If we want to have successful students, it starts with making teachers successful first.

The 4 Questions for Building an Excellence Support System
Everyone is familiar with the 4 questions of a Professional Learning Community at Work.

  1. What do we expect all kids to learn?
  2. How will we know if they learned it?
  3. How will we respond if they haven't learned it?
  4. How will we enrich them when they do learn it?
I essentially took those 4 powerful guiding questions and applied it to the components of a teacher of excellence.

  1. What components of highly effective teaching do we expect from teachers to guarantee learning for all students?
  2. How will we know when teachers are successful in ensuring learning for all students?
  3. How will we respond when a teacher fails to meet the learning needs of all students?
  4. How will we embrace teachers who are successful in meeting the learning needs of all kids?

The 4 Questions that Strengthens "The 4 Questions"
I know one thing.  The 4 questions of a PLC at Work are powerful when and only when the focus is on adult learning and informing educators how they can improve at guaranteeing Learning for All.  The 4 questions of an Excellence Support System drives leaders to anticipate when and how teachers struggle at meeting the needs of all kids and then these questions guide them to respond in a systematic way that involves 3 steps:  
  • Step 1 - School-wide Excellence System (Professional Learning):  How can we provide on-going professional learning that is available to all educators at any time?
  • Step 2 - Teacher Team Excellence Supports (Collaboration):  How can we provide job-embedded collaboration for all teachers?
  • Step 3 - Individualized Excellence Plan (Differentiated Leadership):  How leaders develop meaningful relationships that are focused on helping teachers with their next steps in professional growth?
This systematic philosophy of teacher support is what teachers desire.  More time to learn, more time to collaborate, and more time to reflect with their peers, administrators and instructional coaches.  The Excellence in Every Classroom mindset is not about pushing every teacher to reach some utopian idea of instructional excellence.  It's about creating the conditions that foster a deep-rooted belief that chasing continuous improvement is what makes all educators excellent.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Learning that's #NotOnTheTest

I have been walking around my district this month and have been truly inspired by the hard work of our teachers and staff. It makes me proud as a superintendent but even prouder as a parent.  It is an honor and privilege to see the 1st But what has been extremely exciting to watch is the innovative instruction that kids are engaged in. The more I walked around and the more I realized.

THIS IS NOT ON THE STATE TEST!!! 

No, the authentic work that I see kids doing will not be measured on the test. The videos that kindergartners are creating explaining why 5-3=2. #NotOnTheTest


  • The bridges that 2nd graders designed based on the scientific method. #NotOnTheTest
  • The videos that the 5th grade AVP (audio visual production) club made as a part of their monthly school news program. #NotOnTheTest
  • The collaboration that our middle school students are doing to teach each other about the high leverage skills in all subjects. #NotOnTheTest
  • The food boxes that our science club is packing for families in need. #NotOnTheTest
  • The organization and commitment to learning that Google Classroom has created in all of our high school classes. #NotOnTheTest

#NotOnTheTest MUST be Part of Accountability 
State accountability in Texas is predominantly focused on one test on one day, and let's be honest.  Standardized testing is so last century. The needs of this century are truly based on kids having the skills to solve real problems that won't be found on a test by creating products and demonstrating mastery that will help our country address today's issues.  Kids will have to be able to show their comprehension of real stories by creating them through the use of digital media, not by selecting the correct statement that may or may not best represent the correct answer.  

See "I Can’t Answer These Texas Standardized Test Questions About My Own Poems"

Join the #TxEdTuesday Movement
Throughout the spring,  I want to you invite you join Texas and start sharing all the great things happening in your school that will never be measured on a test. Let's tell the world that standardized measurement of schools doesn't tell even half of the story of what a school is truly about.  In fact it doesn't even represent what schools are really doing to prepare kids for tomorrow.

Every Tuesday, share your story with the hashtag, #TxEdTuesday, and if kids are demonstrating learning far beyond a multiple choice test, be sure to add #NotOnTheTest, so everyone can see what your school is all about.

Friday, February 3, 2017

#TxEdTuesday - #TxEd's Opportunity to Tell Its Story

The other day, I was promoting #LoveMySchoolDay which is coming up on April 11, 2017, and  I had a great response from someone in my PLN.


So I got to thinking. Why not tell Texas' story right now???

After all, we are in the middle of a very contentious legislative session, and people want to know what we can do right now to positively impact public schools and the legislation that shapes those schools.  Schools need to tell legislators and their communities their story about the great things that Texas Public Schools do every day for kids.

So the next thought that entered my mind was:

  • We have #LoveMySchoolDay once a year and 
  • We have #CelebrateMonday every Monday.
Why not have a #TxEdTuesday EVERY TUESDAY?

After working with my two fantastic mentors, Kevin Worthy from Royse City ISD and Doug Williams from Sunnyvale ISD, this is what we came up with.

#TxEdTuesday Goal
  • Each Tuesday, the goal is to have at least 1000 posts on the #TxEdTuesday hashtag on both Facebook and Twitter. 
  • We want to keep the conversation going about what is important for the students served in public schools.


TELL IT
  • Tell your school’s story. 
  • Tell your legislators THANK YOU for supporting your students, families and teachers. 

TAG IT
  • Tag your state representatives and senators to your post.
  • Tag your friends around the state to your images.
  • ​Tag the #TxEdTuesday hashtag to your message (so everyone following the hashtag can see it).


SHARE IT
  • Share and re-tweet positive stories you see from other school districts. 
  • Share your support of each other and public education in Texas.

Every Tuesday, I hope that you will take time to make #TxEdTuesday a priority.  Not only will it tell your story.  It will tell your legislators directly what is happening in your school, and more importantly what they can do to better support 5.3 million students.  The one thing that I truly believe about this initiative is this.  

If you don't tell your story, someone else will, and it may not be true or even the story you want told.

See you on #TxEdTuesday!!!





Friday, January 27, 2017

The Fine Line about Mistakes

Mistakes are a regular occurrence.  With the wrong mindset, they define us, but with a growth mindset, they refine us.

But there's a Fine Line about Mistakes

In our work with other adults or children, how we react to mistakes can accelerate progress or stop it all together.  If we prefer progress, we must create a culture of learning where mistakes are not only embraced.  They are expected.

Learners and those that impact learning cannot work in an environment where they are demonized or demoralized when they fail  They deserve to work in a place where mistakes inspire everyone to learn more about themselves, their content, and the world around them.

When mistakes are embraced, people will happily lead themselves to a place of solid commitment and deep understanding.  Mistakes mold learners attempt by attempt, and ultimately every time that the mistake is conquered permanently.

Let's face it. Human are fallible, but we're also malleable.  Successes make us, but mistakes bend us ever closer to finding success.  When we have the encouragement to take risks, the courage to err and the perseverance to overcome, that is when we cross the fine line about mistakes.

This week, challenge yourself  and those you work and learn with to make lots of mistakes.  
Mess up miserably.  Your success and your growth will thank you for it.



Friday, January 20, 2017

The #1 Resource Every Teacher Deserves

Resources are necessary to make all teachers successful. Technology, instructional materials, and a good size room are just a few examples of resources that teachers deserve to lead their kids to success. If leaders provide enough resources, teachers are adequately prepared to create meaningful learning experiences for all kids.

So What is the #1 Resource All Teachers Need?
If you think about all the tools available to teachers, it's hard to think about the most important one that makes the biggest impact of learning. Chromebooks, Google Classroom and other extensions instantly come to mind. Colorful learning environments with the best furniture also sound great. Even the most innovative activities from Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers pique my interest, but none of them are the best resource that every teacher deserves.

The #1 Resource Every Teacher Deserves
It's no contest. The number 1 resource that every teacher needs is time to learn with other teachers. They need to learn from one another, share with one another, and find solutions to challenging problems together. When teachers are given an abundance of tools, but have limited or no access to other teachers, they will fail to find growth.   Furthermore they will fail to close learning gaps with kids.  But when they network on a regular and structured basis with other colleagues who are in search of continuous improvement, students will always grow and ultimately students will always win.

How can We give Teachers the Best Resource?
Leaders must create a culture where teachers learn with and from one another.  They also need to structure school time so that teachers have scheduled time within the school day for job-embedded learning and collaboration.  Without a schedule and a structure for adult learning to take place, teachers will not have time to learn with one another.  If you want your teachers to find the pinnacle of instructional excellence, ensure that you give them the best resource, one another.  They will appreciate you for it. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

E, The Letter Missing from the A-F School Report Card

State legislatures have more impact on the future of education than any form of government, and school leaders, teachers, and parents of Texas public schools are gravely concerned about the impact that the new A-F Rating System will have on schools and for good reason.  This archaic form of deeming subjective proficiency served it’s purpose in the 20th century by rating and sorting students, and much evidence proves it does not accurately represent what one person, let alone an entire school, can do.    A letter grade is ambiguous.  It doesn’t tell the whole story about a student or a school, and it is a potentially reckless judgment that in the end will permanently damage more schools and communities than it will help.  

Texas legislators are determined to rollout the A-F school report card system as its answer to school accountability.  I have spent the better part of the year trying to understand this system, and now that it is out and schools have their ratings that were billed as "simple to understand and transparent" to parents and communities, I have to admit that I am more confused than ever.  After reviewing the data, I am wondering what the letters A-F really stand for.

Here are my topics & questions to pose to those interested:

Affluence - How does affluence influence an entire school's grade?
Basis - What is basis for assigning grades because it appears to be ambiguous at best and confusing at worst?
Competition - Why does this system appear to be driven by the business model of competition and survival of the "so-called" fittest instead of the medical model which saves all kids?
Diversity - Why do higher diversity & higher poverty schools have a higher probability for earning lower grades? 
Fatality - Will communities with schools that have F's be devastated.? Will low grades cause divisiveness in school communities that so badly need and deserve unity and camaraderie?


But There is One Letter Missing from this System

Where is the E? I never understood why there wasn't an E in an A-F system, and the first and biggest problem with the A-F grading system is that it is missing the most important letter, E, which stands for EVIDENCE.  There is absolutely no evidence that an A-F grading system will help schools get better at meeting the needs of all kids.  There is, however, substantial evidence from other states that supports the argument that schools receiving letter grades negatively impacts their schools.  One only has to look to the states of  Virginia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Florida, and most recently Alabama to see that the A-F system hurts schools.  In all of these states, variations of an A-F accountability system were implemented and eventually were delayed or flatly rejected by the citizenry of those states.  The evidence is conclusive.  Fair minded people know that a letter grade tells only a negative story about schools and does not accurately represent the hard work happening in schools.


What is a Grade?

Education researcher, Paul Dressel (1957), gave the most perfect definition of an A-F grading system.  He defined a grade as “an inadequate report of an inaccurate judgment by a biased and variable judge of the extent to which a student (school) has attained an undefined level of mastery of an unknown proportion of an indefinite material”. Schools and their stakeholders already know that they will be inaccurately judged by the state’s inaccurate report because there is more to a school than its performance on STAAR.  


Second, they also know that the A-F system, by design, will arbitrarily and inaccurately determine subjective proficiency based on undefined mastery.  The reason for this is simple.  The criteria for assigning the grade will be defined after kids take the test, simply because the A-F system to this day has yet to clearly define what the target is for kids and schools.  Every year, schools take the test only to find out after the fact what was required to pass the test and earn the highest rating.  That by itself is an unconscionable and a reckless thing to do to students and schools.  


Third, the STAAR test is biased against all kids because it is an assessment of an indefinite volume of curriculum and standards that very few students in the state could possibly master in a calendar year.  Furthermore, the test doesn’t represent the real learning that students need to succeed in the 21st century.   The grade will communicate little to nothing about student learning, but it will send the message loud and clear that Texas public schools are doing a poor job.


A-F destroys Communities and Hurt Teachers

The last and most important reason to oppose the A-F accountability system is because it destroys communities (especially poorer and more diverse communities), and the teachers that serve those communities.  In the days of the AEIS accountability rating system (2002 - 2011) based on the TAKS test (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills), schools earned the following ratings:  unacceptable, acceptable, recognized and exemplary.   Often times these lower ratings were imposed on schools that had higher diversity, higher poverty, more language barriers, less experienced teaching staff, and more subgroups evaluated as compared to their higher rated schools.

Further evidence, shown in the charts below of the latest A-F grades from Texas (January 2017), highlights what appears to be a forced distribution of letter grades assigned in the "what if" scenario of ratings. The charts show a clear preponderance of evidence that schools with higher levels of poverty received grades of C, D & F while schools with lesser levels of poverty received grades of A & B.






In a system that was also flatly rejected by parents, educators and communities, schools rated as exemplary and recognized benefitted directly from schools rated as acceptable and unacceptable in large part due to the negative message conveyed by the school’s rating.  No matter how much the lower rated school did for kids, the rating labeled the acceptable and unacceptable schools as dismal failures.  When schools received their ratings accompanied by a litany of potential sanctions and punitive actions for underperformance, lower rated schools saw many higher performing teachers resign to move to higher rated schools.  Additionally, the movement of higher performing teachers to higher rated schools created a vacuum in the lower rated schools which left openings (once occupied by highly successful teachers) to be filled in many cases by either new teachers, less experienced teachers, or in some cases uncertified teachers.  In short, lower rated schools often faced greater challenges educating students, and those challenges were left to be addressed by a less experienced staff each year.  Kids in lower rated schools were hurt by the negative message communicated by a low rating, based on one test on one day.


Are You For or Against Texas Public Schools?

Legislators must decide whether or not they want to help 5.2 million students or not.  If they are for Texas public schools, then they must explain to constituents how labeling 90% of schools as average or even deplorable will help kids, support schools and make the teaching profession attractive.  The A-F School Rating System will do little more than exacerbate the false narrative that Texas public schools are failing.  From the parent, educator, and board member perspective, there is great concern that A-F will create an even larger dilemma because schools will be required to be labeled as failures no matter how well they perform.  Additionally this forced failure model will quickly create a culture of fear that will scare the very best teachers away from the most challenging schools to run for the perceived safety of higher rated schools.  Schools that are predominantly rated as C, D and F (55% of Texas public schools) will inevitably be left with more vacancies in critical teaching fields that will in many cases be filled by applicants that are less experienced and less equipped to meet the diverse needs of students.  Furthermore, the rating system will inevitably create a culture of fear that will dissuade potential teachers currently in high school and college from pursuing the profession.  A-F will ultimately make the teacher profession less desirable and less attractive than ever before, and in the end, communities with these lower rated schools and the students in them will be negatively impacted for years to come.   There is nothing in the A-F system that will help schools, educators, and students grow in their learning, and for this reason all Texas should adamantly oppose this system or any other rating system like it.