Sunday, September 22, 2013

Collaboration in a High School English Language Arts Class

The best part of my day each day is visiting classrooms. Some days I have "no office" days where I spend a lot of time in and out of classrooms, and some days it may be only during one class period where I get to spend time in classrooms. Spending time observing teaching and learning is second only to when I get to call a parent and brag on their child getting "written up" with a Praise Referral

Friday, one of our new teachers invited me to drop by and see what her students were doing in class that day. While I usually tweet the great things that are going on in our classrooms, I knew I wanted to devote a blog post and share about her lesson that she had designed for that particular day.

This is Mrs. Mann, who teaches ELA to 9th graders

Mrs. Mann told me that the students would be taking a quiz then they would start their activity. I visited another classroom, then went to her classroom. When I arrived, the students were already in the middle of their assignments. 

On the screen at the front of the room, Ms. Mann posted these instructions.

The students were engaged in discussion about The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell. Mrs. Mann was walking around the room giving encouragement and periodically letting the students know how much time had passed.

Each group had to organize parts of the story onto this large poster.

The students had been divided into groups, and they each received a diagram on a large poster (above). They also received a baggie that contained strips of paper, each with an excerpt from the story.

For the first part of the challenge, the students had to decide the correct order in which to place the strips onto the large poster. 

Once they completed that part of the challenge, they then had to meet as a group with Mrs. Mann for a Q&A session. Once the group finished the Q&A session, she would check their poster. If the strips were out of order, she would tell them to go back to the drawing board and try again. She would then start with the next group that had finished with their strips and they would move to the Q&A session. 

Mrs. Mann made it a competition to tie in with The Most Dangerous Game, and she had candy for the winners. (It's amazing what high school kids will do for a small piece of candy!)

Mrs. Mann is a new teacher this year, and I'm so proud of the learning that is going on in her room. She constantly asks herself, "What can I do to make this lesson one that will capture my students' attention and help them to learn best?"

While she could have led a whole-class discussion or had students answer questions on a worksheet, she chose to find a way that would be concrete, tactile, collaborative, and challenging.  

What is your favorite part of this lesson?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What does Solution-Focused Therapy have to do with Innovation?

First...... what IS Solution-Focused Therapy? It's a type of psychotherapy that focuses on the solution rather than the problems.

When first learned of this term, I think I was in graduate school. It didn't seem like anything new... it seemed like what I had done in athletics as a player and a coach. We didn't focus on the problem, but we focused on the solution. We learned that focusing on the problem keeps you status quo, but never moving forward. Focusing on the solution helped us to continually remember that we can't change what's already happened, but we can change the future. 

This makes me think of innovation. When trying to innovate, the focus has to be on the future. We can't substitute for the past, but we need to try to create a new and different future. 

How does innovation happen in schools? There are three requirements:

  • The school culture supports teachers taking risks and even possibly failing.
  • The school culture focuses on doing Whatever It Takes to help students learn
  • The staff, collectively and individually, focuses on creating a NEW future for the students we serve.
It also reminds me of the students that I serve as the ninth grade principal. I have several students who are repeating the ninth grade, and the habits they had last year that helped them to repeat ninth grade are re-surfacing as we start this new school year. Which leads me to ask myself and others around me who work with these students... 

How are we going to innovate so that these students don't have the same year they had last year?

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Sum of the Parts is Greater than the Whole

The converse of this quote, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” is what I believe is true in the case of teamwork.  

For a team/group/organization to be successful, the team can’t consist of individuals working independently and without cohesion. The team’s goals have to be the focus and the individual goals should be second to the team’s/groups/organization’s goals. 

The members should work interdependently towards a common goal (and, interestingly enough, individual goals are usually fulfilled when the team’s goals are met!)

I have several quotes and stories that remind me of the times that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. 

The first quote is by Helen Keller. She said, “The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.”  

On days when I think that what I’m doing doesn't make a difference, I think of this quote. 

This quote was especially helpful when my children were infants and toddlers. I had been busy all day, but it was with endless chores such as filling bottles, cleaning bottles, mixing formula, changing diapers… you know the drill! 

At the end of each day, I was worn out and I had nothing to show for my day. Each day and each action was a tiny push of an honest worker. I moved my children along in the world because of the thankless job I performed each day.

Everyone will not be a superstar, a hero, a giant. The world is full of different people with different interests, motivations, and dreams. Each person, in his or her role - whether perfect, great, good, or mediocre - is what causes our world to be a better place.

When I talk with others who are discouraged because they don’t think that what they are doing is “great” enough, I try to share Helen Keller’s quote with them, along with this quote by Henry Van Dyke:


To be impactful, we sometimes have to step outside our comfort zone and do those things that we think we’re not so good at. 

Throughout my life, I have been an encourager to take risks and step outside of comfort zones. From my roles as a teacher, administrator, personal trainer, mother, coach, wife, and friend… I have taken risks, shared my experiences, tried new things, and encouraged others to do the same. 

Just because we think we won’t be the best “singing-bird in the woods,” it shouldn't keep us from finding out how we can contribute to the symphony in the forest. 

  (My one remaining risk that I haven’t taken yet is to karaoke - in public! I’ll keep you posted on that one!)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Importance of Trust - Week 4 #SAVMP

Challenged by George Couros (@gcouros) to blog about trust, he asks...
  1. How do you work to build trust starting in a new place?
  2. When you lose trust, what do you do to try to regain what you do?
  3. In a world with social media so evident, how do you use that technology to create a transparent culture within your community?
In a previous blog post, I shared Stephen Covey's 13 behaviors of high-trust leaders. All of the 13 behaviors are important ways to develop trust. (Do you have a top 3?)

But what if you are practicing the 13 behaviors and lose someone's trust? Perhaps you didn't deliver on a promise or overlooked an issue instead of dealing with it. Admitting the mistake is the first step to regaining trust. Then, the hard part happens. Time has to pass. Over time, without the repeating of the same mistake and the practicing of the 13 behaviors, trust can be regained. 

Technology and social media are terrific tools to create transparency and build trust. At our school, Holly Sutherland (@BUCSlead) updates the school blog daily which is a journal of our adventure with our 1:1 iPad Engaged Learning Initiative. Both of us have a twitter presence where we share with the world what teachers and students are doing in classrooms. We also co-moderate #ALedchat on Monday nights and #USedchat quarterly. We connect with people around the globe as well as teachers in our building around education and non-education issues. By using the school blog and having a twitter presence, we have helped to have a culture of transparency and connectedness. 

What suggestions do you have to build trust?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Passion Test

I’ve got two new self-improvement activities on my list for this week. I’ll share them with you in case you want to join along with me. I will keep you posted on my progress and I’ll check on you, too.

The first activity (from The Passion Test by Janet & Chris Atwood) is to finish the following sentence:

When my life is ideal, I am _______.

Here are the rules:

·         Write at least 10 answers
·         Begin your phrase with an action verb;
·         Complete this alone, so that you search within to find your inner      passions

·      Close your eyes and picture your ideal life. What are you doing? Who are you with? Where are you? How do you feel?

Once the 10 are listed, I will compare the things on the list with each other and choose my top 5 (in order!). 

The second activity I will do this week is post my top 5 passions everywhere that I can see them. By the dreadmill treadmill, on the mirror by my dumbbells, bathroom mirror, fridge, dashboard, purse, calendar, and closet. Whenever I am faced with a decision, choice or opportunity, I will review my list and try to consistently choose in favor of my passions.

Want to try it? Post a comment letting me know you’re in…. I will email all participants a copy of Janet & Chris Atwood’s, “The Passion Test Exercise.”


The ultimate connectedness of all life is the reason that
the more deeply you connect with your passions, the more joy you will discover comes from giving and serving others. Because in serving others you are really serving yourself.
                          -Chris & Janet Atwood

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Sweetest Sound to a Student's Ear

I once worked with a teacher who learned very few of her students' names. She assigned numbers to the students based on their alphabetical listing, and she had them to put their number in the upper corner of their assignments. When students turned in assignments, she would organize them by number so that it made for easy entry into the online grade program. 

I get that it helped her to be organized, but at what expense? 

Dale Carnegie says this...

Now that we're a few weeks into the school year, I wonder how many teachers have learned their students names. 

Last year, one of our seniors whom I taught during his sophomore year gave me the letter below:

It truly reinforced Mr. Carnegie's words for me.

How important is it to you to learn and use students' names?