Friday, February 28, 2014

If Not Us, Then Who? Reasons for a Sense of Urgency from Dr. Stephen G. Peters

Recently, I was fortunate to attend the No Child Left out Conference led by Dr. Stephen G. Peters. It was at this conference where I got to hear Dick Allington's presentation on teaching kids to read. It was also this conference that inspired me to write To a New Administrator: An Open Letter about Courage.

I was touched by Dr. Peters' statement as he started the opening keynote:
"Put your titles away today.  Think about who we are from the heart and what we can do for kids."

Dr. Peters shared many reasons that contributed to a sense of urgency to help kids be successful in school. Here are some of the things he shared:
  • Two out of three 8th graders can't read proficiently.
  • Two out of three 8th graders scored below proficient in math.
  • Seventy-five percent of students are not proficient in civics.
  • Less than half of the American students finish college (46%). Where are they going to work? and what are they going to earn for their efforts?
  • One out of four HS graduates are college ready in four core subjects.
  • 1.1 million American students drop out of school every year.
  • For African-american and Hispanic students across the country, dropout rates are close to 50% compared to the national average of 27%.
  • Nearly half of those who employ recent HS graduates said overall preparation was "deficient."
  • Sixty-two percent of HS dropouts are unmotivated to graduate. The other 38% are exactly the opposite.
  • For the first time, most Americans think it is unlikely that today's youth will have a better life than their parents (Gallup, 2011).
  • The health of a typical HS dropout by age 18 is comparable to the health of an educated person in their 40's.

Dr. Peters first told us to Do Something in his book, Do You Know Enough About Me to Teach Me? Recently, I heard the song called Do Something by Matthew West and I immediately thought of Dr. Peters and the students and teachers that I work with each day. 


If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
It’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

"No one rises to low expectations."
- Stephen G. Peters

What will you do today?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Increasing Background Knowledge: An Example based on NIGHT by Elie Wiesel

The following is a guest Post from Jill Thomas, 
Hoover High School teacher of Freshman English

The following activity was one that Kristen Westwood and I put together.  After intense reading and studying of the Odyssey over the past month, we wanted the students to have some time in the non-fiction realm, so they were to research background information on a very difficult topic – the holocaust.  

The students spent one full day independently researching an assigned topic on which they would become “the expert.”  

After one class period of research, the second class period was spent presenting their newly found information to a group in a jigsaw activity, so that at the end of the day, they would have complete and detailed information on a total of five different topics.  The topics they researched were: KristallnachtHitler and Nazi ruleconcentration campsghettos, and the “final solution.”  


After spending approximately 20-25 minutes presenting to one another, we then reflected upon what was learned over the past two days.  To do that, we watched a short 9-minute video trailer of Night that included some very graphic, difficult-to-see images of concentration camps and ghettos.  

(The video link can be found here:
I warned the students that the content would be tough to swallow, but that I wanted them to feel the weight and gravity of the situation that occurred not all that long ago so that they would be fully prepared, both mentally and emotionally, for reading the memoir of firsthand accounts of living through the holocaust.  

After watching the video, each student completed a one paragraph reflection accounting for at least five new things they learned.  I have loved reading through the reflections because so many students were touched and horrified (justifiably) by the actions of the Nazi regime.

This was a fantastic lesson to get us propelled into reading Night, and my students are equally as excited about reading this novel together as I am.  We will be studying the novel through a process called Literature Circles where the students will meet in groups three times over the next three weeks to discuss and present specific information according to their “role” in their Literature Circle groups.  


Monday, February 24, 2014

Motivation Monday #8 - Michael Jordan on Failure {February 24, 2014}

Today's post was inspired by my friend, Coach Bob Starkey. He's been a long-time twitter friend, but I hope to meet him in real life some day! His writes a great blog called Hoop Thoughts. It's geared towards leadership, basketball, and coaching. I discovered another blog he writes called Hoop Boost: A Blog for Serious Athletes. Recently, Coach Starkey posted a story about Michael Jordan as told Tim Grover in his book Relentless.  The story goes like this:

"After every game, I used to ask Michael (Jordan) one question: Five, six, or seven? As in what time are we hitting the gym tomorrow morning. And he’d snap back a time and that was it. Especially after a loss, when there wasn’t a whole lot to say. No discussion, no debate, no lame attempt to convince me he needed the morning off. You good? I’m good. See you in the morning. And the next morning at whatever time he’d decided, he’d awaken to find me standing outside his door. No matter what happened the night before-good game, bad game, soreness, fatigue- he was up working out every morning while most of the other guys slept."

This story reminded me of the Michael Jordan video below. I hope you enjoy!

This week, I'll be asking myself... Five, six, or seven? How will you challenge yourself?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Motivation Monday #7 - Be Empowered {February 17, 2014}

Have a terrific week!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day from The Compelled Educator

Happy Friday to you! 

If you are like us here in Alabama, you've been getting lots of snow, too. We've missed school three days this week due to threats of winter storms as well as the actual snow. Here in the south, we are not well-equipped to deal with snow and ice, so our safest option is to stay home and not have parents, staff and children on the roads.

Since it's Valentine's Day, I have two special gifts for you today. The first special gift I have for you is a blog post written by Glennon Doyle. Visit her website, check out her blog, check out her TEDx talk... 

But first, check out her blog post titled, "Share this with all the schools, please."  In her blog post she writes,
"TEACH ON, WARRIORS. You are the first responders, the front line, the disconnection detectives, and the best and ONLY hope we’ve got for a better world. What you do in those classrooms when no one  is watching-  it’s our best hope." 

The second special gift is the archive from our Monday night twitter chat. It's a "state chat," but everyone's invited. We've had participants from all over the globe to be a part of #ALedchat on Monday nights.

Since it is the week of Valentine's Day, our chat topic was "Is Loving Students Enough?" We had terrific questions and responses... take a peek at what educators think about the topic of love.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Literacy Instruction at Hoover High School

Today's post is Part II of yesterday's blog post. Yesterday I shared with you my notes from Dick Allington's presentation on literacy. Since I heard his presentation, I have been on fire for improving literacy instruction at the high school level. In my 20 years in education, I've never heard of Dick Allington. I took one class in my undergrad education called "Reading in the Content Area." I've attended an incredible reading workshop by Kylene Beers, but sadly those two things are the extent of my training in teaching literacy to high school students. To use the words of Maya Angelou, I'm going to learn more so that I'll know better, so I can do better.

Today I want to share my plan of action around the information I learned from Dick Allington. I welcome all comments, especially from secondary administrators and teachers who have a successful literacy plan in place. I would also love to hear from reading coaches and elementary teachers. I don't know what I don't know, so please give your suggestions on how we can help our students.

Phase I - Share Information

  • I emailed my notes to our district Chief Academic Officer, Cindy Adams. She is a former English teacher and is very knowledgeable about reading. I told her I want to meet with her to talk more about moving forward.
  • I emailed my notes to our department chair for our Special Education department, our teachers who teach Read 180, and our chair of the English department. I've told all of them that I want to get their input on my ideas for implementing a literacy plan for HHS.
  • I posted the information to my blog, asking for input from readers.
  • I send out a weekly curriculum newsletter to our staff on each Wednesday. I've included a link to my blog post about the presentation.
  • I will have conversations with our principal and key teachers about putting a literacy improvement plan in place.
Phase II - Short-term and long-term
  • I will talk with other members of our RtI team as well as our reading intervention teachers on ways to use time for student intervention.
  • We will start professional development meetings with staff on literacy strategies that can be used in the classroom
  • I want to brainstorm with the chair of the special education department (and eventually the teachers in the department and co-teachers) on ways to have our special education teachers to use literacy intervention strategies with students
  • During the summer of 2014, teachers will be invited to join a summer book study (book yet to be determined. Probably one by Dick Allington or Kelly Gallagher, author of Readicide.)
  • I will ask for volunteers to join a literacy leadership team. 
  • This team would agree to read and learn about literacy strategies throughout the school year.
  • They would also commit to meet once per month to share "what's working" and discuss professional learning. Additionally, the team would review data and use it to guide instruction.
  • This group would provide professional development sessions to the rest of the staff.
  • This team would also attend the Alabama Reading Association State Conference in November.
The Florida Center for Reading Research says the following:

Literacy initiatives in middle and high school should focus on three goals.

1. Improve overall levels of reading proficiency. To succeed in the world
after school, adolescents must leave high school with higher levels of
reading proficiency than they are currently attaining.
2. Ensure that all students make at least expected yearly growth in 
reading ability each school year. Students who enter middle school 
reading at grade level need to learn many new skills and acquire 
extensive knowledge in order to meet grade-level standards at the 
end of high school.
3. Accelerate struggling readers’ development. Instruction for struggling
readers must produce substantially more than one year’s growth in reading
ability for each year of instruction. Unless struggling readers receive
instruction this powerful for as long as they need it, their ability to learn
from grade-level text will remain impaired.                    (read full article HERE)

The team would use these three goals as guideposts for our actions throughout the year.

Thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you. 

What are we missing? What else do we need to do? What's working at your school? 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

We Can Teach All Kids to Read (from Dick Allington)

Last Saturday, I got to hear Dick Allington speak at the No Child Left Out Conference in Charleston, South Carolina. I'm embarrassed to say that I've never heard of Dick Allington. He has served as president of the International Reading Association as well as the president of the National Reading Conference, he's authored over 100 articles and books, and he's in the IRA Reading Hall of Fame! What I heard this weekend about reading research was very powerful, and I'm sharing my notes from his presentation below. 

*My apologies on the quality of the pictures taken by my iPad. Also, the notes are taken from what he said in his presentation.

Dr. Allington said that there are a lot of what he called mythologies around reading: poverty, boys, ADD... He said there are lots of labels to say that not everyone can read, but he said that we can teach everyone to read.

--Two-thirds of teachers feel no responsibility of teaching kids in SpEd, ELL or Title I. (They think it's the specialist's job.)

--Girls reading on grade-level produce 1 baby for every 8 that are produced by girls who read below grade-level.

--You can teach kids to decode, or you can teach kids to read. They're not the same thing.

-->Researchers interviewed teachers who referred more than 5 students per year (high-referral) for SpEd and teachers who had not referred anyone in 5 years (low-referral) for SpEd.
-->When asking high-referral teachers about a struggling student, they get 3 sentences. "He can't read. He doesn't try. His parents are no help either."
-->When low-referral teachers were asked, they gave a 3-page description about the student. What they like to read, what their interests were, and more.
-->What do we as effective or ineffective teachers have to do with LD?

"Middle school teachers say they don't have time for reading intervention. Why would they put that student in any other class in middle school if 
he can't frickin' read." 
- Dick Allington

Principles for Intervention Design
1. Match Reader and Text Level.
**No one can teach kids science or social studies if kids can't read the books. Must be able to read with 99% accuracy and 90% comprehension.
2. Dramatically expands reading activity. 
*Struggling readers read less than those that don't struggle. They do more worksheets and have more testing.
3. Use very small groups or tutoring. 
*The only ones that work are 1:1 expert tutoring or 1:3 expert tutoring.
4. Coordinates Intervention with Core Classroom.
*Ninety percent of classroom teachers have no idea what kids are reading in the intervention program.
5. Intervention must be done by expert teachers.
6. Focus Intervention on Meta-Cognition and Meaning
*Teach kids to think about thinking.

--Round-robin reading aloud should be stopped!

--Teachers have created an environment where kids don't read. Either the books are too hard, or it's things that the kids don't want to read.

What Dick Allington says is very thought-provoking, and I would love to hear your comments and responses below!

Please join me tomorrow when I will share how I plan to use and share this information at our school.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Motivation Monday #6 - Rise and Rise Again {February 10, 2014}

When I was 17, I pitched for the Alabama state softball team that won the Dixie Youth World Series softball tournament. 

Our team's "theme song" was Never Surrender by Corey Hart. 

We had a player on our team, Sandy, whose parents were deaf, and Sandy taught us the sign language to the song. 

In the field, in the dugout, during warm-ups, we would do the sign language for the two words, Never Surrender.

As I watched the video clip below, I thought of two things.
1. I thought of the past and a group of 16- and 17-year-olds who truly believed in never giving up. 
2. I also thought of the present and the courage displayed by Tim Dawkins. In my blog post from yesterday, I write an open letter to Tim thanking him for his courage. 

And to you, friend, reading today's post:

Never, never, never give up.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

To a New Administrator: An Open Letter about Courage

As I sat it the airport waiting on my return flight to Birmingham earlier today from the powerful No Child Left Out Conference in Charleston, South Carolina, I scrolled through Twitter to see what my friends had been up to at the NASSP Conference in Dallas. In my twitter feed was a reference by Laurie Barron (@LaurieBarron) to a blog post by Tim Dawkins (@Tim_Dawks) titled "Breakfast of Champions and the Power of Yet."

To summarize (and I recommend you read the entire blog post), Tim is a new assistant principal with a background in counseling. When he went to breakfast Friday morning, he was placed at a table with another singleton at the conference. 

Here's what Tim said in his blog post:
"I definitely got more than I bargained for. As our conversation moved from introductions and general pleasantries to the business of the weekend, I was confronted with the idea that my background as a school counselor would not serve me well as an educational leader at the building level... My breakfast partner, a long-time principal from the West Coast, felt it necessary to tell me that I am at a pretty hefty disadvantage because I haven't spent time building lesson plans, writing curriculum, and instructing in a subject area, and unfortunately teachers would never really take my attempts to improve instruction and learning seriously because of this."
Tim goes on to share how he is choosing to respond to her comments. He had just heard Dr. Carol Dweck be interviewed the day before, and he took this opportunity to embrace a growth mindset. He is choosing to embrace the word "Yet" and give himself permission to grow and learn.

After I read Tim's blog post, I started typing a response in the comments, but I quickly realized that I have a lot of thoughts on this in response to what I read. So, Tim, here's my response.

Dear Tim, 

I commend you for choosing to hear words from a perspective that gives your breakfast friend the benefit of the doubt. It shows you come from a place of positivity and hope. That says more to me about leadership and respect than previous experience with lesson planning.

I also applaud you for choosing to have a growth mindset.  No matter where we are in our leadership journey, whether it's the first year or the twentieth year, when we feel like we have "arrived," then it's time to get out. We should all feel like we can and will continue to learn and grow.

And... I've learned that leading is leading. Period. I know successful coaches who never played the sport they coached. It wasn't about what that coach could do, it was about what that coach could get his/her players to do successfully. Leading has to do with relationships and trust. Sometimes trust can be built on a leader having "been there, done that," but sustaining trust and followership is built on so much more. 

So I respectfully disagree with your breakfast partner's statements. I wish she had taken time to get to know you. To ask you some of the questions you are asking yourself. To consider the meeting an opportunity to be a positive influence on a new administrator. To TEACH.

After spending a weekend with incredible educators such as Stephen Peters (who would have listened, encouraged, and given you practical advice), Dick Allington (who would have met with you after breakfast and mentored you), Cynthia Wilson (who would have asked you if you have a heart for leading), or Alfred "Coach" Powell (who would have told you, "You did not choose this job, this job chose you."), I can only believe that the reason you met and talked to the person you did was to deepen your commitment and resolve. The students you serve need and deserve an educator who is passionate and "all in."

Thank you for your commitment to leadership as well as personal and professional growth. Thank you for being open and honest. Your words remind all of us to be reflective and to persist even when the naysayers show up. Thank you for your courage.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Motivation Monday #5 - Don't Let Anyone Tell You that You Can't {February 3, 2014}

On the heels of the Seahawks' 43-8 win over the Broncos last night in the Superbowl, today's video features Derrick Coleman, the first deaf offensive player in the NFL. He was told it couldn't be done. He didn't listen.

What do you do when someone tells you that you can't? Do you listen?