Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What Do (or Should) Classrooms Look Like in the 21st Century?

This summer, my friend and then co-worker, Holly Sutherland and I would take walking breaks during the day to get in our miles for the #500in2014 challenge and also have informal (but informative) PD chats while we walked. Our school is so large that from our offices to one of the ends of the building on the same floor is about a quarter of mile. We got in some good mileage in those days!

On one of those walks, I shared with Holly that I wanted to write a blog post about classroom spaces - specifically, what difference does the space make, if any? I finally wrote it and today's the day to publish it. 

Some of the questions that have been on my mind are these:
  • How important is it that a classroom is decorated... or not? 
  • Do high school students need visual stimulation? 
  • Do students care if the room is decorated or not?

After doing my administrative internship about 12 years ago (part of it in an elementary school), I saw a lot of classrooms with almost every bit of wall space taken up with something to stimulate the senses. I've joked since then that kids have more attention issues today because of kindergarten classrooms. A recent study in Psychological Science suggests that highly decorated classrooms may be related to off-task behaviors and lower test scores.  I was only half-joking, but what I think of is the principle of blogging and page design of using whitespace. Having the negative space focuses the eye on the content and creates drama and contrast. How important is it to have "whitespace" in a classroom?

We have over 200 teachers at our school, and not every classroom is decorated. In fact, there are a few that have nothing on the walls. Instead of posting those pictures, I am sharing with you a few pictures of some of our classrooms that I believe say to students, "Welcome to this class!"

This is a science classroom. Would you find this visually stimulating or distracting? What kind of first impression do you think this made on students on their first day in this classroom?

Can you guess the subject that is taught in this classroom? What do the pinatas add to the atmosphere and mood in the classroom? Distracting or enhancing?

Some of our teachers use ceiling tiles as spaces to demonstrate knowledge and learning. Are teachers allowed to decorate the ceiling tiles (or have them decorated) in your building?

This is a different Spanish classroom. I just love these vinyls that are on the window. It adds such a neat effect to the classroom. 

I really like how this teacher hung college pennants in her room. How would this be important in a high school classroom? What does this say about the culture of our school?

The two pictures above are from a classroom where freshmen English is taught. I LOVE that our freshmen have such an inviting space to go to. I also love the reading corner. What message does the teacher send by having a dedicated space for reading in her room?

The picture above is an English classroom that displays student work. The teacher also uses whiteboard markers to use the windows as messaging space. Unfortunately, I don't see a lot of classrooms that display student work. What does this say about what we believe about authentic audiences for students and student voice?

This classroom displays an oversized Pyramid of Success by John Wooden. The teacher in this room lives and teaches the characteristics found on this pyramid. Is it important to have features such as this in high school classrooms that emphasize character?

This post is filled with questions. It's because I believe physical space is important and has an effect on mood and motivation, and I'm curious if it IS important. Maybe there is some research on it like the kindergarten classrooms. 

Here are a few more questions about classroom decor:
  • In a high school classroom, should we have only decorations that have a purpose to learning?
  • Can a room have too much decoration?
  • Does cleanliness/organization matter?
  • Should teachers be required to decorate their rooms? What would be the minimum?
I think kids want to sit in an inviting space each day. I think they want the decor to be relevant to them, too. I believe that if we value students and their experiences, we need to create spaces that promote learning, attention, and interest.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Success Seeker or Failure Avoider? - Motivation Monday #39 {September 29, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

I usually post short video clips for my Motivation Monday blog posts, but today I had to share this TEDx talk from Dr. Scott Geller with you. There are SO many take-aways from this video. Would you leave a comment and share your favorite?


Have a wonderful week!

Monday, September 22, 2014

3 Ingredients for an Effective Classroom

One of my most favorite chocolate treats requires only 3 ingredients. The chocolate muffin is decadent, and even a little healthy. It's a simple recipe for something that is delicious and special. 

What does this have to do with an effective classroom? I asked myself if my favorite treat can require only 3 ingredients, could I come up with a list of only 3 "ingredients" that would cause a class to be a favorite treat? I think I've got a great list, but I would love to hear your suggestions in the comments! 

3 Ingredients for an Effective Classroom 

Respect. In an effective classroom, respect is obvious between teachers and students as well as between students. Body language, tone of voice, consequences, routines, are all based on respect for each other. Understanding that all voices are important, students and teachers appreciate different points of view and the contributions that are made to the class. Resolving conflicts quickly and appropriately is a component of a classroom where respect is a priority. All of these characteristics lead to a sense of togetherness, of community where students feel safe, cared for, heard, and seen.

A culture of respect does not just happen. What role does the teacher play in developing a classroom where respect is valued? 

A great way to look at rigor

Rigor. Some like to think that rigor is outdated, or aligned with rigor mortis. For me, and the purposes in the blog post, rigor and vigor are synonymous. A rigorous classroom starts with the leader, who is a teacher with high expectations for his/her students and a belief that the students will reach his/her expectations. There are students working with each other, with the teacher, or with experts (via Zoom, Google Meets, etc.) to find solutions to real-world problems. In a rigorous classroom, there are more questions than answers. I like to say, "In a rigorous class, students will learn more than they thought they could learn!"

What do leaders need to do more of to support rigorous classrooms? What do leaders need to do less of? 

Passion for teaching and learning

Passion. People love to learn from people who are passionate about what they do. When teachers are passionate about teaching and learning, building relationships, and their content, it inspires students to go the extra mile. Passion is contagious, and others will want to get on board with a passionate teacher. 

Is passion something that can be lit (or re-lit) in a person? How can we ensure that students have passionate teachers?

If you would like to download the recipe for the chocolate muffins with the surprise ingredient you won't believe, click HERE> Chocolate Muffin Recipe

The Future Belongs to the Brave - Motivation Monday #38 {September 22, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

In education, we talk about preparing students for a future that we can't even imagine. We must also prepare them to be brave.

If you can't see the video on your device, click here to watch:

Who will you encourage today?

Monday, September 15, 2014

5 Inspiring Leadership Quotes - Motivation Monday #37 {September 15, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

I've been working on a Leadership board on Pinterest, and I thought I would share some of my favorite pins for this week's Motivation Monday post. 

Feel free to follow my Leadership board so that you can stay up to date on the leadership pins I find! 

(Scroll to the bottom of this post to find out the 7 Pinterest boards you need to follow and 3 great leadership books I highly recommend.)

This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you click and buy, I may make a commission at no cost to you. 

If you're on Pinterest, you should check out this post: 7 Pinterest Boards You Need to Follow. 

If you're looking for some great leadership books, here are 3 that I recommend:

*I led a book study with my administrative team while I was a high school principal. It was one of the BEST activities we did!

This book reminds us of the importance of TODAY. We can't dwell on yesterday or spend our time hoping for tomorrow. Using the time we have today is of utmost value, and John Maxwell delivers in his simple, no-nonsense way!

Brene Brown defines a leader as "anyone who takes responsibility for finding potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential."

Read more from my blog post, "Leadership Lessons from Brene Brown"

"We can't both serve people and try to control their feelings."  
- Brene Brown, Dare to Lead

Pin now, Share later >>
5 inspiring leadership quotes

You can read all of the Motivation Monday posts HERE.

Have an AMAZING week!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How to Host a Twitter Party at Your School

On the heels of yesterday's post, Don't Use Twitter with Your Students, I thought I would share one simple idea for introducing Twitter to school staff members. 

Yesterday I hosted a "Twitter Party" in our school's library. We have a conference room called the Community Room within our high school's library that we use for many different events, such as our Teacher of the Quarter lunches hosted by our wonderful PTSO, professional development sessions, IEP meetings, and club meetings. The room is equipped with tables, a separate kitchen area, restroom, and closet for storage of PTSO items. The Community Room is where the Twitter Party was held.

For the entire day, I stayed in the library and teachers and staff could visit during one of their off periods (they have two off periods, a planning period and a period used for PD and PLC meetings.) To prepare for the party, I created an instruction sheet for teachers who are new to Twitter. 

I included 4 sign-up tips on the instruction sheet:
  • Try to use your name in your twitter handle 
  • Decide on a profile picture. It is very helpful for others to find you and it gives your account a sense of trustworthiness. You could also use a picture of your school.
  • Write a brief but informative bio. 
  • Put in a URL for your blog if you have one or your school's website.

Click here to see the instruction sheet. Feel free to download the document and personalize for your school. 

I also created a Twitter Challenge for those who attended the party. Everyone who completed the Twitter Challenge were entered into a drawing for a Starbucks gift card. 

The challenge required teachers and staff do specific actions on twitter, such as
  • Mention someone by using the "@"
  • Enter #ALedchat in the search box (magnifying glass). Find a tweet that you like and/or want to share, then RT it. 
  • Tweet using the hashtag #HooverPride.

Click here to see the Twitter ChallengeFeel free to download the document and personalize for your school. 

Several teachers already had an account, but they needed to add a profile picture and bio as part of the challenge. It was fun to show them how easy it was to take a picture with their phones and iPads and use the pictures for their account. "Friends don't let friends have eggs in their twitter profile."

I also provided cookies for the party, which were a big hit in the afternoon as a little pick-me-up!

If you have a special way to introduce twitter to your staff, please share in the comments!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Don't Use Twitter with Your Students

Maybe you’d like to say to me, “Jennifer, how can you say not to use twitter with our students? You are a huge fan of twitter and you promote it in your school.”

This is how I would respond,

“I am a huge twitter fan, and if you already use it with your students, GREAT!  
I want you to be selfish this one time.”

You see, as teachers, when we learn about a new technology, we usually ask, “How can I use this in my classroom? How can this help my students?” Those are good questions, and they are important ones. But I want to propose to you to use twitter FOR YOU.

Twitter is a fantastic way to increase your knowledge about classroom management ideas, current research, instructional strategies, motivational strategies, and more. When we use twitter to increase our knowledge about students and teaching, WE grow. We’re accustomed to putting kids first, and some would even argue that we’re wired that way. If it makes you uncomfortable to focus on yourself, then think of it this way -- When you learn and grow as an educator, your students reap the benefits.

So how do you go about using twitter for you? Here are 3 ways:

Join twitter chats
Twitter chats give a tweeters a purposeful time to be on twitter. A twitter chat usually lasts an hour, and the hosts will post question and the participants respond. Comments and side conversations usually develop to deepen understanding of an idea.

Follow twitter users who share links to content
Some users tweet links to articles, blog posts, and other information related to specific topics. Others have found the information, and they’re sharing it with you. Take advantage of it! Here are three suggestions: Follow me for information on leadership, education, and technology. Follow Joe Mazza, (@joe_mazza, host of the popular Parent-Teacher Chat, #PTchat) for information on how to connect school and home. Jon Mertz (@thindifference) tweets about developing leadership in Millennials.

Follow a hashtag
When you know the topic you want to learn more about, you can use a twitter hashtag to find all the tweets that are related to the topic. For instance, #scichat and #mathchat hashtags are for science and math educators and all things science and math, respectively. (For an extensive list of educational twitter hashtags, visit cybraryman’s site: http://www.cybraryman.com/edhashtags.html) While you can't "follow" a hashtag and have it populate your twitter feed, you can use a twitter tool like tweetdeck or hootsuite to create a column on the dashboard for a specific hashtag.

Feel free to email or tweet me with any questions you may have about Twitter.

Monday, September 8, 2014

If I Knew Then: A Letter to Me on My First Day Teaching - Motivation Monday #36 {September 8, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

Today's video is from Soul Pancake and Edutopia. 

What if the person you are today could write a letter to yourself on your first day of teaching?

This is not just for teachers. What if you could write a letter to yourself on your first day as an administrator, counselor, superintendent...

I challenge you to write a letter to yourself this week. If you blog about it, please let me know!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Starting the School or School System of Your Dreams!

Starting the School or School System of Your Dreams: Join #ALedchat on Twitter September 8 at 9pmCST

Have you ever said, "If this were my school, I'd _______________." Or maybe you've thought, "The kind of school where I'd like to work would be _____________________." If you have ideas about the ways schools and school systems should operate, run, hire, teach, _________, then you won't want to miss Monday night's twitter chat!

Join me and and the other co-moderators as we chat with special guest Dr. Patrick Martin, School Superintendent of the new formed Gardendale City School System (school system planned to start Fall 2015.)

Inspiration: In 2007, I had the opportunity to visit Philadelphia's Microsoft-designed School of the Future. It was my first time to visit a high school without a traditional library and where all students used laptops and weren't issued books. It was a school designed for collaboration and project-based learning to happen. It was a new way to think about "how we do school."

Opening just last month in a public school district near San Diego is another example of a new approach to public education. There, they have collaborated as teachers, leaders, students, staff, and parents to design a different kind of school. You can read more about their non-traditional school HERE.

Below are the questions for Monday night. Take some time to reflect on your dreams and visions for what YOU would like to school to be like and join us Monday night at 9pm.

Q1: Would there be anything special/different about the physical layout of your dream school? Describe.

Q2: If you could start your dream school/system, describe the teachers you would hire.

Q3: How would you incorporate student voice in your dream school/system?

Q4: How would parents be involved in designing/creating your dream school/system?

Q5: Describe the leaders & leadership model that would be found in your dream school/system.

Q6: How would your dream school/system partner with the community stakeholders?

Q7: What kind of legacy would your dream school/system leave for others who follow?

Q8: What is your “aha” or take-away from tonight’s chat?

I would like to say a special thank you to David for suggesting Patrick Martin as our special guest for the chat. 

Gardendale Superintendent, 
Dr. Patrick Martin, with his family

Also, I would like to express my gratitude to the other co-moderators, Michael McLendon and Holly Sutherland, and everyone who is a part of #ALedchat.

Everyone is welcome to join us Monday nights 9-10pmCST for #ALedchat. We value the insights, perspectives, and experiences of those in our PLN.

TIP: If you have never done a twitter chat before, you may find it helpful to go to tweetdeck and enter the hashtag #ALedchat. Sign in with your twitter account. The website will "filter out" all of the other tweets except for the ones with the hashtag #ALedchat and put them in a column together.  (P.S. The hashtags are NOT case-sensitive.)

Happy dreaming!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How I Let Google Work for Me

I'm no Google Ninja yet, but I LOVE using Google products at work! 

Most of you know I'm a Twitter superfan, but I'm slowly loving Voxer and Google Hangouts, too. 

Since I love learning from my PLN, I thought I would share how I let technology work for me. As an administrator in a building with over 200 teachers, it can be difficult to get to rooms to talk to teachers personally or arrange meetings were everyone can attend. Also, sometimes I want other staff members to easily access information online. Enter Google!

Here are some ways I use Google:
  • When meeting with a PLC, I send the link for the agenda ahead of time, ask for input, then enter the notes from the meeting in the Google Doc. It makes for easy sharing of information.
  • When we started working on our school-wide Literacy Plan for this year, I sent out a Google Doc with the subgroups listed as well as a list of options for summer meeting dates. I asked teachers to type in YES or NO on the dates to see where we had most consensus. I also asked team members to collaborate on the Google Doc. 
  • To easily collect information about PLC leaders, meeting location, time and day of the week, I sent out a Google spreadsheet to the entire staff and asked teachers to fill in the information for their PLCs. This was an easy way to collect information and quickly see what information was missing from the sheet.
  • I used Google to create our RtI presentation. After creating it, I sent the link to the members of the Problem-Solving Team for their input. Once it's finalized, I can send the link to the staff and it can be easily shared in our school's private LiveBinder.
  • For our Freshmen Transition Program (STEP), I'm able to store the informational flyer online and the link can be easily shared in emails and on websites. 
  • I met with our technology facilitators to map out our first semester of technology professional development opportunities. We used a Google Doc to collaborate, then we shared the plan with the entire staff by sending the link to the document.
  • Our Problem-Solving Team uses a Google Form to collect the data needed for our year-end RtI report.
  • When we have flyers and PDFs of information to be shared with students (such as "When Do I Get My Yearbook Picture Made?") and parents (Open House), I upload the flyer to Google then share the link on Facebook.
  • I used Google Presentations to create a 1-slide "invitation" for this quarter's new teacher "Lunch & Learn." (Topic? Twitter!)
  • Clubs are listed in a Google Doc, and teachers are able to share the link on their Edmodo  pages, Moodle sites, and posted in their rooms. Students are able to access club descriptions via the link. Sign up for clubs are done via a Google Form. Over 83% of our 2,800 students are in clubs, so having the information electronically sorted by classroom & clubs is extremely helpful for our teachers. 
  • Last year, I worked with the teachers in the Fine Arts Department to create a Fine Arts Academy. We used Google Docs to collaborate, then I created a folder where all of the requirements for the different strands can be found. We are able to easily share the link to the folder for interested students to find more information.
  • With the creation of new virtual classes this year, we needed a Virtual Class Agreement. The teachers of the courses, the counselors, and I collaborated via Google to create one that we are using now.
I hope this gives you some ideas on ways to use Google at work. Since I'm still a Google-ninja-in-training, I would love for you to leave your ideas in the comments so I can learn from you!

Monday, September 1, 2014

You Matter - Motivation Monday #35 {September 1, 2014}

You Matter

Each Sunday morning, Kate Nasser hosts the #peopleskills twitter chat. Kate, along with the regular members of the chat, are very uplifting. They are a group of people who practice empathy, love, and compassion. Yesterday, the topic was Celebrating and Honoring People, and the topic and comments reminded me of the "You Matter" movement by Angela Maiers. 

For today's Motivation Monday, I'm sharing a video from Kate on Diversity in the Workplace and not only respecting each other's differences, but learning to LOVE the differences. 

Have a wonderful week!