Sunday, October 23, 2016

Why we must all pull the rope in the same direction

As part of our school-wide literacy plan, we have a teacher-led “collaboration hour” that takes place at the beginning of each nine weeks. These professional learning sessions focus on the literacy strategy that will be the focus in all classrooms across our campus for that nine weeks. The focus of the first nine weeks was Effective Vocabulary Instruction, and the focus for the second nine weeks is Write to Learn. 

Two of our English teachers led the collaboration hour, and they worked hard to design the session so that teachers would experience “Write to Learn” and not just hear about it. 

As soon as the teachers arrived and signed in, the session got started with a “bell ringer” writing activity. During the session, teachers had to write, discuss, defend, and collaborate. The teacher leaders modeled what the literacy strategy should look like in the classroom. 

Write to Learn is a strategy from the book that guides our literacy plan, The Core Six. Writing as a way to demonstrate a student’s learning is applicable to every classroom. From fine arts to physical education to engineering to foreign language, there will be an intentional focus on writing during the second nine weeks. 

The school-wide plan allows our large staff to come together around a unified purpose and “pull the rope in the same direction.” All teachers were required to attend the session, and those who weren’t able to attend were given a “make-up session” via an interactive EdPuzzle
If you would like to see how an EdPuzzle works and participate in the Write to Learn Collaborative Hour (incorrectly titled above), click HERE:

My favorite moment was when I heard one of our AP English teachers (who has a plethora of professional development hours and experience with implementing literacy strategies) comment on the bellringer activity that all of the teachers completed. He shared that when his students come to class, he spends a few minutes reviewing concepts and ideas from the day before. He also shared that he could use the writing warm-up activity and have his students to write about the concepts and ideas to demonstrate their learning from the day before. This was a true example of a teacher having a positive mindset prior to and during the session. He knew (and knows) the importance of everyone on our staff being invested in our literacy plan, and he demonstrated a way to take what was being presented and use it with his students. 

What if the AP English teacher had come to the meeting and only half-listened because he had already heard about writing as a literacy strategy? 

When we don't all pull the rope in the same direction, 
  • it can set up the organization for diminished morale and bickering
  • it can reduce productivity and progression towards a team goal
  • it promotes competition instead of collaboration among team members

What are the characteristics of a championship culture where everyone pulls on the rope in the same direction?

In the article by Jeff Jansenn titled, 10 things teammates don’t let teammates do in championship cultures, he shares 10 factors that all teammates (or staff members) must commit to in order to build and sustain a championship culture. 

See the article for a full description, but my top three are the following:
Teammates don't let teammates cut corners
"Championship Cultures expect and demand everyone’s best effort on a consistent basis." - Jansenn
Teammates don't let teammates whine or complain. 
"Championship Cultures are fueled by and feed off positive energy, excitement, and enthusiasm." - Jansenn
Teammates don't let teammates divide or destroy the team.
"Championship Cultures do not survive long if they tolerate teammates who divide or destroy the team from within." - Jansenn 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Kickstart your school's social media use with a twitter party!

It's October, and that means it's the time of the year where we host an annual twitter party at our school. This is the fourth year that we've hosted a party like this for our teachers and staff, and every year we add a new element to the party. We had to bring Twitter Bingo back this year due to its popularity, and we're still using the Twitter Challenge that we introduced at the 2nd annual party. 

Here's how the day went at this year's 4th annual Twitter Party.

I created two large banners and put them on the wall to provide a backdrop for pictures. I wanted a "photo booth" effect, and I wanted it to display our school hashtag. I simply created the banner at, then our librarian enlarged it on our school's poster maker machine.

I set up two main "stations" at the large tables in our meeting room based on how familiar the participant was with twitter. 

Those with an account started at a table where they were able to ask each other questions and jump right in on the Twitter Challenge

At the "newbie" table for those who were just getting started, there were instruction sheets on the table so that they could create their accounts and get started.  I spent time talking with the newbies as they set up their accounts, too. I also included two reference sheets on the table -- "Anatomy of a Tweet" & "What does your home page look like?" Teachers were able to use these labeled diagrams to navigate twitter as they worked on the Twitter Challenge.

On another table, I placed a basket where teachers could place their completed challenge sheets to be entered into a drawing for an iTunes gift card. 

Something fun that was included this year were these "I tweeted" stickers. I simply used Avery brand labels and formatted them in Microsoft Word. They printed beautifully, and teachers loved getting to pick those up when they turned in their twitter challenge sheets!

It also happened to be #WorldTeacherDay on the day of our twitter party, so I printed the image above, made copies, and had them available at the party. Teachers were able to write in WHY they teach then take a picture for twitter. Lastly, I put the statements on a wall in the meeting room. 

Although I forgot to take pictures of the cookies, they are a staple of our twitter parties! 

Those who attended the twitter party were also able to pick up their Twitter Bingo card and get started, while those who did not attend had to wait for the bingo card to be emailed to them after school. Also new this year was a "department award." The department that had the highest percentage of attendees during the day would receive breakfast delivered to them one morning. This year, the Foreign Language department had 100%!

During 7th period, one of the Spanish teachers said something powerful, and I asked her if she would say it again and let me record it. It speaks to ALL of us when we're afraid to try something new.

Do you host a social media event/celebration at your school? I would love to hear about it! tweet me @jennifer_hogan or share in the comments below!

Previous years' parties:
Year 3: How Twitter Bingo can help you tell your school's story
Year 2: How to host a Twitter Party at your school
Year 1: no blog post

Friday, October 14, 2016

Why giving support does not mean lowering standards

Twice today I was in conversations about providing supports for students. I can’t say I was the perfect teacher and I’m sure I made (and still make) my share of mistakes, but I can honestly say that providing support for students came naturally for me. I’ve learned in my years as an administrator and being exposed to many different situations with teachers and students that it doesn't come as naturally to some teachers. 

Here’s how I’ve seen some teachers try to disguise their lack of willingness to provide support or their lack of knowledge on how to do it... They say things like, “I have very high standards for my students,” or “As a _____ (9th grader, 10th grader, etc.), they should be able to do that by themselves. I should not have to help them.”

I have the firm belief that we can still have high standards for students and provide support at the same time. I also have the firm belief that not everyone learns and progresses at the same rate. 

Perhaps it was my years spent as a coach where I learned to give support and still expect a lot from my players. Maybe it's because I've been on the receiving end as a player. I had coaches who demanded a lot from me, and they nudged, pulled, pushed, motivated, helped, and more, until I achieved what it was I needed to achieve. When I was in the classroom, I took the same philosophy I had as a coach to my science students. They were going to achieve, and I was going to provide what they needed to get there.

I use this same philosophy now as I work with teachers on instructional practices, classroom management, technology, etc. For example, when I'm teaching someone how to use twitter to tell their own story, I make sure they have what they need. No judgment. No questions about why they aren't further along at this point in their life/career. 

When we teach someone to ride a bike, the standard is that they will ride the bike themselves, without support. But we don’t take them to the road/path and send them on their way with a big wave. We put our hands on the bike, run beside them, and support them on the bike. Sometimes we take our hands away just to put them back quickly. As the new bike rider gets more experience and more confident, we gradually spend less time holding the bike. Then the moment arrives where we let them ride without our help while we hope that they don’t fall down.

When we think about providing support in the analogy above, there’s one important requirement: it's best to give them only what they need, but it's better to give them a little too much and not enough. Any less and they will never get “to the standard.” Any more and they won’t get it on their own. 

And no two riders are the same. They all require their own amount of support.