Saturday, December 27, 2014

"Re"ng in the New Year

According to, 45% of Americans create a New Year's Resolution while only 8% are successful with their resolution.  Why is this statistic so bleak?  Is it because we set our sights too high and create un unattainable resolution?  Is it because we don't have the drive and passion to see our resolution through be successful?  It is because our resolution doesn't provide immediate results and we give up too soon?  Maybe it is our approach to resolutions.  Instead of creating a new resolution, maybe we should "re"ng in the new year by re-focusing, re-connecting, or re-energizing ourselves.

At the beginning of the year, I created a goal for myself.  I was going to flip some professional learning experiences for our staff.  Instead of creating a new goal, I am going to re-focus and continue to enhance this learning experience for our staff.  Instead of putting another thing on my plate, I need to re-focus my efforts and work to create a deeper level of learning and understanding of my current goal.

It is important for me to re-connect with those who help me grow and learn as a professional.  Whether it is through my amazingly talented and inspirational PLN through Twitter, the various Google communities or the more personal connections on Voxer, I need to take the time to re-connect with those who add value to me as a professional.

I need to remember to take the time for myself and re-energize my spirits, my body, and my family.  First and most importantly, I am a dad and a husband.  When I get home from school, they are my priorities.  My email and phone calls can wait.  There is nothing more energizing than a wrestling match with my 5 year old son, reading a book with my 2 year old daughter, or playing school with my 6 year old daughter.  My children and my wife are what keep me young, re-energize me, and give me purpose.

So how are you going to "re"ng in the new year?  Will you re-focus, re-connect, or re-energize?  The key is to keep it simple, keep it personal and keep it real.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

My Big Goal for 2014-15

With my last week of summer break staring me directly in the face, I have begun to think about the 2014-15 school year and the goals I have for the upcoming year.  There are so many areas I want to continue to grow and develop in as a leader and as a learner.

One of the challenges I face in my role as an assistant principal is being at two elementary buildings. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely pros to being in two different buildings. I have the pleasure and honor to learn from and learn with two different staffs.  I have the pleasure and honor to build relationships with over 1000 students.  I have the pleasure and honor to work with two sets of families and communities.  I have the pleasure and honor to learn from and with two different leaders.  All of these experiences have helped me fine tune my leadership style while being exposed to a variety of situations.

While there are definite pros to being in two different buildings, there are also some challenges.  Not being in one building every day makes it difficult to always be in the know and have a pulse on the daily happenings. Luckily, there is wonderful communication at my buildings that I don't ever feel disconnected - maybe just not as connected as I want to be.

Last spring I met with our Assistant Superintendent to reflect on my first year and to discuss my goals for the upcoming school year.  Throughout our discussion, I shared my efforts to build and develop relationships with the staff, students and community.  I also told her I wanted to be more of an instructional leader in the coming year.  With the support of both of my principals, I have contemplated how this will look... being in two buildings, each with their own goals and needs.  I want to provide information and instructional support on a regular basis while meeting the needs of each individual staff.

So here is tentative plan...

1. Send each staff a Google Form asking for their input as to what topics they would like to gain more information about. Utilizing the Google Form, I will be able to keep the needs of the two staff separate in a Google Sheet for easy access and organization.  I want to make this goal meaningful for them and want to seek their input on topics or concepts they would like more information about.

2. Utilize my amazing PLN and begin to gather resources, links, blogs... to address their needs. I can add the information I have collected to the Google Sheets as a way to organize and monitor which topics to cover.

3. Share my learning with the staff virtually in a #fliplead approach (via @PeterMDewitt).  I would like to have a brief 2-5 minute video highlighting a blog, resource, instructional best practice using TouchCast, Screencast-o-matic, Haiku Deck, and Presentme to name just a few.  I want to model how to flip the learning using a variety of platforms and tools.  My goal is to do two a month, for each building.  Am I crazy?

What are your thoughts?  I would appreciate your comments and feedback on my goal for 2014-15.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Power Blocks - a way to meet ALL students needs

I have been in a teacher or administrator in multiple districts.  Each district has had a version of RtI.  Each version is slightly different.  Some meet as a school during the same time in the morning. Some meet by grade level throughout the day, depending on which time works best for their students and schedule.  Some involve the grade level teachers. Some involve additional staff members.  The one constant in all of these versions of RtI is the focus on the students who need extra support and assistance because they lack the skills or concepts at a given time of the school year.  But what about those students who already have learned the skills or concepts?  How are these versions meeting their needs?  Often, they are not.  These students are given more - more independent work (maybe at a higher level) or more reading (maybe at a higher level). This work often lacked the instruction or interaction of the teachers.

Then I encountered Power Blocks. We started Power Blocks this past school year in an attempt to meet ALL students' needs. The feedback we received was overwhelming positive.  So what made Power Blocks so powerful.  Below are some of the strengths of this version of RtI.

1.  Each grade is given 50 minutes throughout the day at different times. By having each grade have their Power Block at a different time throughout the day, we were able to utilize the expertise of many different adults in the building: special services teachers, recovery room interventionists, reading and math intervention specialist, social worker, counselor, instructional aides, and classroom teachers.  So how did we carve out 50 minutes?  We were already doing 30 minutes of intervention time each day.  We really just had to "find" an additional 20 minutes.  We asked classroom teachers to look at their schedules. Between restroom breaks and other down time throughout the day, we were able to add 20 minutes and create a 50 Power Block.  I would encourage your teachers to look at the efficiency of their day and see if their time was being maximized and utilized as best as it could be utilized.

2.  EVERY student receives instruction. Based on the data, students are placed in groups and meet with a staff member during their power blocks.  Some of the groups are remediation while some are enrichment. Our students who had IEPs met with their special services teachers during this time so they could essentailly "double dip" and receive instruction in the classroom and with their special services teachers.  No longer did the students who needed extra support leave the classroom while the rest of the class stayed together.  In this model, ALL students moved around from class to class to meet with their Power Block group.  EVERY student receives direct instruction from a staff member on his or her level!

3.  We were able to tap into teachers' strengths and interests. Grade level teachers identified the areas they are "experts" in and those "experts" worked with the students who needed the most support. We utilized our instructional aides and other staff members for enrichment groups but not remediation groups. Think of it this way, if you needed to have heart surgery, would you seek out the expert who had performed that surgery hundreds and hundreds of times or would you rather find someone who didn't have as much training or experience?  By utilizing the strengths of our staff, we were able to break the Power Blocks into 2 25-minute sessions.  This allowed ALL students to meet with a variety of teachers throughout the year.

4.  Collaboration is essential.  In order for this Power Block schedule to work, a high level of collaboration between the staff was imperative. Teachers were given time to analyze the data and create groups. Open lines of communication between the staff members were established to share reporting topics and best practices.  Every 6-8 weeks, we evaluated the data and students were moved groups based on their growth (or lack of growth).  We used Google Docs and Google Sheets to provide easy access to the groups and data for all staff members.  Below is a sample of how we used these tools.

5. There were extremely high levels of engagement and positive feedback.  Some students met in Behavior Power Blocks. Other students met in Study Skills Power Blocks.  Some students met in Basic Level Power Blocks.  Other students met in Enrichment Power Blocks (we had 5th graders who created a video series "News from the Nest" where they interviewed our Principal, edited the video, and produced weekly video updates of happenings in our school.)  The key is ALL students were engaged and actively working to meet their individual goals. The feedback we received from the parents was exceptional. Parents appreciated the individual needs of their students being met. Most importantly, students felt their individual needs were met as measured by our annual survey.

Where do we go from here?  We realize this model is not perfect. We reflected on the year and have some key takeaways which we will address in the 2014-15 school year. We will constantly evaluate the effectiveness of the groupings and work to provide meaningful, targeted interventions for ALL students. I do know the Power Blocks allowed us to meet needs which had not been met in previous years.  We look forward to further developing these Power Blocks to meet ALL of our students' needs!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Summer of Learning - How I plan to sharpen my saw

Now that summer is upon us, I often get asked by my friends what I am going to do with all of my "Free Time"  I chuckle a bit when I hear this question because I don't view it as free time.  I am still working, reflecting, and planning ahead for the upcoming school year, even if I am not physically going into school. What exactly are my plans to sharpen the saw?

1. Be a dad and a husband.  I feel as though I have a pretty good work/life balance.  I try to disconnect when I get home (at least until the kids are all in bed).  I cherish our dinner conversations, bath time, and bedtime reading sessions. But now I have a few more opportunities to go on day excursions, build forts, have water balloon fights, go swimming, go to the art museum, go to the farm, play at the park and do more of what my kids want to do.  Maybe I will have a "yes" day where whatever they want to do, my answer will be "yes".  I am VERY excited to sharpen my saw, put their wishes, dreams and desires first and be a totally devoted dad and husband for a few weeks!

2. Read more blogs. Twitter has opened my world up to many talented, wise and passionate educators. Connecting with these educators has allowed me to read their blogs which in turn has challenged my thinking, validated my practices, and exposed me to new ideas and concepts. I plan on catching up on some of the blog posts I have "marked to read" and look to find more blogs to subscribe to and read on a regular basis. I want to sharpen my saw and continue to grow and learn from all of PLN.

3. Reflect. This was my first year in my current role as an assistant principal in my current district. Moving to a new district provided many exciting learning opportunities.  I learned from many people and shared my thinking with new staff, students and families.  I want to take the time to reflect upon the last year, celebrate the successes, learn from the mistakes and create a plan on how I will continue to provide a service to our students, staff, families and community in a greater way than I did last year.  I want to sharpen my saw to become a better educator and leader for the upcoming school year.

4. Be creative. I don't consider myself a very creative person. I know it is there I just don't always take the time to express my creativity. This summer, I want to tap into that creative spirit a bit more. I want to try and relearn how to play the guitar. I want to draw and paint with my daughter. I want to build creative forts with my son.  I want to build some creative habits which will carry over into the coming months.  I want to sharpen my "creative" saw and live like I was a child again.

5. Be adventurous. I want to try new restaurants. I want to try new technology. I want to push myself to leave my comfort zone.  I want to have a "why not" attitude instead of a "yeah but..." attitude.  I want to go for the gusto and be brave.  I want to sharpen my saw and create new and exciting adventures.

How are you going to sharpen your saw?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

For PD to be Effective in Today's Schools, it must have...

When educators talk about professional development, I often hear groans and whispering and disdain for the day.  Maybe I am the outlier but I enjoy professional development opportunities. Maybe it is because I viewed these days as Professional Learning opportunities - a chance for me to learn and improve my craft. When I think back on some of the best professional development opportunities I have had, I came across three common characteristics:

First, the Professional Learning must have be of high interest. No one wants to sit through learning opportunities when it is not interesting.  Give me a choice for what I want to learn and grow. Allow me to have autonomy as to what areas I want to grow and learn and develop as an educator.  Just as every student does not need the same instruction on skills, don't assume that all teachers needs the same skills development. Give us the autonomy to be masters of our own learning and allow us the flexibility to meet our own needs.

Second, the Professional Learning must have an element of connection.  There must be a connection to the presenter or facilitator.  There must be a connection to those in the same learning experience.  There must be an emotional connection. There must be a mental connection.  As MK Mueller writes, "Your attitude is based on your thoughts and beliefs. Attitude is mental, not emotional or behavioral.  Emotions and behaviors are the results of our thoughts and beliefs."  Having the right attitude, emotions and behaviors lead to a personal connection to learning.  In addition, there must be a chance to connect personally with the other people. Sharing ideas, stories, laughing, learning and collaborating are vital for a high level of connections.

Third, the Professional Learning must be timely.  Provide me opportunities that will impact what I am doing right now or what I will be doing in the near future.  One of the best learning opportunities I had was during my third year of teaching.  Our principal wanted to implement the workshop model in writing for the next school year. In May, he took a group of 7 of us, to see Katie Wood Ray talk about her book About the Authors during a one-day seminar.  We listened, took notes feverishly, and walked away from that day excited and eager to start the workshop model when we returned. Probably the best part of the entire experience was the 4 hour car ride home where we all brainstormed how this would like.  Our principal planted the seed and we were the change agents in the school.

When I think of these three characteristics, I cannot underestimate the value of my Twitter PLN and the #edcamp experience.  Both of these learning experiences allow me to learn when I want, how I want, and with who I want.  These experiences allow me to be in charge of my learning - and that is the ultimate goal, correct?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Growth Mindset and Video Games

Growing up as a child, I remember many nights spent with friends learning to "master" the newest video game.  Whether it was trying to decipher the codes in the original Legend of Zelda, working to figure out how to beat Mike Tyson in Punchout, or finding that "sweet spot" in NHL '95 where you could not miss with the Pittsburgh Penguins, many hours were spent among friends playing, learning, mastering and having fun.  So what do video games have in common with principles of learning?

1. Video games are fun and engaging.  The games were fun.  The games held our attention.  The games left a hunger inside of us when our parents said to turn it off!  We wanted to get to the next level on Zelda and see what was in store for us.  These same qualities should be in all of our lessons.  Our lessons should be fun.  My skin crawls when I hear teachers say, "That isn't fun to teach."  My response is "You are talented in your craft.  What can you do to make it fun?"  Lessons should hold our attention.  I come back to the popular quote "If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn." - Ignacio Estrada

photo courtesy of

2. Video games provide immediate feedback.  When we engaged in some heated, intense hockey games there was quite a bit on the line including lots of bragging rights.  We heard there was a sweet spot with the Pittsburgh Penguins where Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr could not miss from the blue line.  Was this true? We tried every spot on each blue. Time after time, we were not successful.  These spots were not what we had heard about.  We soon found the one spot where those two players could not miss.  With our lessons, what type of feedback are we giving our students?  Is it timely?  Is it specific?  Is should be in order for our students to understand what they are doing well and what they need to continue to work on to master their skills and concepts.

photo courtesy of

3. Video Games give us a chance to try and try again.  When we spent hours and hours trying to defeat the various characters in Mike Tyson's Punchout, we had to learn how to beat each opponent.  When we got to Soda Popinski, we spent hours trying to defeat him.  We soon realized hitting him in the face time and time again was not helpful.  You had to hit him in the stomach with jab after jab and do this a few times before you could beat him.  We did not get just ONE chance to beat him.  If we failed, we learned from our mistakes and could try again.  With our lessons, do we give students an opportunity to fail and learn from these mistakes?  Do we value and praise effort and not just the final product?

photo courtesy of

I look back and can apply these lessons I learned from my time playing video games to learning in our classrooms.  Are there any lessons you can add?