Friday, March 29, 2013

Having the Courage to Change

I was recently sitting with a group of educators and we were discussing technology and 21st Century Learning.  The "C" word came up several times.  We discussed change and what it will mean in our schools.  The best line I heard was from a 6th grade teacher.  He stated, "We ask kids to adjust and change all the time, but yet as teachers we resist it."  This was a profound statement.

Let me start by stating why I believe "Change" is necessary.  The world we live in today is vastly different from what it looked like 5-10 years ago.  The way we always did things must shift.  Knowledge in the form of facts is easily accessible.  The educational shift must be in the form of higher level thinking, creating, analyzing, and thinking critically.

First, change is possible, but people have to see the value in changing.

Second, develop a vision and plan for sustainable change.  Without a vision and a well-thought out plan change won't last, it won't be sustainable over time.  The mistake I see here from some leaders is that the vision is in place, but the plan is top heavy.  I believe sustainable change occurs when you pace correctly, revisit often and welcome feedback along the way.

Third, I often hear people talk about "buy-in", I believe "buy-in" is acceptance.  I would argue that I don't hope for "buy-in", I hope for people to "embrace" change.  I believe when someone embraces something they commit to continuous improvement.

Fourth, listen carefully to the biggest critics.  Expect people to resist, find out what the issues are, try to break down barriers and calm fears.  Differentiate expectations, allow some people to "dip their toes in" and others to "dive in head first".

Fifth, continuous professional development must be available.  Whether it is a full or half day workshop or an after school session it is vital to provide PD to staff that crave it and want it.  Without professional development the change will not sustain itself and frustration will increase.

Finally, expect and embrace failures.  If you aren't failing you aren't learning.  When I was in the classroom I wanted my students to learn from mistakes and failures.  I tried to create healthy risk takers, students willing to try something new and different.  I was never and have never been a fan of the status quo.  Maybe that is why my favorite poem is Robert Frost's, The Road Not Taken.

This brings me to my next step, Having the Courage to Change.  Educators must have the courage to change.  Earlier this year our district went from Google to Outlook.  After two months the district decided Google was a more efficient platform for what we needed to accomplish, so the district changed back to Google.  This change was criticized, I support the tough choices, I support having the courage to say, "We need to go in a different direction."  In the classroom we are going through an educational revolution.  The days of teaching facts and memorization are gone.  We now must dig deeper and create students that are able to think critically.  This is a change.  This shift in education means teachers must approach lessons in a different way.  Technology will not solve everything, I believe the solution lies in the educators.  Educators must have the courage to make changes to their approach in the classroom.  We owe it to our students to embrace the shift and help them be prepared for our ever changing World.


March 29th - April 7th:  SPRING BREAK, Enjoy the time off : )

Monday, April 8th:  Welcome Back!

Tuesday, April 9th:  String Team 4pm
Tuesday, April 9th:  PTO Meeting at 7pm
Wednesday, April 10th:  Assembly grades 3-5 at 8:45
Thursday, April 11th:  Spring Pictures
Thursday, April 11th:  KDG Orientation at CAC 7pm
Saturday, April 13th:  Vendor Fair at Warner Elementary

iPad iNformation:

Life of a 1:1 iPad teacher shared by @becdavies00

iClassroom iManagement shared by @moash245

Making Classroom Time More Valuable with Edmodo  shared by @KleinErin

5 Fantastic Apps for the Common Core  shared by @DrSpikeCook

Articles Worth Your Time:

So You Want To Be A Blogger...  shared by @web20classroom

The 5 E's in Education  shared by @web20classroom

8 Reasons Why You Should Create a Blog for your Class  shared by @tomwhitby

What the #NerdyBookClub Taught Me  shared by @pernilleripp

Take Care of the Student  by @casas_jimmy

staarN 5th Grade  by @8Amber8  (favorite quote, "not a basal in sight!")

Grade Change: Shifting the Thinking about Grading  by @NMHS_Principal

Making Meaningful Sense of the World by @gcouros

50 Educational Technology Tools Every Teacher Should Know About  shared by @MrPowersCMS

Teaching May Be the Secret to a Good Life  shared by @joesanfelippofc

Wonderful Tech and Teaching Website!  shared by @dreambition @powell4thgrade @runfardvs

Shut Up and Run Blog  by @ShutUpRun

Videos Worth Watching:

@RickWormeli shares about Redo's, Retakes and Do-Overs (9 min)
shared by @RickWormeli and @drjolly

REMC Connected Educators Series on Skype in the Classroom  (11 min)  shared by @powell4thgrade

Bic Pens for Women (4 min) by @TheEllenShow

Baseball is Back!  Tigers in '13? (4 min)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Value of a Zero

Over the past seven days I have connected with many wonderful educators.  Some have been very outspoken and others have been laid back.  I would consider myself somewhere in the middle...maybe even tilting towards laid back.  What I find is certain topics will create a laid back person to become outspoken.  That brings me to this week's blog post, The Value of a Zero.

As a classroom teacher, one of my biggest frustrations was late work and work simply not handed in.  I struggled with how to report this.  Years ago my report cards would sit in front of me and I'd have to put grades in.  I found myself thinking about effort, responsibility and attitude.  I was wrong.  It shouldn't be my biased opinion on those things, it should be a true reflection of what the student knows.      

Frustration One:  I'll admit I used this phrase in the past...School is a job for students.  Really? I was wrong.  The "Real World" includes compensation, typically in the form of money.  The "Real World" people lose jobs for failing to work.  Students aren't paid and students certainly aren't fired.  Instead of saying you are preparing them for the "Real World", why don't we understand, relate and differentiate to optimize students potential in our classroom.  Let's not relate it to the so called "Real World".  If students don't do an assignment we as educators need to figure out why. Is it a lack of Resources? Time? Understanding? Why did the student not do the assignment?

Frustration Two:  I'll admit, I've stated the phrase, "We must prepare our students for the future."  I do believe this, but understand what this means.  Preparing students for the future is teaching them how to be life long learners, how to problem solve and how to be a contributing citizen to society.  My frustration lies in people saying students must learn _____ to be successful.  The blank could be anything, the point is we should be teaching students how to find the answers and to think critically.

Frustration Three:  I'll admit I've uttered the phrase, "Giving a student a zero will destroy their self-esteem or self worth."  Really?  I guess it could, but I believe that students would rather get a zero with no effort, than a 30% with effort.  The student that tries and fails is much more likely to lose self-esteem.  They've invested time and effort, a 30% would clearly show that they do not understand the concept.  

Belief One: All kids can learn.  I've always believed this.  I've also always believed that a big part of teaching is motivating and engaging students.  I loved listening to Kevin Honeycutt and hearing his story about how he got a troubled student to embrace learning in his classroom.  He said on day one, "HEY, this is a challenging classroom, do you have my back?"  The student looked perplexed, Kevin restated, "YOU GOT MY BACK?"  The student then proceeded to get the attention of the class, by yelling..."YO EVERYBODY!  SIT DOWN, MR. HONEYCUTT IS READY TO TEACH!"  From this moment forward the troubled student was no trouble for Mr. Honeycutt.  The message here is, Trust Kids and you may be surprised what can happen.

Belief Two:  Knowledge is power, but a clean slate can be more powerful.  I remember starting each school year and looking at my class list.  Every year I'd have teachers bend my ear with information about how challenging a student is.  Immediately my perspective was skewed.  I found value in the clean slate.  In the end I think there is a happy medium.  Some information is helpful.

Belief Three:  The true value of a zero.  My belief is that educators that give zeros (and I was one, at one time), are not assessing knowledge or understanding.  Educators that give zeros are assessing responsibility and effort.  My report cards always had room for teacher comments.  I ALWAYS filled the box with comments.  This was my professional statement about the student.  This was my opportunity to explain the students character strengths and weaknesses.  The actual report card was just student knowledge, not my personal biases.  I don't believe zeros should be given.   I believe all students are capable of understanding on some level.  I always believed it was my role to find a way for a student to "show me what he/she knew".

Educators have a challenging job.  We must teach students content, help them become life long learners, engage them in problem solving and deeper thinking.  Plus help them become the best person they can be.  It really is the "whole child" approach.  I embrace this, and I also believe that responsibility and effort are critical, I just don't think they should be the deciding factors in a students grade.

I can visualize the students I had that always turned in assignments late or didn't do them.  I would conference with them, I would try to relate, I would try to motivate and engage.  One student stands out for me: Austin.  Austin treated school as social hour.  He participated when he felt like it.  At first I was frustrated with Austin.  Then I learned about his life, I invested in Austin.  After I invested in Austin I found it was easier to motivate him and he didn't want to let me down.  Austin and I played chess when his work was done, he would teach me yo-yo tricks, and he even decided to sign-up for my after school cross country club.  After I invested in Austin the zeros disappeared.  I found a way to reach him.  I believe all kids can be reached.  Teachers are key, can you unlock a challenging student?

This week's big question:  Grades are a communication tool to students and parents, do your grades reflect knowledge or effort?  


Monday, March 25th:  Reading Month Assembly Gr. 2-3 9am / Gr. K-1 9:30am / Gr. 4-5 10am
Tuesday, March 26th: String Team 4pm
Tuesday, March 26th: Tornado Drill approx. 9:20am
Wednesday, March 27th: Reading Month Assembly Gr. 2-3 9am / Gr. K-1 9:30am / Gr. 4-5 10am
Thursday, March 28th: Reading Month Finale all grades 2:50 in Gym
Friday, March 29th:  No School, Spring Break Begins!

iPad iNformation:

QR code Scavenger Hunts shared by @DeborahMorton7

iPad vs iPad mini vs iMac Air shared by @Mr_Casal

Raising the bar with iPads shared by @powell4thgrade

Articles Worth Your Time:

This is Why We Hate Reading shared by @pernilleripp

Stupid Runners Feet by @ShutUpRun

Videos Worth Watching:

REMC Michigan Educators Informing Educators about the use of QR codes in the classroom. (12 min) shared by @runfardvs

REMC Michigan Educator Nick Provenzano discusses how to connect students with blogging. 
(10 min) @thenerdyteacher

Ellen cracks me up! (1 min) @TheEllenShow

Maya Angelou and the Power of Words (4 min)  I feel extremely fortunate that I was able to listen to @DrMayaAngelou in person at #ASCD13

March Madness!  When it is Tournament Time I always think of this moment. (20 sec)

If you've got kids they've probably heard this.  This song will get stuck in your head! (4 min) shared by @adambellow

Friday, March 15, 2013

Self Analysis and Owning Your Learning

Today marks the beginning of a busy Professional Development stretch for me.   I'm constantly trying to learn and grow.  Recently I received results from the survey on myself.  The results were not completely surprising.  As I reviewed the results from the survey, I also thought about areas I want to become stronger in.  The current areas that I'm striving to grow and improve in are: math curriculum, reading strategies, common core, technology and effective leadership.

I have always felt that the best way to learn things is 1) by doing 2) by teaching others or 3) by verbalizing what you've learned.  With that being said I have felt "out of the loop" on some conversations this year.  When @Suz_Gibbs , @studiobree and @julieoliver333 start discussing The Book Whisperer I feel out of touch...I don't like this feeling.  So I have chosen to read it.  As of now I'm progressing, I'm sure there will be further information in upcoming posts.

This week's big question is: "Do you take ownership of your own learning?"

Professional Development has transformed.  It used to focus around a couple "no-student" days per year.  During these PD sessions teachers were forced to take in whatever the district organized.  The other form of Professional Development would be teachers trying to gain credits to keep their licenses current.  Teachers did this by taking classes, attending summer workshops, or visiting their local ISD for crash courses to gain credits.  All this led to what I see today.  Today the resources for Professional Development are everywhere.  Sometimes I wonder if they've always been there, but we just recently learned how to tap into it.  

Before we step into the Professional Development Arena we must first self-assess.  Evaluate yourself, be brutally honest, if you aren't honest with yourself this won't have the positive outcomes it is capable of.  Here are my big questions:

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Do you want to make your strengths stronger?

Are you hoping to improve your "weak" areas?

Do you focus on the "now" in your Professional Development or do you look ahead?

When you participate in Professional Development are you "a good student"?

You can answer these questions in your head.  Remember this is all about YOU!  After you self-evaluate, after you answer the big questions then it becomes a matter of when, where, what, and how.  I'm hear to tell you that Professional Development opportunities are now EVERYWHERE!  My personal opinion is, if you are driven to grow, if you are open-minded, then you will embrace the search for professional development.  Now you may be thinking, I hear you, but it costs money, it takes time and I'm busy.  Trust me, I've been there, I understand.  This is where you must be brutally honest with yourself and decide once again, what are your strengths and weaknesses?  Do you want to grow and improve?  Here are some ways to Professionally Develop:

1) Read a Book (books are available in a wide variety of topics, for example, if you are interested in improving classroom reading you could get the book - The Book Whisperer)

2) Read online Blogs and Articles (most are completely free, if you go into a blog site you will find hundreds upon hundreds of blogs that have topics ranging from education to exercise.)

3) Attend a Conference or Workshop (this may cost money and it will take time, but if you are the face to face type, I say go for it.)

4) Create your own Personal Learning Network (the possibilities are endless: meet for coffee, get together on the weekend, Skype, use social networking) (The real key is to use the time to collaborate and grow.) (I use Twitter, I started small and now I feel comfortable.)

5) Embrace Social Networking as a Learning Tool (Social Networking is what you make it, if you want a digital scrapbook, that's what you'll get.) (If you want to network, collaborate, and learn...then the possibilities are endless.)

6) Open Yourself Up (Create your own blog, write about your own thoughts, struggles and successes.) (I bet you will find that writing allows for deeper reflection.)

The big idea here is that YOU control your learning.  I believe this is a mindset.  I hope you embrace your own learning.  Whether it is Social Media, Book Reading, or Attending a Conference you need to OWN IT!  

I never used to OWN my learning.  I would occasionally take classes on classroom management or guided reading, but I just went through the motions.  Professional Development was a necessary evil, not something I naturally embraced.  My advice to all of you, if you OWN IT, it will be more engaging and more impactful.  I now OWN my professional development, I choose to learn everyday.  I learn through reading, collaborating, tweeting, and occasionally attending a conference.  

How will you take OWNERSHIP of your Professional Development?

Next Week at a Glance:

Monday, March 18th: Welcome Back Mr. Holton!
Tuesday, March 19th:  4pm String Team
Wednesday, March 20th:  Assembly with grades 3-5
Thursday, March 21st:  Donuts with Mom (MLive is coming to check things out!)
Friday, March 22nd:  Magician Show 8:45 grades K-2 and 9:30 grades 3-5
Friday, March 22nd:  Dress-Up Grade Level Colors

iPad iNformation:

iTeach: Planning, Teaching and Monitoring with iPads shared by @teachuae

5 Ways to Skype in the Classroom shared by @InstTechTalk

The "Pad"agogy Wheel  shared by @ipodsibilities

Articles Worth Reading:

Teaching Coding: Where Do You Start?  shared by @KatrinaStevens1

Brad Wilson's Blog on AppMadness13 shared by @dreambition

A School District That Takes Isolation Out of Autism  shared by @nytimes

P21 Common Core Toolkit  shared by @powell4thgrade

How Teachers Use Technology: the latest research  shared by @mccoyderek

School Safety article on MLive  shared by @MLive (different from the one I emailed)

Power of Twitter in Education shared by @MrPowersCMS and @DrSpikeCook

Videos Worth Your Time:

Ellen plays Jenga! (5min) @TheEllenShow

This just feels appropriate to show after a Professional Development session (20 min) @SirKenRobinson

Seinfeld Quotes...sure to make you laugh! (3 min)

Inspiring, Just Do It! (3 min)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

Three years ago I received some advice from Mr. Josh Cooper, as we sat down to lunch on my first day as principal.  The piece of advice that he ended our conversation on was, "Learn to say no."  I knew what Josh meant.  I knew what he meant because I had a hard time saying no.  As a classroom teacher I often "bit off more than I could chew".  

The committees I was on as a teacher were:
Assessment Team 
School Improvement Team 
Treasurer on local Educational Association 
Technology Steering Committee 
Hiring committee
National Accredidation Chair (NCA)
Coached and taught after school activities 
Also took classes in pursuit of my Masters Degree  

I was overloaded. I remember after doing this for years, I finally thought it is time to take things OFF my plate.  What I found is I took some things off my plate, and then others were added.  So is life, right?

It's kinda funny to think that I wanted to get things off my plate and then I became principal.  (somewhere my wife must be checking her watch and wondering when I may be coming home)

I look back on those days of feeling overloaded and then I compare them to today.  My list is now shorter (sorda), but the responsibilities have multiplied immensely.  Take March for example, here is just a sneak peek at my to do list:

iCreate letter
PTO meetings
5K organization
ASCD conference
MACUL conference
Balance budget
Review survey results
Read in most classes everyday!
Deal with Discipline
Complete Mid-Year evals

I could continue but you get the point.  I mentioned to Katie last week that I'm pretty sure I have bitten off more than I can chew in March.  Maybe it is because my final paper for my Grad class is due, maybe it is not being home as much as I want for my family, or maybe it is because I'm a bit nervous about my fitness level.  

Then I sat down Friday morning with two students, Matt and Jesse.  We listened to music, we talked, and Jesse talked about food!  I sat back, I smiled, and I realized, I love what I do!  I bite off more than I can chew because I know I can handle it.  The committees, the expectations, the responsibilities, I wouldn't change anything.  Well, maybe one thing I would change is writing long papers for my grad class, but that's the nature of the beast.

If you're anything like me you have times where you feel overwhelmed.  It could be a challenging classroom, something happening at home, after school responsibilities, or maybe you just bit off more than you could chew.  I figure you've got three choices.  1) take things off your plate/reduce responsibility 2) embrace life, lean on others for support, don't be afraid to ask for help 3) prioritize all of your "busyness".

My wife shares some of her work frustrations with me on occasion.  Some days she tells me that she doesn't want to discuss it because it will just get her upset.  Some days she simply wants me to listen, and other times she wants my advice.  Being a husband isn't easy : )  I think my wife is on to something, when you constantly vent about things that frustrate you it is hard to move forward and see the positives in life.  Venting is healthy if it has a purpose and allows you to move forward, but if it keeps you in a negative state of mind it is not healthy.

Friday was a good lesson for me.  Life can sometimes feel like it is zooming by.  Sometimes I feel like I'm drowning, it's important to take a deep breath, smile, and focus on the positives.  This week's big question, how do you handle stress?  When you listen to others vent do you join in on the misery or do you try to encourage, support and help?

Next Week At a Glance:

Happy Birthday on March 8th to Jen Reed
Happy Birthday on March 9th to Micki Archer
Monday, March 11th:  Conferences 4-7pm with spaghetti dinner
Monday, March 11th:  Book Fair begins
Tuesday, March 12th:  PTO meeting 7pm
Tuesday, March 12th:  Voting on classroom doors
Tuesday, March 12th:  Panther Pride lunch
Wednesday, March 13th:  Happy Birthday to Lisa Prichard
Wednesday, March 13th:  Assembly all grades in gym 8:45 (weekly reader assembly)
Wednesday, March 13th:  Conferences 4-7pm
Thursday, March 14th: Book Fair final day
Friday, March 15th:  PD day Western EdCamp
Saturday, March 16th:  Happy Birthday to Becky Holton

Articles Worth Reading:

You will be Googled shared by @gcouros

Fisher & Frey: Literacy for Life  shared by @donalynbooks

12 Relationship Truths We Often Forget shared by @marcandangel

11 Easy Ways To Un-complicate Your Life  shared by @marcandangel

Thinking Deeply with ALL Students  shared by @MPNEngaged

iPad iNformation:

Apps for Math  shared by @sjunkins

8 Great New Web Tools for Teachers  shared by @powell4thgrade

Videos Worth Your Time:

This is blowing up on YouTube!  Makes me crack up!  (3 min)

An Evening of Poetry, Music and the Spoken Word. (4 min)

Connecting my Classroom (2 min)

This is so funny!  Ellen in the Hawaii Chair! (3 min)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Dawn of a New Age

It wasn't very long ago when the educational world was very structured and predictable.  During the 1980's and 1990's Standardized testing didn't really exist, and in spots it did exist it didn't have such a heavy weight attached to it.  In the 90's some schools had technology, but the technology was very slow and used more for word processing.  In this age of education teachers were creative, hands-on, and did their very best to prepare students for the future.  I began teaching in the year 2000.  I remember it well, the big talk was about how the Millennium Bug would crash all electronic devices and render them useless. (Side note - it didn't and life went on)

When I began teaching the talk was transitioning to standardized testing, trying to create better problem solvers and teaching across the curriculum.  I sat down with my mentor teacher and we discussed educational trends.  She said to me, "Ben, when you've taught as long as I have you see things come full circle."  I said to Janice, "So this isn't new?"  Her response was classic, "Oh no!  During the 80's we had to implement science and math into almost everything we did."  My big question to Janice after this was, how do you do it, how do you stay passionate?  Janice said to me that she always wanted tomorrow to be better than today.  She was always striving to improve and find new and better ways of teaching.  I loved this mentality and this is what made Janice great.  Janice had her routines, she had her predictability, but what she also had was a desire to constantly evolve and do what is best for kids.  This was a 25+ year teacher that looked at change as an opportunity not a handcuff.

A new age is upon us as educators.  Technology is everywhere. The Common Core is right around the corner. Standard-Based Grading is gaining momentum. Evaluations now occur every year. It can seem overwhelming, it can seem like too much, too soon.  I'm here to say, "Bring it on!"  When I chose to become a teacher I did it because I believed I could make a difference in kids lives.  I was passionate then and I'm passionate now.  I love technology as an educational tool/resource.  I believe it opens doors and helps prepare students for what the future holds.  I'm excited about the Common Core!  I know it won't be easy, I know we may fall on our faces at first, but I'm okay with that.  As educators we must not fear failure.  We must embrace the new age and use our energy to innovate and improve for our students.  

The quote I lean on in times like this is: 

if you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind

Contributed by Hannah Beasley

I will end with this, the catchy educational phrases out there right now are "Transparent", "Ethical", "21st Century", "Blended Learning", "Game-Based Learning", "Standardized", and "Social-Media".  These trends aren't going away.  My advice to you is:
1 - Be True To Who You Are
2 - Remember Why You Chose This Profession
3 - Never Stop Learning
4 - Don't Fear Failure...Embrace It and Grow
5 - Be the Teacher You Would Want To Have in Class

Next Week At a Glance:

Monday, March 4th:  3:45 Skype session with Kim Powell
Monday, March 4th: 4:15 Coffee Talk at McD's
Tuesday, March 5th:  3pm Reading Month Assembly in the Gym
Wednesday, March 6th:  Grades 3-5 assembly
Wednesday, March 6th:  MacBook Rollout at Bean Elementary 2:45
Wednesday, March 6th:  iCreate 6:30pm at Michigan Theatre

Articles Worth Your Time:

Educational Videos, Lessons and Games  shared by @jmherrington5

Smile it's Good For You!  shared by @flourishingkids

Letting Go of Homework and Worksheets  shared by @dougpete

Homework or Not?  shared by @mikeparent

O.D.D. Behavior? How to manage this behavior in kids and teens  shared by @behaviordoctor

7 Critical Truths We Forget All Too Soon  shared by @marcandangel

Skype Lessons for Teachers  shared by @posickj

iPad iNformation:

Show and Explain Your Work!  shared by @ClassTechTips

Kids Book Report App  shared by @sjgorman

10 Educational Apps for a Well-Rounded Curriculum  shared by @AnnAmandaBee

Videos Worth Watching:

Gotta Watch This!  First Follower...It's harder to be the first follower than it is to be the leader.  My question for all of you, will you help start a movement? (5 min)

Lebron Doing the Harlem Shake! (1 min)

Gary Abub teaser on BYOD! (1 min)

Ellen Teaches us all how to sit! (4 min)

Warner Elementary is Rockin' the 50's (2 min)