Saturday, September 28, 2013

If Dog Rabbit...

As you continue to read this post you will hopefully understand the title.  It is a popular saying my grandpa frequently used with me.

Nearly every single day I hear the excuses.  They come from everywhere and everyone.  I hear parents tell me that, "It won't be a good day for little Andy because...." (you fill in the blank).  It could be lack of breakfast, sleep, broken home, you name it.  

I listen to students inform me of why they made a bad choice on the bus or in class.  The message seems to center around blaming or making excuses.  Last week a student told me, "When I'm on the bus it gets loud. When it gets loud I get angry and I hit people."  My first thought was, this student should never attend a concert :  )

Even in my own home I hear the excuses. My oldest said, "Today isn't gonna be a good day, I have a terribly stuffed up nose."

Don't kid yourself, it isn't just students.  I hear adults do it as well.  We blame parents, we blame our own busy schedules and we make excuses for why we won't be at our best.

True story, last April I ran in the Orthopedic Rehab 5K.  As I prepared for this race I had been told it was a "fast" course and that the last mile flies because it's downhill.  For weeks I trained and prepared.  The day finally arrived and it was frigid.  I vividly remember going out to warm up and I ran straight west up Michigan Ave.  I was being pelted by snow.  The wind was howling out of the west and I knew the middle part of the course all headed in that direction.  I could feel myself beginning to slip into an excuse mindset.  I see this all too often, individuals make an excuse or lower expectations.  It is as though some people don't want people to think they gave it 100% and came up short.  I ask why? Why make excuses, why lower expectations?  Why not just do your best and OWN the outcome?  For three weeks I have talked to our students about being proactive.  I continually urge them to take responsibility and not to blame others.  For some I'm seeing growth, but for many I still hear excuses.  

So I take you back to that day in April.  Wind howling in my face, snow ricocheting off my bare arms. I started mile 1 at a torrid pace.  I was feeling great, I was only 10-12 paces behind Dave Jordan!  Next came mile two, the wind socked me in the face and I could feel myself tiring.  I was passed going up the hill, it was at this moment I could have broken down mentally.  I could have blamed my training, the weather or anything.  Instead I tried to be mentally strong and push myself.  I was determined to give it my all!  During mile three I positive self-talked myself through the difficult parts.  In the end I finally PR'd!  I ran an 18:47.  But the story doesn't end there.

Three weeks later I ran my next 5K.  One big difference, between the races I got pretty sick.  As I arrived that Saturday morning to run I wanted to back up my 18:47 with another fast time.  Inside I felt weak and way below my best.  I had decided on the drive in that I was going to run my hardest.  No excuses!  I didn't mention my health to anyone there.  I started out fast, my first mile was pretty good.  Mile two was a struggle, but I still felt as though I had a good race going.  Then mile three came and we turned up hill.  I didn't seem to have my finishing gear, but I was positive self-talking myself through it.  When the race ended I didn't PR. I ran a 19:32.  45 seconds slower.  I owned my time.  On this day, I gave it my best and that's what I produced.

Years ago when I spent night after night with my grandfather I would share scenarios with him.  I would say, "if only," or "I could've," or "I should've,".  He always responded with one of two sayings, "Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda!" The second was, "If Dog Rabbit."  I still chuckle when I think of him saying that to me.  The point is, he didn't want to hear excuses, he just wanted me to OWN the outcome.

All of that being said we come back to human nature of downplaying expectations and making excuses for not being at our best.  

As adults we ask our students/children to be willing to take risks.  We don't want them to fear failure. Yet as adults we don't always model this.  Adults can be quick to make excuses and deflect responsibility.  Day in and day out we must model being Proactive, we must be the positive force that always gives it our all and takes responsibility.  

This week's big questions:  How do you model being proactive?  It's important to understand, relate and empathize, but we all choose our attitudes.  If you have a child that is coming from a difficult environment how do you help the student look beyond the struggles?

Next Week At A Glance:

Monday, Sept. 30th: Happy Bday to Lori Phillips
Monday, Sept. 30th:  Tech meeting at 1pm
Tuesday, Oct. 1st:  Happy Bday to Brad Lenhart
Wednesday, Oct. 2nd: No Wednesday Assembly, 5th graders leave for camp
Friday, Oct. 4th: 5th graders return from camp at 4:30

*  Upcoming email on Fall Festival
*  Please make sure you've taken Online Safety Quizzes, due Sept. 30th
*  Please input goals on Stages
*  SAU tutors will be beginning soon, please email me preferred times

Articles Worth Reading:

Increase Student Engagement by Grading Backwards +TeachThought @TeachThought

Educators of the Future... +Justin Tarte @justintarte

Making the Most of a Small Space +Erin Klein @KleinErin

How to deal with co-workers +Angela Watson @Angela_Watson

Inspire or Enrage? +Amber Teamann @8Amber8

11 Tips on Teaching the Common Core Critical Vocabulary by Marilee Sprenger

HACKtivate ED: A model for collaborative problem solving by Bryan Kitch

Exploring Pumpkins in Kindergarten by +Matt Gomez @mattBgomez

The Things I Won't Be Doing This Weekend... @ShutUpRun

4 Reasons To Let Kids Play Minecraft shared by +Eric Sheninger @NMHS_Principal

10 Ways to make the rest of today amazing +Marc Chernoff @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

21st Century Education (3 min)

Set Your Mind Free (5 min)

Teddy Ballgame: cool story about a difference maker. (11 min)

Friday, September 20, 2013


Let's just put it out there, human beings struggle with change.  For four years we at Warner Elementary have utilized RTI (Response To Intervention).  This program is a Tier System.

Tier 1 is most important, this is the General Education Instruction.  This is effective instruction and behavioral management. Our Tier 1 instruction must be strong.  We create strong Tier 1 instruction through using best practices, collaborating and differentiating.

Tier 2 is strategic.  In this Tier students that have misinterpreted or not understood concepts will receive additional support.  Tier 2 occurs in a variety of ways; teacher differentiation, small group instruction, student conferencing and interventions.  Research states that this will be 10-15% of students in your classroom.  The stronger the Tier 1 instruction, the lower the Tier 2 percentage will be.

Tier 3 is intensive.  Tier 3 instruction will work with 1-5% of our students.  In Tier 3 students will receive one-on-one support.  Tier 3 does not mean a student has a learning disability, what this means is we as educators must "solve the puzzle" of student confusion and the lack of understanding.

For three to four years we have worked on this process.  I have witnessed the good and the bad.  I will also admit I have learned a ton.  I was young and naive, I believed that RTI was all about "The Program" and that the people were interchangeable.  I was wrong.  @ToddWhitaker has taught me that it is always about the PEOPLE!  The PEOPLE are what truly make the difference.

Above is the preface, and now I must get to what occurred last Fall.  Our school was identified as a "Focus" school.  I won't get into a rant on this (but I could).  One of the requirements of being a Focus School was to attend a meeting put on by the MDE.  At this meeting one of the key essentials for Focus Schools is to implement MTSS.  You may say, "What is MTSS?"  MTSS stands for Multi-Tiered System of Support.  The long and short is that MTSS is nearly identical to my opinion.  Some will tell you that MTSS is more in depth and that it is not nearly as general, but they are one in the same.

I will admit that MTSS as a "title" makes more sense than RTI as a "title", but the drawback is, it is change. Change causes confusion and confusion creates frustration.  It's an endless cycle.

The below 4 minute video is about Groups versus Teams by Rick DuFour.  If I'm honest with our process I'll admit we do things our way.  I don't think we do a poor job, but I do believe we must embrace a TEAM first mentality.  Our goal is to reach all students and create life long learners.

Now let's focus on moving forward.  Here is what we must do as a collective whole.

1) We must strengthen General Ed. instruction.  The way we strengthen instruction is by narrowing our focus.  CCSS are more narrow than GLCE's, but I still believe they are too broad.  We as educators must look to the most important.

“If everything is important, then nothing is.― Patrick Lencioni

It is absolutely critical that 80% of students or more are understanding concepts.  Be honest with yourself, if it isn't at least 80% what could you as a teacher do to improve.  Are you using best practices?  Are you differentiating?  Are you collaborating?

2) Work with Intervention Specialists, Tutors and Parents.  Roughly 20% of your students may struggle on certain topics.  This is where we are truly a TEAM.  We must collaborate and work together to assist our students.  Too often I see individuals deflecting.  I hear people mention: home environment, socioeconomic, educational background and lack of materials.  Some things we can control and some things we cannot.  As educators we must do the best we can with what we have, not what we don't have.

3) Formative Assess and Formative Assess some more.  The most commonly overused phrase is, Data Drives Instruction.  I don't entirely agree.  I believe daily and weekly formative assessments drive instruction, but I don't believe summative assessments drive instruction.  As a former classroom teacher I often knew how my students would perform on a summative assessment before they even took the test.  My strong formative assessments would tell me everything I truly needed to know.

4) Finally, don't forget the communication process.  It is vital that we inform parents about student strengths and weaknesses.  We need to inform stakeholders about progress.  The TEAM approach means we must get parents onboard and let them be a valuable part of the process.

I reflect on our journey to support students.

*  I do believe we are making an impact
*  I do believe students should receive intervention and then fluidly move back to Gen. Ed instruction
*  I do believe students receiving Tier 3 support can learn and grow.  Tier 3 does not mean Learning Disabled.
*  I do believe establishing relationships with students will best help student motivation and learning.
*  I do believe in quality over quantity.  We should be assessing the "essential standards" not everything.

Personally I'm trying to find the best balance for our building.  I'm confident that we need procedures, routines and policies, but I also believe in differentiating and being flexible.  I will continue to work through this process.  Supporting students isn't just for the past and present.  We must understand this is a process and it will take dedication to the TEAM!

This week's big question:  How many students have you personally witnessed in Tier 3 intervention and not been on the fast track to Special Education?  Do you have success stories like this?

Next Week At A Glance:

Monday, September 23rd:  Technology Leadership Meeting 1pm
Tuesday, September 24th:  9am TEAM meeting at Warner
Wednesday, September 25th:  K-2 assembly at 8:45
Friday, September 27th: Staff Meeting 8am in Mrs. Holton's room (Please be prompt, we have three guests joining us, Brad Wilson, Stacy Schuh, and Mike MacGuinness.  The topic will focus on Apps in the classroom.)

*  Please email me your SAU tutor interest.  I'd like to know your preferred times.

Articles Worth Reading:

A Sandy Hook parent's letter to teachers @EducationWeek

The Real World  by +Josh Stumpenhorst @stumpteacher

Evaluating, Implementing and Managing Instructional Programs  by +Matt Gomez  @mattBgomez

Student Portfolios (Start the Year Out Right) by +Charity Preston

Duncan's Dilemma  by +Tom Whitby @tomwhitby

Close Reading Overview by +Jerry Blumengarten @cybraryman1

Turning Grading from a Chore into an Opportunity by +Starr Sackstein @mssackstein

86 The Tech Talk  by +Shannon Degan @shannondegan

You Are What You Share by +Krissy Venosdale @venspired

Classroom Design Style by +Erin Klein @KleinErin

Awards and Lists: Hate/Love  +Tom Whitby @tomwhitby

Videos Worth Watching:

Great Song on the 7 Habits! Written and Performed by a middle school student. (4 min)

Proactive versus Reactive (2min)

Great success story about overcoming the odds! (8 min)

Adorable! (6 min)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Marathon Not A Sprint

Most people know I have a passion for running, and as you read the title you may think this will be about running, but it really is not.  This week's focus is about Keeping the End in Mind and remembering it is all about the process.

As each school year begins teachers focus on building strong classroom communities.  I really enjoy walking through the building and watching team building exercises and mini-projects taking place. These activities have a true purpose.  

There is another activity that is being widely used early in the school year.  Teachers are having crucial conversations with students.  The ability to meet one-on-one and figure out student interests, motivating factors and hopes is invaluable.

The third activity that is highly prevalent early in the school year is teachers discovering how students learn best.  I enjoy walking into classrooms and seeing students building, watching, listening and doing.  This is powerful data for teachers.  Think about this, when a teacher understands a student's learning style, motivating factors, interests, hopes and has a safe community established the possibilities are endless.

It can be easy to focus on struggles as the year begins.  Maybe you haven't established the routines and procedures the way you envisioned.  Maybe you don't have all of your tools correctly working.  I urge you to look with the end in mind.  Check out +Pernille Ripp classroom vision video.

I often try to remind others that the process is the key.  Society is results driven, but I truly believe it is all about the process.  What you do on a daily basis is what really matters.  

We are in the beginning of our Leader in Me journey.  As I reacquaint myself with the 7 Habits, I look no further this week than Habit Two, Begin With The End In Mind.  Are you doing things today that will make the year as a whole better?

“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” 
― Stephen R. Covey

We live in a busy time.  Everyone is busy. Everyone wants immediate gratification. Everyone wants instant results.  We are all smart enough to know that patience is a virtue.  This coming week I challenge you to Keep The End In Mind, be Patient and discover those key details with your students that will make the difference all year long.

This week's big question: Are you able to see that being patient with the process will lead to a positive outcome in the end?

Next Week At A Glance:

Monday, Sept. 16th:  RTI meeting at the JCISD
Tuesday, Sept. 17th:  RTI meeting at the JCISD
Tuesday, Sept. 17th:  5:30-6:30 Grades K, 1, and 2 have Curriculum Night
Wednesday, Sept. 18th:  Grades 3, 4 and 5 assembly at 8:45
Wednesday, Sept. 18th:  5th Grade Camp Parent Orientation at 6:30pm in WCAC
Thursday, Sept. 19th:  Tornado drill in the PM

Articles Worth Reading:

10 Things I Wish I Knew My First Year Of Teaching  by +TeachThought @TeachThought

The Research behind Genius Hour (20% time) by +A.J. Juliani @ajjuliani

Leap of Faith by +Joe Mazza @Joe_Mazza

Paper Blogs, a lesson in commenting on student blogs  by +Pernille Ripp  @pernilleripp

Why I love Social Media... by +Amber Teamann @8Amber8

I'm not a tech expert by +Jessica Johnson @PrincipalJ

How To Trust Your Students shared by +William Powers @MrPowersCMS

5 Creative Apps to Connect with Parents by +Erin Klein @KleinErin

What Inspires Me by Rodger Wilming shared by +Jimmy Casas @casas_jimmy

What Does A Quality Teacher Mean? shared by +Eric Sheninger @NMHS_Principal

Why I hated my daughter's 1st grade teacher... by Kylene Beers

10 Things Happy Couples Do Differently by +Marc Chernoff @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

Pep Talk to Teachers and Students! (4 min)

Awesome Story about a young Michigan boy!  Classy Russell Wilson, Classy! (7 min)

The World Becomes... (17 min) Interesting...

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Through the Darkness

This week we welcomed students back into the fold.  The positive energy throughout the building was absolutely electric.  I enjoyed taking pictures, giving hugs, and fist bumping so many of our students.  I had a parent thank me for always being so positive.  This comment made me reflect, I was grateful for her remark, but I can remember a darker time.

I was in my fifth year teaching and I had made the collective decision to complete my masters degree. I was interested in my masters because I wanted to have options.  I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I did want to control (to a degree) my destiny.  

I had signed up for a class with Dr. Hamilton.  I had no experience with Dr. Hamilton which translated to no expectations.  Before the class began I can honestly say that my year was tumultuous.  The funny thing was that I had a nice group of students, I felt very good when I was teaching, but that was the only time I felt good.

The negative feelings began in August.  I was sitting in the typical, back to school meetings and I was becoming more and more upset with the message being sent.  For more than an hour we were drilled about our test scores on the MEAP.  Our grade level scores were highlighted and projected onto a big screen.  Deep down I was enraged!  I knew that I was making a difference, I knew that I was a good teacher, yet the message being sent was, "You're not doing a good job, our scores are some of the lowest in the county."  After observing the projected images for some time we then began to discuss ways to improve scores and how we could test prep better.  (Yes, teaching to the standardized test!)  I then listened to others deflect any and all responsibility.  The room was full of chatter about why some feel helpless, our poor scores and how we can review materials to ensure better scores.

I'll admit, I lost all my positive energy.

I began the school year in a dark place.  Thank goodness for the kids!  Once school began I felt invigorated, I had a bounce in my step again.  Unfortunately this bounce didn't last.  Every time I left the classroom, grabbed my mail or interacted with staff members I felt this heavy, negative vibe.  The atmosphere felt toxic.  Morale was lower than I had ever seen.

So what did I do?  I went back to my happy place (my classroom), shut my door and poured my energy into my students.  This cycle lasted for months.  I really didn't love going to school, I enjoyed my kids, but the "other" stuff was weighing heavy on me.  I felt myself disliking the "BEAST"...or as some say, "The System".  

There were other issues going on as well.  At the time we rotated students for science.  I had a parent that was very upset with me because I was not assigning homework.  She told me that I just play games and that I'm not teaching anything.  These words hurt.  This added to my dislike of school.  I was entering a darker place.  I'll never forget a conversation with a mentor teacher right outside my classroom door.  I asked her a question, I said, "When you are on a sinking ship do you help bail water or save yourself?"  She smirked at me.  She knew exactly what I meant, but she didn't answer.  She looked at me and said, "Love your students, that is what is truly important."  

What happened next was remarkable.  I began taking a grad class with Dr. Hamilton.  In this class I had an old friend @jmherrington5 .  Between the wonderful class discussions and Jason's humor I was snapping out of the darkness.  I vividly remember one evening; the class was only a few weeks old and we were discussing parent communication and dealing with disgruntled parents.  I openly shared my story with the class about a current parent's anger towards me because I didn't assign homework.  As class was wrapping up Dr. Hamilton asked to speak with me.  We sat in the room for 40+ minutes.  He began the conversation with several compliments, and then he said, "You look frustrated and you sound frustrated with teaching."  In his empathetic way he called me out.  He was correct and once more I was embarrassed he could see and hear my frustration.  I decided to come clean.  Right there sitting with Dr. Hamilton I dumped all my unhappiness, my frustration and my irritation out.  I told Dr. Hamilton that I wasn't sure I could do this, I told him I was losing my love of teaching.

Dr. Hamilton listened attentively and then he shared a couple stories about himself.  We then talked about my success stories, the students I made a difference with and the parents that spoke so highly of me. Dr. Hamilton was so positive.  His attitude uplifted me.  I left that evening feeling as though the negative weight was off my shoulders.  I decided at that moment I was going to be a positive light in people's lives.  For the last nine years I have tried to remember Dr. Hamilton's message, and I've tried to give to others what he gave to me.  I want to help people get through the tough moments, and I want to have the positive attitude people choose to be around.  I now know that attitude is everything.  We can't control what circumstances or events will fall in our lap, but we can control how we react and what our attitude is.

I'll be forever grateful to Dr. Hamilton for helping me see the positive light through the darkness.

This week's big question:  When you're in a rut, how do you get out of it?  Are you a positive influence to others?


Monday, Sept. 9th:  No Library (Deb is off on Monday & Tuesday)
Tuesday, Sept. 10th:  PTO Meeting at 7pm (Looking for teachers willing/wanting to attend)
Wednesday, Sept. 11th:  Grades K-2 Assembly 8:45-9:15
Wednesday, Sept. 11th:  Early Release Begins
Wednesday, Sept. 11th:  2:40 brief meeting with Walmart representative
Wednesday, Sept. 11th:  3:45 Twitter tutorial with Bean & Parma teachers at Bean (All staff are welcome to attend, I will be leading)
Thursday, Sept. 12th:  Happy BDay to Kristy Soper
Friday, Sept. 13th:  Happy BDay to Colleen White

Articles Worth Reading:

10 Ways Literacy Can Promote A Deeper Understanding Of Math +TeachThought @TeachThought

10 Important Things For Students To Be Good Digital Citizens shared by +William Powers @MrPowersCMS

8 Good Morning Questions That Create Happiness +Marc Chernoff @marcandangel

Bell Ringer Exercises   shared by +Jay Posick @posickj

10 Talks From Inspiring Teachers  shared by +Eric Sheninger @NMHS_Principal

5 Phrases To Say To Kids Everyday  by +Jarred Fuhrman @JFuhrman3932

An App to assess Reading Fluency by +Erin Klein @KleinErin

Teaching Fish To Climb Trees  by @ajjuliani

Leadership Should Be Shared by +Tony Sinanis @Cantiague_Lead

Leadership is Action, not position by +Amber Teamann @8Amber8

What Really Motivates Me...  by +Daisy Duerr @DaisyDyerDuerr

The Dean's Corner  by +Colin Wikan @colinwikan

Hate Chalk  by +Arin Kress @KressClass

Augmented Reality to Inspire Creative Writing  by +Drew Minock @TechMinock

You Think You Have Time  by +Amber Teamann @8Amber8

Videos Worth Watching:

Make a Wish with Roger Federer (7 min)

Twitter to Spread Kindness! (2 min)

Katy Perry's hit song "ROAR"! Love the words.  (5 min)