Starting a school Social Media Team

I am really excited about starting a new Social Media Team at our school this year. Our goal is to teach students how to engage students in the process of telling our school story. Empowering students to create content will allow us to share more from the student perspective. We plan to meet with students throughout the year to coach them in the process of learning effective practices of using social media tools.

Alternatives to Using Grading Floors

One of many attempts to “fix” the flaws of traditional grading practices, has been the implementation of grading floors. In this video, I provide alternative ways to balance the flaws of the 100 point scale, and traditional grading practices.

Student Voice

Want to promote student voice? Make them the principal! In this video I share a role play idea to promote a collaborative culture, providing opportunity for student voice.

Innovating Course and Curriculum Design

Schools are being innovative with technology, but is the same innovation occurring in our course and curriculum design? When will we scrap the content area course silos and create interdisciplinary courses that promote problem and project-based learning, which provide authentic, real-world applicable skill development? Allowing more flexibility to combine interdisciplinary content, outside of the restrictions of grade level standards can help. But we also need to get more creative to make this happen. I explore all of these topics in this video.

Learning Pathway PD Reflections

This year, our school implemented a learning pathway model of professional development with our teachers. I’ve shared our rationale and an overview of our work in previous posts. We are now at the time of year when we need to take time to reflect on the success of this model. To do so, we sent out a staff survey, met with our School Instructional Leadership Team, and had individual conversations with teachers at their end of year meetings. After reviewing the feedback, we came away with the following reflections:

1. Choose and autonomy are great, but it must be balanced with some structure and               support.

When designing the structure, we didn’t want to micromanage goal-setting, action steps, or resources. We did provide a general guide for groups to use, but took more of a hands-off approach to monitoring and involvement in guiding action steps. As a result, multiple groups shared they struggled with setting goals that could guide the significance of the work, and sustain focus throughout the whole school year.

To respond to this feedback, we made several improvements for next year. First, we structured the guidelines to encourage teachers to generate questions they are curious about, related to their topic. We felt questions, rather than goals, could encourage teachers to pursue specific areas of interest. Groups can generate broad goals, and individuals can also develop and pursue answers to their own questions. In addition, we plan to provide more hands-on support at the early stages of question development, to assist groups with getting started. One method for generating questions, which we will encourage, is to use the Question Formulation Technique.

2. Some individuals struggled with aligning their learning pathway work with their                differentiated supervision model.

One of the intended benefits of this model of professional development was that teacher’s who were on a differentiated supervision model could use the work of their learning pathway to support their portfolio or action research. For example, a teacher who participated in the technology integration learning pathway, could focus their portfolio to highlight their work engaging students in learning, and utilization of resources, which are two components of the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching. They can take their professional learning and use it to implement strategies and resources to improve work with students, and highlight that through their portfolio.

3. Teachers were interested in more opportunity to share their work.

As teachers collaborated in small groups, the learning they gained was generally isolated from the work of the other groups. Teachers expressed interest in more opportunities to share their learning among the groups. To respond to this feedback, we plan to design our annual Learning Lounge (see @MurphysMusings5‘s post on this awesome experience) to allow groups to share and collaborate midway through the year.

Learning Pathway Blog

If we want to empower our students to take more ownership of their learning, pursue their interests, and become lifelong learners, we must model these traits through our own professional learning. We need to create experiences that encourage educators to become a profession of learners. We do this by providing a balance of choice, autonomy, purpose, structure and support. I am so excited to see how the improvements we are making to this balance leads to even greater success with this model next year.

 

 

 

 

We Have a Mental Health Crisis in Our Schools!

mental-health-crisis

We have a mental health crisis in our schools, and the lack of a sense of urgency is alarming. Anderson and Cardoza (2016) report “Up to one in five kids living in the U.S. shows signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder in a given year.” Despite these growing numbers, discussion about this crisis in education has been comparatively mute. Tons of focus within education has been focused on technology. Logan (n.d.) reports that 20% of schools who responded to one survey indicated they had a 1:1 device/technology program. While Blad (2016) cites a Civil Rights data report stating anywhere between 13-20% of schools do not have a school counselor. Minority children being the least likely to attend schools without a counselor. But educators don’t need research to tell them we are in crisis. Teachers and administrators have seen this crisis unfold before their eyes. It’s in their classrooms, offices, hallways; it’s everywhere.

So why aren’t politicians, school boards and educational leaders addressing this crisis the way they should? Where is the sense of urgency? It is possible that discussing mental health is still a taboo subject for some school districts. We may be fearful of admitting we have a problem for which we are ill-equipped to handle. Maybe it’s that promoting mental health needs doesn’t make for an exciting school board presentation, or school promotion on Twitter or Facebook. Or possibly, dedicating funds and implementing programs for mental health aren’t as flashy as buying new computers, or setting up a new Makerspace. Whatever it is, the lack of response is unacceptable. A large number of students are not getting the counseling and therapy they need to meet their needs. Without this support, making academic growth really isn’t an option.

Educators and parents need to take action now. If OUR students, OUR children, are not getting the help they need outside of school, we must bring supports into school. I am finished debating whether the responsibility for providing mental health services should lie with the school. It doesn’t matter. We cannot sit back and watch this crisis continue to grow. We must be transparent about the problem, and communicate our needs at every opportunity. We must speak up in district meetings. We must contact our legislators, departments of education, school boards, and district leadership and demand they make this a priority.
mental-health-debateAt the very least, every school should have at least one school psychologist, guidance counselor, and social worker. Every school should provide individual and group mental health services/therapy. We must find funding and ways to provide these supports. We can partner with local agencies and organizations to bring programs and supports into our schools. Some may be able to provide free services, but some may come at a cost. However, if one of the main goals of our schools, is to create a safe and supportive environment; if we are truly aimed at serving students and meeting their needs; Then schools need to prioritize these items in their focus and budget. We find money for what we value. Let’s make sure we value the most basic needs of our students first.

The investment we make in the mental health needs of our students will not only benefit those students we serve in this capacity, but our society as a whole. It is our duty to improve the way we view and support mental health needs. Addressing these needs at a younger age will result in improved academic, behavioral and long-term outcomes for our children, and our society. This is a call to action!

What is your school doing to meet the mental health needs of its students? What can our education system do better?

References

Anderson, M., & Cardoza, K. (2016, August 31). Mental Health In Schools: A Hidden Crisis Affecting Millions Of Students. Retrieved December 13, 2016, from http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/08/31/464727159/mental-health-in-schools-a-hidden-crisis-affecting-millions-of-students

Blad, E. (2016, December 09). Schools With Police But No School Counselors: A Closer Look. Retrieved December 13, 2016, from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rulesforengagement/2016/12/black_hispanic_students_more_likely_to_attend_schools_with_police_but_no_counselors.html

Children’s Mental Health (Rep.). (n.d.). doi:10.1136/ebmh.10.4.e2

 

Student Behavior: It’s Not About You!

“You don’t have the skills to get a job a Walmart. Even they require their employees to remember to bring their vest everyday!”

It is with great shame I admit these horrible words once came out of my mouth… to a student. It seemed like the hundredth day in a row one particular student forget his pencil. My frustration, with what turned out was my lack of control, overflowed and I let him have it. I verbally attacked, and probably humiliated, this student in front of classmates. It was soon after this shameful experience that I realized something was wrong with my traditional methods of classroom management. Sure my rewards and consequences approach seemed to work for many students, but not for all. In reality, any system works for the majority. Eventually I realized, even when something works, it doesn’t always make it right. In addition, my approach certainly was not working for some of my students. I knew something had to change.

Changing Your Mindset

The first step in establishing a positive classroom environment is to have the right mindset. In his book, Lost at School, Dr. Ross Greene (2008) proposes the idea that “kids do well if they can.” This idea promotes a belief that if a child is not meeting academic or behavioral expectations, it is because they lack the skill to do so. Early in my teaching career, I had a very hard time accepting this belief. In fact, my beliefs in terms of students being able to meet behavioral expectations were completely opposite. However, after a few years of teaching and implementing traditional behavior management strategies, it became clear to me that no child would willingly subject themselves to the punishment and embarrassment I sometimes put them through.

By changing my mindset, I began to approach all students, in all cases, as if they needed help to meet expectations. I started to believe that kids would do well, if they had the skills to do so. When a student wasn’t getting started on an assignment, I would approach them and ask questions like:  “Is everything okay?”, “It looks like you’re having trouble getting started, do you have any questions?”, “Let me sit with you and help you get started.” I completely stopped assuming students were just refusing to do their work.

And, when a student forgot a pencil, I gave them one. In reality, it didn’t really matter why they didn’t have one. Ensuring they had what they needed to be successful became my only priority.

When responding to student misbehavior, it is important to remember it is not about you. It’s not personal. It is not you v. them. Remembering this in a frustrating situation can be difficult, but when it becomes part of our everyday mindset, it gets easier.

Creating a Positive Classroom Environment

Here are a few ways to establish a positive classroom environment or respond to misbehavior:

 

  • Give Verbal Praise (A LOT OF IT!)

 

This is one of the most powerful strategies a teacher can use. Recognize students, individually or as a class, for every direction/instruction they follow. Students who crave attention will often adjust their behavior to receive this praise.

Examples: “I really like the way you are walked into the classroom; Thank you for using a quiet, raised hand; I really appreciate the way you are including everyone in your group discussion.”

  1. Use Subtle Strategies for Redirection

Using proximity, walking over and standing next to a student while continuing to teach, will often be enough of a cue for a student to stop talking.

Quietly going over to a student and whispering “Do you have a question?; Is there something I can help you with?” will either unearth a student question, or cue them to get back on task.

A teacher can also quietly ask the student if they can speak with them on the side, or in the doorway. When doing so, the teacher should state the expectation the student should be meeting, and ask them what they can do to help them meet the expectation: “I see you are having trouble getting started on your fraction activity, is there something I can help you with, or any questions I can answer?”

  1. State/Restate the Expected Behavior

When a student is not following a direction, instead of using “no; stop; don’t”, recognize a student who is meeting expectations, or restate the expected behavior to the whole class.

Example: If a student is calling out in class, a teacher can remind the class, “Please remember to use a quiet, raised hand when you would like to participate.” The student who is not following the expectation will often get the hint.

  1. Avoid a Power Struggle

When responding to students with challenging behaviors, it is important to avoid power struggles, especially in front of their peers. Teachers can completely destroy a relationship with a student in a power struggle scenario. If a student is refusing to do work, and does not respond to offers of support, it is important not to increase the demand and create a power struggle. Threats such as, “Do your work or go to the office; Get started or I’m going to call your parents,” create a me v. you power struggle. In this situation, even if the teacher wins in the moment, overall, they lose. They lose because they damage the relationship. And ultimately, that damage will have to be repaired at some point in order for the teacher and student to have success working together in the future. If a student is not causing a significant disruption to the whole class, the teacher is better-off waiting until the end of class to have a private conversation to establish the cause of the student behavior. Other students pick up on this, as well. Creating a scene by yelling or posing threats does not “prove” to the rest of the class that you are in charge. Instead, they may be left worrying about the possible consequence the next time they make a mistake. Maintaining composure and offering respect, even if it is not being reciprocated at the time, goes a long way in building a positive classroom culture.

How do you ensure students’ emotional needs are being met in your classroom? What strategies are successful for you?

To learn more about responding to students with behavioral challenges, I recommend:

Greene, R. W. (2008). Lost at school: Why our kids with behavioral challenges are falling through the cracks and how we can help them. New York: Scribner.

Greene, R. W. (1998). The explosive child: A new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated, “chronically inflexible” children. New York: HarperCollins.

Making School Culture Our Focus

I have attended a few different conferences, workshops and EdCamps lately where I have been introduced to an amazing amount of ideas and strategies related to instruction, technology and innovation. These sessions have been inspiring and excellent educational learning experiences. However, an underlying tone that has existed in some of the sessions I’ve attended has related to school culture. In technology sessions I’ve heard concerns about trust and support. In curriculum or instruction sessions I’ve heard teachers express concern about not feeling safe to take risks or not having autonomy in their classroom to try new things. These concerns relate back to school culture.

If we do not focus on a positive school culture first, attempts to lead change or incorporate innovative ideas and technology become that much more difficult, if not impossible. There are too many schools that constantly shove new initiatives and ideas onto teachers while simultaneously destroying the culture of the school. School leaders are so caught up with doing what they feel is urgent, like incorporating the latest tech, or introducing new programs to address test scores, they miss what is important and crucial, which is school culture. As leaders, we need to get our school culture in a good place before trying to lead change in other areas. Admittedly, I have not always been perfect in this area, and have learned a lot through my failures and experiences as a leader. However, I have seen the positive effects of making school culture a central focus (see my previous post). The challenge for me has been maintaining a balance between keeping school culture a central focus, but at the same time, incorporating some new ideas and strategies.

So why isn’t there more of a focus on school culture?

At conferences and EdCamps, why are there dozens of PD sessions on the latest Apps and Google tools (all of which are awesome), but little to no sessions or focus on school culture? I was recently asked by a participant in a school culture session I facilitated “How much of your administrative coursework was focused on building school culture?” My honest answer was “ZERO!” I am certain there are institutions and programs that address school culture, but how many make it a focus? How many programs communicate to leaders that building a positive school culture is the key to school improvement? We need to see more sessions at EdCamps, conferences and professional development sessions that focus on how teachers and leaders can build a positive school culture. We need more teacher and administrator preparation programs make school culture a central focus.

In Todd Whitaker and Steve Gruenert’s book School Culture Rewired, they write “Culture represents the unwritten mission of the school – it tells students and staff why they are there” (pg. 30). School culture is the central component of a school, it exists in some form – good or bad, and impacts everything within a school. We need leaders at the district and building levels to make improving school culture a top priority.

Positive Attitudes Will Succeed!

At our school, we believe that Positive Attitudes Will Succeed. Our middle school’s mascot is the bulldog and the “PAWS” (Positive Attitudes Will Succeed) acronym fits right into our school culture. As part of our program, students are recognized for their effort and behavior, such as being prepared for class, or exhibiting positive character traits, by receiving feedback and a “PAWS Sticker” which they place on a specific page in their agenda books. Teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria aides, office staff and administrators all have stickers they give, along with feedback, to students who exhibit positive behaviors or character traits. As an incentive, each student needs a minimum number of stickers, decided by each team of teachers, to participate in sports and activities at the end of the day during our reward period, called Dog Pound. In addition, at five points in the year we do a PAWS sticker count and 100 or more of our top earners can participate in a Tailgate, Pancake Breakfast (they can also bring a friend to this one), Bowling Party, Ice Cream Party or Pool Party. The key to our program is that we provide opportunities for all students to be recognized for their efforts. We have students from our multiple disabilities, emotional support, autistic support and all other classrooms in the school, participate in our PAWS activities. It is not always the same students, or the typical “Straight A” student, who are being recognized or rewarded. We focus on ensuring our program is inclusive of all students. We have a PAWS committee, comprised of students, parents, teachers, staff and administrators, which meet monthly to plan PAWS events and make adjustments to our program. The positive feedback we receive from both students and parents is overwhelming.

So what’s the problem?

Lately, I have read a lot of push back against positive reward systems in schools. There have been numerous posts about internal student motivation and whether it does, or should, drive them to succeed. I have heard multiple comments made about reward systems being detrimental to students, and I’ll be honest, I don’t get it.

I think rewards are getting a bad name lately. Whether it be gamification points in the classroom, professional development badging systems, FavoritesLikes or Retweets, a promotion, a raise, positive feedback from a supervisor, or a compliment from your spouse, people receive positive “rewards” in many ways which they appreciate and enjoy. Ultimately, it’s not the reward that is our motivator, but these rewards should not be painted as a bad thing, or detrimental to people. These things are good! I question when people write or speak about how they should not matter and are damaging to students. I am sure there are programs that are not ideal, but I see our, and many other, positive behavior programs working well everyday.

What’s My Motivation?

Internal motivation is something we want to foster in our students as they learn and grow. However, I also understand the needs of middle school students. The goal of our school’s positive behavior program is not solely to motivate students to behave in order to gain a reward, but to give opportunities for adults to provide specific feedback to students about successful character traits and behaviors. The motivation for student actions comes from many places, such as the relationship between the teachers and the students, parental influences, peers, or even internal drive. The reward is feedback and recognition of the positive efforts or behaviors students are exhibiting and I do not think it is a bad thing. In fact, I see the positive impact it has on our students on an everyday basis.

What are your thoughts about positive behavior programs?