Sunday, September 17, 2017

A-G Conversations: Who is having them and what is being shared?

Last week, our district organized an A-G workshop led by a team from the San Diego County Office of Education. Data was analyzed and different issues surrounding equity were discussed at large and by site. One question that came up was related to the topic of validation. Both the CSU and UC systems offer students the opportunity to "validate" a D or F in math or language by scoring a C or better in a higher level course. For example, if a student earns a D in first-year Spanish, they can validate that D by earning a C or higher in second-year Spanish (use this LINK to view the entire validation chart for both CSU and UC). After looking over the chart, we began to wonder:

Are staff members aware of what can be validated?Who is having conversations with parents and students about validation?

And, most importantly, how many students give up on meeting A-G when they receive a D or F because they don't know how to validate that grade?

When it comes to discussions about A-G, we often focus on the "C or better" mantra which is deeply ingrained in the minds of students and parents. But how many students never attempt to continue on the A-G track because of that D in Algebra or F in Spanish 1C? How many seniors pass on filling out college applications because they think it is a lost cause? If we, as a staff, are not familiar with this process and cannot speak to it with students and parents, how are they supposed to learn about it? Instead of counting the number of summer school sessions between now and graduation or figuring out how to repeat a course during the school year, maybe we should focus instead on educating all of our stakeholders about the many different routes a student can take to successfully complete AND validate all of the A-G requirements? In general, schools are actively and consistently communicating A-G requirements to students and parents, but if we dig a little deeper and push students to explore ALL options, we might just go from average to excellent by pushing our students to reach that horizon instead of teetering right along the edge.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Professional Development: What do you do?

Well, it's the beginning of year three as an administrator. Many people have told me during the past two years that it is really in year three that you find your stride and learn how to catch your breath while managing the myriad of responsibilities that fill up your plate on the daily. As I was taking that well awaited breath this past Thursday, I began to think about what I have done over the past two years to grow my own professional development as an administrator. Yes, I have read a few books, attended a handful of conferences, but have I really developed an ongoing plan that not only supports my own professional development but also allows for true collaboration amongst my colleagues? How many opportunities are there for me to listen to the ideas and processes of other administrators?Twitter is awesome, blogs are great, but what systems already exist for administrative professional development that I could tap into without reinventing the wheel?

I would love to hear what other administrators across the country are doing for ongoing professional development. Please leave thoughts, suggestions, or comments below. Any and all help is much appreciated as I start, what I am sure will be, a year of learning, growing, and changing.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Staying Positive

Over the past few weeks, I know that I am not the only one whose social media feed has been filled with doom and gloom. In our current political climate, it's hard to pull yourself out of the darkness when so many uncertainties surround us, especially when it comes to our current state of education. But fear not, my friends! Although we may not be thrilled with who has landed at the top of the educational chain, I can assure you that we will get through this and we will survive. 

How do I know this? 
Because educators are the most resilient breed of professionals out there. 

Think about it. Every day when you walk through those schoolhouse doors, you have no way of predicting what the day will bring. Sure, you lesson planned, mapped out the hours, prepped the needed materials, and came in early to gear up for the day, but all of that effort and foresight isn't enough to keep the bulb in your projection unit from burning out or stop the fire alarm from going off in the middle of third period. The easiest go-to during those times would be to throw your hands up, admit defeat, and leave the kids to their own devices, but that's not what educators do. 

We go into "plan b" mode, and if that doesn't work, "plan c" mode. We don't give up, we don't throw in the towel, it's just not in our nature. 

Instead, we think on our feet, we make adjustments, and we carry on. And now is no different. We will continue to shape young minds, inspire them to be the innovators of the future, and challenge our students to think beyond the classroom walls. This is what we will do because we have no other choice as educators, we must move forward in order to move our children and our country forward. I say "our children" because students truly are "our" children. We have the daily interactions, we give them the tools they need to be successful, and we listen when they need us to listen. This is what changes lives and this is what really matters, not who is appointed where or why that decision was made. We always have been and will continue to be the change that makes the difference in the lives of others.

I am not going to say exactly when because I don't want to date myself, but back when I was a wide-eyed and bushy-tailed young teacher, I received a layoff notice not once, not twice, but for the first three years of my career. It started to become a given. But even though that notice always arrived right on time, somehow I still managed to find my way back through those same classroom doors year after year. It wasn't ideal to say the least, but I knew that no matter what happened, I was going to be okay because I had people who welcomed me as a colleague and gave me the support I needed to carry on. Because again, that's what educators do. They lift each other up in times of need and band together to support one another. Although things may seem dismal now, this too shall pass. We may be in a deep valley, but soon enough we will rise to that peak. As one of my former principals always said, right now I "choose to be positive" and I hope that you will choose the same.

Image Credit: WeAreTeachers

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Power of Launching

The Innovator's Mindset originally inspired me to start blogging and now LAUNCH by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani has rekindled that creative spark. Both books discuss how to boost creativity with students, but the concept of "launching" projects into the world and seeing the impacts of that within my own household, have really affirmed why it is important for students to share their work beyond our classroom walls. 

Case in point: my son. 

He is ten years old and he is obsessed with Legos. When I say obsessed, I mean that he will spend hours quietly working on building different sets or his own creations and never gets tired of them. He never quits, he never gets frustrated, he just builds and builds and builds. 

But his joy for building reached new heights when he discovered the Lego Movie Maker app. Of course he had seen The Lego Movie a gazillion times and wondered how they made it, but this app actually gave him the opportunity to try it out on his own. In a matter of days, he had created several short Lego videos. At first, they had no sound, but then he figured out how to add music. Soon, he was enlisting the help of his little sister to do voice overs, which was quite hysterical and entertaining. 

We shared the videos with family and enjoyed watching each one that he made, but I was nervous to let him share the videos on YouTube. I know, I know. That seems very overprotective, right? But I'll admit that I was cynical and wanted to shelter him from the insanely crude comments that people were prone to make when videos went viral. I wanted to spare him any hurt or ridicule. What if people said they were terrible? Would that devastate him? Crush his creativity? Or even worse, destroy his love for Legos???

It wasn't until I read LAUNCH and was reminded of Caine's Arcade that I realized my son was missing a crucial part of his creative process: the power of being published for the world to see. Had the documentary on Caine's Arcade never been released, he might still be waiting for customers to play his games. Was I depriving my son of the feedback he needed to grow creatively? Was the world missing out on some serious Lego action films? I needed to swallow my own fears and allow him to make the decision for himself.

It was literally a matter of minutes from the time I told him that he could create his own YouTube channel to when he uploaded his first video. He was ecstatic. He could not wait to see how many people would view his videos and if anyone would leave a comment. And even though each video had less than 10 views, he was absolutely thrilled, and those views made him want to create even more videos that were bigger and better than the ones before.  Below is one of my current favorites:

I was so proud of my little maker that I shared one of his videos on Facebook. That post triggered a chain reaction of friends wanting to know about the app so that their own child could create Lego videos. Soon enough, more Lego videos were popping up in my news feed and kids began following each other on YouTube. It was pretty amazing to see how quickly the creativity spread, all of which would never have happened if my son was not given the opportunity to "launch" his own creations into the world.

So my question to all of my educator friends reading this blog post is this: 

How powerful would this be for your students? How much more creative would they be if they had the world as their stage?

For more details about how to help your students "launch," check out the book by John and A.J.. It is a quick read and well worth the time.

A big thanks to my principal, Mary Beth Kastan, who gave me a copy of LAUNCH and who always challenges me to think above and beyond the average. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Taking that LEAP

In December, my principal gave me a book entitled The Radical LEAP by Steve Farber. With that book came a handwritten note that said "thank you for taking this leap." I assumed that the book was one that focused on being a great leader and making a difference, but after reading the first 70 pages, I have found that it is much more than just that. Below are only a few of the tidbits that have really hit me hard and gotten my wheels turning as I stumble around trying to figure out this crazy new role of being an "administrator."

Quote #1: "People who wear 'leader' as a label without putting themselves wholeheartedly into the act of leading are just like fashion hounds; they're the posers of the business world."

"Poser." Having gone to high school and college in the nineties, I used this word A LOT. Which is why when I read it, I couldn't help but chuckle. But all nostalgia aside, there is definitely a universal truth in this message. If you can't commit your WHOLE heart to leading your staff, how can you expect your staff to follow your lead? They need to be able to see your passion, what drives you, and how much you want to make a difference in order for them to get on board with your ideas. If you cannot commit wholly to be being a leader, then you will not be an effective leader. Which leads me to my next favorite quote:

Quote #2: "Fear can save your life or keep you from doing something stupid, but avoiding it can also keep you from doing something great, from learning something new, and from growing as a human being."

"Fear is a natural part of growth." Wow. Have more truer words been spoken? Think about it. Playing it safe will keep your life calm and provide you contentment, but it definitely won't propel you forward. If you are happy where you are at, then GREAT! Keep on keeping on. But if you are looking to make change, cultivate a shared vision, and inspire others, you HAVE to confront your fears and take that leap. It's hard, I know. I worked at the same school site for 13 years, and even though I had taken various leadership roles as a teacher, I still had yet to officially make that transition to administrator because I was waiting for something to up open at THAT school site. And why not? I knew everyone, they knew me, they respected me, and I had gained a lot of allies there. But it was safe and safe isn't scary. I needed to challenge myself as a leader by going to an entirely new campus with a staff that knew next to nothing about me. I had to find a way to establish new relationships and prove I could be a leader at any school site, not just THAT one school site. It wasn't easy, in fact it was probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to do up to this point in my life, but it was necessary. I had to face that fear of the unknown. I had to learn from that challenge. I had to move on because I needed to move forward. And now, I am faced with this daunting task:

Quote #3: "It's your responsibility to give everyone you serve something to love about you and what you're doing."

"Love generates energy." I need to be able to show my passion for what I believe is the right thing to do for our students if I expect to have staff assist me in making these things happen. I cannot make these changes alone. I need THEIR energy and support. I need them to help me navigate this new terrain or else I won't be able to find my way out of this endless maze we call "administration." I hope that in the past few months I have been able to start cultivating this love. When I hear staff say "I love that you . . . " or "Thank you for . . . ," it makes me cautiously optimistic that I am chipping away at the stereotype of "just another administrator," but only time will tell. For now, even as exhausting as it may be, I will keep trying to give my staff something to love about me and what I am trying to do for our school because I don't want to be a poser. I want to be a leader.  

Monday, April 11, 2016

Going Digital vs. Going Paperless

As more and more districts go 1-to-1 with digital devices for every student, some might mistake "going digital" to mean "going paperless." In fact, many people jump in feet first and try to do that exact thing by taking their entire curriculum online.

Although using technology can increase engagement 
and create more opportunities for learning, 
it should NOT be the only tool in an educator's toolbox. 

That was one of my biggest takeaways after reading The Innovator's Mindset. It also reinforced a rookie mistake I made the first year I received a Chromebook cart. 

A few years back, I had just attended multiple trainings on the latest apps, add-ons, and extensions for GAFE, and was so excited to make this digital leap that I proudly announced to my classes that for the next unit we would be going entirely "paperless." Yep, I actually said "paperless," as if muttering that word would instantly save a forest of trees and I would hear applause from my students. 

Well, needless to say, neither of those things happened. In just a few weeks, I found myself knee-deep in grading "paperless" assignments and the groans that came from my students each time I told them to grab their Chromebooks became louder and more frequent. I was upset, my students were upset, and everyone was just flat out frustrated. Why? Because I had failed to consider technology as ONE of the many tools in my toolbox. I completely forfeited all the great activities, projects, and strategies that had previous worked well to go entirely "paperless." I had relied heavily on the S of the SAMR model and burned out the shiny, new technology with too much substitution and not enough redefinition. I was not embracing the innovator's mindset, I was not creating "new and better" learning opportunities for my students, and I was definitely myopic in my use of technology. Was I able to learn from this failure and turn things around? Absolutely. And in an effort to spare my colleagues from making the same "paperless" mistake, I wanted to share two great resources for "going digital" and becoming an "innovator."

The first resource is a blog post from George Couros, author of The Innovator's Mindset, and inspiration for the graphic below created by Sylvia Duckworth for the "8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset."

The second is an article from Edutopia that focuses on "blended learning" and how to make it work for each classroom. The following quote from that article sums up perfectly how I failed in my efforts to go "paperless" and inevitably succeeded once I found that unique balance of online and offline interactions:

"When a teacher has an activity that works well face-to-face, there isn't any reason to look for a digital replacement. 
If they can find something digital that is more effective or efficient, then that is implemented."

As with any great lesson, it is all about balance, purpose, and learning from our mistakes. "Going digital" does NOT mean "going paperless." The sooner we recognize that, the easier the transition will be as we all go 1-to-1.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Million Dollar Question: How can we better support teachers?

I've been mulling this question over for the past few weeks, debating the best way to really put it out there in order to illicit productive feedback and avoid the inevitable "glass half empty" discussion. It seems like a simple enough question, "how can we better support teachers?," but one that is extremely loaded and subjective given your school, its culture, and community. Whenever this question is presented to staff, I feel that the majority of the time the answer is "reduce class-size." If classes were smaller, teachers would have more time to focus on students who need the most support and would be spending less time grading, lesson planning, etc., therefore freeing up invaluable minutes for professional development and collaboration. But is that really the best way to support teachers? Many of the issues we currently face are due to the changing diversity of our student population. Teachers, no matter their age or time within a district, may or may not have received training on the EL community, special education needs, or the impact of low-socioeconomics on a child's education. How do we deal with students who read below grade level? Are we REALLY differentiating instruction? Are we using technology as a way to engage students or simply as a substitute for paper? And the biggest one of all, what the heck is Common Core and are we implementing it correctly? There have been so many systematic changes to the world of education over the past few years that most staff are feeling burned out and/or overwhelmed. Does reducing class size help with this? I'm not sure. Reducing class-size would definitely lessen the burden, but will it answer the above questions? There has been a lot of discussion throughout the country about the idea of teacher "specialists." San Diego Unified is restructuring their EL program to create more support for classroom teachers through "specialist" visits, and educational leaders like Steve Sandoval in Colorado are being recognized for their vision of teacher "specialists" that come together to tackle the individual needs of all students. Realistically, if I am given $100,000 to help better support teachers and reduce class size, that money would only be enough to hire one full time teacher for just one department (the average "cost" of a teacher with salary and benefits has recently hit the $100,000 mark in our area). This would not benefit every teacher on campus, but it could benefit one department or one subject area. Is that money well spent? If I took that $100,000 and used it to fund one teacher "specialist" that was released all day to assistant teachers and students, would that be more beneficial to a larger number of staff? Or, if I was able to use that money to give an extra release period to a special education teacher, an EL teacher, and a teacher well-versed in literacy so that they can meet as a team to plan out how to better support teachers and students, would that cast the net even wider? I'm not sure. What I can speak to are my own personal experiences working with teachers and students as an added support. When I became the "coordinated early intervening services" teacher, I was released for 3 periods to monitor struggling 9th and 10th grade students. When I used one of those release periods to co-teach a freshmen English class with struggling readers, it was a great success. Not only for the students who received more individual attention and support, but the English teacher I co-taught with mentioned at an all staff meeting at the end of the school year how she had learned so much from co-teaching together because we both brought different things to the table in order to better support our students. It was the teacher-to-teacher support that made that class a success. The following year when we did not have the funds to support that model, I made sure to apply for a classroom Chromebook cart in order to use technology to try and sustain some level of individual support. That year was also a success, but it would not have been if I was not given the opportunity to attend technology trainings and receive technological support from district personnel. Again, I attributed the success of my students to the support I received as a teacher, support that came from administration, district trainers, and my colleagues. Which leads me back to the question at hand, if you were given $100,000, how would you use that money to better support teachers?