Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Importance of the Blog

According to Tom Peters, "No single thing in the last 15 years professionally has been more important to my life than blogging..." Listen to what he has to say:

We all have something to say that's worth saying and can't come close to being fit into 140 characters. For those times, there is the blog. Today is the 6th anniversary of my first post on this blog. Of all of the the Web 2.0 tools available, the blog continues to be my favorite.

Would you like to start your own?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Another Look at AYP Data

For those who are involved with Alabama schools, I highly recommend this blog post, which points out some of the pitfalls of the way Adequate Yearly Progress is calculated. For example, when results were released this year, we saw that while 75% of the schools in Alabama made AYP, quite a few of our most prestigious schools failed to make it.

The reason? In very simple terms, the "40 makes a subgroup" rule. If your enrollment is large, you will have 40 or more in the special education subgroup or limited English proficient subgroups. The scores for those students counts as a separate group.And the bar for that group is the same as for any other students. If your enrollment is smaller, and you don't have 40 in those subgroups, the scores don't count against you regardless of how low they are.

For quick some time, I have felt we need to be looking at something else to determine how well a school is performing. For years, we have been giving the Stanford Achievement Test, comparing our students to a normed group from across the nation. Since AYP has become the accountability measure, the emphasis being placed on SAT-10 has been diminished. Schools are celebrating making AYP while at the same time their SAT-10 scores are in the 30th-40th percentile range.

The blog post I encourage you to read discusses the AYP issue further. It also points you to what I think are two valuable resources. The first is the Interpretive Guide. If you want to know exactly how AYP is figured in Alabama, this is the Bible, and it's updated yearly. That post includes a link to it, or you can simply use the one I just gave you.

The second valuable resource is a website that provides data for every Alabama school looking at percentages of students who scored at "Level IV" on the Alabama Reading and Math Test. For many schools, the AYP bar is pretty low. Principals are able to count on the fingers of one hand the kids in a grade that are not "proficient" and special plans are in place to target those kids. Just making AYP is not much of a challenge. When we look at the percentage of students who "exceed standards" (Level IV), the data becomes meaningful and can show some true reasons for celebration and some true areas for focus. The link to that website is in the blog post I recommend, or you can access it here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Checklists Revisited

My recent post entitled "It's a Matter of Life and Death...Literally" elicited a very thoughtful comment which ended with this paragraph:

Checklist don't take the creativity away, they take the chaos away, and let's be honest, performing in chaos is not creative per se, but one of the surest ways towards a nervous breakdown, so why would you willingly get into that?

Beautifully stated...and right on target.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Setting the Tone for Student Success: What Can Principals Do?

Eye on Education has asked several of its authors to weigh in on what principals can do to set the tone for the new school year. My response centered around the initials "VIP."

To read the post on Eye on Education's blog, click here.

What things do readers suggest that principals can do in those first few days to set the tone for the year?

Thanks, Facebook! Now I Can Explain RSS

RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication," and I seriously doubt that after reading that sentence you know more than you did before reading it. RSS, however is a really important concept in the world of blogging. Thanks to Facebook, I think I can explain in terms Facebook users will understand.

Suppose you have 200 Facebook friends and you want to read their latest news. You could accomplish this by going to the profile page of each friend one at a time. In many cases, you would find that nothing on the page has been added since the last time you looked. Secondly, the process of going to each page is very time-consuming.

Luckily, Facebook takes all of the new content your friends have posted and puts it in one place for you, on your "newsfeed."

Think of blogs as Facebook profiles and RSS as the newsfeed. When you come across a blog that you like, you don't have to actually go to that blog in order to see when there is new content. Instead, you can "subscribe" to that blog through your RSS reader.

How to Get an RSS Reader
Google Reader is my choice. First, I set up an iGoogle page. iGoogle is my homepage and serves as a "dashboard," putting many useful tools at my fingertips. For instructions on how to set up an iGoogle page, go here.

Once you get the iGoogle page established, click the "Add stuff" link near the upper right portion of the screen. Search for "Google Reader" and add it. This short video gives information from there on how to use Google Reader.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

20+ Ways to Use the Flip Video in the Classroom

My last post was devoted to the Flip video. The Free Technology for Teachers blog featured more than 20 ways to use this tool in the classroom. The post is well worth reading. Click here to read it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Flip Video

Technology continues to get smaller, more affordable, and better. Such is the case of the Flip Video. I got mine at Wal-Mart for $50.
The Flip is probably the world’s easiest video camera:
Step 1: Turn it on.
Step 2: Push the big red button.
Step 3: There is no Step 3.
It’s that easy.

When you are finished recording, press the big red button again. The “Flip” gets it’s name from the way you download the material to your computer. Slide a button and a USB connection “flips” out from the device. Plug it into a USB port in the computer and store the video file on your computer.

For a sample of what the flip can do, here is a rendition of “God Bless the USA” sung by my friend, David Horton and recorded on my Flip at a high school commencement.

The March 2010 issue of the THE Journal featured an excellent article on the Flip. Click here to read the article.

Anybody have experiences with this product that you would like to share?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Leadership Day 2010: the Final List

Two recent posts have related to Leadership Day 2010. The list has been cleaned up and is now in its final form. For some inspirational, visionary, informative thoughts on the world of education, click here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It's a Matter of Life and Death...Literally

I like simple concepts, because the simple things are usually the things which wind up working. I recently read The Checklist Manifesto, a book written by a surgeon and aimed at saving lives. The premise of the book? Develop checklists to be used in the operating room. Why would a doctor need checklists? Haven't they been trained and know what to do? Of course they do. You and I have been trained for the jobs we do, but do we always remember every step of every routine exactly at the right time? If you are like me, the answer is a resounding "no."

In January, I wrote a post entitled "I Do It When I Think About It" where I talked about developing a system which causes you to think about things at the right time. This book operates along the same lines. Borrowing from pre-flight checklists used by airlines, author Atul Gawande's idea was to devise simple lists to be used before the incision and during routines procedures. Instead of having everything rolling around in their heads and hoping they think about it at the right time, there is the list to use just before the incision. Would you want a system in place to be sure that nothing was being overlooked if you were on the operating table?

For a more in-depth review, you may this one or this one, both from the New York Times. You may also view an interview with the author on The Daily Show.

Personally, I did not think the concept justified the 200 page length of the book. I do think the book is significant in that it helps to hammer home the need to identify those tasks that we perform repeatedly and get them into a system.

As a principal, I used checklists to handle numerous routines. Closing out a grading period was one. Failure to run a "missing grades report" before running report cards could mean having to re-print them because a teacher had failed to post grades. Failure to e-mail our honor roll to the newspaper would mean that our students would miss out on that recognition. In fact, overlooking any one of the steps would cause a problems somewhere down the line.

I had a checklist for getting the students information system software ready for the next school year and even gave my checklist to other principals in the school system. On the first day of school, those who had followed it to the letter had no problems. Those who did not found their teachers could not take attendance because certain dates had not been entered in the office.

What are the routine projects that you have? How much time would it take to think through the steps one time and write them down? How much time would it save not having to redo work because a step had been skipped here or there? How much stress would be saved in not having to worry about whether something had been left out in the heat of battle? Set aside a little time to identify those activities in your life where a checklist would help. The tool does not inhibit your creativity. Instead, it takes care of the the mundane and allows more energy for the creative aspects of your life. Let's hear your thoughts on this idea.

The master thinker knows that ideas are elusive and often quickly forgotten, so he traps them with notebook and pencil. He heeds the Chinese proverb: “The strongest mind is weaker than the palest ink.”
—Wilferd A. Peterson in
Adventures in the Art of Living

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Is This a Shapshot into Our Future?

What will technology look like in years to come? How will it impact our daily lives? This 5-minute video gives us a snapshot into our possible future. Go here, and then click on "Watch Video."

Friday, August 13, 2010

New Years Resolutions...How are Yours Coming?

It seems like only yesterday we were ringing in 2010 complete with its set of New Years Resolutions. How are yours coming? Anyone want to share one that is going well? Anybody want to share one that de-railed?

If something went well, why do you think this one is working while others have not? If one of yours has gone by the wayside, why do you think that happened?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Good to Outstanding

In the last post, we learned to "Watch the Game Film," in other words, learning what great teaching looks like by viewing videos of it. Today's post is a follow-up to that idea.

"Good to Outstanding" is a video series that does just what the name implies. They take good teachers and attempt to make their lessons truly outstanding. They accomplish this aim by bring in an expert to observe lessons and then meet with the teacher. During this meeting, the observer is very specific about what was good, what could have been better, and exactly how to make it so. We then see the same teacher in action again, still with the same observer in the room. We also here the feedback given to the teacher after that second lesson. Was the lesson outstanding?

Could your own teaching improve by watching? I really think so. I have been impressed with the quality and specificity of the feedback. To watch these videos, go to From Good to Outstanding.

What has helped you the most in perfecting your craft as a teacher?

Monday, August 09, 2010

Watch the Game Film

When I see educational topics discussed in a major business-related magazine, it tends to get my attention. If an editor felt a topic related to education was important enough for business executives to be familiar with, then I certainly need to be familiar with it. Such is the case with an article entitled "Watch the Game Film," which appeared in the June 2010 issue of Fast Company.

To illustrate the point they are trying to make to business executives, they examine the book Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on a Path to College. The title caught my eye because I had recently purchased and read the book. As its title suggests, the author identified strategies that great teachers use. Furthermore, the book contains a DVD of actual clips from classrooms where we see these strategies put into action. The book makes specific references to these clips at the appropriate points in the text, allowing the book and the DVD to work in tandem. It is a book that I enjoyed and heartily recommend to others.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Citation Machine

For some, writing is sheer torture while for others of us, it's a passion. One thing we can most all agree upon is that we write papers, the citations are a chore. There is a website that takes all of the drudgery out of those citations. Take a look at The Citation Machine.

You simply enter the ISBN number into the website, choose whether your results are to be in APA or MLA form, and click "Submit." You will be presented with all of the information necessary: title, author, etc. You have the opportunity to correct any information which may be incorrect or incomplete.

Now click "Submit" and you will see the resulting citation in the correct format. Copy and paste it into your paper. Life just got a little easier!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Welcome Back to School

I have no idea who assembled these clips, but I never cease to get a good chuckle from seeing it. We all need a good laugh, and often it's the ability to laugh that helps us get through the tough times and not take ourselves quite so seriously. Good luck to everyone as you start a new school year!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Tales from A Teacher's Heart: More Than Music

The last post spotlighted a young man who asks the pointed question, "Do You Believe in Me?"

This video illustrates why we need to believe in, and continue to believe the power of students to succeed. The story is very real and comes from my second year as a teacher. This past January, Eye on Education featured it in their "Tales from a Teachers Heart" series. You can view the video also at this link or access the entire series by clicking here.

Do you have a story from your own teaching background that needs to be told? I invite you to comment about it. As a child, was there a special adult who brought out the best in you? Let us hear about it.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Do You Believe in Me?

I certainly do...after watching this.

The speaker is Dalton Sherman, who at the time was a 5th grader. The audience consisted of 17,500 teachers and other employees of the Dallas Independent School District as they prepared to begin their school year in 2008.

As school systems around the country crank up again this year, there is no better time than now to review what this young man had to say.

As you prepare to start your own school year, what are the beliefs that guide your actions?