Thursday, December 30, 2010

Turning Dreams Into Reality

I'll admit, I am a technology junkie.  In my opinion it is not very difficult to quickly become one as a result of the world that we live in.  The challenge for people like me is to develop a school culture that not only places an emphasis on academic rigor and excellence, but also one that promotes learner creativity and imagination.  I truly believe that students who are placed in stimulating environments where their curiosity is peaked, creative juices are unleashed, and their wildest dreams are brought to fruition (well, sort of), increases in achievement will follow.  I feel this short video really sums up what I am trying to say nicely:

With so much emphasis placed on standardized testing and accountability schools have become complacent in meeting the needs of learners in the 21st Century.  School has become like a dreaded chore that no child wants to be a part of.  If systems of education want to see greater advances in achievement maybe they should make better attempts at turning student dreams into reality with resources that are readily available.  These are just my ramblings.  What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Education is About Giving

Below is a message that I sent to my entire staff today prior to our holiday break.  

The Holiday Season is a wonderful time of the year.  It is filled with gifts, family gatherings, festive celebrations, and most importantly scrumptious food.  I would just like to take this minute to wish each and everyone of you a break filled with joy, peace, and rest.  The next week off will enable us to recharge our batteries and continue our efforts to make New Milford High School a model for innovation and student-centered learning.

As I further reflect on the holidays I find myself coming back to the old saying that it is better to give than receive.  In education our sole responsibility is giving to our students a sound foundation that will enable them to think critically, problem solve, and experience success in a variety of areas.  Together, we have made great strides to stray away from our comfort zones and take risks in order to enhance instruction, improve student achievement, and ensure that learning is taking place in every classroom. 

During this school year we have collaboratively been a part of some integral reformations that in time will ultimately have a positive impact on teaching, learning, and achievement.  Some highlights include the following:
  • Taking control of our growth and development through the successful formation of Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s).  This process has allowed us to focus on areas in education that we truly value.
  • Embracing the role of technology in education and successfully integrating it into daily instruction.  We have also seen a movement to extending learning outside of the traditional day through the use of blogs and Google Sites, something that I hope more teachers will experiment with in 2011. The success of the Tri-State Educational Technology Conference (TSETC) held here this fall played a huge role in this movement.
  • Making our course offerings more rigorous and relevant in the 21st Century.  Through the hard work and dedication of many, the following new courses were approved the other night by the BOE: AP Physics B, AP European History, AP Language and Composition, The Civil Rights Movement of the 20th Century, Biotechnology, Bio-Ethics, Digital Photography, Digital Journalism, The World of Advertising, Chinese Language and Culture, Rock of Ages: Popular Culture Through the Prism of Rock and Roll, and Marketing: Product, Price, Place, and Promotion.  Additionally,  the stage is set to offer all students a specific concentration through the development of Academies into our program of studies.  These academies will include S.T.E.M., Arts & Letters, and Global Leadership. This is just the beginning of programmatic shifts that will undoubtedly have a positive impact on future NMHS students.
I am proud to say that I work for the students of New Milford High School and am able to stand side by side with passionate educators who are committed to giving a quality learning experience to all of our students.  As we move into 2011 let’s continue to make waves, break down traditional barriers, take risks, and collaborate for the benefit of all learners.  The stage is set for continued sustainable change to improve our craft.  I look forward to working with each and every one of you in 2011!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Defining Student Engagement

In my District I am part of a Professional Learning Community (PLC) with other administrators.  The focus of our PLC is the Classroom Walkthrough practice as a tool to improve student achievement.  During our professional day in October we decided to collect data on whether or not student-centered learning was taking place and present our finding to our respective staffs in January.  As a group we decided to zero in on whether or not students were engaged in order to determine if student-centered learning was taking place using the following criteria/definitions:
  • Actively engaged in individual practice
  • Not note taking or viewing a video unless connected to an accompanying activity
  • Cooperative learning/Group work
  • Instruction expects students to be participants
  • Students should be engaged in an inquiry or discovery based activity
  • Common question asked to students - Can you tell me what you’re learning about in this lesson?

Defining what constitutes student engagement can be extremely tricky and quite arbitrary at best.  How would you define or describe whether or not students are engaged during a lesson?  What should administrators look for?  I would like to expand or alter the list above based on your feedback.  

If you would like to learn more about PLC's check out AllThingsPLC.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

EdTech Matters to Students

The following is the second guest post from NMHS student Meredith McCann.  Meredith is a senior at NMHS and plans to pursue a career as a math teacher.
I feel fortunate that the administration and staff of New Milford High School is made up of people who care for their students and are committed to education.  They are dedicated to our school, and they continue to look for ways to improve and modernize the classroom. With the leadership of our principal, the past three years have seen great improvements in learning environments, especially in the area of technology. The implementation of Web 2.0 and other new technologies by teachers has really changed the dynamic of the classroom for the better.
These new technologies have helped in so many areas of education. Presenting an oral report has been simplified for both the student and the teacher with the use of iPod recordings; videoconferencing via Skype has allowed our learning to go beyond the four walls of a classroom to places such as Europe and Israel, and the use of Google Docs has taken away the stress of doing a group project. All of this and more is embraced at NMHS.
As simple as these technologies are to use, and as accepted as they are at NMHS, they mystify teachers at other schools. Earlier this year New Milford High School hosted the first ever Tri-State Education Technology Conference. As a volunteer at the event, and a future teacher, I was fortunate to sit in on a couple of the presentations where I learned even more about the positive contributions technology can have on education. It was wonderful, not only to be a part of this very educational day, but to also see New Milford as a pioneer of what technology has in store for the teaching profession. 
As I look towards the future, to college and beyond, I know that New Milford High School has prepared me for what is to come. I look forward to learning as much as I can about technology and the benefits it will have on my future students. I feel so fortunate that I have had such a great foundation at NMHS and I can’t wait to find out what lies ahead for me.
What do you think of Meredith's post?  Why are many other schools not laying a simliar foundation that students find valuable and a major factor in their future success?

Monday, December 13, 2010

From Within

I have been engaged recently in numerous conversations regarding teacher effectiveness, motivation, peer mentoring, and pride in student achievement.  As many professional educators I can come up with a variety of strategies to employ with the ultimate goal of improving and building upon these areas.  This is not the point of my post however. 

Shortly after one lengthy discussion on the above topics took place I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with one of my teachers where he presented the single most important influential factor necessary for change in those listed areas.  Our brief conversation in the hallway centered on how proud I was to witness his growth this year as an educator.  This teacher is one of New Milford High School’s best and has been for many years.  He expects a great deal from all of his students and they deliver (I wish I had him as a teacher in high school).
 This year saw him gradually move away from his comfort zone and begin to embrace the vision that has been set forth and modeled by my Administrative team.  He is still a fantastic teacher, but he has begun to integrate technology in subtle ways using Google Sites to spark student discussion, reflection, and inquiry outside of the classroom.   I was so impressed by his growth that I asked him to present to the staff why he decided to embark on this journey as I figured it would leave a more lasting impact coming from a direct peer.  He humbly replied that it doesn’t matter what he or anyone else for that matter says and that each individual must genuinely want to change from within.  A point that we all must remember and do our best to foster in our schools. 

So my question to all of you is how do we promote a change from within approach in order to improve teaching and learning?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Take Control of Your Public Relations

Upon becoming Principal of New Milford High School in June of 2007 I made it one of my primary goals to work hard at sharing with my stakeholders all of the accomplishments centered around teaching and learning occurring on a routine basis.  As Principal I was aware of these things, but I was pretty sure that the majority of the educational community was not.  Combine this with the fact the the local media is finicky when it comes to reporting on the many positives occurring at any school for that matter I came to the decision that it was up to me to take control of our public relations.
It was at this point that I created the monthly Principal's Report that can be viewed on the main page of our website.  Even though it is simplistic from an aesthetic standpoint, this document is a powerhouse when it comes to the depth of information that it contains.  Then social media came into my life.  My immersion in Twitter allowed me to come to the realization that I could take my public relations plan to a whole new level.  As I learned about other social media tools I began to diversify the types of information shared and how it was disseminated.  The public relations plan for NMHS now looks like this:

  • Principal's Report: Monthly summary of achievements and advancements that have a positive impact on teacher, learning, and school culture.
  • Twitter (@NewMilfordHS): Daily updates on news, events, student achievements, staff innovations, etc.  It is also another medium to distribute the Principal's Report.
  • NMHS Facebook Page: Serves the same purpose as the HS Twitter account, but this tool has much more influence as many more students, parents, and alumni utilize Facebook on a daily basis.
  • Flickr: Share and showcase students, staff, and events through pictures.
  • YouTube and Vimeo: Share and showcase students, staff, and events through video.
  • My Blog: I just love sharing in detail student and staff accomplishments.  My community also enjoys reading NMHS student reflections when they guest blog on A Principal's Reflections.
How much does all of this cost me?  The answer is ZERO!!!!  Isn't it time to take control of your public relations?  If you do I can assure you that there will be a greater sense of pride in your building and respect for the work being done on a daily basis.  

Monday, December 6, 2010

Discovering Inspiration

Last year I had the honor of sharing two guest posts written by New Milford High School Students.  I am excited to welcome senior Meredith McCann to A Principal's Reflections.  This is the first of two posts written by Meredith that I will be sharing.  Please leave comments as they will be shared with her.

Decision-making is not always easy, especially when one decision will affect how you will spend the next four years of your life. As a high school senior I have spent a great deal of time thinking about my future.  I have decided that I want to study mathematics with the hope of becoming a high school math teacher.  During this process, I have selected schools, completed my applications, and reflected on my experiences over the past three years at New Milford High School.

Upon entering high school as a freshman I tried to take advantage of all that was offered to me and get involved in many different facets of the school. As a student, I have taken advantage of the academic aspect of school, but what I have learned through my time at NMHS is that a high school experience goes far beyond the 8 periods of the school day. Because of my early participation in different activities, I now hold several leadership roles as an upperclassman, including being President of the senior class, Captain of the girl’s soccer team, and President of our music honor society. I was also fortunate enough to be selected as NMHS’s delegate for New Jersey’s Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Seminar my sophomore year. All of these experiences have taught me what it means to be a leader. Through all of these opportunities I learned that a good leader must be dedicated to inspire positive change.
When I reflect back on my time at NMHS there were many people who inspired positive change in me.  Due to my involvement in many after school activities, I have been fortunate enough to develop strong relationships with several NMHS teachers. The funny thing is that a few of them were not teachers I ever had a class with. These exceptional educators have shown me just how teachers can lead students and guide them in the right direction, in and out of the classroom. In my opinion, that is the most important aspect of being a teacher.

My freshman English teacher, Raymond Harrison, tells a story about when his college professor asked him why he wanted to be a high school teacher. Mr. Harrison began to respond by explaining that he loved the subject of English. His professor cut him off before he could complete his response and told him that a passion for a specific subject should never be the reason to become a teacher. He told Mr. Harrison that you should only become a teacher if you love to work with children. That statement was a wakeup call for both Mr. Harrison and me.

I realized that after all is said and done, 30 years down the road, students might not remember rhetorical devices or the periodic table, but they will remember the teachers who helped them when they were struggling or reached out to get to know them.  As I begin my journey toward becoming a teacher, I will always remember the lessons I learned from the great teachers I was fortunate to meet at NMHS.  I hope that I can inspire students the way I was inspired.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Failing to Fail

After reading a great blog post this morning entitled "The Wisdom to Learn From Failure" I quickly began to reflect on how the majority of educational systems are set up in a way where failure, or even the thought of it, is unacceptable.  Early on in both my teaching and administrative careers I often found myself trying to avoid failure at all costs.  I now see it in the eyes of non-tenured teachers during pre-conferences and observations.

The fact of the matter is that we (administrators, teachers, students) learn best by doing and inherit in this process no matter who you are is some sort of failure.  It is how we react and evolve when faced with this phenomenon that defines us as educators and learners.  If we are to support risk-taking behaviors in order to promote innovation then an environment has to be cultivated where we learn from our failures in order to grow and become better.  As educators we must not be afraid to fail and it is essential that this is modeled for our students.  Should failing to fail be promoted in schools today?  If so then change and reform will be extremely hard to come by.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Talk is Cheap

I was re-reading a recent post by George Couros (Is Change the True Barrier?) and began to reflect on some of the comments made directly on his site as well as those in the Twitter stream.  The following comment by David Jakes really got me thinking: "Perpetual never-ending conversation about change is the barrier."  As I looked more into the recent pleas for change in education I came across this video:

Talk is cheap (I do think this is a pretty good video though)!  Those of us working in education today know what has to be done in order to reshape the teaching and learning cultures found within our schools that have failed to adapt to an evolving world.  We need to lead the change movement through action instead of engaging in what seems to be never-ending talk about the "why" and "how" associated with the process.  There will be roadblocks, none of which are insurmountable.  Additionally, we need to share successful change movements that are sustainable in which marked improvements have been made to teaching and learning.  This way can learn from successful models and adapt these strategies to our own unique educational institutions.  What do you think?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Tweet For Your Thoughts

Large classrooms can make students feel anonymous, and as a result, many may feel less compelled to actively participate or pay attention during class. Whether it is in primary or secondary school, or in a college classroom, getting students to become engaged in the materials being presented can be a frustrating battle. This is especially true now that students can become distracted during class by a number of things, including the Internet and technology. Yet, teachers can use these very same things to bring the interests of students back to the classroom, such as is the case in some classroom experiments with educational Twitter accounts.

Twitter fosters critical thought in the classroom because it removes the element of self-consciousness from the equation. Those who do not actively participate in class or ask questions when they are confused often fail to do so because they do not want to speak up. This is why in most classrooms, only the same handful of students seem to participate time after time while the rest remain silent. Twitter allows for even the shyest individual to reach out and expand on the topic discussed, as it allows students to get their queries answered without being afraid of classmate judgment. In fact, a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas has a fully Twitter-integrated class, which allows for students to tweet their thoughts and questions to the professor while class is being conducted, according to an article published on Mashable. The professor and the class teaching assistants regularly look over these tweets and respond accordingly, whether through Twitter or live during the lecture. Classroom participation has increased since this tool was first introduced.
In addition, Twitter allows for students to continue thinking about a topic long after the class has ended, thereby encouraging critical thought even outside of class. Students may formulate new thoughts on classroom lectures after mulling over the information for longer than a single class period would allow, and once they have a new question or epiphany about the topic, they can tweet about it and receive responses from other classmates or from the instructor. Students in the class can all set up a Twitter account even a separate one solely for educational purposes and "follow" their instructors and fellow classmates. This way, they will receive updates each time something new is posted about the class. Instructors can keep the information on Twitter organized as well, using hashtags to label different classroom topics.

While Twitter is not without its flaws after all, each "tweet" can only be 140 characters long, which can make sharing thoughts on a complex topic challenging it certainly holds promise when it comes to inspiring students to put their thoughts and interests back into their classes.

References Cited:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tools to Help Become a Tech Savvy Educator

Cross-posted at The Educator's Royal Treatment.

As I mentioned in a previous post I have been working on a educational technology presentation for principals in a NJ school district.  The title I chose was "Harnessing the Power of Educational Technology" as I firmly believe that the many free tools available at our fingertips possess the ability to enhance our effectiveness and efficiency as administrators.  Below I will break down the main components of my presentation in an attempt to provide a toolkit to be used by other administrators, or any educator for that matter, across the globe.
21st Century Leadership
  • Shift Happens (must see video for any educator unfamiliar with the tends and impacts associated with technology and social media.
  • Sustainable change relies on understanding people, culture, and processes.  This is best accomplished through collaboration, consensus, and understanding.
  • 21st Century Educators must be able to adapt, communicate, take risks, model, continually learn, collaborate, exhibit vision, and lead.
  • Leaders in the "Digital Age" share their vision, learn with other educators, start conversations, lead by example, encourage innovative practices, integrate technology, are transparent, and leverage the power of Web 2.0
  • Principals can use social media for communication, public relations, branding, professional development, and opportunity. 
  • Keys for Principals: Support your staff, be flexible, exhibit passion, don't use time as an excuse to learn, take/encourage risks, and model.
    Web 2.0 Tools for Learning
    • Twitter: Improve instruction through global collaboration (sharing resources, best practices, lesson ideas, acquire knowledge, networking, tracking conferences, etc.), grow professionally by establishing a Personal Learning Network (PLN), follow specific hashtags (#).  To become more familiar with Twitter check out this video.
    • Ning: Customizable social network similar to Facebook, great place to connect with other educators, pivotal to a PLN.  Two great Nings to sign up for are The Educator's PLN and Classroom 2.0.  Check out this Ning tutorial.
      Google Apps
      • Google Docs: An online word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation editor that allows for easy organization and communication.  Also has a feature for easily creating forms to conduct surveys and collect data.  Features include upload/convert to any format (i.e. MS Office), simultaneously collaborate on and edit various document formats, access your documents from anywhere in the word, and embed links to your docs in emails, websites, blogs, etc.  Learn more about Google Docs here.
      • Google Calendar: Create multiple calendars in order to easily share events with staff and sync to your mobile phones built-in calendar.  Learn more here.
      • Google Reader: Constantly check educational news sites and blogs for new content (updates daily).  Subscribe to websites via RSS feeds, customize to your learning needs/goals, create you own unique educational current events library, and share websites quickly with your staff. Learn more about Google Reader here.
      • Google Sites: Free and easy way to create websites.  Single click page creation, no HTML required, customize to the look and feel that suits you, many templates to get you started, upload files and attachments, embed rich content (videos, images, spreadsheets, presentations), and collaborate with others.  Learn more here.
      Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching

      • Wordle: create beautiful word clouds quickly and easily.  Use as an anticipatory set, review prior learning, or closure. Have students create a Wordle as a means of independent assessment.  Print or save to the gallery to share (if you have a Mac you can use the Grab feature in utilities to take a screen shot and save as a jpeg.  The more you type the same word the larger it will appear. Click here for a tutorial or check out these resources.
      • Voicethread: Collaborative, multimedia slideshow that holds images, documents, and videos while allowing people to navigate through slides and comment in multiple ways (text , audio, video).  Click here for a tutorial or check out these resources.
      • Wallwisher: An online message board ideal for making announcements, taking notes, and collecting ideas, responses, or feedback.  Add images, music, and or links to each virtual note.  Works like a real notice board (drag, drop, rearrange posts).  Click on the following for more information: reasons to use, tutorial, and resources.
      • Prezi: Create stunning presentations on the web and allow students to unleash their creativity.  Great way to review prior learning or use as an anticipatory set.  Principals can even create a Prezi for their faculty meetings (one of our elementary principals does this).  Check out this tutorial associated and resources.
      • Glogster: Allow students to create interactive posters easily.  Mix images, music, text, and video.  Engage students in fun and creative activities while allowing them to express their knowledge, ideas, and skills.  Check out this tutorial and associated resources.  
      • Animoto:  Automatically produces beautifully orchestrated, completely unique video pieces from photos, video clips, and music.  Educators can apply for free student accounts at Animoto for Education. Bring lessons to life!  Check out this tutorial and associated resources.
      • Skype: Add free videoconferencing with only a webcam, computer, and internet connection.  Make free Skype to Skype calls.  Bring in quest speakers, go on virtual field trips, collaborate with other schools on lessons in real time, bring in additional professional development opportunities,  and add a global context to instruction.  Chat feature allows for the sharing of links, asking questions, etc.  Check out this tutorial and associated resources.
      EdTech Tools for Administrators

      • Facebook:  Create an information hub for your building that can quickly and easily get important information in the hands of your stakeholders.  Sign up for a personal account, create a page, and add material (news, pictures, videos, events).  Use the sidebar on the left to add useful links (school website, alumni groups, athletic schedules, Twitter feed).  Check out this tutorial and the page I created for New Milford High School.
      • Social Bookmarking: Store, organize, manage, and search for your resource bookmarks online from any computer in the world.  Two common tools are Delicious and Diigo (I use Delicious).  Organize and categorize your bookmarks with tags.  Add descriptions for each resource.  Create content area and resource specific tags.  Encourage your teachers to create their own free account to organize their bookmarks.  Check out this video for more information.  My Delicious account can be found here.  
      • Dropbox: Store, sync, and share files online for free.  Create an account then download Dropbox on your computers, smartphone, and any other mobile device that you have (i.e. iPad).  Copy/paste or save any file in Dropbox.  You can even copy entire folders from your hard drive and paste them into Dropbox.  Access your files from anywhere in the world by logging into your account at  For more information see this video.
      • Evernote: Remember everything by capturing notes, ideas, and things you hear/see.  Download on your computers, smartphone, and any other mobile device that you have (i.e. iPad).  Easily and quickly sync your notes.  Use a smartphone to upload picture and audio notes.  Access your notes from anywhere in the world by logging into your account at  Organize and categorize your notes with tags.  For more information see this tutorial.
      • Twitter:  Use this microblogging resource to send out information in 140 characters or less to your stakeholders.  Tweet out links, pictures, and video.  Parents and community members can access from the web or on their mobile phones through SMS (text message).  Send emergency announcements, event reminders, special schedules, athletic scores, student achievements, and staff innovations.  View the Twitter page for New Milford High School as an example.
      • Blog:  Type of website with regular commentary, reflections, and opinions.  Can easily add text, pictures, video, and gadgets.  One of the best public relations tools available to administrators.  Interactive as readers can leave comments. Check out this video for more information about blogs.
      What did I miss?  Please leave a comment so I may improve my presentation and this post!

      Thursday, November 11, 2010

      The Opinion That Matters Most

      This morning I attended a meeting with students that represent New Milford High School and my superintendent.  The purpose of the "Superintendent's Council" is to allow students to have a voice and empower them to make meaningful changes to the culture of the District.  During the meeting the students were asked what changes or initiatives they would like to see.  One freshman student quickly caught my attention when he began to discuss how he was upset that certain students were unmotivated in school.  A conversation then ensured as to how we could change this.  I quickly jumped in and replied that many students come to schools across the country and are bored because the digital world that they are so accustomed to is taken away from the one place where they should most be engaged.
      What transpired next gave me goosebumps.  Unscripted and in front of my boss student after student enthusiastically shared what their respective teachers were doing to make learning engaging, meaningful, and fun.  They spoke of the History teacher who was having them blog to reflect critically on world history content where they could interact with each other and share their thoughts.  Then there was the science teacher who has his biology classes using Google Docs and Sites regularly to collaborate, provide feedback and discuss the material.  The grand finale was the one English teacher using cell phones, Edmodo, and wikis to invigorate her lessons.

      Student voices are the most powerful tool that educators can use to change the learning cultures of schools. These students readily shared the type of learning environment that they prefer, one that effectively integrates the digital tools of their generation.  I can talk about the merits of educational technology all I want, but it is the opinions of my students that have the potential to empower other teachers to jump on board.  Today was a great day!

      Saturday, November 6, 2010

      The Power of Reflection

      Over the past couple of days I have been preparing a presentation for K-12 Principals entitled "Harnessing the Power of Educational Technology" (I'll share more about this at a later time).  I must say that I have been quite impressed with myself as I decided to create the entire full day presentation using Google Sites.  During what seemed to be countless hours of tweaking presentations, searching for videos, and deciding what content I wanted to cover I found myself reflecting on my growth as a leader and learner.  The paradigm shifts that I have experienced are nothing but amazing.  My passion for helping all students succeed and taking my staff where they need to be has always been there, but my immersion in the world of web 2.0 has provided constant fuel to become better at what I do.
      Technology is not always my driving force as many think.  Most of the time it is the inspirational conversations I have with educators from all corners of the globe on how they are moving away from traditional mindsets to unleash the creativity and learning potential in their students.  What is even better is that members of my own staff are beginning to embrace ideologies of authentic instruction to prepare students for success in the 21st Century.  In order to get to this point I had to look myself in the mirror and question some views I had in order to move forward without fear of failure.

      Change in education tends to be evasive and not sustainable.  All to often entire educational organizations are comfortable with the status quo and if it isn't broke don't fix it mentality.  The honest truth though is the our system is broken and it is up to us to be open to new ideas, give up control, and work together to meet the diverse needs of today's learner.  Some might think that this is not possible, to difficult, ore requires an extensive amount of time.  These experiences and reflections I just shared prove that we all have the capacity no matter our position to transform our system of education one little piece at a time.

      Monday, November 1, 2010

      Opening Minds on Social Networking

      The following interview took place after Education Week's Leadership Forum "Unleashing Technology to Personalize Learning" on 10/5/10 in Washington D.C.  In order to increase access and use I am now utilizing Facebook with students and parents in my District.  There are so many people already using Facebook to interact with their friends and family. They’re always excited to find out that they can learn about our school at the same time. What are you doing to increase access and use of social media in your schools? 

      Thursday, October 28, 2010

      What Constitutes Good Instruction?

      As a Principal, one of my most important responsibilities is the evaluation of instruction.  In general, the observation process is quite arbitrary.  The feedback a teacher receives really depends on the training a particular administrator has received, District vision, and what books or research have been read.  
      What I have tried to do is take a little bit of everything I have learned to provide my teachers with the best feedback possible in order to promote professional growth and increase student achievement.  In my mind there are no perfect lessons and there is always room for improvement no matter how great the teacher is.  The trick is being able to effectively identify those areas and engage the teacher in a constructive dialogue that results in improved practice.  Here is what I look for:
      • Clearly stated objectives as to what the students are expected to learn or do by the conclusion of the lesson.
      • Asking open and closed-ended questions during direct instruction in order to check for understanding, engage, and assess.  I like to see my teachers randomly call on students so that they don’t get lost during the course of a lesson.  An emphasis is also placed on the lecture being only 10-15 minutes if necessary.
      • A do-now or anticipatory set that motivates the learner, reviews prior learning, and makes connections to the new content being presented.  Students need to find meaning and relevancy in what they are learning or else they will be disengaged.
      • Interdisciplinary connections.
      • A variety of student-centered learning activities where students are afforded the opportunity to think critically, solve problems, work in cooperative groups, and create manifestations that demonstrate learning is taking place.  Students need to be actively involved in the learning process.
      • Informal and formal means of assessment in which the students have a clear indication of their performance in relation to expected learning outcomes.  Rubrics or scoring guides should accompany any activity that is to be graded.
      • The routine use of positive reinforcement to commend and praise students for taking risks, whether they are wrong or right. 
      • A stimulating learning environment that promotes inquiry with student work proudly displayed.  Tied to this are classroom management techniques that afford all students the opportunity to learn.
      • Effective technology integration.
      • Teacher enthusiasm.  If teachers aren’t enthusiastic about the lesson or content then how can they expect their students to be?
      • A closure activity that reinforces the objectives of the lesson.

      By no means is this list inclusive of all the aspects of effective instruction.  However, I do feel that it provides me with a good base to effectively and objectively evaluate my teachers to help them grow professionally.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

      Thursday, October 21, 2010

      Climate is Everything

      This week has been extremely gratifying in terms of the instructional practices I either witnessed firsthand or heard about.  Coincidentally they are all coming out of my History Department.  Here is a quick rundown:

      On Thursday, October 21, I observed Nicolette Perna’s American History 1 class where the lesson focused on the major patriots during the Revolutionary War.  After a few minutes of notes, the students were directed to get in their pre-selected groups and were broken up into pairs by Ms. Perna within each group.  Each pair received a folder containing the name of an important patriot (i.e. Benjamin Franklin), their biography, and a Facebook template.  The nature of the activity was for the students to create a Facebook page for their important Patriot as the students envisioned it would look if they were alive today. Prior to beginning this assignment, Ms. Perna modeled what she was looking for by showing the class an example of a Facebook page made for Abraham Lincoln.  She further explained that each page had to include biographical information, a list of other patriots who would be friends, and status updates of historical significance.  In addition to these requirements, students were given the flexibility to be as creative as they wanted to with the status updates.  One student in particular added a conversation between Thomas Jefferson and “The Situation” from the Jersey Shore (of course all required content information was included as well).  On a side note, Ms. Perna used Prezi on Monday to introduce students to words and images associated with the Olive Branch Petition.

      While learning about Immigration in Rebecca Millan’s American History 2 class during the week of October 4, students created interactive Glogster posters.  The posters were developed to provide students with a better understanding of their family’s immigration to America as well as the overall immigration experience of the countries in which families emigrated.  Students worked diligently in the computer lab for three days and were then able to publish their projects online and present them in class.

      Today I observed Joe Manzo in Modern World History where he was covering the Columbian Exchange.  After lecturing on the topic, he broke students up into cooperative, heterogeneous groups where they answered questions relating to the impact of the Columbian Exchange on Europe, Africa, and the Americas.  As a culminating activity, Mr. Manzo asked the students to take out their mobile devices and submit their questionnaire answers using Poll Everywhere.  In preparation for the activity he informed the students yesterday to bring their cell phones in (they were shocked). This was an extremely significant event as this represented the first time that a teacher and students used mobile devices in NMHS as a learning tool.  I observed each and every student thoroughly engaged in the activity as they observed real-time results appear on a large television screen.  Their excitement was contagious.  Wait, it gets better; when the activity ended Mr. Manzo moved on to his closure activity and every student turned off and then put away their cell phones without even being asked!

      I am extremely proud of my teachers effectively integrating technology into their instruction to create an engaging learning environment.  All three of these teachers willingly attended the Tri-State Educational Technology Conference (TSETC) held at NMHS and learned about Prezi, Glogster, and Poll Everywhere for the first time.  A climate has been established here where teachers are provided with the tools, resources, support, and flexibility to take risks with technology in order to improve teaching and learning.  Teachers are not directed or mandated to do this, but instead motivated through effective modeling, meaningful events like TSETC, and a desire to change.  These success stories must be shared to alleviate fears and resistance to using educational technology in the classroom.

      Sunday, October 17, 2010

      Facebook Top 20 Learning Applications

      Check out this video for some great learning applications associated with Facebook.

      Do you know of other learning applications?  If so list them here!

      Sunday, October 10, 2010

      Field of Dreams

      As I write this post I am sitting in the Des Moines airport waiting for my flight back to the East Coast.  I was fortunate to spend the last few days here in Iowa as a guest of Scott McLeod who founded and runs the C.A.S.T.L.E. program at Iowa State University.  The purpose of my trip here was to learn about the deployment, facilitation, and observable impact of 1:1 laptop programs in various Iowa school districts.  I have little experience in this area as I only know of a handful of districts in New Jersey that have these programs. 

      On Wednesday when I arrived my head was filled with unclear expectations as to what my takeaways would be upon my return east.   Although I could envision some benefits of a 1:1 program in my school, I had no plans to pursue implementing one.  Little did I know that I would be leaving with a wealth of information that could have the potential to radically transform the learning culture at New Milford High School.  I also was unprepared for the amount of corn I would see virtually every minute of my journey through a state that really gets it from an educational standpoint. 

      First a little history on 1:1 laptop programs in Iowa.  Last year approximately 17 Districts had deployed these programs in their schools.  That number has now grown to 51 this year (see this map).  Obviously the state of Iowa noticed something beneficial result from these programs as the number of 1:1 laptop schools tripled.   Here are my observations and thoughts after touring three schools (K-12, 7-12, K-6) located throughout central Iowa:
      • We need to prepare our students to be doers and creative thinkers who can compete with their peers globally for jobs that have yet to evolve.  Many schools across the country are not doing this and as a result our students are at a disadvantage.
      • A common message of change must be embraced by all stakeholders, especially Boards of Education and Central Office Administration, for 1:1 programs to be rolled out in schools.  Additionally, the community needs to speak up and ask schools to do things differently if Districts would rather not break from the status quo.  This last point was the driving force in one District we visited.
      • Students in schools with 1:1 programs don’t ask what they have to do to get the right answer as do those in other schools structured to teach to the test.  Instead, they are asking thought-provoking questions, challenging assumptions, making interdisciplinary connections, applying acquired knowledge, and are immersing themselves in authentic learning experiences.  These students are permitted to follow their passion, which results in the active pursuit of self-directed learning opportunities.
      • Teachers can easily and effectively differentiate content, projects, and assessments for students.  I observed a great example of this in a 6th grade class.  As students finished work on their vertebrate Keynote projects, they immediately began working on math or language arts content that was found on their teacher’s website. 
      • I observed students performing various tasks on the laptops that many teachers and administrators do not know how to do such as hyperlinking content, creating custom music using Garage Band for their presentations, constructing Wordles, using Paintbrush, and adding customized slide transitions.  The latter two, I don’t even know how to do on Keynote.  The significance of this is that students are then empowered to not only collaborate with each other, but to also teach the teacher.  This can only occur in learning environments where control is relinquished, as was the case in many classrooms we visited.
      • Many teachers seamlessly integrated technology and computer skills into their lessons through modeling and reinforcement.  In my opinion, this served to significantly enhance the curriculum as well as to refine and introduce advanced technology skills.
      • When asked whether or not parents embraced and accepted these programs, the uniform message was quite surprising.  Parents were initially fearful of the program (i.e. cost to fix or replace), but those fears soon subsided.  Each school then explained how the laptops were bringing families together outside of school.   Engagement in many homes increased as families began to use the laptops together.  I even heard about how some parents were annoyed that they couldn’t get their students to bed at a reasonable hour because they were constantly up late solving math problems on their laptops (this is a positive in my book).  Other positives associated with the 1:1 programs include increases in student engagement and attendance, as well as decreases in tardiness and discipline referrals.   You could see that the students thoroughly enjoyed coming to school and were not bored.  I found it particularly fascinating that in one elementary school they found that the students’ enhanced presentation skills acquired from class gave them the confidence to speak in front of large adult groups.  These same students Skype back into their classes when on vacation, sharing, with their peers, pictures and the history of the location they are visiting.
      • Recommendations: More professional development would go a long way in assisting the staff to effectively integrate the laptops in each school. Check out this post on Dangerously Irrelevant.

      Each 1:1 school in Iowa represents a “Field of Dreams” to each and every student enrolled there.  The students are afforded the opportunity to follow their passion, be creative, collaborate, and become active participants in the learning process.  What struck me the most were the high levels of student engagement in classrooms where the tool was combined with a sound pedagogical foundation.  In all cases, students were being prepared for the future.  I leave Iowa motivated to provide my students with their own field of dreams.  Thank you Scott McLeod!

      Saturday, October 9, 2010

      Today's Lesson: Facebook. Friend or enemy in the classroom?

      Facebook, the premiere social networking site, is used by hundreds of thousands of students all over the world. While the site has become somewhat of a nuance for most teachers—they distract from valuable study and class time—some schools are embracing the social media site with welcoming arms. Not only are some schools incorporating Facebook into their lesson plans, but they are also tutoring students as young as 6-years-old on how to 'properly' use the site.

      Yes, students are being tutored how to use Facebook.

      This school year, teachers at Bluff Gunn Elementary, a school located in Iowa, decided to use Facebook in the hopes that they could create an interactive learning environment for their students—showing them the positive ways of using the site and the importance of a social networking— while squeezing a few spelling and grammar lessons in between.  While many may frown at the idea of fourth graders using Facebook in the classroom, teachers at Gunn argued that the site helps students reinforce information while simultaneously allowing parents to monitor what their child is learning in class.

      How do they do this, exactly?

      Upon the class' completion of the core curriculum, no matter what the subject, teachers will log on to Facebook and ask students to update the class profile page.  The trick is that students can only have updates pertaining to what was taught that day. Teachers require that students really synthesize the day's lesson and incorporate specific details it into the status update. The status is then collectively checked for sentence structure and spelling and grammar mistakes before the status is entered. In turn, parents who filled out a consent form allowing their child to participate in the classroom Facebook page can view the updates. This way, they can keep track of what their child is being taught in school. In addition to being able to view important announcements and assignment deadlines, they can also view classroom photos, videos, and other student- work, published only with the consent of the parent naturally.

      First graders at Gunn Elementary also learn Facebook, however the grammar portion is geared more towards the fourth grade students.

      While schools like Gunn are trying to get hip with times by incorporating networking sites like Facebook into their lesson plans, do you think that Facebook in the classroom—especially taught at such a young age—is a good idea?  While there is no concrete evidentiary support stating how young Facebook users tend to be, most typically start in middle school, not grade school.  So, do you think these schools are just trying to beat their students to the punch, meaning –the students will get a Facebook eventually, so teachers might as well inform them how not to abuse the site starting now?; or do you think these schools are in a sense forcing students to adopt these sites that they might have never wanted to use on their own?

      This guest post is contributed by Olivia Coleman, who writes on topics of online colleges and universities.  She welcomes your comments at her email Id:

      Sunday, October 3, 2010

      Reform is Happening

      On a crisp, sunny Saturday morning in October, approximately 400 passionate educators congregated at New Milford High School for the Tri-State Educational Technology Conference (TSETC).  The brainchild of Schoology and myself, we set out in mid-August to plan an unprecedented free conference that would provide educators of varying experience with practical strategies to successfully integrate technology in the classroom.  We didn’t know what to expect, but were committed to planning and delivering an event that would have a positive impact on all who attended.  Little did we know that by the end of the day, after countless hours of planning, that the conference would not only be a success, but would greatly exceed our expectations.

      Around 9:10 AM I walked into my auditorium to kick off TSETC.  This was an incredibly emotional moment for me as I became so humbled to see the NMHS auditorium at capacity.  Particularly gratifying for me was to see so many stakeholders from my District present on a Saturday including teachers, administrators, central office personnel, parents, and Board of Education members.  During my brief statements I explained that the main objective of the conference was for participants to leave inspired and motivated to pursue innovative practices while becoming agents of change (thanks for capturing this in a quote Lisa).  The keynote then began and the conference was officially underway.

      I didn’t see many sessions as I was running around like a lunatic.  Between popping into sessions I was setting up AVA equipment, moving extra chairs into rooms, printing out PD certificates, and exchanging business cards.  What I did hear though from educator after educator was how phenomenal the conference was. Conversations were taking place all over my school - in the hallways, Blogger’s Cafe, and in the cafeteria during lunch. The common theme of all of these informal discussions was the cultivation of student-centered learning opportunities.  Anyone that was following the #TSETC hashtag could feel the outside of the box thinking that was taking place in a little NJ town. Just check out these thoughts from Meg Wilson.

      Here are just a few of the highlights:
      • Adam Bellow electrified the crowd with his presentation 10 Webtools to make your classroom rock!  I learned at TSETC that Adam runs a 100% free website called eduTecher that reviews and catalogs over 1,100 free web tools as well as offering short videos explaining how to use them in the classroom.  In the near future he will have free iPhone and Droid apps.  From now until November 25th, Adam is running a social media charity drive and when anyone clicks on this link he will donate a penny to charity.  Right after Thanksgiving he will donate all the money to the charity that his website audience (Twitter-folk, and Facebook friends) vote on. The idea is to show students (and everyone else too) that small things do make a difference and that by doing something small we can "Change the World".
      • New Milford High School alumnus Erica Hartman covered over 20 free tools that any teacher could easily use in the classroom.  As a Google Certified teacher, she appropriately organized her presentation by superbly using Google Sites. 
      • Karen Blumberg took fabulous notes on many of the presentations, which you can find here.  Additionally she facilitated a session on grassroots PD. Any highlights I missed can be found here.
      • Matt Ray provided updates on the conference and posted them to his blog.
      • Mary Beth Hertz facilitated a session where the attendees created their own presentation describing 21st Century learners.
      • Shelly Terrell Skyped in from Germany and dazzled educators on how to effectively extend learning beyond classroom walls. My students that were volunteering made it clear after her presentation that NMHS has to Skype more often.
      • EdSocialMedia and William Stites did a fabulous job running the the Blogger’s Cafe.  You can check out his session here. The Blogger's Cafe was definitely the place to be during the extended lunch break.
      • Mark Moran not only presented a comprehensive session on conducting better web research, but went out of his way to speak with educators the entire day to share his knowledge and expertise. The book marks were also a nice touch. 
      • I had met George Bengel at the NYSCATE Leadership Symposium this summer and personally reached out to him about presenting at TSETC.  He provided educators with a great deal of food for thought on using mobile technology for student-centered learning. 
      • Lisa Nielsen was absolutely fabulous.  I was fortunate to meet Lisa this past April at the 140 Characters Conference in NYC.  During her keynote she emphasized the need to take risks in the classroom and shared examples detailing the trials and tribulations of her journey to effectively integrate technology.  Read her post conference thoughts and discover how to think outside the ban.
      • The Virtual Learning Lab provided an engaging experience for all attendees as well as my students who volunteered to help out with the conference (they were awesome). They were blown away by the interactive learning experience shown off by Tequipment and wanted to "Glog" in class thanks to Glogster. Teachers from my District were really intrigued by the Schoology platform. The fact that Glogster and Dell traveled from MA and TX respectively to be a part of this experience was so exciting.
      • The Record did this story, which appeared in the paper today.
      • Google Doc of resources from TSETC courtesy of Chuck Poole.
      • Listen to my entire session on Leading With Social Media here.
      We are currently experiencing a critical time in the field of education. First there were the budget cuts followed by what now seems like relentless attacks on teachers and administrators. The accountability movement being heralded by so-called reformers is being embraced by more and more stakeholders across the country. Throwing gasoline on the fire has been the documentary "Waiting for Superman" and the sham called Education Nation (which, by the way, had no respected educators present at the Summit because they were not invited). The systems that they are proposing, such as those based on merit or performance pay, will ultimately create schools that are stagnant, teach to the test, and crush any desire for innovative practices.

      Reform is happening. It is happening at free conferences like TSETC where passionate educators come together on a Saturday for a full day of learning about practical strategies and sharing ideas to engage all learners in order to improve achievement. It is happening virtually in the form of Personal Learning Networks through discussion, resource sharing, and collaboration through social networking sites like Twitter and The Educator's PLN. What I learned on Saturday in my conversations with educators from many different districts is that we need to work together, learn from each other, and cultivate learning environments that are innovative, supportive, embrace risk-taking, and, most importantly, put the students first. This is the kind of real reform of which I want to be a part.