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.