Saturday, March 24, 2012

Shifts and Issues Associated With The Common Core

I attended another session on the Common Core State Standards today at the 2012 ASCD Annual Conference entitled Educator Readiness for the Common Core: ASCD Findings from Select States.  The two facilitators shared input from educators in four states about the standards and the assistance needed to integrate them into schools and classrooms.  
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Key ELA Shifts
  • Building knowledge through content rich nonfiction and informational texts.
  • Reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence.
  • Regular practice with complex texts (and its vocabulary).
What can be done this year:
  1. Teachers are aware of an understand the shifts required to implement.
  2. Teachers can identify, evaluate, and develop text-dependent (evidentiary) questions.
  3. Teachers begin reviewing existing materials to develop text-dependent questions.
Key Mathematical Shifts
  • Focus: focus strongly where the standard focus
  • Coherence: think across grades, and link to major topics
  • Rigor: require fluency, application, and deep understanding
What can be done this year:
  • Teachers are aware and understand shifts
  • Teachers identify major work for grade
  • Teachers begin reviewing existing materials to prepare for focus
Cases studies revealed approximately 50 percent of educators in AR feel that they do not have the resources and tools necessary to successfully implement the Common Core State Standards. Their number one concern is the technological capacity to teach and assess students.  Compounding this issue is the fact that there is no money to purchase what is needed to meet the expectations that will come along with these assessments.  Rural states like Arkansas don’t have the bandwidth to implement and support the assessments that are required.  A key question that came out of this analysis was how do we know what we buy today will be compatible in 2014-2015? 

In North Carolina, 45 percent of educators feel that they do not have the resources and tools necessary to successfully implement the Common Core State Standards.  They are primarily concerned about the summative assessments linked to the standards.  Utah educators were most concerned about the availability of professional development offerings. 

Successful transition to the Common Core hinges on the amount of support that schools will receive from states (if any) and quality professional development opportunities.  One trend that bothers me and many others is the fact that many stakeholder groups that do not have a vested interest in student achievement are raking in the cash while schools struggle to adapt to these changes.  As long as this issue and others discussed above persist resentment for this initiative will continue to grow.

Global Competencies and the Common Core

I attended a session at the 2012 ASCD Annual Conference early on Saturday morning entitled Common Core and Curriculum 21: Global Competency in Literacy, Math, and Science.  The session was facilitated by an organization called Facing the Future.  As we move to the Common Core it is crucial that we sustain a renewed focus on engaging students using global issues across multiple disciplines to keep them hooked and in position for achievement.  Some great resources were initially shared that can assist educators and schools develop a 21st Century curriculum while integrating elements of the Common Core Standards.  They included:
So how did we get here?  The presenter discussed how many elements of the 21st Century Skills movement influenced the development of the Common Core Standards.  He referenced Tony Wagner's  Survival Skills for the 21stCentury that include:
  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • leading by influence and collaboration across networks
  • agility and adaptability
  • initiative and entrepreneurialism
  •  curiosity and imagination
  •  accessing and analyzing info
  • effective oral and written communication skills
An overview of the work done by Heidi Hayes Jacobs and Curriculum 21 was then discussed.  She contends that a curriculum for the 21st Century should:
  • Ask the question for what year are we preparing our students.
  • Be upgraded with more engaging selections.
  • Demonstrate learning with products and performances that match our times.
  • Be a model for growth, not a model for change. 
It is important to note that we must have a firm understanding of what global competencies are and how they are defined by the Common Core Standards if we are to successfully integrate them into lessons.  Global competence is defined as the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance.  We must cultivate learning environments that allow students to demonstrate knowledge and apply skills that:
  • investigate the world
  • recognize perspectives
  • communicate ideas
  • take action
Now the task becomes developing learning activities and curricula that support 21st Century Skills while addressing the Common Core.  Facing the Future has a nice Standards Correlation tool that allows educators to align curriculum to the Common Core, state resources, and other national standards.  Download free curricular resources HERE

How are you preparing for the Common Core while also addressing the needs of today's learners aligned with societal demands and expectations?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Connect, Share, Learn

It has been an incredible journey since I decided to become a connected educator back in March of 2009.  As I sit here writing this post, I cannot help but reflect on the positive changes that have taken place at my school and with me professionally.  Through connected learning and sharing, I have become better equipped to lead change at New Milford High School and to begin to transform the teaching and learning process.  All one has to do is read this blog to experience what I am talking about. 

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Make no mistake; the knowledge, resources, ideas, strategies, and feedback that I receive from my Personal Learning Network (PLN) have had such a dramatic impact on me as an educational leader.  As a transparent leader, I have been able to share this journey with thousands of educators from across the globe.  This has resulted in teams of other connected leaders descending upon New Milford High School to see firsthand how we have successfully implemented a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative, use of mobile learning devices (i.e. cell phones) in the classroom, establishment of our own Academies, conversion of existing spaces into those more suited for 21st Century learning, and the effective integration of Web 2.0 technology.  The following are two reflections written by connected educators who have recently visited NMHS:

When we take the time to connect, share, and learn we are opening our minds to endless possibilities to improve our schools and ourselves.  Sure, we can accomplish this in other, more traditional ways.  However, I am a firm believer that educators in the trenches are in the best possible position to help us get to where we need, and want, to be.  As practitioners, we possess the power to share daily successes and failures to spur dramatic shifts in a school’s culture.  This is raw, uncut, and most importantly, real.   Thank you to everyone out there that has made me a better leader, educator, and person.  I could never envision myself not being connected, sharing, or learning like I am now. 

The challenge becomes not only sustaining the role and value of PLN’s, but empowering more educators to embrace this pathway of learning.  Our efforts to change minds and perceptions of this concept will provide more educators and schools with the appropriate tools to transform their respective cultures.  We cannot let the current educational reform movement dictate a movement in the wrong direction.  Keep sharing your journey and others will eventually follow.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Best Ideas for Our Schools

This past week I was fortunate to attend the NASSP 2012 Annual Conference as a presenter, 2012 Digital Principal Award recipient, and most importantly a learner.  On Friday morning I attended a session facilitated by Dr. Gary Stager, a progressive educator whose work I have come to know over the past couple of years.  Gary’s message is one that resonates with me and many other educators who frequent digital spaces.  All around the world there are ideas that are put into action.  These ideas, for the most part, put student learning front and center and consist of experiences that enhance essential skills that all learners should possess.  These include creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, technological proficiency, global awareness, media literacy, communication, and collaboration. 

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Ideas like the ones Gary discussed also lead to the promotion of ingenuity, entrepreneurialism, and self-directed learning.  As he weaved together stories and firsthand accounts of these ideas in action one thing became painfully apparent and that was that the majority of schools in the United States to not place a high value on this type of learning.  Current reform practices and a system of education still entrenched in preparing students for an industrialized society squash many schools attempts or desires to embrace a better way of learning.  Gary is not one to mince his words and is blunt when it comes to the reasons why many schools and educators in our country are not changing.  In his opinion the problem is incrementalism and he stressed that this is the greatest enemy of change.  It is not secret that the policy of making changes is a process fraught with issue after issue.   This is, after all, what we hear and experience from those that resist change.   Now I have posted in the past some of my personal thoughts on factors impeding the change process and can now add this one to the list (thanks Gary).

As leaders, whether in the capacity as a teacher or administrator, it is our duty to be agents of change.  We must collaboratively develop and implement our own ideas to improve the learning process in a way that emphasizes our student’s cognitive growth, passions, and strengths, while challenging them to push their own boundaries.   It is difficult work to transform a culture of learning that has been embedded for nearly a century, but as Gray eloquently put it, every problem in education has been solved sometime or somewhere before.  The time is now for all of us to critically analyze our respective schools and take a stand against the status quo in order to do what is best for our students. 

Best ideas in the world don’t succumb to incrementalism or any other type of excuse or challenge.    As Gary stated they evolve around the following:

  1. Respect for each learner:  We need to have actual conversations with our students.  They must be part of transformation efforts and their voices can provide invaluable feedback in efforts to reshape everything from curriculum, to pedagogy, to technology purchases, to how time for learning is allocated.  Respect also entails we will consistently seek paths to grow professionally in order to discover and implement new ideas on their behalf.
  2. Authentic problems: This is as real world as it gets.  In my opinion there is no other powerful learning strategy that to have students exposed to and tackle problems that have meaning and relevancy. 
  3. Real tools and materials: Students are using technology to solve problems outside of school.  They are also creating their own technology in some cases.  As Gary emphasized, learners are capable of incredible things if they are placed the right environment.  Just take a look at some of the Super AwesomeSylvia videos he shared.  It is our responsibility to create these environments.  To do so me must relinquish control, provide support (purchasing the right tools and providing quality professional development), encourage calculated risk-taking, exhibit flexibility, and model expectations.
  4. Expanded opportunities:  I could not agree with Gary more on this one.  We have made great strides in this area in my District through the development of the Academies at NMHS.  With this initiative all students have the opportunity to be exposed to authentic learning experiences, online courses, specialized field trips, independent study, credit for learning experiences outside of school, and internships.  We plan to eventually incorporate capstone projects into our Academies program as well. 
  5. Collegiality: Let’s face it, as educators we need to work together in order to successfully implement the best ideas in order to improve teaching and learning.  We must overcome personal agendas, bring the naysayers on board, implement a system focused on shared decision-making, and move to initiative a change process that is sustainable.  The best ideas will only become reality through collegiality.

The best ideas in the world can and should be cultivated in our schools.  As leaders it is our responsibility to see that they are.  The time is now!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Putting What I Learned Into Practice: Getting People on the Bandwagon.

One of my goals when I present on leadership, change, and transformation is to inspire other school leaders to begin to blog.  I remember years ago my initial hesitation to blog until Ken Royal encouraged me to submit a guest post on his blog at the time almost three years ago.  With that being said please welcome Paul Vieira, Principal of East Bridgewater High School (MA), to the blogosphere. Below is his first blog post as an educator.

I have been inspired by what I learned at the NASSP Annual Conference last week, a recent blog post by Carrie Jackson, and my conversations with Eric Sheninger and Patrick Larkin to write my first blog about getting administrators in East Bridgewater on Twitter.
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I joined Twitter this summer because I wanted to see what the buzz was all about. I tinkered with it, followed a few people, and re-posted some tweets over the next few months. It wasn’t until this fall that I started following the right people and the right hash tags. I began to see the power of Twitter as a professional development tool. I was able to learn from other educators and ask questions for things that I wanted to learn more about. Currently we are piloting the iPad with a small group of teachers. We hope to roll out a 1:1 initiative during the 2013-2014 school year. Twitter has served as a great resource to learn about 1:1 initiatives, how to roll them out, and how they can improve student engagement and learning. It also has been very helpful in obtaining information on useful apps to share with staff to help them use the iPad in their classes. Last month Pat Larkin was kind enough to put together a 4 hour PD day at his school for us to learn from him and his teachers. This was free PD and one that was made possible through a relationship that was fostered on Twitter.

This October I put together a one hour introductory Twitter lesson, with the help of my assistant principal, for teachers. We went over the basics of Twitter and how teachers can use it to learn as educators, expand the walls of their classrooms, and share information with students. A few teachers joined Twitter after that session. It wasn’t until my Faculty Meeting in February that I really started to see Twitter begin to gain some momentum in my school. I asked a few teachers that use Twitter to explain to the staff how they use it in school and this started a very brief discussion on the power of Twitter. The real excitement happened over the next few weeks when I saw more and more teachers begin to join Twitter and follow each other. They have joined the bandwagon and we have started to have discussions in school about Twitter. I never thought I would hear people say, “Hey, I saw you on Twitter last night.” “ ”I saw that article you reposted.” Or “Wow, you were really busy last night on Twitter, you reposted 15 articles.”  We are learning from each other and Twitter is making us better educators and teachers.

Now the next step for me is to get my district level administrators and colleagues on board. I was going to use the same PowerPoint I used with teachers last fall but I decided against it when I realized it was awful. And it was only awful in the sense that I have learned so much since I first created it. My knowledge of Twitter and what it can do has grown so much in the past few months that I needed to create a new one. Using information that I learned from Eric Sheninger's presentation this weekend and Carrie Jackson's post from earlier this week, I will highlight the 4 reasons to join the conversation today: “Free Professional Development, Sharing Ideas and Getting Feedback, Telling your Story, and a Personal Reflection Tool” (Thanks again Carrie) and get them on board. My hope by the end of this presentation and the end of this year is that people are not asking the question why should I Tweet?  But asking telling people why wouldn’t you Tweet. 

I will let you know how it goes.....

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Seeds of Innovation

The following is a guest blog post by Dr. Franklin Turner who recently visited my school.

A few weeks ago, I made a commitment to visit schools that are using social media, smartphones, texting, and other digital technologies, as a vital part of daily classroom instruction.  The only criterion that I had was the school had to be entrenched in their use of the above-mentioned technologies.  There are plenty of schools that have very expensive artwork on their classroom walls (i.e. Smart Board).  I call them artwork, because they are collecting dust from not being used at all or being under utilized.  Not enough schools are truly integrating technology into instruction, as well as encouraging students to bring their own technology to school.  Recently, I made my way to New Milford High School in Bergen County, NJ.  
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After spending a few minutes with Principal Eric Sheninger and the faculty at NMHS, it was obvious that they get it.  It being, that technology, if used responsibly is a great asset for teachers to improve instruction and for students to enhance their learning. 

Principal Sheninger took me to a class where the teacher was preparing to cover a trigonometry concept.  The teacher had just received all the pieces of technology to basically have an inexpensive Smart Board.  He had connected an iPad to a wireless AppleTV and the television to a computer projector.  This allowed the teacher to instruct his students using the iPad.  The wireless connection between the iPad and the Apple TV gave him the freedom to move around his classroom.  The freedom to move around the classroom allowed him to engage more students and improved the management of his classroom.  The teacher was planning to use the iPad to show his students websites that were related to what he was covering in class that day.  He wanted to show his students some real-world examples of practical applications for concepts that were being covered in class.  I believe helping students to apply what they learn in the classroom to the real world is arguably the greatest responsibility of a teacher.  Job well done by this mathematics teacher!

Then, I met with two other math teachers who showed me how they use smartphones to increase class participation and to assess their students learning.  The teachers used to ask their students questions.  Students answer the questions by texting their responses to a number that is on the screen in front of them.  Asking their students to answer questions consistently during class affords the teacher the opportunity to receive real-time feedback and to formatively assess if their students understand the concepts being covered in class.   Also, texting their responses engages all the students in the class, as compared to, the most outgoing students.

Finally, I had a chance to visit with the students during lunch period.  I need to point out that students are allowed to use their technology during lunch i.e. their cell phones.  I did not see a single student at anytime talking on their cell phone or consistently texting.  I would say that more then 70% of the students in the cafeteria were working on some kind of school related task.  I can confirm that when I was a high school student (when Duran Duran was a big deal), maybe 10% of the students in the cafeteria at my high school would be engaged in school related work.

I need to point out that this type of commitment to technology could only be possible with a principal that is dedicated to creating an environment that maximizes student and teacher growth.  Most schools have bans on cell phones and like technology. Principal Sheninger obviously sees that social media and students bringing in their own technology are great educational tools.  Unfortunately, many administrators and teachers do not fully understand the value of these technologies.  Lastly, it is very important to point out that Principal Sheninger provides his teachers with the proper support (i.e. professional development, the equipment and hands on guidance) for them to be successful with the effective implementation of these technologies in the classroom.  In addition, he makes sure to provide training to NMHS students on how to use technology responsibly.

Lastly, I used Poll Everywhere in my senior seminar the next day and it was a big hit.  My college students really enjoyed using it.  The participation level in my class increased dramatically.  Once you learn how to use new technology you have to implement it and that was a key lesson I taught to my seniors.  In addition, I explained to my students why using such a website would be useful to them and their students.  Then, I gave my students several examples of how they could use this website in their elementary school classrooms.

Franklin Dickerson Turner, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology at Queens College, CUNY.  His research focuses on the effective usage of social media, texting and other digital technologies with enhancing instruction and learning.  Also, his research looks at race, social class, and gender in educational settings.  You can learn more about Franklin at and @doctorfranklin.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Children Stressed to the Breaking Point Due to Standardized Testing

Recently New York City made public teacher evaluations based on student standardized test scores.  This proceeded the state of New York's decision to change how educators are evaluated, in part by connecting the standardized test scores of students into final ratings.  The following letter was shared with me by a friend whose daughter is in the New York City Public School System.  She plans on sending this to officials in the NYC Department of Education to inform them of the potential that more standardized testing will have as a result of recent reform efforts.

Let me start off by saying that I have tried to draft this letter at least four times without the anger and the frustration that I am feeling.  Unfortunately, I have come to the realization that it is an impossibility to do so.   As my daughter is 12 years old, and already faces the stress and anxiety because of these standardized tests, I feel it necessary, as a mother, to voice my opinion.
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I believe that it is an injustice to all of these children that their level of understanding and competency is judged by a test.  As educators and as leaders of our society, you should be ashamed of yourselves.  Who gives you the right to give my child and all the other children any undue stress and anxiety?  Who gives you the right to tell me that my child will not go forward to the next grade even though she has an 85 to a 90 average?  How on earth do you justify stressing out children to the point where they are actually getting themselves sick over the demands that you are placing on them?

As our children grow, they are also supposed to be learning.  How can these kids learn anything in school when the way they are being taught is ludicrous?  You expect all these children to learn at the same rate and expect them to comprehend on the same level.   Every child is different in their own way, so how can you base their level of understanding on one end-of-year test?  Not to mention that our children are spending so much time learning things that they will never, ever need to know in life.  Do you really think it is appropriate that they spend 2 weeks on learning about rocks and minerals?  Do you really think it is fair that they are given one day to learn new math and the next day go on to learn something new again? How do you justify this? 
Yes, there are some children out there that are able to keep up with YOUR standards, the majority cannot.  In my daughter’s school alone, many kids that were in ARISTA or Honor roll dropped, on the average, at least 4 points.  They are now being enrolled in tutoring services or test prep classes which they never needed before. 
As a parent, education is obviously one of the things we want our children to have, but just as high on the list of priorities are morals, discipline, and confidence.  There are children out there who have some, or none, of these other values.  My daughter, in particular, cannot find the confidence in herself because no matter how well she does in school, the end result is passing these standardized tests.  A child like mine, who struggles with such high test anxiety, although she is receiving the help for this anxiety, still has trouble passing these tests.  She has been in summer school the last three years just because of these tests, but has maintained an 87 average.   Does this seem fair? She is a wonderful student, works hard, gets good grades, focuses, and does what needs to be done on a daily basis.  But still, the Department of Education feels the need to push her confidence to the lowest level.  I guess these other values that make our children well developed and a valuable part of society have no relevance.  I am assuming you can find some sort of loophole to validate this fact as well.  
There are children out there that are barely passing their classes, but just because they find themselves lucky enough to pass these tests, you, as educators, feel like you are doing your job.  Well, my daughter surpasses what needs to be done on a daily basis, as do many other children; the message you are sending is that the school year does not matter, only your assessments and standardized tests do.

I hope you are aware that many other parents feel the way I do, and even your own teachers do not agree with your education process.  This is a disgrace, as these are the people teaching our children.  Please know that this letter, although it criticizes the education process, is also to help you understand what these children are going through on a daily basis.

With all of this being said, what are your thoughts on standardized testing, it's role in education, impact on students, and the data being used to evaluate educators? Is this the direction that educational reform should be headed in? As a parent of two young children my response is a resounding NO!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Moving Schools Forward With BYOD

The following is a guest blog post by Dr. Greg Farley.  Greg is the Director of Technology at Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District and an Adjunct Professor and course developer at the Graduate Schools of Education at Monmouth University and Drew University.  Greg also conducts workshops at K-12 schools and universities and mentors doctoral students and administrators in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Check out his blog Embrace, Adapt, Enhance.

I visited Eric’s High School on February 24th to observe Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and his implementation of a contemporary learning environment.  I was impressed.  I was most impressed at Eric’s reflection that he was once part of the problem, banning devices from his school rather then embracing the use of the technology.  That has changed and Eric trusts his students to interact responsibly with media and communication tools.  These expectations are being met by staff and students. 

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I visited New Milford High School with Media Specialist Zach Gross (from Matawan Regional High School) and was immediately brought to a math classroom hearing the teacher say “OK everyone, bring out your phones.”  Students brought out a variety of devices including Blackberries, iPhones, and Smartphones to answer multiple choice questions.   These multiple choice questions were accessed through the website to assess student understanding via an instant audience feedback system.  The activity progressed seamlessly and the students were engaged. 

We then went to the cafeteria where students were allowed to use devices during their lunch period and to our surprise, most students were eating, chatting (face-to-face), and just hanging out.  The stereotype of the teenager texting impulsively, ignoring the physical presence of people around them, was shattered.  Some students were using laptops and devices for class assignments or to text, but most were sitting at tables together, talking.

Students described their use of devices for educational activities and took personal responsibility for using the devices appropriately.  I attribute this to Eric’s leadership and the team’s foresight, for embracing the learning environment and adapting their understanding of the tools used by the millennial generation.  This structure allows the staff and administration to enhance learning activities and school climate through trust and responsibility, rather than banning new technologies for fear of what the students could do with them.

After my visit to New Milford I met with the Superintendent of Randolph Township Schools Dr. David Browne (a friend and former colleague), and his Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Fano to discuss their implementation of technology to create a rigorous and relevant learning environment.  Both of these educational leaders follow Eric’s blog and tweets.   They described “meeting” a 1st grade class via Facetime using an iPad and Apple TV.  The administrative team promotes creative uses of VLOGS, numerous apps and many other technologies to improve learning.  Innovation is a common practice in Randolph Township Schools and is led by the district administration. 

It is evident that creating a contemporary learning environment begins with educational leaders embracing new opportunities for using technology rather than relying on what has worked in the past.  Technology needs to facilitate student collaboration, problem solving, and communication to enhance learning, rather then a “smoke and mirrors” approach like providing electronic worksheets. Administrators in 2012 must understand how to implement new technologies, not just “infuse” technology the easy way.  Equipped with a critical eye for evaluation, administrators, as evidenced at NMHS and RTS, can improve the delivery and impact of instruction.    

The administrators in New Milford and Randolph Township get it, and understand that to be successful, they must be life-long learners.