The Seven A’s of Successful High Schools

SuccessDefining what it means to have a “successful” high school is quite the challenge, with stakeholders often disagreeing on the approach to take. Some primarily focus on what’s easily quantifiable, such as standardized test schools, national normed tests, attendance data, grade point averages, and discipline data. While these data points are important, they don’t always tell the whole story or clearly define the success of a school.

When I became a high school principal seven years ago, I wanted to take a much broader approach to defining the success of my school and as I begin my first year in a new district and a new school, I am even more confident in what I call the seven A’s of successful high schools. These seven areas provide a framework for high schools to focus on the development of the whole child, which is a concept we cannot overlook in today’s high stress, high demand culture. Following, I’ve outlined each of the seven attributes I consider essential in a successful high school, as well as my rationale for selecting each.

Attendance-Students have to not only be in school, but they have to be on time every period, every day, and be present mentally. Presence matters and is an easily identifiable characteristic of successful schools. Successful schools create an environment where students want to be there and be engaged every day. For example, create multiple ways for a number of students to have their “names in lights”: either read over the announcements, posted in the local newspaper, their pictures on display on digital monitors throughout the building or tweeted out by school officials for demonstrating positive behavior. Find inexpensive and creative ways to establish levels and layers of recognition of progress and achievement. Check out www.jostens.com/renaissance for suggestions and ideas.

Academics- Schools that offer a variety of relevant course offerings not only meet the needs of students, but stretch them to experiment with unfamiliar content, encourage them to learn by doing, and solve local, state, national, and global problems in creative ways. This provides opportunities for teachers to connect with other educators beyond the school walls and model the collaborative learning process. I recommend that a school review its program of studies annually to ensure it’s providing the best opportunities for students. One of the most important things a principal can do is to support the development of new courses that meet the needs of today’s learners. Support teachers who create classes that tap into students’ passions.

Attitude- it’s important that school leaders create a culture that celebrates a positive attitude of students, staff, and parents. One’s attitude is reflected in one’s behavior. One’s attitude, be it negative or positive is contagious. So, creating a culture that eradicates negativity leads to a much more pleasant environment and place where there’s a sense of belonging. For example, at Gahanna Lincoln High School, we established the PRIDE Award, based upon our school motto: Personal Responsibility In Developing Excellence. The PRIDE award allowed staff to give the award to any student who demonstrated the character straits we deemed important. Each month, these students’ names would be scrolled on the morning announcements. Students would go to the lobby to receive a certificate and take a group photo that would be posted on the school’s Facebook and it would also be posted on Twitter. In addition, we invited the students and their parents to a quarterly morning breakfast to be celebrated even more! It was amazing to see so many parents attend a 6:45 AM breakfast with their cameras. I’m certain they went to work and showed off pictures of their “baby!”

Acts of Service- Community service is the norm in successful schools and it doesn’t always have to be large one-time events. Classes or entire grade levels can partner with a number of local organizations, such as the Ronald McDonald House, a local food bank, an animal shelter, the Red Cross, nursery homes, or assist neighbors with home projects. The possibilities are endless as long as there is a plan and desire to help others. This not only creates a sense of belonging for students who have the heart to serve others, but also establishes solid school-community partnerships. For example, students at Gahanna Lincoln would annually have a homeroom competition to provide canned goods to the local food pantry, Gahanna Residents in Need (GRIN). They would collect so much food that they satisfied the needs for many families throughout the winter and spring seasons. This also sparked other organizations to give. Another example is how students at New Albany High School collected coats during the winter months to give to children in need. Simply ask your students what they want to support and why, and help facilitate the action!

I have to share the story of a young woman named, Shayna Fowler, who attends the same church I go to. She just graduated from Pickerington High School Central and she is a difference maker! She has committed herself to a life of service and has helped hundreds of tween and teen girls through a program called, “The Butterfly Project.” She is headed to Kenya this summer to help orphan children. You can learn more about Shayna here.

Athletics-A solid athletic program provides an outlet for many students, creates opportunities for students to connect with each other around a common interest, and the focus they may need to perform academically. In addition, athletics foster positive relationships and increase school pride as the school community rallies around the teams that are in-season, providing weekly opportunities to celebrate students and the school.

The Arts-A robust performing and visual arts programs gives students the opportunity to stretch themselves, fulfill a passion, perform in front of authentic audiences, and immerse themselves into creative outlets. The Arts provide a showcase of the talent that exists within a school and brings the community to the school to see students in action. For example, high schools like Gahanna Lincoln and New Albany have a Fall play and Spring musical each year. Both performances involve a wide range of students, including those who want to perform on stage to those who work behind the scene by being a part of the build or stage crew, working the lighting, or playing music in the pit. Both schools earned an invitation to the Edinburgh International Festival in Scotland for their outstanding theatre productions. Gahanna Lincoln High School, under the leadership of Cindi Macioce, attended the summers of 2005 and 2013. New Albany High School, under the leadership of Elliot Lemberg, will attend this summer.

Activities- Successful schools have a number of clubs and extra-curricular activities, such as a Gamers Club, Table Tennis, Japanese Anime, a Programming Club, Chess Club, or a Writers Club for students who express themselves through poetry and spoken word. It’s important to honor student voice by allowing them to decide which clubs they want to have at school. The only stipulation is that a school employee has to agree to be the club advisor. Use school announcements, social media, and other web 2.0 tools to share meeting times and dates as well as highlights from club meetings.

Focusing on the 7 A’s will lead to an overall successful school by giving every student the opportunity to thrive. The 7 A’s encompass areas that appeal to all stakeholders, finding a nitch for everyone to be a part of building a positive school culture. As a final step as a building principal, I track data and share results with students, staff, parents, and the community to ensure buy-in and continued school success.

Be Great,

Dwight

Thank You, Gahanna Jefferson Public Schools

Thank YouIt’s been two weeks since I officially began my new position and I’m still getting used to being a part of a different district, starting over, and finding my way. In mid-February, 2014, I announced to the staff, faculty, students and parents of Gahanna Lincoln High School that I accepted the Principal position at New Albany High School, in New Albany, OH. Their responses via email, phone calls, text messages, tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts, cards and letters over the next four months were overwhelming. The outpour of support and encouragement still bring tears to my eyes. I was able to remain relatively calm during that time; however, I became more anxious as graduation approached. What was I going to say? Would it even matter? Would I even be able to speak or would I be overcome with emotion? These and many other questions raced through my mind for what seemed like forever.

Following is my brief graduation speech and Parting Words of Wisdom to the GLHS Class of 2014. However, to me, it’s more than just a speech: It’s my way of putting into words my love for the people of Gahanna Jefferson Public Schools and the Gahanna community for helping me become the person I am today.

Five days before my college graduation in June, 1994, I received a phone call that completely changed my life. On the other end of the phone, I heard the familiar voice of the beloved Gahanna Middle School South principal, Denny Souder. He requested I come in for a second interview. However, it wasn’t a second interview, but a job offer to teach 8th grade American History. It was my chance to start my professional journey and to positively change lives and impact futures through the awesome career as an educator.

I could not have predicted that 20 years later, I would be blessed with the opportunity to stand before you in my final days as the Principal of Gahanna Lincoln High School; one the most authentic, progressive, and caring high schools in Central Ohio. I could not have predicted how the thousands of students who allowed me to play a smart part in their life journey would enrich my life. I could not have predicted the many friendships, life-changing experiences, and growth opportunities I would have as a part of the Gahanna Jefferson Public Schools community.

I am forever grateful to the Board of Education, past and current superintendents, staff, and Gahanna parents for embracing my vision to create a school where every student has a sense of belonging, where students can find their purpose, and have as many opportunities to find their niche in a safe, loving, yet challenging environment; and a place that challenges students to be better each and every day. I am a better man, husband, father, and leader by being a part of the Gahanna Community.

Seniors, on Tuesday, August 24th, 2010, you walked into GLHS as scared, apprehensive, nervous, and fascinated freshmen on Freshmen Welcome Day. You were greeted by over 100 cheering Link Crew leaders prepped to accept you as a part of the Gahanna Lincoln Family. The next morning, on Wednesday, August 25th, 2010, at the sound of the first period bell, you heard what would become a familiar start of the school day and it’s only fitting that you end your GLHS journey the way it began:

Good morning Gahanna Lincoln High School Class of 2014. This is Mr. Carter with a few parting words of wisdom.

• Don’t wish away what is NOW by focusing so much on what’s NEXT.

• Don’t be a victim of your circumstances, but be victorious in spite of your circumstances.

• Become the type of person who others are excited to see you come, and sad to see you go.

• Work to live, don’t live to work.

• There is no greater sound than the joy-filled laughter of a toddler.

• 80% of your joy or sorrow as an adult will come from the person you marry, so choose wisely.

• Give others the benefit of the doubt, just as much as you want to be afforded the same thing.

• Learn how to articulate how you feel. Use more words besides, “good,” “fine,” or “frustrated.”

• Use things, not people.

• It’s okay to love what you do as long as you love more the people whom you do it for.

• There are really only two things in life that you truly can control: your attitude and your actions.

• No matter how old you are, you will always be your parents’ baby.

• The more time you spend helping others, the less time you have to judge them.

• Your appearance, your words, and your behavior do matter. They always have and always will.

• No one can make you feel bad or guilty without your permission.

• “You have to teach others how to treat you.” -Samantha Carter

• Mind your manners. They are not old-fashioned or out of style. Simple phrases like, “please,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” “sir,” “ma’am,” and “excuse me” go a long way.

• “Mind your business, so others won’t have to.” -David McGhee

• Your parents and guardians are much smarter than you think they are. You will soon find this out now that you are “grown.”

• If you have to ask if an article of clothing is too short, too high, too low, too tight, or too anything, then you probably shouldn’t wear it.

• Every aspect of your life doesn’t have to be shared on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Vine, Flicker, SnapChat, Kik or any other form of social media. Please Pause Before You Post.

• In all that you do, BE GREAT!

With something to think about, this is Mr. Carter. Make it a great life… or not. The choice is yours!

Be Great,

Dwight

Flipping, Follow Up, Modeling, and Reflection

Flipped-ClassroomAt Gahanna Lincoln High School, several teachers have implemented the Flipped Classroom model. They and Assistant Principal, Aaron Winner (@aaronwinner), shared their Flipped experiences at our January staff meeting and the response was very positive. Their presentation was well-organized, engaging, and reflective of their learning.

Whenever I get a chance, I ask staff about how things are going, especially during informal conversations. I’ve recently asked about professional development needs and a number of times I heard a similar response, “We love all the presentations at staff meetings, but there is no follow up. We get excited about what we see and hear, but we aren’t given any time to try it or to came back later to talk about it.” I appreciate their feedback because they expressed a desire to learn, so I need to provide the conditions for that to take place. This caused me to peruse my notes from the book, 10-Minute In-Service, by Todd Whitaker (@ToddWhitaker) and Annette Breaux (@AnnetteBreaux). I knew I had to do something to address the concerns of a lack of time and a lack of follow up.

Follow-UpMy Dean of Curriculum, Tia Holliman (@Ms._Holliman) and I discussed this in great detail as our March staff meeting approached because I wanted to do more than just talk about the Flipped Classroom as an effective instructional strategy, I wanted to model it. I noticed there is a significant amount time that I or others talk at our staff during our meetings as opposed to us interacting, engaging each other in meaningful conversation, or participating in learning experiences that would excite them to teach the next day. Todd Whitaker and Annette Breaux put it this way, “Teachers should leave faculty meetings more excited about teaching tomorrow than they were today.”

As Tia and I planned the March staff meeting, my goals were to model my expectations for posting learning targets, model the flipped strategy, and model how to bring closure to a lesson with some type of formative assessment. I sent the following details to my staff a day or two before our March staff meeting:

Please take 6 minutes some time before the meeting on March 4th to watch the TEDTalk: 3 Rules to Spark Learning, and be prepared to discuss some of the following questions:
 
*How do you encourage students to ask questions in class?
*“Student questions are the seed to real learning.” What are the implications of this statement?
*How is “the messy process of trial and error” a part of the learning process in your class?
*How do you incorporate reflection in your class?
*Teachers are the “cultivators of curiosity and inquiry.” What are the implications of this statement?
 
You will have the opportunity to select as a group, 1 or 2 questions you want to discuss. Thanks in advance for being prepared.
 

I also shared the TEDTalk with my staff in my weekly Friday Focus blog, but they are not required watch the videos I share or the articles I include. However, as we continue to change instructional practices to transition to the New Learning Standards, it was important for us to discuss this TEDTalk since the presenter shares ways that will help us with this transition.

As the activity began, the following learning target was displayed on the screen:

I can identify two ways I spark student learning in my classroom.

We briefly discussed our target, I explained the directions, and they organized themselves into interdepartmental groups of 8-10 people. I displayed the questions on the screen that are mentioned above and the rich conversations began.

As I walked around the room, I was excited about what I heard. I was also impressed by those who were able to focus on what they could do as opposed to succumbing to discussing barriers to learning (perceived or real). After about 12 minutes, I distributed a 3×5 notecard and gave them two minutes to answer the following question:

What are two ways you spark learning in the classroom?

I collected the notecards and had the responses compiled into a word document, which I then shared with staff via Google Docs within a couple of days. They now have a list of over 100 different ways to spark learning in the classroom. It was a quick 15 minute in-service about effective instructional strategies that can be easily implemented on a regular basis.

Be Great,


Dwight

images:
follow up: http://www.vapartners.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Follow-Up.png
flipped classroom: http://podcast.teachercast.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Flipped-Classroom.jpg

Reflections From A Student Teacher: Edcamp Columbus

At Gahanna Lincoln High School, we have a number of student-teachers every quarter. I take this as a compliment to the quality teachers we have and the desire for colleges to have their student-teachers learn from great practitioners. I’ve been every impressed by one young man from The Ohio State University named, Johnathan Duff (@mrduffedu), because of the way he engages students in the classroom and for his eagerness to learn. He attended Edcamp Columbus, so I’ve asked him to share his experience with us:

edcamp columbus.png2

On Saturday March 1, 2014, the second annual EdCamp Columbus was held at Gahanna Lincoln High School’s Clark Hall. As a student teacher working in Clark Hall, I could not pass up the opportunity to engage other educators and to further my professional development in the very building I have been working in since August.

EdCamp Columbus comes out of the EdCamp movement that was started in Philadelphia in 2010. EdCamps are opportunities for educators to come together, share ideas and discuss what matters to them, and become drivers of their own professional development. EdCamp labels itself as an “unconference.” Rather that having a pre-determined schedule with session identified well in advance, the sessions held at each conference are determined by the attendees the day of the event. Have a topic you want to present or to discuss with fellow educators? Find an open slot on the day’s schedule (a.k.a. The Big Board) and write it in. Other attendees will see your proposal and those who are interested can attend. It is as simple as that.

A focus of my student teaching and my work as a Masters of Education student at the Ohio State University has been on making connections between my students’ service, their learning, and their understanding of civic engagement. I teach 5 sections of Government and work with all Seniors who have to complete a service component called the Service Activity Project. From a young age, service has always been very important to me. My focus on service learning has allowed me to align a personal passion, the reality of my classroom, and the research I am doing for Ohio State. Coming in to EdCamp Columbus, it was my hope that there would be a session related to service learning or civic engagement. As the time before the first session dwindled, openings remained on the Big Board and there were no sessions on service or civics. Seeing this as an opportunity, I decided to embrace the spirit of the “unconference” and proposed a session entitled “Connecting learning and service towards critical civic engagement.”

I was very happy to find out that I was not alone in my interest on these topics. The session was attended by a range of individuals – elementary teachers, high school teachers, government teachers, science teachers, and even a district’s technology specialist. Gahanna Jefferson Public Schools were well represented with GLHS science teacher, Jason Hardin, and Jefferson Elementary teacher, Ashley Sands, both attending and actively participating.

What is great about EdCamp is that sessions can be more of a discussion than a presentation. To borrow educational terminology, EdCamp is “attendee-centered” rather than “presenter-centered.” I kicked off the session by introducing myself and why I proposed the session – I am a pre-service teacher who is passionate about service and works with students who are doing service. I am interested in ways to connect students’ classroom learning with their service with the aim of getting them to think more critically about their role and engagement in society. Towards this end, I designed a service project in which students spent a Saturday conducting home repairs for an area senior. While successful, I am interested in other ways to improve my practice of connecting learning to service and civic engagement. Other session attendees shared their background and interest in the topics before we turned to the issues at hand.

Throughout the session, discussion flourished. As a group, we discussed the service requirements that exist in our schools and examples of service learning that we have participated in. Vibrant discussion was held around civic education and how it needs to start at a young age and extend beyond just the social studies classroom. The concept of the “common good” is not something that is limited to the study of the social world and thus work towards it should not be limited to social studies.

An item that became a major focus of the session was student choice. Rather than the focus and design of the service being determined by the teacher, attendees agreed that students should be involved throughout the process. Asking students “What do you care about? What do you want to work on?” will empower them and make their service and the learning that accompanies it all the more meaningful. The role of the teacher then becomes to guide and scaffold them through the process. Teachers also play the important part of helping students reflect on their service. Teachers should guide students to reflect before, during, and after their service. This can be done through discussion, writing assignments, and the strategic use of technology. It is important that the reflection that is done is critical and challenges the students to reflect on their lives and the nature of society and its institutions.

As the session was attended by a diverse group of educators, the topic of cross curricular collaboration was heavily discussed. Just as civic engagement can incorporate multiple content areas, so too can service and it need not be compartmentalized – government, science, and english teachers (just to name a few) can all collaborate. Ideas such as having students research the need and causes of the need of service, working with students to write grant proposals, using various mediums to document and tell the story of service all provide opportunities for skills from various content areas to be incorporated into service to others.

EdCamp sessions were blocked out in 50 minute time slots. By the end of our 50 minutes, the discussion was in full swing and participants were not ready to wrap up. It was decided that to continue our conversation, we would move our discussion online by creating a shared Google Doc. Herein lies the great value of EdCamp – not only do we get to come together with like minded educators to share ideas, but the conversation does not have to stop there. Bring a group of passionate educators together and the learning community they develop will extend beyond the Saturday they spent together in Clark Hall.

I applaud Johnathan for not only taking the time to attend his first Edcamp, but for having the courage to lead a session. This is an excellent example of what the Edcamp experience is all about!

Be Great,

Dwight

They Have A Voice

Vintage-Microphone-Wallpaper-music-28520386-1280-1024Students at Gahanna Lincoln High School never cease to amaze me. Last week, we held our second annual performance of, Diaspora: Voices of An Ever-Changing America. It’s a culmination of student talent, from monologues to spoken word and hip hop dancing. The purpose is to highlight the contributions African Americans have made to the culture of America.

Four staff members worked closely with students to organize the entire show: English teacher, Donja Bridges (@donjab); Dean of Curriculum, Tia Holliman (@Ms_Holliman); School Psychologist, Johnel Amerson; and Family Consumer Science teacher, Keah Germany. They collaborated with students to create a shared vision for the program, develop an action plan, and select the performances. They wanted to not only educate the audience, but to entertain. It’s awesome to see what students can do when they have an authentic audience, supportive staff members, constant feedback, and time to practice.

I was thoroughly impressed by all the presentations and asked two students to share their original poems with me so I could include them in this post. They have a voice. They have something to say, and they want to make a difference. The first poem is by senior, Cymone Turner, and it’s entitled, I’m A Beautiful Colored Girl:
I am beautiful
I am amazing
I am good enough

You think I’m being cocky no I’m just giving back the gallons of confidence I deserve being colored. What am I saying? We’ll let me break It down for you.

I look out into the world today
I see different colors races shades
All mixed together in this beautiful concoction we like to call the 21st century
Why is this such a big deal?
Ha well because back in the day my skin wasn’t right. It wasn’t acceptable.
I was nasty
I was disgusting
I was dirty
I was a foul beast
Now do I look like beast to you?
I mean I might bite but it won’t hurt for that long
Ha it wasn’t right to be Not white
Dark as night
Not shining bright
But your little chocolate bite
It was whack to be black
But I’m telling you it’s lame to be ashamed
I can’t help my skin I was born in
I can’t help that I am black
I’m happy to be Black
Matter fact I’m happy to be Cymone.

The second poem is by junior, Adam Davis, and it’s entitled, Real Life:

I’ve been thinking all day there’s a lot on my mind
And see I would rather say
It in the booth because in person I might hurt somebody’s feelings
And I’m not saying names I’m just speaking how I’m feeling
The truth hurts you can die if you lie
So I try not to reply
To those guys with wicked eyes
I can feel it when our hands shake
I’m not for you
If your man folds under pressure he’s not loyal
See he was just trying to make it to his house wearing a hood
But some how he is misunderstood
But July 13th the jury didn’t understand
That George Zimmerman was a grown man
And that Trayvon didn’t need any hands to help with his own plans
The sky’s the limit I am reaching for impossible
If Obama can be the president then anything is possible
And I’m just speaking for myself I know what I can do
But as long as you have God on your side there’s no stopping you
Young kid with a lot of heart
I was blinded by all of America but its ok because I hear them talk
I hear the whispers in the dark
And since they like to act they can play ground no park
When the sun shines that’s when the bees out
When it rains that when the killers and the thieves out
Blacks get treated like rats that’s why the Government throws cheese out
I was taught to rise above or he is out
And its a sad way of living
Some young brothers is dead some of them locked in prison
Some of them have jobs some of them don’t yet
Some of them still ride some of them switched sets
I’m just a diamond in the dirt
Forget all my people cause family comes first
I wish that was true
But that’s a lie too
Because I have a couple of cousins hating on what I do
How do you think that makes me feel?
Stuff real I have a lot of enemies I’m alone in this field
Death disrupts the streets so I’m thinking about my will
I am sitting at this table breaking bread into a meal
My mind is going crazy so I think that’s why I’m numb
And America being perfect is something its far from
I’m never happy cause I’m living in a stressed world
I’m from where people is dying and they stress girls
I wish I could bring Trayvon back
God if you listening run and tell that
And tell America that the justice system is all wrong
But life is like music its an end to all songs.

The audience was moved by Cymone and Adam’s words because they spoke with such confidence and authority. Their passion was evident and their message pierced our hearts. I am proud of the staff members for creating the conditions for not only Cymone and Adam to use their voices, but for all the participants in Diaspora. #glhsfamily

Be Great,

Dwight

GahannaThon: Bigger Than Ourselves. Bigger Than Before!

The students at Gahanna Lincoln High School are givers. They give of their time, their talent, and their treasure. Many of our clubs and extracurricular activities focus on making the lives of others a little easier, which makes our staff and community extremely proud.

Last year, members of Student Council wanted to start a new activity, called GahannaThon, to take the place of our Winter Formal Dance. After they presented their idea to the Administrative Team, we embraced it and watched something magical happen! The students tagged it, “Dancing With a Purpose” and raised a little more than $8,000! To say we were proud of them, is an understatement.

I’ve asked the GLHS Student Council President, Hannah Kesig, to explain what GahannaThon is and why we do it. Hannah is an amazing young lady. She has emerged into an energetic leader of her peers. She was on Student Council’s GahannaThon Committee last year and now has become so passionate about this event!

GahannaThon

GahannaThon is a 6 hour dance marathon that raises money for pediatric cancer. All proceeds go to Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Oncology and Hematology unit. The money will help pay for new medical equipment for treatment and fun activities hosted by the hospital that allow a kid to feel like a “normal” kid again. As a school, our goal is to raise $15,000 for this wonderful cause.

We do GahannaThon for the kids. GahannaThon celebrates life and our little heroes battling cancer. They are fighting for their lives, and we are here to help. GahannaThon is on February 22, 2014 from 6:00pm-12:00am. It is going to be quite the celebration with many student performances and activities hosted by clubs around the school. Donations can be given online at http://www.helpmakemiracles.org/event/gahannathon2014/ or by cash/check in the GLHS concession stand about two weeks before the event. GahannaThon is a great way to give back to the community!

Gahanna Lincoln students will unite as one for all the kids who have fought cancer, will fight cancer, or are currently battling cancer. When sharing the good news of GahannaThon, we will be using the hashtags #glhsftk and #GahannaThon2014 on social media. One day we will dance for joy, until then we dance for life!

We dance for the kids. Why do you dance?

Be Great,

Dwight

Among Experts

Professional-Learning-NetworkI attended the Ohio ASCD Conference on Tuesday, January 16th and heard former State Superintendent, Stan Heffner, deliver a compelling keynote presentation. He shared the three main correlates of successful schools: instructional leadership, a positive school climate and culture, and frequent monitoring. An example he gave of effective instructional leadership is when teachers share best practices. He said,

“The best professional development in the world is when teachers can collaborate and share ideas.”

I couldn’t agree more. For example, still to this day, the best professional development I ever experienced was being a facilitator for our school’s Critical Friends Group, which was a group of teachers who were given four periods a month to research curriculum, instruction, and assessment strategies, review lesson plans, and reflect on our daily work. It was energizing, relevant, and job-embedded professional learning. I’ve been able to recapture this through the use of social media, but it’s still not quite the same.

One of my goals as a building principal is to use our staff meetings as learning opportunities because it’s one of the few times we are all together at the same time. Admittedly, I have not been as successful with this as I want to be. However, the other day at our staff meeting, the teachers were engaged in meaningful conversations about their best lesson from first semester. Assistant Principal, Tim Gagliardo (@TimGagliardo1), did an outstanding job facilitating this activity. He used story, imagery, and video to introduce the activity. He shared a powerful scene from Dead Poet’s Society to set the stage.

Following the video and introduction, we divided the staff into groups of 8 and asked the following questions:

What was your best lesson/unit from first semester?
What did you enjoy most about it?
What did the students enjoy most about it?
What did the students learn and why?

Once the groups were created, a scribe was assigned per group, and questions posted, the room was energized by the examples being shared, questions asked, laughter, and positive reinforcement. Some examples shared by the scribes are:

Geometry teacher, Tyler Winner, uses Lesson Summary Sheets to increase students’ meta-cognition skills. These were created because numerous students and parents were unaware of their poor grades 2nd quarter. This Summary Sheet has increased attendance to the Pass Room as students can earn 1% on assessments if they get teacher help outside of class. This is helping students develop good study habits and helping the teacher to keep students more accountable.

A.P. Literature, Chris Wagner, helped students put their egos aside and avoid just looking at their essay grade by having students rank all the essays in class. Essays were listed by ID numbers instead of names to keep anonymity and help students to be more critical. Students were very engaged and paid attention to their peer feedback!

English teacher, Becky Rice, designed a lesson devoted to helping students find independent reading material in Honors English 10, which has led to a Google Doc the class uses to share book recommendations and a blog about favorite reads!

One teacher has implemented “Listening Quizzes” to help students pay attention better in class and not just regurgitate what’s in the book or notes, but participate in class discussions more.

Chinese teacher, Mike Kralovic, does a lesson on bargaining. The classroom is set up with little shops and the students are taught how to bargain for the items they want. This exposes them to the language and culture.  While they are doing this they call it “Barguing.”

During the Industrial Revolution unit, American History teachers had students look at an invention and figure out why that invention was needed, how it was inspired, and where will it be in the future.

Choir teacher, Jeremy Lahman, uses SoundCloud to record student performances and then posts it on Twitter. The students can assess themselves and this increases engagement because they have a large authentic audience.

There were many more examples shared and it was exciting to take some time to celebrate what is going on in classrooms every day at Gahanna Lincoln High School.

Be Great,



Dwight

Guest Post by English Teacher, Matt McGregor: The Best Meetings Ever

At Gahanna Lincoln High School, we’ve been moving towards becoming a Professional Learning Community and not just doing “PLCs”. It’s been a challenging process in that time is the obvious obstacle. However, a group of teachers has modeled exactly what we want to make happen systemically. I’ve asked English teacher and National Guard Veteran, Matt McGregor, to share his insight on why PLCs are effective for our English 9 teachers.

I believe people working together can solve problems, problems that would be insurmountable to individuals working alone. I have witnessed this phenomenon firsthand in wildly different careers in my life, from the battlefields of Iraq to public education. This idea, in education, is often expressed as Professional Learning Communities (PLC). I define PLCs simply as teachers working collaboratively in order to improve student learning. As with most ideas, one can find studies that support the idea of PLCs and studies that claim the opposite, but in my experience, PLCs are an extremely effective strategy for increasing student achievement.

I have been in the Ohio Army National Guard since 1998. The Army runs meetings very well. We had a meeting agenda and template for every meeting I attended. Entire Army manuals have been written to help in planning and running meetings. When I joined a PLC at our school in 2010, the group consisted of some of the most caring, talented teachers I’ve ever met. However, they did not have experience in how to run a successful meeting. These meetings were ineffective and didn’t accomplish much. I was in the midst of getting my Masters in Educational Leadership and was reading Creating Dynamic Schools Through Mentoring, Coaching, and Collaboration, by Judy Carr. Carr had an example agenda that was similar to some of the Army templates I’d used. I adapted it and created an agenda on a PowerPoint for our next PLC.

PLC1I showed up early for that next meeting, set up, and asked to run the meeting, and they humored me. We began by creating a goal for the PLC and then discussed ground rules for all of the meetings. After the ground rules were in place, we assigned roles and responsibilities, decided on when the first common assessment would take place and what it should focus on, and planned for the next meeting. At first this structure was uncomfortable for the group, but we agreed. This was all accomplished on time, and we were walking out the door at 50 minutes. One of my colleagues, who has taught at GLHS for eight years, informed me after the meeting that it was the most productive meeting she’d ever attended.
PLC2

Teachers were enthusiastic for the next meeting. This organization wasn’t anything I had invented; I simply implemented proven practices I’d learned.

We learned as a group that first year, not just about our teaching styles but about ourselves asPLC3 well. We had disagreements but always came to a consensus. As a group, we created four common assessments based on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) from scratch. We collected and analyzed data from those assessments and then compared our data side-by-side with PowerPoint and a projector. Through the data, we discovered the strategies and curriculum that were most effective and replicated them, and as a result, our teaching changed. We were able to eliminate redundancy and focus on what students were and were not learning. We specifically and purposely addressed these issues. We also learned to trust each other.

I’ve found there is one question to ask in order to see how much a PLC is truly accomplishing: “What do you do for the students who have already learned the material?” As teachers, we all know it is very easy to focus on the students who aren’t achieving acceptable results. It is another beast entirely to design curriculum for students who already know the material and want to be challenged, and are sitting beside students who don’t. We don’t pretend to have all the answers, and that last question is an issue we will be addressing ad infinitum. But we are and will continue to address it. We have an amazing group of very smart teachers who truly care about students. We can accomplish anything.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead

I couldn’t agree more.

Be Great,

Dwight

Who’s Responsible for Making Learning Relevant?

learnWe have some great teachers at Gahanna Lincoln High School. They are not only passionate about teaching and learning, they are committed to making GLHS a place where all students have a sense of belonging. Many of them use our Graduate Profile to plan units that stretch our students.

One of our classes is Senior Project Composition and I’ve asked the two teachers who teach the course, Danielle Morrison (@morrisondani) and Donja Bridges (@donjab), to share their experience of teaching the class.

When we were first approached about teaching Senior Project Composition, a project-based senior English course, we were immediately excited for the opportunity to try something new. We had seen the impact the class made on students, but what we didn’t realize was how much it would impact us as teachers. As a result, it changed the way we taught not only this course, but other courses as well. The following are three things we’ve learned as a result of teaching Senior Project Composition that we feel every teacher can implement.

1. The best method of instruction is oftentimes just getting out of the way.
Trying to teach a project-based course through direct instruction is nearly impossible. With each student doing a different project, most of the course is individualized and student-directed. When we began teaching the course, we had to eliminate the mindset that the only way to teach was to provide direct instruction. We had to begin to see ourselves as “project-managers”, meeting with the students on a regular basis to conduct check-ins, helping the students figure out what they needed to learn next, and providing guidance and support as needed. We no longer needed to be experts in teaching content area; we needed to be experts in teaching students how to self-direct learning. By shifting the focus to teaching students how to learn, rather than teaching content, students were able to learn far more. Getting out of the way doesn’t mean not getting involved; it means shifting from teaching in front of the class to teaching beside the student.

2. It’s not the teacher’s job to make lessons relevant.
In a traditional classroom setting, teachers work hard to ensure that each lesson is relevant to the students. However, with thirty different students in a classroom, it is nearly impossible to make a single lesson relevant to every student. With the increased amount of student choice, it’s the students’ job to make learning relevant. Because the students’ choice makes learning relevant, the teacher’s job is to help them(students) to help themselves tie their learning into the course content.

3. The process offers more than the product.
Students learn more in the process of developing their project than they do with the final product itself. We have had students create amazing products, but we have also had students create products that can be considered “failures”. What we have learned is that students learn just as much, if not more, from the failures as they do the successes. In other words, the quality of their product does not always reflect the level of learning. A major component in our course is students being able to display a “learning stretch”. When we ask our students what their learning stretch is, many of them respond that they have learned better time management skills, how to collaborate with others, and other skills needed to be successful in their futures. Isn’t that what we want students to learn? The process is where the learning takes place; the product is what the students get to do as a result of their learning.

I appreciate Danielle and Donja for giving us a glimpse of the learning process in Senior Project Composition!

Be Great,

Dwight

PLN Blogging Challenge: 11 Random Facts

Someone Gave Me Homework… Now It’s My Turn
A member of my PLN and friend, Patrick Larkin, challenged me to share 11 random facts about myself and to answer 11 questions as part of a chain-blogging task. I have great respect and admiration for Patrick, so I am glad to meet his challenge!

factMy 11 Random Facts
1. I am four minutes older than my twin brother, Dwayne Carter. Yep, that’s right.
2. I am a two-time NCAA Division III Track and Field All-American.
3. My older sister, Nicki, is the most creative person I know. She makes her own clothes, jewelry, and she paints.
4. I used to draw portraits.
5. I have no desire to drink coffee. None.
6. I took Ballroom and Latin dance lessons with my wife as one of her Christmas presents. 1-2-3, 4-5-6, 7-8. 1-2-3, 4-5-6, 7-8.
7. I didn’t attend the Ohio State University, but I get choked up when I hear Carmen Ohio live at an OSU football game. O-H-I-O!
8. I love old school hip hop (Run DMC, LL Cool J, Das Effect, EPMD, Tribe Called Quest, you get the picture).
9. Fred Hammond is my all-time favorite Gospel song artist. Period.
10. I am an HGTV addict.
11. I got braces when I was 22 years old and a first year teacher of 8th graders. Awkward!

My Responses to Patrick’s Questions
1. “Have you ever been to Massachusetts?” I can’t say that I have, but it’s now on my Bucket List.
2. “What is your favorite sports team?” The Ohio State University Buckeyes (I’m from Ohio and it’s kinda expected, you know?)
3. “Besides you, name a blogger that you would recommend to others.” Just one is tough… Justin Tarte is the man.
4. “When you were little, what did you dream of becoming?” A high school principal of one of the largest schools in Central Ohio! No seriously, I dreamt of becoming a teacher.
5. “How far away do you live from where you grew up?” About 20 minutes.
6. “What is your favorite meal?” Breakfast. It’s a must.
7. “If you were offered a free trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?” To the Mediterranean.
8. “Do you prefer Macs or PC’s?” Good question. I have to say PC.
9. “Other than the birth of your children and/or the day you were married or met your soul mate, what was the best day of your life?” The day my wife and I drove a Go Cart through the city of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It was awesome!
10. “What is the best movie you’ve seen in the last year?” Best Man Holiday
11. “What is the last live concert you’ve attend?” Fred Hammond and Radicals For Christ. It was many years ago, but it was an amazing worship experience.

Now, For Your Homework Assignment
1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3. Answer 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
4. List 11 bloggers
5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate and let the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.
6. Post back here (in the comment section) with a link to your finished assignment.

My 11 Bloggers
1. Derek McCoy
2. Jeff Zoul
3. Kevin Dengel
4. Jeremy Lahman
5. Todd Keenan
6. Fred Donelson
7. Chuck Banks
8. Pernille Ripp
9. Jimmy Casas
10. Jose Vilson
11. Reed Gillespie

My 11 Questions for You
1. What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year?
2. What person in history would you want to have dinner with?
3. What’s the one thing you care about the most?
4. Who is your all time favorite cartoon character?
5. What was your favorite extracurricular activity in high school?
6. Growing up, were you a nerd, jock, teacher’s pet, loner, or extravert?
7. What’s your dream vacation?
8. What’s one thing you would invent that would positively change lives?
9. If you weren’t an educator, what would do for a living?
10. If you were to give a TED Talk, what would be your topic?
11. What’s your sentence?

Be Great,

Dwight