10 Ways Principals Can Use Twitter to Enhance Stakeholder Engagement

twitter-apple-keyboardBefore I joined the Twitterverse, I was critical of its use and, quite frankly, was turned off by the concept all together. I often read and watched what seemed like ridiculous stories of what celebrities shared about their lives from the foods they ate, who they had lunch with, or whom they were dating. I saw no purpose for it all. However, all that changed about four years ago when my former district embarked on a digital journey.

I had the opportunity to participate in an intense, three-day social media boot camp facilitated by Debra Jasper and Betsy Hubbard, founders of Mindset Digital. They showed the participants a number of ways to harness the power of Web 2.0 tools to share stories, improve communication strategies, engage students, and improve instruction to meet the needs of today’s learners. What was even more significant is that they showed us how other educators were using these tools on a daily basis to make their teaching and learning visible to the world. It was overwhelming and exciting at the same time. I gravitated towards Twitter and have learned 10 ways I could use it as a building principal:

1. Visible Learning– Concise and thoughtful messages posted on Twitter in real-time about what teachers and students are experiencing in classrooms, in extracurricular activities, or in service-learning projects creates a window into the world of your school. It increases the level of transparency that removes the mystery of school.
2. Highlight teachers– What gets recognized gets repeated, so sending out tweets about the amazing lesson ideas that teachers come up with shines a much deserved light on those whom positively change lives and impact futures.
3. Storytelling– We learn best through story, and Twitter gives a principal a chance to tell brief stories about the activities that go on daily. To enhance visibility, simply create a hashtag for your school, encourage others to use it, and begin posting to Twitter.
4. Expand One’s Personal Learning Network– It is often said that, “The smartest person in the room is the room.” Twitter gives a principal the opportunity to connect with educators outside of the school to learn about pedagogical strategies, connect with educational thought leaders, and communicate with other principals who are doing similar work.
5. Participate in Twitter Chats– A Twitter chat is an easy way to engage a meaningful exchange of ideas, approaches, and hot topics in education. There are a number of chats nearly every day of the week!
6. Start a Twitter Chat For Your Building and/or District-Principals can set up a Twitter chat for his/her school or district as a way to extend staff meeting conversations, discuss relevant articles, or have a book study. The possibilities are endless! Ask a few teachers to join in and off you go!
7. Communicate/Interact With Students– Besides interacting with students in the hallways, classrooms, and events, sharing daily messages via Twitter is an easy way to connect with a large group of students in a short amount of time. Remember to pause before you post.
8. Share Daily Words of Wisdom– I start nearly every day with a brief tweet of words of wisdom. I get the daily messages from a book entitled, 8,789 Words of Wisdom. It starts the day on a positive note for me and for those who receive them.
9. Provide Extracurricular Updates– Principals attend many extra-curricular events and one of the best ways to promote your school is to tweet highlights while at a sporting event, Science Olympiad, etc. Students, parents, and other staff members appreciate the real-time updates. The participants in the activities really appreciate it as well!
10. Post Links To Articles/Blogs– Share articles and blogs that are aligned with building goals, professional goals, or that challenge your thinking. This is one the best ways to contribute to others’ learning as well because what you post may spark an idea, provide the support they need to press on, or launch a new initiative.

I didn’t begin by doing all 10 of the strategies listed, nor should you. Pick one and try it out. Over time, using Twitter will become a part of your daily routine because you will recognize the positive impact it has on creating a culture of learning, sharing, connecting, and story telling.

Be Great,

Dwight

Leading Through Tough Times

My district has recently suffered a loss of an operating and permanent improvement levy of 8.9 mils. It was an uphill battle from the beginning and the cuts that resulted from this loss are deep. The greatest impact, as one might expect, is on personnel.

We had to institute a plan to eliminate nearly 100 positions from every area combined including our curriculum department, an assistant principal from three of the four buildings, reduce the number of custodians, bus drivers, teachers, secretaries, and educational assistants. Our pay to participate fees also increased, which created a burden on families. Needless to say, it’s been a challenging month. This will inevitably impact students because we will have to fundamentally change the way we do business. Whether it’s a negative or positive impact remains to be seen.

http://love.catchsmile.com/wp-content/uploads/The-Sun-Always-Shines.jpg
http://love.catchsmile.com/wp-content/uploads/The-Sun-Always-Shines.jpg

It’s been an emotionally and physically draining process to have to reduce staff. Inevitably there is a loss of a sense of security, fear and anxiety increase, people tend to feel less valued, and the natural response is to protect oneself. Isolation increases while collaboration and a desire to do anything “extra” seem burdensome. To help navigate staff through these tough times, I realize there are five things that leaders ought to do:

1. Be Compassionate- meet people where they are emotionally and seek to understand. Acknowledge their feelings, listen, console, and be there.

2. Communicate Concretely- during times of uncertainty, the people you serve need to hear a clear and concise message. No fluffy, vague, or ambiguous talk because it only increases doubts, a lack of trust, and anxiety. This may entail making decisions that are not going to be popular, but it’s a part of communicating specific and concrete information.

3. Re-examine Your Vision- start asking reflective questions about where you want your school to go and what you want your school to become. Then collaborate with others to seek their input, suggestions, and ideas. From there, refer back to #2.

4. Think Different- Leading through loss causes you to think creatively about how to do business with less, which is not always a bad thing. Identify the constraints and challenge yourself and others to share ideas about how to do business in a different, more productive manner because you now have a “new normal.”

5. Collaborate- Create and communicate a plan of action first with small groups, reshape it, and review it some more before sharing it with a broader audience. This also entails seeking input from others before making a decision, working with others to make a decision, or relying on others to make a decision. Either way, having some level of collaboration is important and make sure there is an operational definition of collaboration before moving forward. If not, you can cause more harm than good. Then, refer to #2 and #3.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I haven’t taken each step as much as I should’ve, especially #5. Leadership takes courage and leading through tough times only increases the need for courageous actions.

Be Great,

Dwight

Stop Thief!

OS20059Luckily, I can only count on one hand the number of times someone physically stole something from me. Regardless of the number of times it’s happened, I felt violated, frustrated, and angry. The nerve and audacity of someone to take something that doesn’t belong to them is baffling. While I’ve experienced this only a few times, others may have experienced this more often.

There is another type of thievery that exists by those who intentionally or unintentionally steal joy, happiness, or peace from others. They don’t just steal it, they rob it. The difference between a thief and a robber is proximity. Thieves take things when no one is around. They sneak around and look for opportunities to pounce so they can leave unseen or unheard. Robbers have little regard for the individual and take things by force, yielding their arrogance or greed and forcibly take what they believe they should have. Both are selfish acts.

These thieves disguise themselves as policy makers, concerned friends, concerned parents, naysayers, or so called “realists.” They lurk among us with a critical eye waiting to suck the life out of a well- thought out lesson plan, creatively designed unit, or a new idea, all in the name of preservation of the past or fear of change. They steal joy with words of doubt, critique in the form of unsolicited feedback, or a relentless list of questions. After too long it becomes more difficult to bounce back from such acts of thievery. It requires more energy to fend them off, energy that should be used on something much more productive or positive.

As educators, this can happen almost on a daily basis, yet there are four things we can do to positively respond to such acts:

1. Make sure you are not a thief. When others enthusiastically share ideas or take calculated risks by trying something new in the classroom, speak words of encouragement and support.
2. Daily recharge your battery. We have a finite amount of willpower each day. Focus on things that speak life to you each day and get the necessary rest to be able to face new challenges the next day.
3. Develop a Personal Learning Network of trusted colleagues who not only believe in you, but also will be a critical friend to help you become the best you can be.
4. Become a trusted and critical friend to a colleague in your building. Your experience can be a valuable resource for others and just the support they need to grow.

Stop the thief, but also make sure you are not the one who needs to be stopped. Note to self: don’t be “that guy.”

Be Great,

Dwight

Photo credit: http://www.movingtomerida.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/stop-thief.jpg

My Letter To My New Staff #NAHSeaglespride

July 30, 2014
NA LogoDear NAHS Team Member,

We are in one of the most exciting times to be an educator. We are facing many challenges, yet we have some of the best opportunities to engage learners, the community, and each other to continue to shape what teaching and learning can look like at New Albany High School.

New Albany High School: Over 130 Staff and Faculty (Staffulty), 1300 students, 2600 parents, and 1 focus: To be Great. What does greatness mean? Greatness is neither a destination, nor a moment in time, but it is a journey towards a consistent pattern of behavior that results in constant progress and achievement. We often celebrate great moments in our lives, like anniversaries, graduations, birthdays, victories, and other milestones. Schools should look for moments to celebrate students and Staffulty as often as we can with intentionality and purpose in order to create an environment where all have a sense of belonging.

I hope this letter finds you in good health, relaxed, and rejuvenated for a great year at NAHS. I appreciate your enthusiastic reception in April, as it was very welcoming. I enjoyed the Peace Week Kickoff ceremony and the other activities you invited me to in the spring! I am looking forward to getting to know you and learn more about the rich traditions and history of NAHS.

Meeting with the Principal
As the start of school is quickly approaching, I invite each departmentconversations-matter to meet with me, including Administrative Assistants/Secretaries, and Cafeteria Staff and Custodians, to discuss successes, your hopes and dreams for our future, and what steps we can take together to make NAHS even better. If you are able to attend, these will be informal conversations so there is no need to bring anything. I understand some of you may be on vacation during these times so if you can’t make it, we can meet at another time. Your family and personal time comes first.

Below is a list of dates and times that I have set aside for us to meet:
Friday, August 8th: 9:00-10:00 AM; 10:15-11:15 AM
Monday, August 11th: 10:15-11:15 AM; 1:00-2:00 PM
Tuesday, August 12th: 9:00-10:00 AM; 10:15-11:15 AM; 1:00-2:00 PM
Wednesday, August 13th, 9:00-10:00 AM; 10:15-11:15 AM; 1:00-2:00 PM
Thursday, August 14th: 9:00-10:00 AM; 10:15-11:15 AM; 1:00-2:00 PM
Friday, August 15th: 9:00-10:00 AM

Department Chairs, please call or email Sherrie Kauffman to set up an appointment. Again, this is not mandatory or an expectation, but simply an invitation for us to talk. Please let Sherrie know the room number where you want to meet.

Staff and Faculty Family Picnic!
Please mark your calendars and make plans to attend the 2014-2015 Staffulty Picnic on Sunday, August 17th at Jefferson Community Park in Gahanna from 4:30-8:30 PM! The building administrators will fire up the grill and provide the burgers, hotdogs, and brats, as well as the beverages and paper products. You will receive a Google Doc for you to RSVP and let us know what side dish you will bring. You are encouraged to bring your spouse or significant other and children for a fun and festive time together as a NAHS Family! If you have any games, such as Corn Hole, Badminton, or Volleyball, please bring it.

New Years in August!
Traditionally the start of a new year is celebrated on December 31. Many people spend that time either celebrating, praying, reflecting, and resolving to do things differently in the future. But, why wait until December?

We are ringing in the 2014-2015 school year with a “Happy New Year” celebration the first thing in the morning on August 25! To help welcome our students, you are invited to join us outside along the front sidewalk leading to the E Lobby and at the at entrance doors at the bus loop to enthusiastically greet students as they enter the building! If you are interested in joining us, we’ll gather at 7:15 AM. Together, we can make it a very memorable start to a new school year!

School Theme
NAHS You MatterIn order to foster an even greater sense of community and build upon the traditions of NAHS such as high academic honors, athletic championships, quality performance and visual arts, House, House Games, Peace Week, and Senior Seminar, I would like to introduce the use of an annual theme. The purpose of a theme is to convey a message within a story. The theme will be our annual mission in that it will highlight our approach to teaching, learning, school culture, and the celebration of our success. The stories we create and tell this year will focus on creating community.

This year’s theme is “YOU Matter.” Together, we will create a sense of oneness and make every effort to show each individual student and Staffulty member how important they are to the overall success of NAHS. “YOU Matter” focuses on the whole person, including academic success, attendance, attitude, participation in athletics, the arts, and school sponsored activities. More information will be coming throughout the year. In the meantime, I encourage you to spend some quality time the first week of school establishing positive relationships with students. The following are a few examples of how to incorporate our theme this year:

● Create a class blog and post a topic on the board for students to write about as a bell ringer. Sample topics include, “What is one challenge you have overcome in the last week?,” “What have you done to make someone else’s day?,” “What is one way you can make a positive difference at NAHS this week?,” and “Who are two students you have met this week and what did you learn about them?”

● Place a blank name tag on students’ desk and ask them to write an adjective of how they feel that day. For example, “Hello, I am grateful!” Then take a few minutes and ask for a few volunteers to share their adjective.

● Random Act of Kindness Cards can be distributed throughout the first quarter as a way to tangibly let someone know they made a difference.

I have a special request. It would be a welcoming sight as our students, parents, and guests entered the building if they were greeted by a large bulletin board of pictures of our Staffulty. However, instead of the standard school picture, you are invited to drop off to Sherrie a 3X5 or 4X6 picture of you and your family, or you doing your favorite hobby, to be added to our Staffulty collage. For example, I may submit a family photo we took for my daughter’s first birthday. Be creative and let your personality shine!

New Staffulty and Changes
We have added a few new members to the team and we are excited to have them with us!

Assistant Principal-Kristy Venne (former Dean of Students)
Dean of Students-Todd Keenan
Director of Special Ed-Sheila Saunders
Mandarin Chinese- Sammie Si Zhao
Receptionist-Lynn Guthrie (former Instructional Aide)
School Counselor Secretary- Shannon Gominez
Spanish-Hannah Macko
Special Ed-Dawn Psurny
Special Ed- Eric Jablonka
Wellness- Dominique Alexander
Welcome Center Registrar- Robin Davison (former School Counselor Secretary)

Important Dates
August 11th -New Student Orientation – Monday, August 11th 9:00-11:00 AM
August 17th- Staffulty and Family Picnic-Sunday, August 17th 4:30-8:30 PM at Jefferson Community Park in Gahanna
August 18th- Schedule Pick up for Seniors and Juniors: 9:00-Noon and 1:00-4:00 PM
August 19th- Schedule Pick up for Sophomores and Freshmen: 8:00-Noon and 1:00-4:00 PM
August 20th- Opening Convocation/District In-Service-no students
August 21st- Professional Learning
August 22nd- Staff Work Day
August 25th- First Day of School

I look forward to serving as your Principal!

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

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

Connecting With New Teachers

connecting-with-othersA couple of years ago, a second year teacher stopped by my office after school and asked if we could talk. The look on her face had me concerned so, of course, I welcomed her to have a seat. I thought she was going to share her concerns about student behavior or wanted help to solve a problem. Man, was I was wrong. What she said to me made a lasting impression…

As soon as she started to talk, tears started to flow from her eyes and she apologetically said, “I accepted a position in another district.” I shallowed hard because I was completely shocked. I felt blindsided, and immediately started to ask myself where we went wrong, where I went wrong as the principal. She said she needed a change, that she didn’t always feel supported or heard. Her comments were difficult to hear, but I appreciated her honesty. It was at the point that I vowed to myself to do everything within my control to prevent this from happening again under my watch as building principal.

One of our goals at Gahanna Lincoln High School is for every student, teacher, and parent to have a sense of belonging. It’s a lofty goal and we take it seriously. Losing that young, promising, and passionate teacher showed me that I, we, needed to do a better job of connecting with our new teachers. We hired 17 new teachers this school year; some with zero years of experience and a few with 4-6 years of experience. Nevertheless, I decided to meet with them once a month in an informal setting to simply give us an opportunity to connect, share, reflect, learn from each other.

It’s key to keep these meetings informal. There is no agenda, the teachers don’t have to prepare anything, and they aren’t assigned anything to do. We just talk. We first met in our Library Media Center in September, but decided together to meet at Panera, which is on our campus, for the rest of the year.It’s been amazing to hear their stories, their reflective thoughts about their craft, their suggestions on how we can get better, and to see how they support each other.

Admittedly, not all of them come each month and I’m fine with that. It’s simply an invitation to attend, not a mandate. I have asked a few questions to guide our discussion, but most of the time we go where the conversation takes us. Some of the questions asked are as follows:

*What has been the most successful thing you’ve done so far?
*How are you taking care of yourself physically?
*What do you do for fun?
*Have we lived up to what we promised you?
*What’s one thing we can do differently?
*What are you planning to change second semester?

Once I ask a question, I simply sit and listen. It’s great to hear their responses and how they build on each other’s comments. Before we concluded our most recent meeting, I asked, “Are these meetings helpful?” Following are some of their responses:

*“I think they are fun. I look forward to them each month.”
*”It’s good to see and talk with people outside your department. It’s good to learn from others.”
*”You make us feel like we are important to you.”
*”It’s good to hear what the other new teachers are thinking.”

I appreciate their time, their honestly, and their commitment to the GLHS Family! I can only imagine how much better we will be as we progress through the second half of this school year. If you have any ideas of how you connect with new teachers or suggestions to make this process better, please feel free to comment.

Be Great,

Dwight

Photo credit: http://www.erelationshipcoaching.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/connecting-with-others.jpg

Talk About It

compassion
This is my 20th year as an educator and I’ve had the privilege to serve in the Gahanna Jefferson Public School district during this entire time. I’ve grown very close to many staff and faculty, students, parents, and community members over these years, which is easy to do when you spend so much time in the same place. I care deeply about our students. I always have and always will.

I have seen many changes in young people over time (which is something all adults say as we get older and wiser) and I am in awe by the opportunities they have these days and what they can accomplish. I am also in awe by how cruel they can be at times. I am a strong advocate for technology, mobile devices, and using digital tools to learn, share, and communicate. What am I not an advocate for is cruelty towards others.

As I was watching my daughter, Gabrielle, play with her toys on the floor yesterday evening, I read an article about a 12 year old girl who committed suicide because she was relentless tormented by her classmates who posted cruel and anonymous things about her on a number of social media sites. It has become so easy to post anonymously, which is nothing more than a cowardly way to communicate. There is no courage, accountability, or a sense of responsibility with anonymous posts or comments. I encourage you to read the article and use it as a guide to begin a conversation with your son or daughter.

One of our goals is to create a safe, positive school climate where there is a sense of belonging. However, what can undermine this sense of security is talk about itcruelty towards others. This is not a society problem, a school problem, a parent problem, or a problem with “those kids.” It’s our problem because we are society; however, we can do our part to solve it in our community. After you read it, take one small action by talking with your son or daughter about their digital lives. Ask them to show you their social media sites (Instagram, Twitter, ask.fm, Vine, Facebook, Kick, YouTube channel, etc.). Talk to them about their experiences and ask for ways they can be a part of the solution.

October is Anti-Bullying Month and for the last three years, we’ve launched a Pause Before You Post Campaign to remind us all to think before we post anything on social media, email, or text message. It’s been successful and I would like to do more. October is also when we begin our Community University Workshops for parents. I am considering a Digital Citizenship workshop that will focus on ways we can encourage our students (and ourselves) to be good citizens in the virtual world. Our digital footprint can open doors or close doors based on how we represent ourselves through our posts. Google is the new business card. I will let you know the date and time of the Community University workshop.

Be Great,

Dwight