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

The One Thing We All Need

TrustTrust is the most important characteristic that exists within any successful team, classroom, group, school, organization and relationship.

The feeling of trust can help resolve conflicts much quicker, mistakes to be forgiven much faster, and learning to occur at a much deeper level. The existence of trust draws people together because there is freedom to take calculated risks without the fear or judgement or ridicule. There also exists a sense of security and vulnerability coupled with a greater level of responsibility.

Without trust, things are just a shell of what they could be.

Be Great,

Dwight

Photo credit: http://blog.worksnug.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Trust.jpg

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

Remember Sydnee

“Remember Sydnee 10-20-13: Buckle Up. Dnt txt n drv. Give Life.”
This is a very simple, yet powerful message that the parents of Sydnee Madison Williams would like for you to remember. Sydnee was a junior at Gahanna Lincoln High School and Eastland Career Center.

Sydnee Williams

On Friday, October 18th, Sydnee, along with two of her friends, were in a tragic, single car accident and in an instant, the lives of many would change. Unfortunately, Sydnee was texting while driving and lost control of the car. However, Sydnee is so much more than the victim of a tragic car accident. She was a daughter, niece, friend, and confidant. She brought joys to others and had a bright future. As I listened to many stories others shared about Sydnee in the hours and days following the accident, I learned so much about her.

• I learned that she was a fighter. She overcame a challenging childhood with the help of her aunt and uncle, who later adopted her.
• I learned that she had a very special relationship with one of our elementary guidance counselors. Sydnee found refuge in talking with Mrs. J. Sydnee visited with her days before the accident. This proves the significance of positive relationships.
• I learned that she was a close friend to many. She would lend an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, and a warm embrace to others often.
• I learned that she was unashamed in her faith. She was a worshipper and did so freely and openly whenever she felt the urge.
• I learned that she was a “child-whisperer”, meaning little children would instantly calm down when she was present.
• I learned that, like most teens, she had her struggles.

As I talked with her parents in the hospital the night after the accident, I distinctly remember her mom saying, “She always wears her seatbelt. I just don’t understand why she wasn’t wearing it…” I believed her and still do…

The next 24 hours were unbearable. We waited for news, any news about Sydnee. Finally, I received a text message around noon on Sunday, October 20th from Sydnee’s Youth Pastor. She was gone. It was so tragic and all I could think about were her parents’ faces as her dad stood at the foot of her hospital bed and her mom sat closely at her side holding her hand and talking to her; tears streaming down their faces. I thought, “How are they going to going to make it through this? How can we help?”

Her mom and dad are hurting, no doubt. They long to see her smile, hear her laugh, or hear her sing again, but they have found the courage to use this as an opportunity to save others’ lives. They are courageous. They have embraced what has occurred and have found the strength in sharing a very simple, yet powerful message:
“Remember Sydnee 10-20-13. Buckle Up. Dnt txt n drv. Give Life.”

So, in honor of Sydnee, I encourage you to wear the beautiful sky blue bracelet with the above message on it and when you are tempted to text while driving, glance at the bracelet. Take a second to buckle your seat belt before you turn on the ignition of your car. Remain focused on the road and eliminate as many distractions as possible while driving. I am embarrassed to admit that I have texted while driving. However, I’m also proud to say that it hasn’t happened since Sydnee’s accident. I signed a pledge at her viewing and vowed to my wife that I will no longer text and drive. I “Remember Sydnee 10-20-13. Buckle Up. Dnt txt n drv. Give Life.”

A Path to Career and College Readiness

Career and College ReadinessA common phrase in education and the news today is “career and college readiness.” Schools have developed graduate profiles, mission statements, and strategic plans to ensure students are career and college ready. However, this really isn’t anything new. We at GLHS, like most schools, have had a focus on career and college readiness for decades. We’ve become more intentional in our efforts and one way is by providing a three hour delayed start schedule for students to take the PLAN and PSAT.

On Wednesday, October 16th GLHS is offering the PLAN Test for our sophomores and the PSAT/NMSQT for our juniors from 7:35-10:25, and an all-day ACT Boot Camp for seniors. Freshmen students will have a specific program that day which will be outlined in another post.

The ACT PLAN is essentially a practice ACT to help sophomore students identify their academic progress and strengths midway through their high school career. In addition, it’s an exploration of career and training options. The results of this test will help sophomore students develop a plan for the next two years of high school to ensure they are career and college ready. So far, about 400 of our sophomore students are registered to take the PLAN. Our goal is 100%, so if you would like your student to participate, please contact the Guidance Office at (614)478-5508 to get more information. There is a $12 fee to take the test.

The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) is for junior students. The purpose of the PSAT is to measure students’ critical reading skills, math problem-solving skills, and writing skills. Some reasons why it’s important for students to take the PSAT are to:
• “Receive feedback on your strengths and weaknesses on skills necessary for college study. You can then focus your preparation on those areas that could most benefit from additional study or practice.
• See how your performance on an admissions test might compare with that of others applying to college.
• Enter the competition for scholarships from NMSC (grade 11).
• Help prepare for the SAT. You can become familiar with the kinds of questions and the exact directions you will see on the SAT.” -(CollegeBoard, 2013)

Currently, nearly 340 juniors have signed up to take the PSAT. If you want your child to participate and he/she has not signed up, please contact the Guidance Office as soon as possible. The registration fee is $14.00.

For seniors who are scheduled to take the ACT on Saturday, October 26, we are offering a six hour ACT Boot Camp in the Commons Area on the 3rd floor of Clark Hall. The focus of the camp is test taking strategies and it has a proven track record of improving students’ scores in other Central Ohio districts. The camp costs $45 and it’s facilitated by Test Prep Seminar, an ACT/SAT Prep organization. The number of our students who take the ACT has steadily increased over the last five years so we want to provide another way for them to be successful on this test. Through the Boot Camp, each student receives a workbook with twenty-seven practice tests and detailed answer explanations AND a test-taking strategy guide. Seniors who are interested should register by October 14th. To do so, please return the registration form that was sent to you a few weeks ago along with a $45 check made out to Gahanna Lincoln High School. One of the benefits of this camp is that it’s offered during the school day.

For sophomore, junior, and senior students who are not taking the PLAN, PSAT, or participating in the ACT Boot Camp, first period will begin at 10:35. It’s a normal school day for freshmen who are to report to first period at the regular time.

Be Great,

Dwight

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

Staff Expectations

20130720-011613.jpgI’ve taken the last couple of weeks off to spend some quality time at home, recharge my battery, catch up on some reading, and reflect on last school year. As the new school year approaches, I recently reviewed what my staff expects of me in order to prepare myself to meet their expectations.

One of my teachers named, Shawn Johnston (@shawnjohn3399), recently recommended I read Tony Dungy’s book, The Mentor Leader. It’s a great read and there is a common theme woven throughout the book: leadership is about others, not about the leader. What my staff expects of me can be summarized by this theme. The principals I admire most not only know this, but their actions demonstrate this. With that said, following are the top 5 characteristics my staff expects of me:

Be Visible- I often over-promise and under-deliver in this area. It’s not intentional, but every year I fall short of my own expectations when it comes to being visible. Well, I guess it is intentional since I don’t schedule it on a daily basis. I haven’t followed through with my “No Office Day” the last couple of years! Todd Wittaker recently posted on Twitter that administrators should do the “Daily Five: visit five classrooms for five minutes every day.” This is very doable and I’ve already shared this with my administrative team. Also, this year will be different because of the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System. OTES requires walkthroughs so this will force me and my administration team to not only be visible in classrooms, but to provide meaningful and timely feedback. They also want to see me (us) in the hallways in between classes and at extracurricular activities. Visibility=I care.

Presence- Being physically present is important, but being mentally and emotionally present are essential to my staff. One of our core beliefs at GLHS is positive relationships. Therefore, as I’ve become a “connected educator” it’s expected of me, and rightfully so, to “be there” for my staff- all of them! Be plugged into the moment, embrace each interaction, and make it a priority to make whomever I am talking with feel valued, respected, and honored. Sometimes busyness gets in the way but I realized I view busyness as a badge of honor, when it’s really a sign of being unorganized.

Consistently Follow Through- What I take from this is to establish clear procedures with the staff and stick to them. Additionally, they want students and staff to be held accountable so we can be our very best. A lack of consistency leads to frustration, or the inability to solve a problem. The less frustrated we are, the better we will be for our students and school community.

Support- They want and need to know I and my administrative team have their backs when they try new things, when faced with discipline issues, when they make mistakes, and during tough times. Support looks differently to many people, but the more visible, consistent, and clear I am, the more supported they will feel.

Clear Communication- This includes not only verbal communication, but my ability to actively listen. One of my veteran teachers and good friend reminds me to listen to what they have to say, answer their questions, and show understanding. They will understand if I disagree and will appreciate me simply listening. I reminded the Class of 2013 at the commencement ceremony to “listen to understand not to respond.” I have to practice what I preach.

I’m excited to get the 2013-2014 school year started! It’s an opportunity for a fresh start, it’s a chance to set a positive tone, to review our core values, and to positively change lives and impact futures!

Be Great,

Dwight

Never Underestimate the Significance of Relationships

www.jostens/renaissance

www.jostens/renaissance

The final day of the Jostens Renaissance National Conference was Saturday, July 13th and “The Freedom Writer,” Erin Gruwell’s, closing presentation was on point! She shared her amazing story about how she worked with 150 challenging students to completely transform their lives. It was apparent that she really got to know her students, connected with them on a highly emotional level, and created a collaborative, safe learning environment for them to succeed.

Her story was a reminder that mentoring relationships are messy. It’s hard work and there are many obstacles to overcome. However, if the goal is to significantly impact the life of another person, then it’s worth it.

She used the art of writing to tear down walls and open doors for students. Her story reminded me of a Challenge Day activity called, Cross The Line. This activity helps participants find common ground and it provides a visual of how connected we truly are by shared experiences. Our Athletic Director at Gahanna Lincoln High School, Justin Sanford, was instrumental in bringing Challenge Day to GLHS. We held a Challenge Day for three years and it did wonders for enhancing a positive school climate. Students, parents, staff, and community members still talk about how Challenge Day transformed their lives.

Listening to Erin’s story and watching brief clips from the movie, “Freedom Writers,” reminded me of Todd Wittaker’s phrase, “It’s people, not programs,” or Dr. James Comer famous line, “No significant learning takes place without a significant relationship.” We all have an “Erin Gruwell” experience with students. We are reminded of these stories when we refer to the file of the letters from former students we receive. If you don’t keep a file of these letters or cards, then I strongly encourage you to start today! We all have that one success story that brings tears to our eyes when we think about how we’ve made a difference to someone.

I recently ran into a former athlete I coached, who is now 27 years old and doing extremely well. He pulled me aside to talk. He said,

“You may not remember this, but when I was a freshmen (he was a starter on the Varsity football team as a freshmen), you walked up to me and told me I should run track because it would humble me. You said I hadn’t experienced loss yet, but running track would help me grow as a person and understand humility. I never forgot that and I thank you for caring enough to tell me.”

He was an extremely gifted athlete, he was charismatic, and he was a natural leader. I also noticed how we interacted with some of the students in the hallways or on the field and was a bit concerned. I wasn’t his specific position coach, but we had a close enough relationship where I thought he would be receptive. Thirteen years later, I guess it worked!

As I think about the quickly approaching school year, my goal is to reestablish positive relationships with members of my staff. I’ve allowed “programs” or other excuses to get in the way of relationships. More candidly, relationships have not been a priority and it has cost me.

As educators, stealing a phrase Seth Godin used in the book, Linchpin, “We have a platform to share our art.” Our “art” is making a difference in the lives of others. As we quickly approach the start of another school year, let’s remember to use our platform (classroom, school building, cafeteria, front desk, attendance office, or guidance office) to establish significant relationships with others, set high expectations, and make a difference, more specifically, a positive difference, in someone’s life.

“It’s people, not programs.”

Stealing the 2014 Jostens Renaissance National Conference theme, let’s find “joy in the journey” of being educators!

Be Great,



Dwight

Reluctant or Resistant?: Day 2 Reflections from the Jostens Renaissance National Conference

http://bit.ly/18f2RIJ

http://bit.ly/18f2RIJ

I’ve had the opportunity to present at several conferences or workshops the last couple of years about how we, at GLHS, use social media to tell our story. Each time I share examples, tell stories, and start with our “why” I notice two different responses: 1. Arms crossed, furrowed brow, and a blank stare as if to say, “this will never work in my school or district” 2. Pen frantically attacking the paper, head nodding in agreement, and hands raised with questions. I get it. I’ve had both reactions and have come to embrace, promote, encourage, and model the use of social media to share stories, highlight staff, make connections, and engage in the learning process through “chats.”

Inevitably, I am approached by teachers at the end of each session who ask, “how do I get my administration to allow mobile devices at school or to embrace the use of social media?” The look of despair in their eyes reminds me that while many educators across the globe use social media and web 2.0 tools to increase learning opportunities, to connect with others, engage learners, and share information, there are far too many who are still reluctant or resistant to it altogether.

Change is difficult, especially when thinking about having to change a mindset. However, we must continue to share successful stories of how teachers and students are using social media to positively change lives and impact futures. We can start by looking within our own building. We can then promote what other educators and students are doing from other districts. The more we share, the better the chance we have of turning reluctance and resistance into openness and acceptance.

If you are an administrator who has jumped on the social media bandwagon, tell your story in the comment section below. If you are resistant or reluctant, what questions do you have? In the meantime, take a look at the this video, which shows the impact social media has on our lives.

Be Great,

Dwight