You’ve Got to See It

I am not a music guy. I appreciate one’s ability to create music, but I can’t read music at all. However, I absolutely love attending quality high school music performances and observing sight-reading events. Have you ever experienced a sight reading at an adjudicated music competition? If you haven’t then you are missing out on some great teaching and learning!
A sight reading is an excellent example of summative assessment, immediate feedback, and collaboration. It’s awesome! Here’s how it works:

I’ll use choir as an example. The students walk into a quiet room where waiting for them is an adjudicator and a couple of assistants (usually college students). The choir teacher arranges the students in the appropriate spots: altos, sopranos, tenors,etc. He then gives them some brief non-verbal reminders and then they are ready to go. The judge explains the expectations, which are familiar to the students since they go through the sight-reading process during class. Here is the catch: the instructor and students are not aware of the song they are supposed to sing until the judge orders the assistants to pass it out. It’s awesome!

Most of the students are given a music book, but they cannot open it until the judge gives them the okay. The instructor asks for a quick two minute warm-up and takes the students through a “doe-ray-me…” in an e flat or b (or whatever note the instructor demands). The students beautifully and melodiously bellow out the notes. The instructor gives the students a quick nod and they are ready to go.

The judge directs them to open their music and they are given only four minutes to study the music, but they can’t sing it. They can speak it, tap it out, whatever, but they cannot sing (make harmony, melody, etc.) The instructor rapidly goes through a quick assessment of the trouble spots, corrects the students’ mistakes, and praises them along the way. At the end of the four minutes, the judge announces, “Time.”

Within thirty seconds the students and instructor are on their own. The accompanist hits a note and they are off, singing the notes in the “do-ray-me…” and making hand gestures of the notes they are singing. The instructor is clapping, correcting, guiding, and pointing at the various sections. The students are in harmony, enthusiastically hitting each note. The entire experience is a display of authentic teaching and learning. There is no faking it in a sight-reading: the students either knows it or they don’t! Once they are finished singing the song, the judge immediately gives them feedback that is specific, direct, and succinct. Before they leave the room, they know exactly what they were assessed on and how they were assessed. They just have to wait for their final score. This also gives the instructor time to speak to the students about what he saw, heard, felt, etc. The students are not only relieved it’s over, but they are eager to get feedback from the judge and instructor. I wonder how we can capture this same experience in our non-music classes. Something to think about…

I’ve witnessed about six sight-readings over the last three years and each time I am simply amazed by the evidence of learning and good teaching. Our music instructors are master craftsman and the proof is on display at every concert and adjudicated event. They take pride in their work and they’ve instilled pride in our students to perform at high levels every single time. As a result, all six of our choirs qualified to the state competition, two out of three of our bands qualified, and our orchestra qualified as well. Am I proud? No doubt!

Be Great,


What is the State of your school?

One of the key events of the year is when the President of the United States holds the State of the Union Address. Each president has addressed the nation in order to convey a specific message and move the nation to action. One of my mentors named Keith Bell has been a successful and beloved administrator in four different school districts in the Columbus, Ohio area: Assistant Principal at Gahanna Lincoln High School, Principal at Groveport Madison High School, and Principal at Westerville South High School and curriculum coordinator, and now Deputy Superintendent of the Columbus City School District. While at Groveport, he began to address his students in a format very similar to the State of the Union, however, he called it the State of the Cruisers, which is the school’s mascot. He and I talked about this extensively, as I was intrigued by the idea. He, as well as many administrators, believes it’s of great importance for the principal to speak with the students as much as possible. I couldn’t agree more.

Hmm, a State of the Union at my school? I know what you are thinking because I thought the same things. What do you talk about? Will the students behave? What’s the point? What’s the purpose? These are all relevant questions and should be asked. However, everything rises and falls on leadership, so it’s important for the building principal to be seen and heard by the students on a regular basis.

When I address my students at the quarterly State of the Lions Address (we are the Lions) I focus on 4-5 main points: celebrate individual student and group accomplishments for the quarter; share quarterly academic, discipline, and attendance data; outline and review expectations; address areas of concern or that need improvement, and explain special events/topics.

o Celebrate individual student and group accomplishments for the quarter
 I keep a list of accomplishments, such as highlights about our Speech and Debate club, athletic team successes, students who participated in the fall play, musical concerts, or students who earned a student of the month award (PRIDE Award).
 I simply ask these students to stand up in front of their peers, but occasionally I may display their names on the large screen.
 I also ask all students who achieved Honor Roll or earned a quarterly Renaissance Achievement Card to stand up as well.
 This only takes a few minutes, yet it shines a spotlight on our students who are marketing and protecting our school brand through their actions. Our school brand is P.RI.D.E- personal responsibility in developing excellence. By publicly recognizing students who demonstrate P.R.I.D.E we tend to get greater results from our students.

o Share quarterly academic, discipline, and attendance data
 There are over 2400 students at my school and I stress how important it is for us to achieve and sustain a 3.0+ grade point average. Over 80% of our graduates attend either a two or four year college or university, yet I believe it can be much higher. With that said, our students must achieve at high levels and their grades must reflect this.
 I communicate to our students what we expect them to accomplish and then we provide the time, assistance, and encouragement for them to meet our expectations.
 I share with each graduating class their quarterly grade point average so that they can see where they are and what they need to do to meet the goal. This challenges them and (I hope) unifies them to push beyond barriers to academic success.
 I also share the previous quarter’s data with them so they can see their progress over time.
 It’s also important for students to see how they did in terms of discipline. I show the percentage of students from the class who were referred to the office, the number of incidents for the class, as well as the school average. There is typically a spike during the second quarter, which may be due to the long winter months, but this is something we have to overcome.
 Finally, I share the percentage of students who had at least one excused absence or tardy, the percentage of students who had perfect attendance, and data from the previous quarter. Again, many students personally challenge themselves to be at school and on time once they see how their presence impacts the entire class.
 We use the data to celebrate progress and achievement, but also to set goals for the next quarter.

o Discuss expectations
 I use this time to directly let the students know what we expect from them. I try to use humor (smile), tell stories, show images, and short video clips to make my point. Be careful sharing too many stories as it may become a show and tell, which can lead to eye rolling, huffing and puffing, and sheer boredom (Um, not speaking from experience).
 Expectations include, appropriate dress, school safety, work ethic, accountability, and respectful actions and language. You know, what we should expect from students these days.
 We have seen a decrease in the number of fights, arguments, and discipline referrals since implementing the State of the Lions. However, there are a number of factor that contribute to this decrease as well.

o Address areas of concern or that need improvement
 At times, I have to address more serious issues. I use this time to highlight the problem and then challenge students to be a part of the solution. I don’t take this section lightly so I don’t use humor, but I may tell a story to hit home.
 Some of the concerns aren’t as serious, but still need to addressed. It’s important to use language that challenges rather than threatens the students. I have found that they will respond. For example, the way students dance these days is, well, um… is it dancing? Anyway, we addressed this in a humorous way that made the point. Thank God is not just a problem in my school!
 Sidebar: be sure to have a plan in place to help students be a part of the process. In my enthusiasm, I have forgotten to do this at times!

o Special events/topics
 I engaged the students in a discussion about one’s personal brand as well as our school brand by showing images of popular brands and then I asked the students to call out the slogan of the brand logo. For example, Nike is “Just Do it.” I wanted them to think about how our actions and words as members of the Gahanna Lincoln High School community hurt or positively promote a positive brand image.
 I most recently discussed the importance of posting intelligently when using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. It’s our moral obligation to teach our students to be responsible in cyberspace because they are creating an online presence and reputation. It goes back to one’s personal brand.

The downside to the State of the Lions Address is that it takes away instructional time. However, I let teachers know the dates of the State of the Lions at the beginning of each school year to help them plan accordingly. This year, I held one close the start of the school year and then about two weeks after the end of each quarter. As a bonus, I often give teachers the period off once they escort their students to the auditorium. Even though it takes time, I look at it as addition by subtraction, since the students are made aware of the progress and level of achievement in the areas we deem as important. The results over the last three years have shown that it’s working. Each quarter, each class, quarterly or semester data, and clear expectations- I challenge you to share the “State” of your school.

Be Great,


Presentation is Everything
When I was growing up I was a huge fan of the Cosby Show. I appreciated the antics of each character and the solid message that came out of each episode. There were times when I thought it was too cheesy, but that was due to a narrow minded perspective.
There was one episode that really resonated with me as it taught me a very powerful and meaningful lesson: Presentation is everything. Simply stated, the episode was about the Huxtable’s oldest daughter bringing home her husband after they were already married. If you are a father I am sure you can only imagine how you would respond to a situation like this! As she tried to describe how wonderful this young man was to Dr. and Mrs. Huxtable, her words fell on deaf ears. They were cold and distant towards him. When she asked why they were so cold, Dr. Huxtable summarized his feelings with a metaphor.
Dr. Huxtable, in the most compassionate, yet serious tone, said something like this to his daughter. “Think about it this way. You are at a nice steak restaurant and you order the best cut of beef they have to offer. You see the waiter as he brings the simmering slice of beef and you simply can’t wait to tear into it. However, he serves it to you on a lid of a dirty trash can. Although the steak was a premier cut, it looked far less appealing because of the presentation. Honey, your husband very well may be a great guy, but you didn’t give him a chance because of the way you presented him to me.”
Presentation is everything….
I have recently been reminded of this key nugget of wisdom as I have forgotten this golden rule of communication. I have had to present some key changes and ideas for improvement to my staff the last couple of weeks and in my excitement, anxiety, or nervousness, I forgot some key guidelines that would have alleviated some stress and prevented feelings of frustration:
• Clearly and succinctly state the purpose. Many are open to new ideas, but knowing the purpose definitely helps with buy-in and can increase the number of supporters of the change.
• Clearly and succinctly state what is changing. Many simply want to know what you, the leader, expect from them so that they can meet the expectations. In fact, if clearly presented and shared properly, your expectations will easily become our expectations.
• Clearly and succinctly state how things are going to change. While it is difficult to outline every jot and title, it is important to at least provide a roadmap to get the process started, knowing that it will be an evolution over time as you engage members in conversation, gather feedback, and answer questions.
• Clearly and succinctly state when the changes are to occur. It is impossible to have all the answers. However, provide a flexible time line that will allow dialogue, training, and implementation.
• Provide adequate time for questions, conversation, and resources. If the change is significant, you have to provide data to support why you want the change to occur and provide a channel for dialogue to take place. Additionally, you have to ask yourself some key questions:
o Will this help us fulfill our mission and vision?
o Is this what’s best for all students? How do we know?
o Will this help us accomplish our specific goals as a school?
o Is this in line with our values as a school?
Whether we are talking to students, teachers, parents, the Board of Education, or community members, we not only have to focus on what we present, but also how it’s presented. What tips do you have?