Tuesday, November 25, 2008

High Expectations for ALL

At the Transition Conference two summers ago I saw Larry Gloeckler, Executive Director of the Special Education Institute at the International Center for Leadership in Education. He indicated that it was not enough for schools to say they had high expectations for ALL students. Rather, schools need specific strategies for helping teachers, parents, and students institutionalize high expectations. Words are easy, but do people really believe it? Do they really believe ALL students can learn at high levels?

In my experience, it is difficult for most educators to make this transition. It's easy to see the flaws, the deficits that students bring which convince us it can't be done. I wonder how far we could push achievement if instead of the unimaginative, typical response of "it can't be done," we instead gave consideration to how it could. Carol Ann Tomlinson, guru for differentiated instruction refers to this as Teaching Up. How could we teach Algebra to special ed student? How could we ensure ALL students learn how to read?

  • Does your school have specific strategies to promote attitudes, behaviors, & processes for helping all students reaching high levels or just words?
  • Do you or your faculty spend more time brainstorming and strategizing on how all students can succeed or complaining about the unfairness of the mandates requiring ALL students succeed?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Inclusive Schools Week

Inclusive Schools Week is December 1st - 5th, 2008. This year's theme is, Together We Learn Better: Inclusive Schools Benefit All Children. A celebration kit is available at http://www.inclusiveschools.org/

For a great video to illustrate the power of inclusion go to I'm Tyler website and click on view video.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Big Picture High Schools Put Students in Charge

Ever wondered what it would be like if students designed their own learning plan and set their own goals?

Have you heard of Big Picture Schools? These are schools in which students design their own learning plan and set their own goals with the help of parents and mentors. They emphasize work in the real world, portfolios, oral presentations and intense relationships between students and advisors. The teachers are called advisors. Currently there are 7500 students in 16 states that are attending these schools. Administrators of these schools have contributed the success and high graduation rate to personalization of student learning. Elizabeth Schneider, vice president of state relations for the nonprofit Alliance for Excellent Education says “tapping into what is relevant, interesting and engaging to the student” is the key.

One student says, "It makes learning more real. I can see how this is preparing us for the real world."

It was reported that 80 percent of students who dropped out of high school would have remained in school if they were provided with real-world learning opportunities.

To learn more about Big Picture Schools go to http://www.boston.com/news/education/k_12/articles/2008/11/15/nh_eduators_found_ny_school_for_at_risk_students/

Thanks to our Assistant Director of Curriculum, Amaal Awadalla, for sharing this post.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Technology Intensive Courses

The current approach to educational technology integration is to train ALL teachers in the use of web 2.0 tools and HOPE teachers choose to infuse these tools into instruction. We train and hope with no guarantee that all students would benefit.

I am wondering if our approach is the most effective and efficient it could be? Instead of focusing on all teachers, I am wondering if we shouldn't focus our energies on a FEW teachers in efforts that would benefit ALL students. I am suggesting schools create Technology Intensive Courses.

Imagine if ALL students had access to a technology intensive course each year they were in high school. It would be great if all teachers and courses integrated technology tools, but shouldn't we at least ensure that all students have access to at least one?

My thoughts are that curriculum committees would identify at least four courses that would be rewritten to include 21st century skills, not as an add on, but as genuine concepts, tools and activities to reach instructional goals.

What are your thoughts? How can we best use our resources to accomplish our goals?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Word Clouds

CAC Wordle is a FREE tool to create beautiful word clouds.  To the left is an example of a word cloud describing our Curriculum Advisory Council.

You can either type in your own words or you can copy and paste text into it. The more frequently a word is used the larger the word becomes in the cloud.


Take a speech and dump it into Wordle ---- what words are emphasized? Click here for an example.

Create a word cloud as a summary of a reading assignment

Brainstorm for a writing assignment.

Joyce Valenza used Wordle to create word clouds for the sections of the library. Click here to see an example.


  • Go to Wordle.
  • Click on CREATE.
  • Cut and past text or add your own.
  • Use normal spacing between words (no comas etc...)
  • If you have two words that you want displayed together use tilda sign (~) e.g. data~analysis
  • Repeat the words you want emphasized in the cloud e.g. curriculum curriculum curriculum
  • Click Go at the bottom of the text window.

wordle tool bar

  • Use the tool bar (pictured above) to change the layout and design. Play with the features until you have what you need.
  • Hit print screen and you can save the item as a picture to use.

Caution: Copy your text before you click on Go. That way if you think of another key word while in the design stage, you can paste the text back into the text window. Otherwise you loose all your work.

Click here to see another example and some "expert" suggestions.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Who's on Your Network?

No, this isn't an AT&T commercial. I am reading Will Richardson's article in Education Leadership entitled, Footprints in the Digital Age. According to Richardson, "In all likelihood, you, your school, your teachers or your students are already being Googled on a regular basis, with information surfacing from news articles, blog posts, YouTube videos, Flickr photos, and Facebook groups. Some of it may be good, some may be bad, and most is beyond your control" (2008, p. 16).

Richardson's suggestions for building a digital footprint:

  1. Read blogs related to your interests and passions (like this one!)
  2. Participate in the blog by leaving comments and reflections (Try it now!)
  3. Use your real name (A requirement to be Googled well)
  4. Start a Facebook page
  5. Explore Twitter

Not only will you build a positive online presence, but you will also build a powerful social network!

Read the entire article for more tips and examples of students use of social networking tools and why it is a critical skill in the 21st century.

Richardson, W. (November 2008). Footprints in the digital age. Educational Leadership, p.16-19.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Amplifying Student Voice

"To improve student achievement, it makes sense to go straight to the source---- students."

This is a quote from an article in the November 2008 issue of Educational Leadership entitled, Amplifying Student Voice. The author, Dana Mitra summarizes the strong research base which strongly suggests that if we want reform to take hold we should involve students. These efforts can improve teachers' classroom practice, student-teacher relationships, students' agency, and sense of membership in the school.

The article gives examples of student leadership which range from sharing opinions and thoughts to collaboration with adults to solve problems. In rare cases, students assume leadership roles to promote innovation.

If you haven't already check out the Student Advisory Council post as another example of including the positive energy of students in the change process.

Benefits of Including Student Voice:

  • Gain new insights into problems
  • Strengthen relationships between students, teachers and administrators
  • Strengthen school pride
  • Build student leadership capacity ------ after all isn't that what schools are about?
  • Increase accountability - it's hard not to take the change process seriously and proactively with students sitting at the table!

Mitra, D. (November 2008). Amplifying student voice. Educational Leadership, p. 20-25.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Monroe County Schools to Provide Election Facilities

I caught the tail end of a news segment tonight stating that folks are considering requiring schools to have in-service days on election day. Monroe county was specifically mentioned. I didn't catch the name or title of the individual sharing this idea, but the thinking was that the current election facilities are cramped. However, schools have large facilities and ample parking to accommodate voter turn out.

Is this an added burden to school districts or an opportunity to get the community into the school?

Does it take away a "teachable" moment we have to connect students to the meaning of democracy?

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Student Advisory Council

Law of Leadership: A successful team with 100 members has 100 leaders.
-Lance Secretan

Students are the largest stakeholder group a school has, but they are often overlooked source of information, energy and momentum for improvement efforts.

esasd I was intrigued when I heard East Stroudsburg Area School District (ESASD) had a Student Advisory Council in each high school that the superintendent and high school principal met with personally 3 - 4 times a year. Dr. Rachael Heath, Superintendent of ESASD, started the Advisory group when she came to the district four years ago. She is expanding the council to both intermediate schools this year and I can see why!

Here's a summary of the meeting to give you a flavor of student interests and insights:

A diverse mix of 20-25 students assembled in the school library. They opened the meeting with Old Business..... School Safety, Bathrooms, buses and the Cafeteria. The first two items were quick. Students indicated they felt safe and the bathrooms were clean. However the cafeteria and the buses brought lots of discussion.

It was apparent that both Dr. Heath and principal, Stephen Zall, took the meeting seriously and were open to student comments and concerns. Their manner was genuine... asking follow up questions for clarification. It was also transparent...."that shouldn't happen," "that is not acceptable," or "we will look into that." At one point, Dr. Heath said in response to a student compliant about a consistently late bus, "I apologize, that shouldn't happen." Dr. Heath later said it is not easy to hear some of the comments that students make, but it is an opportunity to hear what their experiences are really like in school.

The conversation then turned toward dress code. It was interesting that about half of the students were in favor of a more formal dress code. Most volunteered to be a committee to look more closely at the dress code, including visiting other schools to investigate the issue thoroughly.

The tail end of the conversation turned toward academics. It was interesting to see students asking for more rigorous courses and wanting information on the Science PSSA. It appeared that all academic levels of students were concerned about the quality of instruction.

Throughout the dialogue the students participated in the meeting appropriately. They supported their concerns with examples and often made suggests for resolution. They asked questions and were respectful of the boundaries set by the administrators.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Dr. Heath will summarize the input from students and forward the minutes to the appropriate personnel including building principal, transportation director, food service coordinator etc.... The administrators then report back to Dr. Heath regarding their efforts to address student concerns. At the next council meeting, Dr. Heath will revisit the concerns to determine whether progress has been made in target areas from the perspective of the students.

Recommendations for Establishing a Student Advisory Council:

1. Commit to having a cross representation of 20-25 students to participate. Represent students from:

  • All grade levels
  • All racial and ethnic groups
  • All socio-economic status
  • All academic Performance levels
  • All career Orientation (Traditional Vs. Career & Technical Students)

2. Have a pre-meeting with students to clarify the goals and expectations for the council.

3. Listen with a genuine heart.

  • Be prepared to hear good and bad news.
  • Make no excuses or judgments.
  • Don't be defensive.

4. Respect what students are saying. Their concerns are very real to them.

5. Make the council environment welcoming.

  • Provide name tags
  • Provide snacks

6. Follow up with student concerns and report progress

Resources for Building Student Leadership Capacity:

Holcomb, E. (2007). Students are stakeholders, too. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Lambert, L. (2003). Leadership capacity for lasting school improvement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Curriculum Development.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Disruptive Innovations

Dr. Scott McLeod's presentation, Disruptive Innovations, on the K12 Online Conference has got educators across the nation talking. The presentation comes recommended by Kurt Paccio, Technology Director at Northampton Area School District as well as  ASCD and Education Week.

In this presentation Dr. Scott McLeod outlines disruptive technologies and their potential impact on education as we know it. He makes some astounding predictions of what education will look like by 2019. Follow the link below to the short 20-minute online video!