Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Technology and the Savvy Shopper

I love a good bargain. I drag myself out of bed the wee hours of the morning on Black Friday to get the best deals. This year I branched out to Cyber Monday, the Monday following Black Friday. image

As I was shopping online, I had an epiphany regarding web 2.0 tools and teachers.

Most of the websites I was shopping on Amazon and Sam’s Club to name a few had options for their deals of the day and sale information to come through Twitter. No going from website to website to find the deals. Twitter did the work for me aggregating all sales information in one convenient place.

I think this offers a lot of potential for engaging teachers in the power of web 2.0. image

If teachers can see a personal use for these tools, they are more likely to use these for professional development and consider how they might be used with students.

Too often in-service time is spent on pushing buttons for a pay off that is too abstract for someone that has not really tried a web 2.0 tool.

Let’s focus on something useful like shopping instead.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Great Curriculum Resource

I stumbled upon a veritable paradise for curriculum folks at the K – 12 Curriculum Development blog. The site is led by Steven Weber, Director of Secondary Instruction for Orange County Schools in Hillsborough, NC. I think the title sums up the intent of the blog … to offer tools, research, and insights into all things related to curriculum. Check it out and let us know what you think!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Making Learning Irresistible

 Dr. Tim Tyson, former principal of Mabry Middle School in Cobb County Georgia, led his staff on a quest to Make learning irresistible. A quick look at the former website convinces me they were on their way of achieving their their goal with a web presence that is virtually unmatched. It’s not that Mabry had a great website, but that they effectively used their website to further their mission and vision! 

We talk about sharing examples of high quality student work.

Their website showcases exemplary student work. Check out their Film Festival to see examples of student work or go to Podcast Central and see/hear about the successes of their students.

We talk about partnering with parents.

Staff blogs share homework and classroom happenings. The parent section has its own blog filled with relevant information concerning everything from student council minutes to immunization shots and year book sales. A portal for grades, attendance and discipline was also available. The Parent Teacher Association also had their own blog.

It does not appear they depended on their parents or public to come to them to find out what they were about. Rather the website brought the school to the parents and community. If a parent was unable to attend an award presentation, they could hear from the kids at Podcast Central. Grandma is in Poland and missed the film festival, not problem, catch it online.

Is it any surprise the school won a number of awards including the George Lucas Foundation, Scholastic and Intel.

Please note: Mabry Middle School currently has a new website. Dr. Tyson retired in 2007 and with it came the decision to archive the site. Check out their new website.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Future of Libraries

Scott McLeod at Dangerously Irrelevant posted 10 Questions About Books, Libraries, Librarians, and Schools. He asks some hard questions about how technology is changing the way information is shared and stored.

I am avid bibliophile, yet most of my reading is an electronic format at this point, I am annoyed when I cannot purchase a book on my Kindle. I love libraries and book stores, but love information at my fingertips more. What does all this mean for the structure of current school libraries, information literacy and the jobs of librarians?

It is easy to discount Mr. McLeod’s questions, to push them aside or maybe even be a little angry at some of his more provocative questions. However,its been my experience we shape the future or the future shapes us. Rather than be in denial or get angry, let’s take on his questions. We want 21st century learners, let’s not be afraid to talk about shaping 21st century schools. What a great strategic planning discussion!

Check out his questions and be sure to read the comments. Additional blog posts on the topics of libraries included below.

Other Resources:

The (un)Certainty of Professional Persistence

Dangerously Irrelevant Libraries

Libraries as the Hub of Improvement

Your thoughts?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Students as Partners in Reform

While I had the flu, I picked up Edie Holcomb’s book, Students Are Stakeholders, TooIt combines research on high school reform with practical strategies for engaging students. The book is presented as a case study, based on a composite of the manstudents as stakeholdersy schools she has worked with as a consultant. 

The author contends that “Students can be visionaries, advocates, and change agents--- when given the permission, expectation and some guidance” (Holcomb, 2007, p. 7).

I doubt high school reform will ever be simple, but imagine if students as well as staff were helping to craft and carry out a school improvement plan!

CONNECTIONS: As we looked at all the AYP Success stories from last school year (schools with high growth or high growth/high achievement) the single thing that stood out from all the school stories was a focus on RELATIONSHIPS!

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I recently posted the 80/20 Rule Applied to School Improvement in the post I urge district and building leaders to put more effort into implementation than writing a school improvement plan. One of my very astute colleagues, Lori Stollar from IU 12, asked me how would we help districts focus on implementation?

“Resting not on my own understanding,” I put it back to you my esteemed school improvement gurus..

  • What would a focus on implementation look like?
  • What specific behaviors, tools, and actions should we bring to the attention of school improvement teams?

Friday, October 16, 2009

The 80/20 Rule

I recently posted the Five Reasons School Improvement Plans Fail, a cautionary tale featuring the dark side of school improvement. While I think the post offers a good analysis on the common pitfalls of school reform – thanks to DuFour and Eaker, I am not entirely comfortable with the post. It highlighted pitfalls without shaping strategies for avoiding them. The first strategy that came to mind is the 80/20 Rule also known as Pareto’s Principle. 80-20-rule-4-main_Full

The 80/20 Rule - “20 percent of something is always responsible for 80 percent of the results.”

Think about how school teams spend their time.

  • How many hours do they spend writing the plan?
  • How many school improvement team meetings do they have after the plan is completed?

In my experience teams spend about 80% of their time writing school improvement plans and 20% of their time implementing them.

Reframing School Improvement

Pareto’s Principle would suggest the inverse. Teams should be focusing 20% of their effort on identifying the “right” activities and 80% on actually implementing them in meaningful, focused ways.

“Pareto's Principle, the 80/20 Rule, should serve as a daily reminder to focus 80 percent of your time and energy on the 20 percent of you work that is really important. Don't just "work smart", work smart on the right things.”

Click here to see original source from quotes as well as more information on Pareto’s Principle.

Image from eHow: How to Do Just About Anything.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reasons School Improvement Plans Fail

Rick DuFour & Robert Eaker list five reasons why school reform has failed in their book Professional Learning Communities at Work.

  1. Complexity of the task
  2. Misplaced focus
  3. Lack of clarity of intended results
  4. Lack of perseverance
  5. Failure to appreciate and attend to the change process.

Here’s how I see these five areas playing out:

Schools are complex organizations. Educators are great at identifying problems. We catalog and sort every wart and blemish. In fact, we are so good at it that we are become consumed with finding problems. We do not take the time to find the most strategic item we could tackle to get results… otherwise termed root cause.

Complexity of the plan then leads to ambiguous results or expectations. For example, what does co-teaching mean to the Administrators? Special education teachers? Content area teachers?  Does co-teaching mean implementation of one model of co-teaching…. generally one teach and one assist or does it mean an effective use of all six models? It really doesn’t matter what the initiative is …. rarely in our professional development work do we see teams of educators who share a common understanding in an initiative area without considerable effort to develop a shared vision.

The development of these complex and over-whelming plans leads to exhaustion. Teams focus so much of their energy of the development of the plan they have conserved little for the actual implementation, which is not hard considering we are not really clear on what actual implementation looks like.

For reform to work, research shows you need a critical mass of support to maintain momentum during the implementation process. If we are not sure of our intentions, have no clear focus and we are exhausted with the whole process… how much support, clarity, ownership can we bring?


The above post is not a commentary on how ineffective school improvement is, rather it is a response to a cycle of thinking that seems to permeate school improvement teams. By examining how it happens, we can avoid the seemingly inevitable result. Stay tuned for more strategies to support effective school improvement planning.


DuFour, R. & Eaker, R. (1998). Professional learning communities at work: Best practices for enhancing student achievement. Bloomington, Indiana: Solution Tree Press.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Purpose of Education

Below is an excerpt I wrote for a college class. As a follow up, I need feedback from all of YOU to demonstrate the power of blogging! Please react to my post and comment on the purpose of education from your point of view.


Martin Luther King (1947) once said that education has two functions: utility and culture. He goes on to say that “It is intelligence plus character” that is the true purpose of education.

I believe that dual purpose is still relevant today. We live in an increasingly complex, global society. Education must prepare students with the skills to live, work and thrive in this environment. This includes subject matter knowledge, but equally important will be skills such as communication, problem-solving, collaboration, information literacy, and character.

Education must prepare students to be life-long learners in the truest sense of the term. Fewer and fewer unskilled labor jobs will exist. The future will depend on the ability of all individuals to learn and relearn as technology changes the world of work. High skilled jobs will require literacy skills; the ability to read and write, but also to evaluate the information and synthesize it to solve complex problems.

Depth of character and social responsibility are also essential in a rapidly changing society. Just because we can, does not mean we ethically should. Students need to be equipped to make moral and ethical decisions.

King, M.L. (1948). Purpose of education. Morehouse College Student Paper, The Maroon Tiger.

Photo courtesy of Life Magazine at

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Growing Up Digital

I have been reading (on my Kindle) Don Tapscott’s (2009) Grown Up Digital: How the Next Generation Is Changing Your World. Tapscott urges educators to move from “broadcast learning to interactive learning.” Here’s a quote I liked summarizing his rationale:

“Teachers are not a fountain of knowledge, the internet is.”

What does curriculum and instruction look like in a classroom where most knowledge level questions can be answered with a simple Google search? 

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Best Buddies

Crawford Award Winners 

Each year our IU gives out an award to deserving educators that support the integration of students with disabilities into a regular education. It never ceases to amaze me how creative and dedicated both students and staff can be to make innovative programs like these succeed. Below is a summary of the Best Buddies program at Stroudsburg Junior High School given by Marc Bernstein, CIU 20 Supervisor of Multi-disabilities Program.

Every year on orientation day, our IU gives out prestigious awards for different accomplishments. This year, I have the honor to present the Maureen Crawford Award. This honor is awarded in memory of Maureen Crawford, a strong proponent of the inclusion of all students, to a deserving person or persons, who have worked collaboratively to include special needs students in the broader community.

“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”- Albert Einstein

After being inspired by their involvement with the Special Olympics, and with a desire to develop and build meaningful relationships between all of the diverse learners in their building, the Stroudsburg Junior High developed a Building-wide buddies program called fittingly “Building Buddies.”

The participants in the Best Buddies program were carefully selected, and placed in teams that included a General Ed student, a special Ed student, and an adult.

These teams met informally every day but participated in at least one organized activity per month, where members of the group could bond and build lasting friendships. One of these activities, which occurred on February 27, 2009 highlights the success of the program, and led me to nominate the Building Buddies program for the Maureen Crawford Award.

Lewis, a former student in our IU operated Physical support classroom, who just the year prior lost his uncle to cancer, was motivated to raise awareness and money for the American Cancer Society. Lewis brought this idea to his team, and very quickly the entire Stroudsburg Jr. High community jumped in to help.

With the input of staff, students, and parents, the Building Buddies program dedicated their February activity to a “Pin to Win” tournament. Utilizing the lunch periods only, over 20 teams competed in a hybrid pin-ball/dodge ball tournament. With tons of pomp and circumstance provided by the school band, the atmosphere was electric and the competition fierce. I had the privilege of participating on one of these teams. In the end Lewis and the Best Buddies program earned over 1500 dollars.

Although earning the money was important, it was nothing compared to the priceless relationships that were developed. As one student from our physical support class noted:

“I like having a buddy. My buddy is a nice guy. I really liked going around the school with him asking the teachers if it was okay to put a sign in their rooms for the PIN to WIN game. My buddy comes everyday in the morning and he helps me with stuff. He comes in and we do stuff.”

At a time of high stakes tests, how do we really evaluate success? I believe that the work of Dr. Mross and the Stroudsburg Jr. High family must be counted far above all other measures.

It is my honor to award the Maureen Crawford award to the Best Buddies Program at Stroudsburg Junior High!!!!

Congratulations to Luis, the other students, Stroudsburg Junior High School Staff, & Colonial Intermediate Unit 20 Staff for their innovation, commitment to kids and collaboration to make it happen.

Photo: Front Row:  Mr. Louis Morales (parent), Mrs. Mariel Morales (parent), Lewis Morales (IU Physical Support class), and R.J. Cooney (Building Buddy member)
Back Row: Mrs. Charlene Cooney(parent), Mr. Robert Cooney (parent), Stephen Cooney(Building Buddy (Leader), Mrs. Cindy Svennsen (HPE teacher and Building Buddy Faculty Assistant), Mrs. Joanna Kovacs (HPE and Building Buddy Faculty Advisor), Mr. Paul Sipler (Vice-Principal SJH), Mr. Ed Crawford (IU Award Presenter) and Mr. Marc Bernstein (IU Supervisor).

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Blogging for Better Schools

August 15th marked our blogaversary, which by the way is a real word, at least according to Urban Dictionary. Hard to believe an experiment turned out to be such an exciting project.

I started playing around with the idea of blogging after hearing several national speakers at a conference. I kept blogging because I realized it is a great tool for communicating, sharing, and organizing ideas. The blog is work…. words do not always come quickly. However, I find the work is worth it.

Blogging helps me to clearly articulate ideas. I have to really think about what point I am trying to convey while being clear and succinct.  I  use the blog to capture what occurs in meetings. Better than minutes, I can show quotes, graphics, pictures and/or videos. The posts are tagged so I can quickly reference them if needed. I find I can frequently send a link in response to questions or topics that come in meetings, which is a huge time-saver.

I absolutely could not have been convinced until I tried it myself.

“Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.”           author unknown

What are you willing to try?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners

All the school districts in my region and many others across Pennsylvania have access to Discovery Education, discoveryed probably best known for streaming video. When I searched for streaming videos 116,458 results came up which can be further refined by grade level, subject area, type of media etc... Folks most often think of video clips or even full length videos and they would be right…. but there is much, much more.

Discovery also has:
  • Songs (466) – Multiplication raps, ABCs, Homophone Blues, Tornados & Hurricanes to name a few…
  • Audio files (48) – speeches, historical events, and more
  • Images (20,828) – historical events, historical figures, places, animals etc..
  • Writing prompts (603) – still pictures combined with a writing prompts historical people/events, careers & a large number for literary analysis. Prompts can be copied and/or edited to customize for teacher needs.
  • Clip art (1184) –Most of the collection is for the elementary grades
  • Sound effects (3088) – animal sounds, applause, weather and bubbling lava are some favorites.
  • Quizzes (2077) – pre/post assessment quizzes to accompany videos
Discover also has Builder Tools for teachers to create their own:
  • Assignments
  • Writing Prompts
  • Quizzes

And so….. well for me the so what has two parts: differentiated instruction & the economy. I literally cannot go anywhere and not hear about either. Yet here is a tool that is likely under utilized by the majority of teachers, includes content based on PA standards and is available in a variety of formats (visual, audio and text). What a wonderful tool to differentiate instruction!

If you have access to Discovery Education, survey your teachers for what services they use and help connect Discovery to on-going district or school initiatives e.g. writing across the curriculum, differentiated instruction etc...

Bottom line a subscription service such as Discovery Education costs the same for schools that use it to its full potential as it does for schools that do not. In this economy can we afford not use every tool we have to its potential?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Making Blogging a Breeze

Windows Live Writer is an awesome  tool for blogging!

I use Live Writer to create all my blog posts. It provides more features and flexibility to make my blog more attractive and efficient. I can work on drafts without an internet connection, preview the post to see how it will look on the live blog, and I can even set the date for the blog to automatically publish.

It’s a free download that is compatible with the major blog services e.g. Blogger, TypePad, Wordpress and more….  picture menu

My favorite feature is how easy it is to resize, align, and caption photos. Live Writer also allows you to add borders and effects to photos! Just insert a photo and a tool bar will appear as shown here. The default is inline, but a drop down box allows for you to set the picture to the Right or Left and wrap text.

The next drop down box is Margins. The default is no margins, which often leads to your text running right up against the photo and ruining the appearance of the blog. Select Customize Margins and increase the margins to the Top, Bottom, Right or Left depending on how you want your photo to look.

Finally, use the third drop down box to customize a border around the photo or picture. These include photopaper, instant photo, reflection, rounded corners, solid lines, shadow, and none.

One word of caution: Windows tries to install a number of other programs with Live Writer. Be sure to read the directions carefully! Otherwise Windows will try to install multiple programs and set some of them as defaults.

If you’re a blogger, want to be a blogger, or help people with blogging…. Windows Live Writer is worth checking out!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Write Now! Video Prompts

I was gathering resources for writing across the curriculum in preparation for a meeting with one of my districts and rediscovered an old favorite, PBS channel 39 Write Now! video prompts. The series was developed by WLTV with teachers from the Lehigh Valley. Each prompt begins with a short video and then segues to a writing prompt. Check out my favorite Nose Ring

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Livin on the Edge

We ended our 36th annual Summer Administrative Workshop with Harvey Alston.  He wowed our audience with his energetic presentation. His stories and observations were often hilarious, but underneath was a very serious message. He advocated for the audience to look beyond circumstances, Harveypetty thoughts, negativity, personal agendas etc….to put students first! Mr. Alston took on many topics during is address, but I was surprised by his take on technology. His motto is………….

“If you are not livin on the edge, you’re taking up too much space!”

Simply, our students live in a technologic world and we need to keep up if we are going to prepare them for that world. He believes that trying new things and engaging our staff to do the same is part of giving students our BEST!

While I embrace Mr. Alston’s perspective I have to confess there are days when I think if I come any closer to the edge, I am going to fall off! It’s tough to try new things. It takes longer, feels awkward, and is just plain hard! Yet some folks persevere, while others avoid new technology.

How can we get people to the edge and keep them coming back for more?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Reflections on Improvement

Sometimes my job is really fun! As part of our school improvement grant this year, I interviewed a variety of principals and assistant principals regarding their AYP success.  What became apparent fairly quickly was that success was not built on a specific initiative. In fact schools that did not have large gains in student achievement looked similar on paper. So what is the discernable difference?

Here are some common characteristics of the AYP Success Schools:

  • Sustained building leadership
  • Sustained building vision
  • Patience - Buildings had long-term plans – 5 to 10 years in most cases
  • Relationships and culture were primary considerations. Leaders consciously and strategically built relationships between:
    • Building leadership and teachers
    • Teachers to teachers and
    • Teachers to students
  • Focus on implementation. 
    • Many teams got lost here… focusing on providing the two hours of professional development mentioned in the plan. Schools experiencing success focused on the changes in classrooms as a result of the professional development.

It is also worth noting that of the few high schools making high growth, all of them talked about engaging students as partners e.g. Advisory Councils  and Mentoring.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Saucon Valley Elementary: An Evolution in Data-Driven Instruction

Saucon Valley Elementary has accomplished what most schools dream of…. they have high achievement and high growth with proficiency scores of 85.4%  in reading and 93% in mathematics on the PSSA. They also have sizeable and consistent gains for growth as measured by PVAAS. Meaning their students in grades 4 and 5 have exceeded a year’s worth of growth.

    According to principal, Ro Frey, “The big idea is teacher ownership of their students’ success.  Teachers own their student’s achievement data, and make decisions based on that knowledge.  They know specifically what they expect of their students in terms of developed grade level standards in reading and math, they share that with parents and students, and they monitor each student’s progress toward that goal. We support the teachers as they accomplish great things for their students.” 

    dataKeys to Success:

    • Consensus on grade level expectations, aligned assessments, and accountability for student success.

    • Data in the hands of the teachers.

    • Teachers empowered to make changes to reach grade level goals.

    • Teachers control the data and lead the conversation. Administrators inquire and support.

    • Respect for teachers knowledge of student needs and professional expertise

        Evolution of Date-Driven Instruction over the course of a Decade:

        • IST meetings revealed no clear consensus regarding grade level expectations.

        • Administrators facilitated collective, grade-level agreement on student end of year outcomes and then developed of end of year assessments to measure them.

        • Teacher accountability: each teacher met with administration at year’s end to review each student’s achievement of grade level standards”

        • Teachers recommended the need for common quarterly grade-level assessments to monitor progress toward end of year benchmarks. Can’t wait for the end of year to determine where students are in relationship toward goals.

        • Use multiple measures of student achievement e.g. DIBELS, 4Sight, PSSA, Quarterly Assessments, RtI – progress monitoring data

        • Half-day work sessions to analyze data and create classroom and grade-level goals beginning and mid year.

        • Continued Refinement of quarterly common assessments.

        • Teachers create a class profile using multiple measures

        • Data Portfolio for each student is created

        • Use class and student data profiles to identify students at-risk  and extension on specific objectives

        • Leadership Team (Principal, Assistant Principal, and Coordinator of Academic Services) – meets with each teacher twice a year (late September and mid-year) on what the data says.

        • Every 10 days to 2 weeks – grade level meets to discuss students in need of assistance.

        • End of year each teacher completes a reflection

        • The Constant: What does your data say? What are you going to change, if you need to?

        Next Steps:
        Common intervention period where teachers regroup students into targeted groups. Each teacher will take a group and provide targeted instruction, rather than each teacher trying to meet a wide-range of intervention needs for their class.

        “Talent is suffocated unless it is practiced in trust.” Eugene O’Neill

        Wednesday, June 24, 2009

        Principle 1: Master the Courage to Interrogate Reality

        This is the follow up to the Fierce Conversations post.

        I left the book club thinking how we could leverage Principle 1: Master the Courage to Interrogate Reality for school improvement. When we work with school improvement teams we see a nearly universal response. High school says if only the middle school had done its job, and the middle school says kids are not coming prepared. Other favorites include lack of motivation, students moving into the district, or it’s the parents.

        Let’s Interrogate Reality:

        When data is the foundation, we often see a different trend. High elementary scores, down slightly at middle school, then a sharp decrease at high school. NAEP data suggest the lower grades are beginning to close the achievement gap, while the gap is widening at the high school level.

        So in the words of Fierce Conversations author, Susan Scott, “What are we pretending not to know?”

        “What is our (administrators and teachers) contribution to the problem?”

        When will we be ready to hear the answers?

        Wednesday, June 17, 2009

        Fierce Conversations

        Fierce Conversations

        Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott was the featured at our administrative book club this year. True to its title the book boldly described the need and the process for having critical conversations both at home and the work place. The book resonates with sound, practical advice. For a taste of the author’s edgy wisdom read on:

        “I don’t know about you, but I have not yet witnessed a spontaneous recovery from incompetence” (p. 60).

        “As a leader, you get what you tolerate” (p. 60).

        “What are you pretending not to know” (p. 70).

        “Sometimes we put so many pillows around a message that the message gets lost altogether” (p. 144).

        “Identify your contribution to the problem” (p. 151).

        Stay tuned as we apply Principle 1: Master the Courage to Interrogate Reality to school improvement.

        Scott, S. (2003). Fierce conversations: Achieving success at work and in life one conversation at a time. New York: Berkley Book.

        Thursday, June 11, 2009

        Libraries as the Hub of School Improvement

        I love school improvement! It sounds geeky and surreal, but it’s true. I practically get goose bumps talking about continuous improvement and high leverage instructional strategies. We have worked hard at our IU to offer comprehensive services to support our school districts and truly thought we had most of the territory covered. However, turns out we never considered the role of school libraries as a source of school improvement.brown bear

        Summary of Research Concludes (Findings from 19 State and 1 Province including Pennsylvania):

        “A substantial body of research since 1990 shows a positive relationship between school libraries and student achievement. The research studies show that school libraries can have a positive impact on student achievement—whether such achievement is measured in terms of reading scores, literacy, or learning more generally. A school library program that is adequately staffed, resourced, and funded can lead to higher student achievement regardless of the socio-economic or educational levels of the community” (Scholastic, 2008, p. 10)

        Key Findings from the Pennsylvania Study:

        • Success requires adequate funding and staffing: one full-time certified library media specialist & one full-time support staff member.
        • “Pennsylvania Middle Schools with the best PSSA scores spend twice as much on their school libraries as the lowest scoring schools.”
        • Large collections of books, magazines, and newspapers is in and of itself is not adequate. Resources make a positive difference when they are part of school-wide initiatschool libraryives to integrate information literacy into the school’s approach to standards and curricula (Scholastic, 2008, p. 14).

        Special thanks to Lynn Moses, School Library Development Advisor, Pennsylvania Department of Education, for sharing these resources and proving that school improvement is not always in the most obvious places. 


        School library photo courtesy of soaleha’s photostream on Flickr.

        Thursday, June 4, 2009

        Hiring Practices to Promote Culture

        I recently stumbled upon the The Science Leadership Academy website. I noticed they had some employment opportunities…. I was intrigued by their top requirement for applicants, “to teach kids before they teach subjects.” Simple, but profound!

        It is fairly accepted that elementary teachers get into education because they love kids, while secondary teachers enter the profession because they love their content. While deep content knowledge is important, it should not overshadow the need for a student-centered classroom. We typically assess applicants for their content knowledge, but no where have I seen so clear a statement about the type of culture a school is trying to cultivate than I did when I saw The Science Leadership Academy’s requirement.

        It inspired me to think more critically about the hiring procedures we use in our office including job postings.

        According to their home page:

        The Science Leadership Academy is a partnership high school between the School District of Philadelphia and The Franklin Institute. SLA is an inquiry-driven, project-based high school focused on 21st century learning that opened its doors on September 7, 2006.
        SLA provides a rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum with a focus on science, technology, mathematics and entrepreneurship. Students at SLA learn in a project-based environment where the core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are emphasized in all classes.

        Friday, May 22, 2009

        Stopping to Celebrate Public Education

          PV EIE

        Our annual Excellence in Education dinner recognized educators, schools, and community entities for outstanding work in the field of public education through the implementation of a program or service. These recognized programs received the Crystal Award for Excellence in Education.

        Each award winner had an opportunity to describe their program and talk about the impact it had on students. Winners ranged from a Health Related Technology program at a Career Center that serves the community through an adult daycare program to a character education program for elementary students and everything in between.

        The common thread of relationships seemed to connect all the programs. Retired individuals connecting to middle school students, teachers connecting to digital age of their students, students connecting to their parents, students connecting to the community etc...

        I left the event wondering whether we really understand school improvement. Is it about more math and reading options, tutoring and highly qualified teachers? Or is it really about connecting to the students and adults around us?

        Congratulations to our 2009 Award winners:

        BASD EIE

        Pictured above:

        Top left: Jackie Ludka, Philomena Reduzzi and Patti McLain from the Pleasant Valley School District.

        Bottom right: (from left to right-back row) Anita Shannahan, Norma Ferguson, Nancy Marsac, Dick Thompson, and Fred Henderson, mentors from the WE Exceed Program.  (from left to right in the front row) Samantha Sommer (seated), Sara Hriniak and Jacqueline Santanasto from the Bethlehem Area School District

        Friday, May 8, 2009

        Effective Professional Development

        SAW 2007 Ian Jukes 11

        The February issue of Educational Leadership provides a summary of research on professional learning entitled, Teacher Learning: What Matters? by Linda Darling-Hammond & Nikole Richardson. The article is filled with great suggestions for effective professional development. The one that struck me the most was the following:

        "Professional development lasting 14 or fewer hours showed no effects on learning. The largest effects were for programs offering 30-100 hours spread out over 6-12 months."

        In other words the basis of effective staff development is ideally 30 or more hours of training on a single topic spread out over 6 to 12 month period.

        Reflection: How does your school or district compare to this research-based best practice?


        Darling-Hammond, L. & N. Richardson. (February 2009). Teacher learning: What matters? Educational Leadership, Vol. 66(5), p. 46-53.

        Photo courtesy of CIU 20 Summer Administrative Workshop August 2006.

        Thursday, May 7, 2009

        My Personal Organizer









        A colleague recently expressed interest in Twitter and other web 2.0 tools, but dismissed them because she didn't have time. I agreed. She did not have time to go to multiple websites and get the latest updates. I can't think of an administrator that does have time.

        iGoogle is a personalized web page and  is a one stop organizer for me.  It allows me to add news, photos, weather, and much more from across the web. At a glance I can check my personal email, which I use to access a lot of the web 2.0 tools, Twitter, and the various blogs I read through Google Reader. In other words, iGoogle does the work for me... pulling and organizing all the latest updates into one convenient location. For me the key is using Gmail for my personal email. When I check my email, I manage to check everything else too.

        How do you keep organized? Any recommendations for working/accessing information at a glance?

        Saturday, May 2, 2009

        Leading for Learning

        This past Monday I visited East Stroudsburg North High School. Steve Zall, principal, hosted a group of administrators from a neighboring school district and myself to showcase his building's instructional walk-through process. As I listened to Steve share his experience and hospitality with us, I was struck by two things. First, instructional walk-throughs are not about teachers or teaching. They are about leading and leadership. Secondly, the term instructional leader is really not an accurate term, rather what we need in schools are learning leaders.

        To pay attention to instruction is not sufficient. We need leaders who are not content to simply schedule professional development and assume its implementation. We need leaders like Steve, who walk with a high degree of frequency from classroom to classroom looking for evidence of implementation. We need leaders that will learn along side their teachers, participate in staff development and be able to recognize implementation when they see it. When we have learning leaders, I believe we will find learning teachers.

        So the reflective question on the table is......

        Are you a learning leader?

        Do you have learning teachers?

        See also East Stroudsburg's Student Advisory Council post.

        Tuesday, April 28, 2009

        New Resources


        image image





        A couple of key organizations have recently started some wonderful blogs. Expand your personal learning network with these great resources. started a blog in January. They hit on a range of topics including an interview with Thomas Friedman, Charter Schools, Writing, Class Size, Teacher Unions.... No educational topic appears off limits. Click here to check it out! 

        HOPE Foundation, an organization dedicated to "supporting educational leaders over time in creating school cultures where failure is not an option for any student," debuted their What's Working in Schools Blog in February. Topics include professional development, teacher issues, policy, assessment and much more. Click here to view the What's Working in schools Blog.  

        National Staff Development Council (NSDC), who's purpose is to ensure "every educator engages in effective professional learning every day so every student achieves." NSDC began a blog in January entitled Reflections. Authors include Stephanie Hirsh, Hayes Mizell, Jim Knight, Joellen Killian and more. The blog is dedicated to effective professional development. Click here to obtain great thinking on effective staff development.

         Psychology Today offers a menu of excellent blogs. My favorite is Radical Teaching, Classroom Strategies from a Neurologist by Dr. Judy Willis,  a board-certified neurologist and middle school teacher. She is an authority on classroom strategies derived from brain research. Click here for bio. She is an amazing resource. Click here to check out her blog.

        Teaser: we have Dr. Willis coming to the IU in October to talk about math and the brain!

        Thursday, April 16, 2009

        Eating Crow

        My husband gave me the Amazon Kindle 2 as an early birthday gift. All I can say is "WOW." The gift of all gifts for a bibliophile like me. I can't believe I once professed an aversion to electronic books.... I simply could not imagine giving up the look and feel of a paper book. Well  here I am, eating crow.

        14 Reasons to love the Kindle:

        1. The screen has a paper-like quality.
        2. The screen has no back light - no glare.
        3. Holds up to 1500 books - Imagine carrying a whole library with you anytime you want
        4. Weighs just a few ounces
        5. kindlePlays audio books and has text to speech features - if allowed by the publisher.
        6. Wireless downloads of new books in 60 seconds. I actually purchased a book while waiting at a stop light.
        7. Built in wireless connection is built in - similar to a cell phone - you do not need to provide it.
        8. Ability to add PDF documents.
        9. Bookmark your favorite pages.
        10. Allows for note-taking in the text.
        11. Collates notes from a book or all books.
        12. All books are kept in an online Amazon account - keeps track of bookmarks and notes too.
        13. Battery lasts 4 days - when Internet connection is turned off
        14. Free Kindle application available for the iPhone or iTouch - syncs last page read - Great companion to the Kindle.

        Why should curriculum and school administrators care about the Kindle?

        As I use the Kindle more and more, I am captivated by its potential. Student textbooks and documents all material downloaded to Kindle. What if they added short video clips, it already has audio and text-to-speech capabilities - Could we have an interactive textbook - filled with text, audio and video ---- materials all in one place for all courses? The ultimate differentiated instruction tool. I realize the Kindle cannot currently do all of these things, but I dare to dream.

        Thursday, April 2, 2009

        More on the Four Day School Week

        Back in December I shared that Southern Columbia School District in Catawissa, PA intended to have a Four-Day School Week through January and February to save on heating androw desks transportation costs. According to School Leader News the idea of a four-day school week is gaining momentum around the county.

        National Trends

        Select districts in about 17 states already have a four-day week with similar proposals being considered by the legislature in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Missouri and Washington. The four-day school week was introduced in the 70's in response to the oil crisis and is now gaining fresh momentum in these troubling economic times. In order to meet state laws regarding instructional hours, most districts found they had to add just over one hour of instruction per day. 

        According to Associated Press (the source for this article) research indicates that districts save on transportation costs and can lead to increased attendance and teacher retention. In addition, studies have shown the four-day schedule has not negatively impacted student achievement, rather it may even help improve test scores. Critics indicate that the four-day school week is a burden on working parents and young children can't handle a longer school day.


        As a working parent myself I find the critics comments interesting. My kids already have long days. I start work at 8 am and school does not start until 9 am. We need daycare before and after school. I would love the option to send my children to school where they would have a rich educational program and not require daycare four days a week. I might still need to pay for one full day, but I see the costs evening out. In addition the concern also assumes all working parents have a 9 to 5 job. In reality parents work all kinds of hours and an extra day during the week may even enhance family time.

        I am the most concerned about the knee-jerk reaction to simply add an hour of instruction to the school day. Why not follow Singapore's example and explore online learning as a component. Perhaps that isn't appropriate for elementary students, but we might find that secondary students would flourish.jump for joy

        In the end I am neither for or against the idea of a four-day school week. However, if we are going to explore it, let's really look at it and not simply add an hour of instruction to the other four days of school. Most importantly, let's make sure the whatever structure we have is good for kids.  Let's take an opportunity to create a robust and relevant curriculum, not simply create a longer school day.


        For the complete article see the March 20, 2009 article in School Leader News.

        Desk photo courtesy of  Mouse's photostream from Flickr.

        Jumping photo courtesy of Billie / PartsnPieces :::'s photostream from Flickr.


        Wednesday, March 25, 2009

        Technology as a Pre-requisite Skill?

        We recently hired a new secretary. We required the all applicants to take the advanced assessment for Microsoft Office Excel, Word and Outlook. We do this because from experience we have learned that our office is too busy for people to learn on the job. They need to enter the job with a high degree of competency. We offer a personal interview only to the candidates that demonstrate they are tech savvy.

        This led me to pondering whether or not the same is true for new teachers. Is the classroom just too busy of a place to learn on the job? Should teachers enter the classroom with a high degree of technology competency. Should we assess technology skills in a systematic way in the same vein we look at pedagogy and communication skills?

        If the answer is no, how much further into the 21st century before we might consider technology assessment as a necessity?

        If the answer is yes, what technology skills would we assess and how would we assess them?

        Thursday, March 19, 2009

        Teacher/Student Mentoring

        As I mentioned in an earlier post, Wilson High School, Wilson Area School District, is the only high school in the IU 20 region that made high growth for both math and reading. Here is Part II of their story:

        In 2007-08 the district created a Teacher/Student Mentoring Program. Each staff member including the principal, assistant principal, central office personnel including the superintendent mentored a group of 10 to 15 students throughout the school year. The assistant principal scheduled 6-8 meetings throughout the school year. The assistant principal also planned the sessions, almost scripted them to support teachers in this new role.

        Activities included meeting with each student individually to review their 4Sight scores and discussing the impact on students. For example a 10th grade student might have already completed Algebra, but 4Sight indicates some weaknesses. The mentor points out resources the student has available including PSSA Study Island, Math Labs, and Tutoring Labs. According to principal, John Martuscelli, it is the mentors job to motivate the student.

        Seniors worked with their mentor to complete their graduation project, get support on college applications, and/or other school to work transition needs.


        • All teachers take ownership for student success, not just math and English teachers.
        • Every student in the high school has a relationship with an adult in the school.
        • Students are more motivated to succeed.
        • All students have information and remediation materials, if necessary, personalized to their circumstances.
        • Huge increase in student use of remediation opportunities e.g. Study Island
        • All students and teachers have a better understanding of data and using it to make decisions.

        Future of the Program:

        The high school experienced significant growth on their 11th grade PVAAS scores. They attribute this leap in student achievement to their new mentoring program. Their vision is to expand and enhance this program including:

        • Starting with the 2008-09 school year, mentors will be assigned a group of students and follow them through to graduation.
        • Infuse career to work activities such as career exploration and planning.
        • Other?????

        John and his staff are still exploring ways to capitalize on their Mentoring Program and they would love to hear from you. What ideas and suggestions do you have for their mentoring program? What other activities could they incorporate to build relationships and support student growth at their high school?

        Wednesday, March 18, 2009

        Long-term Planning Leads to Results

        Wilson HWilson 3igh School, Wilson Area School District, is the only high school in the IU 20 region that made high growth for both math and reading. I had the opportunity to meet with John Martuscelli, Wilson High School Principal, and David Wright, Director of Curriculum & Instruction, to learn their strategies for success.

        The work began in 2005 and was formalized into a math plan in 2006 which revolved around curriculum alignment, increasing opportunities for learning mathematics, and placing ownership for student achievement onto the students.

        Curriculum Alignment

        The curriculum committee did not want to depend on electives to deliver the standards. Therefore, the curriculum needed to be written to ensure that ALL students had access to a rigorous sequence of math courses that delivered all core standards. 

        • All General math courses were eliminated.
        • All students, including IEP students, must take Algebra 1, Algebra II and Geometry.
        • Multiple formats for learning Algebra were offered: Honors, Algebra I, Applied Algebra, and Learning Support Algebra - the expectations and curriculum were constant, instructional delivery varied.
        • Learning Support Algebra is taught by a teacher certified in both special education and secondary math.
        • Created an Assessment Anchor Checklist
        • Created a resource binder of math problems, introductory terms, open-ended questions by grade-level to help preview and review all core math concepts.
        • Required open-ended problems on all tests throughout the year. Kidslearning003_1 (3)
        • Required use of scoring rubrics throughout the year.

        Increased Opportunities to Learn Mathematics:

        • Designed a Math Lab which is staffed by a math teacher every period of the day. Teachers staff the lab in lieu of a study hall or lunch duty. Some  students are assigned to the lab, however, most of the students simply request the lab as they need it.
        • In addition, student have access to a Tutoring Lab most periods of the day. Peer and teacher support is available. It is staffed by non-math teachers.

        Student Ownership

        • Board policy requires students pass the PSSA to graduate.
        • Students receive a report on their areas of need based on 8th grade PSSA data and 4Sight benchmark assessments.
        • Students have the opportunity to obtain support and intervention at the math lab and/or PSSA Study Island on their own. The administration does not view this as a punishment, rather it is a natural consequence. Areas of need are differentiated between those which have not been taught yet and those which have been covered in previous course work. Students are given resources to strengthen their understanding in areas they should have already mastered.
        • Students must complete all remediation activities and return the signed report to the principal on their own time either in the math lab or on PSSA Study Island at home.
        • Students try their best, because they do not want to use their own time to remediate skills.

        Stay tuned for our next segment on Wilson's Mentoring Program.

        Saturday, March 7, 2009

        The Key to Social Networking

        Well, I took the advice of Will Richardson in the November issue of Ed Leadership regarding social networking and I joined Facebook and then later, Twitter. It took a while and at first, I have to confess that I really didn't get it. However, I have finally stumbled upon the key to the value of these tools, but I do so humbly, a bit embarrassed actually that I didn't figure it out earlier.... so no one make fun of me, please.

        Here it goes.... The secret to social networking tools is...... being social. I know a bit anticlimactic. I only share because I have noticed friends that have explored with me didn't get it right away either. It could just be us, but our collective experience was to join the site and then stare at an empty screen.... not really getting what the fuss was all about.

        However, a few friends find you on Facebook and your busy reminiscing and catching up. More friends and family find you and the fun intensifies. I had the same experience with Twitter. I joined expecting fireworks, and got a blank screen. A few colleagues joined too and then we just sent messages to each other... what fun is that we see each other regularly and have similar work experiences. I finally branched out and started following a few people ... Will Richardson, Chris Lehman, Joyce Valenza, and many others .... wow... then the fun begins. The RSS feature on Twitter makes it even more useful.

        The bottom line is that Facebook, Twitter and similar tools just are not any fun by themselves. You need to be social to get the value of these tools.

        Saturday, February 28, 2009

        Reading Apprenticeship

        I attended the Reading Apprenticeship Winter Conference and was asked to be a part of the panel discussion at the conclusion of the conference. Here's a preview of the key points of my presentation:

        • Reading Apprenticeship (RA) is much more than content area literacy.
        • If you are "doing" RA you are addressing Inclusion, 21st Century Skills, Principles of Effective Instruction, Higher Order Thinking Skills, Secondary Response-to-Intervention, Questioning, High School Reform, Differentiated Instruction, Adolescent Literacy and more.
        • To ensure RA gets the time and resources it needs, it is wise to have RA permeate as many school planning documents as possible e.g strategic plan, school improvement, Special Education Plan, LRE Plan, Professional Education Plan, Induction Plan, etc.....

        Tuesday, February 24, 2009

        Relationships Lead to Results


        Northeast Middle School, Bethlehem Area School District, serves 835 students in grades 6 through 8. The student population is very diverse including over 50% who are Black or Hispanic. The school has many challenges including 61% poverty rate and 18.4% special education rate.

        In 2004, the school did not make AYP in several categories including the IEP subgroup and received a Warning Status. the following year brought School Improvement I. The work of the administrators, teachers and students has paid off. This year the school is completely off school improvement...having Made Progress for two consecutive years.

        In addition, Northeast MS made the IU 20 list of schools that have demonstrated the highest level of academic growth during the 2007-08 school year based on their PVAAS data three times..... 8th grade reading and math and 6th grade math.

        I sat down with Assistant Principal, Leigh Rusnak, to learn the secret to their success and the answer might surprise you.... RELATIONSHIPS! The heart of their school improvement plan is developing relationships between teachers and students, teachers and administrators and teachers to teachers.

        Their efforts to make a personal investment in every child have paid off. Where they see their strongest results, they have the strongest relationships with students and teachers. Mrs. Rusnak described their approach as kids before content. It is not unusual for secondary teachers to have a strong connection to theFloggingir content area, but it should not come before kids.

        They strive to like all their find something of value in every child. To make the child feel important and supported. "When kids know their teacher likes them and will help them succeed, the kids will give back." Mrs. Rusnak went on to say that "students do well on the PSSA NOT because students are invested in their education, but because the teachers were invested in their students." They strive to create a safe, trusting environment.... an environment where students rise to the level of expectations!

        In the same vane, administrators need to invest in their teachers. They need to know who their teachers ... really know them and help them along. It is critical to engage teachers in school and its programs. They word hard to build up the teachers by being positive and providing praise and recognition. Teachers need to trust that they will receive positive feedback from peers and administrators.

        In times when flogging seems to be the norm, Northeast is striving to put people at the heart of their school. They have all the normal initiatives.... Reading Apprenticeship, co-teaching, raising the level of curriculum expectations, but they have found that relationships are the key to making it all work!

        Thursday, February 19, 2009

        Consolidation: Will Charter Schools Be Included

        Governor Ed Rendell has proposed forming a commission to consolidate Pennsylvania's 500 school districts down to no more than 100. The purpose of the consolidation is to reduce property tax burden. The commission would have one year to develop two plans to reorganize Pennsylvania's schools to be voted on by the legislature. If the General Assembly votes down both plans, authority would be given to the state board to reduce the number of school districts. Click here to see the fact sheet distributed by the state.

        My question is will the 127 charter schools be included in this consolidation effort to reduce administrative costs? Most charter schools serve a smaller student body and still have the same administrative positions as public schools. According to our local paper one charter school serving 440 students had a CEO making $5,000 dollars less than the public school superintendent serving 6,700 students. Click here to see the article.

        I am confused by these competing initiatives.

        Is it possible we could have a state public education system consisting of 100 school districts and a 127 charter schools?

        Wednesday, February 11, 2009

        Podcasting and the Five Big Ideas of Reading

        My son is nine years old and has really benefited from using podcasting to improve his reading comprehension and motivation to read. The problem is that he only has access to podcasting at home. It's not that his school lacks resources, rather it has been that his teachers have trouble understanding how podcasting can be incorporated into reading instruction. In fairness to his teachers, my experience has been that the bells and whistles of podcasting are emphasized rather than podcasting as a specific curriculum integration tool. I started wondering how we might leverage podcasting to develop reading skills within all the five big ideas of reading.

        The National Reading Panel concluded that quality literacy instruction encompasses Five Big Ideas.

        children books Five Big Ideas of Reading

        1. Phonemic Awareness: The ability to hear and manipulate sounds in words.
        2. Alphabetic Principle: The ability to associate sounds with letters and use these sounds to form words. 
        3. Fluency with Text: The effortless, automatic ability to read words in connected text.
        4. Vocabulary: The ability to understand (receptive) and use (expressive) words to acquire and convey meaning.
        5. Comprehension: The complex cognitive process involving the intentional interaction between reader and text to convey meaning.

        Retrieved [January 24, 2009] from Big Ideas in Beginning Reading from

        Connections between reading and podcasting:

        • Repeated Reading is a typical technique to develop fluency. Students read the same text several times to develop appropriate reading speed and accuracy. Not all  students are motivated to read the same passage again and again. Add podcasting and suddenly a student is practicing with purpose.... rehearsing and repodcastingcording their best reading. In fact all the digital recording programs I have used actually displays the cadence of speech. Students can visually see whether their reading is fluent or not providing instant feedback.
        • Reading to children is an essential component of a reading program. What if older students recorded recorded themselves reading popular children's books and younger children could listen to them as they followed a long in the book? Checking out an iPod from the library? Downloading books from a school website? Add an RSS feed and audio books can be instantly pushed out to families.
        • Retelling is a popular method for testing for comprehension. Instead of students "telling" the teacher, students can record their retelling in a podcast. Students can listen to each other's podcast to determine who captured the most complete retelling.
        • Teachers could also use podcasting to have students create commercials or recommendations of their favorite books. Other students could listen to their commercial to decide if they want to read the book or not.

        Click here to listen to a few examples of kid-created podcasts which augmented guided reading instruction.

        It's clear to me that podcasting could be a wonderful tool to make reading and writing more relevant and motivating for students. Scenarios like the ones above can also make training sessions more relevant and motivating for teachers.

        What are other ways podcasting could support reading instruction?

        Podcasting photo courtesy of Dave Gray on Flickr.

        Children's books photo courtesy of Heidi Blanton-Hansen on Flickr

        Thursday, February 5, 2009

        Football and School Improvement

        school improvement bowl

        CIU 20 hosted a Super "School Improvement" Bowl on January 21, 2009. We wanted a new way to engage our instructional leaders in the work of continuous improvement. Believe it or not, football became our inspiration...

        "Individual commitment to a group effort -- that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work." Vince Lombardi

        If a team is to reach its potential, each player must be willing to subordinate his personal goals to the good of the team.” Bud Wilkinson

        "Coaches have to watch for what they don't want to see and listen to what they don't want to hear." John Maddensub

        In between bites of a Super Bowl lunch of six-foot subs, wings, and meatball sandwiches, School Improvement teams looked for ways for to connect lessons from football to school improvement. Here are a few:

        • Every team needs a play book (school improvement plan)
        • Teams win by moving in strategic ways and moving in the same direction
        • Players improve their skills through repetition and modeling.
        • Leaders can't coach a game from the locker room, you have to be on the field.

        Help us come up with other lessons from football.........

        Pictured above: Maryellen Mross, Principal, Stroudsburg Junior High, Stroudsburg School District and Carole Geary, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Pleasant Valley School District.

        Wednesday, January 28, 2009

        Planning for Success

        plans pix

        Our intermediate unit hosted a joint meeting between our Special Education and Curriculum Advisory Councils on January 9, 2009.  We gave groups of administrators planning documents required by the PA Department of Education such as Strategic Plan, Professional Education Plan, Induction Plan, Technology Plan, Special Education Plan, School Improvement Plan...etc... These plans were from real schools in PA. We asked the teams to count up the number of initiatives listed across the plans and to evaluate the alignment between the plans.

        Their analysis was telling. While some plans had alignment, others did not. One group counted 87 initiatives within the document. This did not include any grants the district had. With scare resources such as time, money and personnel... can schools realistically achieve 87 goals? What about 50? What about 20? Myself, I think the answer lies closer to three or four.

        There are plenty of reasons why their is so much misalignment in plans.... multiple authors, various time frames for completion, new requirements... and the list goes on. We're like salmon swimming up stream to get alignment across all planning documents. Below are the list of solutions generated by the participants.

        Plan Solutions

        Mike Schmoker had the following to say about planning............

        What's a good number of goals for a school to have? Can you have too many?

        There is indeed a danger of having too many. It seems to me that if a goal, an annual improvement goal, is worth its salt, it's a goal for which you're willing to meet a minimum of once a month.

        Now, if you have two goals, that's two monthly meetings. And even if those monthly meetings are in the area of 30-some minutes, which is really enough time to get a lot of good work done, in many cases—I've seen lots of schools do this—you're still talking about two meetings a month. Two meetings, in the economy of all the stuff that goes on in any school, is probably about as much as we can handle.

        Monday, January 26, 2009

        On Their Way to 100% AYP


        For Shohola Elementary School, Delaware Valley School District, a 100% AYP is not an elusive dream, rather it is close to reality with a combined score of 90% proficiency for reading and 93% for math for grades 3 to 6. In addition, Shohola received top scores on PVAAS for both Growth and Achievement for 4th grade reading and math and 6th grade reading and math. Meaning their students are not entering school with exceptional abilities, rather specific curricular and instructional practices are contributing to student success. I sat down with James Purcell, Director of Elementary Education, to learn the secrets of their success.

        Their story begins with dissatisfaction with their Title I reading program. Their data indicated they were not moving their students. As Mr. Purcell said, "if you can't move the bottom group of students, you can't move your scores." They met with DV Chart their numerous stakeholders, but it was the Title I reading specialists themselves that suggested they needed more instructional time and a different delivery model. In a meeting with the Superintendent Dr. Candis Finan, she suggested changing from a pull out program to a push in program. The result was each classroom had a reading specialist push into all 1st and 2nd grade rooms for one hour each day. Third and 5th grade also receives support from a reading specialist but the amount of time varies based on resources and need. The district did not add additional staff, rather they reallocated the staff they had.

        The teachers and administrators persevered during the first year of implementation. Some classroom teachers simply did not want other teachers coming into their classrooms. Role clarification was needed. Improvement was noted during the first year of implementation, but the second year scores soared. Teachers complained even more instructional time was needed to obtain the results they wanted. Reading curriculum was revised to include more science and social studies content. Integration of curriculum resulted in more instructional minutes allocated to reading.

        The district then partnered with the IU to initiate grade-level data meetings. As a result teachers were able to set ambitious goals e.g. with 60% of 1st grade students at benchmark for oral reading fluency, teachers set a goal of 90% by spring assessment. Data and dialogue also allowed the teachers to identify key areas for professional development. With the knowledge that more staff was not an option to address student needs, teachers lobbied to create opportunities within the core curriculum. Teachers targeted student needs within the regular education classroom through direct instruction, centers, and flexible grouping.

        Interestingly, the bulk of special education students receive the core reading curriculum, targeted support within the classroom, title I interventions, as well as intervention from the special education teacher. The most struggling students in the district can receive, depending on the need, up to 700 instructional minutes in literacy per week. Their interventions are driven by constant progress monitoring and data analysis to identify and prioritize areas of strength and concern.

        Success in reading lead to a parallel program for elementary mathematics. However, additional staff was necessary. The district used grant money to add math specialists utilizing a push-in model. They require elementary and middle level math certification for the math specialist position.

        Today students are thriving at Shohola and the other elementary schools within the district. Grade-level data meetings are institutionalized with principals facilitating the meetings. Staff members are more comfortable using data tools such as Performance Tracker and DIBELS Reports. They constantly ask the question, "why are students not achieving?" The results speak for themselves with proficiency results into the 90th percentile and the IEP subgroup meeting AYP outright in two of the three elementaries and coming very close in the third.

        Friday, January 23, 2009

        Schools Close, But Learning Continues

        According to Susan Patrick, President and CEO of International Association for K12 Online Learning, all secondary schools (grades 7-12) in Singapore close for one week each year, but students continue their education through online learning.

        "Singapore trains all of their teachers to teach online, using a learning management system and digital content.  All secondary school teachers and students use online learning and they have 100% e-learning in their schools every day.  In fact, to ensure all teachers and students are comfortable learning any time, any place, Singapore holds e-learning week once a year.   They physically shut schools down and the continuity of learning continues through the well-developed and continuous use of the e-learning delivery model that is used in the face-to-face classrooms, too" (email communication, January 8, 2008).

        e-Learning Week provides several opportunities. It forces all teachers to utilize technology tools and to teach online for a week. It gives students an opportunity to experience online learning without the commitment of doing it for a whole course. e-Learning Week is part of Singapore's emergency preparedness plan. An outbreak of Avian Flu... no problem, schools would close and move to online courses until the threat has passed.

        When you consider the cost-savings anticipated by the short-term Four Day School Week one school is trying, indications about reaching a critical mass in online learning by 2019, Disruptive Innovations, both shared in previous posts, not to mention the emergency preparedness concepts.... it is an intriguing idea.

        I also wonder how they phased in such an ambitious project? Did they start with one day and add on until they reached a week. What kind of training were teachers provided? What was the response from the community?

        Despite the challenges and unanswered questions, the idea has merit and would make for an ambitious strategic plan.

        Click here to go to my wiki to view the research study.