Archive for October 8, 2011

Expanding my PLN on Twitter

My twitter journey began in February 2009 during my first year as a principal. Like most, I was reluctant to sign up after hearing about it, but finally signed up after my 2 favorite principals on the Practical Principals podcast mentioned it in a couple of their podcasts. In the beginning I only followed about 10 other principals and built some strong connections with those that I followed. I couldn’t believe how much I could learn from others online in just 140 characters. I can recall one night when I spent hours searching who each of them were following so that I could follow as many principals as I could find.
For probably a year (possibly longer) I only followed principals on twitter and had my account set to secure/private. This changed after I realized how many other great people I found to follow because someone else retweeted one of their tweets. I can recall trying to retweet a great tweet with a link, but couldn’t because they were set to private and realized that I was preventing myself from gaining other great followers to connect with if I was set to private. I also started finding great blog posts and other resources to share with my staff so I began expanding my PLN (Professional/Personal Learning Network) even further by following as many great teachers as I could.
I talk about the great things I learn from twitter as much as possible. I cannot tell you how many times I have shared something with a teacher/colleague and was asked, “where did you learn that?” My reply always is, “I learned it from someone on twitter.”
Within the past year I have made it my personal mission to spread the word about twitter to as many as I can, because it means I can expand my PLN and learn from even more great educators/administrators. I have written about it for a colleague’s grad class which I also posted here.I taught teachers about it last summer at the Regional Summer Teacher Academy (co-founded by @MrAaronOlson and myself), which I also recorded screencasts of here. This week I had the pleasure of sharing twitter with my administrative colleagues at the AWSA (Association of Wisconsin School Administrators) Convention along with @WiscPrincipal and @PosickJ, 2 amazing admin colleagues that I met on twitter. Here is the presentation we shared (it wasn’t just “sit and get,” we gave a lot of time for hands-on experience and help getting started using twitter):

I was excited by how many of our session attendees started using twitter that evening and even more excited to see this tweet today:

Even though many think I’m crazy when I say, “I learned that from twitter” I’m not going to stop, because once they get started they are also reaping the benefits of my PLN!

This December we will be sharing again at the SLATE Convention (School Leaders Advancing Technology in Education). So, if you’re in Wisconsin reading this and know others that don’t know the power of Twitter yet, please tell them about it and encourage them to go to SLATE if they have the opportunity as well.

Believe That Every Child Can Learn

Each week I post a “Friday Focus” for staff on my staff memo blog as a way to model professional reflection and hopefully inspire them each week. This week, I got a bit more personal than I ever have in the past, but I’ve learned from Regie Routman to “write what is in your heart.” Here is a cross-post from my staff blog from this week:


“Believe that every
child can learn, regardless of ethnicity, learning disabilities, emotional or behavior problems, or the economic situation of the family.” ~Ron Clark

I’m almost finished reading Ron Clark’s new book, The End of Molasses Classes: 101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers. I’m sure that many of you have heard of Ron Clark, because he’s the author of the Essential 55 and was featured on Oprah several years ago. Or maybe you saw the movie “The Ron Clark Story” in which Matthew Perry played him as a teacher in an inner-city Harlem school. He is well known for working with disadvantaged students to get them engaged in school and become as successful as their (nondisadvantaged) peers.

#38 in this book is: “Believe that every child can learn, regardless of ethnicity, learning disabilities, emotional or behavior problems, or the economic situation of the family.”

Clark describes his experience of teaching “George” how to read in the 5th grade (after getting over the disbelief that he couldn’t read at this grade level). He came up with alternative methods and was patient and persistant with George until he made great progress and became a “decent” student. Several years later after George graduated and served in the Navy he came back and told Mr. Clark’s students, “Work really hard to be the individual that Mr. Clark sees in you. Even if you don’t see it in yourself, sometimes adults just know us a little better than we do.”

I can personally relate to this section of his book due to my experiences growing up. I grew up in a very dysfuntional home that is similiar to some of our most challenging students that, at times, don’t seem to have much of a future. When I share details of my past, people are often surprised and ask how I got to where I am now. I have often pondered that same question, because my sibblings were not as lucky as I. But as I reflect, I also know that my sibblings did not ever seem to have any positive school experiences….but I did. Despite moving around (because we were constantly being evicted) and attending 13 different schools, I was fortunate enough to have some great teachers along the way that saw my potential. I will never forget:
*One of my 3rd grade teachers (I don’t even recall her name because I went to 5 schools that year) that came to my house after I had been absent for several days to bring my schoolwork to me–thinking back, she knew my home situation and was probably just making sure I was safe.
*Mrs. McDevitt, my 5th grade teacher, who never punished me for not having my homework done (because I was babysitting my 3 younger sibblings), but let me come into her classroom early to get it done. I never needed help, just a quiet place to do it without one of the little ones coloring on it.
*Mr. Johnson, my 7th grade math teacher who pushed me to move into 8th Grade Algebra early when I never thought I was capable of it. (I will also never forget when my name was drawn in assembly for a reading contest and I got to shave half of his beard off!)
*Mrs. Staudt, my High School English Teacher who gave me extra time to complete my assignments when she knew that I was up late, because I had worked until midnight at McDonald’s for three nights in a row.

I have debated whether or not to share this with you, because of how personal it is, but still felt compelled to do so. If it were not for great teachers like you, I would not be where I am today. If we as adults don’t see the potential in every child and truly believe that every child can learn, then how can we expect them to have hope and see the potential in themselves? We have to look at them and see what we want them to become.

Photo Credit: CC License shared by David Thiel

Reflecting on my classroom visits

Last week I tweeted that I had completed 126 classroom visits during the month of September and quickly had several replies from other administrators (in public mentions and direct messages):

  • How long do you stay in a classroom?
  • What form/method are you using?
  • Do you always give teachers feedback?
  • How do you make time for that many walkthroughs?

Since my professional development plan is on the practice of conducting classroom
walkthroughs/providing teachers with feedback to improve student learning and I had this many questions coming my way I thought it would be the perfect topic for a blog post.

I know that many districts have an adopted/required method of walkthroughs that dictates what they are looking for, how long to stay in the room, and how they provide teacher feedback. I have read about several different methods, used a required method in my previous district, been to an all day training on one method and participated in a webinar to learn about Marzano’s iObservation. Despite all of that, our district does not have an adopted requirement and I do not do always do the same thing.

I use the app Simple Goals to keep a running tally of how many classrooms I have visited (which is the total number I tweeted for September). This running tally includes when I visit a classroom for a walkthrough (which could be anywhere from 1 – 15 minutes), a full length observation, to observe a student or for me to teach a class. I do not count if I was just dropping something off for a teacher or getting a student to come to the office.

Since our school is now running with wifi, I recently created a walkthrough tool for myself using google forms. I made it very handy on my iPad by adding it right to the homescreen on my iPad so I don’t have to waste any time finding it. I love being able to view the results in summary form so I can see the graphs and see how many times I’ve been in each classroom. I use this google form to gather data, NOT as a set of criteria I’m looking for or to give it back to teachers. Why? The best teachers are their own worst critics and if you give them a checklist that doesn’t have everything checked off, they are going to be disappointed that you didn’t see x, y, or z which happened 5 minutes after you left the classroom. I have also found that my best teachers are so reflective that they will come to me after I’ve been in their class and apologize about what I saw (even though I saw something great!) or tell me what they’d already reflected on from what I saw and how they’re going to improve it. They do not need a checklist!!

While I want to give teachers feedback every time, it just doesn’t happen. Ideally, I’d love to give verbal feedback, but that’s even more unrealistic (although I do try when I can). Last summer I attended a conference with Regie Routman and she suggested to give verbal feedback to the teacher and students while you’re in the room. I struggle with this, because I do not want to interrupt, however, I have started trying this and do enjoy it…but I only do this when there’s a point in the instruction that I can do so and know that the teacher would be ok with it. At best, I provide an email that just states:

“When I visited your classroom, I noticed students were….(tell what I saw/heard them doing, try to state what was effective or something in regards to student engagement or mastery of the objective)….I wonder….”

Or something to that effect. It’s different every time based on what I saw. If there is something I had a concern about, I go to the teacher, because emails can be taken the wrong way. My goal in providing feedback to teachers is always for them to reflect on student learning–whether it’s as to what was effective for student learning or what was not effective for student learning.

The google form that I use provides me with data so I can keep track of whose room I’ve been in/how many times, what class period, what instructional groupings I saw, what level of student engagement I saw, and how I provided feedback (email, verbal or none).

For the first few weeks of using this method, here are some of the trends I saw and my reflection for each:

Since our school is implementing Daily 5 in every classroom, I have made my focus on getting into classrooms during their literacy block so I can see how it is going and offer feedback/encouragement/support as needed. I have also enjoyed sharing with all staff different things I’m seeing in each classroom to help them all learn from each other.

The instructional groupings I saw were almost split between whole group instruction and individual/independent work. This is because during the literacy blocks teachers were either giving mini-lessons or it was a daily5 session in which students were independently reading or writing.

I really wish I would have data from previous years on student engagement, because I truly believe from my observations over the years that students are more interested and engaged with the Daily 5 framework for reading/writing. They have a sense of urgency and know what they need to do to become great readers and writers. Most importantly, students have choice in what they are reading/writing and they love it…even our most reluctant/struggling readers/writers!

I am disappointed to see my results for feedback given to staff. We have had issues with our wifi, so I did not have the email function working on my iPad, which made it difficult to email feedback to teachers in a timely fashion. However, this should not be an excuse. If my goal is to provide teachers with feedback to encourage reflection on student learning, then I need to make better efforts to provide them with feedback.

The final question from a colleague on twitter: How do you make time for that many walkthoughs? The short answer is simply that I make time. The long answer would be another long post about how I’ve learned to manage my time, be more efficient with managing my emails/phone calls/paperwork/etc and about how my days are for people and nights are for paperwork (after my kids are in bed). I think getting into classrooms is the most important job of the principal. By being in teacher’s classrooms I am able to share teachers’ great ideas/strengths with the rest of the staff to benefit all students, not just the students in a great teachers’ classroom. In addition, it helps me to know all of the students. If I receive a parent phone call with a concern, I usually have background information before the parent even calls from being in classrooms (on a side note, the amount of concerned parent phone calls over the past few years have dropped significantly).

That said, I already know the next 2 months will not be as great as September was due to the amount of my time that will be consumed by state testing as the District Assessment Coordinator (it’s much more than just the week of testing on teachers/students).

I welcome any feedback from other administrators/teachers on this topic and would love to hear your ideas.