Tag Archive for Friday focus

Using Educreations for Screencasting

I’ve previously written about using the Educreations app in the classroom, but now the app got even better! I’d like to say to say that I had a part in it, but it’s only because I tweeted to @Educreations about a feature that I hoped would improve and they responded quickly that the change update would come soon (wish I saved that tweet for this post!)

Previously if you made a mistake in recording your voice, if you needed to start over, it also meant your screen would start over.  The update now allows you to clear the screen or clear the audio recording which makes the process easier if you make any mistakes.

In effort to keep supporting my teachers with our 1:1 iPad implementation, I’ve added an “iPad Tip of the Week” to my Friday Focus post for staff.  So far, I’m just starting out with very basic tips. Last week was how to add bookmarks to your homescreen and how to create folders. This week I wanted to share how to change the default email signature so it no longer says “sent from my iPad.” To also show my use of the iPad, I used Educreations to create a quick screencast to show teachers how to change their email signature and to show that I am also using an app that they can use with their students. The beauty of this? It took me less than 5 minutes to create! Thank you Educreations!

Friday Focus – No Mediocrity

This is another cross-post from my staff memo blog to share this week’s Friday Focus with you…
This week one of the blog posts in my google reader was on mediocrity in teaching (you can read it here). When I read this I thought of how this may be the case in some schools, but certainly not in our elementary school. Everyday I see the great things that our teachers are doing to continue their own professional learning to improve instruction and student learning:

  • teachers having reflective conversations with myself or their colleagues
  • teachers observing other classrooms to gain new ideas
  • teachers getting feedback from others that have been in their classrooms
  • teachers reflecting on their practice by watching themselves on video
  • teachers seeking out new strategies to try when they see their students are not getting or having behavior issues
  • teachers sharing ideas with each other in grade level/PLC meetings
  • teachers seeking/sharing ideas with teachers in their professional learning network outside of our school (via DART connections and Twitter)
  • teachers asking colleauges how students from their WIN group are progressing in the classroom
  • teachers trying new strategies they just read about or saw in a YouTube video clip (like this one here… when I found this clip this week I knew immediately that a few of our teachers had seen this, because I saw several of these strategies in their classrooms–which happen to be very effective!)

We do not have teachers teaching the same way they’ve always taught. We do not have teachers blaming the kids or the parents for not getting it. We have teachers that are constantly learning and sharing their passion for learning to inspire their students. We have excellent teachers that are constantly observing their students, reflecting and trying new things to meet their kids where they are. Our students and community are so fortunate to have such excellent teachers!

Image from I Feel Okay

Share Your Writing Life

*Here is another cross-post from my Friday Focus post
on my staff memo blog:

Photo courtesy of J. Lauzier

Share Your Writing Life
“I write out of ignorance…It’s what I don’t know that stimulates me.

I merely know enough to get started.” ~Toni Morrison

In Regie Routman’s book Writing Essentials, she discusses the importance of sharing your writing life with students…even if you don’t think of yourself as a writer. As you examine your writing over an ordinary week, it may include lists, letters, emails, cards, journal//reflection book, book/movie reviews on amazon, etc. Routman states, “the simple fact is we have to see ourselves as writers if we are to teach writing well.” She goes on to discuss the need for students to see why we write and why good writing matters.

As I reflected on this, I asked myself the question, “when did I become a writer?” To be quite honest, it wasn’t until I started blogging about 3 years ago. Of course, I wrote whatever essays were assigned to me throughout school, dutifully following whatever criteria each of my teachers graded on and managed to get A’s. However, it wasn’t until I had choice in what I was writing and wrote for an “audience” that I could get feedback from online by sharing their comments that I became excited about writing. I recall the dread I felt having to think of what to write (in any class), however, now I am constantly adding to the list of topics I want to write about as I read new books and just experience life. My list is long, because I think of the ideas, but don’t have the time to write about all of them.

This also makes me think back to how I taught writing in the classroom. I’m sure I never really inspired my students to write, because I wasn’t that excited about writing. I taught lessons on the 6 Traits using picture books that our grade level agreed to use, and led students through grade level specific writing pieces. I also used a 6 Traits program that consisted of packets of activities and writing prompts on each trait. As I think back to those packets, I think of how boring and meaningless it must have been for my students (let’s face it, I was bored with it).

What I was missing, was my own realization that I am a writer and to share that with my students. Routman suggests bringing in examples of your real-life writing to share with your students to show them that you are a writer. You can easily share your reflection journal or a printed email with them without actually reading it to them. In addition, you should model writing for your students using the same concept of a mini-lesson with a think-aloud that you do when teaching the literacy strategies. One strong suggestion from Routman is to not only model writing in front of your students, but to do it “cold” (not rehearsed) so that they can see you struggle with it. To let students see what “real writers” do as they think through what they’re writing. This concept was entirely new to me, as I can recall wanting to get my model writing piece “perfect” before I wrote so my students would see what was needed, however, it’s the actual struggle that helps them learn.

As I read Routman’s book I was also intrigued to learn about the process of writing to learn, especially since we know that writing across the content areas is huge in the common core standards. Routman states, “writing enhances thinking and helps develop it.” I used to always think that I had to have all the information before I could write something, however, it is the process of writing that helps you figure out what you know and don’t know.

My reflection prompt for you: to think about yourself as a writer and how you can share it with your students:

  • The next time you sit down to write, examine your process–do you just start writing, do you need to make an outline/web, do you need to talk it out first? Do you write straight through? Stop to reread? Revise as you go? Look up information? Apply what you do as a writer to teaching your students.

Photo Courtesy of Writing Talk

Reflecting on my goals with staff

Just sharing the Friday Focus post from my Staff Memo blog this week:



At our Professional Learning Meeting this week I asked you to open up to the front of your Reflection Journals and take 5 minutes to reflect on the goals (2 professional and 1 personal) that you wrote at the beginning of the school year. For this week’s Friday Focus, I’m going to put myself “out there” and share my personal reflections on the goals I wrote in my journal for this year (Wondering why I’m sharing this with you? See #1 below…feel free to skip reading this if you’re not really interested in my goals).

Professional Goal #1: To model reflection of my professional growth and encourage staff to reflect as well.

One of the most important things any educator can do is reflect on their practice. Great teachers know that you can’t just teach the same lessons every year, because your students change. Great teachers often don’t follow their lesson plans as written throughout the week, because they are constantly reflecting on how their students responded to the instruction and adapting their plans to their students’ needs. Unfortunately, our daily schedules leave us with very little time to reflect…many of us are happy if we can get in 1 personal bathroom break and get our lunch down in just 5 minutes. Despite the challenge of time (that is a challenge for almost anything we want to accomplish), reflection is the key to progress.

“Reflection is the beginning of reform.” ~Mark Twain

Reflecting on my goal of reflecting…I have been using my Friday Focus as a means to share my reflections with you each week and also shared the link to my personal/professional blog where I also share my reflections. While blogging sounds quite scary (and I must admit I was hesitant to even share that link with you all), it has become one of my best tools for reflection. If you know me, I cannot write much by hand and prefer to type. In addition, I have quite a high following of other educators on my professional blog that I have gained a great deal of feedback on to help challenge my thinking and gain new ideas.


I had planned on giving staff time to write in reflection journals at the end of each of our professional learning meetings, however, I know that this is something I have forgotten a few times (I will also tell you that closure was one of my weakest areas in the classroom). I loved the idea that someone added in response to this blog of adding a reflection question for you all in my Friday Focus posts and am trying to remember to do that to encourage your reflection as well.


Professional Goal #2: To act more like an instructional coach than a “supervisor”

Before I made the crazy “leap” into administration I worked for one year as an Instructional Coach and absolutely loved it. I loved the time I spent observing teachers, helping them to reflect, planning with them, co-teaching a lesson, etc. During my years here as principal, I have focused on improving my practice of getting into classrooms as much as possible to provide teachers with feedback. Over the past year, I have come to realize how important it is not only to just give you my feedback, but to have conversations with you as an Instructional Coach does.

An Instructional Coach’s role is to improve instruction and I don’t see my role any differently (I just also happen to have many other duties to fulfill as well). I reflected in a previous post about my classroom visits here and am continuing to find that it is very difficult to find time to talk with teachers after visits and I have to resort to emailing quite often. I am happy to see from my data that I have increased my rate of feedback from 48% to 77% (meaning that for all of my classroom visits since the start of the year I have either given verbal or email feedback 77% of the time):

Feedback rates at the start of October
Feedback rates up until now

Another challenge I have found in my goal of acting more like a coach than a supervisor is that it is hard for some to separate the “evaluator” hat that I do ultimately “wear” as a principal. In a recent chat on twitter on the roles/similarities of coaches and principals, someone asked “How can a principal act as a coach?”

My tweeted response was:

Personal Goal: To make time for myself (reading for pleasure and to exercise 3 times a week)
Well, I already shared with you my reflections on exercise in our staff meeting (I really need to start joining those after school Zumba and pickleball sessions)! I made reading for pleasure a goal, because I often just read professional books and forget that I really enjoy reading for pleasure. I definitely have been doing better with this, however, when I recently told a group of 5th graders that I read 26 books in 2011 they told me “that’s nothing, we read WAY more than that!”

Now, since I just got quite personal with you all, I’m going to resort to one of my coping mechanisms of humor (in the form of an image):


My reflection prompt for you:

If you didn’t get the chance to reflect on all of your goals this week, do it NOW!!!

Leading the Way with Staff Memos

Just over a year ago I heard Todd Whitaker speak to many principals at the annual AWSA (Association of Wisconsin School Administrators) convention. As always, I left with many great tips to continue leading my school, but the biggest tool I learned about was providing my staff with a weekly memo. Whitaker called it a “Friday Flash” or “Friday Focus” and is used to share best practices with staff, along with upcoming events and anything that can be shared in a memo and not waste staff meeting time (that could be better spent on learning/discussion).

I have since found a few other principal blogs used to share weekly memos with staff that I continue to follow for ideas, so I thought it was only fair that I share what I’m doing here for others.
I immediately began implementing this tool last year as a “Monday Memo” to staff. Whitaker says that this should be given to staff on brightly colored paper in their mailboxes, but I kept mine to email since I am also trying to lead staff using technology. This year I have expanded this practice to include:
*Monday Memo that includes “Great Things I Noticed Last Week,” “Upcoming Events,” “Nuts & Bolts Notes,” and “Tech Tips”
*Friday Focus that shares my professional reflections with staff on something I am reading or learning with staff
*Created a blog that includes these posts, the staff google calendar, occassional staff polls, my shelfari widget (so staff can see what I’m reading), and other resources
Since refining this practice, I have really come to see the benefit of sharing “Great Things I Noticed” because I have observed the same practices be implemented in other classrooms after posting them. Some of the Friday Focus messages I have posted have encouraged discussions that I have overheard in the hallways or had staff mention their reflections to me. Since starting this I have also had a couple of staff ask about how to get started with blogging, how to get started on twitter (since I often share things I learn from people on twitter), and ask to borrow books I’ve read.
I have previously shared a cross-post of one of my Friday Focus posts HERE.
Here’s an example of one of my Monday Memo posts from December:

Great Things I Noticed Last Week:
*While sitting in a 5K mini-lesson on setting a student excitedly said, “I just made a connection to another book we read!”
*In another 5K classroom students were practicing their Jolly Phonics with the SMARTBoard program and were able to read the following words: coast, grain, punch, and chimpanzee using their sounds. I bet the 1st grade teachers love to hear this!
*After 5th grade student presentations, the class was asked to give 3 positive comments and 3 things to improve on. I was amazed to hear the feedback given to students by students and surprised how much Daily 5/Cafe language carried over into the feedback for science presentations.
*5th grade started keeping track of “Writing Non-Negotiables” as writing skills are taught in mini-lessons. You can see the list from one class in the picture on the right. Mrs. B says that this list has really cut down on the time spent conferring with students for writing revising/editing–she does NOT help revise if they have a mistake that is on the non-negotiable list. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a list of expectations like this at each grade level?

Events This Week:
*Monday – Mentors meeting at 3:05 in Media Center
*Tuesday – I will be gone all day at the SLATE conference (School Leaders Advancing Technology in Education) in Wisconsin Dells.
*Thursday – No Office Day–I’ll be spending my day in 3-5th grade classrooms
K/2/4 Music Concert (including 5th grade band) at 6:30 PM
*Friday – Just a reminder to show your school spirit and wear your school shirt (please help remind your students too)

“Nuts & Bolts” Notes:
*Just a reminder that next week is already mid-quarter (I had to triple check the calendar to be sure!) so make sure you’re ready to send home a progress report for each of your students.
* We’ve added another Tech Tuesday to the calendar for December 20th. I know that’s a busy week, but there’s quite a few teachers excited about using Pinterest or wanting to learn how before break so Jean and Bethany will be teaching us how that day.

Tech Tip:
*I’ve seen some great websites being used on the SMARTBoards and in the computer lab that I’m sure students would continue to use at home if they have internet access. You can show them how to access the site from the student resources on the district webpage (if it’s there) or include the web address in your newsletter, which can be quite lengthy and difficult to type at times. If you want to learn how to make a shortened web address to share with students/parents for home and for easy access in the computer lab you just need to go to http://bitly.com and sign up for an account. Here’s a screencast I made to show you how to use this tool. Let me know if you need any help getting started on this.

<br><br><br><br>Let <br>

Web 2.0 and Higher Level Thinking

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 attempted to summarize what I learned from Scott McLeod at SLATE. This is a cross-post from my staff blog.
This week I attended the SLATE (School Leaders Advancing Technology in Education) conference where I was put on brain-overload from the many challenging thoughts and great ideas shared to continue advancing integration of technology in education.

I was excited to hear our keynote speaker, Scott Mcleod, because I have followed his blog and twitterfeed for a couple of years now. Scott created the following powerful video clip:

Just as I expected, Scott spent 2 hours sharing far too much information for me to share in this post, but I do want to share the “learning nuggets” that I took home with me:

*Web 2.0 -the internet is no longer just reading information, but interacting with it, connecting with others and easily sharing information (i.e. podcasts, facebook, twitter, blogs, youtube, wikipedia, linkdin, four square, pinterest, webkinz, wordle, the list goes on…)

*Consumers vs. Creators – With all the web 2.0 tools today, we are no longer consumers of the internet, we are creators. One well known example of this is the amount of sales from amazon.com that are attributed to the product reviews that people submit. If you are submitting a review, you are helping to create amazon. He also said that if you are reading reviews, but never leaving a review, then you’re a “moocher” and you need to help contribute. (With this thought, I’m making it my personal goal to try to add comments to the blog posts that I read throughout the week)

*With all these web 2.0 tools…
-We all have a voice
-We can easily find each other
-We can easily work together

*We are now preparing our students for jobs that don’t currently exist.

*Our students need to be problem-solvers and critical thinkers (not “regurgitators”)

*If we are going to prepare our students for the new jobs (that we don’t even know about now) that require creative work, then we need to plan learning that is in the top 3 of Bloom’s Taxonomy (visual above of this)–Analyzing, Evaluating and Creating.

My reflection prompt for you:
What are you doing in your classroom to encourage critical thinking, problem solving and creating? How much of student time is spent consuming information versus creating it?

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

Building Professional Trust

One of my professional goals this year is to encourage teachers to reflect, by providing them with the tools and time to do so. In addition, my goal is to model reflection for them. Each week I am sending out a “Friday Focus” which will share my reflections with staff on what I have recently encountered or learned about. Here is my most recent Friday Focus.

“What you teach today in your first grade classroom matters to those students when they are in fourth grade. and well beyond.” ~Unknown
When I attended Regie Routman’s Literacy and Leadership Institute this past summer, one of the leaders of a breakout session (a principal from Colorado) shared this quote with us. In addition, she talked about how her staff, over time, developed professional trust with one another. I almost snickered when someone asked, “What do you mean by professional trust?” But I was amazed by her profound response…
“If we have professional trust amongst us, then a 2nd grade teacher can trust that the student coming to her has been taught appropriately and can trust that when she moves that student on, that in the following grade levels, that student will be receiving the same great instruction and focus on learning as she had dedicated to that student.  As a teacher, you trust that the growth that you have seen in your students will continue year after year, no matter which teacher they are placed with.  Unfortunately, it only takes one teacher’s practice to compromise the work of the entire school.”

Wow! Until I heard her say this, my understanding of the term “professional trust” was very superficial. As a teacher, I was always naturally collaborative and thrived on learning from my colleagues that shared their great ideas, successes and their failures (so I wouldn’t make the same mistakes!) When I heard complaints from some of my colleagues that didn’t want to spend their prep time planning with others (because they just wanted to focus on “their” kids) I never agreed with that point of view, but I could understand how it can seem time consuming or “messy” trying to get a group of people to all agree on what they are going to do.

This explanation of professional trust has completely solidified for me why it is so important that we collaborate. Not just that we’re meeting each week, but that we are developing common expectations within our grade levels and across all of our grade levels. So that whatever grade you teach, you know what all of your incoming students were taught last year and you know where you need to get your students by the end of this year. And if you have a student or multiple students not meeting that expectation, you know that you have your PLC to rely on—to learn what your colleague did in his classroom that was more effective for a particular skill or that when you send your students out for WIN time, that teachers’ heart is in it for “your” kids just as much as yours is.

Over the past two days our 3/5th grade teachers (as well as MS/HS English teachers) spent an entire day scoring students’ 6 Traits Essays collaboratively. Before beginning this process, each group scored the same student papers together and discussed why they chose that score for each writing trait to come to inter-rater reliability, or a common agreement on scoring. While this process took time and work, it is found by Douglas Reeves to be an effective practice for teachers to develop common expectations that impact student learning. By having these discussions at the beginning of the year, teachers develop a collective understanding of what a student must do to earn a score of a 3 or a 5 when they are writing. 

As we discuss our beliefs on reading and writing and come to agreement on our beliefs collectively, we will be laying the foundation for our common expectations and practices as well as building our professional trust amongst one another.

“Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him,and let him know that you trust him.” ~Booker T. Washington