Monday, July 8, 2019

New Job...New Opportunities

After several years of trying to join the admin world, I have finally been successful! As of September 1st, I will be the new Director of Curriculum/Business Administrator for the Gibbsboro School District. I am very excited, to say the least. I have had the opportunity to move things from my classroom into my new "office". It is amazing what one can gather after over twenty years of teaching...

So, this month's topic about creating joy/happiness is very timely. I have spent the last several weeks thinking about how I am going to transition into my new role. There are a lot of new things to learn with both of my new roles. How will I handle not knowing? How will I manage my time? How will I stay on topic of communicating feedback to the teachers? How will I push myself to stay present in every conversation? These are just a few of my thoughts as I sit down to write...

My new district is in year 3 of their standards based grading journey. They have completed eliminated percentages from their practice. This is done in every subject in grades Kindergarten to Eighth grade. I am very excited to be a part of this new adventure, since in my classroom I have been working towards this, in small steps, over the last few years. It is a practice I am completely on board with, because I believe it focuses on what everyone is most concerned with: what the student is learning.

So, I am excited in learning how to support the teachers and staff in reporting this out to our parents and the community. Also, I look forward to helping them create a curriculum that is appropriate, challenging, and fluid for our students. It is easy to get excited about something when you believe in it 100%.

The shift to standards based learning came from the teachers, so it was a "bottom-up" movement. I do know the administration did not attempt to push compliance from the top down. This should help keep everyone motivated on improving the practice instead of it being another top down movement where there would be more resentment.

I believe I can bring joy/happiness into this journey? I believe by doing my best to show the community outside of the school all of the great things that are taking place. Share part of a lesson. Share an interaction that I notice while walking the halls. Get into classrooms. Share. Share. Share. "Because if we do not share our story, someone else will, and we may not like how they tell it."

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


While doing some reflecting after a recent interview, I realized I may have answered a particular question too much like a teacher. While this is not a bad thing, I did not see it through an administrator's lense. How I wish I could answer that question again. If I could, this is how I would respond to this question:

  • While visiting classrooms one day, you notice the same student not fully engaged in his/her learning. What do you do?

Now, I focused my answer around relationships. I mentioned I would check in with the student to see how things were going. I would try and create a mentor type relationship with the student to see if this disengagement was just temporary, or if it would be longer lasting. I would also make sure I would discuss the student with his/ her teachers to see if they noticed what I was seeing regarding this student.

In retrospect, I think I missed the second half of the answer to this question. While I do think my response was good, it only covered half (if that much) of the scenario. I should have included that after discussing the student with his/her teachers, I would have taken the next step(s) to make sure this child did not fall through the cracks. In my school, that would have been referring the student to our TRAC team.

This team is comprised of a member of our Special Ed department, a school counselor, and a couple of teachers. This team makes a call home and requests a meeting with both the parent and the disengaged student. This is an early opportunity for the school to make the connection with home that we are concerned with some recent behaviors or habits we are noticing. Being involved in several of these meetings, it is a great opportunity for the student to realize that we all are looking out for their best interest everyday. In addition, it is a great opportunity to make that positive connection with the home as well. Looking out for their child(ren) is always a great message to send.

Now, this TRAC referral requests a follow up meeting in a bout a month to see if the behavior or habits have been positively adjusted. If so, then there is no further action required from the committee. As an administrator, I would still keep that student on my "unofficial" list to check-in on frequently to make sure things are still going smoothly.

What happens if the slide did not stop? Then during the next meeting with the family, the committee could recommend a variety of things: a meeting with the child study team to see if testing is needed, a placement in our Basic Skills group if needed, and/or a chance to speak with a counselor if need be. The list could be longer depending on the student. We may also recommend several of these if it is required.

I think the part I missed in my earlier answer was the chance to show that I may not have all the answers and will use all of the resources at our disposal to help all of our students achieve their best. I believe I left my answer as too self-centered. I did not show my ability to be a team player enough in my response. When it comes to the success of our students, we must be willing to work with everyone to get them to be their best!!

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Friday, July 27, 2018

Data Analysis

The next area I am going to reflect on is Data Analysis in preparation for that first administrative job. Now, I happen to have experience in this area in the current school where I teach. We are a small prek-8 public school in New Jersey. I had the opportunity to pick up several administrative roles over the last several years, and data analysis was one of them.

I had the task of taking the returned state test scores and putting together a presentation for the Superintendent. This presentation would have the current scores along with the scores from the last few years. This allowed us to track a group over several years across several teachers and of course how the students fared certain teacher's classes. I was able to do this while still being a member of our association because I was always professional while handling the information in front of me.

In addition, we were able to dig deeper into the numbers as well. I am a systems guy. Meaning, I do not blame people (students included) without first looking at the systems/procedures/resources in place first. In my presentation, I was able to show that over the last few years, for example, our students scored low in working with nonfiction writing. Before blaming the teachers on why this was not being taught, I asked if they felt they had adequate resources to implement this more for next year. Also, I wanted to see if there was a need for an in-service or professional development to assist in this area.

When it came to math, we noticed that students were stumbling over some of the higher level thinking questions. We did a nice job when the problems were given to the students, but the numbers showed we needed guidance on how to push high order thinking skills in math. Now, we had the two main topics that would push out Professional Learning Communities the following year: working with non-fiction in ELA and creating higher order tasks in math.

In addition to the state tests, we also took the MAP tests. I was involved in assisting teachers with analyzing the results from those tests as well. This was different because it gave me a chance to work with teachers from each grade level. The scores showed us strands certain students needed additional work on, so we worked in conjunction with our Basic Skills teachers to help the students get caught up. This would either be done in class in small groups or as pull outs, depending on scheduling.

I enjoy this part of the job. I like see results from assessments and praising the teachers and students on the areas we did really well in. Also, the numbers can help us focus in on the areas that need improvement as well. I always worked on being extremely professional with my colleagues when talking about numbers. I focused our discussion on what the students were learning, never about what the teacher was or was not doing. The learning is the focus. That is the only way to strive to improve achievement throughout the school.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Instructional Leader #2

As mentioned in the previous post, I am in pursuit of that illusive first administrative position. After watching a couple of videos by Principal Kafele (here is the link to one of the videos), I have been challenged to take some time and think back to the various questions I have been asked in over the 15-20 interviews I have been on over the last few years. Honestly, it might be more, but you lose count after a while.

I first looked at Discipline in my earlier post, since that "could" be a major focus of an Assistant Principal's job. However, today, I am going to take some time to collect my thoughts on a topic that I feel is more important that maintaining Discipline: Raising Student Achievement. I understand the students can not learn unless they are safe and secure. I know the school's culture is immediately impacted if a school does not maintain some kind of order in the building.

After some thought, I have reflected on why we are in schools to begin with. In my opinion, we are there to get students to learn. Period. Whatever the program, method, pedagogy, or resources. We are expected to have our students learning and challenging themselves. That is where my role as Instructional Leader #2 comes in.

My job is to help/assist in creating a culture where learning is paramount for every student. That is why I believe that assisting all teachers on improving their classroom instruction is so important. Regardless of the number of years they have been teaching, improvement is reachable. It is the only way we keep pushing our school forward, by challenging ourselves to constantly improve the instruction in the classroom.

How can that be done? By being visible and accessible. As the Instructional Leader #2, I need to be in classrooms everyday to witness first hand what is going on the classrooms. I can not possibly begin a discussion with a teacher about improving strategies or methods without having been in the room to begin with. Also, I want to create a collegial relationship with the people I am responsible for supervising. Being visible, accessible, and helpful is a great way to start that important relationship.

The observation process is a way to document the improvement of the instruction in the classrooms. I understand that I will be involved in many discussions with teachers about lessons that I observed. I think it is important in the pre-conference meeting to specifically discuss what the teacher feels I should focus the observation on. It would make sense if there are maybe 3-5 main things I am looking for, that two of them would come from their improvement plan from the previous year. In my experience, teachers are asked to submit an improvement plan to help guide them for the next year. I would think that would be a great place to begin our discussion on what the observation will be centered on. This should be familiar to the educator considering they submitted it at the end of the previous year.

After spending time in the room, feedback on the lesson must be timely. I need to make sure I have that conversation soon after spending time in the classroom. The discussion needs to be centered on the agreed topics from the pre-conference meeting. I will be interested to hear the answers to these questions: What did you notice? What went well? If you could reteach this lesson, how would you do it differently? What are you going to do tomorrow to build off of today's lesson? How will you determine that the students did learn the topics?

The process of constantly trying to improve ourselves is critical to a thriving school community. Pushing each other to improve our instruction creates a culture of learning that helps raise student achievement. Knowing that they are supported, guided, and cared for will hopefully have more teachers trying different ways to get students to learn more. Who wouldn't want to work in a school like that?

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Friday, July 20, 2018

Equity Discipline

Ok, I admit. It has been way too long. I was embarrassed when I saw the date of my last post: 07/17. I can not believe it has been a year. I could blame it on my frustration over the current state of politics, but I know that is just an excuse. I am sitting down to write to help clarify my thinking on a number of topics I have faced while interviewing for a Principal or Assistant Principal position. So, this post will have a slightly different feel to it. I am writing this more for myself than for a particular audience. I am trying to stop and reflect on the different answers I have given over the years (yes, years!) I have been trying to land that new administrative job.

During one scroll through my Twitter feed, I came across someone mentioning a video by Principal Kafele (@PrincipalKafele) on You Tube where he discusses "points to consider for the aspiring Assistant Principal". Since I am still searching for my first admin job, I figured I would check it out. If you are in the same boat as me, I would take the time to see both videos: Part 1 and Part II.
So that I do not spend this whole past reviewing the videos, I am going to focus on the part of the video where he discusses knowing your Discipline Plan. As a classroom teacher for over 20 years, I know what I do in my classroom, but I wanted to spend some time reflecting on how that might be implemented building wide.

Most of the interviews I have been on there was a question about having a discipline philosophy. I have had the opportunity of being my school's disciplinarian for a couple of years, so I have some experience to help myself answer that question. What was eye opening for me was the constant perception of equity vs. equality in the discipline that I handed out. There were several colleagues that were very vocal about why I did not give a particular student a certain discipline based on the handbook. I found this role contained more grey areas than I realized. What I ended up doing was basing the consequences of the discipline on a case by case basis. There were so many things to consider: is this student being written up for something he/she can not control (IEP)? What is the back story of the incident? Would this student benefit from getting involved in Peer Mediation? Should this student by directed to a Counselor to speak with? Obviously, I want the student to stop that negative behavior, but ideally I want them to stop not out of fear of the punishment, but because they understand it is the right way to act. Now, how do you put all of that into a nice answer to an interview question?

I understand that student discipline is closely linked to school climate and culture, but I am saving that for another post. It will not be a year from now. Principal Kafele challenged anyone who watched the videos that if they are not seriously thinking about their answers, that they are not hungry enough. That was all the motivation I needed. I am not sure which of the other 19 "nuggets" he suggested I will tackle next. Thank you for allowing me some space to work through my thoughts.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Summer Learning

I am embarrassed to admit it has been over 5 months since I last posted on this blog. I have still spent a lot of time reading great ideas from a long list of other bloggers, but fell out of the routine of publishing anything of my own. Well, leave it to #compelledtribe to get me "nudged" in the right direction.

Which is surprising because I have found over the years that I am very much a creature of habit. I spend most of my "free time" to get my exercise in for the day. Even if it means setting the alarm when the first number is a 4. I have found that through hard work, what starts off as hard becomes easy to adjust to while maintaining a routine. I find running, biking, and lifting weights to be great examples of this. Now, if I can take the time to push myself the same in this writing challenge I have created for myself...

We have been asked to spend some time sharing on our summer reading/learning for #compelledtribe. I have read several books (currently reading one on the early 1970s Oakland As) this summer, but there are two that I have learned a great deal from: Work Rules by Laszlo Bock and Hacking Google for Education by Scott Rocco, Billy Krakower, and Brad Currie. The first book I was not expecting to get so much out of, but did. The second one was filled with great ideas I could implement tomorrow (which I knew ahead of time).

Work Rules is written by the head of Google, Laszlo Bock. The one huge takeaway from this book was the simplicity that explained the philosophy that permeates through Google: Mission. Transparency. Voice. That simple message was a lightbulb moment for me. Being a math teacher, I am always looking for ways to break down difficult concepts so my students can better understand them. I found Bock's message had that same impact on me. I believe this to be a simple message that all educators should embrace. If we focused on these three things, imagine the impact we could have on our classrooms, schools, and districts. I highly recommend this book.

Hacking Google for Education was full of great "Hacks" for schools and districts that use GAFE. I have to admit, there were a few that I already used, but I learned new ways to use Google Maps, Google Calendar, and add-ons to help speed up my responses to emails. I am a big fan of the entire Hack Learning Series, and this book did not disappoint. I also highly recommend this book.

So, I hope you found two new books to add to your reading list. I am hoping I can find a couple more to share with you. Also, I am hoping to develop a new routine of writing and reflecting over the next couple of weeks. Again, thanks #compelledtribe for the motivation to get back at this writing thing.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Competition and Collaboration

Competition is good. Competition is needed. Yes, you can have competition and collaboration at the same time. That is what separates the okay teams from the great ones.

I have been an athlete my entire life. In my experience, competition is what pushes athletes to do better and be better. That constant push to get better takes a drive that is inside every competitive person.

Having said that, my entire athletic life has been on teams. I have never competed in anything on an individual basis. So, to me, working together (collaboration) is a necessity for teams to achieve their goals. It is about sacrificing individual stats for the betterment of the team.

When does it go awry? When people are more focused on themselves over the team. Think about teams that you have heard described as having "that it factor". To me, that factor is a collective understanding that the success of everyone is far more important than the individual. As the famous saying goes: "The name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back of it."

Collaboration helps people push towards a common goal while sharing resources and talents. A great team is a tremendous example of this.

Competition is good. Competition is needed, but it must be the kind that keeps the focus on improving the team first, the individual second.