My Not-to-Do List for Spring Break


My Not-to-Do List for Spring Break

Spring break is here. I have a lot of items on my to-do list this coming week: Set up a new raised garden bed with my family; Clean up my existing garden beds (see photo); Finish the Silo series by Hugh Howey; Put together my manuscript for my first book; Paint my son’s bedroom; Get that outlet fixed in our main bathroom.

When taking some time for ourselves, I also think it is important that we create a not-to-do list. It is so tempting to stay plugged into our digital feeds. We might miss something! But when do we give ourselves time to consider what we have learned? In my experience, my time away from my connections has allowed me to reflect on what I discovered and consider how it applies within my context. I don’t think we take enough time to think deeply about those few essential ideas that can blossom into something bigger, if we only give them time to grow.

So here is my not-to-do list: For one week, I am taking a tech sabbatical from Twitter, my blog, and other social media that keep me loosely attached to school. Otherwise it might be like I never left. I will be a better principal, friend, husband, and father because of it. When circumstances allow, consider a tech sabbatical for yourself.

Using Evernote for Literacy Instruction

This screencast was created to present four ideas for how teachers and students can use Evernote during the K-5 literacy block. The content shared here started our staff’s fourth and final tech night of the year.

While this quick tutorial was nice for considering what’s possible, we really appreciated our Skype guest Cathy Mere (@cathymere), author of More Than Guided Reading (Stenhouse, 2005). She took a lot of time answering our questions about technology in the elementary classrooms, such as “How do get your 1st graders to become so independent with the iPads?” (The answer: Shared demonstration)



While I can talk about technology use in the classroom, Cathy and my teachers are doing it, every day. That the work they do is grounded in strong literacy instruction makes all the difference. Their approach in considering how digital tools can best support and augment student learning is the right approach.

Assessment Practices

One of my favorite roles as a principal is serving as a mentor/guide for aspiring administrators. Recently, one teacher posed the following questions to me as part of her coursework requirements. These inquiries are based on the work by Rick Stiggins. Please share in the comments how you might have responded, or what you think about my answers.

How are assessment practices developed in your current position?

As a principal, I mostly focus on developing assessment literacy with my staff. I try to address anticipated questions, such as, “What is the difference between formative and summative assessment?”, “Can we use these standardized test scores in a positive way?”, and “How can we make instructional decisions based on the student data we have?” If the teachers can answer these questions, then I have done my job, because they are the ones that can actually have an impact on student learning by using assessment data.

How are you using daily assessment data?

In my position, I use assessment data to look at schoolwide trends. For example, how many office discipline referrals are we averaging per day? How does this compare to last year? Last month? I then look for spikes in areas and times that need more attention, such as lunch recess for 4th grade. This helps me make informed decisions, such as providing more supervision during this time, or talking with those students who are being referred. I wish we had a system and software as powerful as PBIS and SWIS for our academics. Hopefully as we continue to learn about RtI, we will be able to respond just as quickly to students’ curricular learning needs.

What kind of assessment model are you following?  (ex. Stiggins model)

I subscribe to the Optimal Learning Model, developed by Regie Routman. It is based on the Gradual Release of Responsibility, from Pearson & Gallagher (1983). What I like about this framework is it doesn’t separate assessment and instruction. It is intertwined and interdependent of one another. We are good teachers because use ongoing assessments to inform our instruction. This leads to better teaching and a stronger impact on student learning. Maybe the OLM is not an assessment model, but too many people push assessment as a stand alone in classroom instruction.

If you are following a model- is it to your liking? are you interested in other kinds of assessment models available?

I am not sure how to respond to the first question. I am interested in the concept of triangulation, where professionals use multiple forms of different assessments, such as summative, benchmark, and formative, to make instructional decisions. I was introduced to this concept from the book Assessment in Perspective by Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan (Stenhouse, 2013). As for formative assessment models, I highly recommend the resource Embedding Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam (Solution Tree, 2012). He nicely breaks down the five types of formative assessments. Very applicable to all educators.

If you aren’t or are looking for other models, does the Stiggins model appeal to you?

What I like best about Stiggins work is his focus on including students in the assessment process. It is unfortunately very rare that we ask students, “What did you think about your work?”, “Why do you think that?”, and “What would you do differently next time?”. At Howe, we are taking our first steps in this process, through digital student portfolios, and through posting our writing with student reflections on a mastery wall. Stiggins’s focus on including students as part of the assessment process is so important.

Would you consider using it as an outline for your assessments?

Unfortunately, I am not real familiar with his outline. I would have to research it some more. What I would be wondering as I read his work is:

  • How is assessment integrated within instruction and support good teaching on a daily basis?

  • Is this framework reliable? That is, has Stiggins described or experienced good assessment practices within the context of the classroom?


Passion-Based Learning, Week 5: Can Minecraft Foster a Growth Mindset?

In the fifth installment for the Powerful Learning Blog, we explore how and why a growth mindset might be encouraged when learners play Minecraft.



We are also considering how these types of digital tools could be a part of our daily learning activities within the school day.

But the question still remains: Is there any possibility in harnessing the motivational factor of Minecraft and instilling it within the general curriculum? For example, could the structures they are developing resemble ruins from ancient civilizations, or famous battlefields of U.S. history? If the answer is yes, how do we guide our students to realize the potential in these tools not only for creation and innovation, but also for integration within important curricular topics?

I know a lot of teachers out there are ahead of the game in this area. How have you increased engagement through the integration of Minecraft into your daily instruction? Click here to read the original post and add your ideas in the comments.

Passion Based Learning, Week 4: Do One Thing Really Well

In this most recent installment on the Powerful Learning Practice Blog, our focus turns to helping our students dig more deeply into one tool (screencasts). Because our students are engaged, we have found they are more likely to persist with a task that doesn’t come easily at first. Add a strong, supportive learning community via Edmodo, and we are starting to see success!



Teaching and guiding students to use this one tool has helped in other ways, too.

While the two of us were becoming more learners than teachers, we also wanted to move our students to become teachers for each other. Our learning environment needed more balance.

Any time when we can put students in the role of teacher can be a benefit to everyone. I wouldn’t say passion-based, student-driven learning is any less work than a more traditional model of instruction, but in this context, I could not image a better way to teach.

Five Cool Things You Can Do on Your MacBook Air

This post is not necessarily for those who own and have owned a MacBook Air or Macbook Pro for some time (I think, anyway). This post is for those of you who are considering purchasing a MacBook, or, like me, just purchased one. The following five tips are my initial discoveries as I have played with this new toy.


1. Collaborate Online with Pages, Keynote, and Numbers

The best thing is not that these apps are free (very cool, by the way), but that they work similarly to Google Docs. Share out the link of your document with anyone, and they can revise and edit the same file from their web browser. No Apple products needed on their end. I used this feature to have someone else review and revise a staff social flyer.

2. Mirror Your Screen Via Apple TV, Reflector, or Air Play

I didn’t realize I could do this with a MacBook, until I saw the rectangle with the triangle inside it on the top right of my screen. I knew iPads worked well with this technology, but hadn’t considered it for my laptop. I have already used this feature to project minutes I was taking during a staff meeting.

3. Dictate Speech

My son has a book blog for his independent reading. When we opened up the browser to post his next entry, I found under the “Edit” menu the option to “Start Dictation”. He spoke, and the words rolled out. It was very accurate, and it allowed us to fix any simple errors. This can be a huge benefit for students with special needs, ELL students, and just disengaged writers.

4. Use Your iPhone to Control your Keynotes on the MacBook

I saw someone do this at a conference and had to try it out for myself. Download Keynote on your iPhone, and it will also serve as a slide remote for the presentation you have on your MacBook. No longer do you have to mirror your content from your iPad to the computer, which can be tricky if you are presenting in a conference center with poor wireless reception.

5. iCloud

This might be the biggest reason I went with a MacBook Air over a Windows-based laptop. The images I capture with my iPhone or iPad are collected in my iCloud account, which can be accessed  from my MacBook. I don’t have to upload anything; they’re just there.