Literacy, Leadership and Walkthroughs

I recently attended the Literacy and Leadership Institute in Madison, WI. It was hosted by Regie Routman, creator of the Reading-Writing Connection professional development series (which my building uses). This may have been the best conference I have attended. Everything was connected to best practices. A lot of what the presenters at this conference shared is based on research and publications by Richard Allignton and Peter Johnston.

Summarizing all that I learned into one post would be like trying to stuff an elephant into a foot locker. Instead, I attempted to synthesize my thinking by creating a walkthrough checklist connected to best literacy practices. It is based on an article published by Richard Allington in Phi Delta Kappan in 2002, titled “What I've Learned About Effective Reading Instruction From a Decade of Studying Exemplary Elementary Classroom Teachers” (a straightforward if not catchy title). I condensed his findings about what exemplary teachers do into twelve statements.

 

Time

  • Students are actually reading and writing around 50% of the time.
  • Students are reading independently, meeting with the teacher for guided reading, and/or reading and writing in the content areas.

Texts

  • Students are reading texts that allow for high levels of accuracy, fluency and comprehension.
  • Classroom texts reflect a broad range of interests, diversity and levels.

Teaching

  • Teacher gives direct, explicit demonstrations of thinking strategies that good readers and writers use when they read and write.
  • Teacher assigns work that is responsive to students' needs and fosters a transition of thinking strategies to independent use.

Talk

  • Teacher facilitates lots of purposeful dialogue – both teacher/student and student/student.
  • Classroom talk is more conversational than interrogational.

Tasks

  • Teacher assigns activities that are substantial, challenging and complex.
  • Students are allowed some choice and autonomy in work to promote ownership and engagement.

Testing

  • Teacher evaluates student work based on effort and growth rather than just achievement.
  • Students take responsibility for their scores with the help of clear and visible academic expectations.

Using this checklist as a Google Form on my iPad, I could walk through classrooms and document how often best practices are occurring. Teachers are already used to me being in the classroom to read aloud or just observe. Is this a logical next step? It was suggested that if a checklist is used to document frequency of best practices, it needs to be sandwiched with positive feedback, probably in the form of a written note and verbal praise before leaving the classroom. I will defintiely need to reference Choice Words and Opening Minds by Peter Johnston often as I begin providing feedback. A hybrid of both a checklist and a written narrative may work best for my staff and me.

If I was the teacher, would this checklist along with a short observational narrative have the potential to help me improve my own practices? Would I feel defensive and nervous, or wonder what my principal's motivation is?

As the principal, will this type of walkthrough give me a reliable set of data to help determine where we are growing and where we need to grow? Could I eventually expect the teachers to use this process and observe each other, using a peer coaching format?

 

I need to sit on this draft of an idea and come back to it later. I would welcome any feedback!

The 3-2-1 Challenge

*Note: This post is written for my staff, but feel free to join us!

A Creative Life is a Healthy Life by Amanda Enayati for CNN.com describes all the reasons for leading a creative life and to be innovators in our work, as well as ways to deal with the distractors.

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*Found this quote posted in EPCOT during spring break

Related…

I was first introduced to the 3-2-1 formative assessment tool by Rick Wormeli at one of his conferences run through Staff Development for Educators (SDE). It is an assessment that asks the student to list three, two and one items related to a concept they just learned. An example he provided in mathematics looks like this:

3 – List three applications for slope, y-intercept knowledge in the professional world
2 – Identify two skills students must have in order to determine slop and y-intercept from a set of points on a plane
1 – If (x1, y1) are the coordinates of a point W in a plane, and (x2, y2) are the coordinates of a different point Y, then the slope of line WY is what?

Cross this idea with Barb Gilman’s tweet, “I love my principal! She challenged us to read at least 5 good books this summer. #BookChat #TitleTalk”, and you have the 3-2-1 challenge.

Using his format, I am challenging all of us (including me) with these suggestions during our time away from school.

3 – Read at least three good books this summer

To be literacy leaders in our classrooms, we have to be readers and writers in our personal lives too. Regie Routman said it best in Teaching Essentials: “One of the first questions I would ask any teacher seeking employment is, What are you reading? What is your last favorite book? How do you choose a book? What have you learned as a reader?“. She goes on to state that we need to have a balance in our knowledge base, and reading a wide variety of genres can provide this. For me, I plan to read Steve Jobs’ biography, the third installment in the Game of Thrones fantasy series and Opening Minds by Peter Johnston. I will also be reading new children’s literature in search of potential read alouds in classrooms for next year.

2 – Participate in two new experiences

Think about your new students coming in next fall. They will be feeling anxious about who their new teacher is, what is expected of them academically and how they will get along with their classmates. Our students take part in new experiences annually. It might be wise to put ourselves in their place to get a better perspective. I am not talking about climbing Mount Everest; maybe it is becoming more familiar with mobile technology, or taking an art class. If you cannot think of something new, maybe consider mastering something you have already tried. The article I reference in the beginning of this post has some good ideas.

1 – Think about one way you could use the Internet to communicate with families

I have sat in many meetings with parents who state, “I looked on the Internet for the answer to that problem.” We have a captive audience online. This challenge could be as simple as learning how to post your weekly classroom newsletters on the district web page instead of putting them in the shared folder. You could take this a step further and replace your classroom newsletter with a blog, where you could add photos, web links, video and audio alongside the text. Some classrooms in other schools use Twitter to share their reflections of what they learned during class. Whatever your preference, using communication tools on the Internet such as social media can be a powerful way to get the word out about the great things you do in school everyday. As always, I am available for questions and assistance, even during the summer. (As I reflect as I write, this challenge could serve as a new experience, too.)

None of these suggestions are required, or course, only challenges. I just want to encourage everyone to take time for yourself, as well as to reflect and think about how you will continue to grow and learn as a person and as a professional. Many of you do this already, so I may be preaching to the choir.

At any rate, have a wonderful summer and thank you for making my first year at Howe a good one!

Hoosiers and School Leadership

This morning I attended the annual thank you breakfast at Woodlands Church. They are a partner with Howe School, providing volunteers, school supplies and various resources to help our students learn.

While enjoying refreshments and chatting in their very nice community center, the pastor asked if I would say a few words about our partnership during service. Even though this is my fourth year in administration, I still get a pit in my stomach when talking in front of others, especially those I have not met. What do I say? What was the history of this partnership before I came along?

By luck (or divine intervention), I found an old coaching newsletter in a binder of school materials I was to give to a staff member that morning. I saved this newsletter (Basketball Sense, May 2001) from my basketball coaching days because of the excellent article on the cover, “The Coaching Philosophy of Norman Dale”. In it, high school basketball coach Larry Lindsey analyzes the coaching and program-building philosophy of Coach Dale, played by Gene Hackman, in the classic sports movie Hoosiers. Full disclosure: This movie is one of my favorites – I have owned it on VHS, DVD and now digitally.

Perfect! I evoked my inner Hackman and read some of Coach Dale’s quotes to the congregation (below, in italics), organized by Mr. Lindsay under different categories of program-building (bold). It was a nice way to connect the importance of being a team and the school’s partnership with the church. After the event, I also reflected on how these quotes relate to my position as a school leader. My reflections come after the quotes.

Practices

Let’s be clear about what we are after here.

– Do we have a mission focused on student learning and success? How are we communicating this within the school walls and beyond on a regular basis?

Support your players with the public

I would hope you support us for who we are, not for who we are not.

– Is the community supporting our efforts and focusing on what’s going well as well as what needs to be worked on?
– Is this support coming from our elected officials as well as from our parents and local organizations?

These six individuals made a choice…to represent you, this high school. That kind of commitment and effort deserves and demands your respect. This is your team.

– Are the teachers, staff, students and families in my school feeling respected? If not, what I am doing to advocate for this respect, maybe even demanding it?

How to build your team

Five players on the floor function as a single unit. No one person is more important than another.

– Am I expecting everyone to take on their fair share of the work load, including students, families and me?

Challenge your team

Remember what we worked on in practice. I want to see it on the court.

– Is what we are learning as a staff translating into improved student learning? How do we know?

Dealing with your team in a big game

Remember what got you here. Focus on the fundamentals. Don’t focus on winning and losing. Put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential.

– Is our professional development addressing best practices, rather than fluff, or outcomes only? Are we delivering our instruction with fidelity?
– Are the activities we are asking students to do standards-based, relevant and engaging?
– Are the students meeting their own expectations as well as ours? How do we celebrate our successes and not just test scores?

I agree with the author of this article that the process that occurred in Hoosiers typifies what a team or partnership should look like, to strive to better our abilities in order to achieve a goal.