How My Checkbook Helped Me Bring Meaning to Data

As a newly appointed elementary principal, I feel like I am learning a whole new job (I previously served as a middle school assistant principal/athletic director and as an elementary school teacher). As I have tried to balance home and work, my checkbook has taken a back seat to parent meetings, family obligations and everything else that is involved in the principalship and parenthood. The result has been a checking balance that has been unchecked, offset by moving savings over to prevent overdraft charges.

At first glance, I assumed I was just too busy to deal with the day-to-day mundaneness of logging expenses and deposits on my ledger. That would make sense considering my current learning curve. However, what was different? Nothing, besides a new job and the fact that I just didn’t want to take care of the finances. This realization led me to think about what I expect of my teachers and the data they blindly input into spreadsheets about their students’ achievement. What was their purpose for collecting guided reading and math facts data, other than to do what their principal asked?

To use the same writing format as Margaret Wise Brown does in The Important Book, “The important thing about data is that teachers can use it to inform instruction. It involves numbers. It takes time to collect. Sometimes the results aren’t reliable. But the important thing about data is that teachers can use it to inform instruction”. A recent tweet I made proclaimed that the best universal screener is the classroom teacher. How can data help them make informed decisions, when they don’t see the end results or the purpose? Is this why I wasn’t keeping my check book up to date?

I started to make changes at home and at school. At home, I downloaded a few apps on my iPad to help me track expenses and pay down debt such as car loans more quickly. What these apps do is give me a visual representation of how I spend my money along with what changes I can make to better balance my household budget. The same holds true for student data. I took the spreadsheets my teachers entered student data into and linked them to graphs on other pages in the spreadsheet. These graphs showed student progress by month in reading and math, growth rate needed to meet end-of-year benchmarks and classroom progress.

My teachers are more motivated to get the data entered in a timely manner, because we see a purpose in our practices. Conversations about student data between teachers are much more productive now because the focus is on student learning and teacher practices, not on what we assume to be effective or ineffective. Relevancy and meaning are vital, whatever the focus may be.

My response to my son’s teacher, who asked me about tablets in the classroom

I would recommend the iPad 2. Kindle Fire does not have a camera. All other tablets pale in comparison. My preference for cover is the ZooGue, $50 but heavy duty and can be propped up to be used as a station in classrooms.

With this device you can take the picture, upload it from the iPad’s photo library to the Shutterfly app, and your share site is ready. Saves lots of time transferring pics from one place to the other. I’ve tried it at Howe and it works well.

We are ordering iPads now for teachers to use by January. I have used them with a few students to promote reading and math. The possibilities are limitless, but two examples of apps I use are Evernote and Dragon Dictation. Evernote records someone speaking while you take notes. One use: students can record themselves reading while you do running records0 Play it back for instance feedback, and share with parents when needed. Dragon Dictation simply dictates what someone says into the device. Good tool for immediate student feedback with their reading fluency and diction. Both apps are free.

To get quick, free and easy PD, I highly recommend getting on Twitter if you don’t already use it. My name is @HowePrincipal. I’d be happy to give a shout out for you if you decide to join, to build your Professional Learning Network (PLN) – let me know if interested. I find it very beneificial because the people that I follow and those that follow me (principals, tech coordinators) have similar interests and many times more experience in certain areas. Lots of educators are on it. They share many resources for all things iPad and learning. Also, “Tweeps” have chats to bounce ideas off of each other. Way better than Facebook.

You are welcome to join the Howe book study w/ iPads; we are reading “How to Deal with Difficult Parents” and iPad PD will be imbedded within the study. Starts in January, ends in April. If you are interested and have a device by then, let me know and I can get you set up. You just would have to purchase the iBook. Would you have PD funds to support this purchase? I would think so, maybe Terry or Kelly can help.

Let me know how I can be of assistance in the future.

My First Blog Post

An email response from Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook

Dear Matt,

Thanks for the email and the photo. Terrific!

I am presently working on the 7th and my final edition of the Handbook, so
your email was a vote of encouragement that I needed this morning.

I just finished the technology chapter (who’d have ever though such a
chapter would have been in the book 30 years go when I started) and I’m
attaching it here as a preview. The book probably won’t be out until Sept.
2012, so this is well in advance and will probably have some revisions due
to changing technology between now and then. But there’s enough to bite into
here with some sobering stats, including the stuff about where the silicon
valley folks send their kids to school and the candid conversation between
Gates and Jobs just before the latter died and their views of education

Keep me posted on your experiences during these early days as a reading
principal. I’m very interested.

Best, Jim