The Day I Forgot My Laptop

7:20 AM: Realized I had not packed my laptop in my bag, left it at home. Already half way to school, so just kept going.

7:30 AM: Took attendance at morning study center using a spreadsheet on Numbers on an iPad. Able to walk around the room and greet the students while I noted who was present.

7:45 AM: Prepared pictures using Photos on an iPad. Put them into an album to share with students at our all-school Jumpstart, a PBIS celebration activity.

8:00 AM: Walked morning study center students to breakfast. On the way, snapped a photo of student work on the walls with an iPhone.

8:05 AM: Took another photo with iPhone of students walking laps in the gym during our morning exercise program. Shared photo on school Twitter account using Tweetbot.

8:15 AM: Went pack to office and checked Photo Stream on iPad for photo of student writing I took with iPhone. Moved it to Jumpstart album so student could read it to peers.

8:20 AM: Checked Aesop for absences on Safari on iPad.

9:00 AM: Tried to access email on iPad, but wireless in building is spotty. Asked my office assistant to send a message to staff member on my behalf.

10:00 AM: Did an instructional walkthrough using a stylus and Notability on iPad.

11:00 PM: Wireless still spotty. Asked assistant to send another email on my behalf. (Hmm, maybe I should forget my laptop more often.)

12:00 PM: iPad now able to send and receive email. Quickly realized I didn’t miss much.

1:00 PM: Started to draft a thank you letter to all the families who maintained a bed for the school garden. Used Pages on the iPad, emailed it to assistant to check grammar and print.

2:00 PM: Checked progress of tasks on Priority Matrix on iPad.

2:30 PM: Read aloud Pete the Cat to kindergarten students, then created a story board using Felt Board on the iPad. Used iMovie to record audio of student reading the text from the story board, then uploaded movie to Vimeo to share with class and parents.

3:00 PM: Sat in a 1st grade classroom to help with a science experiment. Took pictures with iPhone of students involved with each step of the process, as well as the posted learning target. Put all the images together in a collage using Frame Magic on the iPad and emailed it to teacher.

3:45 PM: 1st grade teacher stopped by my office after school to inquire how I made the collage. Gave a quick tutorial on the iPad.

4:00 PM: Updated school’s Google Site using Chrome on the iPad.

4:15 PM: Left work, questioning how much I truly needed a laptop as a principal.


The other day I noticed two staff members laughing at something on their computer screen. Having the distinct feeling that I was the possible source of their amusement, I peeked at what they were reading.

My minutes from the last Instructional Leadership Team had three different acronyms…within the first agenda item. Yikes! In my effort to keep my notes brief, I almost made my minutes unreadable by anyone not current on the present day buzz words. In fact, I didn't even know what DOK (Depths of Knowledge) was until another administrator sent me a packet of information about it this week.

No wonder teachers and administrators feel like their heads are swimming lately. I can hardly keep all of these initiatives straight. With the current climate in education, I need to try to inject some humor when my staff gets together, as well as let them know that I am treading water sometimes, too. I think this video could be used to start our next meeting on a lighter note and poke some fun at all of these acronyms.



Examples of Practice: Using the iPad to Model Writing

In a recent post, I wrote about using everybody books to teach content. The example I provided focused on hurricanes, a timely topic right now. I ended the post by suggesting the classroom could use their new knowledge and summarize their learning through writing.

Since then, my very efficient technology specialist installed the Reflection app on all of our classroom workstations that are connected to the SmartBoards. This allows the teachers to mirror what is on their iPad to the screen. Excited, I decided to try out this new technology and model how to use it for the students and the teacher.

Model It

After finishing reading aloud a book on hurricanes, I wirelessly connected my iPad to the computer through Reflection and opened up Notability. With this app, I was able to use a stylus and write important information they suggested about hurricanes. Then the students asked more questions they had about hurricanes. We highlighted which questions we thought we could answer with another print resource.

Here is what we developed today.

So how does using the iPad augment this activity?

I can face the kids while teaching. I don’t have to go between the paper and the students. This would be true even if I was writing under a document camera. In fact, I could have sat with the students on the floor while writing, maybe even allowing them to do some of the writing and make it interactive. I believe combining the technology with my proximity to the students enhanced my instruction when compared to writing on chart paper or the board.

I am also finding that just using the technology while teaching increases the engagement level of the students. It’s not the novelty of the device either; this teacher has had an iPad in her classroom for almost a year. For instance, as I wrote today, the second grade students were very quick to tell me when my writing defaulted to my native cursive. I have had similar experiences when reading aloud a book that is digitally projected on the SmartBoard. Why they clue in a bit more when technology is part of the instruction is a question I am still trying to answer.

Celebrate It

After we were done, I emailed a copy of our writing to the teacher. She can print it off and post it in the room, or make several copies and put the writing in their book boxes to reread later. I have noticed students really enjoy reading text they created themselves or as a group.

I also want to recognize the teacher for being a learner along with me. One way I do this is sharing what they are doing in their classrooms in my Friday Focus, a weekly staff newsletter initially developed by Todd Whitaker.  For example, tomorrow I will describe the second quarter writing goals the second grade team is developing with their students to personalize their learning…

…and tie in how we took our instruction to the next level with the help of technology.

Second grade team is working with their students to set personal writing goals. This can help them become more self-directed learners. I even got involved in their studies, by using the iPad and the Reflection app to model writing.

Instructional Walkthrough Template v. 2.0

In a previous post, I shared an instructional walkthrough form for my school. It is based on three different forms and an instructional framework, the Optimal Learning Model. This tool allows for the collection of both numerical and narrative information.

When I presented this form to my Instructional Leadership Team, they had a few suggestions to alter it. For one, they wanted to be able to write comments on the bottom after the walkthrough, not just me. We changed this section to “Reflections” and clarified that this space is now usable for both the teacher and the observer. Related, they wanted to expand this area and create more space to respond to the observations.

With the walkthrough form ready to roll, there was nothing left to do but try it. Five staff members agreed to be guinea pigs and allow me to observe their classrooms. Using Notability on the iPad along with a stylus, I started visiting classrooms ten minutes at a time.

I started by noting where I saw the learning occurring and quickly made tallies.

At the same time, I wrote observations and posted questions in the narrative space, such as:

The students worked quietly on the task at hand.

How did this activity promote this level of engagement?

As I wrote, I would notice a theme in my observations and highlight it on the left side.

Once I had completed my observation (no more than ten minutes), I politely interrupted class and let everyone know what impressed me about their learning. This experience could be nerve racking, especially in the beginning. I wanted to be sure that my visit was viewed positively.

After I emailed my completed form to the teacher through Notability, I entered the tally mark totals into a Google Form in my office. The spreadsheet is set up to automatically tabulate what percentage of instruction is either shared, guided or independent as a whole building (this data is anonymous).

To finish up, I wrote my own comments about what I saw in class in the Reflection box. This was more summative in nature, based on the evidence I had just collected. If the pilot teachers wanted to see my comments, I encouraged them to stop by and chat. I am hesitant to provide my summary, at least initially, because it can shut down the thinking of the teacher. I am making a judgment about their instruction instead of allowing them to arrive at it through professional reflection. This process is not intended to be an evaluation.

The next step is to collaborate with the teachers I am trying this with and continue to tweak the form as needed. It may involve completing a walkthrough as a group while watching a teacher’s lesson on video.

Overall, I am happy with the progress we have made in assessing whether our instructional framework is truly embedded in our classrooms. I know we will continue to make changes, which is part of the growth process for all of us.

Consider Rigor, But Focus on Relevancy and Relationships

My district just hosted a professional development morning for all K-5 staff. It was very well received. One of the sessions provided a nice overview of the Common Core State Standards along with the work that our teachers have already done with regard to mapping these benchmarks of knowledge.

The expectations are high. The next question is, how do we get there? My district addressed this by purchasing 200 copies of Pathways to the Common Core for teachers. Even though I have only read the first half on reading, I am impressed with the ideas the authors provide on connecting our instruction to the CCSS. It is a very practical and down-to-earth guide for classroom teachers.

However, if we only focus on high academic expectations, or as Bill Daggett refers to as “rigor”, we disregard two equally important components of teaching he also encourages: relevance and relationships.  My current understanding of the latter two is how we connect what we teach to our students’ lives and how we connect with our students as people. I have perused the Common Core many times. From what I can tell, relevance and relationships are either rarely addressed or nonexistent in these new standards.

I am not the only one concerned about the lack of a comprehensive plan. The Marzano Center recent published a series of posts asking similar questions. In the first post, a recent study was cited that found that, over the last twenty years, increasing the rigor of standards has little if any evidence of increasing student achievement. What the posts go on to say is educators are encouraged to understand their students’ needs (relationships) using formative assessments in order to provide more tailored instruction (relevancy).

So where does one start? In my humble opinion, it all starts with relationships. I think back to my days in high school. Even though most of my teachers had high standards, the ones I worked hardest for were the ones who got to know me as a person and went out of their way to make class engaging and meaningful. They said things like, “Your class average is one of the highest. That is where you should be.” Or they just took the time to share their thinking process while reading Lord of the Flies or Flowers for Algernon. Putting themselves out there like that let the students know that trust was implied due to the relationships they built with us and their awareness of our needs as learners.

As the Common Core becomes common place, a lot of the work on making the standards understandable will be done by us and for us (or to us, depending on your current outlook). We will have rigor coming out of ears. But it is going to be the relevancy of our instruction and the relationships we build with students that will make the difference.

Six Credits Shy

As soon as I sat down for the session at an administrator conference, I knew I was going to be disappointed. The PowerPoint was all words and no visuals. The presenter, although a knowledgeable educator, informed everyone that he was going to “talk to us” about his experiences. There was no website or handouts in which to access the information being presented, either at that time or in the future. Within five minutes, I had left the session. The only thing I found out was the wireless in that room was pretty spotty.

I bring this up because I am undecided about going back to graduate school. I have been six credits shy of my Director of Instruction license for over a year now. There is nothing holding me back, except the concern that I will have the same experience as I did at the conference. Another textbook published by Pearson to read, providing a general overview of everything. A prescribed schedule that is not conducive with my personal and professional calendar. Slideshow upon slideshow to sit through, something that I could easily read online prior to the class on my own time. I think I can empathize a little with students in today’s world. Too many of them are 21st century learners still stuck in a 20th century learning environment.

Since becoming a connected educator last October, I feel like I have become spoiled. I can direct my own learning based on my interests and my current needs. If I have a question, I don’t have to wait until the next class to try and get it answered. Information can be accessed at a moment’s notice in resources that take a specific topic to a deeper understanding. This way of learning is in stark contrast to digging around in a textbook that is a mile wide and an inch deep. Yes, there will be times where I need to buckle down and read what is handed to me. At the same time, I can enhance these assignments by tapping into my personal learning network.

For your students lucky enough to have been immersed in instruction that is problem- and interest-based, that allows for direction of one’s own learning using the best tools available, how would they react if you told them tomorrow that you were going back to lecturing and the one-size-fits-all method of teaching?  It is not that I believe I have little to learn within the traditional method anymore. The university I attended had great professors who brought a wealth of experience to discussions. I just feel like the genie has been let out of the bottle and it is not going back in, even if I wanted it to.

Instructional Walkthrough Template

(This is what I am sending to my Instructional Leadership Team to discuss on Tuesday. We previously had discussed measuring levels of instruction occurring in classrooms with a simple tally sheet.)
I have given some thought to tallying how frequently components of the Optimal Learning Model are observed in classrooms. First, my understanding of how we are being assessed in 2014 has changed. Narrative feedback is welcomed. Also, I think I might feel like a bean counter, breaking down the teaching process into a series of boxes to be checked. And I don’t know what you would get out of it as a teacher. Therefore, I am proposing a second draft. Here is a snapshot of it: Tally
I will still try to track how often a teacher is using different levels of the Optimal Learning Model. As you know, one of our goals is to make sure the students are doing the work and therefore the learning. The difference will be, I will spend more than just a minute in each classroom. This should allow me to see a more comprehensive slice of instruction.

I will enter the data in a spreadsheet. The data we aggregate and share with the building will be anonymous as planned. My initial goal is to observe around three to four teachers per day as unplanned visits.

I want teachers to be able to receive immediate, formative feedback that helps them think about their practice, recognize what they do well and consider how they can continue to grow as educators. Right now, I plan to choose one or more areas of focus on the left and circle it/them. In the blank space, I will write a narrative of what I observe in the classroom. It will be objective in nature. I may also post open ended questions about the instruction. The purpose of the questions would be to help the teacher reflect on what they do and why they do it. This process should be positive and constructive in nature.

My Comments
After I email each teacher the completed instructional walk form and then touch base with them afterward, I plan to make a few comments on the bottom for myself and what I saw. This would be similar to how you might write down observations after conferring with a reader. I don’t plan to share these in the form I email to the teacher. These are primarily for my reflection process. However, if a teacher ever wanted to see what I had written in the comments box, I would be happy to share what I wrote with him or her.

Where to go from here? I suggest you take a look at the form through two different lenses: That of the teacher being observed and the observer. Let me know your thoughts on Tuesday.