Thursday, March 24, 2016

Ultimate Guide: Best Instructional Practices for Student Growth

If teaching were easy, everybody would do it.  OK, maybe not, but there would be a lot more teachers who stay in the education field and not leave after a short time.  In fact, there is new federal data that says 17 percent of new public school teachers leave their jobs after four years.  As I read this, it forces me to wonder, how many of these teachers were employing the best instructional practices during their time in the classroom?  Were they using practices that made their time in the classroom a more enjoyable experience?  These two questions can determine if a teacher is going to be successful or not.

Let’s take a look at some of the best instructional practices to use that will help teachers and students.  While many of these practices are based on John Hattie’s work Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, there are some fundamental methods that should be used daily in every classroom.

Learning Targets That Come to Life
Create learning targets that mean something instead of just posting learning targets.  As my friend and peer Mike Acomb would say, “Make your learning targets come to life for the kids!”  Learning targets need to be addressed during a lesson and embedded in the lesson.  Students shouldn’t have to memorize learning targets.  They learn the targets through the lesson itself.  Let your targets act like a GPS for your students to guide them in the right direction.

Student-Led Learning
Empower your students.  Let them lead their learning.  Teachers need to facilitate class, not teach class.  There will be struggles in the beginning as students and parents aren’t always comfortable with this type of learning environment (remember, we didn’t learn this way in school either).  Continue the journey.  Our students deserve it.  We are all lifelong learners.  Let’s teach our students at the earliest age possible the benefits of exploration, research, collaboration, and hard work.

Our students need to know where they stand on a daily basis.  “Excellent”, “Great job!”,  “88%”, or 8/10 are not examples of feedback.  Feedback is information given to a student that fosters growth.  It can’t happen weeks after the assessment or lesson.  It needs to be as instantaneous as possible.  Utilize tools such as Plickers, Nearpod, Google Forms, Padlet, and TodaysMeet to get instant feedback that can be used in school.  Give our students feedback they can use to get better.

Don’t forget about students giving feedback to educators.  Students should be able to give educators feedback on a daily basis to let the teachers and administration know where they stand.  Are we giving our students the most effective learning environment possible?  Let the students tell us.  RemindHQ is a great tool to use to do this.  Educators can allow students to text back using this texting application.

Formative Assessments
Formative assessments are practice.  Plain and simple.

Let students practice before their assessments.  Don’t punish them while they practice.  Let them explore and figure out what they need to know.  Homework and quizzes are practice.  Create a culture of practice in your building and classroom.  Let students prepare without worrying about failing.

When it comes to engagement, there is a simple question to ask, “Would you want to be in your class?”  Don’t base your class on what has been done in the past in education; make your classroom something new.  Use different resources to make your class engaging.  Allow students voice and choice.  Make your classroom something your students have never seen before.  You have a better chance of engaging students that way than sticking with traditional teaching practices.

Alternative Assessments
Why do we still assess the same way we always have? Why can’t we allow students to show what they know in different ways?  Great questions without great explanations to support them.  Allow students to try something different.  Your classroom and building culture will improve.  Let’s look at different ways to assess: allow students to make videos, allow them to complete projects, allow them to present, or ask students how they can show what they know.  Taking tests each week doesn’t create lifelong learners, it creates memorizers.

Making Blended Learning Just “Learning”
The term “blended learning” needs to go away.  Blended learning should be a part of learning.  As building leaders and teachers, we need to embed learning in the culture of our school.  We do this by using a wide variety of resources to produce student growth.  We need to professionally develop our students and staff to effectively use the resources each day.  Finally, personalizing your learning environment allows students to use the resources in which they learn the best.

Personalized Learning
As discussed earlier, allow students a voice and choice.  The teacher isn’t always the smartest person in the room in today’s classroom.  Limit the amount of direct instruction and develop new ways to deliver content to students.  Become a learner yourself and find ways to connect, collaborate, build confidence and create to positively affect your teaching. 

A positive classroom environment is invaluable.  Positive educator and student relationships outweigh content knowledge.  Content knowledge can always be learned and mastered.  Relationships are built on respect and trust.  Develop great relationships with students and you have foundation for best instructional practices.

Our students lead different lives than we did.  Whether that is for the best or not, it is a reality.  As educators, we need to respect that.  We need to identify our students’ live and work with our students.  We aren’t in the business of teaching our students life lessons; we are in the business of educating students for life.  Compassion isn’t a sign of weakness; it is a sign of respect towards our students. 

Using the best instructional practices in school is a lot of work.  If we take the time to become better educators and use the best instructional practices we can, the workload will lessen.  Student will be more productive and maybe, just maybe, more teachers will remain in the business of educating students.  As educators we need to become more knowledgeable in the best instructional practices to make our jobs easier and more rewarding.  Its time for a change, let move our practices from better to best.

Monday, March 14, 2016

7 Facts About Modeling as a Leader

We’ve all heard the saying “Walk the walk and talk the talk” and John Maxwell’s famous quote, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”   As leaders, we need to abide by these wise words everyday.  Modeling what you want to see in your organization or building is critical for the overall growth of the culture.

Every effective leader has the intentions of modeling of what they want to see in their organizations.  The problem is, once things get busy, we lose sight of our intentions.  It is too easy to fall back into our daily norms instead of surging ahead with our original goal of modeling what we want to see each day from our staff.  Great leaders make sure modeling is a focus on their everyday practice.  They do this in many ways:

Great Leaders Who Model Have a Plan and a Vision
Well of course they do!  They model the plan and vision each day.  Leaders focus their modeling on where they want their organization to go.  Don’t model what isn’t important to your organization.  Streamline your platform to give your staff a clear picture of what you expect from them.

Great Leaders Who Model are Accountable
Leaders want their staff to be accountable.  If we want to see that each day, as leaders, we have to be accountable too.  In any organization, there are daily situations that arise that create a detour in our schedules.  As a leader, it is important to avoid these pitfalls.  It is important to hold yourself accountable and set out what you planned to do when the day started.  If we expect our staff members to handle adversity in that way, then we should model that behavior on our end.

Great Leaders Who Model Take Pride in Educating Themselves
If you want your staff to continue to grow, then as a leader, you need to do the same.  Having a constant push to get better and learn more ways to help students and staff starts with pride and want.  There are an abundance of resources available for leaders to grow each day (even if your not technology savvy or using social media).  Use the resources and share with your staff and others.  Others will see your lead and follow.

Great Leaders Who Model Get Out of Their Comfort Zone
We can’t preach to our staff to take chances if we as leaders are not going to do it ourselves.  Try doing things differently with your meetings or with school programs.  Your staff and students will notice.  If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.  As leaders, we need to incorporate more inquiry into our decision making process and ignore the fear of a new initiative not being perfect at the onset.

Great Leaders Who Model Build Relationships
Building relationships within your organization increases trust.  Staff will be more open to what is being modeled when trust exists.  When relationships exist, leaders can ask others for assistance with modeling the initiative and to carry the torch to help others.

Great Leaders Who Model Lean on Others
As a leader, it is important to identify talent.  Find the people on your staff that can help you model your expectations.  Using others to help you model will only make your building stronger.  There is a reason staff EdCamp professional development days are some of the biggest growth opportunities for staff members.  They love learning from each other.  Let the power of peer-to-peer self-development help you help your staff.  Let your staff help you model the great practices and programs in your building.

Great Leaders Who Model Are Visible
Increase your visibility in your organization and you will see more great practices in your building.  Seems simple enough.  This allows you to see the different practices and share them with the rest of your staff.  Visibility allows for conversations and feedback to take place too.  Being visible throughout your building shows others that you value having a presence in the building and that it is important to you.  Getting out of office will hopefully encourage your staff to step out of their rooms and share great practices with staff and build relationships with students.

Leaders need to set the bar.  We need to show others the way.  That’s part of what makes a strong leader.  It also helps make a strong organization.  Leading by example sets the tone for the culture and climate of your organization.  I believe Albert Schweitzer said it best, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others.  It is the only thing.”

Sunday, March 6, 2016

5 Point Checklist to Identify Professional Development Needs

As a kid, I always loved watching commercials.  Even today, when my kids are watching shows, there are hundreds of companies selling toys online and on TV.  Back in my day, I would see different things I thought were cool, and after being told “No, we aren’t going to buy that” enough times, I would try to figure out a way to: a) purchase the toy myself or b) make the toy myself.  As you can probably relate, the purchasing of the toy myself would never materialize.  I always had to fall back on option b).

As a kid, you believe you can build anything and always just jump right into creating.  Inevitably in my “creativity” phase, I would encounter the same problem each time.   I would need a certain tool or need the know-how to operate a certain a tool to make a portion of the toy and didn’t have the knowledge or experience to operate the tool.  Instead of asking others for assistance and using the resources available to me, my production design would end at this point.  In reality, all I needed was some help and guidance.  I just never took advantage of it.  I’m not saying I would have replicated the toy, but at least I would have made the effort and had a better chance to see the production through.  I needed to focus more on where to start instead of re-creating the toy itself. 

As leaders, we encounter the same thing each day.  We have great ideas and have a vision of how we want to get there, but many times fail because of our lack of knowledge and experience in implementation.  Being a leader in any organization is not an easy task. Leaders have many different roles each day: managing different departments, organizing daily tasks, delegating responsibilities, and maintaining a healthy work climate and culture to name a few.  Depending on what organization you’re in, one can take precedence over the other and change on a daily basis.  While that may be the case, as leaders, ultimately we are still responsible for the daily growth of our organization and the staff.

The real talent in leadership is determining where to start when it comes to organization and staff growth.  Finding that exact point where to start before the plan.  Too many times we get lost in the overall outcome instead of focusing on the process.  Narrowing in on the process will make our overall goal stronger.  Having a plan for identifying the needs for developing your staff will make you a more effective leader, create more buy-in from your staff, and help strengthen building culture.  Let’s take a look at 5 areas to focus on when determining what your staff needs for development and how your organization will get there:

Align your Development with Building Goals & Vision
Your professional development needs to align with where you are going.  There is no reason to train staff on areas that are not part of your overall goal.  Doing so takes away from the overall growth and development of your organization.  Focus on your goals and vision and align your professional development towards both.

We don’t know what we don’t know.  Don’t know who first said it, but it is true.  If you are not visible and involved in your organization, you don’t know your strengths and weaknesses.  For example, as a building administrator in a school, it is imperative that you are in classrooms to see what learning methods your teachers are using and where there are opportunities for growth.  Sure, you could take others word for what is good and bad in the organization, but as a leader, it is vital to stay in the trenches and see it for yourself.

Ask Questions
Being visible is good, but you also need to ask your staff what they need to get better.  There are many ways to do this.  Many organizations use Google and Google Forms and surveys to collect information from staff.  A lot of times, face-to-face discussions with staff members are the most effective way to find out what they need.  Simple questions like: “How do you want to grow?” or “What do you need to get better?” can go a long way in discovering what your staff needs to excel.

Look at Data in a Different Way
Data isn’t always sales, results, or a letter grade.  While we can use this data to our advantage to grow in our organizations, we really need to look deeper within our staff to find out what we need to improve.  Gather data from what you see and hear within the organization.  For example, as a building administrator, I visit classrooms, analyze assessment results, and focus on content delivery to determine what we need and where we need to go.  You are collecting data as you go and using it to help your organization grow.  Don’t be old-school with your data collection and focus on what we always for years in business and education.  Go new-school data; gathering new data is more than just crunching numbers.

I am a firm believer that your best resources exist inside of your organization.  Find the people on your staff that can help others grow.  Encourage your best staff members to share their experiences and help the organization reach their goals.  If you follow the steps mentioned above, you will have no problem finding the talent in your organization. 

As much as I hate to say it, sometimes you have to spend money to get the best opportunity for growth for your organization.  If that is the case, find the funds you need and hire the best people possible.  Ask your colleagues and do your research on who to hire.  If you are going to pay for it, at least do the work on your end as a leader to find the best match for your staff and organization.

 Identifying what we need to get better is the first step.  Creating a plan and implementing the plan soon follow.  You can’t skip to the planning phase and hope to be successful.  Use your most powerful resource to find needs: your staff.  As a leader, don’t get lost in the planning phase like I did when I was a kid.  Go a step deeper and identify your needs to help you achieve the most success.  Your leadership skills will thank you for it.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

How to Create Student Empowerment

All of our students need to be able to make choices and have opportunities.  Allowing our students to have options in how and what they learn helps keeps our students invested in school.  Not long ago in schools, these differentiated opportunities for students were limited.  Schools were seen as places where the administrators and staff members were the ones who had all of the information.  Those times have certainly changed.  Our students are becoming more and more knowledgeable in a variety of areas in and out of school.  While teachers still play a huge role in the learning process and facilitate learning in their classrooms everyday, technology is also playing a large role in educating our students.  


When it comes to empowering students, I believe a large part of it consists of letting kids be kids.  Allow our students to inquire, ask questions, and try things that may lead to failure.  As a leader, that consists of a lot of times of saying “Yes!” to ideas and proposals that may be out of the ordinary.  I try not to say “No!” when it comes to ideas and proposals.  My goal is that staff and students feel comfortable knowing they can try new ways of teaching and learning without the fear of the principal watching over them for mistakes.  Empowering students, whether it is with the use of technology or not, happens when leaders focus on growth and learning and ignore the unknown of the end results.  


For years in education the focus has been on providing students with information and concentrating on covering standards.  Instead of letting educators and students “push the envelope,” we have looked to maintain the status quo and not change as educators.  To empower students, we need to create a culture of experimenting and asking questions.  We need to try different methods and share with others.  Spreading the word throughout the building and community that students and staff can take chances will transform a culture.  Sharing the stories of new methods and practices that are successful will only strengthen the belief in students that they are leaders and are key pieces in the positive climate of the school culture.

Everyone likes to be recognized.  People take notice.  Students and staff are no different.  Celebrating student and staff success is another major part of empowering students.  I especially enjoy seeing students and staff succeed in personalized learning environments.  You can feel the sense of accomplishment from students and staff succeed knowing it was in their hands and at their pace.  Letting others know about those success stories builds confidence in others.  Finding ways such as recognizing staff during meetings, highlighting students in newsletters, and congratulating students and staff in the hallways will help spread empowerment through a building.   

Student empowerment can change the culture of a school if its done the right way. Sometimes you can't clearly tell if student empowerment exists in schools and classes. When empowerment is embedded in the culture though, you can see subtle changes. Staff and students begin trying new things for the betterment of learning. Taking risks and learning from failure are the hallmarks of empowerment. Our staff and students know they can mess up and still had a shot to make it right.