Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What is a “dynamic learning experience”?

Middle school dance!!  Hands to yourself!

Middle Schools sharing thoughts on 9/11
Sometimes we get so busy doing our “school work” that it can be easy to miss all the wonderful things going on around us every single day.  Don’t!!  Stop and think about the many great things your campus and teachers are doing every day to create a “dynamic learning experience” for your students. In the past week, I have seen or heard about so many wonderful experiences for our kids that I have lost count.  My own daughter “experienced” her first middle school dance, while also completing her summer reading project as well as the joys of math and science tests.  Later she got to watch as some of her friends performed in the District’s middle school musical “The Little Mermaid”.  Somewhere in the middle of all that, she got feedback from one of her teachers about a writing assignment and the opportunity to make corrections!  If engagement is part of the school experience, she is getting it!  Fortunately, it is not just my own children that are receiving a dynamic learning experience.  Did you hear about STEM kids at the OLC? Check out their blog:

5th grade student learning 7th PAP math
via Skype
All over NISD, authentic learning is taking place daily.  Teachers and students working together to create an instructional culture that is pushing them past their previous best!  I received a picture this week from a teacher whose students were selecting their own learning targets and working towards mastery.  In the high schools: two of our high school students at BNHS were recognized at a national advertising competition, the NHS Debate team recently took home numerous recognitions at a regional meet that involved over 100 teams from 14 states, and don’t forget to make an appointment at the salon at SteeleAccelerated High School to get your nails and hair done!

Kinder Students at Granger using QR codes
Recently, each campus created a bulletin board around the simple theme, “Tell Your Story”.  I have been fascinated and impressed with the numerous activities that our students experience and the opportunities our teachers give them. Some schools chose to show their history; while others designed a presentation with their eyes on the future.  No matter what school you attend or what your interests may be, there is no doubt NISD campuses have a dynamic experience waiting for you!!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Is it a choice to be “Great” at your school?

Middle School Self-Assessment
on a Learning Target!
Self-Assessment in 3rd grade!
One of the wonderful things about the start of the school year is the many new ideas and concepts teacher are trying in their classrooms.  Many of you spent the summer in professional development or at the very least thinking of ways to make your classrooms more exciting and engaging for your students.  Around our District (not to mention on twitter), I have been encouraged to see many of our teachers speaking a common language about student learning.  You don’t have to go very far into any of our schools to see authentic examples of students using technology, self-assessing their work, and giving each other feedback.  In addition, teachers are introducing the concept of learning targets, setting up rituals and routines, and working with each other to design lessons for their students.  All of these things have us well on our way to a wonderful school year.

CTMS PLC "learning with and through others"
At our Administrator Academy this year, a focus was the importance of developing an effective school rather than just an effective classroom.  Campus leadership teams were challenged to insist upon structures that allowed everyone to improve. The point was obvious, a great teacher can have a huge influence on students, but schools that surround students with many great teachers have a sustaining impact on every student, every day. 

In class "twitter"
So as we move through the first portion of the school year and the ideas are fresh and the possibilities are endless, I can’t help but ask, is being “great” at your school a choice? When new, effective things are rolled out on campus, are they presented as “try this you might like it” or “we need to do this”? Is professional learning and participation optional?  Is expanding your teaching toolkit necessary to keep up? How many out there are going through the motions in PLCs and faculty meetings only to return to their rooms and teach in isolation?  My hope is that the numbers are very low, but truthfully it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between a good teacher and a great one. What I hope we all aspire to, is working in a place where “great” is not a choice…A place where if you are not “great” you stand out as an outlier.  In Jim Collins book, “Good to Great” he talks about how there is no way to “fake it” in effective organizations because the climate won’t stand for it. 

Does this mean that everyone should teach exactly the same? NO!  We are not wired that way.  However, if we are truly striving to be the best and believe that continuous learning is part of that process, then being “great” everyday cannot be a choice.  It must be an expectation for all!

Are we on target? You bet we are!!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thermometer or a Thermostat?

“We can never predict with absolute certainty the future but we are always in control of how we prepare for it.”

Most organizations, successful or not, have two types of people: Thermometers and Thermostats. How do you know which one you are?  That is easy, what do you do to contribute to the success of your organization?  Are you one of the leaders that help set the tone, or do you sit back and wait to see what happens?  The difference is much like the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat.  A thermometer is a very useful tool.  It measures the temperature and can tell you if something is too hot or too cold. However, it is limited in its usefulness…it does nothing to effect a change of temperature when needed.  There are many people that play this role in an organization.  They are useful, very good at what they do, and even necessary to provide valuable information in making decisions, but they are not the small percentage of movers and shakers needed to keep an organization on the cutting edge.

Thermostats are much different.  Thermostats can tell you the temperature, but perhaps more importantly, they have the ability to control the temperature.  They make the climate comfortable or uncomfortable, hot or cold.  They have the power and ability to change the climate to a more desirable or effective one! These people have the unique ability to adapt the climate to what it needs to be for a given situation.

 Most successful schools share a common thread at the center of all they do…an effective instructional climate guided by highly engaged instructional leaders.  This is often the principal, but the principal can’t be the only thermostat. The climate is different in every classroom and they can’t be everywhere so it also takes assistant principals, teacher leaders, instructional coaches, or just someone willing to step up and be a leader.  These leaders must be thermostats.  They need to be able to gauge the temperature and effect change as needed.  Without them, the status quo will remain and only fluctuate by chance…just like the temperature.

So the question remains, are you a thermometer that just measures the temperature of your classroom or your school?  Or are you a thermostat that controls the climate and makes the necessary changes that are needed? Everyone has the power to be both.