Tag Archives: Professional development

Why I Should Not Be a Principal

As much as I’ve contemplated pressing encouragement of colleagues regarding some apparent potential to grow into a principal, I request a pass. I wholeheartedly respect my administrators and my administrator friends. Their duty is never easy. I admire their cool heads in tough times. I appreciate their ability to put out fires with students, parents, and yes, staff, including ones I start myself.

I do not want to nor could I…do that. Period.

Don’t get me wrong. I would love to see higher bimonthly payroll deposits. I would love to be able to know all of the students at my middle school; right now, I only get to know the eighth graders really well. I would love to have a stronger, more revered voice when it comes to public perception of education, policy-making, and educator evaluation. I would enjoy the position to be able to leverage community support for my colleagues than I have now.

Oh. Wait. I can have all those things now. Thanks to Seth Godin’s Linchpin, I can! A powerful and relatively quick read, Linchpin offers strong suggestions of leadership “among the ranks.” And, that’s where I am most effective. In the ranks. Working directly with the kids, while working collaboratively with my able administrators to make our world in the middle a more positive and productive place where students can learn and succeed. I appreciate the nod, but I prefer to stay here in the fox hole, where it’s wet, cold and sometimes downright messy. Sometimes, it’s just the place to do the most effective leadership triage.

So if you’re like me and just not ready to jump the ranks quite yet, here’s to your inner linchpin!


How Do You Teach Passion?

One of the (many) things that has consistently baffled me about me is my level of passion.  Why do I get so dang worked up about a political commercial?  Why do I train for triathlons, even though I am clearly not (repeat three times) what most would define as a true triathlete? Why does (insert Disney flick here) get me every single time?


It’s the reason I come to work in my middle school every day. With a smile on my face. Happy doing something I truly love.


how do I share this with my students on these April-soon-to-be-May-soon-to-be-summer days? How do I get my students as fired up as I am about learning this late in the game? How do I get them excited about learning new things? Expanding their brains? Trying (and sometimes failing) new endeavors?  How?


Digging through my ever-expanding bag o’ tricks, I decided to pull out the Love and Logic gems from years back when we were trying to raise healthy, responsible children in my home. If it worked for them, it certainly can’t hurt with my “family” at school? Right?

It might be a long shot, but for now, I am determined to spend the remaining days of this school year sharing my continued passion for learning, passion for learner success and passion for developing positive, accountable young adults as they leave my little, middle world and venture into the bigger world of high school and beyond.

Keep the Passion!

Purpose-Driven Tech Integration: Beyond Bells and Whistles

Hi. My name is Kaye, and I am an “Early Adopter.”

As much as I’d hate to admit it, I have a problem. Whenever a new technology tool, website, gizmo, gadget, widget, whatchamacallit that comes along, I have to try it out.

Sometimes, this leads to quiet evenings spent alone when I could be out socializing with my friends. Sometimes it means burnt pizza in the oven. Sometimes it means the undeniable, “here we go again” eye rolls I get from my 8th graders.

Technology integration, for me, has become a necessary step along my professional development journey as an educator. It has taken me some time to get over all the fears that accompanied exploring new territories.  Will it be blocked?  Is it developmentally appropriate? Is it better than what I’m doing now? What if the kids know more than I do about this? 

Growth doesn’t come sans pain.  Pain from the limitations of our network. Pain from colleagues wondering why on Earth I have need for such “bells and whistles” when I should simply teach grammar and writing (because we all know there’s no room on the Internet for coherent writers, right?).

Pain from knowing there are limitations for me to plan for a sub with all this Internet-based learning. Pain from my own doubts about whether this is really the right thing to do for my students.

After years of continuously honing my “early adopter” skill set, I have come to this simple conclusion: If I can’t beat ’em, I’ll join ’em. Kids today have levels of connectivity that we could never have even dreamed of in the past ten years! I’ve got some learning to do of my own if I’m going to meet them where they’re at so let’s go.

When integrating technology into your classroom, it may help by starting with these considerations:

  1. Is this a tool, another path, of covering the content in your class, as determined by your common core standards?
  2. Is this technology developmentally appropriate for your students?
  3. Will this tool help students understand the essential skills you are attempting to cover?
  4. Does your school have the means to offer this tool to students who have no access outside of school?
  5. What is the “risk factor” involved with students trying out this new technology tool?
You definitely need a “yes” for the first four questions and a long, reflective pause for the last one before integrating technology.  Having a Facebook page for your class just for the sake of having a Facebook page doesn’t help the students carry out much.  Using Google Docs and wikis and digital poster-making sites are merely “bells and whistles” unless there is something academically sound to them. And this, my friend, is easy enough to.
Take one example from my classroom:  Every year, my students must give demonstration speeches, something they annually bemoan with uncanny precision.  I have very simple criteria laid out on my assessment rubric:
  • The demonstration speech must be five minutes in length. (Students know the bullseye is five; the inner circles on the target are four to six.)
  • A visual must go with their speech (typically a poster of a diagram, steps in the process, materials/ingredients needed, history/background).
  • They must be prepared, with all materials, on the day the speech is to be delivered.
That’s pretty much it.  Now, for the past ten years that I’ve taught demonstration speaking skills, I’ve required notecards, students present in front of the class “live,” and a stopwatch…all tools.
Knowing how much my students dread speeches and knowing how inquisitive and eager they are to try new things, I dug out some different, more web-based tools like www.glogster.com, YouTube, animoto, and PhotoStory3 (we had this free download readily available for our kids, so I went with programs we had. Why not?).
We approached it like this:  Some of my students ride the bus to school. Some get dropped off. Some walk. Some skateboard, ride bike and skip, for all I know. The bottom line is they all got to school.  The bottom line for mastering the essential skill of completing an effective demonstration speech is doing it.  The types of tools students choose to use was something I chose to let go  of, as long as they met the assessment criteria. Putting the power of exploration and educated risk-taking was liberating, to say the least.
Like it or not, we live in a day and age of educator accountability. We need to account for our students’ learning.  And, like it or not, the way we have gone about business with our kids isn’t cutting it anymore.  Engaged students achieve more.  When given a task, a variety of tools, and an openness about taking educated risks, our students will fully immerse themselves into the project (or content) and come out winners.
The kids will deliver their speeches.  They will have done it their way. They will meet the criteria and experience success.
And those winners’ bells and whistles are the type this “early adopter” loves to hear!

Technology Integration! ONWARD! No! Wait! What?

After attending the 2nd Annual SLATE 2011 Conference (#slate2011 hashtag in Twitter) in Wisconsin this past week, I’ve been mulling over this post.  SLATE stands for School Leaders Advancing Technology Education.  Anytime I attend a professional development opportunity, I always want to come away with my “Big Three”: 1) Something I can use immediately when I get back, 2) Something I can sit on and development within the next month, and 3) Something I can spend the next six months developing and then put it to use.  Anytime along this BIG THREE journey, I’m constantly looking for relevant learning to share with my students as well as my colleagues.

Well, let’s just say my cup overflowith…

It was handy not being a Twitter virgin because the connectivity and networking that took place was overwhelming and popped up everywhere in every venue during the conference…even the World’s Away Lounge, where I attended my first “tweet up,” meeting people I have had the privilege of following on Twitter.  A face-to-face with folks like Tammy Lind (@TamiL17), Curt Rees (@WiscPrincipal), Beth Lisowski (@MrsLGrade3) and John Pederson (@ijohnpederson) brought my PLN (Professional Learning Network) on Twitter to life.  Sidenote:  I was a little bummed I didn’t get to meet Jessica Johnson (@PrincipalJ), as I have relied heavily on her multiple valuable tidbits on Twitter.  Next time, Jess!

Returning to the “real world” Thursday was the door slamming in the face effect.  Students needed me.  Papers needed grading. Meetings needed attending.  Sleep needed replenishing.

I had handouts and Google Docs and links and resources galore; call me Santa.  However, little did I expect the reactions I got.  I expected everyone as uncontrollably giddy as I was. Some were; some weren’t.  You know the feeling.  You undoubtedly know the gamut of reactions I got upon my triumphant return.

In honor of two things: their reactions and the #pencilchat back channel that recently went viral, I took it upon myself to pay homage.

Whenever something new comes barreling down the road at us, we have a few options to react.  A perfect analogy is A Day at the Swimming Pool:

  • Some patrons jump right in without concern for the water temps or depths.  Some patrons dip their toes in the water, checking it out first and watching others test the waters. Some stand by the poolside in their towels and need a little encouragement that the water is safe, clean and perfect for swimming. And there are some who flat-out refuse to get wet, dip their toes, or anything because they can’t swim, don’t want to learn, or are leaving the pool soon and don’t want to get wet.

When it comes to technology integration in the classroom, many of us are venturing into uncharted waters.  It can be a little scary, but it’s not going anywhere but forward.  If we give each other a chance to learn and grow together, the positive impact on student engagement and achievement is collectively rewarding.

Keep the Tech Faith!

Connecting the Middle World with the Real World

Our roles as educators and parents of middle level learners are daunting ones.  We somehow need to prepare our youth for a business world that requires skills not found in teachers’ manuals or academic model standards.  Yet repeatedly, we hear business leaders tell us our graduates lack skills necessary for this “new” real world.  What do we do to combine our real world of academic accountability and test scores with our students’ future real world of business?

In his book, The Global Achievement Gap, Tony Wagner identifies seven survival skills our students need to not only survive, but thrive, in a 21st-Century business climate.  To give insight into what business leaders want from their future employees, Wagner summarizes below:

  1. CRITICAL THINKING AND PROBLEM SOLVING ~ “The idea that a company’s senior leaders have all the answers and can solve problems by themselves has gone completely by the wayside…The person who’s close to the work has to have strong analytic skills. You have to be rigorous: test your assumptions, don’t take things at face value, don’t go in with preconceived ideas that you’re trying to prove.” ~ Ellen Kumata, consultant for Fortune 200 companies
  2. COLLABORATION ACROSS NETWORKS AND LEADING BY INFLUENCE ~ “The biggest problem we have in the company as a whole is finding people capable of exerting leadership across the board…Our mantra is that you lead by influence, rather by authority.” ~ Mark Chandler, Sr. VP and General Counsel at Cisco
  3. AGILITY AND ADAPTABILITY ~ “I’ve been here four years, and we’ve done fundamental reorganization every year because of changes in the business…I can guarantee the job I hire someone to do will change or may not exist in the future, so this is why adaptability and learning skills are more important than technical skills.” ~ Clay Parker, President of Chemical Management Division of BOC Edwards
  4. INITIATIVE AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP ~ “For our production and crafts staff, the hourly workers, we need self-directed people…who can find creative solutions to some very tough, challenging problems.” ~Mark Maddox,. Human Resources Manager at Unilever Food North America
  5. EFFECTIVE ORAL AND WRITTEN COMMUNICATION ~ “The biggest skill people are missing is the ability to communicate: both written and oral presentations. It’s a huge problem for us.” ~ Annmarie Neal, Vice President for Talent Management at Cisco Systems
  6. ACCESSING AND ANALYZING  INFORMATION ~ “There is so much information available that it is almost too much, and if people aren’t prepared to process the information effectively, it almost freezes them in their steps.” ~ Mike Summers, VP for Global Talent Management at Dell
  7. CURIOSITY AND IMAGINATION ~ “Our old idea is that work is defined by employers and that employees have to do whatever the employer wants…but actually, you would like him to come up with an interpretation that you like—he’s adding something personal—a creative element.” ~ Michael Jung, Sr. Consultant at McKinsey and Company

Now we know what the expectations are.  What can we, as educators and parents, do to nurture our middle level learners’ growth in their next “real world?”

Motivating Adolescents to Succeed

As I write this, I find myself taking a mental reprieve from the typical, weekend tasks required of a middle level English teacher…editing and grading papers. As I set aside an abysmally small collection of student writings, I ask myself the question I ask myself almost daily, “How the heck do I get these kids to care about their education?” And, moreover, “How the heck do I get them to care about ENGLISH 8?” Possibilities fall anywhere on the continuum from frightening them with the fears of being prepared for high school and beyond to dazzling them with the latest high-tech gadgets and gizmos of the digital world. As differentiated as my students are in ability and socioeconomic status, I need the answers to my questions to be simple and one-size-fits-all. And, I need the answers by tomorrow.

Then, it dawned on me: what motivates us as adults is really no different from what motivates our middle level learners. So, I dug deep into my fitness journals from years past to find pieces of motivation that once moved me when I attempted to lose over 100 pounds on my own. Maybe I could apply the same principles to my ENGLISH 8 students. Here’s the skinny. Maybe it can work for you:

1. I was happy (fat and happy) and really didn’t see the need to lose weight until I faced the fear of potential health hazards. TRANSLATION: Students really don’t/won’t care until they actually see what failure could do to their immediate futures. I need to show them…now.

2. I needed small changes; it would have been too overwhelming to incorporate drastic alterations into my “pleasingly plump and content” lifestyle. TRANSLATION: Outline student success. Celebrate small victories. Make a big deal about turning in an everyday, ordinary assignments. Success breeds success, and they may want more. If nothing else, bombard them with consistent (however, sincere) flattery.

3. I needed to know I wasn’t alone. Reading about and listening to others who struggled with their weight helped me apply their techniques to my own life. TRANSLATION: Engage mentors, former students who, somewhere along the line of their educational growth, realized that positive study choices and responsible behaviors led them closer to their post high school goals.

4. I needed to know that when I slipped up on my nutrition choices or exercise routine, I could always get back on the train without derailing it. TRANSLATION: Offer do-overs. Understand their situations (i.e. no computers at home, split homes, poverty) and offer them alternative solutions to complete their work, meet deadlines, and correct their mistakes. Don’t let them believe it’s a “one and done” situation. Students often close the door all too quickly on these scenarios.

5. Walk the talk. I tended to follow, and align myself with, those who lived a healthy lifestyle and made positive contributions to their own health and fitness. TRANSLATION: Be open and human. When giving deadlines, respect my students by giving feedback in a timely manner. They need to know I care and that I hold myself to the same expectations to which I hold them.

Simple enough. At least it’s a start. That’s said, I have papers to grade and get back for Monday morning writing conferences.

Keep the Magic!