Saturday, August 31, 2013

Focus on Learning

The doors have opened, the students have arrived and the t****** begins. The T in this case is either teaching or testing. Here in Texas most teach towards the test, teach for the test or even teach to the test.
The two T words are becoming interchangeable. It is a fact that all students will take the state mandated tests in the spring and every student, teacher, school , administrator and district will then be judged on the test results. If you represent a school that has not met the standards a sense of urgency overshadows all that you do. This tense energy churns and gnaws, seeking resolution through swift and immediate action. 
The act of of pouring your energy and efforts into many activities can become dangerously wasteful. Our efforts must not be aimless but highly focused. If we expend energy into an action it should be a a high yielding action. Our aim should not be focused on testing, teaching, time nor data but on learning. Everything else is a by product or a tool. “The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.” The educational tools we use are important but they are the fingers that point to learning. Our highest priority and focus should be on actions that support, increase and nurture learning. ( 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Planning for Success

Tomorrow is the first day of school for millions of students across the state of Texas. Although it is their first day the behind the scenes preparation has been ongoing since the students last day of school. Teachers have been training, collaborating and planning for the last two weeks for the first day, the first week and the first grading period. Administrators have been training, preparing and planning since July. This cycle of events takes place every year in every state with the hope of reaching every child. As a second year principal my planning is based on a years worth of soft and hard data including observations of teachers, students, faculty and previously established systems. As a first year principal I deliberately monitored without mandating changes and focused on supporting what was already in place. Going forward the first change I have made was to build a leadership team with teacher leaders. I chose conscientious, positive individuals who exhibited good teaching practices, encouraged collaborative planning and were dedicated to the success of their students. Each team leader will lead planning with their team based on the state guidelines, district curriculum and our campus needs. They will be responsible for collecting, maintaining and sharing their teams data. All teams will be given a half day for collaborative planning in the middle of the marking period and at the end of the marking period to review reading and math data. The teams will create lessons for areas of need to include assessments for students who failed to meet the standards previously taught. Data will be shared with all stakeholders in various forms to include a color coded data wall for math and reading including every students current progress. This will be manipulated and maintained by teachers to be used in team and school planning. The administrative team will maintain a quadrant based system for tracking individual classes, grade levels and the school as a whole in reading and math.
The data will dictate how much time we spend on specific TEKS. We will closely monitor our LEP  and SPED populations by identifying these students on our data wall and monitoring their progress with input from our Bilingual teachers at each 1/2 day planning session. Our Assistant Principal will also train all teachers during faculty meetings in the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol model to enhance all instruction while supporting English Language Learners. Another observation that has lead to a change is the need to conduct higher quality walkthroughs spending more time in fewer classes with more meaningful dialogue about the observed practices. These observations should be shared with teams so that everyone can benefit through shared dialogue based on specific practices with specific students. 
I have learned that effective, open and two-way communication can expedite the clarity of the message while eliminating or at least minimizing obfuscation. To efficiently communicate with staff, parents and stakeholders we will broaden our reach by using Facebook, Twitter and Digital Newsletters in conjunction with traditional methods that are already established. We will also use these tools to extend our PLC beyond the school to include input from everyone with an always on, digital platform.
I have also learned that communication is more than spoken or written words but an emotional connection or disconnection because individuals hear with their ears but discern intent from their hearts. I will create a survey from staff members on my leadership style and gather input on what  they need to be supported, encouraged and successful.