Sunday, October 25, 2015

On the Road to Proficiency-Based and Personalized Learning

The following is taken from the draft of my November parent newsletter article. 

Our Facebook page is awash in orange from Unity Day and our classrooms are full of student-centered learning. While we will never stop giving the culture of the school tons of attention, we are spending lots of time on increasing student voice and choice in service of greater engagement in their learning. You will hear more about various efforts such as increased reading stamina through allowing students to choose where and what they read, Personalized Learning Time that has begun to hone in on students' needs, and explicit instruction in how to manage a group discussion without letting anyone dominate. The independent skills and personalized habits of mind that we teach now will help our students for years as they navigate a proficiency-based graduation system in high school.

I am proud of the first few steps Wolcott Elementary School has taken towards implementing a Proficiency-Based and Personalized Learning program for students. So many of the pieces have been in place for years. So much is so familiar to the staff. We are now putting it all together. Over the coming months, I will certainly write more about our journey.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Proud PBIS Principal

The following is a short note that I shared with the staff at Wolcott Elementary School. 

I am so proud to be the principal of Wolcott Elementary School.  
It is clear to me that in the last year or so, we have come together to make our school better for those students who struggle the most.  
At the PBIS Leadership Forum, on Friday, I was able to share all of the work that you have done these last couple of years. It is a story of a staff that has made many systematic shifts at the universal level and beyond. More importantly, ours is a story of a staff whose thinking about struggling kids is changing in fantastic ways. I rarely hear complaints about behavior anymore; instead, I hear questions about why the behavior exists, and I hear adults reflecting on how they can do something different to meet the students’ needs. I’ve repeated several times in the last week the comment that came my way last year from an anonymous teacher: it seems like we only focus on behavior at WES. I now respond to that: we needed to, and it worked. 
Now, we still spend time on behavior, but it is not our main focus. I am proud that we are once again in a place to focus on things like reading, writing, and math. 
I am proud to be the principal of Wolcott Elementary School.

Note: please see the brief slide deck from a brief presentation at the Vermont PBIS Leadership Forum.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

7 Pics in 10 Minutes

Here is my first attempt at showing a glimpse of the great things going on at Wolcott Elementary School:

The Backstory
Inspired by Rob Ackerman's narrated slides showing a glimpse into his school, "10 Pics in 10 Minutes (or maybe 11)," I figured I could probably do that for Wolcott Elementary School. So, I got to work.

First thing was to figure out how to produce this simple video. Of course, I wanted to do this for free. I decided that whatever production process I used had to be simple and on my iPad (had to be iPad in order to be simple to create whenever and wherever). I tried to narrate a slide show in Keynote, Google Slides, and Haiku Deck with no luck (If those apps allow narrating, it was too hard for me to find). Then, I took a look at Show Me and Educreations. Both were already on my iPad and allowed me to do exactly what I wanted. Both were easy to use, but need expensive subscriptions in order to export. Well, exporting is the whole point. Being cheap, I did not want to pay either $50 or $100 for the subscriptions. I took a look at what else was out there.

I found Explain Everything after a brief search. For only $2.99 it does what the others do and includes all sorts of export options. Just what I was looking for. After only a few minutes playing with Explain Everything, I was sure that I would be able to make a short, narrated video like Rob's.

So, the next day, I wandered the building (as I often do) taking pictures on the iPad Mini I carry. Throughout the day, I would return to my office for a short time to work on the video. First, I made a new album on the ipad of pics that I might want to use. Then, I narrowed it down. I eliminated pics I took in 5th and 6th grade because they were lousy shots. I eliminated a few others that were blurry or just not-so-good. Finally, I was down to a few good photos.

I kept these seven pics in the order I took them and began to write down a little about each. Once I wrote out the rest of my scripts (about ten minutes to do this part), I began to record the audio for each pic. I got most in one take.

Once I was satisfied, I exported the finished video to the camera role of my iPad. Since I use Wolcott Elementary School's Facebook page to communicate with parents, I uploaded the file directly there. I also uploaded the video to YouTube for safekeeping.

And, voilá!

Monday, December 29, 2014

The incredible growing todo list

So, I have this staff member at my school in a new position who still has a lot to learn about todo lists. I was checking in with her during the in-service before school, asking if she needed anything. She pulled this little piece of a sticky note out and showed me. I was amazed that she only had two things to remember to do, but I remembered that she was new and the students hadn't arrived yet. Then it hit me, here was a staff member using **scraps of sticky notes** to keep track of tasks. Aargh!

How could this be? This would have to be the least efficient task management system in the history of todo lists!

Once my heart rate returned to normal, I took a deep breath. Here I was, the digital principal, mister productivity himself staring at a one-inch square piece of sticky note of a todo list. I calmly suggested that my colleague think about a more efficient system. Did she want me to help her come up something? She told me that she would take care of it, that she was still figuring things out. Ok. I moved on to talk of the coming year.

A few days later, once school was in session, I was in the hall talking with the staff member. I asked how she was doing? Could I help her at all? She pulled out her hand from her pocket and showed me an index card with her new todo list. Well, her list had grown from two items to about fourteen. That seemed reasonable for the second week of school.

Hold on a minute, this was just that same as the sticky note only enlarged. Holy moly! Again, I nearly fainted. I asked if she was keeping up with everything. Sheepishly, she said something about having a little trouble remembering everything she had to do. Really! Again, I offered help getting organized. She said yes this time.

I wish that could tell you about how this staff member has become a digital pioneer and a productivity trailblazer using Evernote and an Apple Watch or Google glass and a chip embedded in her brain.

It turns out that this staff member wasn't interested in any high tech task management. She settled on a good old fashioned notebook and pen system. Now, whereever she goes, so goes the notebook. What she writes down, she remembers to take care of. Nearly four months later, it still works. And that, after all, is what matters most in a todo list.

What do you use for managing your tasks? Digital or analog list maker? What works for you?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The students win when it is RC v. PBIS

As part of a class I am currently taking, I was asked to read and respond to an article ( that discussed how Responsive Classroom (RC) works with Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS). This assignment was perfect for me as both approaches are in heavy use at my school.
Instead of writing something new about the relationship between RC and PBIS, I figured I would just publish my assignment.

PBIS and the Responsive Classroom Approach article: Reflective Question

Both PBIS and Responsive Classroom fit well with my philosophy of education (my complete statement can be found here: Essentially, PBIS, RC, and I all agree that it is up to the teacher to change the environment to support student success. We all agree that positive approaches work and "that punitive or ‘get tough’ strategies can be counterproductive and are harmful to children." Over time, my philosophy of education has shifted to include student behavior into the belief that all children can learn and be successful.

The complementary approaches of PBIS and RC are focused on supporting all children to find success. The article explains that using RC can help with a successful PBIS implementation. While RC does not provide meaningful systems for intensive behaviors, it does provide the foundation for the Universal Tier of PBIS. Classroom environment, rule creation, teaching and reteaching procedures and behaviors, and positive adult language all work together to set the stage for students to be successful. RC fills in some of the ‘how’ in the PBIS system.

These two systems are in-sync with one another. Staff who are fully trained in RC (as many Wolcott staff have been when at JSC) are primed for work in a PBIS system. The small differences (language v. material reinforcement, universal v. leveled tiers) are surmountable when some flexibility and creativity are applied. Those staff who truly adhere to either can usually adapt to use the other. The challenge is not whether RC and PBIS fit together. The challenge is helping staff evolve their thinking from punitive to positive, from reactive to preventive. Together, RC and PBIS support my philosophy that all children can learn and succeed.