Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Now that EdCamp Kansas City has passed by with sufficient time for some thinking, I hereby present my initial thoughts and my ten day later reflections (I will not identify which thoughts are which category). While this sounds rather high-brow, the real reason that I waited is that the cold that had me nearly voiceless in Kansas City turned into a nasty sinus infection that has totally drained me. I am only just now getting my energy back (very slowly). So, here it goes...

Like so many others I've read, this post will begin with how cool it was to meet some of my PLN (Personal Learning Network) F2F (face-to-face) or, as one woman I met put it, IRL (In Real Life).

During the Friday night tweetup, the person I was sitting with asked me why I thought people came to EdCampKC. My answer was immediate and emphatic: this kind of conference is really for meeting and talking with people rather than the content or skills acquired. Chris wrote a fantastic post about this conversation. Read it now. I'll wait...

I was floored when I read his comments. I knew that we'd connected during the day on Saturday (even he was "that guy in the back"); I knew that we had a great time with a group of EdCampers at dinner on Saturday night.  I had no idea that I said something to change his thinking. If for no other reason, EdCampKC was a resounding success for me by making this strong connection with Chris. After all, as one of my core values states, It's All About Relationships. Don't get me wrong there was an enormous amount of learning going on. It's just that everything taught there could likely be learned online or something. No, there is great power in coming together. Someone reminded us that we are genetically programed to be together, to be social. EdCampKC was really just an extension of our genetic programming.

EdCampKC was also great for meeting all sorts of new folks. I met a bunch of the extended PLN and folded them into my PLN. I also met educators new to the online PLN game. One such person is Leslie Joyce. I was sitting next to Leslie during a session and we got to talking about twitter. She said something about how she meant to sign up for twitter and someone at school would show her how. Oh, no no no, said I. Right then and there I turned my laptop in her direction and got her started. So, please show Leslie the power of twitter for educators and follow her. Hopefully, she'll get the bug soon.

I had planned on blogging about all of the cool things that I learned at EdCamp. I still might in the near future. For now suffice it to say:
EdCamp KC is my >>>>>> PLN F2F/IRL
EdCamp is my Personal Learning Network Face to Face and In Real Life 

For more information about EdCamps all over the country, visit the wiki.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My EdCampKC Resources

I led a session at the awesomely fantastic EdCampKC on November 6, 2010.

I think it is worthwhile to share the resources I created for the day.

This first link will lead to them all: http://fur.ly/37b7

If you would rather go individually, here they are:
  • Prezi presentation to start the conversation
  • Web site with links to resources and people mentioned
  • Google Doc of our first draft of a letter to the editor. We talked so much together that we didn't complete the letter. Totally worth it because the conversation was intense.
I am very thankful to all the participants for engaging in such strong conversation.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

S.W.I.G. to Combat Churn

That's S.W.I.G. - no, not a gulp or a programming language - This is the Student Welcome and Induction Group. Well, it will be someday after the plan is refined, honed, and actually implemented.

A Draft Plan for Welcoming New Students During the School Year

I've been giving thought recently to one of the problems that many struggling schools face: high student mobility rates or churn during the school year. You see, in many state testing regimes, every student sitting in your school on the day of the test counts towards your scores. That's true even if the student arrived at your school for the first time that very morning. So, we might be responsible for the performance without having had the chance to educate the child.

However, let's put testing aside and instead focus on the children. Children move. A lot. Schools will always have new students during the school year. In our unending quest to do what is best for students, we need to make sure that our new students in October or March have the right welcome. If you believe, as I do, that a student who feels welcome in school will learn more, then we need to provide the right welcome.

The right welcome is one in which the child and the parents feel like we are glad they are with us. The right welcome is also evident when the whole staff is prepared for new students. In addition, the right welcome includes a large volume of information swirling about. Finally, the right welcome must go beyond the first two days.

Now for the Draft Plan. During the S.W.I.G. planning meetings, the S.W.I.G. would have decided on a list of protocols to be followed when a new student arrives and the timing for such. Surely, the S.W.I.G. would take into account how comfortable a new student is and the timing of each step. In any case the core of the Draft Plan is as follows:
  • Greet
  • Screen
  • Inform
  • Remediate (?)
So, you get the word that a new student is arriving. The school secretary calls the S.W.I.G. into action. S.W.I.G. members include the secretary, counselor, teacher/curriculum specialist, and the principal (and/or assistant principal).

The secretary pulls out a New Student/Family Kit (hopefully prepared by a volunteer in advance). This kit would include items such as:
  • Small welcome gift for the student (school swag or a pencil) and a lunch ticket for first day(s).
  • Important documents for the parent (Handbook, Newsletter, Curriculum Brochures, PTO information, Free/Reduced Lunch application, School-Home Communication Brochure, other?)
  • Registration and Health Forms/Emergency Card - TO BE COLLECTED ASAP
  • Parent Assignment: Tell about your child in a Million words or less (essay or form version)
The secretary then notifies the teacher who will be receiving the student and the principal. Teacher, principal, and a student buddy then come to greet the new arrivals. The key is to make the child and the parent feel welcome and comfortable as soon as possible.

Once the secretary and others have done the greeting, it is time for Screening. We need to know what this student can do. We need to know if our assessments match with whatever school records we've already received. Depending on the teacher's wishes and needs, any one of the S.W.I.G. members might be involved in the screening. The idea here is to get a baseline of data about the student just like the teacher or S.W.A.T.* would have done in the fall.

A small but important part of welcoming a new student is the process of informing those who need to know. I would define that to include, but not limit to, the following:
  • All staff notification - with the barest of personal information - maybe in weekly memo?
  • HR teacher - with records, photo, screening data
  • specialists - basic biographical information and IEP/504
  • library - basic biographical information and IEP/504
  • kitchen - only name and class just to be prepared
  • nurse - all health info (some families will require a meeting with the nurse. So be it.)
Once the child first goes to class, the teacher will handle introducing and integrating in the class.

A final step for the new student is to Remediate if needed. This could take several different forms depending on the needs of the child. We might choose intensive remediation during first few days in order to catchup fast. Another choice would be to assign the student to pre-existing intervention groups or create a new group to fit the needs. The teacher, the various intervention staff, and the principal will need to design the right program rather quickly. Early success would be a great way to welcome a new student.

Please leave a comment with your experience welcoming new students or combatting the deleterious effects of high student turnover. 

Some notes
  • Throughout all of this, everyone has to smile and be nice to the new family.
  • The homeroom teacher and others must have some notice whenever possible. Some can pull off not looking surprised and a little put out, but why put the teacher into that position (when I taught, I learned of new students when they walked into my roon.)
  • Make sure there is enough furniture for the new student. The custodian might be a big help.
  • S.W.I.G. should review the plan periodically.
  • *S.W.A.T. = System Wide Assessment Team

Cross posted to Connected Principals
Welcome image from CC flickr user mckaysavage:
India - Sights & Culture - 027 - Chalk & flower welcome drawings
An intricate floor design done in coloured chalk and accented with flower petals welcoming us into a school near Kanchipuram,Tamil Nadu. Called rangoli (sandpainting) intricate decorative designs are drawn by the women front of their hut, house or apartment block every morning anew. The designs can be simple or very large and intricate. They are drawn to invoke prosperity, invitation and welcome of guests.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Essential in a High Poverty School

Recently, I was preparing for an interview at a school with relatively high rate of low income families (75%). Since my administrative experience is with middle class and wealthy communities, I asked my PLN for some info. Two administrators came to the rescue: Mike Roberts whose answers are in blue and Doug Green whose answers are in green (bios for Mike and Doug are at the end of this post).

  • What are some successful ways you involve parents?
Parent E-mail- I get parents email address at meetings and Open House. I then email the whole school as a whole on Sunday afternoon's with the upcoming week's events. For example: picture day, Masquerade Ball, Field Trips, etc. I think another good way is to take a personal interest in all the kids, but especially your at-risk students. I set down with them one on one and make goals. If they reach their goals, I put a post card in the mail telling their parents that I am proud of their achievements.

Even poor parents come to school if their kids are on stage performing or if you have some kind of event that features free food. We had a carnival in the spring and various dances with teachers as DJ’s and myself monitoring the dance floor.

  • Do you have successful alternatives to the standard Principal/Parent Coffee at 9 am?
Most parents are working. I do reading and math nights with minimal turn out. Again email is powerful. I email myself and bcc my parents. This way they don't know each others' email address in case they ever want to grind an axe.

Make home visits. Get out in the hood. Ride a bus and see who is at the bus stops. Give kids rides home who are sick or who miss the bus or who misbehave. Be fair and try to get to a point where the kid tells the parent what he did wrong. That is when you can get the parent working with you. Otherwise you will get an endless version of “why you pickin on my kid.” Remind the parent not to beat the kid. Go out of your way for black and hispanic parents. If you do, the word will get out that you are not a racist. Parents will play the race card so you just have to be better and earn their respect.

  • Do you have any ways to counteract the parents' own bad experiences in school?
Just try and have the most positive school you can have for kids. If their kid gets out of bed wanting to come to school, it will make the parents happy.

See 1 and 2.

  • What, besides money-related items, is the biggest challenge in working with poor students?
Instilling a sense of hope in some of them. They must see that education is the key to breaking this cycle of poverty. 2 weeks ago I started taking my upper grades students to visit college campuses. Just took my 5th grade to Georgia Tech. My 4th grade visits Jacksonville State University next week. Instill Hope.

Parents don’t generally have the academic background to help with learning and they aren’t able to take kids places for various kinds of enrichment. (Museums, libraries, or even trips out of the neighborhood.) Homes have TV but little or no reading material. This is why poor kids seem to go backwards during the summer and rich kids don’t.

  • How do you welcome or induct a new student - assuming your school has a high turnover or churn rate? 
Video Morning Announcements are huge. We do these on closed circuit every morning. We recognize students accomplishments, birthdays, new students, etc. We want the whole school clapping when this occurs.

I had about 37% a year. It was vital that I greeted the parents when they registered the kids and started to get to know them. Where you from? What brings you here? What can you tell me about junior. Act happy to see them and don’t act even a little superior. Act interested in what they have to say. Be empathetic. Even poor parents can smell distain a mile away.

  • When you first started at a high poverty school, what were some surprises?
None really. Kids are kids. Poor kids appreciate the things you do for them more than wealthy students. They appreciate the field trips and AR parties. It really means a lot to them. I love being their principal. I'm making a difference.

Kids came to school with emotional problems that steamed from events at home and in the neighborhood. Mommy’s new boy friend was a big negative as it took attention away from the child and he wasn’t dad. The number one abuser was the boy friend. There were always surprises due to unique and crazy situations that came up. It required a lot of problem solving and an excellent sense of humor.

  • Finally, any sage advice that I should know?
Read: "Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire" and "There are No Shortcuts" by Rafe Esquith. You have to make it your personal mission statement that the quality of your students' lives are going improve because they were at your school. Don't worry about pleasing the central office crowd. Stay totally focused on making a difference. You will find it very rewarding.

Keep your ego out of situations. If a kid or a parent calls you an m f’er, step back, think, and ask what you can do to help. Don’t yell back or show emotion. This will only throw gas on the fire. If a parent comes into your school yelling, let them know they can yell all they want in your office with the door closed. Otherwise they need to leave. You also need to be fearless. Watch some old Clint Eastwood movies and try to walk like he did with the same expression on your face. Don’t dress like a dork. You don’t need to dress in expensive suits. Just pay attention. If apparel isn’t your strong suit, let your wife dress you. I did. After she died from ALS last year I was proud that she knew that I would be able to dress myself. Kids would tell me, “hey Dr. Green, you look cool.” It wasn’t an accident.

It is interesting, but not at all surprising, to see that so much of what both of these gentlemen had to say centered on showing genuine respect.

What have you done to include/engage parents in schools with high levels of poverty? Please leave comments below.

Cross posted at connectedprincipals.com
Image from flickr user Fabio Ikezaki CC

Our Guest Answerers

Mike Roberts

West Georgia Principal,devoted father,husband,Christian. Seize the day! http://ies.carrollcountyschools.com

Douglas Green

Endicott, New York Blogger DrDougGreen.Com - Retired Principal - Former caregiver for wife with Lou Gehrig's disease http://drdouggreen.com