Saturday, April 30, 2011

Helping Students New to Town (#apr13)

As the school year is winding down in many places, it is time to think about September. I know that some of you are still doing state testing or feel like summer is still far away, but trust me, September is coming sooner than you think.

There is one piece of the start of the school year that needs special attention for those schools in small communities or those places with a vary low mobility rate. How do you welcome students who are new to town?

At my last school, this was a combined effort of the school and the PTO. The PTO mostly focused on the parents by sponsoring an open house for new residents and town organizations. This was held in the gym of one of the schools and featured groups of all stripes and the school principals. Rm my perspective, it was nice to meet some of the new families.

The other part of our plan was to welcome new students at the school. A few days before school opened, several student council members gathered in the lobby, set up a table of food, and waited for new students. Once we had a group, the students led other students on tours of the school. I mostly stood around the lobby and fielded the kind of questions that were answered at an orientation in the spring of course these parents were not in town then).

It was simple and direct. I heard from many parents and even a few students that this brief welcome was just what they needed to calm their nerves (at least a little) before the first day of school.

How does your school welcome those new to town?

Image credit cmatsuoka CC

Friday, April 29, 2011

Smile File to replace Written Praise (#apr13)

During this week's noon edchat, the discussion centered around what teachers and schools need from administrators. At one point in the duscussion, someone brought up the idea of keeping a file of written praise as a great way to help get through a tough day.

I wrote about this in July 2010, Written Praise. The only change now is to switch to the somewhat corny, but much catchier title, the Smile File.

teacher6th (@teacher6th4/26/11 12:36 PM
RT @coreydahlevent: I save letters (and email) that are positive...that speak to what I strive to be. #edchat This is my "Smile File"

coreydahlevent (@coreydahlevent4/26/11 12:37 PM
@teacher6th I like the "smile file" idea. On occasion, I will look at my "atta boy" letters. #warmfuzzy #edchat
fliegs (@fliegs4/26/11 12:39 PM
@teacher6th Smile File is a way better name than Written Praise. I just may borrow that. #edchat

I admit, I am not above a little corniness from time to time. 

I was also thinking that not only am I going to rename my own file, but in next school year, I am going to encourage all the staff in my building to keep their own Smile File. In fact, maybe this is the sort of thing that we can build with each child. It could be part of their portfolio over the years. The trick is that we, as the adults, will need to be sure that we are helping each and every child build their Smile File.

So, go add to someone's Smile File. I am sure that the smile will be returned.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Friends, My First Guest Blog (#apr13)

Now that we are way past April 13, I have the opportunity to introduce my first guest blogger. You see, my five year old daughter heard that Mommy and her brother were suggesting blog topics. She demanded to be included. I think that she is trying to drive traffic to her blog (once she creates one).

As this will be her first published piece, I have agreed to be something like a ghost writer.

Going to School With Friends
By Maya Fliegelman

I wish I could go to school next year with my friend Ariana. I think it would be fun to go to school with her. But, I am moving. I am moving to Vermont.

Q: Would it be good to go to school with a friend?

A: No. Going to school with my friend would mean that I would learn slower because I would be talking to her.


Out of the mouths of babes.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Recycled Wine, Home School Connection (#apr13)

Several years ago B.K. (before kids), I laughed heartily when my principal told me about his lesson that weekend. Apparently, his fifth grade daughter had just completed D.A.R.E. training at school. Well, that Friday night at dinner, the principal decided to have a second glass of wine. Right away, the daughter started in him. She told him that one glass of wine was enough and that it wasn't really that healthy to have a second glass. She had learned this at D.A.R.E. I thought it was hilarious that she would learn something at school and then try to teach her father - even lecture him.

As a principal, I think back about at story and I understand that the daughter's talk and lesson about what happened at school is one of the many reasons she was so successful at school. She knew that her parents we're interested in her schooling and in her learning. She knew that some of what she learned had connections outside of the classroom. There was lots of good stuff going on.

I often wonder if some of my struggling students ever talk about what they have learned at school. I know they talk about lunch, recess, and the funny stuff that happens. I know they report to their parents when they feel they have been wronged. In all my conversations with struggling students and their parents, I can recall very little evidence of talk about learning. Hmmm.

All these years later, it is my time in the sun. It is time for that principal of mine to laugh with/at me. You see, my daughter just learned about recycling and how important it is to the earth. That very night, she lectured my wife and me about recycling. She was taking what she learned that day and teaching us.

If only she didn't use that tone that made us feel so guilty.

Image credit flickr user mandymoo CC

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, April 25, 2011

Making All Kids Feel Valued (#apr13)

Joey was a struggling learner. His skills were weak from several years of barely getting by, natural smarts without focus, parents who did not recognize his struggles, and falling just below the radar.

By fifth grade, Joey was far behind his classmates, sullen, and beginning to act out in class. His teachers had lost all patience with him and repeatedly blamed Joey and his parents for failing to to do their parts. In the middle of the year, Joey was sent to the office repeatedly for refusing to do his work in class.

It was at this point that I took a greater interest in Joey. One afternoon while sitting in the office with a pile of math work that he had refused to do, I asked Joey if I could help him. After several minutes of grumbling, I deduced that Joey did understand the assignment, that he thought he could do the work, and that he had a pencil. I asked him, quietly, if would do the work now. He did. I checked his work and helped him through some errors. I thinked him for letting me help him. He almost smiled, and I sent him back to class.

After a few days of this, and a constantly decreasing amount of grumbling and increasing amount of smiling, I began to talk *with* Joey to find out what I could. He confirmed my worst fears. Joey was not stupid or especially lazy or even unwilling. Joey felt that his teachers didn't like him. The problem was that all the evidence I'd seen backed up his assertion. His teachers never had a kind word for or about him and were still blaming him and his parents.

When it came to work on Joey's placement for sixth grade, I made sure to place him with a homeroom teacher and team that were especially good at connecting with the down and out boys like Joey. I also placed Joey with a special educator who got along great with his students (maybe at the expense of some teaching skill).

To make a long story longer, sixth grade was a completely different experience for Joey. He still struggled with academics, but he made considerable gains. Most exciting from my perspective was that he rarely got sent to the office the whole year. Joey had become a new person.

There are two main reasons for Joey's turn around. Joey gets the lion share of the credit; he matured. Right after that is that for the first time in a while, Joey had teachers who valued him for who he was. They made him feel good about being Joey.

Teachers don't have to like a student, but that student must never feel like the teacher doesn't like him.

How do you show your students that you value them? Did you ever have a student that you just didn't like? How did you handle the situation?

image credit

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The A or Da-ay or Guskey Redux (#apr13)

My wife is not the only family member making topic suggestions for the April 13 Blogging Challenge. My two-year old son (born on April 13) is also providing topics. At dinner, my wife asked him for a topic. He answered, "Da-ay." We each asked him several more times to be sure, and he answered the same each time. So, Da-ay it is.

Now, I immediately knew what my son was talking about when he said, "Da-ay." He wants me to write a blog post about Thomas Guskey and grades. You know, the A.

A while back, I attended a conference to hear Thomas Guskey speak about standards-based grading. I wrote this blog article in March 2010. It has been the most read articles on my blog, by far.

This winter, the New York Times ran an article called No More As for Good Behavior that tried to explain one school's transition from traditional grading to standards based grading.

Now, just the other day, Bo Adams reposted, on Connected Principals, Jill Gough's great inquiring post about grading. Jill presented a real dilemma that she is facing with her grades due after this weekend. Several of us commented either on Connected Principals or on Jill's Blog.

The bottom line seems to be that no one really can say what is the purpose of grades. If Jill and her community could make that crystal clear, then her dilemma would be much easier to solve.

I think that while we work in a system that is still so unsettled on the purpose of grades, then why not use the scoring system that will work best for each child. Use the system that will best report what progress the student has made towards the learning.

Maybe most helpful for Jill and teachers like her is the idea that effort and other compliance factors be taken out of the letter grade. Make the A, B, C reflect the learning and report effort separately. If the system doesn't allow for a separate effort grade then use the comments. Find out if you can add custom comments and explain what you are doing. Anything you can do to clarify what the grade actually means would be a big improvement.

We may not quickly be able to change the larger public's understanding of grades, but we can begin by clarifying them for our classes now.

What are your thoughts about grading? Please enter this debate. Thank you.

Image credit carosaurus

Thursday, April 14, 2011

International Thank A Teacher Month (#Apr13)

The William Penn Charter School for boys and girlsImage via WikipediaI have just declared that today is International Thank A Teacher Month (or is it this month is Thank a Teacher Day. Or...)

Anyway, I was reading Mindset, by Carol Dweck earlier (more on this book coming soon) and it got me thinking about my own mindset about math classes when I was in school. Also, in the many interviews that I have done while job searching, a common question is to tell about a favorite teacher.

So, I got thinking about Mr. Gordon, my senior year math teacher. Then I thought wouldn't he love to get a letter from a former student thanking him for being such a good teacher. Fortunately, 23 years later, Mr. Gordon is still teaching at the same school. Here is the email that I sent him just before publishing this blog post.
Dear Mr. Gordon,
I am writing to thank you 23 years after graduating from Penn Charter. You were my math teacher in 12th grade and were involved in the drama program with me.
Throughout the last 15 years as an educator myself, I have often been asked to tell about favorite teachers I had. After I speak about Mrs. Wiener, my fifth grade teacher and a family friend, I talk about you and my experiences in your class.
You see, ever since third grade, I believed that I was bad at math. At PC, I struggled in math classes with Mr. Goulding, Mr. Hitschler, and others. Then, I got to 12th grade. I had not done well enough to take calculus, so I was in your senior, pre-calc class. I think it was your first year at Penn Charter.
I admit that I don't recall much of the math that you taught. What I do remember is your attitude. You were fun. You were goofy. You acted like you really enjoyed being in that senior, pre-calc class with us. You chose to have a fantastic attitude.
I remember one day when some of us came to class and had bibles on our desks (I don't recall what class the bibles were for). Well, you took one of the bibles, stood up on your desk and started reading aloud to the class. It was a riot. I think that you even tried to connect that back to math at the end. 
Your attitude must have been infectious because my grades in math were never better.
Well, I still don't think of myself as a math person, but I am willing to consider the possibility. It may have taken 23 years, but I will take another math class again soon. Only this time, I expect no bibles or teachers standing on desks.
Once again, Thank you Mr. Gordon.
Larry Fliegelman, OPC '88
Elementary Principal
Former 7th Grade Social Studies Teacher

P.S. I am going to post this letter to my blog Check it out if you want.
If you have a teacher in your past that made a difference (and you better), then please say thank you. That teacher deserves it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April 13 Really is a Big Day! (#apr13)

When I launched the April 13 Blogging Challenge a couple of weeks ago, I never imagined how big a day this would prove to be.

Let me explain. When I started this challenge, I created the hashtag #Apr13. I searched for it on twitter and found nothing so I thought it was safe. Shortly after the challenge began, I started noticing references to a rally by students in the California State University system. It turns out that they are protesting large fee hikes.

SFSU_SQE (@SFSU_SQE) 4/13/11 12:27 AM
#Apr13 is tomorrow! Get ready to hold your pickets up high and chant your lungs off!!!

But that is not all. Today, when I searched the hashtag to find more blogs in the challenge, I noticed dozens of tweets in Arabic and English all from Egypt. Well, today, Hosni Mubarak and his sons were formally detained by the Egyptian government. They have been charged with crimes against the people of Egypt.

wfiitalia (@wfiitalia) 4/13/11 2:34 AM
A baby called #Egyptian Revolution: born #Jan25, 1st laugh on #Feb11 & today #Apr13 it started walking by itself

Still, with this news, I think the most influential events of April 13 are my son's birthday (he turns two today) and my wedding anniversary.


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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Location, location, location (#apr13)

In the second of this ongoing series of blog posts with topics chosen by my wife and son, I will share some ideas about facilities.

When I started teaching in Medford, I worked in the old Roberts Middle School. The building was built in the 1920s and had very little maintenance over the years. It was so bad that there were cracks in the walls large enough for me to see clearly through to the exterior brick. Within a few minutes of sweeping, there would be a new layer of plaster dust on the floor. We tried not to think about what we might have been breathing. Worst of all, I learned the hard way that my bulletin board would get wet in a heavy rain - more than a few pieces of student work were ruined that way.

It got worse. Because the building was in such bad shape and allowed to remain that way, the attitudes of some staff (especially the custodians) and many children were pretty lousy. The lack of care of the building was palpable in many ways around the building. From the supply-hoarding principal to the kids who regularly destroyed the 8th grade hall bathrooms, the place was not a happy one.

So, it was a weird feeling when the new building project actually neared completion. Would we really get brand new buildings?

We did our first day of school in the new buildings was September 10, 2001. Our first fire drill came on September 11, 9:30am. While few of the systems in the school were working yet, someone had a radio.

That fateful day aside, the first year in the new building saw a great change in many of the ways that middle school worked in Medford. We had the good fortune to welcome a new, progressive principal to the new buildings. Most importantly, you could feel the optimism in the air. The building felt mostly happy.

We faced many challenges that year. The building wasn't really finished until January, but we moved in in August. The new principal tried to shake things up and met resistance from some of my colleagues. We had to merge staff cultures from three previous middle school buildings.

All in all, it was a tough year, but a great one. The kids and staff of Medford, were proud to have the new buildings. We all felt hopeful.

Maybe it is all about location.

photo credit: nate'sgirl cc not the actual Roberts building. ;)

cross posted on Connected Principals

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Kids Who Aren't College Bound (#apr13)

Since the April 13 Blogging Challenge is in honor of my wife and son, I have asked them to help me come up with education related topics. So, for most of my April blog posts, I will write about whatever they choose. Could be an added twist to the challenge idea.

First, let me introduce our guest topic creators. My wife is highly qualified to do this as she is a former high school special educator and a future elementary school parent. She also has been learning along side me for the last several years as we talk at the dinner table. She holds a Master's Degree in special education from Boston University and got her Bachelor's degree in biology from Brandeis University.

My son, soon to enter his third year alive, is an expert in...he likes trucks, fire engines, and whatever his older sister is holding.

For the first topic, my wife brought up the issue that has been on her mind for years. She is concerned with the pressure put on all kids to attend college. Specifically, my wife is worried about those kids, sometimes disabled, who are pressured to go to college when they really need and want something different.

President Obama talks about getting all kids ready for college as a main goal of American education. My wife says, "that is a big disservice for those kids not going to college. For those kids who are not ready or those who are not going to college, it is not realistic."

I couldn't agree with her more. We do a disservice not only to the student but also to the nation as a whole. Do we really need our farmers and tradespeople to go to college if they do not want that. Every town and region must have suitable career tracks for those looking to learn a trade. High school educated and well trained people are a vital part of our economy and our democracy. We need to encourage the right path for all types of students whether it be college, a trade, a farm, or the military.

So, that sums up my discussion of my first family chosen topic.

What do you think about getting kids college ready?

P.S. I worked on this while sitting in the car with my family waiting for a realtor to show up. From the parking lot, we could see a rushing river with snowy banks. To keep my daughter occupied, I suggested she write a poem. She wanted us all to write one.

My daughter's poem:
The Baby Went up in The Sci

Here is my poem:
The river is flowing, flowing, flowing.
The snow is sitting, not growing.
The kids are bored.
The wife is frustrated.
I am writing poetry.

My wife's poem:
Snow melts
River rushes
Spring is here.

My son's poem:
Taw gawg guck in deet. (I saw a garbage truck in the street.)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

#Apr13 Blogging Challenge

OK, I admit, I barely completed the Ides of March Blogging Challenge and the number of bloggers participating dwindled to just a few.

I don't care (said Pierre). I am pleased to announce the latest Fliegs sponsored blogging challenge. In honor of both my wedding anniversary and the birthday of my second child, I present to you:

The April 13 Blogging Challenge

Just write thirteen blog posts this month, tweet them out with the tag #apr13, and share with the world. I will read and retweet them all.

Maureen, Tom, Pam, Pete and others, I am counting on you to make this April the bloggiest of my life. If not for me, then for my marriage and my child!

For my part, I promise to meet the challenge head on with topics including the principal job search, my own status report, ed reform, admin best practices, teaching ideas, and more.

Oh, on April 13, huge prize (or lots of thanks and smiles) to anyone who sends birthday wishes to Manny or anniversary flowers to my wife, Jennifer.

Thank you.

photo credit: flickr user Admit One CC

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad