Sunday, March 17, 2013

Near-Total Brain Replacement, Evernote. The Digital Principal, Part 3

In November, I gave a presentation (resources to be found here) to a packed room row at Vermont Fest,


(For the rest of the introduction and a summary of the first two parts of the presentation, please read part ONE and part TWO.)

So, here is part THREE of my three part summary.

Evernote has eaten my brain. That must be why they chose an elephant for a mascot - elephants love brains. Wait, no. Elephants never forget; that's why they chose the long-nosed pachyderm.

Anyway, Evernote has become my brain, not eaten my brain. I've written about Evernote twice before: "Evernote is Becoming My Brain" and "Evernote for Notes Everywhere." As you can see, this brain replacement has been a long time coming (and a longer time needed, I am told).

It all started back when I started teaching. It must have been the 3000 significant decisions a day or something because my memory starters to go. Then, I had children and became an administrator - kaboom - my memory was shot (at least I think that is when it all started).

Anyway, most of my readers will understand that there is far too much for most of to remember without help. Over the years, I have tried pads of paper, three-ring binders, spiral notebooks, composition books, Palm's notes, Mac stickie notes, and finally Evernote.

To make a long story short, I now use Evernote for nearly everything. I keep a notebook for each staff member, each class, many students, each major area of my job (curriculum, data, assessment, facilities, special education, PBIS, and technology just to name a few). All told, I have about 83 school-related notebooks. Within each notebook there are from one to 79 notes. I have a lot to keep track of.

The thing that I like best about Evernote is the fact that my notes are synchronized among every device I use. Evernote works on iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, the web, Linux, and probably more. Evernote does not yet work on my toaster - if only Steve Jobs were still around.

One last feature of Evernote that is so useful: integration. Notability, I mentioned it in the last blog post, can send notes right to Evernote. Google Drive can as well. I really cool new tool for Evernote is the Powerbot extension for Chrome. Powerbot connects Evernote to gmail and gcal. I love the meeting minutes template that Powerbot creates in Evernote for each appointment in my calendar. I am still figuring out how to really use Powerbot, but I am very impressed so far.

So, with a device in my hands at all times, Evernote has become my brain. Thank goodness that I have finally have a brain that never forgets.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Wicked Cool Evidence Gathering. The Digital Principal, Part 2

In November, I gave a presentation (the presentation resources are to be found here) to a packed room row at Vermont Fest, the fall conference of Vita-Learn (Vermont Information Technology Association for the Advancement of Learning - VITA-Learn).


(For the rest of the introduction and a summary of the first part of the presentation, please read part ONE.)

So, here is part TWO of my three part summary.

My presentation continued with an explanation of my system for teacher evaluation. This is always a hot topic with principals. We are forever evaluating teachers. There are pre-observation meetings, observations, and post-observation meetings. We give volumes of feedback, but does it usually actually improve learning? Maybe. So much of the feedback we give is our observation married to our knowledge of our evaluation model (my district uses Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Teaching, there are so many good ones out there).

The real feedback that might be useful is the observations themselves, the direct evidence, the "proof." So, I have created borrowed stolen this method of writing feedback and combining it with photographic evidence. I learned of this at the first EdCamp Vermont in April, 2012, from Mike Berry (Mike actually gave this idea to a room full of us).

The way it works is simple. On my iPad, I write notes in Notability. Taking advantage of the iPad's camera, I shoot a few pictures of the scene. I try to take a photo of something I think worthy of comment. While I am writing, I am also thinking. Sometimes, I change the pen color and add a question or a highlight.
I end up with a page or two of hand-written notes with photos.

The secret to making this work for formal observations is the bottom of the page (not visible on the slide here. Instead, click here for the resources and find the sample observation pdf). The text from Danielson's domains 2 & 3 is there with room to make specific claims. Usually, as the observation goes on, I begin to take what I've seen and write about it in the Danielson section. At the end of the observation, I review those parts of Danielson that are blank to try to remember something seen that could fit well.

I usually sit in the room for five minutes after the lesson ends to wrap this up. Then, I send the the whole thing as pdf to the teacher. Right then, on the spot. By the time we have a post-observation meeting, the teacher has already had a chance to read my notes and main points of feedback. We can spend the time talking.

The system is quick, easy, and techy. Using Notability and iPad along with Danielson, meets the contract and my need to an easy to use system. 

Wicked cool.
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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Lightening-Fast Teacher Feedback. The Digital Principal, Part 1 (#vted #edchat #cpchat)

In November, I gave a presentation (the presentation resources are to be found here) to a packed room row at Vermont Fest, the fall conference of Vita-Learn (Vermont Information Technology Association for the Advancement of Learning - VITA-Learn). I was given the Friday afternoon slot only after the original presenter backed out. The small, dedicated demented mildly interested crowd was obviously drawn in by my work-of-art presentation description.

D. "The Digital Principal"
Want to know how you can REALLY use that iPad you got to make being a principal a tiny bit easier? Looking for other ways to be a Digital Principal? Bring your pad and your questions. We will talk about using your iPad for lightning-fast teacher feedback, wicked cool evidence gathering, and near-total brain replacement. As a bonus, we will cover "Twitter and Blogs: The Principal's Free CAGS."
Regardless of the low turnout, I know deep in my heart that much of the world is, in fact, interested in what I had to say that fateful November afternoon. So, here is part one of my three part summary.

The first part of the presentation was subtitled, "Lightning-fast Teacher Feedback," and described my system for giving, well, lighting fast teacher feedback. The first slide from that section sets the stage.

We all know, as instructional leaders, that giving meaningful feedback to teachers is both one of the most important tasks and one of the hardest to get to regularly. I have gotten better at actually being in classrooms on a frequent basis (still not enough, though). My problem is that I struggle to turn those visits into meaningful conversation about learning (This short pdf article from Kim Marshall summarizes this well). Even in a small school, there are millions of competing tugs on my time. So, while I do not meet Marshall's ideals, I have come up with a system that goes at least part way. E-mail. A decent runner-up to face-to-face conversation.

The trick with any system for principals is to make it totally simple to use (what does that say about us?). Over the last several years, I have been working and tweaking a system so that it finally does just what I want it to do.

I created a google form that I can fill out in the room, the hall, or my office from nearly any device out there. I agave settled on a very simple form that uses these three prompts: "I noticed," "The students were," and "A question to consider." The idea here is not data gathering, it is conversation prompting. Then, when I hit submit, the form puts my completed sentences together into a full email to the teacher. Literally, I can email within seconds of leaving the room. The feedback is instantaneous, dare I say, lighting-fast.

The piece that finally made this work after trying for so many years was the script that I came across a few months ago. There is a great tutorial video from that shows how to find and install the scripts a form you've already created.

My experience so far has been pretty good with this system. Seem teachers reply to every email, some rarely do. Some emails have led to great conversations, others, not so much. My unscientific survey suggests that the feedback emails that have generated the most conversation about teaching and learning have been those with the best questions to consider. In other words, when I give quality feedback, most teachers want to talk about it. hhmmm.

That's it for lightening-fast teacher feedback. Please leave some regular-speed blogging principal feedback in the comments section. Thanks.