Thursday, September 24, 2015

Getting it ALL done

I was sitting in my office a few minutes ago with nothing to do.  I had done it all.  Everything on my list was checked off.  What a great feeling!!!!!

I hope you don't believe a word of that.

I haven't ever had everything checked off of my list.  I don't think anyone in a school can ever be all-the-way done with everything.  (Although I have met one amazing teacher who got almost everything done!  Yet there was always that one thing she never quite marked off her list.) And for me, I don't really keep a "To Do" list.  Keeping up with the list would be just one more thing on my list that would go undone!

The truth???  I was sitting in my office while my computer rebooted, trying to decide what my current priority would be.  Anyone who knows me understands that I need to move from activity to activity.  I rarely start a major project and stick with it until it is finished.  Instead, I try to rotate through important things.  It works for me.  I also try not to let the "paper-pushing" aspects of the principalship get in the way of the important things.

These short moments of choosing the next priority to focus upon happen several times a day.  So many great things to do and a few not-so-great things to do.  When these moments arise, I have a new practice.  I get up and get out!  I'm not the kind of guy who spends too much time in my office.  Not at all!

So when I happen to be trying to decide what priority to focus upon, I automatically go to the classrooms.  It gives me the chance to focus on the most fun part of the job that also happens to be one of the most important priorities!  It also gives me a chance to change my own state of mind.  Usually, choosing the next priority becomes crystal clear during these classroom visits!

Monday, September 21, 2015

The happiest place on earth!

I love it when people describe school as a circus!  Calling something a circus is usually meant to be an insult.  When someone says something like, "My classroom was a circus today!" it usually means that things were a bit crazy in there.  But really, maybe they were not that crazy.  Maybe it was loud and maybe there was more movement than usual.  Maybe there was some true excitement about the learning!  Or, maybe the extra movement and noise was the students' reaction to another worksheet.

Either way, I like to respond with, "Awesome!  The circus is a fun and happy place with tons of well-choreographed action that engages everyone!"

If your classroom is a circus, make sure
it is the well-designed, engaging lessons that keep the energy and happiness alive!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A web of questions!

Long ago, as a fifth grade teacher, I tried to teach kids how to organize their knowledge using a web.  Draw a circle and write a thought in it, then connect it to a smaller circle with a supporting detail.  Several circles may connect to several statements from all of the material the student knew about the topic.  This was a way to organize your bucket of knowledge about a specific topic.

Circles connected to circles with nuggets of wisdom about the Native American Tribes of Texas or the Plot of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  It allowed the facts and details to come out of the kids brain non-sequentially, with the hopes that they would flow more easily.

As I look back, I'm curious if these could have been done better???  When kids wrote down what they already knew, they had conversations about details.  They didn't necessarily add to their knowledge.

What if kids did a similar activity, but used questions instead of facts?  Or maybe the web could start with things we know, but every circle needed a question attached to it?  Or, maybe the last step in the web creation process asks the learner to add 5-10 questions that deserve answers?

When we include questions in or brainstorms, we increase the size of the storm!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Fridays, part 2

I was doing the typical dad thing last week, asking my two boys about school and their homework.  It was Thursday.  I asked my 7th  grader if he had any homework.  He said, "No real homework, but I have two tests."

I asked my ninth grader the same question.  He looked at his brother and said, "You're lucky, Kid!  I have three tests tomorrow.  Math, English, and science."

My high schooler has a blocked schedule.  He attends four classes per day and one of them is soccer.  So his other three classes all have tests.  Really?  Three tests on one day?

What drives the curriculum in your classroom?  Is it driven by the learning or the calendar?  Even the best written curriculum, with thoughtful units of study and a cohesive scope and sequence has enough wiggle room to make sure that students aren't stepping on the scales in all three academic classes on the same day.  In high school,
it is probable that the math department, the English department, and the science department aren't communicating with each other about their test dates.  Nevertheless, if the test dates were driven by student readiness rather than the calendar, three tests on the same day would be a coincidence rather than a Friday norm.

In elementary, I bet there are still a huge number of teachers that give spelling tests on Fridays.  Why?  Perhaps there is a history and tradition for spelling tests on Fridays.  That is what I did as a kid.  My parents probably did too.  Other than the fact that Friday is the day before the weekend, what is the purpose for giving them on Fridays?  I have heard the argument, "I can't let them forget everything over the weekend!"  As educators, if we give tests on a Friday because we are fairly certain they will forget the information over the weekend, then we haven't actually done our jobs to ensure they really mastered the new learning.  If we are confident in our lesson design and confident in our students' mastery of the learning standards, our assessments will really just affirm what we already know!

A few years ago, an innovative team of teachers moved their spelling tests to Wednesdays.  They gave the Friday test thing some deep thought and chose to try something different.  They also decided to give it a try because they wanted Fridays to be more engaging for their kids.  They argued that there was a dip in student behavior on Fridays.  Indeed, it is common for classroom behavior to be a bit more challenging on the last day of the week.  Counter-intuitively, lots of teachers still try to take care of the challenges of Friday behavior by planning some more calm activities.  This team looked at it differently.  They decided that the best way to take care of excited Friday kids was to design learning activities that matched the Friday excitement. They loved it!  I did too!

I believe that kids don't forget what they have learned if they have truly learned it!  Fridays should be exciting days with exciting learning activities!  And if a test is needed, don't let the calendar choose your test day!

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Friday Dance!

Don't do it!  Why only dance on Fridays?  Dance every day at school!

Do you ever ask someone, "How are ya?" and they respond with, "It's Friday!" as if the previous four days were some sort of torturous journey?

I like a good weekend too, but I believe we need to set up our schools to be desirable every day of the week!  Fridays should be no better than any other day.  Wednesdays shouldn't be half-way though the grind of a work week.

To take that idea to an even better level, schools should make Mondays sound like the best day of the week!  The day we are most excited about because we get to be with our students again, doing great things!  Fridays should sound like, "Goodbye!  I'll miss you kids!  Have a great weekend!  I can't wait to see you on Monday!"

Mondays should sound like, "Oh my goodness, it is great to see y'all!  I am ready for a great week!  I hope you are too!"