Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Steven Farr - Teach for America

I remember reading an article in The Atlantic last year titled "What Makes a Great Teacher."   The article outlined the Steven Farr's role within Teach For America and highlighted a lot of the work that he has done to help identify the characteristics that TFA looks for when hiring teachers, and the methods that their best teachers employ in the classroom to help students learn.  To be honest, I was very interested to hear more about the practice that TFA has utilized to develop their framework and better understand how they have analyzed student data to identify which teachers they believe are great.

After almost 20 years in existence, TFA has developed some very complex structures to collect and analyze student data, but their definition of effectiveness is relatively simple.  They believe that effective teachers are those that create the most learning in their classrooms.  In order to identify where the most learning is taking place, they focus on standardized assessment data to ascertain how much growth has taken place during the time they are in a teacher's classroom.  Although he talked at great length about the imperfections of standardized data (various assessments, quality of test, alignment to standards), they have created a system to try and provide some consistency to the various testing tools that are used state by state.  At the end of the day, this analysis allows TFA to identify which teachers have caused the greatest gains, and they then study those teachers to try and find patterns in their methods to create their model of great teaching.

Personally, I really love the fact that TFA's model has been created by looking at exemplary practices in the classroom setting and that it is focused on student achievement (albeit a snapshot due to their exclusive use of standardized data).   Over the past few years, they have watched countless teachers and have found that the teachers who were able to create the most learning all did the following things.
  • Set big goals
  • Invest in students and their families
  • Plan purposefully
  • Execute effectively
  • Continuously increase their effectiveness
  • Work relentlessly
To be honest, I found this model to be really affirming as it is very similar to what we are hearing from other presenters in NESA, and directly related to what we have been working on as a faculty at ACS.  I also thought that the website that has been created by TFA is an amazing idea.  On the site, they have outlined their rubrics that have been created to describe the characteristics of great teaching, and attached a variety of resources to help teachers understand how they can improve in any of these areas.  Feel free to check this site out at

Friday, October 22, 2010

Open Spaces

I am currently in Kathmandu at the NESA leadership conference and having a great time. NESA (Near East South Asian Schools) was created many years ago to provide professional development for overseas schools in our region and is led by an inspirational educator, David Chojnacki. At the opening address yesterday, David shared a poem with us to help us focus our efforts as we enter our weekend of sharing and learning. The poem, "Fire" by Judy Brown was a great catalyst and really made me stop and think a lot about how we can use professional development to re-ingnite our passion for education.

Fire - Judy Brown

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.

So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
A fire
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.

This poem made me think about a video by RSA Animate which describes Steven Johnson's latest book, "Where Good Ideas Come From." In his book, he asks, "what are the spaces that have historically led to unusual rates of creativity and innovation?" What he discovered is that there are recurring patterns throughout history that lead to the conditions necessary for innovation and creativity. In addition, he contends that innovation has historically increased as the amount of spaces to share ideas has increased. Fortunately for us, we exist in a period of time when the number of open spaces has exploded and many educators are using a wide variety of tools to collaborate and share strategies that will help to improve the learning of our students. The great news is that this method of collaboration can occur at any time and from anywhere, and its effects are exponential. The more people who take part, the more we will all be able to improve.

I know that many people attend conferences to take advantage of the open spaces that are provided to connect with colleagues and share ideas. This is a wonderful opportunity and I always return to school refreshed, reinvigorated and inspired. I also know that these conferences are not the only way for me to share ideas with other educators who are seeking innovative and creative strategies for our schools. As David said this morning, it is the open spaces that can re-ignite our flame or passion for learning. How amazing is it to realize that we have access to tools that allow us to share spaces and keep that fire burning on a daily basis?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Can Google Help?

We have all heard the joke about the 3 most important things to consider when purchasing real estate; location, location, location.  I believe that principals will tell you something similar if you asked them about what they needed to do to be more effective in their role; communication, communication, communication.  I am very happy to say that my ability to communicate has increased significantly since we introduced google docs at ACS this year.

Although this may sound a little bit like an advertisement for Google, they have created a very powerful platform for educational communities.  Here are a few of the ways that we have used these tools at ACS.

Gmail – this is a no brainer but it is amazing how much better our email systems now work.  In the past, we relied on our parent community to submit their emails to us and we would place them in powerschool to create our email lists.  This led to a couple problems:
  • Many of our parents change jobs or emails and we didn’t always have the correct address on file
  • Our email client we used previously had trouble communicating with various email agencies (eg. Hotmail) and many families never would get our correspondence
With the google domain, we were given enough email addresses to give each of our families their own.   Our community knows that all of our letters, report cards, etc will be sent to this address and are checking it regularly or having these emails forwarded to their primary address.  Our tech gurus at ACS have also created our email lists by linking this information to our powerschool database and our parent lists are automatically updated as students enroll or withdraw from our school.

Calendar – I have always been a big supporter of iCal, but the transition to google calendar was very easy.   The calendar functions are great, and the ability to share calendars with my assistant and fellow teachers is wonderful.   In addition, google calendar syncs with my mobile phone almost instantaneously so I can see where I am supposed to be wherever I am in the school.

Docs – We have a very collaborative culture at our school and I am increasingly hearing the phrase “lets put that on a google doc,” from teachers, students and parents.  Our parents are very willing to help out at school events and we have been using google docs as a sign up list for various activities.   Do you need parents to supply food for the MS dance?  Let’s make a google doc.  Want to run a parent book club and need to find out who would like a copy? Let’s make a google doc.   These docs are easy to create and parents can access them with a simple click on the url link embedded in a mass email.

Forms – this might be my favorite.  We have already used forms a few times and it allows us to collect information in spreadsheets very quickly.  Basically, forms is a survey tool and can be used to send out short, focused surveys to various parent, student and teacher groups within the school.  I have also used forms to send out a survey to a principals’ list serve that I belong to.  One of forms greatest features is the ability to embed the survey in the body of your email.  This makes it even easier for your respondents to participate and has allowed for more people within our community to have a voice.

Sites – As an international school we have some pretty tight guidelines about what information we post on our general website for anyone to access.  At times over the past few years, I know that these restrictions have made it difficult for me to keep parents informed of important events or field trips that we have at our school.   Our email problems of the past also meant that there were often parents who were in the dark about wonderful events that were taking place in our school.   Google sites has allowed me to create a Parent Page,  basically a website, where we are able to post very specific information about school events.  The great thing about sites is that our parent page can only be accessed by people within our google domain.  This allows us to  keep this information private while giving parents access to the information that they need.

As you can tell, I am a big supporter of google docs and think that they have really helped me to engage our school community.  I am looking forward to learning more about these tools and am sure that we will continue to discover new ways to use google at ACS.   

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Where Ideas Collide

First of all, I have to say that I absolutely love these illustrated videos that are created by the RSA Society!  What a great way to present information in a entertaining and memorable fashion.

This particular video describes how great ideas and innovation are created when ideas collide.  In particular, Steven Johnson takes a look at how the "spaces" that allow for conversation about different concepts have changed throughout the course of history, and that innovation has historically increased as the amount of spaces to share ideas has increased.  Personally, I found this presentation to be extremely timely as I am continue to build my PLN to try and connect with people to discuss various ideas about education.

I recently conducted my first workshop at ACS on social networking tools with a specific focus on twitter.  This is something that I was really excited about because of how much twitter has helped me professionally and I couldn't wait to share this information with other colleagues at my school.  Although, I was initially very skeptical, I now find twitter to be my primary link to hundreds of other educators worldwide and I feel that it is a perfect example of the "collision of ideas" that Steven Johnson is talking about in his video.   Social networking tools allow for ideas and experiences to be shared to be shared at a frantic pace, and on a daily basis, I am exposed to innovative ideas that force to me reflect on my current practice and push me to become a better educator and principal.

With all the rhetoric that is being discussed about the flaws in our current systems of education, it is heartening to know that there are so many wonderful educators who are always looking to expand their networks and discuss various ideas that will help to improve the way that we educate our students.  This network is definitely one of the bright spots of the educational sphere and I am extremely committed to helping this network, and subsequently innovation in schools, develop and grow in the future.

You can see also view Steven Johnson's Ted talk on the same topic by clicking on the link below:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Power of a Note

I was reminded the other day of a small but powerful tool.  I entered my office and found a small note lying on my desk which said:

A good teacher is like a candle which consumes itself to light the way for others 

The funny thing was, I didn't know who it wrote it and why they had decided to place it on my desk.  I actually spent a few minutes trying to think of who had taken the time to share this special thought with me but was unable to figure it out.  Needless to say, it didn't really matter.  The note made me feel great!  To be honest, I put it on my bulletin board and it has been there for the past couple of weeks.  Each time I look at it, I feel motivated, enthused and appreciated.  It is amazing that this short note has had such a positive impact on me.

This led me to think, why don't I do this more often?  Time to pay it forward!

Photo Credit:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Middle School Marshmallow Challenge

Over the summer, I watched Tom Wujek's Ted talk called, "Build a Tower, Build a Team" and I immediately knew that this was a challenge that I wanted to present to the middle school faculty at ACS.  We have worked very hard over the past few years to build a collaborative culture and I knew that this challenge would lead to a great discussion about the power of teaming.

At the end of the day, I was not disappointed.  The marshmallow challenge was a great way to reunite with colleagues after the summer break and the activity generated some great discussions about learning in our school.  Here are some of the main points that faculty members brought up during our discussion following the activity.

  • Manage your time - time is always a limiting factor and it is important that you are aware of the time that you have available to you and plan accordingly
  • Team building - working with a team can be very complex but this challenge allowed for everyone to have their voices heard and play a role in a collaborative process
  • It's okay to take risks - this challenge reinforced that it is okay to think outside of the box when trying to accomplish something.  The simple fact that no one had ever attempted anything like this previously meant that we were all immediately outside our comfort zones
  • Learn from our mistakes - it is important to use prototypes when following a creative process.  As teachers, this can be in the form of formative assessment.  We constantly need to be monitoring our students learning and using that information to make our instructional decisions
  • Set reachable goals - it is important to set goals that are attainable and measurable.  
  • Group size matters - although the activity calls for groups of 4, we completed the challenge in our departments which meant that our group size varied.  It was discovered that the smaller groups seemed to be more successful with their towers than our larger groups.
  • High stakes can lead to decreased performance on creative tasks - Tom Wujek outlines how the performance of groups in this challenge decreased when he introduced significant rewards.  As our faculty continues to introduce more creative tasks in our classes, we need to ensure that we are setting our students up for success in their learning 
  • Fun - this was a fun, exciting activity and was a great way to kick off a new school year!

Tom Wujek's website "The Marshmallow Challenge" can be found here.   This site will give you all of the materials that you will need to conduct the challenge at your school.
Feel free to let me know how it goes.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Leap of Faith - Powerschmoogle!

Our school is taking a huge leap of faith this year and re-thinking our school communication tools.  A decision has been made to move from our old systems to an amalgamation of Powerschool, Moodle and Google Apps that will completely change the way that we communicate, teach and learn at ACS.  At the end of the day, this change is going to allow our school to accomplish some major goals

  •  Improve communication – with limitless user accounts provided by Google, we will now be able to give all of our parents user accounts.  Parents will be able to log in to a portal (Moodle) and access all Google functions, as well as read email from their school account.
  •  Privacy – because we are provided with our own domain, a lot of school content can be created and displayed within our school wide system
  •  Move to 2.0 – this platform will allow for our entire community to have access to blogs, wikis, Google docs, etc, and provide our students with a greater number of opportunities to learn how to use these important tools
  •   Sustainability – since this system will be our primary method of communication, the need for hard copies of school letters, information and report cards will disappear (I hope). 
I am extremely excited about this change, but I also know that it is not going to be easy.  In order to ensure that all of our community members understand how to utilize the system, we will need to devote a lot of resources to training for students, teachers and parents.   Although this will be difficult and at times messy, I am glad that we have made this decision that will help our school to develop and grow as a community.  By identifying the targets of why we need to change, and looking for tools that will help us accomplish our goals, we have been able to find a solution that I believe will improve our school.    

Friday, August 6, 2010

My Muddled Brain

I have to admit that as we are heading into a new school year, I have been having a really hard time getting my thoughts together and focused (some would say this is not an anomaly).  Frankly, I have spent a lot of time over the past few months reading tons of great books and articles and all of these ideas seem to have been competing for time in my mind.  Fortunately, today I finally had my epiphany thanks to John Medina's Brain Rule # 1 - Exercise builds brain power.  In his book, Brain Rules, Medina chronicles the evolution of the brain and argues that our brain works most effectively when we are physically active on a consistent basis.  This assumption is supported by research which consistently finds increased cognitive abilities in people who exercise regularly.

I used to run a lot but unfortunately, over the past few years, I have not made the   time to exercise as frequently as I should.  One of my goals over the past summer was to get myself in good enough shape to get myself running again on a regular basis and this morning I found some motivation in a blog post by a fellow principal (Patrick Larkin) to get myself on the treadmill.  As I ran, my muddled thoughts began to clear and a plan began to take shape for a great way to kick off the year to help us focus on our newly defined mission.  It is my hope that this plan will allow for our teachers, students and parents to better understand our mission and work collaboratively to ensure that we are doing all that we can to accomplish our school's goals.

It is amazing how something so simple can often be so difficult.  We all know that exercise is important yet we often fail to find the time to be active even though it can benefit us so much physically and mentally.  I am hopeful that the success of my little jog this morning will help to motivate me to find some time to exercise and allow me to be at my best throughout the year.

Photo credits:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Tao of Leadership

One of my first small assignments this summer was to create a leadership philosophy based on a book we read called the Tao of Leadership by John Heider.  Now for those of you who know me, you know that I am not a Tao kind of guy but I thought it was quite an interesting process stepping outside my comfort zone and looking at some new leadership principles.  I thought it might be fun to share so let me know what you think.

Tao means how: how things happen, how things work.  By knowing Tao, I know how things happen. (Heider, pg. 1)

As an educational leader, I must pay attention to the processes that occur on a daily basis which allow for our school to function effectively.  These processes are a means to an end and in order to ensure that we have the correct how in place, I believe that we must first focus on the why.  This is my first Tao, Center and Ground. 

Being centered means having the ability to recover one’s balance, even in the midst of action.  A centered person is not subject to passing whims or sudden excitements.  Being grounded means being down to earth, having gravity or weight.  I know where I stand, and what I stand for; that is ground.  The centered and grounded leader has stability and a sense of self.  (Heider, pg. 51)

In an educational setting, our center and ground is our mission statement.   The mission statement of a school provides a direction or purpose to the daily endeavors of a school community.  It allows for a diverse group of individuals to work together towards a common purpose.  It provides a lens through which our decisions can be viewed and filtered.  Our mission is what a group can accomplish and as a leader within the group, I must understand how I can help various members focus and accomplish our goal.

The mission is the why but principals must understand the how and use their position within a community to influence others.  Unfortunately, there are many layers within my community and my reach is limited.  Therefore, it is important that I understand and follow the mission and core values of my school.  The stronger my belief, the greater ripples I can create to extend my reach through my community.

Your behavior influences others through a ripple effect.  A ripple effect works because everyone influences everyone else.  Powerful people are powerful influences.  Remember that your influence begins with you and ripples outward.  So be sure that your influence is both potent and wholesome.  All growth spreads outward from a fertile and potent nucleus.  You are a nucleus. (Heider, pg. 107)

My thoughts are only as good as my deeds.  Leaders must understand that they are held to a high standard and their actions must reflect integrity, honesty and acceptance in order to ensure that these important ideals spread throughout the community.  Regardless of the ideas that may be shared through words, my actions for better or worse will be replicated by many.  Fortunately, I can improve the actions of others by first improving my own.

As a principal, there are many ways in which I must act to ensure that our collaborative mission is achieved.  It is important that I recognize that it is impossible to lead if I am not able to react to different situations in different ways.  At various times and with various people, I must be a warrior, a healer and act as Tao.

As a warrior, the leader acts with power and decision.  Most of the time, however, the leader acts as a healer and is an open, receptive, and nourishing state.  This mixture of doing and being, of warrior and healer, is both productive and potent. There is a third aspect of leadership: Tao.  Periodically, the leader withdraws from the group and returns to silence.  A brilliant warrior does not make every possible intervention.  A knowing healer takes time to nourish self as well as others.  The leader who knows when to listen, when to act, and when to withdraw can work effectively with nearly anyone. (Heider, pg. 55)

All situations are different.  A leader must recognize the subtle complexities and engage with group members in various ways to ensure that the group is working towards their mission.  An effective leader is able to be in front, amongst or absent when needed to facilitate the process of the group.  A successful leader understands that they cannot serve the same role within all groups and moves through the process to ensure goals are accomplished.  The ability to be a dynamic part of the process allows for potent leadership.

A potent leader is one who is proactive and part of the processes that occur within the life of a school.  By being present, a leader is able to work with group members as issues arise.  The presence of a leader allows for situations to be dealt with as they occur rather than as a reaction to past events. 

Potent leadership is a matter of being aware of what is happening in the group and acting accordingly. Leaders who lose touch with what is happening cannot act spontaneously, so they try to do what they think is right.  If that fails, they often try coercion.  But the wise leader who loses sense of the immediacy become quiet and lets all effort go until a sense of clarity and consciousness returns. (Heider, pg. 75)

When a leader misses the opportunity to work in the present, they are forced to solve a problem that was created by their lack of awareness.  These solutions are preventative measures, which disrupt the processes that naturally occur.  In order for our school to flow it is more effective for me to be present rather than preventative.  A present leader will ensure that a school maintains its direction and purpose through difficult situations by remaining focused on the mission of the school.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Back to School!

The office is closed and the plane heads out tomorrow morning.  I am looking forward to a short break back at the cottage before heading off to start my doctorate degree at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.  I have been thinking about returning to school for the past couple years and finally decided that there is no time like the present.  I am really excited to have some intense professional conversations about educational leadership with fellow international school administrators, and am keen to apply my studies when I return to Abu Dhabi in August.  Although it is going to be a long journey, I am excited about the ride!  Wish me luck.

Monday, June 14, 2010

5 Levels of Leadership

I am sometimes asked what happens once everyone has headed home for the summer and for the most part, we have been working on getting things organized for our next school year.  Besides spending a lot of this week looking ahead, I love the time that I seem to have at the end of the year to look back and reflect on the year that was.  I was reading an article earlier today written by Paul Young, entitled, The Five Levels of Principal Leadership.  In this article, Mr. Young summarizes a model developed by John Maxwell outlining the five levels of leadership.  Maxwell believes that in order for a principal to effectively lead their school, they must pass through five levels of leadership.  These are:

1) Position - The work focus at this level involves clarifying and establishing rights, accepting responsibilities with various people, offering good ideas, and attaining recognition as a leader rather than a boss.
2) Permission - the principal must build a personal relationship with each person. When effective relationships emerge, people begin following the leader because they want to. They give their permission to be led.
3) Production - Purpose becomes clear and principals and their staffs grow together while focused on results.  People actually like being at work, and their discussions focus mostly on positive, work-related matters. The principal fulfills the multi-faceted roles of management and instructional leadership.
4) People Development - With adequate time, effective veteran principals will continue to build ever-stronger teams and empower their staffs, students, and parents to be leaders. They delegate effectively helping others to become effective leaders. 
5) Personhood - The pinnacle of leadership and occurs when people follow you based on who you are and what you stand for.  This level of leadership is reserved for people who have spend years developing others and their organization.

Photo credit:

This article and synopsis definitely struck a chord with me as I am looking back at my past 3 years as a principal.  Obviously, there are a lot of effective leadership models but Maxwell's allows me to visualize my own progression as a principal.  In addition, as I begin to look ahead and set my professional goals, I have been able to identify some areas that I can focus on to help me improve as a leader in my school and community.  

Thursday, May 27, 2010

ACS Middle School End of Year Video

Ahh,  the end of the year.  It is always a sprint to the finish and I have had difficulty appreciating some of the wonderful moments that occur as the year comes to a close.  It has been a fantastic year for our middle school and it was definitely tough to say goodbye to some wonderful teachers and some fantastic students as they move on to their next adventures.

Personally, this year has easily been my most rewarding year in education so far.  We all know that substantive changes within organizations takes 3 - 5 years and for me, this year represented the year where we have started to see some really positive results of the efforts that have taken place over the past few years at ACS.   It has been a great year, and I am already looking ahead to another great start when we return to school in August!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Blogging - My first 30 days (or so)

So I finally did it. I have been thinking about starting a blog for a couple years but I recently took the plunge and set it up, created a few posts and linked myself into the edublogosphere. Looking back, I have to admit that I think it has been one of the most professionally rewarding things that I have ever done.

Here are three of the highlights of my first few weeks online.  The blog . . .

1) Forces me to reflect - reflection is a important part of the learning process. We tell this to our students all the time and spend our precious time in class asking them to reflect on their own learning. Unfortunately, I have found it very difficult to find the time to reflect on my practice. Even though I have only created a few entries, the process of writing has forced me to reflect on my experiences.  I have always learned well through writing and this blog allows me to write about my thoughts and helps me to internalize information that I think is important.

2) Allows me to share information  - A blog is a personal space and I am really proud of the articles, videos and posts that I have linked through my blog. I feel that these posts help share information about what I feel is important in education today. I think that it is pretty cool to think that people can use my blog or twitter posts to see what kind of information I am interested in. I have also heard back from the Reaume brothers (authors of The Draconean) recently. They let me know that my post on their awesome presentation at our school has been read by other principals who are now asking them to come and speak at their schools. It is a nice feeling to know that I have been able to help a couple of students who I think have a very important message to share with the world.

3) Links me to other educational leaders - I am amazed at the quality of information that is available from the blogs of other educators around the world. I originally started following a few blogs with google reader, but I am now linked into about 15 different blogs which means that I read 2 or 3 entries a day, depending on how frequent authors are blogging. These posts have allowed me to hear what is happening in schools all over the world. Information about web based portfolios, leadership theory, and the latest trends in mathematical instruction is sent directly to my computer each morning and I love starting my day learning about something new.

Although, I am still finding my way as a blogger, I am extremely excited about the opportunities that exist for educators and students on line today.  I am hopeful that I can continue to grow as much in future months as I have over the past 30 days.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

ACS MS Transition Podcast

I have finally figured it out (I hope). It has taken some time, but the condensed version of my presentation is now online. I have significantly reduced the slides and tried to give a quick overview of our discussion from last week. If I went too fast and you have some questions, please let me know.

We have had a great week, getting to know our ACS 5th graders and are looking forward to welcoming all of them to our middle school in the fall!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wayfinding - How Does This Compare to Education Today?

I was relaxing this past weekend and was able to take some time to read the local paper, The National. I was lucky enough to find an extremely interesting article on the practice of wayfinding. The article defines wayfinding as "a professional discipline – part graphic design, part behavioural psychology – concerned with helping people navigate the airports, shopping malls, hospitals and neighbourhoods of today’s often-bewildering built environment." Wayfinders obviously have a lot of work in the construction crazed cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but I was struck by this statement and immediately identified wayfinding as a profession that relates well to education. If you were to replace a few of the words in the definition, you would have a very effective description of what educators are trying to accomplish with our students today.

As educational leaders, we are responsible for helping our students prepare themselves for a turbulent and uncertain future. This responsibility can effectively be summarized by the statement below from Schooling By Design.
"Schools exist to develop and deepen students' understanding of important ideas and processes in the disciplines, equipping them to transfer their learning in meaningful and effective ways, and cultivating lifelong habits of mind." (Wiggins & Mctighe)
If this is a summary of the purpose of schools, what kinds of skills should we be focusing on in our classes to ensure that we are accomplishing our overall goal - to cause meaningful learning? What are these essential skills that our students need to acquire to be successful in the world today? How can teachers act as wayfinders for their their students; guiding students along their journey of learning?

Recently, I attended a lecture by Grant Wiggins where he asked 500 educational leaders to compile a list of skills that they felt all students needed in order to be successful in today's environment. Surprisingly, this activity only took about 60 seconds, and Mr. Wiggins stated that he had done this on numerous occasions and the list always looks the same. It is great to know that most educators currently identify the same skills that will lead to successful students. Some published lists of these skills, commonly referred to as 21st Century skills are listed below.

21st Century Skills, Values, and Attributes
Tony Wagner’s Seven Skills from The Global Achievement Gap
1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
2. Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence
3. Agility and Adaptability
4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
5. Effective Oral and Written Communication
6. Accessing and Analyzing Information
7. Curiosity and Imagination

Pat Bassett’s 21st C. Skills and Values (Independent School Magazine, Fall 2009)
1. Character (self-discipline, empathy, integrity, resilience, and courage)
2. Creativity and Entrepreneurial Spirit
3. Real-World Problem-Solving (filtering, analysis, and synthesis)
4. Public Speaking/Communications
5. Teaming
6. Leadership

Although educators have been able to come to agreement on these essential skills, it is necessary to ask ourselves about how effectively we are addressing these skills in our schools today. If we are to be true wayfinders; educators who prepare students for the future, we need to ensure that our students have extensive opportunities to master these skills so they can be ready for the world that awaits them.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Draconean - An inspiring story

If I could only talk about two topics to middle school students, I think I would have to pick the following:

1) Dream big and don't wait to try and realize your dreams
2) People who persevere through adversity are the people who change the world

We had the wonderful opportunity to hear a couple of young men present to our middle school this past week and it was a perfect story for our students. Jake and Luke Reaume are two teenagers who have recently published a book titled, The Draconean. Jake and Luke both attended the American School of Dubai before heading back to Canada to finish their high school career (they will graduate in June). Although it is quite impressive to be published authors before completing high school, I was more impressed with the young men's inspirational journey and I thought it was a perfect presentation for middle school students.

Both boys talked extensively during their presentation about dreaming big. They kept challenging our students to embrace the day letting them know that it is possible for middle school students to reach for their dreams. Jake and Luke talked a lot about people who tried to let them know that they would never succeed but assured our students that it is possible to keep focused and accomplish anything that you set your mind to. At no point, did they ever allow our students to think that their journey was a simple one. In fact, much of their presentation was devoted to the adversity that they faced over the six years that it had taken them to write their novel. Jake had been injured as youngster and faced some academic challenges related to his head injury. They had tragically lost their sister when they were nearly completed their final draft of their story. They had lost one of their early drafts (representing two years of work) when their computer crashed and were forced to begin from scratch. I felt like it was the tribulations that the boys endured throughout the writing process that made their presentation so memorable.
It is sometimes difficult for young people to understand what they are actually capable of achieving. I thought it was great for our students to have the opportunity to see some role models who have achieved their dreams and hear of the perseverance that the process can entail. I wish Jake and Luke the best of luck as they move forward and am personally excited to read their first novel.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Grading and Reporting at ACS

I have included a podcast of the presentation that we had at our parent coffee earlier this week outlining some of the discussions that our faculty has had about our grading practices at ACS and the impact that these discussions have had on our reporting procedures. Although, it would be great if everyone could watch the presentation, it ended up being a lot longer that I had initially hoped so I will provide a brief written synopsis of the podcast below.

First of all, our faculty has had some extensive discussions about our grading practices over the past couple of years and this has had a profoundly positive impact on our assessment practices in middle school. These discussions began when we began to look at the purpose of grading in our middle school. Our guide through many of these discussions is a book entitled, "A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 fixes for Broken Grades," written by a professor at the University of Toronto named Ken O'Connor. Mr. O'Connor has argued that schools have used grades for a variety of purposes which prevents grades from effectively communicating performance to parents and students. For example, if a teacher has grades for behavior, participation and academic achievement, a grade of "B" does not communicate what specifically that student is having issues with; is it behavior, participation or academics? In order to be more clear, we have identified a central purpose for our grades at ACS - to communicate a students achievement measured against our school's standards and benchmarks. This fundamental purpose has lead to many discussions within our school about changes to our practice that would be needed in order for us to attain our goal.

Effects on Grading Practice

In order to ensure we aligned with our central grading purpose, our staff identified some important issues that we needed to find solutions for.

1) Student Behavior - teachers would not give grades for student behavior in class. These behaviors will be reported separately from grades (Progress Report)
2) Late Work - Students would not be academically penalized for late work. Teachers would engage students to identify why a student's work is late and work with the student to complete the work
3) Extra Credit - although extension activities may be given to students who achieve standards early, a student will still be assessed on the standards of our school curriculum
4) Academic Dishonesty - there will not be academic penalites for cheating or plagiarism. A student must redo the work and behavioral consequences will be applied for repeat offenders
5) Group Work - group work is used to build knowledge and skills. Although group work will be used extensively in classes, a student should be individually assessed
6) Formative & Summative Assessments - Summative assessments (assessments of learning) will be the majority of the overall grade. This will allow for students to use their formative assessments (assessments for learning) to improve their knowledge and skills
7) Grading Descriptors - detailed descriptions of academic achievement will be developed

Effects of Reporting Practice

The changes that were made in our grading practices have allowed teachers to collect more data that we would like to communicate to both students and parents. In order to provide everyone with this detailed information, we would like to make the following changes to our reporting practices.

1) Move from a quarter based grading period to a semester based grading period - this would allow teachers to include more summative assessments in their overall grade during a grading period. Each summative assessment then becomes less "high stakes" for students
2) Include separate assessments of behaviors and academic achievement on each report - we would like to combine our progress report (behavior focus) with our report card (academic focus)
3) Communicate the achievement for each standard within an academic subject rather than just an overall subject grade (on semester reports) - teachers will provide information to parents and students about their achievement of individual standards in their classes rather than an overall grade.
4) Improve the quality of information on each report which will necessitate fewer reports per school year - instead of providing 8 reports per year, the school will distribute reports at the end of each quarter, 4 times per year
5) Take advantage of technology to facilitate distribution of reports - report cards will be distributed by email rather than hard copy. Official transcripts of grades will be provided for students withdrawing from the school, and at the end of each academic year

This process has been very fulfilling and it has been amazing to hear some of the discussions that are taking place as our students become better and better at using their formative assessments to improve their learning. This has been a paradigm shift for many of us, but the results that we have seen in student motivation and performance have been astounding! We are hopeful that the changes to our reporting procedures will also have a profound effect on improving the communication between home and school and enable us to work as partners in the education and development of our students.

Please feel free to leave comments here on the blog or contact me in the office if you have any questions or concerns.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

What adults can learn from kids

This is a very impressive video. At ACS, we are currently going through our middle states accreditation process. One of the foundational documents that is required by their new Excellence by Design protocol is a school profile of graduate. Recently, I saw this video by a very bright young lady who is currently working as a educational consultant and keynote speaker. I believe that she is an excellent example of the type of graduate we should be striving for in our schools today.
At the NESA Leadership conference past fall, I had the opportunity to listen to Grant Wiggins deliver a keynote address. During his presentation, he talked a lot about his book "Schooling by Design" and the central premise of developing a mission based on what we want our students to be able to do when they leave our schools and the implications that that would have on the way our schools functioned as a result. This video is a great example of how that philosophy might work if we want our students to be able to create a presentation like Adora Svitak. What skills would our students need to have to deliver this type of presentation? What knowledge would they need to have to be so persuasive? I believe it is these types of questions that schools need to begin answering in order to prepare our students for the world that awaits them.

The Last Lecture

This is a condensed version of the inspirational video by Randy Pausch, who was a college professor at Carnegie Mellon before his untimely passing. Professor Pausch's last lecture is a testament to the human spirit and a great way to talk to kids about the important things in life. I have had great success sharing this video with middle school students and have found that they have been deeply and positively impacted by the words of this great professor.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Mandate for change

"One of the participants in my morning session said that I didn’t appreciate how far along you all are and that you are way above average when it comes to integrating technology into your instruction. And yet, from my conversations with many of you over the past few days, it’s very clear to me that there still are many things you’re not doing. For example, most of you have yet to put a computer in every kid’s hands; that’s why you’re here at this 1:1 conference. Most of you have yet to incorporate online courses into your curricula in any kind of substantive way. Few of you are teaching students to be empowered – not just responsible – digital citizens in our new information landscape. Few of you have a staff full of educators that are modeling active participation in that landscape. As far as I can tell, none of you has robust student assessments at every grade level that target higher-level, more cognitively-complex thinking and doing and being. None of you has moved to a truly personalized learning environment for every student, one in which students’ progress is facilitated and perhaps assessed by technology and is organized around student competence and completion rather than age and grade level. So some of you are sitting there in the audience feeling pretty good about yourselves. And you should. You’re blessed with wonderful financial resources, fantastic facilities, and amazing faculty. But for those of you who think I don’t appreciate how far along you are, all I can say is that I’m not sure you appreciate how far you still have to go."

Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that I stole this quote and video from a blog called Sentiments on Common Sense which is written by Andy Torris who is the Deputy Head at Shanghai American School. I loved this quote and thought that the video of Scott McLeod's presentation is right on the money.

I had the privilege of attending the American School of Bombay's first 1:1 conference a couple of years ago and I remember meeting Scott McLeod at the conference. At the time, his keynotes were awesome and really pushed me to think about what kind of skills we are teaching our students in our schools at the present time. I have to admit, that I left that conference over two years ago inspired to change my personal practice as well as advocate for change within my own school to help our students acquire these essential skills. Upon reflection, I think that we have made some great stride exposing our kids to some of the skills that Scott is talking about in his keynote, but I agree that we have a long way to go to ensure that our students are prepared for the world that will await them when they enter the "real world" in just a few short years.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Principals of the Future - A collaborative effort for change

Principals of the Future - Principals of The Future

This is a great site and a wonderful idea! The site was created by Blair Peterson who is the author of a great blog, "Creative Tension." This site is a wiki for educational leaders to share information about current leadership practice with a specific focus on the use of technology and 1:1 laptop programs.