Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Embedding our Graduate Profile

Our school recently underwent our accreditation process and reviewed the foundational documents that direct the vision for our school.  As a school, we decided to use the Middle States Association's, "Excellence by Design" protocol to drive this process and I am happy to report that our school has improved our planning ethic and successfully used the process to set a vision for the future of ACS.    One of the tasks that Middle States requires is the creation of a school profile of graduate.  This statement is meant to symbolize what qualities students at ACS should exemplify on a daily basis.  The term graduate may be misleading, as this profile is now something that our entire school (K - 12) is committed to working with on a daily basis.  As a school community, we worked in collaboration to define what attributes we would like our students to exemplify.  At the end of this process, we determined that ACS graduates are:

Thinkers (Critical, Creative, Refective, Independent)
Responsible (Organized, Risk-takers, Open-Minded, Respectful of Self, Others and the World)
Well-Rounded (Balanced, Inquisitive, Adaptable, Knowledgeable, Effective Communicators)
Leaders (Diligent, Motivated, Confident, Principled, Collaborative)

Since our accreditation visit in May last year, we have been working as a school to identify ways that we can embed these attributes into the daily life of our school. For the past few years, we have utilized student led conferences in March which allow our students to collect evidence of their learning and have discussions with their parents about the successes they have each year.  In the past, we have asked our students to collect samples of work which demonstrated achievement or growth from the classes, reflect on their learning process and discuss their portfolios with their parents.  This year, our faculty has now decided to use the profile of graduates as our theme for student led conferences.  Throughout the course of the year, we will be asking our students to collect evidence of leadership, thinking skills, responsibility and demonstrate how they are well rounded students.  This focus will really help us to improve in a variety ways:
  • Helps to educate our students and parents to make them more aware of our school's mission.
  • Allows our students to identify areas of improvement to focus on in the future.  For example, students who have difficulty collecting evidence of leadership will work with their teachers and parents to create a plan to improve their leadership skills in the coming year.
  • Creates support for the profile amongst our entire faculty.  Every teacher needs to recognize that we want to see our students demonstrating these traits in every course.
  • Provides our school with a refined focus.  As a community we have made a commitment to helping to develop these attributes in all of our students.   Asking our students to collect evidence of the attributes will allow us to gauge our success.
  • Allows for a consistent SLC theme across our middle school.  In order to conduct Student Led conferences, you must have a purpose or theme for student portfolios.  In the past, each grade level had a slightly different theme which made it difficult for teachers teaching at all three grade levels in middle school.  
Overall, I am very excited about our new SLC focus and confident that this move will help us to embed our mission and profile of graduate into the daily life of our school.  I am also interested in hearing about other strategies that schools are using make the mission statement a living document for students, teachers and parents.

Monday, September 19, 2011

No Office Day - 2011

I was able to spend the majority of the day outside my office in an attempt to take part in an international effort known as "No Office Day."  This concept began last year, when a fellow international school principal, David Truss, blogged about a day that he spent immersed in classrooms and out of his office.  His blog post, "No Office Day" inspired many administrators around the world to get out of their offices and into classrooms.  Earlier this year, David started a wiki for administrators to share their "No Office Day" experiences as many principals spent a day working in classrooms with teachers and students.  Like many of the principals who have taken part in this effort, I had a great day visiting classrooms and talking with students and teachers about the learning that is taking place at ACS.

For the past 6 months or so, I have been trying to develop an online tool that will help me with my classroom visits.  I have been experimenting with different systems and tools, but have finally settled on using my laptop and Google forms to record my classroom observations.  I decided to use my No Office Day as an opportunity to give this platform a test run as I visited a variety of classes throughout the day.  Our school has relied heavily on the work of Charlotte Danielson to develop our schools Framework for Growth, and I have created a template using Google Forms based on her domains of good teaching. 

As you can see from the form template, I can identify the components that I observe while visiting classes and leave descriptive comments for teachers to read after each visit.  Google forms then collects the information from each visit and stores the information in a spreadsheet that the teacher and I share so that we can have a on-going record of observations made throughout the year.

Although the forms worked very well, the real benefit of today was the added time I had to converse with teachers about their lessons and reflect on the great experiences that our students have on a daily basis.   I have always known that these follow up discussions are extremely important, and am really excited about finding more time to reconnect with teachers after observing classes throughout the year.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

School Community Relations

(Summary video created by Dr. Judy Horrocks)

My first course this summer focused on School Community Relations and was a great start to the semester!  Unlike most of the courses here at Lehigh (predominantly filled with overseas teachers), this course was an equal mix of US based teachers/administrators and international school educators.  This mix really allowed our group to have some great discussions about communication structures in schools today, and helped us to identify common strategies to help build effective public relations plans in our different settings.  Over the session, we had some great discussions and the following themes emerged as I begin to think about improving school communication next year.
  • Image is important - It has often been said, but perception is reality within schools and the image that stakeholders have of your school will affect the way they act and the choices they make.  Therefore it is important that school leaders understand the importance of public relations to ensure that the perception of their schools match the reality.
  • Relationships are key - As with most aspects of leadership, effective communication begins with effective relationships.  This is most important within the immediate school community, but it is also very important to establish links with outside organizations (newspapers, government agencies, local arts community, etc) that could play a significant role in your school's program or reputation.   
  • Communication must be two way in order to be effective - when building communication plans, it is important to ensure that feedback loops are present.  Furthermore, it is necessary that feedback is collected from various groups within the school community to try and get a clear picture of public perception.
  • Emotion plays a large role in communication - In schools, we are working with people, and emotion is always going to be part of difficult discussions.  As administrators, it is often useful to step away from a situation and determine the needs of the communities to determine future plans. There are many times when people may react negatively to change because of an emotional need (how will this affect my child, how will this affect my job, etc) rather than reacting to the change itself.  If we can first speak to the emotional concern, the follow up communication becomes much easier for everyone.
  • Social media needs to be included - Although there are still very few schools that have embraced social media in school communication plans, we had some great discussions about how these tools can be used to facilitate effective two way communication.  As schools develop their plans for communication in today's environment, it is extremely important that they incorporate social media in their efforts.  School's that are most effective using social networking tools have a clearly defined audience and purpose for the tools that they employ
Although I am sure that this is not an exhaustive list, I do feel like I have a much better understanding of the importance of public relations and how this affects schools today.  As always, I am looking forward to seeing how this will affect our practices at ACS and would be interested to hear your thoughts on how you handle public relations in your school or district.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Back to School

I am back on campus at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania completing my second summer of courses working towards my doctorate in Educational Leadership.  Although it is going to be a busy summer, I am very excited to get back on campus and participate in some face to face learning after working through on-line courses for the past two semesters. 

This summer, I will be taking three courses including School Community Relations, Curriculum in a Global Society and Managing and Leading Change.  My other main goal while I am on campus is to get final approval for my dissertation topic and find a chair for my committee. 
At this point, I am planning on looking at the effectiveness of professional development programs in international schools and am hoping to get support from the Faculty so that I can earnestly begin writing up my introduction and literature review sections.

As always, the summer is a time for rejuvenation and I know that I left my courses last summer energized and ready for a great year.  Thankfully, there is a great group of educators each year on campus, and I always enjoy the opportunity to discuss and analyze our practices.  I am sure that the collaborative nature of the courses here at Lehigh will once again push me to examine my own work and help me to become a more effective principal next year at ACS!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tips for Conducting PLN Professional Development

Over the past year, I have been using various social networking tools to promote my own learning.  The discovery of these tools has had a profound impact on my own learning as I have been able to connect with hundreds of educators around the world and engage in professional discussions about our educational practice.  As an advocate for the use of these tools, I have been working within the structure of our school PD days to provide workshops and training to faculty members who wish to discover how social networking can improve their own development as teachers.  Now that I have conducted a few of these workshops, I thought I might share some of my ideas of how others might begin introducing these powerful tools to their colleagues.

Use the resources of your PLN - Thankfully, there are many people who are conducting sessions helping people to become connected and there was no need to start from scratch.  There are some great youtube videos which describe the purpose of PLN's (here and here).  There is also an amazing amount of resources to help teachers understand the purpose of twitter.  Some of the most useful ones that I have found are from Angela Maiers, Joe Stumple and Edudemic.  Having these resources in hand helped provide me with some of the courage I needed to get in front of a crowd and get people started.

  You need to provide participants with a "container" for these tools - I believe that this is a very important part of any workshop since these tools can be very difficult to manage without an integrated system.  The workshops that I have run have been designed to use Google Chrome as our container.  Google Chrome's extensions allow for everyone to easily integrate various networking tools (google reader, twitter, diigo, etc) in one central location that can be used on a daily basis.  Usually, I have asked participants to come with Chrome loaded onto their computers and we spend the first portion of the workshop signing up for accounts in google reader, twitter and diigo and installing the google extensions for these tools.  Once everyone has established their accounts, we subscribe to a reader bundle (George Couros has a great bundle here) and a couple twitter hashtags and lists that they can begin to follow (I have used #edchat, #cpchat or Liz Davis' Twitter list).  This allows the participants to become instant consumers of information and allows me to demonstrate how they can use diigo to save and share important bookmarks.  In addition, we can begin to find people to follow from the hashtag conversations in twitter and learn about re-tweeting, direct messages etc.

There needs to be time to play - I think that this is the most important part of the workshop and try to devote as much time as possible to this activity.  When working with our k - 12 faculty members, it is very normal to have a very diverse group of teachers together in the same room, and it is my hope that everyone who attends has the time to tailor these tools to their own specific disciplines or interests.  Personally, I went to a few different workshops that sold me on how great blogs, twitter, etc are but left without actually setting up a system to use these tools.  I know that the more time that I can spend helping teachers tailor these tools, the more likely they will continue to use them once they leave the workshop

Don't forget to follow up - Jesse McLean recently wrote a good post about how important this was for him and I know that a little push after the workshop can help someone get through a "twitter block."  As I mentioned earlier, the whole point of this workshop is to try and create a manageable system to develop and participate in a personal learning network.   Sometimes, it may take reconnecting with people to see if they have any follow up questions or need some help using these tools.

I have had a lot of fun introducing my colleagues to some of these tools and I am hopeful that they feel confident enough after these workshops to connect and engage with people around the world.   If you have any other great tips for conducting a PLN building workshop, please feel free to leave a comment.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Visiting Author Program

For the past four years, our school has invested in our visiting author program as an opportunity for our students to interact with professional authors.  I am happy to say that this investment has been very worthwhile and I believe these visits have had a profound impact on our school culture and our writing program.   Over the past four years, we have had visits from professional writers such as Taylor Mali, Marc Leavitt, Ibtisam Barakat, Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger.  For the most part, the middle school has brought in poets to work with our students and we have found that our students have really responded to the passion that our authors have brought to their lessons.  This year, we were fortunate enough to have Naomi Shihab Nye visit our school for a week to discuss her work and share her thoughts with students, teachers and parents about how we can promote our students to become more active writers. 

One of the most profound impacts that these visits have had our instructional program was the modification of our writing units in middle school.  In the past, each grade level would work on various writing units throughout the year independently.  Now, we are able to schedule our visiting author to arrive at the beginning of our poetry units and use their visit as our “hook” to launch our division wide poetry work.  These units will end with our 3rd annual middle school poetry slam which gives all of our students the opportunity to share their work with live audiences.

Naomi’s visit definitely helped us to blast into poetry and it has been great walking through classes this past week and seeing our students engaged in reading and writing poetry.  This enthusiasm for poetry can be summed up with a letter that one of our 6th grade students sent her teacher.

Dear Ms. Pohl

I had an idea for Viper Vision (I couldn’t wait to tell you on Sunday, but I’m sending you an email because I thought I would forget).  My idea was that we should have a poetry section in the MS newspaper, because it is our poetry unit and some people would like their poems to be read and noticed (like me).
Also, I have been writing Haiku.  Today I wrote 5!  I want to show them to you.  I wrote them in my tiny notebook that I take everywhere.
I really like poetry now.  I think Naomi Shihab Nye, poets I enjoy and you have really opened my eyes to different types of poems.  Thank you.

Thank you to all of the visiting authors that have taken the time to visit our school and help our students discover their passion for writing!

Photo Credits:
Background illustration adapted from Lullaby Raft, written by Naomi Shihab Nye
Cover Art by Vivienne Flesher
Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing, 1997
Portrait photograph of Naomi Shihab Nye
Photography by: Chehalis Hegner

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Parent Book Club - Mindset

I have always enjoyed reading and now devote a lot of my reading time to educational blogs and books that expose me to various ideas and opportunities to improve education.  At some times, I feel like this can present some problems as we incorporate these ideas in our school without an awareness of why changes are being implemented throughout our parent community.  An example of this is some of the changes that have occurred in our school due to the work of Carol Dweck and her book “Mindset”.  I personally believe that the central idea of this book, promoting a growth mindset, has the ability to improve the learning experience for everyone in our school community.   Although our faculty has discussed Dweck’s work and how this can impact our classrooms, I was wondering how we could introduce our parent community to her work and discuss how parents can promote the growth mindset at home as well?

Fortunately, I have been working with a parent group this year to help me answer these types of questions.  Our solution was to have a parent book club that would read books like Mindset, and meet to discuss the central ideas and share how these ideas might impact their children.  I am happy to say that thanks to the organization of our parents, we will be having our first parent book club meeting this week and talking about how we can promote the growth mindset in both at home and at school.  I think that this is that this is a great example of a positive school and parent partnership and looking forward to some fantastic discussions.