Blocked or Bored?

It feels like forever that I have written. I think it is more a block than anything. I am as busy as I have been in the past and even then I managed to write a few words here and there. It seems that now days I can’t find anything to write about. Which is odd, in that I have one of the worlds most interesting jobs and it seems that each day should bring about some new idea in which to pen my thoughts. I have never really been a writer, so I don’t know if this is truly writers block or if I just have caught up with my blog fever and now I have to reenergize myself to continue.

I seem to have forgotten how much I enjoyed reading the different posts in my reader, commenting and then following the comment trail. I know that it takes time and I think like anything when you get out of the habit you have to force yourself to get back into it. I look at some of the other bloggers and they are posting like 4 or 5 articles a week. I know that I can do that, and in fact at my peak I was probally around 3-4, so I know that it can be done. My goal this week is to post to the 3 blogs that I currently work on. This is my first post back here so I am one third of the way there. I am working on a slideshow for the other blog, it will be about student attendance, modeled after the “Did you Know” slideshow.

In regards to subjects to write about, I am trying to get in the habit of writing down topics and then trying to get back to them and start to write about them. My only problem now is remembering where I write down those little topic sentences. I have got them all over the place.

I am also concerned that the limited amount of people that look at this blog will go away and never come back. I feel that I have worked hard to get my little audience and I don’t want to lose them. So that is moving me to start to post again.

With that said, I am working on my next post entitled “Give the kid a pencil”. Should be ready soon.

Encouraging

I wrote a few days ago that getting people to write comments on SC Middleschooladmin was like pulling teeth. Well I had a meeting today with some of the principals and ap’s and asked them if anyone was even reading it.  You know what they are. Yahoo!!!  What they said was we really enjoy it, we love reading it, don’t change it, we just don’t have time to write on it. Also a few of them stated that they are not quite ready to post to an open forum and I understand that. Sometimes you have to be ready to step out of your comfort zone and maybe just reading is the first step for some of these people. Anyways I was encouraged by the group and I am going to keep moving on and posting to the new site

Interventions, a whole school approach.

I was reading Kimberly Moritz’s blog the other night and she was writing on the fact that her blogging was opening up other opportunities for her. I commented that this was great and very exciting and that it would be opening up a chance for her to maybe move into some other aspect of education.

Being that Kimberly was nominated by Chris Lehman as a “thinking blogger” or a blogger who makes you think, she came back to me and other commenter’s with this answer. I was quite surprised. Who wouldn’t want to go out and be a speaker, or a keynote addresser (?), a forum participant, but she made the point that is it fair to her students if she is doing all of this other stuff. What about her 25-30 students that are dropping out each year, how is she going to help them out if she is doing presentations. And what do you know, she made me think.

When I started blogging I wanted to be known, to be invited to speak, to be a key person. And you know what I still do. However, I also know now, or more of I realize that staying focused on my at-risk students is extremely important and therein lies the meat of this post.

At risk students and the interventions that accompany them are a complex issue. Many times the student has given up and the support that they have at home is non-existent. Thus the burden of the intervention and support is thrust entirely upon the school and staff. At my school, since we are a junior high, we don’t have drop outs, we have give ups. Give ups are students who have simply stopped working. Whether it be their first quarter as a junior high student or their last, they have quit. Many of them have good solid reasons to give up; no one at home to support them, new school, they have never done well, they have been branded a give upper their entire life and so on. Some of them try to get out of the give up state and work hard at creating new habits. Some of them find that teacher that pulls them out of the depths, someone that connects with them. Many of them however, simply don’t make it.

This is where the school comes in. The school cannot not become give-up enablers. We must do everything possible, within our means, to help these children succeed.

At Aptos Junior, we developed a comprehensive intervention plan last year. We took the approach that this needed to be something that was not a quick fix and that would survive the different years and the different students. It is not perfect but it is a series of interventions that we have in place to address the needs of our give-uppers.

We did quite a bit of group work with our teachers in pulling out ideas around factors that attributed to students not succeeding. We also had teachers look at different types of students. Those who were doing well on state test scores but failing classes and then those who were at the bottom of the test score bracket and still failing. We tried to pull out attributes and not just personality traits of the students. Staying away from personal stories was quite a challenge.

We then came up with categories of interventions: In place, short term and long term. In place were just what we were currently using. Short term were those interventions we could implement before we returned from winter break. Long term were far off ideas that would need more research.

Our plan then turned to refining our current ideas, to make them more efficient and pulling out 4 short term ideas that we could implement.

Overall the process went extremley well. We had maximum buyin from the staff and the interventions that were brought to the front came from the staff not “handed down” from the administration. We also came up with interventions that were self sustaining over the summer and did not need to be restarted, discussed or otherwise revamped when the new school year started.

One of the simplest interventions was simply letting the teachers know what type of kids they were going to have. By this I mean, letting them know their ELL students, special ed kids, at risk students and so on. You would think that this would be one of those classes in your admin program, but it’s not. It should be.

Interventions are a whole school approach. Buy in from the staff is important and essential to making your interventions succeed. Sure, we still have give-uppers, but we have a plan for them. Sure some of them still fail, to many in my opinion, but it is not for lack of trying on the school’s part. In this day and age when the school is asked to do so much and be so many things I can safely say that Aptos Junior is doing its part.

Relative to your leadership role…

Kelly at Educational Discourse tagged me a few days ago. The tag was a continuation of the leadership meme that was going around. That one asked you to list 7 qualities. This new meme is a little different in that it asks specific questions. The questions are listed below and here goes:

Relative to your leadership role…

What’s working well? Currently the collaboration between the staff and administration is going well. We are heavily involved in disecting our data, implementing interventions and working on presentations for our home and school club. Staff members are seeming eager to get input from the administration on strategies to help students as well as ideas for how to put their presentations together. This is the most collaboration between the staff and admin since I have been at Aptos Junior High.

What brings you great pride and joy? I receive great pride and joy from doing a project, job or service and seeing it succeed but not having anyone really no how much work I put it into it. Being “behind the scenes” is important. I really enjoy seeing the teachers succeed, using instructions that I put together. I also enjoy seeing students succeed using interventions that the staff and admin have worked on. Seeing instructional practices put to good use always makes me smile. The biggest thing is seeing a student outside of school and having them say hi to you and acknowledge you. Coming from a junior high student this is bigtime. Especially if the student was one you just had to discipline.

How have you made a difference for good in the lives of those you serve? Being positive, willing to listen, giving the teachers the tools to succeed. Keeping the menial tasks to a minimum so the teachers can teach and the students can succeed. Doing that behind the scenes work so the school runs smoothly.

What brings you quiet satisfaction? Having an educational discussion with a teacher, student or parent in which everyone goes away feeling that they have learned something. Getting a teacher to look at something through a different lense. Not necessarily changing their mind, but just getting them to recognize that there is a different way to look at it.

What have you learned over the last few months? Listening is vital, action is sometimes not necessary and being flexible with your time is important. Also, be careful what you say and how you say it and as always 7 positive comments to 1 negative comment a day is one of the best ways to move things forward.

How can you use this information (above) to move your organization forward? Continue to reflect on these questions and review the answers. Realize that schools are everchanging even as they are standing still. And above all, how do these answers affect student achievement. Are these things best for kids?

Thanks Kelly for tagging me. I am going to pass this on to Santa Cruz Middle School Admin. I think that these questions are items that all administrators should be asking themselves.

Change; sure!

I wrote a post about change recently. In it I asked this question: what makes a teacher or any school staff member (because I know plenty of administrators who just do things the same old way) want to change?

Since then I have had the pleasure of witnessing change take place at Aptos Junior High School. Change and collaboration. Two of the greatest things that an administrator could ever be party to.

I will start with the change. I have written several posts on the computer cart that our school purchased and that the ELA department was the dept with the most questions and hesitation about purchasing the cart. Just this last week 4 of the ELA dept teachers used the cart. One teacher used it to start a writing process and the other 3 used it to do research on African Folktales. This is awesome. The cart has only been available for 4 weeks and already 4 ELA teachers are using it (oh wait I said that already!, tells you how excited I am). This is a great example of teachers being willing to take a step forward and try something new. Now I don’t know if they will ever use it again, but what I do know is that they did something new, something different than the day before and as we all know in the world of education this is great news.

I would also like to congratulate my teachers for collaborating on the internet project. They all shared a classroom, moved their students through the computer setup, helped each other with the tech aspect of the cart and researched the African Folktale website together. Keep up the great work.

Additionally, my staff has started to begin to check out our LCD projectors constantly. Many of them have discovered that projecting something is much crisper and cleaner than using those fuzzy overheads. Dan Meyer writes in his blog about using Keynote and an LCD projector to keep his life organized. I feel that this will be the way of the future. Instead of overheads it will be laptops and LCD’s. My teachers are also discovering that Powerpoints, homemade DVD’s, and slideshows make for more interesting presentations than the cardboard dioramas. They are encouraging students to make these techno projects and then get them to school. It is exciting for me to see CD’s, DVD’s, and flash drives being brought to school with the sole purpose being for school work and not entertainment.

Enough about tech change, how about just the way that we are looking at interventions? Wait, that is a post. I will write about that next. Also coming up; Middle School Admin.com goes live.

Leadership, DY/DAN style.

I was tagged a few weeks (days?) back for a leadership meme. The question was “What are 7 qualities that make you an effective leader”. I enjoyed putting it together and reading some of the other blogs that received this same tag.

One tag that I particularly enjoyed was that of Dan Meyer. Dan is a teacher, not an administrator. He has not yet come to the Dark Side 🙂 , not yet anyways. If you are an adminstrator or thinking about becoming I encourage you to check out his post on leadership. He offers some words of wisdom from a different point of view.

I particulary like his quote ” Exterminate your insecurities long before we discover them. ”

The other quote that stuck out was this one “Start your meetings promptly and end them early.” This is a pearl of wisdom that I have noticed many administrators forgetting about.

Thanks Dan for your enlighting words. I will use them in my continued effort to improve my quality administration.

Brian

Data;part two. Using the computer cart to faciliate improved staff development.

Rick from rickscheibner.net left a comment on coming up regarding the use of our computer cart in training the teachers in the use of data. I wrote about the actual day here. This post is a follow up to that question.

Our district PVUSD currently uses a data mining program called EDUSOFT. We had previously used only an inhouse program that was developed by our Migrant ED people. Personally I enjoyed the inhouse program because it had quite a few filters and an easy export to EXCEL. Unfortunatley the district was looking for something else and EDUSOFT is what we got.

The initial trainings were not very good, but my tech partner and myself are both pretty savvy when it comes to learning new programs so we dove in and created our own training for our staff. This is where the computer cart comes in.

In the past, we had used an LCD projector, 1 computer, and handouts to administer our data trainings. We had also created data binders for each teacher that took hours upon hours worth of work and as soon as a student left a class were rendered obsolete for that student. The problem with the LCD/1 computer set up was that every teacher was only looking at one particular set of students (usually who was ever presenting) so the whole presentation was not very personalized. So after the presentation was over the teachers would say that’s nice and never look at the data again ( I guess that is a generlization) I should say that they were prone not to use the data as a resource.

So enter the computer cart: At the beginning of the 06-07 school year, we received some one time monies from the Governator (thats Arnold S., for those of you outside CA). The money could be used for anything as long as it was approved by the School Site Council. John and I made a pitch for a 35 laptop, wireless mobile computer cart. After 4 presentations to both staff and SSC it was finally approved. Right before winterbreak we received all of the materials and finalized the computers and it was ready.

The main benefit to using the computer cart for staff trainings is that it eliminates “SIT AND GET”. It is amazing the corrolaries between using the cart for students and using the cart for teachers. Everyone is engaged.

Here are some benefits to using the cart, or for that matter any computer lab for staff inservice training:

  1. Personalizes the process: Teachers can look at their own students, not just the example students.
  2. Hands On: Many times a teacher will say, “I just can’t remember the steps”. By having the laptop the teacher can have a hands on experience and try the steps numerous times, thus facilitating better remeberance of the process.
  3. Take something away: Using the cart and giving time to look up data on their own students allows for teachers to “take away” useable information. We always try to include a “takeaway” sheet that allows teachers to write down students and their needs for easy access.
  4. Introduction to technology: Many teachers view the laptop/computer as simply a glorified word processor. By introducing them to some of the other uses the teachers start to view the computer as an educational tool rather than an accessory.
  5. Collaboration: This was an unexpected benefit as teachers were almost forced to collaborate and problem solve together regarding the process and the data.

We have now used the cart about 4 times with great success. Our goal is to continue to develop trainings around the cart and thus improve our staff developement process.

Brian

Data, an administrators best friend.

Data. When I started administration 5 years ago, data to me was just statistics from a sports league. Any sports league. Be a former PE teacher and sports junkie I was into numbers. Who was leading the league in hits, average, touchdowns, yards per catch, run after catch. You name it and I could probally tell you about it and I probally still can. Only now its CST scores, Celdt Scores, grades, progress reports, attendance, cluster reports, writing scores. Ask me about it and I can figure out how to get it and break it down for you. Bragging you may ask, well maybe, (it is my blog :)) however in this case it is…., ok it is bragging. If there is one thing I have learned over the last 5 years it is if you cannot mine the data you may not have a future.

In this age of NCLB, which seems to be such a hot topic in the edublogosphere, that I hesitate to even mention it, you must know the data.

In my humble opinion data needs to be broken down into some of the following:

  1. Mine the data for usable information
  2. Understand the meaning behind the numbers.
    1. For example: what is a 3 really on the CST (California Standards test)
      1. It is basic in a 5 scale rubric (right in the middle)
      2. it is a scaled score of less than 350
      3. It is a student who is on the bubble to becoming proficient.
  3. Know how to dig deeper:
    1. How do you find out how a 3 is scored
      1. It is a compilation of cluster scores within a certain test.
  4. Know where to go to get the data
    1. Does your district have a website, do you use a third party provider
  5. And, drumroll please, know how to present the data to your staff in a way that makes it meaningful, easy to understand and easy to access.

Point #5 is the most important. If you, as an administrator, cannot present data to your teachers in a way that they can understand, your schools road to improvement will be tough.

In this day and age of accountability it pays to know your technology and how to acces information about your students. Data should be used in most, if not all, of your educational descisions and should be a focus in how your teachers prepare.

Data driven decision making is an oft used phrase but one of high importance.  I was lucky in that I stumbled into an AP job working for a principal that loved data. At first I didn’t really understand what all the fuss was and now today I love crunching the numbers.  What I love more is when the principal and I present the data to our teachers and see that light go on.  That makes it all worthwile.

    Found You; Tag your it

    After my last post I did some digging around the internet and found two other administrators:

    1. Chris Lehman at Practical Theory
    2. Kris Moritz at GTown Talks
    3. Scott Mcleod at Dangerously Irrelevant

    It was exciting to see that there were other administrators that are out there in the blogging world.

    In other exciting news, I was tagged. Normally in my line of work this would be bad, (see: graffitti), however in the edublogosphere this is a good thing. I was tagged for this question:“What are seven qualities we don’t know about you that help you be a leader?” Chris Lehman and Rich Scheibner tagged me. As Randy Rodgers stated and I echo his sentiment, it feels great to be part of a larger community. I had answered this question on Kims blog because I thought it would be fun. Little did I know that I would have the opportunity to do it for real on my own blog. So here goes (I changed a few from my post on Kims blog)

    1. Not afraid to try new things: I enjoy trying different ways, looking at new ideas and trying them out even if I know they may fail

    2. Sense of Humor: Can’t be a worthwile administrator without it.
    3. Listening: One of the most important skills a leader can have. And one that takes the most time to learn
    4. 7-1: I once was told that a ratio of 7 positive comments to 1 negative is the most effective discipline out there. I try for this each day.

    5. Not as afraid of Conflict: Still learning how to approach conflict, but it is gettting easier.
    6. Technology: Work smarter not harder
    7. Love the numbers: What does data tell us , how can it make us better and how is it meaningful to teachers.

    These are qualities that help me to be a quality administrator. As I look at them I notice that teacher evaluation, assesment, budget are not on there….hmmm 🙂 Maybe that is the next post.

    Thanks again to Chris and Rick for tagging me.

    Where are you?

    This is a call to site administrators. Where are you? Where are your stories, your experiences, your challenges and successes. Where are your comments on NCLB, on technology, on staff, schedules, lunch duty and having to be the custodian, the counselor and office manager all at the same time.

    I have been poking around in the edublogosphere ( I just love that name) and I have not found many site administrators.

    Sunny Williams is one adminstrator that is blogging about her experiences. Rick Scheibner is an up and coming administrator (way to go Rick) and I have received a link from Sunny for the Princpals Blog Project and I have checked that out for content. Unfortunatley I found that many of the blogs are simply “daily announcements”type of blogs. This is not what I am personally looking for. Yes I like to see what other schools are doing, but I like to visit so many other sites that contain information that is so relevant to learning and building community.

    Dan Meyer is a teacher that has insightful and conversation inspiring blog entries. He also throws out some pretty stimulating comments that lead to long blog conversations. It is interesting that as I was going through comments related to one of Dan’s comments I came across a blog by Kim Moritz who is an administrator in Gowanda, New York (as far as I can tell). She has some good stuff on there and links to 7 other administrators (one of whom is Rick. Good job Rick, tell her about my blog). She also had a link to another admin web site. So maybe you are out there. Great. I will continue to refine my searches to get to relevant administrator sites.

    In the meantime http://middleschooladmin.com is up and running (no content yet) but we have the domain name and a live site. The next step is to start to post some content. I don’t know of any administrators in Santa Cruz County besides myself who are using WEB 2.0 for anything so this is my effort to bring the county that is ony 20 miles from Silicon Valley into the light. Our goal is to get every SC county admin on our site by the end of the year. We will have a special site just for them to blog and post to as well as the site listed above for articles, links and other releveant information to the WEB 2.0 world.