Sunday, June 28, 2015

Me too, I change lives too.

I was so excited to catch up on some much needed blog reading this weekend while I was not being at #ITSE2015. I am not lamenting here.

I got to read @mrsdsings post which is linked up here, and I found @okeducationtruths follow up which is linked here. So the question is Why Teach?? With an  up'ed ante question is Why Teach Here? So here it is...

Why teach?
Because it can be fun. My first major in college was Theatre. Mr. Cobb says in his post that often people grab a major without thinking of the career that should follow. I did love acting, but knew it would never really take me to Hollywood. When I finally did settle on teaching, it was for the summers off. Yeah, I know. I am one of those. But it only made sense to take all that I knew from acting and use it in the classroom to teach young'uns. Golly, did it turn out to be amazing. Kids were having fun AND learning at the same time. I was being "the anti-teacher" that I knew from my days in schooling. I LOVE Ben Stein the person, but his character in Ferris Buehler was nearly every math teacher I have ever had. When I first realized that the perfect marriage was teaching and acting I was hooked. And the kids, they were hooked too. They love that they never know what character will be presenting their math, english or history. But they do know they will learn something, and they know that their teacher will be "all in".

Part Duex: Why Teach Here?
I am at Epic Charter Schools, literally because after teaching for one year and being told my "enthusiasm" wouldn't last...there was no way I wanted to place myself around a bunch of haters all day long. I taught here for 2.5 years before being asked to move up to teach the teacher how to more effectively use their curriculum. This year they asked me to start a tutoring program as well and the rewards of the spoils have been tremendous. I love teaching teachers. Now, maybe not all would like my theatrics in the PD rooms, but from what I hear, those people would be few and far between. I still have people asking if I really climbed Mt Everest. And those people can also effectively use data to individualize their approach to teaching. :-)

There you have it. My sloppily written and hardly to the point reasons for being here and in this profession.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Strategic Game Planning for the Future

Let's pretend for a moment you just became the head coach of a brand new football team. You have been given the fastest runners and some of the best receivers in the nation. You head out to the field; only to find out none of them know what a first down is.

Sometimes it doesn't matter who your team consists of, if you don't know what it takes to do the job, then you have to go back to the film room to learn the game.

I would say despite being a 4 yr old school and the growing pains that comes with a 30-40% enrollment increase each of those years, we are doing an average job. Average however, is not where we want to be. So this week our entire administrative team hit the locker room to watch the proverbial tapes.

We started this process three years ago, with a group of only 8 of us. Many good discussions came from the 2 day retreat, but we were barely able to move the mark going into our third year. This in part was due not including the entire administrative team in being apart of the solution.
Last year, before moving into our fourth year the entire admin team was invited to the two day (don't check your email) working retreat. David Reed of Customer Centered Consulting Group, had us break out into our small team groups to discuss how each team was going to move the drive of our school to be more student centered. We needed to maintain all the freedom that our school was built around while also moving the needle on state testing, to prove to the state and all of the haters that we are doing exactly what our school founders set out to do. We came away from that retreat ready to tackle the next school year. We knew what a first down was now it was time to learn how to run the routes.

Skipping through and highlighting this last school year: We grew by 1000 students, added a tutoring program, changed the messaging and the way we communicate to the teachers, students, parents, along with many others changes. This summer we received the preliminary data that judges us to find out that some of the plays we created in the retreat last year, worked. The preliminary data provided by the state looks like we were able to move the mark in the overall pass rates of our students. While there are other numbers outside of my areas of improvement processing that will go into the overall A-F scores, it shows that at least we know what it takes to play in the football game.

This year we met again to discuss the year and to look forward on how to improve on the gains we started in the previous year. In the past we were grouped into our own departments, but this year we were separated into groups with a representative from each department to allow for an outsiders view and possible solution of each "problem area". The discussions were amazing.

Sidebar - I think we can often get pigeonholed into a way of thinking and doing. This goes beyond my school and into all of education. Who do we serve? The students? Or the policy makers? In many districts we have been driven to improve the testing scores at all costs. This type of thinking fosters a culture of high stakes data worshiping. All too often we lose sight of the job; that is to teach and to serve the student's best interest.

Mr Reed's consulting group led our administrative retreat for a second year in a row. The name of the company is Customer Centered Consulting. Our customer is the student. As we move into the next school year, we will be implementing ideas that will not be hindered by the rapid growth we experience each year; the ideas scale for growth. These ideas will hopefully allow us to focus on the students more AND still achieve the rise in state testing scores that the state will be looking for, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The retreats have proven to help us highlight potential areas of growth, identify the problem at it's source and together brainstorm a game plan to increase productivity and increase our "rating". So my questions are...

1. What does your school do? Is there a game plan? Do you go back each year to watch the tapes?

2. If you are a teacher, do you do this for your classroom? What do your running routes look like? Can you be passing a little more? Do your students know they are a key part of the football game?

3. If you are a parent, you are the offensive coordinator. Are you at home making sure your child is eating right, doing homework, reading books? Are you reading to them? Are you in constant communication with the teacher (head coach) to ensure everyone is working toward the same goal?

Monday, June 15, 2015

I thought I knew

What a week!!
I found myself in a car this past Tuesday driving the 10 hours to Illinois for the Google Apps for Education Summit 2015. This conference was hosted by the amazing EdTech Team just outside of Chicago. 

The first thing we were asked, before we ever set foot in the building, was how well do you know Google and the apps used for education. I typically walk into any setting knowing I am likely the least knowledgeable person in the room on the topic. This way there is more collaboration and I can see how others are using things rather than push the ways we do things. I humbly said I knew quite a bit, but that I was no Google Ninja.
However, I felt pretty confidant about my Google skills, but tried to under sell myself.

Turns out...there was absolutely no frickin' reason to undersell my abilities. These programs which I have been using and sharing for the last couple of years have a whole new level of kick-ass to them that I am pretty sure educators are not even touching. For instance, take this quick quiz for me and see what I am talking about. This blew my mind. I mean, I have been using Forms for many reasons and for over a year now. Think about all of the cool ways you can then formatively assess your students in the classroom. This still comes with all of the analytics so you have an overall snapshot of your class or group in pretty pie charts or bar graphs.

Sidebar - Summative assessment is the icky word that makes people think of standardizing or Unit reviews because they are in the book. Formative assessment is the super cool way to know if your kids get it. NOT because it will be on the test.

Ok, so another cool thing I learned this week is Google Sites. Teachers, and principals for that matter. Hell, administrators!!! you can use Google sites for your classroom, school building, or district website. And it's free. Or as my friend Johnny Atchley likes to say, "it's free 99!".
I will link the overview page here and here is a video on the process if it's all new to you. The leader of the session I attended explained how to use Google sites as a digital portfolio for her students to upload their work. Gosh, I have had students work together to create a "textbook" of the content they learned over the year, but the potential here is astounding. You could have a shared or individualized 2015 website where the students share with the/their parents the work you have been teaching and they have been learning all year. Here is a link to Molly's (our session presenter and Google Certified Teacher) presentation on how to use sites as digital portfolios for your students. The link is her own Google Site. You can see how professional it looks, and again, ITS FREE. #gooddeal

The last take home for the week was the idea of throwing out the grade book and going with a badge system. My Twitter feed has been slowly coming around to the idea in the last year. It completely disrupts everything tradition schools schools stand for, so I am sure I will catch some flack on this one. If it helps you traditionalists out there, the session was titled WTF. So in this session Google Certified Teacher Jeffery Heil (On the twitter he's @jheil65) talks about giving a syllabus of all assignments at the beginning of the semester or school-year and assigning badges to different checkpoints along the way. You will have to decide for yourself if this will work for your age of students. He works with undergrad students at the secondary level. I have tried this with my students in personal finance. Each checkpoint had an essay, presentation or video that allowed the students to demonstrate their level of knowledge for each subject. This was a LOT of work for me and I had to let the parents know what I was doing and that their kids would not be receiving weekly grades in the class. This was incredibly difficult for some parents....and students to wrap their minds around, but the level of work was amazing. I did not provide a three column rubric, only a single column. For them it was sort of a check list of all the things that the projects needed. Why would we show the first and second column of that rubric? Why would we allow them the chance to fail at a topic so crucial to life? Because the school system was not ready for a non-graded system, and students must receive a final grade, the number of badges awarded in the class determined the grade at the end of the class. But all of the projects ended up looking amazing.

So, there is another EdTech GAFEsummit this October here in Oklahoma. I highly, ardently, and insanely recommend this conference if you think you know Google and want more or if you want to see what other amazing educators are doing with Google. I will be attending this conference again, as there were like 10 rooms per session, so there is obviously more to know out there. Here is the link to get signed up for the Tulsa Conference.

As always, let me know what you think about this post. Love it? Hate it?

Saturday, June 6, 2015


I had this professor in college. His name was Andy Eurich and he taught business law. Funny thing is, I retained only one tidbit of the BLaw class and that was the definition of a reasonable person. Would a reasonable person...this? Could a reasonable person...that? He taught a multitude of other other topics, they just had nothing to do with business law. Reminds me of a professor that got his tenure and then got pissed off and decided to teach whatever the heck he wanted. And I am pretty sure we all loved it and also got C's because we could not pass a single test. I learned all about Reaganomics and what thoughtful citizens should do. I learned that I was NOT a unique snowflake. And I learned to create days of DiVinci. What does that mean? Well, Leonardo DiVinci was a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. He was always discovering and looking for more and the first at a lot of things. I took that class over a decade ago, but thoughts of DiVinci ran through my head last night. It was beautiful "Day of DiVinci". 

I have been looking for the next evolution to EdCamp style PD. The something out there for the growing number of us that have now been to 10+ EdCamps.

SIDEBAR - Yes, it's an addiction. Yes it's more than 10, ok, it's more like 15. But I don't even come close to touching the numbers of some of my favorite Tweeps...ehem, Toby, Tammy, Anthony, Anne.

In this search for more, the conversation really started at EdCampBA last year, Anthony Purcell (@MrP_tchr) had an idea. This thought grew over the last month or so ago and he let me in on the planning of #stillEdtalk. The idea was for a TED Talks type of evening, but with an open panel. Because the panel was open and because we have seen people railroad a conversation before, we came up with the idea of having beanbags and Nerf balls to be thrown at the speaker when the audience felt the point was made. It was a gentle suggestion to move on or get to the point. It was brilliant. The format was conversational, but each topic started with a sort of monologue before opening to the floor. It was not formal at all. For many reasons the event was kept small. To our knowledge, this hasn't really been done before, so we had no idea what to expect. 

The small group showed up to Gatsby's in Stillwater OK just after 6:30 PM. The conversation included teachers, instructional technology specialists, administrators, and College of Ed instructors, i.e. Doctoral Candidates. We were from large city and rural Oklahoma. The two things we all had in common were the OklaEd hashtag on Twitter and we were educators.
The conversations were many and are retold in my own version and accounting. They Include:

1. A frustration over the need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to creating and teaching standards. Before the Common Core came around and Oklahoma kicked it to the curb, states like Texas and Massachusetts were education leaders in the country. Why does Oklahoma feel like they need to invent their own standards when these states were already doing it well, they had standards, they had testing vendors with question banks for days. New from scratch means you will have to fail a few more times before you get it right. Why do we want to keep failing our schools, our teachers, our STUDENTS? Makes this educator wonder if it really comes down to pride. Of course not, that answer is too easy. The real answer must obviously be more convoluted than that.

2. Across the state collaboration vs keeping your secrets in your room, building or district. There is a ranking system in the state and across the US which makes a competition out of things...which leads to a necessity or justification of hoarding best practices. Teachers are looking for more. When you are ranked and end up lower than you hope, wish, or think you should be it leads to a classroom or teacher self reorganization. I think this is one of the biggest reasons our state has so many EdCamps each year. Oklahoma is always on the bottom and we are looking to claw our way up from 47th. But it is not the "A" school districts that are sharing because they are caring. It is more grassroots. EdCamps are teacher driven. Teachers share a lot. We would like to see districts and the states share more best practices.

3. Real and meaningful feedback vs the Marzano have to write something in no matter if it's meaningful or helpful. One participant last night sang the praises of her previous administrator that always gave the best feedback. She looked forward to the visits/classroom evaluations from Shawn Blankenship, because she knew she was going to get constructive feedback that she could use in her classroom the very next day. The group gave a collective moan when the topic of feedback through the Marzano TLE, which comes across to teachers as lackadaisical. Administrators, if you need help with how to provide better feedback, I will not offer up Mr Blankenship's email address, but you can tweet to him. He is

4. Teachers need more and better professional development. One participant hates the idea that he has to sit through the districts PD on data tracking when he knows in his heart of hearts that he will never use it. He does want to learn X, Y, and z, so why cant he? Why can't teachers choose the PD they need in order to teacher the content or skills their students need? Another participant sat through a data training that she just knew she was going to hate, she had already sat through this particular training the year before. The point here was that this time it was engaging. It was told in a storytelling fashion that captivated her and kept her listening throughout the PD. The biggest thing I got out of this discussion was that PD can be better. The trainer of that PD committed to the lesson. She dressed in full mountain climbing gear to tell the story. She kept the energy going as she then related the story to the data translating. Administrators, for the love of Pete, try to keep this in mind if you are asking teachers to sit through another PD. If you want some more suggestions on how to spice up your PD, comment below and include your email address. I love to share.

5. This brings me to my last main idea of the night. As teachers, our field most closely relates to that of an actor. I feel I am dodging bullets here, but think about it. The lessons your students really got...the lessons with the most passion get remembered. Once as a teacher, I dressed in a full ballgown and came into the classroom as if I were walking on stage to accept my award. I gave an acceptance speech for the award in the category of Best Use of Figurative Language. The students were then placed into groups to dissect the 5 songs I had picked out, all of which included one major use of figurative language. They had to tell which type of figurative language was being used. Last they had to write and give an acceptance speech that included the figurative language. Let me tell you, the students all year long were able to point out figurative language everywhere, even when we were covering other subjects...and they were not being asked to think about figurative language.  Another time, I had asked my students to learn a standard and then they were to deliver the lesson to their fellow classmates in their own style. I asked the students to become actors. They "acted" as if they were the experts on the matter and guess what. They were! I tried to have something big like this once a week for the different subjects I taught. The point here is if we commit to the role of teacher and we throw out all the stops, real learning can happen even to the least likely of students. You do not have to dress up to make the learning happen, I am just geeky like that, but for the love of Sam, put a little umph to it. If you want more ideas like this (5th and 8th grade mainly) comment below and include your email address. I love to share.

The evening was inspiring. It was the first of many more #stillEDtalk sessions to come We didn't just sit around the table and complain. Which can easily happen in small groups of educators. We offered up what we thought were some solutions. I am still a new guy to the offering up of solutions so please, if you see a flaw in my thinking here PLEASE let me know by commenting below.