Tuesday, December 20, 2022

What Educators Should Know About NJ's Anti-Bullying Laws

 Here is the link to my blog post on my law firm's website.  Later, I will explain what teachers and administrators should know in a separate post on my personal blog here.  

The state of New Jersey has some of the strictest anti-bullying laws in the country, with the goal of creating safe and welcoming schools for all students. The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, enacted in 2011, requires all schools to have a comprehensive anti-bullying policy in place and to take steps to prevent, report, and investigate incidents of bullying.

Under the Act, bullying is defined as "any gesture, any written, verbal, or physical act, or any electronic communication" that is "reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical, or sensory disability, or by any other distinguishing characteristic" and that "takes place on school property, at any school-sponsored function, or on a school bus" and "substantially disrupts or interferes with the orderly operation of the school or the rights of other students."

The Act also requires schools to take specific steps to address incidents of bullying.  The long and short of it for admin and teachers is that you really need to know the law.  There are ten steps schools must follow.  

Here are the ten steps that schools must take to address bullying under the Act:
  1. Develop a comprehensive anti-bullying policy: Schools must have a written policy in place that outlines the steps they will take to prevent and address bullying. This policy should include definitions of bullying and harassment, as well as the consequences for perpetrators.
  2. Train teachers and staff: All school employees must receive training on the school's anti-bullying policy and how to recognize and respond to incidents of bullying.
  3. Create a positive school climate: Schools should take steps to create a welcoming and inclusive environment, such as promoting respect and tolerance among students and providing resources for students who may be struggling.
  4. Provide resources for students: Schools should have resources in place to support students who have been victimized by bullying, such as counseling services and support groups.
  5. Investigate all reported incidents of bullying: Schools are required to investigate all reported incidents of bullying, even if the bullying took place off school property or outside of school hours.
  6. Notify parents: Within two school days of receiving a report of bullying, schools must notify the parents or guardians of both the victim and the perpetrator.
  7. Provide support to victims: Schools must provide counseling and other support services to victims of bullying to help them cope with the trauma of the experience.
  8. Implement disciplinary measures: Schools must take disciplinary action against perpetrators of bullying, as appropriate. This may include counseling, detention, or other consequences.
  9. Keep records: Schools must keep records of all reported incidents of bullying and the steps taken to address them.
  10. Review and update the policy: Schools should periodically review and update their anti-bullying policy to ensure that it is effective and in compliance with the Act.
Don't hold back.  Make sure to report it.  Don't justify it and not investigate.  Don't belittle the allegations, even if it's from a parent you don't necessarily always feel represents the entirety of the situation or is aware entirely of a situation. Ensure the time frame for investigations is followed.  Communication to all parties, as laid out in the law, is critical.  The proactive approach is the best.  If you have suspected there is a child who may be subject to bullying, then be super proactive when they complain about teasing or being "othered."  While not every peer conflict is bullying, it's essential we be on the lookout and work hard to create a classroom and school culture that really celebrates and embraces differences.  In younger grades, I recommend reading books about all different kinds of people to your students.

In addition to these legal requirements, schools are also encouraged to take a variety of preventive measures, including training for teachers and staff, creating a positive school climate, and providing resources for students.

It is crucial for schools to take a proactive approach to address bullying, as research has shown that bullying can have serious negative consequences for both the victims and the perpetrators, including academic difficulties, social isolation, and mental health issues. By following the requirements of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act and taking additional preventive measures, schools can create a safer and more positive learning environment for all students.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Staffing Retention, Retainment, and Recruitment in a COVID Era

Many schools and districts find it unusually hard to find staff to fill teaching roles. The reasons for this are vast.   One major issue is that faculty simply feel overworked,  underappreciated, and underpaid. This is mainly due to parental demands, state regulations, increased oversight, and inflation. Ultimately, this creates a situation where teachers go from feeling like managers of their classrooms to feeling like the hired help.  This also creates problems where teachers think their work-life balance is way off.  Let's go back to the notion that great organizations thrive when you put the right people in the correct positions and allow teachers a lot of leverage to do things in the way they find best (al la Jim Collins).  Clearly, competent professionals do not want to be micromanaged. They do not wish to do additional duties that are not directly related to their position and do not want extra paperwork.  This ultimately needs to be fixed to solve the problem first.  However, below I have listed some recruitment ideas.

Here are the possible solutions:

On a global level:

Consider dramatically changing the requirements for certification of K-12 teachers. For example, reducing the degree requirements and credit requirements. For instance, if someone has a BA in a subject related to math or science, why not consider accepting 9-12 credits in education as enough to be certified in that subject conditionally for 3-5 years? Why not consider allowing people who have taught one subject to become certified in a different age range or subject by simply testing into that area? Why require a graduate degree for counseling positions? Why require an MA for a principal license when we could merely require 2-3 additional courses post-working 5 years in education? These requirements cost people somewhere 25-80k, and the money teachers make does not attract people to jump to this field or change to teach a different subject so easily. We need to pave an easier, more cost-effective way.

On a local level: 

Prioritize hiring aids to supervise recess, provide coverage for lunch, and monitor arrival and dismissal. Do not expect teachers to do this kind of work. If possible, hire assistant teachers who can also grade vocab quizzes and basic other assignments in younger grades.

Consider reducing the number of administrators in a district and paying teachers more (not just starting teachers, but more importantly, mid-career level teachers).

Budget to hire experienced teachers, not just those fresh out of school (who are cheaper). They often come with a wealth of experience in how to create a positive culture in a classroom and how to foster relationships with parents.  Experienced hires can be SO helpful to an organization when adequately utilized.

Have an assistant teacher or teacher's aide that been in the school for years but lacks degrees beyond college directly in the subject?  Find a way to get this person certified if they would make a good teacher.  Find ways to work with them to help them become teachers if they want.  Ask them directly if you think they have potential.  Often, people think they are pegged for life in a position like this if they have been in it for 5 plus years.  It's a mentality.  You can help them see their potential.  I cannot tell you how many excellent teachers I worked with were long-term assistant teachers first.

Consider agreeing to hold on to the existing curriculum for 5-7 years and funnel the money towards hiring bonuses.

If you are running a private school, consider finding a way to hire retired NJ public school teachers through a new 403b incentive plan where you match their salary by 5% or more after year 2 and by 6-7% in years 5 and up.

Ways to incentivize teachers to stay that are non-financial:

Work with your PTO to help support teachers in setting up their classrooms the week before school starts (during PD time for teachers).   Having parents available to cut, paste, hang, decorate, and supply materials.  

Find ways to get parents to donate supplies rather than expect teachers to furnish their classrooms with materials.  Teachers pay way too much money out of their own pockets for stuff.  Some of this stuff can be donated by parents/local organizations/local businesses.  Who advertises in your school calendar?  Who gives your students internships?  Where do your teachers order lunch, or do you get catering for PD?  Ask them first.

For private schools, principals can consider giving teachers more say in their own scheduling (ask them about their preferences and reasons behind those preferences in google forms before finalizing any scheduling for the final year or making significant abrupt changes) and ask them to look over schedules before finalizing them.  You can find ways to create block scheduling and allow teachers to work four days a week (if possible).  Consider ways to include faculty in developing a schedule and school calendar whenever possible.
Creating more flexibility for teachers to leave work during the daytime to care for family, run errands, and go to doctor's appointments. By creating a culture where it is customary to leave during the day when needed to without rebuke or having to ask permission or serious questioning, you create a culture where teachers feel respected and do not need to feel like they have to take an entire day off for something simple like a mammogram. You gain teacher support and increase teacher attendance this way.  It also mimics other professions where adults do this without an issue.  There is a long history of a paternalistic culture in education (especially towards women staff), and we must break this.

Remove any distinction between types of "time off."  Sick time, personal time, etc., should all be rolled into "flex days," and each teacher should get 11 days off a year. Obviously, a teacher who needs to go on medical or bereavement leave can get additional time, but this allows teachers to be empowered to take the time they need and not feel belittled into asking "permission" or justifying the need to take off. Take off when you need to for the number of days you need up to 11. No questions asked. Just tell us when. That makes teachers feel respected like the adult professionals they are.

Ditch clocking in. If a teacher isn't present, they need to inform you by a specific time. If they are not there on time to teach regularly, your students will let you know, and you should consider having a strict policy where retention is tied (as a prerequisite for considering retention) to being on time for class.  Have an on-time policy, but policing this like the teacher is a child gets you nowhere. Your best teachers will occasionally walk in the door two minutes before they have to teach. So what? It will happen. You'd rather have them happy.   Of course, you must have a protocol and cameras in the hallways to monitor if a class is left alone.  

Suppose you have a game plan, and you notice a pattern of a specific teacher not being in a classroom when teaching time occurs. In that case, you can have a one-on-one meeting with them (not an announcement to a large group of faculty about how important it is to be on time).  You can place a letter in their file after the third time this occurs (as might happen in any other position where you need to be somewhere at a given time).  You can dismiss them after several times (up to you), but documenting and having one-on-one conversations are essential.  

Also, not physically having to clock in is a massive relief for teachers who often struggle to get their kids to school before rushing to teach themselves.  Do not have teachers come 30-40 minutes before they need to teach.  Instead, create a schedule where every teacher has a "late" day (don't start teaching until after 9 am) and require teachers at most 10-15 minutes before teaching to be present with legroom there and no responsibilities of monitoring children before teaching.

Stop requiring lesson plans. Yes. I said it. I know. If the teacher isn't teaching, they don't have their LMS set up; if the kids are goofing off in class, then YOU WILL KNOW.   All their lessons and materials should be there if they are utilizing an LMS (which should be required).  No need to make them work twice. The LMS has made lesson plans redundant and intellectually draining.  

Do not require teachers to grade everything they assign. They need to grade part of everything they assign (except final essays and tests). Make that clear to them.

Require teachers to only respond to emails from parents during work hours. Let parents know this is the school policy. The only exception to this is the school nurse for medical reasons.  The teacher should not be the go-to if a parent has an emergency.  Emergencies are for administrators that work year-round and make more.  Either way, parents should be discouraged from expecting less than 24 hours' notice on weekdays (if emailed Friday, Monday response should be OK) unless it's an emergency.

Do not do schoolwide PDs that focus on some theme. No one wants to hear a speaker talk about critical thinking, 21st-century skills, emotional intelligence, behavior plans, or trauma as an entire school. The lack of directions on topics that need to be targeted to specific age ranges/classes makes this a failed plan. This is a colossal mistake admin make because it seems cost-effective and produces excellent material for parents to "see" what they are learning on the day the kids are home, without actually covering anything. Teachers want PD directed towards what they teach. They can engage in a PLC if they learn more about the above areas.   Do subject-specific PLNs or interdisciplinary PLNs that focus on groups of teachers with specific directed issues.  

Consider emailing teachers BEFORE posting anything about scheduling to confirm it works for their classes and to get feedback from them on the impact of scheduling on students/the school community.

Give teachers their own classrooms. Each teacher needs their own space. When possible, this can be a huge help for teachers. Imagine having an employee without an office. We do that to teachers when we do not give them a classroom.

Do not have post-school PD or events that require teachers (except graduation or something major, like a few times, yearly tops). When the kids end school, teachers should end it too. It's too complicated with childcare; honestly, teachers need a break as much as the kids.

Administrators need to spend a lot more time getting rid of toxic teachers. It may sound crazy because we are all scrambling to find good teachers to fill roles, but holding on to toxic teachers can be a massive deterrent to new teachers considering your school. The teacher with the loudest complaining voice is not always the best. And either way, that teacher is not the best teacher for your school. Period. End of story. Find an exit strategy for that teacher. Put that teacher on a performance plan. Document everything happening. Make sure this teacher isn't negatively impacting students and other teachers. Never give that teacher the ability to have a voice in a public meeting. Make it clear to that teacher before meeting with other teachers that you expect that teacher to behave. Give examples of times that teacher did not do so. Explain how that teacher's behavior has impacted others. Make it clear you will tolerate no more of this regardless of the many years/successful performance the teacher has had in the past. Never hold large meetings to discuss morale rather than face this issue head-on and individually.

Consider recruiting qualified teachers from other countries to take certification exams and have the background necessary to be a good teachers.  This is already happening in areas like Chicago.  It's happening in the tech sector.  There is no reason we do not do this here.  

Lastly, thank your teachers every single day.  It's the most important advice I can give.  Thank them, compliment them (meaningfully), ask them how they are doing, learn their kids' names, and find out when they have a birthday.  Celebrate the good times with them and show up when they face hardship.  I loved the teachers I worked with as a principal and curriculum director.  They are some of the best people on the planet.  Value them.  

Monday, July 27, 2020

What is Flipped Education in a Remote Learning Environment?

So much can be said about the incredible creativity that has come out of the time students and faculty spent engaging in education online. While there was a lot of experimentation and some of it was less than ideal, these few months of online learning forced all of us to look at what we need most out of an educational experience for children of different ages. For all students, the need to engage in learning that was live, authentic, and relationship-based became paramount. For younger students, stamina had to be taken into consideration when designing videos, zoom sessions, and activities (both online and offline), and for older students, accountability, and empathy needed to be simultaneously taken into consideration when crafting each lesson.  It became a balancing act. 

Regardless, one thing became apparent.  Zoom lecturing reminded a lot of us of the "chalk and talk" days of old.  Zoom began to feel formulaic and teacher-centered.  We began to see the progress revolution that took place in education, the child-centered values we have embraced, and replaced by a lot of lectures.  The question becomes, how do we prevent this while still making sure students gain the information they need without having to "teach themselves"?

While there should not be one recipe for running a class, I have thought a lot about ways we can use Zoom to re-create in-school environments.  In school, thankfully, students are not lectured to all day.  They are not a recipient of information. Instead, students are active in the learning process.  Hence, it's essential that at any grade level, online education embrace our student-centered educational values. 

This past year, our first grade implemented Singapore Math.  After extensively training the year before, our five teachers threw themselves into learning this new style of teaching mathematics.  We found that the best way to teach online math to first graders was to create short videos providing quick how-to's.  Then, Zoom became time to work on a difficult problem together, discuss a core strategy (or many, alternative strategies to solving the same equation), or practice questions.  This model empowered the first graders to "own" their learning and created a forum for students to have much of the same rapport and critical thinking that existed when in the classroom at school. 

Imagine following this up with students submitting assignments on SeeSaw videotaping themselves explaining why they are doing a problem a certain way using a particular strategy?  Imagine kids making how-to videos showing others how to solve a problem differently. 

Now in older grades, imagine students posting comments on each other's strategies complementing them and offering alternative methods or solutions?   We just took something that could have been very passive and made it an active, engaging lesson in math and critical thinking.  We just created a classroom community, not just an assignment.

While we live in a somewhat unpredictable time, we can never abandon our passion and dedication to making education not just about embedding knowledge, but also and more importantly developing minds.  

Monday, May 18, 2020

Preventing Teacher Burnout During the Covid19 Crisis

I think we can all agree that teachers are doing the impossible.  Most of them are doing it really well.  Teachers need to be celebrated and need to know they are valued.  Whether this means dropping off food, yard signs, personalized letters, or simply making phone calls, teachers need to know we care.

So much of faculty burnout happens when teachers do not feel their work is valued.  Of course, we can all agree what they are doing is of tremendous value.  The key here in our roles as leaders is to create an environment (albeit virtually) that helps manage teachers' expectations, creates security around what we will be asking of each teacher, and enables teachers to feel supported.  Let's unpack how we can do this.

For one, we all know that there are several unknown variables that exist right now. We are not sure what September will look like.  Even if we go back, are we all going back?  Is there a hybrid approach to learning where students spend half the day learning from home and half the day learning in the school building?  What rules will we need to follow to ensure safety within our institutions?  What expects will have of teachers?  What grades will we need to hire new staff for?  Who may be leaving and who may need to change grades?

As administrators, we are trying our best to strategize ahead of time and plan for every possible scenario.  However, we also recognize we will need to be responsive to the needs of our students, staff, and families when rolling out any new plans.  This means we will be tweaking them after we roll them out.  Additionally, we will lack some of the information we usually have at this time of year to make accurate decisions about next year, so changes will have to happen later.

Furthermore, parents, if we go remote again in September or any hybridization of distance learning happens, will expect a much smoother ride this time around.  They will expect teachers will know how to use the technology needed to make students less reliant on parents.  They will expect districts will provide whatever technology is needed so they will not have to excessively print out materials for their children.  Parents will expect systems to be in place and forethought to be there.  They will have less patience then they have had.

Hence, communication with faculty is key.  It is not only important to clarify for teachers whatever ambiguity about their role exists, but also what the options could be (when possible).  Being honest, as usual, is the best policy.  This means realistically, we are talking about having a lot of frank and sometimes difficult conversations with teachers.  Whether it means telling a new hire that you probably will not know until Murphy announces about school in September which grade level the faculty member will teach.  It means talking with an established teacher about the teacher's multiple certifications and that you cannot commit to necessarily keeping that teacher on his/her current grade level, but you will try.  It means to tell teachers they may need to have more videoconferencing in the fall and that they need to work on giving feedback to students about all work submitted.

Whatever you plan to say to your staff, you need a clear plan, training for the fall NOW, and a listening ear.  Teachers need time to vent and let you know how they feel about the shifting expectations, their incredibly balancing act between their private and professional lives, and what they need to be successful.

Wondering what you should be training your staff in now?

  • Learning management systems for all grade levels.  If you have one, then fine-tuning and training your staff in the plethora of ways they can be used. 
    • SeeSaw, Canvas, Google Classroom
  • Online textbooks, assessment tools, and practice websites
    • Into Reading, Prodigy, IXL, Singapore Math Live, I-Ready, etc...
  • Training on the hybrid learning models
The key here is clarity whenever possible about expectations.  

Teachers also need to be celebrated; they need to know they are valued.  Whether this means dropping off food, yard signs, personalized letters, or simply making phone calls, teachers need to know we care.  

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Thinking About Supporting Our Students When We Go "Back"- The New Normal

Governor Murphy has already said that whenever students do go back to school, it is more than likely it will not look the same as it did when they left.  In videoconferences sessions between administrators and parents from local high schools, administrators have already broached the idea of getting outdoor tents, staggering days of the week students come to campus, and start and end times.  Even a discussion of staggered breaks and lunchtimes have been reported.  This falls in line with what is already happening in Denmark as schools return.  Schools in Denmark are allowing children up to age 12 (5th grade) return.  They have strict protocols for handwashing, sanitizing, and social distancing.

I could imagine our state doing any less than this whenever we do choose to open.  I agree these measures will most probably be needed and, in fact, required by law.  Today, I want to approach the subject of how we will support our students emotionally and academically when we get back to this new normal because while each student left one way, none will be the same upon return.

Our students left us worried, but largely healthy.  The effects of the virus had not yet touched the lives of most people our community knew.  Within a few short weeks, people all around us started being rushed to hospitals, put on ventilators, and dying.  Some of those people were our students' neighbors, some their family, and even some a teacher.  The situation is scary for everyone.  Yet, our students, as either children or young adolescents, do not have the life skills us adults have for tackling the understandable anxiety and depression this situation can provoke (not to say all adults do either).  Paul Gorski, principal of Fair Lawn High school, explained that many of our students, those who were successful students before leaving may now be struggling when we return.  There are a few areas we need to focus in on in order to help our students overcome the challenges they may face when returning to school.  They are grieving.  They may be grieving:

  • family loss or physical loss of someone they knew
  • the loss of their social network 
  • the skills they no longer remember or the learning they did not understand
  • the sense of financial security their home might have had once before this crisis
  • the sense of family they might have had and emotional security that went with that before this crisis (they might not have lost a family member, but a family member could be struggling emotionally as a result of this crisis and that could impact a student profoundly)

As educational leaders, our job will be to work with teachers and support professionals to identify these students, creating plans to address the needs of these students and work with these students, their families, and our staff to implement the plans.

Some additional ways we will need to help rebuild the loss for our students is through:

  • Working with guidance staff and faculty to create for students peer support groups
  • Reaching out to parent organizations to establish parental support groups
  • Collaborating with student council groups to create peer tutoring groups
  • Developing after school/ virtual tutoring and support
  • Taking a needs assessment
    • parent surveys of needs
    • student surveys of needs
    • teacher surveys of needs
  • Crafting PD for teachers on student trauma 
  • Establishing support groups for teachers
  • Thinking creativity about the role of the school nurse and any guidance staff
  • Utilizing Assistant Principals to work with teachers to address the needs of at-risk students and facilitate much of the above

Before and after students "return," administrators can lead grade level Zooms to inform parents of the steps we are taking to support students globally (to protect their physical and emotional safety and to help remediate any areas of learning they are behind).  Administrators can also take this opportunity to let parents know how they can reach out to inform the administration of further support that they think is needed.

Either way, one of the most crucial elements of this entire strategy must hang on redeveloping and growing the relationships between the administration and faculty.  The faculty are the eyes and ears of our institutions.  They are on the ground level.  They see the children in-class daily.  While we must be present at lunch, breaks, arrivals, and at the end of the day, in the halls, and the classrooms, they will see things we cannot.  Having that connection and trust is vital to assisting all students are helped when needed.

This help needs to expand to families.  Once we identify those students who need the most support, we need to go to people's homes (either physically or via videoconferencing depending on the situation) to meet people where they are at.  We will need to work closely with other government agencies and nonprofits to help families and thus our students through this recovery.  The world around us will not be the same when we "return," but it is an opportunity for us to become closer to those we care most about, our students.

There certainly are legal issues that we need to address.  Michael Rebell, Columbia University Teachers College, and Columbia Law School Professor and Executive Director at the Center for Educational Equity at Teachers College (also my former professor), wrote a telling article about the impact this crisis could have on equity and diversity in schools.  In short, he argues that it is possible that many families, especially affluent ones, may keep their children home whenever we do return.  This, he argues, could have a huge impact on who does go to school and who does not.  In the end, it could be that those who have no choice will send their children to school and those who do have the ability to have one parent at home will not.  This will create yet further divides in our system.  It could undo decades of integration.  He also worries that if teachers, many experienced and qualified who are nearing retirement age, choose to not return in the fall, this may leave many districts with less experienced teachers.  This is for another post.

The SAMR Model, COVID 19, and an Incredible Opportunity

This time in history certainly has its share of devastating events, which have already been expounded upon by pretty much everyone.  We know the unfortunate realities we live in.  Death knocking at our door, social isolation, job loss, and much more, but there might be a few positive outcomes to the largest experiment of remote learning in history.

Many years ago, I began my career as a social studies teacher.  I took over classes as a leave replacement during my second year of law school.  I was told the students needed a teacher because theirs was critically ill.  Immediately, I drew up the paperwork to switch to night school so I could teach during the day.

The students had clearly cultivated a close relationship with their previous teacher, and I knew I had to really dig deep to form a bond with them that would help them to be successful moving forward.  I also knew the bond I would have with them would have to be totally different than the one my predecessor had.  We were different people.   I guess because I knew this, I tried that much harder.  I did not even think of mirroring what he did.  I did my own thing.  At the end of that year,  I had gone to more games, attended more extracurricular activities, and made more phone calls than I could remember.  I had invested in the lives of my students, and it had paid off.  While that situation had begun as a crisis for my students (having to have a new teacher mid-year), it ended in a happier place.  I redesigned the way the classes were run to meet the needs of my students and built the relationships needed to help transform them as learners.

Much has been said about the ways students learn best.  Countless books and blog posts have been dedicated to defining 21st Century learning and expounding upon the importance of the 4 C's.  Adaptive skills are being valued now more than ever before.  Student-centered learning is all the buzz and inquiry-based education is being discussed everywhere.  Yet, for the most part, many educators and many schools still have learning that revolves around bells and clocks, lectures, and homework.  I get it because to a large degree, each of these things has value.  Yet, I wonder whether we have just hit a watershed moment. 

I liken this to the acquisition of vocabulary.  I know it sounds strange.  The more words a child knows the better he or she is able to explain the world around him or her.  Furthermore, the more deeply a child can understand that world.  Hence, the actual learning of new words changes the person.  It makes them a deeper person.  A person is capable of thinking in new ways and capable of reshaping the way they see the world.  When I first learned this, I was amazed.  Yet, as a parent and an educator, I have seen this with my own eyes and know it to be true.  The research and evidence are there.

The SAMR Model, developed by Dr. Ruben R. Puentendura, explains the intersection between technology and pedagogy with an aim to move student learning by enhancing communication and creating multimedia content creation. John Spencer has an excellent youtube video on this which I will summarize below:

The first level of technology implementation he explains is substitution.  It is simply the teacher using technology to replace something that would be done without technology, like using a google form in lieu of filling out a math worksheet.

The next level is augmentation.  In that stage, there is a substitution, but some noticeable enhancements.  An example often given is google docs being used instead of a paper and pencil essay written with the ability now to have other students "comment" on the document.  

More substantial redesigning of tasks occurs in the next phase with modification.  John Spencer gives the example of assigning a blog post rather than an essay where students are collaborating in contributing to it online and posting to an authentic audience.  The product is not an essay, but an article that is posted for anyone who can find the link to see.

This brings us to the most exciting part of this model, the redefinition.  In this phase, technology allows for tasks that were previously inconceivable.  Spencer explains how that "Same essay is now a multimedia package.  Students are able to not only research online but connect with experts through video conferencing.  They are co-writing their posts with a cohort from around the world.  They produce blog posts, videos, podcasts...."

As you move through the SAMR model, technology becomes more transformative.  This happens both in terms of multimedia content creation and communication.

The last part of this model is essentially what happens when a student learns new vocabulary.  Eventually, they are able to think on a different level and in new ways.  The language of technology then naturally does this as well enabling students to develop and create (and teachers to assign) work never even imaged.  The work produced is richer and requires higher levels of thinking than ever before.  In the use of vocabulary, this happens organically.  In the use of technology, it is argued this needs to be thought out and teachers need to assign tasks that promote this.  I think that might be the case initially, but eventually, I imagine it takes a life unto itself.

I would argue that is what is happening now or at least starting to, in many schools.  Using apps like SeeSaw (an LMS), students are recording themselves reading passages in languages they are learning.  They are creating live portfolios of their work.  Teachers and students are commenting on those recordings and sharing video responses, blogpost responses, and expert videos explaining how to read passages differently.  Fluency in a new language is greatly enhanced.  Furthermore, students are now working with "penpals" on Zoom from across the world to speak in their new language and gain insights into how sentences are constructed when spoken natively by fellow students their own age.  Relationships are forming that allow for cross-collaboration, a deeper understanding of the cultures that come with those languages, and a host of potential new areas. Our global society is becoming smaller.

This is happening in every subject as students are learning quickly that they have a variety of ways they can learn the material being assigned.  They can attend a Zoom/Google Meet, watch a video of their TV, log on to an online learning application or e-textbook, watch Khan Academy or the many free videos on the topic, converse on Google classroom with fellow students and teachers, cull articles online on the topic, and much more.  Students can now choose how they learn new material.  This choice could become empowering and enable learners of all kinds to potentially flourish.

Furthermore, the structure of the school is changing.  The factory model of education is finally reaching its end.  Trying to schedule classes for specific times of day for independent work seems silly for many and impossible for others. Hence, many districts have come to alternate days of the week for suggested study to give students more flexibility as to how and when to learn the subject matter.  Others are giving suggested schedules and due dates for material well beyond the time frame of the typical school day.  Some schools are learning to give suggested schedules (only setting specific times for live classroom instruction).  Students are learning to work at times that suit them.  The goal is no longer to work around a set 8 am to 3pm schedule, but rather around times that work best for quiet learning, collaboration, and/or support.   Social Workers and school psychologists are Zooming/Google Meet videoconferencing with students and parents to give them the support they need through this trying time.  In many ways, they are "entering" the home like never before.  Traditional grading is being replaced by standards-based grading tailored specifically for this situation, pass/fail options, and/or anecdotal reports.  Students and schools are now learning that a great deal of education is happening in entirely new ways.  It's scary, but it's also exciting.  

I do not believe remote learning will replace the need for brick and mortar schools and some of these changes are temporary to meet the extraordinary needs of this situation.  However, I do think some of these changes are welcome and can be here to stay.  In many ways, this pandemic and the creativity in education it has fostered can transform schooling the way vocabulary transforms the mind, and technology transforms pedagogy.  The question is, in what ways do we want it to stick?


The Value of Feedback for Students & Families in This Remote Learning Environment

The internet is replete with images of kids being ever so gently pushed onto school buses and parents practically throwing their kids out of cars in front of school buildings.  There are snappy captions about how parents will be gleeful when school resumes.  In fact, I have seen long rants about how grateful parents are for the instruction their children were getting when physically in the school building and how much harder it now is for parents to tackle remote learning because the burden of daily classroom management has largely shifted now from school to parent. 

Then, and I am sure you've seen this too, I have seen the memes about needing to get teachers a gift to show their appreciation.  The meme is usually sarcastic and instead of referring to a child's actual teacher, they are now referring to themselves.  It ends with the parent shopping for him or herself.  I get it.  In many ways, parents/ caregivers are stepping up big time.  They really are partnering with us to help their children learn in ways that they have not had to do ever before.  Sometimes, this can be really illuminating.  Parents/caregivers can learn more about their children, how they learn.  Parents/caregivers can see how their child has functioned when acquiring new information in a whole group and small group setting (they can peer into the room while their child is on a Zoom).  They can see what a child retains from a teacher's lesson to do independent work that first time afterward.  They can provide one-on-one instruction and support.

However, for many parents/caregivers, they already have jobs outside of the home and simply do not have the ability to provide such hands-on support.  Others, do not have the background or ability to help because of limited proficiency in the subject matter (especially high school subjects), limited technical abilities (maybe they aren't as seasoned in Flipgrid, Glogster, Google classroom, or using library databases), etc...  Some people able to try and help, but have limited success in doing so.

All parents/caregivers are now playing a new role in their child's lives. 

So, the issue then shifts to how schools can meaningfully interpret what a student understands from what is being taught.  A student simply submitting a google form for math that is scored as 10/10 tells a teacher little about what it took to get that student that score.  Is it that the student had to watch a video of a teacher (or another person) explaining how to do that set of problems once or several times?  Did that student ask his or her parent/caregiver to help him or her?  Did that student guess?  There are so many ways that students could have derived at the answers he or she did.

Hence, it is so much more valuable for teachers to ask students how they are completing their work.  It is super valuable for a teacher to track areas students are getting right and areas they have not yet gained consistent proficiency in.  By doing so, teachers can get a window into the world of the student right now.  Hence, rather than looking to grade a research paper, I would want to give suggestions (on a google doc) on how to improve it and ask questions about what a student was thinking when focusing on or writing something.  I would want to digitally do this as a "conference" with that student.  It's the feedback that is going to move the learning forward, not grades.

When we talk about equity, this is the fairest way to help students grow regardless of whatever situation they are in.  Otherwise, we risk seriously penalizing students who do not have the privilege of a support network in their homes that can help them maintain high grades.

By grading, we are also rewarding students who might not have done work independently with grades that do not actually reflect their proficiency.  This will not help them long term when they "return" to whatever school may look like in the fall without those skills solidified.  If our goal is student learning (which I believe it is for everyone), then feedback ensures growth.  Recognizing the process of learning and helping students get to proficiency needs to be done in a way that is effective, empathetic, and equitable.  Feedback does just that.

Why Data Matters and How You Can Make It Easy to Use

I think when most people, non-educators and educators alike, think about data they worry they are pegging kids with numbers, relegating them to where they are and not where they can and will be.  I hear that fear.  I worry about that without numbers.  Kids are so much more than a grade, a score, more than their performance one day in a class.  Kids are growing, learning, and finding their place in this ever-changing and complicated world we live in.  I see daily reminders of this as I speak with children about proper communication, reflect with them on their learning challenges, sympathize with them about painful situations going on in their lives, and help them navigate the plethora of options they have on a daily basis.  I want my children (by my children, I mean my genetic kids and the 600 children I am a principal to) to take risks intellectually and try new things. I want them to learn how to grapple with and even embrace failure as an opportunity for success.  I want them to challenge themselves in all aspects of life to push themselves to do more than they ever thought possible.  I want them to understand what a tremendous gift life is and what an opportunity they have to do with it.  I want so much for each and every one of them.  And this is why data matters to me.

What is data?  I know your thinking this is pretty self-explanatory, but I actually think it is not.  Data is not just test and quiz scores.  It's attendance, it's observations and trends in behavior, it's completion and works on assignments, and so much more.  Data is numbering often, but not always.  Classical data is always numeric and measurable, but not always objective.  Non-traditional data, is observable- What did the teacher see?  What did a parent detect?  What does the school psychologist notice?  These factors are also important.  Gaining data and harvesting it is key.

Why does it matter? I believe if we utilize data effectively we can make a huge difference in each child's learning success both in the short term and in the long term.

Why do many educators, even after knowing all of this, often still resist it?

I think the case I am about to make is intuitively something most educators already know, but I think I've managed to pinpoint what is stopping many educators from using it and how it can be effectively used, to a certain degree.  Data is scary.  In fact, most educators (maybe not math teachers) don't have a solid math background and therefore equate data to using large numbers and complex equations to ascertain variables that they could easily figure out simply anecdotally.  It is our job as administrators to show teachers how data (even the kind that is gathered on a microlevel just in their class and not only on standardized tests) can help confirm their suspicions, detail specific sub-areas a student needs support on, identify groups of students that need differentiation, and so much more.  It can help teachers be more proactive and less reactive.  Other teachers have simply never used a decent SIS system that allows for data to be input the way a Powerschool system does.  (see here: http://www.pearsonschoolsystems.com/products/sms/features/) or Data Director, which is more an assessment and data analysis tool.  Investing in tools that enable data analysis to be done and shared is key.

As administrators, using data to show teachers how they can quickly and easily learn more about their students and tell a compelling story to the parents about student progress is key.

Collaborative Conference Protocol helps teachers set an agenda for a data meeting and can be found here.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

"Flipped" Classroom in the Era of Remote Learning

Right now we have an incredible opportunity.  As we work with students in new ways using online remote learning tools, we can reconsider what learning means and rethink about the role teachers play in education.  As educational leaders, we can guide our teachers toward a model that problems higher order thinking and student ownership over learning.  By doing so, we can help bring our schools fully into the 21st Century.

When I was an administrator of a large, urban high school, I worked closely with our math department to "flip" the learning.  This process enabled us to transition teachers from "conveyors of information" to coaches helping guide students through their own learning.  It enabled students to really spend time mastering skills and discussing how they could think about and in different ways about their learning.  I propose now taking this one step further, enabling students to spend the time post watching a brief teacher video lesson to really working with their fellow students and teacher during Zoom engaged in problem-based learning.

In humanities classes, this would enable teachers to pose a question or introduce a topic, give students some background on a topic, and let them explore it.  Then, students can come to a Zoom ready to engage in problem-based learning.  Students can break into groups on the zoom and work together to develop their questions, and to solve real-world problems. Of course, the end product could be something that would be added to an e-portfolio, like on SeeSaw.

Having students spend classroom time "owning" their learning rather than simply acquiring basic skills enables teachers to operate in the coach capacity helping students become thinkers and problem-solvers rather than just recipients of learning.

Now is the time to try using Flipped Classrooms with inquiry-based learning models.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Zoom Read Aloud's

As educational leaders, we have a duty to help our teachers navigate the Workshop Model within this new framework of remote teaching.  It's a challenge because much of what makes the Workshop Model successful is the hands-on approach to teaching and learning that it promotes.  It also creates a really wonderful relationship between the teacher and the student.  We all value this so much.  I love the "read aloud."  This technique encourages a love of literacy and helps students connect with teachers and classmates through reading.  When utilized correctly, students learn skills from master teachers how to use core reading strategies and skills that they can apply to their own reading to grow as readers. 

Yet, I find that often we can misuse them by either overusing the read aloud by teaching a new strategy every single day.  This is all too tempting with Zoom.  Teachers are working so hard to connect with their students and to continue to instill a love of literacy.  I am so grateful to them for their dedication.  At this point, I think we are ready to work on using Zoom in a capacity that really enables students to grow as readers. 

The core educational point of a read-aloud is to teach a strategy/skill that can then be applied by a student to his or her own text.  If we never get past simply reading a book to a child and having them fill out a graphic organizer, then we aren't allowing students to think for themselves and explore their own learning in a new way using a new skill.

Yet, it's so tempting to post a daily video of a read-aloud.  It's all too tempting to introduce a new topic quickly have kids "apply it" with the very book you read and then move on.  Yet, if you stop and do one read aloud a week, or even a few a week focusing in, honing in on one core strategy or one core skill and letting kids create the same chart you did on your easel (virtual one albeit) using their own marble composition notebook (or even white paper) with their own book, they are owning the process.  They will remember it more.   This may mean that your "daily video" that sometimes is reading might not always be a read-aloud.

I would propose you use zoom to teach literacy skills as follow:

Model a mentor text using your online easel to create your anchor chart.   Show kids in the text (highlight the ebook) where you found text evidence to support the skill/strategy you are teaching. Then, using a shorter text to involve the students in the learning experience helping you identify the skill or strategy in that shorter text that is shared online for them to see the screen in zoom.  Have them help you complete a chart using this skill/strategy. At the end of the zoom give them instructions; ask them to read a story on their own using what you taught them, applying it.  You can show them how to sketch a chart they can create in their own notebook. 

Afterward, the student can work on that as an assignment and submit it on Seesaw with an audio/audio-visual recording of their thought process when completing the chart walking the teacher through how they applied the strategy/skill to their text.

After having done this, you can spend 2-3 days working with small groups reinforcing this skill on their level in an online guided reader (like the Rigby's HMH has or the level readers from F & P, but there are MANY more).  Guided reading online in zoom enables you to work with small groups and really hear children read and specifically and directly guide their reading forward using books that are on their instructional level.  Zooming for 10-20 minutes per group can really help each learner grow.