Pick up the trash!

Last November as part of my administrative degree, I spent a day shadowing a principal at another area school.  When I first got there, he gave me a tour of the building, and I noticed as he walked that he would constantly stoop down to pick up trash on the floor.  I thought nothing of it at the time, but now I have cafeteria duty in which I often clean up some trash left on tables.  All I can think now is–what a great idea.

Seriously.  Think of the message that the principal sends when he picks up trash off the hallway floor.  He sends a powerful message that he cares about the school and how it looks.  Don’t we all want leaders who demonstrate genuine pride in their schools?  Such a small gesture shows this pretty clearly.

The other message that stands out to me is the message that the Principal recognizes he is not above the rest of the staff at all.  Don’t we all want our leaders to at least seem to be on the same level as us.  Nobody likes an elitist who  tries to act better than everyone else.  Again, this simple gesture stands out as a way to demonstrate this.

So in conclusion, I urge all school leaders to pick up the trash!

Formative assessment. What it is and what it isn’t.

Formative assessment is important. No doubt about it.  But I find that many educators misuse the term.  So here is a small (by no means exhaustive) list of what formative assessment is and what it is not:

1.  An assessment is neither formative nor summative simply by its nature. The difference lies in what you do with the results.  A formative assessment means you use the results to form the students’ learning in some way.  Perhaps you give an assessment and realize that the entire class did poorly so you reteach the concept. You have used the information to change your instruction-formative assessment.  Perhaps you create differentiated groups based on the results-formative assessment.  Perhaps you ask just one student based on his results to edit/revise/redo something-formative assessment.  If you do not look at the results AND make a change in instruction in some way, then it’s not formative.

2.  This means that something you consider summative could become formative.  You may have intended this to be a final assessment of the unit, but decided something needs to be done after seeing the results.

3.  Not all quizzes or homework are formative.  If there is no feedback or change as a result of the assessment then it’s not formative.

4. If you don’t grade the assessment for weeks and by the time you do, you have moved on past that section or unit, then it’s not formative because you cannot use the results to inform your instruction.

5. Conversations, class discussions, various classroom activities, etc. can all act as formative assessment.  If you are paying attention, you can get an idea of where students are in relation to the learning goal through these activities and can inform your instruction as a result.  All too often these types of formative assessment are getting lost in our data driven world of education, but they are important nonetheless.

6.  If you refuse to allow retakes/redos, you are undermining the very nature of formative assessment. Students must be able to take the feedback and demonstrate their learning with it.

Appreciation

We’re winding down teacher appreciation week now, and it’s been a nice week.  Teachers everywhere have been showered with thanks and offered goodies.  At my school we had random drawings for gift cards, a dinner put on by our Board of Trustees, amongst other things.  People post thanks and praise for teachers all over their social media.  All of this is very nice, and I’d argue well deserved.  As I teacher, I do feel appreciated.

My post today, though, isn’t really about appreciating teachers.  I’ve mentioned before that I think it is important to praise and thank teachers.  In fact, I think those in leadership positions need to make a more concerted effort to do so throughout the year.  Praise and appreciation can have a tremendously positive effect on the culture of a school.  But I also think it is important that teachers remember that they are not the only ones worthy of appreciation.

Administrators at every school I have ever been to have a very difficult job; they are constantly being pulled in different directions and are being asked to make difficult decisions.  Administrators don’t just sit in their offices and twiddle their thumbs.  Much of what they do may be invisible to much of the faculty, but I have no doubt that what they do is necessary.  They are also away from their families for long days and working tirelessly for their students.  They deserve our appreciation as well.  It is important  for administrators to thank us teachers; it is also important for us to thank our administrators.  To truly build an attitude of appreciation into our school’s culture, we must make sure we, as teachers, show our appreciation.

Also, let’s not forget our students.  Every day these kids wake up way earlier than they would like and then spend the day shuffling around between classes, sitting in painful chairs in an attempt to learn.  Sure some students are trouble, but the large majority of them go about their day to day life without causing waves.  The large majority of them put an effort into their learning.  Do we ask for more effort?  probably.  But they are still putting in some effort.  Our students deserve to be appreciated as well.  Let’s start thanking our students for their efforts in our classes too.

To make a positive culture of praise and appreciation, we must be all encompassing.  Let’s make sure we give as good as we get.

Classroom Management

During this last week, I had a wonderfully restorative vacation.  As part of that vacation I went to visit my wife run a mom’s group at a local maternal wellness center.  My wife used to be a spanish teacher, but now that we have two children she switched careers in order to stay home with the kids as much as possible.  As I sat and watched my wife at work at this mom’s group, I couldn’t help but be amazed at her classroom management.  In this room there were about 10 or 11 parents there to ask questions about parenthood and close to 20 children running around loudly.  That means she was faced with 20 screaming kids and adults who would talk to each other when it was not their turn to ask questions.  All I could think was how impressive she was using her management skills to keep everyone on board, and it was the subtle things that made all the difference.

Classroom management is primarily about building relations and maintaining trust, but small things can help maintain control over a chaotic environment.  For example when the first mom asked her question, most of us could not hear her over the din of the room.  My wife aptly threw the question out to the rest of the room to create a dialogue increasing participation amongst the parents in the room.  This way more people were involved and on task.  She would routinely moved closer to people as she talked to them to allow a better connection.  She would interject humor and personal experience in her comments to keep people engaged.

My point is merely that these small techniques allowed her to command the attention of the parents in the room and actually listen to each other.  I find that sometimes some teachers struggle to actually get their students to listen to one another.  Perhaps consciously using these small techniques could help, and it’s always a nice reminder to the rest of us–especially as the year nears the end.

The final piece that I took away from this experience is that there are learning experiences all around for educators.  We just need to make sure we’re paying attention when we see them.