Thanks for the ride.

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Never did I ever think I would be apart of something like this.  Thank you, PLN.  Thank you, colleagues. Thank you, Internet.  Thank you, parents.  Thank you, teachers.  Thank you, Administrators.  Most importantly, THANK YOU STUDENTS.  All of you have made a contribution to who I am today and how I lead.  I look forward to growing, learning, and sharing thanks to all of your passion for education and your input as educators. I’ll always stand by these two words: STUDENTS FIRST. Y’all rock!

Latin Jazz Band

Do Educational Books Impede Our Progress?

Boom. If you don’t follow Ross, start. This dude is the real deal.

Cooper on Curriculum

Do Educational Books Impede Our Progress?A few months ago I was consulting with a principal who was planning to roll out differentiated instruction professional development in her school. A great deal of this planning time was dedicated to researching/deciding what book should serve as the basis for the learning.

After some conversation we started to ask ourselves if it was truly necessary to distribute a book to the teachers.

The Problems and The Solutions

When promoting change, we want to avoid or eliminate as many obstacles as possible, but often times we are creating yet another obstacle when we place a book in the hands of our coworkers.

Here are three ways in which books can impede our progress, along with a solution or two for each potential problem:

  1. Most “teacher books” are not based on actions, but research and theory. Research and theory generally help to promote interesting discussion and reflection, which can lead…

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A Conversation with Laura Fleming

Laura is a rockstar. See why. Thanks for sharing, Tim!

The IDEAS Wing

I recently had a phone conversation Laura Fleming, award-winning Media Specialist, Author, and MakerSpace expert (among other things). We spoke about many things but one thing in particular stuck out to me; it had to do with buying things and budgets. She said that it wasn’t about the “kinds of things you put into a room like this, it is about the needs of the students and their dreams, passions, and aspirations.”

If I needed to write a letter to all past, present, and future educators, leaders, and community stakeholders, I would just write the last part of the sentence in the body of the letter. Nothing else would be needed. I would even sign it at the bottom:

Yours Truly, 

Common Sense

Laura has been working with a group of K-5 Educators and myself to look at the Maker Mindset and creating your own MakerSpace. Her insights into how…

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The Ultimate Opportunity

Another weekend has come and gone. These days, my weekends pretty much consist of cleaning, buying diapers and formula, and spending that wonderful quality time with my family. For others, and it was weekend of learning.

A teacher that I hired a few years back was selected to go to a conference.  Unlike EdCamps (which are all choice-driven and lead from the bottom up), traditional educational conferences are still very much in play and have much to offer.  This conference was unique, in that it specifically targeted educators from around the region, and rotated around the fine practices of teaching and learning,

I asked the teacher how it was going, and the teacher surprised me.  The teacher flat out said, “I can’t do this, any of this. You know where I work.  You know whom I’m dealing with.  I just can’t do this.”

SAY WHAT?!?

image credit: www.careerealism.com
image credit: http://www.careerealism.com

You could not be more incorrect if you had tried!  That’s THE REASON I hired you!  I knew that you were THE BEST and still are.  I know that you have a wealth of information in that brain and won’t stop until you get it done. I know you’re a change agent, and you are so much different than what is there now, and I mean that in a good way.

You were selected to go to that conference for a reason.  You accepted and dedicated your weekend to teaching and learning.  You weren’t asking for a handout, a comp day, or anything else.  You WANTED to go because you WANTED to improve your learning. You WANT to do more for students.

So, look at this as the ultimate opportunity.  Take a chance! You don’t need to try 45928374983749 new things you learned at a conference.  Pick one and try it out.  If it works, GREAT!  If not, you try something else.

I hope everyone out there reading this always seeks an opportunity that helps your learners.  Don’t be bogged down by the haters, the useless, the tit-for-tats, and especially those who say you can’t.  Prove them wrong, and prove it often.  It might even inspire them to seek the ultimate opportunity.

School Snacks [Nut-Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free]

This is a great post about sending snacks into school and the potential effects it has.

Cupcake Love

Nut-Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free snacks Nut-Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free snacks from my home pantry

Savannah started preschool last week. We are very fortunate and excited that we found a school with a great food allergy policy. Some of the highlights include:

  • The school is completely nut-free.
  • Because of Savannah’s allergies, her classroom is also dairy and egg-free.
  • The teacher wears the students’ Epi-Pens at all times.
  • The school requested more than one week prior to the start of school to have Savannah’s Allergy Action Plan on file (rather than me requesting that they put it on file).
  • Savannah’s teacher called me personally, again prior to the first day of school, to discuss her allergies and any concerns, and to review a safe snack list for my approval.

In addition, she asked if I would provide an additional list of snacks that she can provide the other parents. I’ve included that list below.

As parents, we want…

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Culture & Crickers

  image credit: Darin Amme (@darinamme), the designer of the current logo on the district website

When I first started at LAC, I kept hearing a phrase over and over; crickets. Parents and staff kept on talking about crickets. I kept on looking everywhere for a cricket logo. I couldn’t find anything.

 About two weeks before school started, a  community member came in to introduce herself and said she was a crickeR. Now I knew it I was totally wrong in what I thought I was hearing! I was hearing “cricker” and not “cricket”. So the next question hits… What is a cricker?

I went to the key staff. I learned that the term cricker is a derivative from the term crick,  known as a creek to those outside of the down. Given that the town is named Lower Alloways Creek, the term now made sense and the Crickers live here.

It briefly crossed my mind that the term was a type of derogatory term, but that was squashed immediately after remembering that everyone that was born, raised, and lives in LAC is a Cricker and proud to be such. It was a term of endearment thrown around loosely. Knowing this phrase was paramount when it came to culture at LAC School.

 While there are scads of books written on school culture, what has worked for me best has always been my eyes and my ears. I also never ever try to fit in; not only do you look like a fool when you attempt to do it, it could be seen as insulting. Sitting back and watching Crickers do their thing was always interesting, and more importantly, I learned a ton. Amongst other things, I learned about muskrats (their fur and how to cook them), how to hunt, and that farmers love to talk after community gatherings.  🙂 

The most important piece about culture: don’t EVER try to demonize it or take it away. Just because you don’t understand it does not mean that it is wrong. You grew up in traditions, which were different than mine, which was different from each of the districts that I’ve worked in. At first, I was letting my culture blur my decision making with  Cricker culture. That was a mistake. I wasn’t there to be a culture injector, I was there to be an educational leader. It took about three months;  once I got over Bambi was being hunted not just for sport, but for food, I understood. I even had homemade Bambi jerky (and yes, it was good).

Keeping culture and maintaining high expectations can go hand in hand. You can keep to your traditions AND be in a learning environment where you are learning. Surely some cultural aspects can impede on learning; I was not a a fan when almost a third called their kids out of school for the first day  of hunting season, but I also didn’t let me deter from my intrinsic drive. 

I grew, I learned, and I moved onward from the crick. Culture and understanding culture was a huge piece of that. I hope wherever you’re reading this, you’re factoring in your school culture as you make decisions. 

Educating Kids or Teaching Dogs? 

image credit: dogtrainer.com
image credit: dogtrainer.com

My good friend sent me a message about one teacher who was proud to “teach the heck out of something”.  That’s great… if you are:

  • Preparing someone for Jeopardy!
  • Perusing a dog trainer career
  • Enlisting as a Drill Sergeant
  • Sticking to the teaching methods that you learned from 1950’s theory
  • Have no intent to meet learners where they are in 2015.

A statement like that solidifies the fact that the teacher is not only out of touch, but in no shape of mind to even try to be effective. You may be thinking that it’s just an innocent comment.  It COULD be; it could also be intended for an audience that does not really know any better and only bases things off of what they experienced in school years ago.  Let’s be straight though – -if it’s a seasoned teacher saying that, it’s sad.  Really sad.

Have you not what watched what’s been going on over the past ten years?  Have you not realized that with the NJCCCS (hopefully you know what that is), the model curriculum, and how today’s learners are different from when you started?

No, I’m not talking about technology. Technology is just the vehicle to help deliver instruction.  Today, it’s chromebooks and tablets.  Ten years ago, it was a CPU.  Fifty years ago, it was the ballpoint pen.

One of my colleagues here in NJ, Dr. Robert Zywicki, gave me my aHa moment two summers ago at a workshop.  It was during the height of the anti-Common Core and we were all talking about how CommonCore is simply good teaching.  We talked about how teachers just reading from the teachers edition is awful and NOT teaching, how worksheets are pointless and tree killers, how some apps / websites are turning into digital worksheets and are just as pointless, and then, Rob hit the slam dunk. Rob said, “We should not be teaching kids to be on Jeopardy and be fountains of useless information. Jeopardy is not real life. We should be educating children to solve problems, use text to obtain factual information, and be productive citizens.”

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image credit: popsugar.com

From that point on, that is ingrained in my brain.  Educate kids to be relevant.  Educate to be problem solvers.  Educate so that one can use the current technology in society today.

Teaching the heck out of something? It’s time to re-think about you embrace teaching.  Schools are not suppose to be nostalgic; they are suppose to be places where students LEARN and prepare for the future.

If you’re  simply and not educating, stop.  You’re doing a disservice to kids.  Break the cycle of limiting achievement.

Those who can, inspire & educate.  Those who can’t, teach.  Or try to.

Contribute to our future, not limit it.

Atco plane crash – statement and updates 

At approximately 12:15 PM today, a Cessna plane crashed in Atco, NJ. There was only one person on board (the pilot). The cause of the crash is under investigation.

There were many rumors circulating that the plane crashed into one of the Waterford school buildings and killed students. This is NOT true. No bystanders were injured or killed in the crash. The crash was about 150 feet from a residence. 

Should there be any additional information that pertains to our schools, I will share via social media, the district website, and on here. If you have not signed up for district text messages or have not followed / liked the district on social media, please do so.

More information on the crash can be found by clicking here. 

Scaling Back – trim the fat first!

In four days, I received five emails from colleagues asking me how I would realign a school or district based on low enrollment.  Kudos to them for starting to prepare for the 16-17 school year! I’m just looking to get my buildings open.

So, if anyone else asks me, here’s my two cents on trimming back when low enrollment hits a building (it should be noted that this is NOT a reflection on my current or any former districts… we have some muckrakers out there that try to interpret my words to be something they are not):

1.Perform a needs assessment. Remember those KWL charts we all used?  Make one with three categories:

What I Have

What I Need

What I Want 

2. Make a scattergram of what personnel and programs you currently offer and mirror it to what is required from the state. It’s a crummy thing to do, but it has to be done when you go into survival mode.

3. Make the electives part-time. While I am all about athletics and the arts, some things have to be reduced to meet your needs in tough times.  If you haven’t explored sharing electives, start.  Sometimes, the teacher or the program is so bad that other districts won’t bite, but hopefully that won’t be the case.  Or even worse, a district signs on and then reneges the offer, leaving you with a full-time, crummy program.  Talk about a disservice to students! Additionally, it’s hard to justify to the public a full-time teacher only teaching one class per grade level when other teachers are teaching 40+ a week. You can TRY to get creative, but we all know it comes down to cash.  If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it.  As painful as it is,  seek sharing services… or cut them to what you need.

4. Cut the emergency cert hires. Chances are those emergency hires are more of a pain than anything else. And you also know that most emergency certs are of last resort, for whatever reason (lack of cert, last minute placement, you couldn’t get anyone else, etc.) Nix and replace from the in-house pool.

5. Explore privatization options and shared services. From your aides to your administrative assistants, you can always explore other services or shared services at a lower rate. Sure, quality comes into play, and for the most part, I agree with ‘you get what you pay for’. Be careful with this route.

6. Don’t re-budget for retirees and “the inefficient” (AKA the useless).  People don’t like me saying “useless”, but look, they exist in every building… from Superintendents to Supervisors, custodians to cafeteria workers… we’ve all worked with someone where you sit and scratch your head wondering “how did this person get a job?”  Was it Daddy on the BOE and nobody else would hire you?  Or did she / he marry a BOE member and divorce them once they got tenure? Whatever the inefficiency is, hopefully your Principal / Administrator placed those not efficient in positions that are created for minimal student / public interaction.  If they have to interact with students, hopefully they are in a position where they don’t have to grade. If you hear that they are retiring, you don’t replace.  If they are sticking around, the phrase ‘less is more’ applies – the less interaction with students, the more achievement your students will have.

7. Don’t RIF, eliminate those that aren’t cutting it.  I think the RIF is the most wimpiest way to let someone go.  If that what it absolutely comes down to, then you have to.  If you have others that are not doing the job to every expectation you hold them to, let them go!  If there is no longer a need that the service they were hired for, you let them go.  The hardest thing that people have a hard time digesting is that  schools are not employment agencies. There is nothing more that I hate then having excess people around just to have it.  Don’t make it a last in, first out routine.  Make it a ‘ you’re not cutting it, it’s time to move on.’ Do what you need to do to save good people!

8. Get creative with your schedule. You can easily add classes for electives, giving teachers more prep times. You can add K-8 / K-5 teachers with electives to offer more variety. Maximize each person; stretch it out!  Chances are it ends up offering more to students. The worst thing that you can do – change the schedule once it’s finalized / optimized for students.  Going backward only impairs  students growth. Don’t succumb to peer pressure.  Stand your ground.  Remember – FOR THE KIDS!

9. Be straight with the staff  and the public. Don’t spring this on anyone.  This is not an easy topic to deal with — you’re dealing with lives here.  People need to have a heads up as soon as possible so they can prepare their respective next step. People will react, people willbe sad, people will revolt against you, but

So, if you’re already in that spot that’s looking for the next year, kudos for planning ahead, but it’s not fun planning.  But, chances are that if you’ve read this far,  you’re the administrators who are charged with making these decisions. You all know that we can’t make everyone happy, but we will continue to do what’s best for schools.

Giving Up Before You Start

Over the summer, I chatted with a teacher I hired a few years back. We caught up and reflected on the first year of teaching (mine and the teachers’).  Good stuff, bad stuff, stuff loved, stuff hated, and most importantly, reflection and growth as a teacher thus far.  By far, the teacher was one of my best hires.

The teacher recently shared that when first hired he / she met for lunch over the summer with a group of seasoned teachers.  I hired this teacher because the knowledge and capability demonstrated; because of the passion  and drive; because of the positivity that beamed and what emulated from the teacher.  The lunch date was more like shark feeding; sniffing out fresh meat.  What was described was a solid attempt to suck the life out of the teacher.  They were completely dismissive of everything the teacher laid out.  For every idea that was brought up, it was immediately shot down with “that won’t work” or “that’s ridiculous! You have no idea what kind of kids are here.  This stuff will never work”. One seasoned teacher even said to the new teacher, “This place doesn’t change.  You can try all you want, but nothing will happen. Test scores will never change, because we change the tests to make it the same. It’s hopeless here.”

REALLY?

You have not only have the nerve to try to shatter a new teacher’s  dreams and work ethic, but you also admit that you’ve given up on your job? It’s shameful. It’s pathetic.  It’s awful.  So many thoughts, but here’s the one that keeps coming back into mind:

You start off every year, year after year, with the mindset that no matter what you do, your students won’t learn.  It’s like you’ve given up on your job before you even started!

Fast forward a bit – the teacher has done more in his / her career than those seasoned teachers did in a lifetime.  The scores for the standardized testing soared, while the naysayers dropped (one stayed the same). The lessons were powerful, dynamic, and exciting; the others stayed mediocre at best.  It was awesome to watch this person rise above the negativity and become an awesome educator.

To the new teachers out there – don’t get sucked in by negativity.  Don’t give up before you start.  Remember that your students believe in you, and that they will be thankful for your passion.