Organization and Administration of Schools ~ Final Reflection

3 05 2010

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

The first year in any new job is among the toughest. As a first year administrator, there are bound to be pitfalls and triumphs. First and foremost, forming positive relationships with staff and earning their trust would be critical for my first year to be effective and successful. One approach I would use to build trust and relationships with my teachers would be to provide opportunities to meet with them and listen to them tell me about themselves, their school, and whatever they each feel is important for me to know. I would also try to answer questions they may have during these meetings too. Some staff may feel more comfortable meeting with me as a team or in pairs, but it would be a priority for me to connect with as many staff members as possible before the start of the new school year. These meetings with staff will give me a feel for the school climate and help me begin to know the teachers as people, as well as educators. It also helps the staff members become acquainted with me and hopefully set up an “open door policy” for talking about important issues that effect students, staff, and our school community and introduce them to my shared leadership style.

It would not be feasible to meet one on one with every parent, but I would want to offer similar opportunities to speak with parents and become familiar with them and their concerns and hopes as they get to know me. I would begin by meeting with the PTO board of directors to establish and brainstorm some ways to connect with parents and families: informal meet and greet coffees throughout the summer, a back-to-school picnic, themed bag-lunch get-togethers, etc.

If the circumstances and culture permit, I would attend some ‘end of the year’ activities prior to officially becoming principal. This would be another opportunity to informally learn about the school, staff, students, culture, and programs and let stakeholders see me and begin to introduce themselves.

Throughout all this relationship building and listening, I could begin to formulate some ideas and approaches that will be beneficial to the school community.

21ST CENTURY LEADERSHIP

Throughout this course, I have learned the importance of collaborative decision-making and leadership teams. It has opened my eyes to the numerous ways teachers are involved in leadership roles within my own school district. The 21st Century leader is not one who sits at a desk and states “This is the way it is…”. Organizations are dynamic and need to be flexible with regard to change. Today’s school leaders are active and aware of what is going on in the classroom, use data to help drive decision-making, and involve stakeholders in important school decisions. Leadership teams keep the organization moving forward toward the school and district vision. The teams involve staff members, parents, and when appropriate, students and community members. The 21st Century leader takes advantage of the talent, ideas, and needs of all and embraces the proverb, “It takes a village to educate a child.”

SHARED LEADERSHIP

Based upon the way the tasks for this course were structured, it guided me to include numerous opportunities for collective leadership throughout my Administrative Action Plan. The plan, based on the school data of Park Hills Elementary School, outlines the decisions and recommendations made by a (simulated) school leadership team formed by three classmates and myself. Through our collaboration to complete our weekly leadership challenges, we designed solutions that involve the pertinent stakeholders and the school data relevant to the task. Therefore, when writing my Administrative Action Plan, it was logical to include additional ideas involving collective leadership. Below are some examples from each portion of the plan:

Vision creation: A committee of staff, administrators, parents, and community members met to discuss and develop a school vision. Sub-committees were then formed to communicate and plan for implementation of the vision.

Identification of an instructional goal: The creation of an assessment framework to identify which assessments provide the most meaningful data to inform instruction will involve a committee consisting of staff, administrators, and parents.

Budget and professional development: This process is viewed as a planning process to support the school’s vision and instructional goal rather than simply a way to budget money. A committee will be formed with school staff members, but others not on the committee will be surveyed about their existing use of resources and needs and priorities for the budget committee to consider in their planning. The work of this committee will drive the professional development plans for the school year.

Family and community involvement: Activities to fulfill all six of the types of involvement considered keys to successful partnerships by the National Network of Partnership Schools:

  • Parenting – parent education in various forms – speakers, DVDs, book study groups
  • Communicating – information on school website, at school nights, in local press, on local cable channel, in school and classroom newsletters and on parent/teacher conferences with information on school initiatives, student performance and ways parents can partner with the school to increase student success.
  • Volunteering – numerous opportunities to help such as working in the classrooms, at school events during the school day and in the evenings, or at home
  • Learning at home – curriculum themed nights with ideas for home extension activities, information in school/classroom newsletters and on the school website
  • Decision-making – parents as partners on school committees as appropriate, giving some decision-making responsibility to the school PTO, surveying parents on opinions, thoughts, and needs on important school issues
  • Collaborating with the community – partnering with the school library to support school reading initiatives, highlighting community activities like Earth Day activities that support school values or curriculum, bring in community members to speak to students, foster a positive relationship with local press to promote and report on school activities

Technology plan: The technology review committee will review the current technology plan, evaluate progress made toward technology goals, and plan for next steps such as funding, professional development, community outreach, and the creation of a 21st century learning environment. This committee will be composed of parents, Board of Education members, teachers, administrators, and community members.

Diversity and inclusion: More than food fairs and holidays around the world, the concept of diversity and inclusion is reflected in the school vision statement when a “strong home/school partnership” is mentioned. Diversity of thought is welcomed on school committees and information and activities are planned so all students and families can participate. Needs such as language, religious, socio-economic, ADA requirements, etc. are considered at all times. As needed, parents and other members of the community are consulted to ensure the needs of all are being met with respect.

Image Credit: http://blog.worldvitalrecords.com/?p=361
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Organization and Administration of Schools Reflection — Week 5

11 04 2010

Throughout the courses in the JHU/ISTE Administrative and Supervision certification program, teamwork has been important for the successful completion of many assignments. In the Organization and Administration of Schools course teamwork is essential as we role-play a leadership team making decisions for a school.

The structure of the course seems to closely represent the reality of shared decision making in a school setting. The creation of a school vision, instructional goal, and initiative to meet the goal requires the expertise and opinions of many stakeholders and the team structure has helped to simulate such a process. My teammates and I have found it necessary to speak at least once per week and communicate much more frequently than in previous courses. It has been interesting, and frustrating at times, to have our diverse opinions coming together to reach consensus. As in any healthy work setting, my team is dedicated to doing whatever it takes to fulfill our leadership challenge each week. I can’t imagine trying to make these decisions or write an action plan without the support and expertise of my teammates and the feedback from our instructor.

The fact that we are not able to see the assignments for the whole course, just a few weeks at a time, mimics the true-life role of an administrator. The ability to handle the unforeseen and to think quickly but thoughtfully will serve us all well in any administrative role. This course also gives us concrete experience with shared decision-making. Regardless of which role we are playing on our leadership team, we all have to work together to accomplish our weekly challenge. We all have opinions and the desire to do what is best for the school in our simulation but we know there are many pathways to reach our goals. Further, we are all a little unsure since we have not been placed in these kinds of situations before so we talk about “doing the best we can” and reassure each other that we are on the correct path.

The examination of data has been powerful. Since three of the four of us are not familiar with our simulation school, we have had to rely heavily on the data and the information provided by our teammate who is familiar with the school. At times I feel some frustration that I can’t speak to teachers or have a better handle on the culture, history, and day-to-day workings of the school to assist with the decision-making. That piece makes this simulation a little unrealistic, in my opinion, but perhaps parallels being a new administrator in an unfamiliar school with many issues to deal with from the start. I still feel in such a situation I would be talking with teachers, other district administrators, and stakeholders to gather information and begin creating positive relationships with the intent of setting up a shared leadership environment.

The speed with which feedback is given on our discussion summaries, action plans, and group communications has been extremely beneficial. I appreciate when topics are mentioned to “think about”. This approach is helpful, as I am not being directed to add these ideas but to consider the impact on our simulation school and to decide myself whether or not they need to be components of my action plan.

During these five weeks I have wondered about the fact that our simulation is extremely “school centric”. I am left wondering, “What about the district influence?” In my experiences in the three school districts where I have worked, the missions, goals, and initiatives of a school were in tight alignment with district goals. For example, if one school has a math related school improvement goal most probably other district schools would have a similar goal. As a result, discussions and decisions about initiatives would have the input of more people and the scope of the initiative would be more far reaching than just one school or for specific grade levels. This point became more significant during week 4 as we discussed budgeting. In my experience, and that of my teammates, much of the money we would be spending would come from district funds rather than a school budget. (i.e. money for professional development or for substitute teachers) Although we have “district representatives”, like the curriculum director, I still feel like there should be other district stakeholders involved.

Our weekly discussions around the guiding questions have been interesting. It can be a little difficult not knowing all the “ins and outs” of a school when asked to make such large-scale decisions. The teammate who is providing us with her school data has done a magnificent job with answering our questions and posting more and more information as it becomes needed. However, I still feel like we are looking at children and teachers strictly from a data point of view. I understand the focus on data-driven decision-making, but know that an awareness of the day-to-day workings, situations, and challenges of a school or district also impacts the decisions made. It has been difficult, at times, trying to fill in those blanks.

This course has emphasized the team decision-making and shared leadership approach I value in my administrators and hope to put into practice myself as a leader. The creation of individual action plans has also driven home the point that even with a team approach to decision-making, the responsibility of the implementation and nurturing of a plan is in the hands of the school administrator. Finally, this course has really spotlighted the significance of data in the decision-making process.

image credit: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2289/2137737248_e9f3e429d1.jpg




Technology Priorities for Written, Taught, & Tested Curriculum

22 02 2010

We were challenged this week to respond with a video or audio blog. Due to the limitations of a free WordPress blog (no video embedding), I have answered the challenge with a VoiceThread post.

http://voicethread.com/share/932027/

Feel free to leave comments, thoughts, questions here or within the VoiceThread itself.





Technology’s Role in Curriculum and Differentiation

6 02 2010

The integration of technology throughout the curriculum is important to meet the needs of all learners of the 21st century. Technology can assist teachers with the delivery of lessons and assessing students. It can also provide students with numerous ways to demonstrate their learning, increase engagement in the learning process, and help to meet the many learning needs of students within a classroom. Because technology changes so quickly, it is difficult to identify expectations of specific sites, hardware, or software that should be included in the written, taught, and tested curriculum, but I will provide examples of technology as it exists today.

Written: In my previous experience with curriculum writing, technology has been saved for the end of the writing cycle — if there is time. Technology should not only be considered, integrated, and included into the curriculum throughout the process; technology should also be used in the creation of the curriculum itself. Textbooks with CDs or online components are not enough! Some districts utilize curriculum mapping software, such as Rubicon Atlas, but even putting the curriculum into a course management software like Moodle can provide access to all and reinforce the idea that the curriculum is a living document with tweaks, additions, and refinements encouraged. The utilization of this kind of electronic form for a curriculum also allows for the inclusion of multimedia such as videos or suggested sites for use in the classroom and videos showing how to implement a strategy or to highlight best practice. Examples of multimedia or electronic projects can also be included.

Taught: Technology should also be present in the teaching of the curriculum. The written curriculum should encourage teachers to be co-learners or guides rather than the sole dispenser of knowledge with the students as the vessels to be filled. Even more traditional lessons can be enhanced with technology. The curriculum can indicate that the teacher use a document camera to project an article, book, or picture and offer suggestions on how to use the included software to take a photo or write on the image as the students discuss. This style of lesson presentation can reach different learning styles and add interactivity. Interactive whiteboards can improve student engagement and motivate students. They also allow students to engage with content in ways not always possible. The inclusion of a simulation where students can drag the continents into place like puzzle pieces to demonstrate the theory of Pangea. The use of multimedia in lessons provides an engaging, multisensory way for students to learn about a topic or demonstrate their learning. Videos can be teacher/student created using applications like iMovie or the website Animoto, or they can be professionally created like those found on Discovery Ed Streaming or BrainPOP. The activities for students should include opportunities for students to collaborate using tools like wikis, Google Apps for Education, or Etherpad. It should also allow students to interact with the ideas of others, either across the globe or within the same classroom. Blogs, VoiceThreads, chatrooms for backchanneling, and Skype can facilitate these connections. Technology can provide students with experiences they couldn’t otherwise have: Skyping with an expert on a topic and watching a live uStream of a talk/presentation are two examples.

Tested: The use of technology as an assessment tool is efficient for teachers and can be motivating for students; therefore it is an important component of curriculum. There are many handheld voting systems available from those that simply have multiple-choice input capability to those that can text numbers, words, and full sentences. Even cell phones can be used for voting devices. These voters and online “testing sites”, like Quia, can streamline assessment processes for teachers so they can quickly access data and use it to inform their instruction and meet the diverse needs of their students. Using technology like Google Forms to pretest students can provide teachers with data for grouping students for the coming unit. Providing students with different ways to demonstrate their learning through the use of project menus and tiered projects that include technology choices helps meet the multiple intelligences students possess. Finally, asking students to reflect on their learning in the form of blogs, online forums, or digital portfolios can provide a timeline of growth and feedback from teachers, parents, and peers.

Differentiation: Technology can be used to promote differentiation for all learners, yet one must be careful not to confuse computer applications of leveled skills practice with true differentiation. Here are some examples of how technology can facilitate differentiation with regard to content, process, and product.

Content

• The internet can provide teachers with numerous resources at different reading levels

• Students can interact with course materials in different ways not possible with print media alone. (i.e. hear a book read aloud, see a visual over and over, manipulate objects to see their reaction)

Process

• Teacher created content or online content can provide the opportunity for students to review of material as often as desired (i.e. podcasts, Quia, recorded lessons from an interactive whiteboard)

• Assistive technology may allow students access to or the ability to participate in activities not possible without the technology (i.e. text to speech, dictation software, Kurzweil software)

• Web 2.0 tools provide ways for students to collaborate and interact with classmates and people around the world. (i.e. blogs, wikis, VoiceThread, Google Docs, Etherpad, Skype)

Product

• Project menus or tiered projects that include technology allow students of the 21st century to demonstrate their understanding in a mode that may be most comfortable for them (i.e. blogs, multimedia – iMovie, Animoto, VoiceThread, Comic Life, animation)

• Technology projects can allow students to develop and demonstrate their creativity and innovation skills (i.e. Scratch, animation)

Image credits: written: http://www.flickr.com/photos/27315689@N00/749315946/ taught: http://www.flickr.com/photos/19518517@N00/3278616743/  tested: http://www.flickr.com/photos/83955435@N00/7340103/




Curriculum Theory: Reflection 1

17 01 2010

Help ALL students reach their full potential

My philosophy of education describes school as a place where children are a part of a community of learners and their individual academic and emotional needs are met so they may become independent learners. This is similar to what Leonard C. Burrello states on page 16 of Educating All Students Together: How School Leaders Create Unified Systems. Burrello says, “…we (need to) educate all students to levels of excellence that sustain both their personal growth and our social fabric.”

It is not what you teach, but how it is taught

Based upon my belief of this purpose of school, the curricula should be integrated, authentic, and teach children HOW to learn while encouraging creativity, innovation, collaboration, and problem solving. What is taught is not as important as the classroom environment and pedagogy. Therefore, a quality curriculum is only as strong as its implementation. At this point in education, schools must still answer to the accountability of state testing, but that does not mean that content cannot be taught in an integrated way. Students need hands-on experiences and the skills to communicate effectively. This includes the ability to communicate in writing, both digitally and on paper, and skills to navigate the complexity of communicating to a worldwide audience (aka digital citizenship).

What is best for students today may look different tomorrow

The curriculum should reflect the learners, values, and needs of the population it will serve. As stated in Peter F. Oliva’s Ten General Axioms of Curriculum Development, “Curriculum development is an ongoing process.” Oliva goes on to describe curriculum development as “a cooperative group activity”, “systematic”, and “(most) effective if it is a comprehensive process, rather than piecemeal”. This illustrates the point that “doing what we have always done” is not acceptable in schools today and educators must become active participants in making changes to their curriculum at the district and classroom level.

Meeting the needs of today’s learners

Throughout my work of training our district K-8 teachers how to integrate technology into the teaching and learning process, I model what I feel is best practice for teaching. I learn about the needs of my learners and work to differentiate the learning to meet their needs. I provide as much hands-on learning as possible and allow time for teachers to experiment, collaborate, and work on projects. I model “teacher as learner” by allowing my students, our district teachers, to demonstrate their learning and “show me something new”. I also readily admit when I do not know something and see if someone else does know the answer. My session participants are encouraged to share what they have done or plan on doing. I work to create a community of learners that will last beyond our time together by providing online forums, email follow up, or a common “share folder”. I help teachers find connections between software applications, online projects, district curriculum, and the needs of their students.

A work in progress

While there is much success to be celebrated within my district, we still have room to grow. Our learners change and we, as educators, learn more about the needs of our 21st century learners. We realize that lifelong learning is not just something we want to foster in our students, but a skill to help us be the best educators we can be.





Clinical Observation Post Conference Reflection

20 11 2009

What strengths and/or improvement areas did you notice about the environment and tone of the post-observation?

The environment and tone of the post observation conference was conducive to a nondirective supervisory approach. This is evident in the non-threatening environment of meeting in the teacher’s classroom. Throughout the conference the tone was warm, professional, yet friendly. Both teacher and observer were smiling and leaning forward during the conference and maintained eye contact. The observer often nodded in agreement as the teacher spoke, but it should be cautioned that this does not become trite or signal that the lack of nodding denotes disagreement with what is being said. The observer did not specifically ask questions, but instead open-ended prompts were used to guide the teacher in her self-reflection. Sometimes it is difficult to allow silence in a conversation; however, during the post-observation conference, the observer did a nice job of not trying to fill silences. This allowed the teacher to continue her reflection. The observer’s comments and prompts were well timed allowing appropriate wait time for the teacher to respond.

What strengths and/or improvement areas did you notice in the conference about strategies to improve instruction?

The observer chose to use a nondirective approach, which was well suited to the teacher’s self-reflective nature, she always trying to improve and learn. The observer did not use student names when discussing students and at times she needed the teacher to clarify exactly which student was which. This situation could be remedied with nametags at the student’s seats or to ask for a seating chart in advance of future observations. Throughout the conference, the observer consulted her notes to substantiate the teacher’s comments. Through the use of open-ended prompts, the observer was skilled at leading the teacher through a self-reflective journey. This resulted in the teacher determining her areas of growth.

In the conference, which behavior did you seem to predominantly use?  Do you think this was an appropriate approach given the developmental level of the teacher? Briefly explain

The predominant behavior exhibited by the observer was listening. This was an appropriate approach for this teacher. She is an eager, enthusiastic teacher who loves to learn. She is a reflective teacher who is always looking to improve. The teacher is also quite gregarious. As a result it is easy for her to verbalize her thoughts and concerns. Because of these qualities, the observer thought she might need to encourage the teacher; that she might be too critical of herself, however this was not the case. The decision on the part of the observer to lead a nondirective conference not only fit well with the personality of this teacher, but also fit with the district evaluation philosophy of teacher reflection.





Elementary Classroom Arrangements

5 10 2009

in deskSurveying the schools to look at the arrangement of the classrooms was an interesting experience. I walked around the 3 elementary buildings before school, at lunch time, and after school so as not to disturb students. As I popped into the classrooms, teachers enjoyed talking to me about how they set up their classroom and their thoughts behind the design. Some were trying new arrangements based on the district professional development this summer on the new literacy program. Other teachers talked about how they had set up their room a certain way “for the beginning of the year”, but would be changing things around as the year progressed and as certain activities would dictate.

Because of the small class sizes, 16-20 students, teachers can easily create room arrangements that allow for a natural traffic flow and easy movement for students and adults alike. All elementary classrooms have an instructional assistant for half of the day. As a result, there are two teacher desks in some classrooms to create personal work spaces for the teacher and the assistant. In some classrooms, the teacher has chosen not to utilize a desk and she works at a table instead. In a few classrooms, the adults share a desk.

All classrooms were warm, welcoming, cheerful and had areas for small group work, whole class instruction, less structured space, and locations for supplies and books. Bulletin boards were colorful and reflected classroom routines, special traditions, units of study, or student work. Teachers all utilized non-bulletin board display space by hanging clotheslines or displays on the wall of windows. Many teachers included ‘homey’ touches like lamps, curtains, additional rugs over the carpeting, and upholstered furniture.

As a result of the district’s new literacy model and the professional development on literacy this summer, room arrangements reflect this influence. Most every classroom had a half-moon shaped table which allows for a teacher and about six students to sit comfortably. This set up is especially beneficial for small group work like guided reading groups. A noticeable edition is the appearance of Literacy Living Rooms. As the name implies, couches, rugs, and pillows are arranged for students to gather to read, write, or discuss. The Literacy Living Room is usually large enough for the entire class to gather and is used frequently throughout the day. Some Literacy Living Rooms are nestled into a corner of the room while some are front and center. When asked about the placement of their “living rooms”, most teachers reported the placement was a matter of space. (see slideshow)

Interactive whiteboards were installed in the fifth grade classrooms over the summer. In some classrooms this shifted the instructional focus from the whiteboard in the front of the room to the interactive whiteboard installed in the back or on the side of the classroom. As a result, these teachers needed to rethink student desk placement. Some teachers were uncertain about how often they would use the interactive whiteboard, but as of this writing,  just shy of two months into the school year, teachers report that the interactive whiteboard is the primary focus for whole group instruction.

In most first through fifth grade classrooms the students each have their own desk. In a few classrooms, students work at tables with communal sets of supplies like markers, glue, and pencils within easy reach and textbooks, spirals, and workbooks stacked neatly on shelves at the side of the room. In classrooms where tables are used, teachers report that because the students are rarely sitting in one place for very long, desks aren’t necessary. All student seating arrangements had students seated in groupings. Some teachers chose to create a U-shaped desk arrangement, others had desks arranged as table groups. Even the few classrooms where desks were situated in more traditional rows, students were paired up.

Technology is readily available for teachers and students. All classrooms have at least five desktop or laptop computers. Regardless of the type of computer, they are most often found in a cluster in the back of the classroom. The desktop computers are situated in such a way that the screens can be seen by an adult at all times. Carts of laptops can be found charging in the hallways on each floor of the schools. Teachers can sign-up to utilize the entire cart or just a few of the computers. Students often borrow laptops from nearby classrooms if the mobile cart is unavailable. Students using laptops might be seen sitting at their desks, at a table, on the floor, or in the “living room”.

With regard to classroom arrangement and the supervision of staff, all classrooms provided numerous places for a supervisor to observe from a “good seat”. Depending upon what kind of lesson or activity was being observed, the best location for the supervisor to sit would change. Even if observing small group work, the sight lines for seeing the rest of the class would be good; no large dividers or bookcases would block students from view.

It was thought-provoking to note how classrooms around the district were arranged. It was interesting to notice, even within the same grade level, the variance of classroom arrangements. While some commonalities exist, this exercised proved there are many ways to effectively arrange a classroom based on space, content/curriculum, age of student, style of instruction, and personality/preference of the teacher.