Monday, November 11, 2019

Are We Leading with an Equity Lens? Are We?

Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, John Almarode, Karen Flories & Dave Nagel
PLC+—Better Decisions and Greater Impact by Design


In 2011, and again in 2012 I had the opportunity to attend a two-day conference with Richard “Rick” DuFour and his co-presenter and wide Rebecca DuFour. It was early in my administrative career and I remember at the time just being memorized during both sessions. Not only were they a dynamic speaking duo, their message on Professional Learning Communities forever transformed my thinking of teaching and learning.

Moving forward with this new understanding I facilitated regularly scheduled PLCs. I was diligent in using the essential questions of a PLC to guide teacher's conversations. Looking back it was an incredible journey with teachers and teacher leaders. We dug deep into standards, assessments, interventions, and extensions of learning. I loved the process, every minute of it, but as I proceeded something was nagging at my thinking. 

Simply put, where was the conversation around instruction and the effectiveness it had on our students...each of them? In the book, PLC+ Fisher, Frey, Almarode, Flories, and Nagel have answered that question and reframed the original essential questions of a PLC. These new PLC+ questions include not only the impact of instruction but include fundamental values so the learning needs of students AND teachers are purposefully included.



The authors state, “PLC+ provides a framework for the planning and implementation of student learning as well as our own professional learning….The plus emphasizes not only the learning that we want to occur in students but also the teaching and learning component for ourselves as educators. This has been missing from past PLC structures. So, the plus in the PLC+ is you” (p. 8-9).  In addition, each of these new PLC questions is accompanied by “fundamental values” for every PLC+ conversation.



These fundamental values are what I am really excited about as a practitioner who leads PLCs in our school community...analyzing our learning design process with an equity lens. Are we developing and evolving our mindsets in order to established high expectations for each of our students? Are we growing and learning as educators while monitoring and evaluating our instructional impact? Are we focused on moving towards our goals which critical conversations in a culture of trust rather than blame? Are we identifying evidence-based practices that support and values culturally responsive teaching approach to each of our students? Are we?

Our PLCs can not fully respond to a loud YES to each of those questions...yet. And it is such a close yet for a team of educators who are incredibly invested in this collaborative framework. The authors remind the reader in the last chapter, “We never finish” (p. 180). Whew! This statement was an important reminder these questions and values are an “iterative process.” 



Thursday, August 22, 2019

Thanks, Melissa

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics PRINCIPLES TO ACTIONS—Ensuring Mathematical Success for All

When a student says, "I love to read," I instantly smile. When a student says, "I love math," I stop, literally and sometimes abruptly ask, "Why do you love math? So then I lean in and listen, really listen to their responses. Their experiences are telling a new story at our school, and it is more than exciting. It is hopeful. Let me back up a bit.

Two years ago, I was given the book Principles to Action, Ensuring Mathematical Success for All by a consultant now colleague. The authors included nine researchers from the National Council of Teachers in Mathematics. The text is just 117 pages long and includes summaries for guiding principles of school mathematics including; teaching and learning, access and equity, curriculum, tools and technology, assessment, and professionalism (p.5). "It's overarching message is that effective teaching is the non-negotiable core that ensures that all students learn mathematics at high levels and such teaching requires a range of actions at the state or provincial, district, school and classroom levels" (p. 4).



For two years, teachers and I have continued to reexamine our practices and beliefs about teaching and learning mathematics through ongoing professional learning. Our coach and guide frequently used Principles to Actions as a reference tool to not only examine relevant research but to bring to life the teacher moves that are needed to intentionally shift instructional practices for a more student-centered approach. 

The heart of the book's content is in the Effective Teaching and Learning section. In this portion of the book, the researchers share, "Eight Mathematics Teaching Practices provide a framework for strengthening the teaching and learning of mathematics...which represent a core set of high-leverage practices and essential teaching skills to promote deep learning of mathematics" (p. 9-10). Each of these practices has been a game-changer for students and teachers in our school. Observing students persist through "productive struggle" while using "mathematical representations" on "tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving" is well, almost magical.


Although It may be magical, it is not easy. Note the image above from my copy found on page 10. I have highlighted, "Build procedure fluency from conceptual understanding." Moving away from handing out the traditional math facts worksheets for automaticity and mastery first, and then engaging "students in making connections among mathematical representation to deepen understanding" was a big switch. The change did not happen right away, but as our understanding grew, our practices evolved. Over time we learned, "A rush to fluency, however, undermines students' confidence and interest in mathematics and is considered a cause of mathematics anxiety" (Ashcraft 2002; Ramirez et al. 2013). #Truth

Also addressed in the "Essential Elements" section of Principals in Action beginning on page 11 is the unproductive and productive beliefs about access and equity in mathematics. The beliefs that have had the most significant impact at our school have included:

  • Each student's Mathematics ability is a function of opportunity, experience, and effort.
  • Each student is capable of participating and achieving.
  • Each student deserves support to achieve at the highest level.
  • Each student receives differentiated support.
  • Each student is capable of making sense of and persevering in solving challenging mathematics problems and should be expected to do so.
In our continuum of growth in implementing more evidence-based instructional practices, we are moving away from the general term "all" students to becoming more specific about "each" of our students. In my opinion, this is where a mindset begins to change for teachers and leaders. When you personalize this statement, you tend to reflect inward and reexamine unproductive beliefs than can negatively impact learning or "limit student access to important mathematics content and practice" (p. 63). 

Finally, I must confess it took me two years to finally pick up the book and read it in its entirety. Oh, what I missed on my journey to be and become a better leader who supports teacher leaders in mathematics. My wish is for others who are trying to lead and learn will take the time to absorb the books content to impact learning for each of their students.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

A Pirate's Class for Me!


Dave Burgess TEACH LIKE A PIRATE—Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator

Confession. It took me more years than I care to admit to bring Dave Burgess’s book
Teach Like A Pirate to the top of my reading pile. My loss for waiting so long! His enthusiasm is not only contagious but genuinely heartfelt. I both read the book and listened to it through the Audible app. I recommend both methods.


As I was listening to Burgess read the book, one word comes to mind...passion. Passion for teaching. Passion for students. Passion for learning. He shares, “...we must intentionally find ways to bring passion to our work every day” (p. 4). He breaks passion into three specific categories, including Content Passion, Professional Passion, and Personal Passion. For me, here lies the secret of Burgess’s message. “By consciously focusing on identifying, developing, and using all three of these categories, it is absolutely possible to become a powerfully passionate teacher every day of the school year” (p. 4). 

Isn’t this precisely what we want each of our students to experience? A teacher who is excited about creating a classroom environment that inspires and empowers our students to explore learning in meaningful ways. One of his earliest chapters is on building rapport, making connections, and developing the trust needed with both the teacher and other students starting with the first three days.



Burgess shared the cornerstone of teaching like a pirate is not only passion but enthusiasm too. “If you apply nothing else from this book, but your consistently ramp up your enthusiasm level in the classroom, you will be far ahead of the game and a dramatically better teacher” (p. 65). How you convey your message matters, and it takes effort and careful planning to make it genuine and relevant for our students. He encourages teachers to bring your enthusiasm every single day for students.

Finally, it couldn’t be a pirate book without a few “hooks.” Burgess provides multiple examples of lesson presentation “hooks” for students to become active participants in their learning. For example, “The Mozart Hook” (p. 97-99) gives you several lesson design hooks ideas. Do you have music playing when students enter the classroom or turn it on during the lesson to emphasize content? Do you use music during transitions, or for a brain break? Are their song lyrics that could add emphasis to your lesson? What about having students recreate a song with their words to help them retain the lesson’s content? 

As you can see, the “hook” options are endless. It doesn’t have to be just a music hook to make the learning engaging, relevant, and meaningful for students. Presentation hooks can include movement, gamifying, magic, crafts, etc., but find ways to “Teach Like A Pirate” that ultimately connects with your learners.






Saturday, August 3, 2019

You Get To Choose

Allyson Apsey THE PATH TO SERENDIPITY—Discover the Gifts Along Life's Journey

I had my first opportunity to learn from Allyson Apsey at the July 2019 NAESP conference in Spokane, Washington. She was one of several educational authors presenting as a National Panel to attending participants who aspire to write their own book. Allyson was warm, personable, and truly genuine as she shared her story how Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc published Serendipity. 


Apsey was quietly compelling during the presentation. I know I needed to learn more from her when she stated, “You’ve got to take care of you before you take of others...you are important. You are enough.” As a building principal, I am often guilty of not feeling like I am doing enough, let alone being enough. Here are my primary takeaways after reading the Path to Serendipity.

On Apsey’s third stop on The Path to Serendipity, she provides a “new definition of respect” (p. 24). She encourages the reader to start first by considering the environment we need for confidence to grow to make life better for each of us. “All you need to do is move inch by inch towards the person you want to become; that is enough. You are enough” (p. 25).  It takes effort, purpose, and work...but you are worth it.




On the fifth stop on The Path to Serendipity, Apsey reminds the reader, “We are all in this together” (p. 33). As a leader, we want those we serve to feel they too are enough. Although we also have a responsibility to “communicate in a way that promotes continuous growth and positive relationships” (p. 36). I think of clear, timely feedback as an opportunity for teachers to fine-tune what is working and communicate possible next steps to meet the needs of each of our students. If you gloss over the feedback with fluff...the teacher nor the student benefits.

On Apsey’s ninth step on The Path to Serendipity Apsey, she addresses empathy and sympathy with author and researcher Brene Brown definition of both. Brene describes sympathy as “feeling for others” and empathy “as feeling with others” (p. 60). So don’t put yourself in their shoes but imagine how they feel in their shoes — followed by being helpful and supportive rather than being judgemental. The hardest one is to throw away your assumptions on what you can do to help, and start asking, How can I help? 




In the twelfth step, one word will always stay with me. The word is alongside. I’ve always believed that leadership is not one in front of the others, but an adventure one takes with those that inspire you, side by side. Apsey said it better. “Leading while walking alongside others is good for all of us” (p. 79). I agree. 

Apsey has defined thirteen stops for the reader to discover the gifts along their life’s journey. Best to each of on your own Path to Serendipity

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Transforming Learning

Eric C. Sheninger & Thomas C. Murray LEARNING TRANSFORMED—8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today

Oh my! When I began to read Learning Transformed, I was immersed in the praises from many well-known researchers, educators, authors, CEO’s, and TED Talk speakers. Their endorsements and recommendations included utilizing the book as a resource for "evidence-rich strategies," "a handbook to implementing actionable, sustainable change," and to be read "to put fun, excitement, and real learning back into your school or classrooms."

Sheninger and Murray, authors of Learning Transformed, 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow's Schools, Today grabbed my immediate attention on page one. Starting with "...the abhorrent inequities in opportunity for women, students of color, and those from low-income families remain issues that must be addressed today." Their reflections and stories in this book framed the "why" every school needs to move forward and invest in evidence-based instructional practices and strategies. Ultimately, to allow access, opportunities, and positive outcomes for EACH student. The goal is to empower our student so they can pursue with passion and rigor their potential and dreams.


Chapter by chapter, you can feel the author's drive to support transforming learning for the students we serve, followed by how we can make it happen. "How are our schools preparing students for the type of jobs that will exist in this future global workforce?.... As we enter this next Industrial Revolution—Industry 4.0—a robust education, combined with personalized training, will be key to one's success and ultimately, their economic survival. To prepare students for their world of work tomorrow, we must transform their learning today" (p. 18).  A "Moral Imperative" yes, but even more compelling the need to transform our schools to be "Future Ready."

Sheninger and Murray proposed "Eight Keys for Intentional Design" changes needed in our schools and classrooms. These keys allow our students to experience school with the necessary skills to propel and empower their learning forward not only their future but as learners in the world today. In summary, the eight keys for designing tomorrow's schools include; 

  1. Leadership and school culture as the foundation
  2. Redesigning the learning experience for students
  3. Decisions are driven by evidence and the return on instruction
  4. Learning spaces are learner-centered
  5. Professional learning is relevant and on-going
  6. Technology can enhance and accelerate learning
  7. Collaborating and developing community partnerships
  8. Transform systems for sustainability
My learning reflections focused on two of these eight keys starting with the value of developing a culture of leadership with a platform of trust for more innovation to occur. The biggest lesson I have learned to date from my experience as a turnaround principal is school culture comes first. And it matters more than initially expected and starts with trust. "Just as there is no I in team, there is no leader without followers and no change without trust! Leaders who manage change effectively should not work in isolation but in concert with their team and with constituents..." (p. 49).


Sheninger and Murray remind the reader leadership is not a solo endeavor, but an opportunity to empower others. So a leader must model, model, model, adaptability, joyfulness, appreciation, focus, expectations, momentum, meaningful feedback, effective communication, positive relationships, and delegate, delegate, delegate for others to develop the mindset to do the same (p. 41-43). Agreed. The outcomes of our shared leadership framework have ultimately accelerated student learning and staff empowerment of our school improvement journey.

My next moment of clarity from Learning Transformed was in Sheninger and Murray’s use of a new and now forever term for me, Return on Instruction (ROI). "...to better prepare teachers and administrators with the skills and mindset to usher in needed change but also to study and show-case powerful examples of success. Showing teachers what 'high-quality' actually looks like is key. Professional learning must help educators on what they already do—better. It can't be hypothetical, especially when focused on technology and innovation" (p. 85). It is followed by closely examining student data. "Simply put, when integrating technology, there needs to be an ROI that results in evidence of improved student learning outcomes" (p. 87).

I always appreciate when authors give credit to those that are knee-deep in the work of positively changing student outcomes. I couldn't help but smile when the authors featured Vancouver Public Schools in Washington State, as an example of how one district is including technology in their strategic planning to "leverage learning." These close neighbors are showing their commitment to "going slow to go fast" by realizing "digital transformation takes time," starting small is OK, "focus on high-leverage, high-yield strategies," with an understanding "each district's approach is unique to its vision, culture, and resources." Yes, "Culture trumps strategy every time." (p. 196-198).

What is it that we want each of our students to know and be able to do now and as they experience and transition into a fast-paced changing global society? A critical question for consideration. Our part as educators is not to stand still but to move forward, one purposeful step at a time and Sheninger and Murray provide “Eight Keys for Intentional Design” as a guide


Monday, July 22, 2019

Brave Girl, Strong Woman

Reshma Saujani BRAVE NOT PERFECT—Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder



I can remember the first time I felt brave as a girl. At the beginning of the school year, I was placed in a fifth-grade classroom on the bottom floor near the closest exit to the recess playground. This location was particularly perfect because I loved tetherball and could not wait to go outside and have a turn. Looking back, I realize I loved playing because it was something I was good at. Being one of the biggest girls in my class who had to wear the same style of clothes my brother did because I was thicker than most girls my age gave me an advantage. I felt strong when I played. I felt strong when I won.

The brave part of this story occurred when I was given a choice to leave this classroom a few months into the school year to attend a type of blended classroom on the other side of the school. I was given a tour of this unique learning space, and I can still hear their words, “It’s your choice, you decide.” It was a decision I needed to make, leaving my class rank on the tetherball poll or trying something new and frankly different. Being asked my perspective meant a lot to me as a young girl living in a rural community in a household with lots of brothers and sisters. I also knew it would take bravery for me to leave the familiar behind and try something new. Ultimately I did decide to make the change, and it was scary at the time, but I did it.

It was while reading Reshama Saujani’s book Brave Not Perfect, Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder these memories came flooding back. “If life were one long grade school, girls would rule the world” (p. 53). It’s true. Looking back at my fifth-grade class photo you can see in our faces. We would smile for the camera, but our chins were up, our eyes a blazing with a fierceness known to childhood. 




Then the unavoidable swimming PE class came into play late in our fifth-grade year. We were required to wear the school swimsuits, dress down in the locker room, and well be vulnerable. This is where my, what Saujani refers to as “inner critic,” showed up. “In girls, the drive to be perfect shows up and bravery shuts down somewhere around age eight right around the time when our inner critic shows up” (p. 19). Although I was just a few years older, it was then I began to notice my body shape and mannerisms were different than others. I began to compare myself not only to my immediate peers but the other students in the classroom.

I failed to pass the swimming test more than once. I was too focused on trying to have the perfect kick, stroke, or whatever to move from point A to point B in the water. Saujani said as girls, “We revise, rework, and refine to get things just right, often to the point of obsession or frustration that takes us out of the game (p. 30). I remember trying not to look stupid or even complain so my teacher would quickly move onto the next student. The irony of this is I have a brother the same age as me, and we were required to take the same class. He jumped, dived, and showed no fear and was frequently given praise and encouragement for his brave attempts in the water from the teacher Ugh!

This less than brave scenario is continuing to play out for many of us women even as we grow older. Although after reading Saujani’s book, I was left feeling more than inspired but also hopeful. She provides the reader with a “New View of Bravery” (p. 90) and reminds the reader, “Bravery takes so many different forms, and they’re all important and valuable. All bravery matters...We build our bravery muscles, one act at a time. Saujani continued, “Just as there is no one ‘right’ way to be brave, there is no one universal definition of success” (p. 100). “We do this by defining bravery on our terms one cause, one goal, one failure, one hot dog in a world of princesses at a time. We do it by cultivating bravery that lives inside each and every one of us” (p. 101).

Being who we are and what we want to be and become requires a daily type of bravery. “When we build our bravery muscles, we’re safe for real because we know we can handle whatever comes our way. Bravery doesn’t guarantee that everything will work out, just that we’ll be okay if it doesn’t. No matter what demons we face, bravery allows us to stand strong and keep going. Bravery--not perfection is the only true armor there is...Most of all, bravery sets us free” (p. 105).

So what does it take to be a brave girl in the world as women? Saujani offers 52 pages of well thought out strategies for each of us. Although for those of you who know me best, I am trying to go slow to go fast so here are my top ten for my personal growth towards rediscovering my inner fierceness or bravery.


The last challenge is out of page order and will be the hardest challenge for me. Before I participated in the required swim class, I loved my version of “swimming.” I spent the summers with my dad, and you couldn’t get me out of the country club pool. I still remember the thrill of the water hitting my body and the burst of the coldness that ingulfs you. I remember just feeling braver and stronger as I perfected my “dive” as I jumped into the deep end. As an adult, I’ve visited Hawaii, taken a cruise, and sat by many lakes and rivers. Unfortunately, I have yet to swim in a lake or the ocean or complete a lap in a pool. I am not terrified of the water, but I won’t get in.

Although something changed for me after reading Saujani’s book, I know I need to become a braver me without apology. For instance, If someone refers to me as “strong” again (like that’s a negative character trait?), I will have a different reaction, rather than silently coming unglued. I also feel braver and willing to begin to consider reinventing the same enthusiasm I had for water similar to when I was a girl. It will take small steps, but knowing I am not yet perfect, and I can build my bravery muscles with new attempts at challenges that scare me the most I can be brave, not perfect.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Words Matter!



Mike Anderson WHAT WE SAY AND HOW WE SAY IT MATTER—Teacher Talk That Improves Student Learning and Behavior

Words Matter! A lot! Especially with students. We know when students walk through our doors, our most important priorities for us as educators are to make them feel safe and valued. Mike Anderson is the author of What We Say And How We Say It Matter: Teacher Talk That Improves Student Learning and Behavior. In his book, he captures the “Why” the language we use sends a message to our students that may or may not have clear intentions. Anderson stated, “...specifically, this is a look about the intersection of our positive intentions and our language habits--and working to better align the two” (p. 4).


Anderson shares critical insights for educators to become even more mindful of engaging students in their learning process with careful consideration of the language we use. “Students must assume more power and control of their learning, cocreating rich learning experiences with their teachers. And when it comes to discipline, being obedient rule-followers is no longer enough. Students need to learn to think and act in ethical and responsible ways, so they are ready to be independent and deep thinkers, not simply compliant workers” (p. 5). 

Being more mindful of the words we use and the messages they can convey can empower all of us.  Here are a few of my favorite take-aways from Anderson’s book that I plan on sharing with staff this year. It should be a great on-going conversation to allow us to continue to prioritize why the words we use with our students matter.


Big Idea: You are always modeling.


Bid Idea: Humor is funny. Sarcasm is hurtful.

Big Idea: Yep, we all make mistakes. Own it.


Big Idea: Take the “you” out and make it about them.


Big Idea: Learning should be meaningful and engaging for each of our learners.

Big Idea: Don’t ever, and I mean ever say, ”After ___ we will do something fun.”

Big Idea: Practice doesn’t mean perfect, but it does allow you to get better.


Big Idea: Let students talk more!

Big Idea: Small bites of formative coaching before, during and after learning.

Big Idea: The words you use matter for our students. Be more mindful of how you
use them. 




Monday, July 8, 2019

Our School Story

Donald Miller BUILDING A STORY BRAND—Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen

The topic of branding appears to be a popular conversation in media these days. As an example, in NPR’s Hidden Brain July 1st, 2019 podcast Shankar Vedantam interviews Americus Reed who is a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Their lively and often humorous banter around branding included discussing how some perceive the use of branding as “a force for good” and others as “manipulative” and even “inauthentic”. Their quick back and forth dialog on branding included an analogy of a hammer which can be used to build a home for those in need or used as a weapon to inflict harm. The point is the hammer is not a bad tool, but it is how you use it that matters. Reed declared, “Why not use it (branding) as a force for change, as something powerful and positive?”

Which brings me to Donald Miller’s book Building A Story Brand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen. During our school improvement journey for the past five years, we have been relentless on changing our school’s story as we facilitate positive growth towards equitable outcomes for each of our students. Although I am not sure this was Miller’s intent to use his latest book to support a school’s perspective on reframing their school story, having clarity on the “why” of our actions has been a critical story element on our school improvement initiative.



What I so appreciated in Miller’s book was just how simple the journey can be to build your own storybrand starting with clarity. Eliminating the “noise” and focusing on what the hero in your story wants, who or what is stopping the hero from getting what they want, and what will life look like when they do or do not get what they want. In our case, the hero will and will always be our students. We want to support them now and as they transition into their next steps. Miller gives the reader a seven-step storybrand framework and provides an online template to create an individual brandscript as a guide to “simplify your marketing and messaging”. The chapters go into depth on each step in the storybrand framework and use popular world figures and familiar characters in movies to emphasize key components as you create and customizing your own brandscript.

Selfishly the number one priority I have set for each of our students is to become a reader. Not just picking up a piece of text because their teacher or parent told them to do so, but because they are compelled to do so. I want reading for them to be something they do because it is who they are and how they interact with the world around them. And most importantly because it is joyful. Yes, joyful. It’s a door to an unanswered question, a window to a possibility, and a trail toward discovery. I also believe it’s a civil right owed to each child. I used reading as a focal point for our school’s brandscript. It’s a rough draft, but certainly worth refining with our leadership team.


Miller states when building a storybrand you “invite their customers into a story that makes their lives better” in order for the world to become a better place. I know as we purposeful build our storybrand we want our heroes to continue their path to be and become the reader leaders we know they can be. Our ultimate end goal is to build empowerment now and in their futures so they can be well-prepared self-directed learners.