Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Working (or not) Memory

I mentioned in this post that I was immersing myself in many learning opportunities at once. While it sounded like fun at the time, working and reading multiple books and taking a course and going out of the country briefly and doing my other activities was not a recipe for 100% success in all areas. The piece that fell by the wayside (in addition to consistently blogging) was the one with the most flexible schedule - my participation in a MOOC-Ed. Now that I've finished my three books and book clubs, I'm attempting to catch up on my work in my Learning Differences course before it closes in mid-December, which also happens to be around the time I begin my next professional development opportunity.
The component I'm currently studying is about working memory, defined in this document as "the ability we have to hold in mind and mentally manipulate information over short periods of
time." Each section of the course includes lots of resources on a topic, so I have viewed many videos and read many posts to get a sense of different theorists' and educators' perspectives on the role of working memory in learning and education. This journal suggests that poor performance in school may be more a function of limited working memory than low intelligence.  This blog post attributes much of the complexity of reading to the memory demands of the process.
One element of this course component was a working memory test. I did not perform well on the test, even though I have not noticed problems with holding information in my head long enough to use it. The task of the assessment was to recall five random word after responding to a series of questions, some of which required mental math calculations. For me, working memory requires a context. If the information connects with a schema I already have in place, or I have a task to complete with the information, it feels easy to hold it in my head. If I have to remember for the sake of remembering without a purpose, that feels a lot tougher.  The test was a reminder to me that having a greater awareness of working memory does not mean that I will automatically be able to help every struggling learner by applying a strategy.
I've enjoyed scouring the working memory resources, and I'm looking forward to sharing them with colleagues as we work to collaboratively problem-solve for individual students.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

My Current Course of Study

I've been doing quite a bit of professional learning lately, but haven't taken time to pull my reflections together in a blog post.  Over the last few weeks, I've read books, participated in book clubs (online and face-to-face), and started a MOOC-Ed.  I'll use this post to give you a snapshot of each effort, so you may check them out for yourself, and if life allows, I'll circle back around to share more thoughts on them in future posts.

Lost at School
I'm reading this book with several colleagues and discussing it in a weekly group at school. I referenced the author, Dr. Ross Greene, in this post over the summer, and was delighted when one of our coaches suggested reading it. We've definitely had to grapple with keeping the response to behavior challenges focused on problem solving, rather than consequences. Spoiler alert: Consequences don't work.

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work
This book was offered to me through a professional organization in my state.  I read the book on my own, and attended a one-day "Leadership Roundtable" to reflect on it with other principals. The Heath brothers use lots of easy-to-understand anecdotes to expose the biases and flawed thinking that undermines effective decision-making.  I've already been able to apply some of the principles of their WRAP model to some of my recent decisions, and it has heightened my awareness of pitfalls to avoid.

Pure Genius
I participated in my first Twitter book study with the Plano ISD Book Club. I loved it!  Don Wettrick's book is a great resource for anyone seeking to incorporate genius hour into a classroom or school. The Twitter chat is a great format for keeping a busy person on track with reading and reflecting on a text. The accountability of the group kept me reading, and condensing my thoughts into 140 characters really helped me focus my ideas and responses.  The conversation between colleagues was rich, and and added bonus was that Don participated.

Learning Differences MOOC-Ed
When I attended EdCamp QC, a colleague referenced this course as very helpful to her in strategizing to meet the needs of students who struggled with behavior or academics.  Since I wasn't quite busy enough running a school and reading the books above, I signed up. This is third week, and I'm still completing the work from the second week, but I have already encountered some valuable resources I intend to share with teachers, like this video.

What do you think I should study next?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Endangered Childhood Movement?

Recently, I've been thinking about about the impact of movement on children's brains.  I stumbled upon this post by Angela Hanscom and have been chewing on the idea of an underdeveloped balance (vestibular) system contributing to a child's difficulty remaining still during times of focus. I often hear teachers reference movement breaks as a strategy for helping children "get their wiggles out" so they can focus on instruction. As I read more, it seems to me that brief breaks don't have much chance of helping overcome the movement deficit many children may be experiencing.
This article by the same author struck me because I recognize the examples of students playing too roughly on the playground, for example, trying to chase and catch a friend, but instead tackling and knocking the friend down.  I can't count the number of students referred to my office for rough playground behavior they explained with "I didn't do it that hard" or "I didn't mean to."  The children perceive that they are just playing, with no intent to hurt their friends, yet outcome of the behavior is aggressive and at times, injurious.
I'm not sure how schools can build in opportunities for all students to safely experience heavy work or tumbling on a regular basis to build students' proprioceptive sense.  A start might be to take a close look at the activities of recess to ensure that children are at least active. I often see students on the playground sitting, standing, or walking slowly, which I imagine does nothing to develop the vestibular system as Ms. Hanscom recommends.  I'll have to keep searching for next steps!

Monday, September 21, 2015


Over the weekend, I attended my first Edcamp in Charlotte, NC.  I loved it, as I knew I would.  The "unconference" model allows tremendous flexibility and autonomy over one's professional learning.  The "open source" approach requires all participants to be involved in the development of the content as topics are selected and shared.
It's hard for me to imagine a learner who would not benefit from this type of event. When I experience an ineffective professional development, my usual complaints are that the information presented did not match my current needs as a learner, and/or that the presenter did not take into account my needs as a learner.  These potential problems are eliminated by the Edcamp structure. All participants have the opportunity to suggest and vote on content, so learners have a high likelihood of having a conversation available that meets a perceived need.  Learners are expected to actively participate in each session by sharing their ideas and resources, but are also expected to leave sessions for other choices if the conversation is not meeting their needs.  Participants also take collaborative notes, which are then available for everyone to benefit from learning they did not get to experience firsthand.
By the end of the event Saturday, I had learned about:
-three apps I plan to share with teachers (Green Screen, Chatterpix, and Book Creator),
-an online course I may take and recommend for some teachers seeking strategies for students demonstrating persistent and problematic behaviors,
-an organization for supporting gifted learners, and
-lots of other tips and tricks.
Additionally, I added a few people to my professional network and ate a great BBQ lunch.  Other than the BBQ, I expect that every participant in an Edcamp reaps the same type of benefits.  If you haven't attended one, I urge you to find one.  (Local friends, here's one for you.) If you're not near one, find out how to create one. I'm looking forward to my next Edcamp!

Rules for Edcamp success

Thursday, September 10, 2015


This year, our school is participating in a professional development on educating gifted students, particularly those identified as Academically or Intellectually Gifted (AIG). Last week in our first session, we talked about several perspectives on giftedness.  One I found fascinating was Kazimierz Dabrowski's Theory of Emotional Development and the concept of overexcitabilities (OEs). (Here's a post that summarizes the theory if it's also new to you.) Basically, this framework characterizes giftedness as a higher than average responsiveness to stimuli that makes concrete stimuli more complex with greater emotional content, essentially amplifying every experience (Ackerman, 2009).
As an administrator, I often encounter students who are demonstrating what could be characterized as one or more of the five types of  OEs - psychomotor, sensual, imaginational, intellectual, or emotional - because their significant and/or dramatic responses to events, environment, or peers create disruptions to the classroom activities.  Prior to learning of Dabrowski's theory, I never thought of the behaviors in those moments as evidence of giftedness. While I don't want to rush my next classroom disruption, I am curious to see how my teachers and I may respond in such a situation, armed with this new learning.  We cannot and will not allow students to interfere in the learning of their peers, however, as we deal with individuals in need of support, perhaps our strategies can reflect a response to potential giftedness.

Ackerman, C. M. (2009). The Essential Elements of Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration and How They are Connected. Roeper Review. 31 (2). 81-95.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Supporting Failure

We are three days into our new school year, and I'm thrilled to report that it has gone very well!  I was particularly pleased to see some of my teachers stepping well outside their comfort zones on the first day by maximizing student engagement and relationship building rather than tying the children down with exhaustive lists of rules. As we move forward, I've been thinking a lot about cultivating risk-taking and questions in classrooms to sustain student engagement.  I imagine almost all educators everywhere have seen Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talk, but I often wonder how many have been able to change their schools or systems to nurture, rather than kill, student's natural creativity and curiosity.
It can be overwhelming, or even terrifying, to consider upending everything we recognize in our educational system.  While we may not yet be able to organize our schools by children's interests, rather than their ages, we can make them more student-driven by designing environments and instruction that promote their natural curiosity, make it safe to take risks and fail, and cultivate self-direction.  I'm slowly checking out some of these videos about embracing failure as prime opportunity for learning, so I can support my teachers in "failing forward," so they may do the same for our students.

Note: I didn't set out to lean so heavily on Edutopia, but they just post a lot of content I enjoy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Student Passions

Last year, our school implemented a Panda Portfolio, a student interest survey to give us additional information about children's preferred ways of learning. We wanted to incorporate their passions into our instruction in a meaningful way. This year, we are completing the Portfolios electronically to give us easier access to larger data sets for grade level or schoolwide program enhancements. We learned that student self-reporting of preferences about subjects, light/noise levels, ways of presentation, etc. could help us be more mindful of student learning styles, but that tapping into passions to significantly impact instruction was a little more complex.
Reading this post gave me an "aha" about one of the potential challenges of designing instruction around student passions.  The author's first suggestion addresses my primary concern when encouraging teachers to let student interests and ideas drive the direction of instruction - meeting standards. Her suggestion is ridiculously simple. She advocates sharing the standards with students up front. Many project-based learning resources guide teachers in selecting/creating projects to to address standards without directing teachers to make the standards explicit for students. Educators have to resist the false assumption that structure and direction exclude creativity and innovation. We must be reflective and intentional as we approach instructional design to create opportunities for student passions to flourish as standards are met.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Less is More

My staff will return to work in one week. This fact is 85% exciting, and 15% anxiety-producing. Even after 20+ years in the field, the first day of school still thrills me. I think it's the idea of so much potential that makes the first day of school magical, no matter how many of them I've experienced as a student, teacher, or administrator. As a principal, I get two first days - one with the staff, and one with the students.
I've been thinking a lot about the first day for staff this year. This summer has been a time of great reflection for me, and I have many ideas for fostering a culture of collaboration.  I want to open by modeling for my staff what I'd like to see them do for students. As I reflect on how to give staff control over their learning, I find myself wanting to keep the agenda minimal and flexible. What a relief to read this post and know that others are backing away from packed agendas of highly structured activities. I want my team to leave at the end of the first day with brimming with ideas from their peers, enthusiasm for future collaboration, and anxious to return on Day Two for more!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Mindfulness in the Schoolhouse

One activity I enjoy outside of school is Bikram Yoga, a series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises ideally practiced in a 104-degree room at 40% humidity. I find it to be relaxing, challenging, and a great opportunity to practice focusing my mind. The teachers encourage us to be "present" in the room, which sounds simple, but is extremely difficult, as I, like many people, live in a perpetual state of multitasking. Spending 90 minutes thinking only about my breath and my movement is an act of supreme discipline, as well as a gift.
This post about the possibilities of including mindfulness in classrooms highlights the value of the practice for reducing the stress, anxiety, and feelings of failure many students may experience in school. A key element is of mindfulness is that it rejects judgement. In my Bikram practice, one of the greatest lessons has been to use the mirror in the room for self-instruction, rather than self-judgement. Instead of viewing myself through a lens of imperfect performance, I adjust my form from the mirror's feedback and honor my progress toward full expression of the postures.  Just as this judgement-free approach allows me to take risks by trying harder and possibly falling out of position in the Bikram classroom, mindfulness practice may make school classrooms safer for children to take risks in their learning.
While exploring links in the post regarding mindfulness, I noticed this post about negative brain changes from school stress, and strategies to mitigate it. All of this content is timely for me, as I recently participated in a Title I conference in my district, during which Dr. Tammy Pawloski, Director of the Center for Excellence at Francis Marion University, presented a keynote about brain research. Dr. Pawloski talked to us about the toxic impact of stress from poverty and other factors on brain chemistry and strategies (slide 117 of link) to counteract the effects. I plan to use these resources to support my teachers as they reflect on and continue to develop their repertoires of strategies to reduce students' stress and increase their achievement.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Teaching Grit and Other Hidden Standards

I recently read this post about grit as a predictor of success in school and life and our imperative (at least according to this author) to teach it in school classrooms. My initial reaction was to wonder what that would look like in our district and state curriculum resources, but I realized that it is one of many "hidden standards" that may be incorporated into instruction. Practically every day, I hear about the constraints of limited instructional time for children and adult learners, so adding standards to our stated targets is not realistic for most of us. Through our selection of instructional resources that support the development of important performance values while core standards are being taught and 21st century skills are being cultivated, we can provide learners with coherent experiences, rather limited character lessons in isolation.
When we choose resources for use during instruction, we focus on particular standards, skills, and/or strategies we intend to address, but the interaction between each learner and the content surfaces other ideas or concepts. Being open to and actively seeking the possibilities in each resource can help us maintain attention on "what else" is being taught as our instruction proceeds.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Staff Engagement...Again

Apparently, principals everywhere spend July thinking about how to make maximum impact on the first staff day in August. I keep stumbling upon blog posts and articles about how to have the best kickoff meeting. A post I read today makes perfect sense, yet challenged me. This middle school principal asked her teachers not to share any rules on the first day of school, and instead, to focus on preparing and teaching a lesson so engaging that students would lose track of time, and leave at the end of the day excited to return. Another blog elaborates a bit more on how classroom and school culture can be shifted by focusing first on engagement.
We all understand intuitively that the first day of school or teacher workdays is when you are most likely to have the attention and enthusiasm of students or staff, yet we often extinguish it as quickly as possible by boring them with a long list of limitations and constraints.  We want teachers and students to innovate and "think outside the box," but our first order of business is to describe every technical specification of the box and all the best strategies for remaining inside. I'm still refining what my most engaging lesson of the year will look like, but I'm hopeful that I can break out of the box and inspire my staff to do the same.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Staff Engagement

Since attending the DENSI Principal Summit earlier this month, I've been thinking a lot about how to ensure that professional development (PD) meets the needs of the learners.  I've long had a focus on differentiated PD within the schools I've led, but like just about anything in life, there's always room for improvement.  This post on Edutopia references students, but the principles apply adult learners as well. I want to keep these elements in mind as I plan for and support the learning process for our school staff.
I love that the last of the ten tips is to be human and remember to have fun.  When I consider how to create opportunities for fun while learning for staff, or even students, enjoying myself still takes a very low priority. While I take great pleasure in seeing others learn and grow, when I am functioning as the leader, I am often observing or managing the process(es) from the perimeter, rather than allowing myself to become fully immersed in the moment. I do think that incorporating more elements of an unconference format in our PD will actually provide me the opportunity be more in the moment and have fun.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Rules of Engagement?

I have been adjusting to "silent observers" of social media, particularly when we interact in person. I have had several instances of encountering someone who referenced content I had posted, but had never responded in any way I could see. The first time this happened, I stumbled upon a person who was in a Facebook running group where I post lots of pictures and comments.  As we talked, she repeatedly referenced different items I had posted, but when I asked if her profile name was different (because I didn't remember seeing any of her interactions with the content), she said, "Oh, I never say anything. I just watch." It makes sense to me that there are people who just watch others' conversations online, but I find it interesting that they later choose to "reveal" themselves and their viewing habits.
As one who really likes to keep the "social" in social media, I engage with other users by commenting, replying to tweets, etc. For me, the interaction around content is of greater value than the content itself. I learn the most when I understand others' diverse interpretations and experiences of the same information I have received.  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Rethinking Discipline

Of all the responsibilities I manage as a school leader, student discipline is one of the most challenging, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think. I've worked in a variety of schools and experienced some downright scary behavior incidents, but I have always felt good about the colleagues and families in my communities, and our ability to collaborate to implement processes and develop plans to minimize inappropriate behavior and promote positive behavior.
The difficulty comes in balancing what I have been taught about student discipline, what I know about human behavior, and what it takes to create systems in schools. This article highlights the research and methods of Dr. Ross Greene. As far as I can tell (until I read his books), his basic premise is that the focus of behavior management should be communication with the student to figure out the root cause of the inappropriate behavior and develop strategies to address the need(s). I imagine that many parents and educators agree, as do I. Once we put hundreds of young people, their needs, and their rights all together in one building, providing the time, personnel, patience (of others' loved ones) to consistently respond as Dr. Greene recommends becomes complicated.
We have a wonderful (and soon, expanding) student services team that provides students with opportunities to share the causes of their behaviors, and supports them in developing coping strategies. We also have codes that describe citizenship in our classrooms, our school, and in our district.  The codes include consequences, which those who abide by the code often want to see implemented for those who don't.
This tension between the needs and rights of the one who is still learning to model citizenship and the needs and rights of the many provides students, parents, and educators great opportunities for collaboration, problem-solving, and growth. I'm fortunate to have the support of a great PLN (that includes you) to help me continue to reflect upon and refine my practices.

Note: Please don't expect (or maybe dread) daily posting. I just wanted to reflect on the article after reading.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Always Learning

Having fun learning
new ideas for supporting
instruction at DENSI
 Principal Summit!
Last week, I attended the DENSI Principal Summit in Washington, D.C. with a great group of colleagues. I learned so much, I was motivated try my hand at blogging. In the past, I haven't found blogging to be a sustainable effort, but I'm now ready and have the tools available to minimize the time needed.
I'm beginning this blog because I have a super-simple platform and a great reason - expanding my school community and my own learning. My goal is to collaborate with Poe families and families who want to become a part of Poe, as well as educators around the world.  I want to share with everyone how wonderful Poe is, locate ideas for making our instruction even more powerful, and most importantly, model for my students that we never stop learning.
Thanks for joining me on this journey!