Monday, January 31, 2011

Once upon a time…

native_american_storyteller A colleague of mine was recently reflecting on his personal vision of education.  In his reflection on what he hoped students could do after taking his class (American History), he said that he hoped students could “Tell the story.”  As he explained his thought, it became clear that the vision of education he was describing was less about a '”history story” and more about the ability of students to share with others their experiences.  “Story telling”, as he explained, “has been and continues to be an essential method for human beings to pass on knowledge.”  I agree with this statement.  As a matter of fact, I believe that the act of sharing information is how we create knowledge.

As for the story telling, what will our students say?  What is their story?  Every story has its cast of characters.  As educators, we are all cast members in our students’ stories.  What role do you think you play?  Hero?  Villain?  Supporting cast?

Are your students stories dramas?  Comedies?  Tragedies?

What lesson is learned from your students’ stories?  What can you learn as a teacher?  What do other students learn about learning?

…and they all lived happily ever after.

The End

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Marketing your school beyond student:teacher ratios

I was reading a recent blog post, The Paradox of Our Success by Marc Frankel, in which independent schools are challenged to find “a whole new way of explaining our product; one that isn't so connected with a high-cost method of production.”

Mr. Frankel is referring to the increasingly less sustainable strategy of marketing independent schools “on the basis of rich student-to-teacher ratios, at least as compared with parochial and public schools.”  In addition, Mr. Frankel points out that this ratio “is the primary rationale used to justify a tuition price point around 2X higher than parochial alternatives.”

There is no doubt that the relatively small student:teacher ratios have been an attractive draw for many families.  I also agree that with the existing economic realities, the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) is wise in advising “schools to drop the low ratio language in favor of stressing that every child will be known and that no one will fall through the cracks.”  The NAIS advice is key, but Mr. Frankel makes an interesting point about public perception of knowing every child and growing ratios.  Thus, the challenge to find a “new way of explaining our product; one that isn't so connected with a high-cost method of production.“

I have a few thoughts and ideas.

  1. If your entire marketing strategy has been based on student:teacher ratio, then you haven’t had a marketing strategy.
  2. You can begin to turn your ratio strategy around by adopting a proactive “customer satisfaction” strategy.  One suggestion is to consider a “taking it personally” framework.
  3. Growing ratios may cause anxiety if they are not linked to class size.  Find a way to turn the conversation around to class size (which should still be relatively smaller).
  4. Profile your “product” and look for marketable items.  For example, if you are a college prep school then survey recent graduates.  How prepared do they feel in relation to their peers?  How do your alums GPAs rank at their colleges compared to other schools?  Also, look at what you do and dig out your areas of particular success.  How do you incorporate your arts, athletics, etc. into your mission?  What types of electives do you offer?  Does your curriculum offer any advantages?  At my school, we focus heavily on both written and spoken communication as a hallmark of a liberal arts education.  As such, we begin teaching a separate literature and composition course in the middle school grades.    
  5. Ask your families what they value most.  Ask them why they came and why they stay.  Use that information to guide your strategic marketing.
  6. Be comfortable with who you are.  Know and live your mission.  Work to make sure your school’s mission and ethos line up.  If they do, you will have a solid basis for the claims you make regarding your school.

I am a believer that there is always a market for an outstanding school that delivers on its claims of excellence.  While you may need to “educate” your potential families differently, you should certainly be able to find new, creative, and potentially powerful ways to “explain your product.”

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Transforming your "wish list" into meaningful professional development

As an educational leader, I believe that one of my most important responsibilities is to support teachers with their plans for professional growth.  In that role, I have found that plans are easy to develop.  What is more difficult is the follow up on those plans.  It is the follow up that I have found among the most satisfying aspects of being an educational leader.

Why is the follow up sometimes difficult and how do I approach this challenge with teachers?

For me, the key is to try to link the plans with an agreed upon set of goals and objectives.  The goals and objectives are important because plans without goals and objectives are simply a wish list.

The differences between goals and objectives can be hard to determine, but it is important to do so in order to help teachers make a determined commitment to putting their plans into action.

Plans are important, but only in terms of being a positive first step in professional development.  Remember to connect those plans to goals and objectives in order to transform the wish list into meaningful actions that support great teaching and learning. 

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Testing your beliefs: What are the reasons for your reasons?

Recently, I began reading The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America by Louis Menand.  Though I am only a few pages into the book, I ran across this passage on page 38:
"...the test of a belief is not immutability.  Our reasons for needing reasons are always changing."
I have been leading a discussion recently with a group of teachers.  The goal of this on-going discussion is to eventually articulate what great teaching looks like in our division.  Basically, we are developing a profile of great teaching as it appears in our community.

This discussion has begun with two sessions concerning our beliefs about teaching and learning.  Most of the input has been quite personal.  In addition, the beliefs shared by the teachers have been quite diverse.  All in all, I am quite happy with this beginning.

Reflecting back on the passage above, what impact (if any) does such a statement have on your beliefs about teaching and learning?

Monday, January 24, 2011

21st Century Skills and the “Intangibles” of Great Teaching

Teacher Over the past two weeks, I have led a discussion with a group of teachers with the goal of discovering what great teaching looks like in their division.  So far, we are forming our meetings around statements of beliefs about teaching and learning.  As a backdrop to these discussions, I asked the teachers to keep in mind how they connect their content to the development of 21st century skills:  communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.

In one recent exchange, a teacher made the statement that if we are looking to describe what great teaching looks like or is manifested in their classes, where do these 21st century skills fit in with the aspects of teaching that do not necessarily primarily concern content.  I asked this teacher to elaborate on this comment and he shared that great teaching, in his opinion, is found more in the “intangibles” of being a teacher.  For example, advising students with difficult character issues, being present in the hallway or at the games, getting to know the student as an individual, and taking a personal interest in the student's well-being.

My response was that in order to deliver on those “intangibles” he was likely modeling those skills in a very practical manner.  Without knowing it, this teacher was helping his students develop these important skills.

I read many articles about connecting the 21st century skills to content.  The majority of these articles have been very helpful to my own teaching.  They have served to inspire my own creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.  I have also read a number of articles that suggest that one of the most powerful factors in student achievement is the relationship between teacher and student.  Skills are important.  Content is important.  Modeling appropriate uses of each is also important.

Tomorrow, when you open your door and welcome your students, do not take for granted the power of how your interactions with them not only establishes the foundation for content area achievement, but also how these interactions re-enforce the skills necessary for success in the 21st century.  

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Thoughts about professional development

Yesterday, my school held a professional development day.  Now, the day was filled with expert presenters talking about important topics such as how to implement certain strategies for students with certain learnign challenges ranging from ADHD to Gifted and Talented.

The speakers were very good and the information was most useful, but as I was listening to these guests, I began to reflect on professional development.  Once teh day was over, I went to my office llibrary and gatered the following thoughts on professional development.

“The essence of successful instruction and good schools comes from the thoughts and actions of the professionals in the school” (Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, p. 370).

“Virtually any experience that enlarges a teacher’s knowledge, appreciation, skills, and understanding of his or her work falls under the domain of professional development” (Glickman, et al, p. 370-371).
Highly competent teachers find avenues for growth outside of the normal in-service and professional development routines (Karst, 1987).
Primary criticism of prof. dev. programs: one-shot deals with no integration of comprehensive plan to achieve school goals (Tetenbaum and Mulkeen, 1987).

Alternative formats for professional development: (Glickman, et al, 2004)

  • Teacher centers: Meet at central location to engage in professional dialogue, develop skills, plan innovations, gather/create materials

  • Collegial support groups: engage in group inquiry, address common problems, provide mutual support

  • Networks: teachers sharing common concerns, information, and engage in common learning using various mediums (electronic and face-to-face)

  • Teacher as writer: reflecting and writing about their students, teaching, and professional growth

  • Individually planned professional development: setting individual goals and objectives, plan/carry out activities, assess results

Stages of professional development (Glickman, et al, 2004):

  • Orientation: benefits, responsibilities, concerns addressed - must move beyond this to be effective

  • Integration: apply learning to classroom - regular and effective use of the new learning

  • Refinement: move towards “expertness” through continuous experimentation and reflection
Question:  How does Twitter and other social network resources help address the professional development issues presented above?


Glickman, C. D., Gordon, S. P., Ross-Gordon, . M. 2004. Supervision and instructional leadership: adevelopmental approach (6th ed) . Pearson, Boston.

Karst, R. R. 1987. New policy implications for in-service and professional development programs for public schools. Presentation to the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Washington DC, April.

Tetenbaum, T. J., and Mulkeen, T.A. 1987. Prelude to school improvement: Understanding perceptions of staff development. Presentation to the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Washington DC, April.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Aligning your vision and beliefs, part 3: Mission and philosophy

In the previous two parts of this series, I examine vision and beliefs statements.  For this third and final part, I explore mission and philosophy.  I do so  because both mission and philosophy are deeply affected by the alignment of vision and beliefs.  I also discuss mission and philosophy together because I see them as equals based on perspective.  In other words, I view a school’s mission statement as its institutional statement of philosophy articulated by action oriented language.  On the other hand, educational philosophies are generally personal statements made by individual educators that describe their guiding principles concerning the nature of teaching and learning.  It is with these assumptions in place that I offer the following for your reflection.

Mission Statements

As I stated above, I view a school’s mission statement as its statement of philosophy articulated by action oriented language.  Mission statements are written to answer the question, “What is our school’s purpose?”  Unlike the vision statement, mission statements are written in the present as opposed to the future tense.  In other words, the mission is NOT describing your school’s preferred future, but rather it is concerned with why the school exists to begin with and what activities are done at the school to accomplish the school’s stated purpose.

One pitfall that you should be aware of when writing a mission statement is to make sure your claims are able to be followed through with.  Schools should avoid making commitments that they cannot fulfill.  Failure to make good on your mission will lead to lack of trust and credibility.  This is especially important for independent and other private schools.  Given the nature of the role played by families at those schools, lack of trust and credibility can lead to disastrous consequences in terms of enrollment and attrition.

Here are a few items to remember and help you with reflecting on your school’s mission.

  • Mission statements focus on one common purpose.
  • Mission statements must be specific to your school.
  • Mission statements draw upon belief statements.
  • Mission statements are relatively short.

Mission and beliefs need to be attached to your vision, but developing these three components is a waste of time unless they become the basis for action and decision making.

Philosophies of Education

I believe that statements of educational philosophy are greatly individual descriptions of the guiding principles that specific educator uses in his or her approach to teaching and learning.  Certainly, statements of educational philosophy are very specific to the person, but there should be some common elements that identify each philosophy as educationally focused.  Much like the mission statement, philosophies should draw upon your individual beliefs, not necessarily the school’s beliefs.  Generally, when mission and philosophy line up, teachers feel satisfied with their work and schools enjoy the resources a well aligned faculty member brings to the institution.

In writing your statement of philosophy, I offer these eleven questions taken from “What is Your EP: A Test Which Identifies your Educational Philosophy” by Patricia T. Jerson.  As you use these questions, reflect on a one sentence answer to each.

  1. What is the essence of education?
  2. What is the nature of the learner?
  3. How should education provide for the needs of mankind?
  4. What should be the environment of education?
  5. What should be the goal of education?
  6. What should be the concern of school?
  7. What should be the atmosphere of school?
  8. How should appropriate learning occur?
  9. What should be the role of the teacher?
  10. What should the curriculum include?
  11. What should be the preferred teaching method?

I would also add an additional question that is appropriate for schools today.  I add it because I do not think any conversation about learning in the 21st century can take place without having a guiding principle concerning it. 

What should be the role of technology in school?

Bringing it all together

Educational leaders (not just those in formal leadership roles, but ALL who provide leadership in schools) are tasked with creating and promoting an environment in which every student is able to explore interests and learn to the best of his or her ability.  This is not easy.  Often, the “crisis of the hour” can test a leader’s core assumptions about schools and education in general.  Having reflected on and being comfortable with the four cohesive parts of one’s leadership foundation (vision, beliefs, mission, and philosophy) is vital to providing the necessary guidance and example to effectively create and promote a student-centered learning environment.


Patricia T. Jerson, “What is Your EP: A Test Which Identifies Your Educational Philosophy,” Clearing House, 46, pages 274-278, January 1972.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Aligning your vision and beliefs, part 2: Your beliefs statement

In part one of this series, I descried the concept of aligning your vision and beliefs statements.  In addition, there was a vision reflection exercise and a list of potential “vision killers.”

Today, I will describe in more detail the nature of beliefs statements and offer a few suggestions as to how to go about refining your own beliefs.


Beliefs are important to your school when they are embedded school wide and act as conditions upon which actions should be taken.  In other words, the school should act as if the beliefs were true.  For example, if you (or your school) believes that not all students learn the same way (students learn differently), then you (or the school) should act as if that is true.  To put it another way, a beliefs statement is only as valuable as you (or the school) “walks the talk.”

Suggested criteria for beliefs statements

When examining your beliefs about education, keep these items in mind:

  1. Your beliefs should align with your vision and mission.
  2. Your beliefs are statements about your values.
  3. Your beliefs should guide actions.
  4. Your beliefs should reflect your philosophy of education.
  5. Your beliefs should be practical and specific.
  6. Your beliefs are articulated expressions of your desired outcomes.

Also, each belief carries with it an assumed implication.  These implications refer to the anticipated impact the belief has once it is put into action.  To use the example we used above, if you believe that not all students learn the same way, the implications may be that assignments need to be differentiated and the daily schedule allows for students to meet with teachers at certain points during the day.

In part three…

In parts one and two, vision and beliefs have been explored and ideas presented about how you can refine your statements.  In the final part, part three, the topic turns to mission statements and philosophies of education.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Aligning your vision and beliefs, part 1

This post is part one of a three part series on vision, beliefs, and mission statements.  In part one, I will describe the connection between vision and beliefs.  Part two is a more detailed explanation of a beliefs statement and how to begin putting yours together.  The final part, part three, will examine mission statements and bring all three elements together.

In my previous post, You have to know where you want to go or else you’ll never get there, I offered a simple guide for refining and articulating your vision statement.  This statement is a description of your school’s preferred future.  Well written visions statements are also aligned with your school’s beliefs and mission.  Remember, resources tend to follow visions, so positive/inspiring language is always a good idea.

Aligning vision with beliefs is generally performed in one of two directions.  Either the vision statement came emerge from your beliefs or your beliefs can flow out of your vision.  Whichever is more comfortable for you is appropriate.

Although your vision is likely more generic than your beliefs and should be revisited more often than your beliefs, your vision should not go through continual revision.  Remember, it is hard to hit a moving target!

Here is a reflection exercise to help you with your vision statement.

Imagine the following:

It is five years from today’s date.  You have led your school marvelously and it has become the most desirable school you can imagine.  What do you see going on around you?

For more detailed guidance on crafting your vision statement, you can check out my recent post on vision statements.

In part 2 of this series, I will offer some ideas and guidance for refining your beliefs statement.  Until then, here are a few potential “vision killers” of which you should be aware as you examine your statement.

Be aware of these potential “vision killers”

Traditions that impede progress

Fear of ridicule


Stakeholder complacency

Tired leaders

Short-term thinking


If you have recently reflected on your own vision of schools/leadership, then feel free to share your own insights into this process.  Feedback is always welcomed.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

You have to know where you want to go or else you’ll never get there.


One of the more powerful exercises educational leaders can engage their communities in is developing a shared vision.  A focused approach to  articulating the vision for your school provides each constituent group the chance to voice not only areas of agreement, but also allows leaders to identify seemingly different opinions.  The agreed upon components can help define the all-important shared vision.  Leaders can capitalize on areas of apparent disconnect by aligning action plans to address these disconnections to the strategic goals for the school as a whole.  In the end, there is great potential to discover unknown resources from within the faculty and parent communities while establishing an atmosphere of partnership and collaboration.

As potentially powerful such an initiative may be, it will not have nearly the impact if leaders do not have a clear personal vision for their schools.  As leaders gain experience, their visions may change, therefore reflecting on your own personal vision from time to time is an important piece to developing a genuine shared vision in your school.  Here are some suggested areas for you to reflect upon as you develop your vision.  These are also areas in which to engage your community as you lead them through their own vision development.  For each area, your vision should describe your “optimal” situation.

When writing your vision, I suggest using active voice and present tense.  For example, “ By employing self-directed discovery, students gain the confidence and framework to define a greater vision of themselves and how they create opportunities for themselves.”

  • Student Outcomes
  • Instructional Environment/Culture
  • Instruction (Teaching and Learning)
  • Professional Development
  • Leadership and Governance
If you have additional items to add to this list, please share.  I am always eager to hear and learn from other educational leaders.
If you choose to use this list, I would be interested to hear how it goes with your school.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Political frame orientation and educational leadership


image found at

When talking about the leadership orientations of educational leaders, discussion often centers around supporting faculty, developing programs, and implementing policies and procedures.  Trying to understand how leaders think and the impact of that thinking sheds light on the potential effectiveness of that leader.  I have written in other posts about the multi-frame leadership orientations described by Bolman and Deal (2003), specifically the structural frame, the human resource frame, and the symbolic frame.  The remaining frame is the one that educational leaders have been least likely to admit using.  Although less frequently espoused, there may be a connection between effective leadership and the use of this final frame, especially in independent school settings.  This final frame is the political frame, which has roots in the power and political organizational theory.

The Power and Politics Organizational Theory

Shafritz, Ott, and Jang (2005) offer a definition of power: “Power is the ability to get things done the way one wants them done; it is the latent ability to influence people” (p. 284).

This definition is based on the definitions proposed by Gerald Salancik and Jeffrey Pfeffer (1977) and Robert Allen and Lyman Porter (1983). There are two basic benefits to understanding organizations through this definition. First, this definition emphasizes the relativity of power. Second, it reminds the reader that conflict and use of power are often not about outcomes, but rather methods, means, and approaches (Shafritz, Ott, & Jang, 2005). Therefore, organizations that control power, through the forming of alliances of people seeking organizational resources, determine the ability to achieve established organizational goals (Durocher, 1996).

The critical need to form alliances and establish external relations, then, becomes an increasingly important function of leadership. Thus, the direct involvement of top leaders in the political aspect of the organization takes on a new, more important role (Bennis, 1984). As a school of organizational theory, the power and politics theory rejects the previously held assumption that organizations are rational institutions whose purpose is to accomplish established goals. Instead, organizations are redefined as “complex systems of individuals and coalitions, each having its own interests, beliefs, values, preferences, perspectives, and perceptions” (Shafritz, Ott, & Jang, 2005, p. 283).

The political process involves two parties. One consists of recipients of influence and initiators of social control, and the other party is initiators of influence and recipients of social control (Gamson, 1968). The interactions of these two parties in the political process can be somewhat unclear. In schools, political activity is often found as a result of unclear goals and continuous activity (Campbell, Corbally, & Nystrand, 1983). As Sergiovanni (1984) writes, “The political perspective represents a recent and important development in the literature of educational administration” (p. 6).

The Political Frame

The political frame, as mentioned earlier, is rooted in the power and politics organizational theory which describes organizations as places where power is exercised in the allocation of scarce resources (Durocher, 1996). The source of this power is found through authority, expertise, controlling rewards, and personal power or characteristics (such as charisma, intelligence, communications skills, etc.) (Bolman & Deal, 1984). The political frame operates based on five basic assumptions (Bolman & Deal, 2003):

1. Organizations are coalitions of diverse individuals and interest groups.
2. There are enduring differences among coalition members in values, beliefs, information, interests, and perceptions of reality.
3. Most important decisions involve allocating scarce resources – who gets what.
4. Scarce resources and enduring differences make conflict central to organizational dynamics and underlie power as the most important asset.
5. Goals and decisions emerge from bargaining, negotiation, and jockeying for position among competing stakeholders. (p. 186)

Bolman and Deal (2003) conclude, “Organizations are both arenas for internal politics and political agents with their on agendas, resources, and strategies” (p. 238). They also state that organizational effectiveness depends on political skill and the ability to determine when to consider an open and collaborative approach or to use a more adversarial strategy. Understanding the political realities of a situation calls for the leader to consider the potential for “collaboration, the importance of long-term relationships, and most important their own values and ethical principles” (Bolman & Deal, 2003, p. 220).

Implications for Educational Leaders

Studies have been conducted to measure frame usage and to investigate possible relationships between leadership effectiveness and frame use.  There have been a few studies that have found some connection that suggests a correlation between leadership effectiveness and the use of the political frame.  These studies have involved mainly subjects in the United States.  For example, Bolman and Deal (1991) found that in the United States, effective leadership was associated with use of the symbolic, political, and human resource frames.  More recently, my research into leadership orientations of independent school heads suggested that self-reported leadership effectiveness was associated with use of the political frame (Roddy, 2010).

In light of the fact that the political frame is consistently reported as the least used frame by leaders, it is important to understand that using a multi-frame approach lends itself to the best chance at both leadership and managerial effectiveness.  Though reported at used less often, the political frame is not less necessary, especially given the research suggesting its relationship to leadership effectiveness.

What does this possibly say about defining effective educational leadership?  Can we flip these findings into an understanding that the ability to navigate the challenges associated with the conflict over limited resources in schools is an essential skill fro the successful educational leader?  Resources, remember, do not necessarily have to be financial.  Other resources can include time, space, faculty members, etc.  Building coalitions of educators and supporters that are aligned with our vision is a potentially powerful step in making positive decisions when faced with a politically challenging issue.  The challenge to many leaders is then to properly frame or reframe often unclear organizational challenges in a manner that allows these leaders to make the best possible decision for the faculty, students, and families in their respective school communities.


Allen, R. W., & Porter, L. W. (1983). Organizational influence processes. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.

Bennis, W. (1984). The four competencies of leadership. Training and Development Journal, 38, 15-19.

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E., (1991). Leadership and management effectiveness: A multi-frame, multi-sector analysis. Human Resource Management, 30, 509-534.

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2003). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership. (3rd ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Campbell, R. F., Corbally, J. E., & Nystrand, R. o. (1983). Introduction to educational administration. Newton, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Durocher, E. A. (1996). Leadership orientations of school administrators: A survey of nationally recognized school leaders. Dissertations Abstracts International, 57(02), 525A. (UMI No. 9620148)

Gamson, W. A. (1968). Power and Discontent. Florence, KY: Dorsey Press.

Roddy, T. (2010). Frame analysis of the self-perceived leadership orientations of headmasters of the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest, Southern Association of Independent Schools, and the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington member schools (Doctoral dissertation, University of New Orleans, 2010).

Salancik, G. R., & Pfeffer, J. (1977). Who gets power – and how they hold on to it: A strategic-contingency model of power. Organizational Dynamics, 5, 2-21.

Sergiovanni, T. J. (1984). Handbook for effective department leadership. (2nd ed). Newton, MA: Allyn Bacon.

Shafritz, J. M., Ott, J. S., & Jang, Y. S. (2005). Classics of Organizational Theory. (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth /Thomson.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Passing the torch or lighting it?

I6910flaming_torch have been interested in the integration of technology in schools and in the leadership of schools for some time.  However, within the last two years my engagement with technology as an integral part of my leadership/administrative role and my teaching role has grown exponentially.  There are many factors involved in this growth.  Some of these factors are purely associated with the exciting possibilities presented by the available hardware and software.  Other factors involve my growing interests in social networking as a component of professional development.  Still another factor has been the passionate promotion of exploring digital resources that many friends and colleagues have convinced me to try out.

One of these colleagues is my current Director of Technology Integration who writes the blog, 6 AM Thoughts.  He and I often discuss technology integration and share our lessons involving technology in school.  Recently, though, he commented that he felt as if he had, “passed the torch” of technology integration to me.

My response to him was that I did not feel as if her had “passed a torch”, but rather helped “light a torch” that led me to discover some outstanding benefits associated with integrating technology as a teacher and administrator.

Each day, we all come across a number of different people in schools.  These can be students, parents, colleagues, etc.  As leaders, do we pay enough attention to how we go about “passing and lighting the torch” in others? 

Passing the Torch

There are times in which “passing the torch” may be most appropriate.  For example, if you are trying to develop a leadership density among your team, then you may want to seek leadership opportunities for others, thus identifying “torches” for others to light.  Leaders are also, generally, comfortable with their own strengths and challenges.  Situations in which a leader needs support may lend itself to a degree of “torch passing” in order to sufficiently and effectively address a situation.

Lighting the Torch

Recently, I wrote a blog post asking for feedback on leadership qualities most necessary for educational leaders.  The blog post asked for responses to a simple poll question.  The results of that poll suggest that providing vision was the most important quality for educational leaders.  The picture of visionary leaders being out front, connecting with others to advance a worthy cause, and motivating others to share in these efforts is aligned with the idea of “lighting the torch.”  It implies action based on discovery and progress. 

This is not to say that passing the torch is taking steps back, it is simply a different set of leadership qualities.  I would offer that in many situations, a leader is appropriate in “passing the torch” once that leader has “lit the torch” and allowed it to mature into a working flame.

What hurts after your class?

With the coming of the new year, many of us (myself included) have made a “recommitment” to living a healthier lifestyle.  This includes physical exercise, diet adjustments, etc.  I have recently begun my own “recommitment”, and find one common denominator among all aspects of this adjustment.

It hurts.

When I change my diet, my stomach hurts as it gets used to being a little less full.  When I exercise, my muscles hurt from exertion and my lungs hurt from heavier breathing.

So, as I was laying down last night trying to recover from my workout, I thought:

If my class is supposed to be an exercise in learning, what “pain” should I feel as the teacher? 

What “pain” should my students feel during and after a lesson?

Should there be any “pain” at all?

If not, then what can we do as educators to provide any necessary “intellectual anesthetics?”

As a doctor (albeit a doctor of philosophy, not medicine), I am interested in an answer to these questions.

Oh, if you have any tips on how to effectively “recommit” to a healthier lifestyle, that would be great too!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Using Google Sites in class

In 2009, my school became a Google school when we decided to transfer many of our electronic resources to the Google services available to schools.  One of the resources made available as part of our Google tools is Google Sites.  Recently, I began a project using Google Sites in my 7th grade history classes.  While the project continues, my observations of the class are reinforcing my pre-project assumptions that I would notice fully engaged learners who are taking a larger responsibility for their learning.  I am also witnessing much more collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking taking place.

Here is a description of the project:

Phase 1: Set-up

  • I created a Google Site with the title of this trimester’s theme– The Birth and Expansion of the United States.
  • I only allowed access to the site to people I chose to invite during the construction of the project.  Once the site is finished, it will be made available to anyone to access.
  • This site was shared with the students in my classes through their student Google accounts (each student in grades 6-12 are given a school Google account along with their student email address).
  • Students are given editing privileges for this site.
  • A page was created for each of the 10 topics to discuss under the theme (The Birth and Expansion of the United States).
  • Now, I had the "bones” of the project in place:  A website for students to edit including a separate page for each discussion point.
  • Students were then instructed to create their own “notes page” as a subpage within each of the 10 main topic pages.  The reason for this was to allow multiple users to engage in the site at one time without risking cross-editing confusion.

Phase 2:  Daily use

  • Students log into their Google accounts to access the site.  Once in the site, they use the internet to research the topic on which they are working.  Each student works on the same topic.  Each topic is given about 4-5 class periods to complete.
  • When students locate a resource that is relevant to the topic, they can simply paste the link to their notes page.  This includes video, which they can embed on their notes page.
  • Students are also encouraged to create their own work based on the topic.  Some of these created works include Prezis, Wordles, and Glogs.  Once created, students embed their work on their notes page.
  • After 2-3 class periods, students are then instructed to do a peer review of another student’s notes page.  The peer review includes a review of each item placed on a notes page with written comment/feedback (using the comment function located on the bottom of Google Sites pages) for each item on the page.
  • Students can then go back into their notes page to read the reviewers comments and make any adjustments to their notes page based on those comments.

Phase 3:  Evaluation

My evaluation of each student’s progress is based on their activity on the project as well as a demonstrated understanding of the topics being researched.  this is accomplished in two ways.

  1. Daily review of notes page development, comment writing, and addressing feedback.
  2. Periodic “check point” evaluations to make sure students are on the right track in terms of topic understanding.

The daily reviews are simply me going into each notes page, often as students are working on them, to check for progress and to leave my own comments for students to read.  This review is done during class time when I am not answering questions or providing some tech support.

The “check points” are more formal evaluations and are graded.  These are a series of 6-8 questions designed to check for topic/concept understanding.  Basically, I want to make sure the research being done is relevant to the topic, so I share (using Google Docs) a list of questions for students to answer.  Students who are on the right track should have no trouble answering these questions.  Students are allowed to use their Google site as a resource to take the “check point.”  Answers are shared with me in a Google Doc so I can read and provide feedback for students to access at any time.

As I stated earlier, this project has had a tremendously positive impact on the active engagement level in my class.  In addition to providing practice in finding sources, annotating them, and critically reviewing possible sources, this project is mobile and can be worked on whenever a student has a internet connectable device powered on.

If you have any questions regarding this project, please feel free to ask.  Once we are done (late winter/early spring), I will set the site to be available to anyone, and I will write a follow up piece including student feedback.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hashtags, Conversations, and Building Professional Communities

Stimulating conversation is often a springboard for innovative ideas and reflective practice.  After opening a Twitter account a couple of months ago, I am compelled to address my growing appreciation for the hashtag chat feature. 

For those who are unfamiliar with hashtags, they are simply a means to unite Tweets concerning a particular topic.  For a more detailed explanation, I found The Ultimate Guide to Twitter Hashtags a good resource.

Some of my favorite aspects of hashtag chats include:

  1. The conversation does not necessarily need to end.
  2. You can search for the hashtag at any time and engage in a conversation.
  3. These chats are often a good way to find other people whom you may be interested in following.

For educators and educational leaders, I have started the #edleaders hashtag.  One of my goals this year is to structure more formal #edleaders chat sessions (which will be announced via Twitter @DrTroyRoddy and posted in the margin of The Art of Education).  For those who are looking for additional education chats, I would recommend a few of my favorites:

  • #edchat
  • #edtech
  • #cpchat
  • #leadershipchat

If you are already Tweeting, check these out.  If you do not currently have a Twitter account and are looking for stimulating professional conversations, I would recommend that you consider trying it.

Setting the Course


Balancing the benefits of affording students the ability to take part in guiding class discussions with maintaining the direction and pace of the course can be a difficult issue for teachers.  In my conversations, I have come across a wide spectrum of comfort zones.  Some teachers are very eager to allow students almost complete control of class discussions (thus, a great deal of influence on content).  Others are much more comfortable being almost solely in charge of directing the events of the day.

I have often said that teachers should work from a position of comfort and strength as they explore ways to address new ideas and address challenges.  While the debate over how much influence students and teachers have in what goes on in class, I offer a simple suggestion:

“No matter what level of influence you are comfortable allowing your students, you are still responsible for setting the course in your class.”

As the teacher (and by default the leader of the class), you are responsible for “captaining your ship.”  Think of the class as a cruise.  The captain sets the course and makes sure the ship arrives at its destinations, but along the way the passengers have a variety of options available to them.  One can engage in any number of activities on board, but the ship is still going to move to it next port of call.

In class, students should be engaged with multiple opportunities to actively participate in the course.  The teacher, in turn, develops an environment conducive to engagement while overseeing that progress is being made towards the goals of the course.



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