Archive for category Education

An Ode to Lisa #CompelledTribe


I am a member of the Compelled Tribe, a group of educators who write about public school education and all the good in it for our kids.   We want to get better at what we do, we want to be a part of a community, and we find value in collaboration. Our topic this month is to compose and write a tribute about a person in our school, one who lives out the mission of our school and values each of us as humans.

My tribute goes to my secretary, Lisa Sheen.

Never a day goes by that Lisa doesn’t come in with a smile on her face ready to tackle the day.  We have worked together for the past 11 years, and I say to her, she is the reason why I put in a transfer to our school.  She is the rock, the glue that holds our building together.  Lisa is the ultimate service provider, meaning she serves her “customers” with care, patience, kindness, respect.  I am really spoiled with the talent that she brings to our office.  She makes me “look good!”  Lisa problem solves and looks ahead to make processes and products that much better and professional.  Even in tough times, and let me tell you, over the 11 years we have had some times, we manage to get through it and hold each other up, the more she holding me up than me.

I am not sure if others have a Lisa Sheen, but let me tell you, I am blessed and spoiled to the core.  I literally get on the floor and kneel to her because she is that good. I told her I was going to write this and in her usual way, she graciously told me how honored she was to be even considered.

No Lisa, I am honored to have you in my life and work side-by-side with you.  Thank you for all you do for all of us.  Your are the best of the best!  Hands down!




Deep Reading, Writing and Thinking

Reading and writing.  It is said that they go hand in hand, that great readers are great writers.  I love to read – ask my husband.  I have books piled next to my bed.  Amazon Prime – best thing EVER other than the Kindle White.  (Although I am old school – I like the feel of the book!)  If only we had a Barnes and Noble around the corner….

I have been doing very informal walk through’s ofnmy 3rd, 4th and 5th grade teachers to watch the “Independent Instructional Reading” block we incorporated in our school this year.  So you wonder, what is that?  Based on Jennifer Serravallo’s work, the Independent Instructional Reading  (IIR) block is based on a premise that if we ever want our children to be good readers, they need to build their stamina and be provided with long stretches of time to read.  Ms. Serravallo is on to something!  We have been through many initiatives in my 16 years as a principal, but I haven’t encountered the level of ownership of learning that my students are starting embrace as well as the passion for reading.  Our students, along with their teachers, are talking and writing about what they read.  They are setting goals, taking their Independent Reading Assessment extremely serious, as well as developing comprehension and writing skills.

This is not a “cookbook” method.  This is hard work for every teacher.  Teachers need to know their craft.  They need to know how to model the process of thinking by structuring questioning skills.  They need to help with the organization of student writing journals.  They need to model how to “stop and jot”, how to take notes and journal on their reading.  Very important, teachers need to know the books so they can have discussion as well as know how to help their students choose just right books.

But, like any program or “method”, it will always be about the teacher, not the program.  The teacher will always be the first line of the instruction and it will be about their craft and their pedagogy, their craft, their knowledge, and what they bring to the table.  And, they need a principal behind them to support the structure.  I have to say though, the conversations, the readings, and the professional development by Lea Mercantini Leibowitz, who is helping with professional development and coaching sure has changed the thinking of deep reading, writing and thinking and how we approach the teaching of English Language Arts to a different level in our school – all for the better!

Check out Jennifer’s website here.  She is prolific in her writing and has guest blogged on Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground here.


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APPR Gone Astray

2015-05-01 22.29.51

I have been challenged by my buddy, Lisa Meade, to write about the new APPR direction in New York State.  Another good buddy, Christina Luce, wrote about APPR too, so the pressure is on! I have been rather quiet about this, due to the fact that first, I am a little miffed with what is happening in our state with public education.  I guess you would say, SHOCKED is a better word.  The other is that yes, I am a little “gun shy” in that I will get my hands slapped, but I know that I need to do this for our children and for our future.  Let’s face it, our kids need to be productive citizens, not widgets and autobots taking bubble tests.  It’s killing innovation and creativity.

Where did we lose it?  I have been in education for 27 years, 15 of them as a building leader, and I haven’t experienced anything like we are experiencing not only in New York, but within the nation.  Heck, Diane Ravitch called for a national teacher strike last week at the NPE conference in Chicago.  That will go over well.  I totally remember the teacher strike at the Centennial School District in Warminster PA in 1976.  I was in 6th grade and we missed 3 months of prime instruction.  NOT good for a 6th grader who had reading difficulties.  Educators are angry, and boy, so are the parents.  A rally call has been put out to parents, students and retired teachers to not give up and continue the civil disobedience because they are the ones that can really change the landscape because they won’t be fired!  Only in America can we do this and that is the beauty of this wonderful nation. (Check out Yong Zhao’s funny speech at the NPE conference in Chicago here.  It’s worth the time!)

The legislation of our new APPR system has gone astray.  What has happened is that we have lost our compass, what truly matters in education, and that is creating a society of children, who will not be creative and innovative, who will have the opportunity to be entrepreneurial, and who will not have a moral compass.  Bubble tests do not do this AND only focusing on Math and ELA will not be the end all be all.  What about the arts, science, civic curriculum, and social and emotional curriculum?

Before I go on, let me be very clear.  I believe in an APPR system that is what it is, an Annual Professional Performance Review that is fair and that will be a coaching model for our teachers and principals.  New York State has had this regulation in place for a long time, but what happened with Race To The Top initiatives has driven New York State education on a spiral path of FAILURE!  It’s time to listen to the wake up call! (Wakey, wakey!!)

So how can we improve this system?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Make the test available to teachers, administrators and parents.  Why such a secret?  Do we really think that the ELA and Math 3-8 tests are driving instruction?   Not when we get results back so late.  Even a July 1st release will be worthless because we had so many opt outs, let alone ONLY releasing 50% of the test..  Stop with the insanity of using these high stakes tests for teacher evaluations.  It was NEVER designed for this purpose.  What it is doing now is sorting our kids and schools.  Keep doing the same thing over and over again, and you create insanity.  Oh, and why so tricky and high levels of reading? I would like to see some Regents and State legislatures take a 5th grade Math and ELA test, see if they could pass it, let alone a 3rd grade test.  Why are we tricking our kids?  Give back the test design to our teachers.  We had a system in place, but maybe special interests got in the way. (AKA – Pearson and the $$! Cha-ching!)
  2. Let principals lead their schools.  As a building principal, I am burning out from evaluations and compliance.  Don’t get me wrong, I love walk through’s and the ability to have conversations and coach.  That is my job  as a lead learner, to spark conversation and reflections with my teachers and help them grow.  But we are burning out with the evaluation process.  Like Fullan stated, carrots and sticks don’t work.  The gotchya’s aren’t the answer – teacher capital and capacity is the answer.  Build the core and the group and develop leadership with our professionals!  What we are doing now is wasting time to  hurry up and meet the compliance deadline.  I do it, but I am wondering if it is meaningful for my staff.  They say it is, but I have been doing this for 10 years.  How are my colleagues fairing?
  3. Bring back trust and listen to the “experts”.  The Board of Regents asked to bring in “experts” to their May 7th forum.  What about teachers and principals who are in the trenches?  I love Linda Darling-Hammond and heard she was asked to be on “the panel,” but had declined. (That’s a shame or a sham?)  Why not ask those educators who are recognized as the Middle School principal of the year (Lisa Meade) or teacher of the year?  What about their voices?  Bring trust back – we are educators and we are professionals!
  4. Bringing in independent evaluators is cause for concern, and personally, a slap in the face of a building leader.  Basically, we are feeling that we are not trustworthy in leading our schools, so bring someone in who doesn’t work with the teachers, the kids, the students, the parents, and evaluate.  This is NOT a great coaching model for our teachers.
  5. And then, within all of this craziness and anger with the education system, we truly are having a big problem with the teacher education system and not being able to recruit aspiring educators to the profession.  We want the best of the best in education.  The cream of the crop should be applying for teacher education programs in colleges, but who wants to go into teaching with so much disrespect and such a big morale problem, let alone trying to pass the edTPA that costs $1,000.00.  The profession isn’t really enticing, and this sure isn’t the way to recruit the top students, when they can make much more in the private sector or industry and get much more respect.  I think it’s time to listen and hear the wake up call!

I had the good fortune to sit with a team of educators from our district in a two hour meeting with Regent Ouderkirk.  (A side note – Regent Ouderkirk had my position as East Side Principal in the early 80’s.  Kind of neat I thought.)  She impressed me with traveling her area on a listening tour to get feedback from the trenches –  parents, teachers, administrators, tax payers, you name it.  She heard what I listed above from this team and much more, and I assume, will get the same thoughts while she makes her rounds.  I applaud her for making the time to “listen to her constituents”.  A common theme during our conversation was this – we may have gone in the wrong direction and now, it’s time for a refresh or restart button.  Let’s take what we have in place and make it better!  Adjust and correct.  We know what doesn’t work and let’s improve on what is working.  

I am optimistic that something good can come from the “civil disobedience” from our parents and “friends of public education”.  I know these folks won’t let it go because they believe in public education and believe that our kids are more than a score.  Let’s stop the madness, move back to our moral obligation of teaching our kids, and get back to trusting the professionals who are in the trenches.  They know what our kids need to be the best they can be.  Stop the insanity and let’s get back to teaching our kids!

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The 7 C’s: Kay Toliver’s Principles of Effective Teaching

I am going back in time here, to the 2006 ASCD Conference on Teaching and Learning.  I think it was in Orlando, Florida.  Kay Toliver was th keynote speaker, and what she said has resonated with me for years.  Here are my notes:

7 C’s:  Principles of Effective Teaching

Kay Toliver

  1. Caring:  The foundation of good teaching.  Students will do their best when they have a teacher who really cares about them.
  2. Connecting to Students:  Establishing positive relationships with students.  Respect their diversity and learn where they come from.
  3. Communication:  Have to be able to communicate positive messages to students.  Never underestimate what children know.  It is our job to tap into what they know, they have prior knowledge.  Words can be hateful.  Also, non-verbal action can be even worse.  Let children know that “I believe.”  Know your information and content to be able to communicate to teach.  Powerful teachers know how children learn.  You better know how to teach.  When you communicate to kind you’re interactive, not passive.  Children need to understand the literacy.  It is our job to make them understand.  I they can hold it in their hand; they can hold it in their mind.  If they can hold in their mind, they can write it down.  If they can write it down, they can talk about it
  4. Compassion:  When you have compassion, you can get to know your students.  Teachers, we are all servants of children.
  5. Courage:  Have to be courageous and be a risk taker.  Step out of the box.  Be crazy, you want to hear that you are crazy.  You want to have courageous students.  We don’t want to have students who are fearful.  Have the courage to open the doors to education for children.  Be a little different.
  6. Conviction:  Faith, blind faith.  Faith in student’s ability to do the best.  Have to believe they are doing their best.  We have to expect mastery, we can’t settle for anything less.  We need to build upon student success.  If you believe they can’t achieve, they won’t.
  7. Commitment:  You have to be committed to this job.  Commitment to be a powerful teacher.  When children didn’t get it, don’t blame them. The bottom line they come to school to learn.  All children come to school with big dreams.  Something happens along the way.  Never give up.  Never let students give up on themselves.

Use this as a reminder, daily, every day, when you work with children!

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A Seat at the Table

A Seat at the Table

A collaborative post, written by Lisa Meade and Vicki Day

We are two passionate principals leading learning in two fabulous schools. We both have had great experiences in our classrooms, one as a music teacher and the other as a special education teacher.  We both believe, and still do, that we needed to reach out and help more students, so we took the journey to becoming lead learners of an elementary school and a middle school.  The journey for both of us may have been different, but one common thread we are finding is that we are two passionate women in a very male dominated arena of education.

During the wonderful Valentine 2/14/2015 #satchat on Twitter, the topic was about Missing Voice in #EdTech. It was moderated by Rafranz Davis, author of The Missing Voices in Ed Tech: Bringing Diversity Into EdTech. This sparked interest in us, not only with diversity in our students, students of race, but also diversity in leadership and gender.  We have presented to many about being connected lead learners, but we feel that as women, we may not be taken seriously.  Between the two of us, we have over 20 years of experience as public school leaders, but when in a room mostly dominated by male superintendents and principals, we still do not feel we have earned credibility in different arenas. Some of that could be our fault, yes. But, some of it is likely beyond our control.

Back in 1994, Myra and David Sadker published “Failing at Fairness: How Our School Cheat Girl”. It was required reading for one of the authors of this post as part of a master’s program examining gender bias and provided examples of how girls were treated differently in school settings than boys. What was learned at the end of the master’s program was that bias exists for both males and females. It just looks differently. We expect certain behaviors from one gender than we do from the other. Unfortunately, not enough has changed regarding those biases.

Case in point:  We presented to a great bunch of leaders, mostly males, about using social media tools to promote connectivity and professional development.  It wasn’t until we used google hangout to bring in two fabulous male educators from our PLN to talk to them about being connected that it kind of clicked.  It was clear how males in the room responded more positively to the males on the screen.  That could be for a variety of reasons, including gender.

We are both passionate about our work, our schools and love to highlight what we are doing as well as what our kids and staff are doing. We love to “brand” our positives in our schools and love to “show off” what our kids are doing as well as what our teachers are doing with students.  But, we’ve both been told we are too energetic, too passionate, too emotional, and to calm down. One of our female colleagues has even been silenced by a male colleague at work with the raising of his hand to signal stop. We wonder if our male colleagues have ever been told that they are too passionate or emotional? Do other males silence each other by raising their hands to signal stop.

For the most part, women are making gains in educational leadership positions, but it is still male dominated.  Why is that?  Are women viewed as not strong enough?  Do fewer women apply for leadership positions? If yes, why is that true? How about within technology and education? Can women be technology leaders? Is there a fear of transparency? Will what I say get me in trouble? Will it impact future possibilities? Is the work that I am asked to do similar to the work my male counterparts are asked to do? In the interest of full disclosure, there’s a fear to be felt in even putting these thoughts to paper. Will others that we work with take these reflections the wrong way? Will these thoughts be misunderstood?

Peter DeWitt recently posted “Where Are All the Women in Educational Leadership?”. The post resonated with many. We are fortunate to consider Peter one of our friends and found his piece indicative of our experience. In it, he asks readers to be more deliberate in their work to include women, hear women and honor women.  Dr. DeWitt writes, “Women shouldn’t be chosen based on being women, just like men shouldn’t be chosen because of being a man. But women shouldn’t be ignored or not chosen because they happen to be female either.”

Luckily, many of the males we work with and are connected to personally honor our work and make room for us at the table when we ask. Occasionally, we are invited to sit at their table and when we are, that speaks volumes to the kinds of leaders making room for more.

We wonder about other diversities beyond gender.

Is there a difference among races, ages, or sexual preference?

Are we all being afforded the same opportunities?

We all say we believe in diversity.

But, do our actions demonstrate that?

“No one gets to the corner office by sitting on the side, not at the table, and no one gets the promotion if they don’t think they deserve their success, or they don’t even understand their own success.” – Sheryl Sandberg


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