Archive for category Morale

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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How a Social/Emotional Philosophy Changed an Elementary School


Today was the last day with our kiddos at East Side Elementary School.  This is also my 9th year as principal/lead learner for the East Side Elementary School in Gouverneur New York.  We are a rural district in northern New York with about a total population of a little bit over 1,600 pupils.  At East Side, we currently serve 463 pupils, PreK-5 and I oversee 61 staff, including 43 teachers and staff that are under my supervision.

Four years ago, I heard about Responsive Classroom and noticed that Patrick Shaw, a trainer from the Syracuse area and the OCM BOCES was holding training sessions in Watertown, NY at the Jefferson-County BOCES center.  One of our second grade teachers wanted to go, so with permission from the assistant superintendent, we sent her to bring back the information.  She was hooked, implemented the program and philosophy into her classroom and would continually invite me into the class to see what was happening.  I would ask her to come to our staff meeting and show Morning Meeting and talk about the philosophy with our staff.  After that year, I made a plan for all of our classroom teachers to either take the 5 day course in the summer along with me, or be trained in the fall.

Needless to say, the classroom teachers were thrilled to sign up.  Anytime as a principal that I can learn along with my staff, I will do that, so we have common language, hence the title Lead Learner!  (See Michael Fullan, The Principal)  What happened drastically was that we all had a common philosophy and a belief that the social and emotional curriculum was just as important as the academic curriculum.

Discipline referrals drastically went down.  Teachers talked to the kids and would take action on the “minor” incidents in the classroom rather than sending it to me.  What really has worked is implementing one of the RC components: Morning Meeting.  This is a time when the teacher can really get to know his or her students in the classroom.  It is the “heart” of the RC philosophy and starts the day, every day!  Morning Meeting has four components:  1. A Greeting; 2. Sharing 3. A Group Activity 4. A Morning Message.  You can read about Morning Meeting here.  It truly builds the community in the classroom and permeates throughout the building.

So, are you wondering what the data looks like with discipline referrals? Below is a simple chart to show you the data over 5 years.  (We implemented Responsive Classroom during the 2011-2012 school year!)

 Referrals School Year
192 2008-2009
161 2009-2010
142 2010-2011
64 2011-2012
52 2012-2013
21 2013-2014


Here it is in graph form:

 Discipline Data

Pretty amazing isn’t it, from 192 referrals to 21.  Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that we do not do discipline.  It is how we work with our students, putting in logical consequences and understanding that kids do make mistakes. Some may think we are soft, but what we are doing is working with our kids and our parents to help model best behavior and to have our children leave East Side with a strong social and emotional foundation so that they can be productive young adults as they enter our Middle School.

My friend and colleague Lisa Meade had a recent blog here about discipline and implementing PBIS in her school.  She ended her blog with, “We all make mistakes.  In life, its’ not about the mistake.  It’s about how you recover from it and what you learn about yourself.”  This is what a social and emotional curriculum can do for you if you implement something, anything, to help your students and staff form a community and relationships.  In the end, it is all about relationships between student to teacher, and teacher to student, as well as school to home and home to school.  Put in an S/E curriculum and watch your school change for the better!



(This is the Monday Focus to my staff this week.  I thought I would push it out to all.  Enjoy!)


I have a new tool that I am using for professional development and it is the app, Voxer. This nifty app is like a walkie-talkie, so a bunch of us are using it for a book chat using the book, Digital Leadership by my friend Eric Sheninger. (I blogged about it here.) As we are going through the chapters, we are talking about change, change leadership and then one of us brings up TTWWADI in chapter 2.

You are probably wondering, “What is TTWWADI?” It’s that saying, “But, that’s the way we’ve always done it.” I cringe when I hear that from educators. Really? TTWWADI doesn’t work. It is a closed or fixed mindset. It means that folks are not willing to grow, be open to change, and look to make it better for kids!

This past year, we have had lots of change. We have looked at how we are teaching and still are reflecting to meet the needs of our students. We are changing times to help improve transportation for our kiddos. Some think, “Why change?” Let’s look at what is happening with our students sitting there for 30 minutes on a bus. Is it really good for kids when some of our babies can’t hold it anymore and spoil themselves? How about how we are servicing our special education students? Can we do better and have teachers work together within the classroom to help our students access the curriculum? Wouldn’t that be easier for two teacher to co-teach and deliver and differentiate instruction rather than one teacher pulling her hair out trying to service the diverse population? We had change forced down on us and changed our standards to embrace the CCSS. We are moving ahead and working together to make it better for ALL students and aligning curriculum. Just because it is a change in the curriculum doesn’t mean it does not have to be creative and innovative. We need to look outside the box and make the modules MORE engaging for our students. APPR has been a change and we had to adjust to that, with me beating my drum and being the biggest cheerleader because I know you all are more than a score. We will have change in the master schedule, having our grade levels scheduled to allow for maximum time for teaching and placed on the master schedule into SchoolTool so we can accommodate the times. No more creating your own schedule, it’s done for you! Hip, Hip Hooray! We are looking to a rubric based report card K-5, because grades really aren’t working! How about homework? Can that change, or are some folks going to continue to be punitive if kids don’t get it completed? My question to that is, is it really working or will you continue TTWWADI?

I guess what I am getting at is this: How can we be more effective and give the best to our students who are now 14 years into the 21st century, have them efficiently and effectively access the curriculum, and continue to have engaging, creative and innovative lessons as well as keeping the social and emotional curriculum? Not easy! Are we still going to stand for the same-ole standardization and clogging of creativity and innovation or are we going to break the mold and embrace the change ahead, use the tools available to us to create engaging lessons and differentiate instructions for all learners? Are we going to have that mentality or belief that, “Oh, Johnny is so low, he can’t do the work, let’s quickly slap an IEP on him” or are we going to differentiate our practice and work smarter? What models can we use to help all of our students and work together to make it easier for us, or are we going to worry about that APPR score and not what is best for kids? Are we going to be quick to get rid of a student because he is being so distracting in the classroom and send him to the office where he probably wants to be because it is so hot, and the office is air conditioned, (something to think about) or are we going to work together and find ways to help our students and work to see what the triggers are and work on social and emotional behaviors?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not pointing fingers at anyone and I think what we have done this year is amazing and you all want what is best for kids. But, are we reflecting and making the right decisions and trying to make it even better? Or are we going to say, nope, not my problem or can we take it further and make it better for kids and stop worrying about that damn APPR score? I get a score too, but it is not the end all be all. It can’t hinder what we can do and what is best for kids. We have to revamp curriculum. So what! We did that before and will continue to do it and yes, we have a State test, but good teaching is good teaching! We cannot afford to be stifled and continue to be in a 19th or 20th century model! When you get down to it, it’s about what is best for kids. Isn’t that why we went into education? I sure did and I am ready to forge ahead.

Change is not easy. Change is not going to stop, not as long as I am at East Side. Check out what Eric writes about jobs and why schools need to change: ” Jobs available today have changed radically due to the rise of globalization, the continuous surge of outsourcing by many businesses and industries, increasing immigration, and a flattened world. (Friedman, 2005). Schools need to change in the face of this challenge if they are to create the next generation of entrepreneurs, scientists, politicians, and engineers who work in a technology-rich and technology-driven world. With this modern workforce as the goal, what do we want our schools to look like? Why do we need to change? Are we doing what’s best to meet the needs of ALL of our learners who have grown up in the digital age with ubiquitous access to information? If we are to change, we must be willing to shed some strongly embedded ideals, opinions, and behaviors that have shaped our schools for over a century The consensus has to be that every student can and should learn, and that educators must learn how to push them to become ever better.”

Let’s not get into the TTWWADI trap. (Not that we are, I just don’t want to go there!) It doesn’t work. We are educators – we are born to do this. Let’s work together, grow together, and be the best of the best for our kids, because that is the #1 factor. You are the best! We can do this because we are a great team. Embrace change and let’s make it better for our kids! Be a risk taker. Don’t be afraid of failure, because you know what, that is how we learn and we have each other for support! Enjoy the week!

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Happy Valentine’s Day to the Best Staff EVER!


East Side Staff Celebrating Heart Healthy Month

     One of the privileges  of course is working with children, especially at the elementary level.  What day isn’t great when you get hugs from multiple kids just waiting to be loved and shown some TLC.  Well, I just have to say that every day, I “kiss the ground” to work in such a productive, caring, team-oriented building who places kids first.  This is evident in the day-to-day interactions with each other and with our parents and students.

Not a day goes by when I see all of us, from our custodian Marty, to our head cook, Krista, Nicky and Lisa, who are my right hand, Bridget, who is my other right hand, to all of our teachers, teachers assistants and aides and even our parent volunteers, pitch in a hand to make our school a great place to work and learn each and every day.  Even though we are “slogging” through the common core modules and learning a whole new curriculum and even may agree to disagree, we work together for the betterment of our kids.  And, I know I can nudge them a little bit more to make it that much better, because they are reflective, and want what is best for kids.

This is true dedication, pride and inspiration.  I am blessed to be the lead learner of this wonderful establishment and on this Valentine’s Day, I give my heart out to all of you at East Side!  You are the Best of the Best!  I can’t do this without you all!  Enjoy your break!

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