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Free Educational Technology Webinar Featuring Richard Byrne

 

educational technologyWe’ve been referring readers to Richard Byrne’s Free Technology for Teachers blog for a few years now and thought you might be interested in attending one of his free webinars on Tuesday, October 7 at 4 p.m.

In his webinar, Google Search Strategies You Probably Don't Know, But Wish You Did! Richard will talk about how you and your students can go beyond Google.com to search smarter and target just the information you need. Among other things, he will discuss how to get students to go beyond the first page or two of Google search results, as well as how to easily find scholarly works. Richard will also show how to locate public domain works and how they can be modified using Google Books. Come learn how to search faster and smarter

To register for the event click here.



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Identifying Bottlenecks to Student Learning

 

student learning“I’m teaching as well as I know how to . . . so why aren’t these students learning?”

I’m guessing we’ve all asked ourselves that question in our courses at one time or another (or over and over again, as the unfortunate case may be). As faculty, we are experts in our disciplines so we not only want our students to learn what we teach them, but we also want them to share the love we have for our fields. So why don’t they?

Of course, this is an enormously complicated question, with a number of different answers. Often there are bottlenecks to student learning that neither we nor our students might be aware of. Researchers at Indiana University have been exploring ways to break through these bottlenecks through a process called Decoding the Disciplines. Today’s tip explores that.

Researchers identify three types of bottlenecks, or obstacles to learning:

o Procedural bottlenecks. These occur when students do not master one or more steps in a learning activity, and that impedes progress (e.g., the steps involved in formulating a hypothesis).

o Epistemological bottlenecks. These occur when students do not understand essential aspects of how knowledge is constructed within a discipline (e.g., the nature of what “counts” as evidence to support an argument).

o Emotional bottlenecks. These occur when students have emotional or experiential responses to the discipline or subject matter that hinders learning (e.g., when students feel that their religious beliefs are threatened if they study or accept the concept of evolution in biology, or when students have learned that they have always “been bad at writing”).

The Decoding the Disciplines process can help professors discover ways to increase student learning. The process involves seven steps, designed as a general framework within which to think about increasing learning in a course.

The first step is to identify bottlenecks. This involves discovering where in a course many students consistently fail to master basic material. This involves not just identifying the type of bottleneck, but the specific obstacle to learning. For example, in a history course, students might have problems interpreting primary sources the way historians do (an epistemological bottleneck), as well as maintaining emotional distance from the subject (an emotional bottleneck) (Middendorf et al., 2008).

The second step is to define the processes that students need to master to get past the specific bottleneck . . . how does an expert do these things?

The third step is to explicitly model for the students the processes, operations, steps, or perspectives necessary to get past the bottleneck.

The fourth step is to create opportunities to practice these processes, operations, etc., in specific assignments or exercises, and give feedback on them.

The fifth step is to motivate students to move through these processes . . . what emotional obstacles interfere with this learning and how can they be minimized?

The sixth step is to assess student mastery of these processes to evaluate whether your intervention has been successful.

The seventh step is to reflect on what you’ve discovered in this process, and share with others what you have learned.  

In the final analysis, the “curse of expertise” sometimes prevents content experts from accurately anticipating the obstacles that impair the learning of novices (Hinds, 1999). The steps outlined here can help turn that curse into a boon.

If you’re interested, you can learn more about Decoding the Disciplines and read about specific disciplinary examples by visiting the Decoding the Disciplines web site: http://decodingthedisciplines.org/index.html

Resources:
Diaz, A., Middendorf, J., Pace, D., & Shopkow, L. (2008). The History Learning Project: A department “decodes” its students. The Journal of American History, 94, 1211-1224. doi: 10.2307/25095328

Hinds, P. J. (1999). The curse of expertise: The effects of expertise and debiasing methods on predictions of novice performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 5, 205-221. doi: 10.1037/1076-898X.5.2.205

Hinds, P. J., Patterson, M., & Pfeffer, J. (2001). Bothered by abstraction: The effect of expertise on knowledge transfer and subsequent novice performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 1232-1243. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.86.6.1232

Middendorf, J., & Pace, D. (2004). Decoding the disciplines: A model for helping students learn disciplinary ways of thinking. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2004, 1-12. doi: 10.1002/tl.142

Nickerson, R. S. (1999). How we know – and sometimes misjudge – what others know: Imputing one’s own knowledge to others. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 737-759. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.125.6.737

[Adapted from Dr. Claudia J. Stanny, Director, Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, University of West Florida; and Dr. Judith Ableser, director of the Oakland University Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.]

Photo credit: Will Montague / Foter / CC BY-NC

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Principals: Get Mobile with this $50 Workstation

 

principalsAs much as we want to maintain a visible presence in our schools, getting out of the office to wander around and interact with students and faculty can be challenging.

In the past, I’ve resorted to setting up what I call a “satellite office,” whenever and wherever I can. Sometimes I’ll stop by the computer lab and answer emails while students work on their own assignments next to me. Other times I’ll grab my laptop and take a seat in the gymnasium bleachers while students shoot hoops, or snag an empty desk and move it out into the hallway so that I can get work done and say hello to random passersby.

While these “satellite offices” work, I dislike the fact that I have to carry my laptop, notebooks, and random file folders with me everywhere I go. But I recently found a $50 solution on Amazon: a mobile laptop cart.

Not only does this give me a cubby to store all of my work, it gives me mobility and allows me to work standing up! And if I leave the cart unattended for a moment, it also let’s teachers and students know that if they need me, I’m only a few feet away!

 

 

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Keep Your Best Substitute Teachers Coming Back: 3 Golden Rules

 

substitute teachers

According to figures gathered by Utah State University’s Substitute Teaching Institute (STI), every day there are roughly 274,000 classrooms in the country that are staffed by substitute teachers. That’s certainly a lot of subs—and that figure doesn’t even take into account unstaffed classrooms covered by administrators, parapros, and when necessary, parent volunteers.

While this figure may hint at a larger and much more complicated issue, one thing is clear: Substitute teachers play an integral role in our students’ classroom experience. Considering that, it’s probably time that schools take a good look at not only how they treat substitute teachers, but also how well they prepare them to take over classrooms.

Below you will find three golden rules to keep your best substitute teachers coming back. These tips have been adapted from Linda Starr’s article originally published in Practical Strategies for School Principals.  

Train Them
Many districts now require substitute teachers to have a valid teaching certificate. Others only require a four-year degree, which introduces a critical issue: lack of training, especially in classroom management techniques.

Although most systems say that they do train substitute teachers, Starr points out that in 91.5 percent of schools, “training” lasts for under two hours! To be frank, a two-hour “training” session is really the equivalent to a glorified meet-and-greet or employee orientation session.

So what can we do to properly prepare our substitute teachers, even if we don’t have the resources to provide lengthy classroom training sessions?  

Perhaps we might do well to follow in the footsteps of STI who arms every substitute teacher with a “Sub Success Kit,” consisting of a training handbook, a CD with more than 80 instructional video clips, an association membership that allows subs to network with their peers, and WebCT, a Web-based assessment package.

Treat Them Right
It’s not an easy thing to walk into a new school and take over someone else’s classroom. What can make this experience even more challenging, though, is when substitute teachers are ignored, belittled, or left to their own devices.

Substitute teachers may only be with us temporarily, but they are still a vital part of our team and should be treated as such.

School personnel should always welcome subs when they arrive. Invite substitute teachers to eat lunch with you and emphasize professionalism by visiting classrooms, evaluating substitute teachers’ work, and making sure that students are aware that they are to treat subs with courtesy and respect.  

Prepare the Substitute Teacher and the Students
The substitute teacher is the proverbial Daniel who is being thrown into the lions’ den. Even the best-behaved students often cannot avoid the temptation to “stick it” the sub! Why? Think about it this way:

Substitute teachers live outside the comfortable and predictable culture of trust that has already been established between teachers and students. A substitute may be the most intelligent and capable instructor in the world, but to students his or her credibility is immediately under scrutiny. This is only compounded when the sub is not equipped with the tools—rubrics, instructions, lesson plans—s/he needs to effectively do the job.

Before teachers hand over the keys to a substitute, they should leave substantive instructions and detailed lesson plans. If the sub and teacher can speak over the phone to flesh out the details, all the better. In addition to this, the teacher should also prepare his/her students by discussing etiquette and setting clear expectations.  

 

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How to ask for (and get) what you want from your principal

 

principals2Why is it so difficult to ask for what we want? Perhaps it’s the fear of being patronized, or watching our dreams and aspirations go up in flames when our principal says no.

So instead of asking, we ruminate and think about asking. While the old adage, “you’ll never know until you ask” may be true, there are a few preemptive measures you can take to increase the odds of getting what you want from your principal.

Know the what, why, and how of the matter
Duh, right? As obvious as this seems, many of us have a much better sense of what we don’t, as opposed do, want. Approach getting what you want like you would a thesis statement.

Strong essays hinge on a variety of things, but a cogent, well-articulated thesis statement is the basis for a successful piece of academic writing. Without a strong thesis statement, essays flounder, beat around the bush, lack an overarching purpose, and leave the reader confused and frustrated.

Whatever you want—a school garden, a SMART classroom, longer recess time—you’ll have a much better chance of getting it if you get your thesis statement in order. Your principal doesn’t need another project, so it’s up to you to determine what you want, why you want it, and how you can get it.

Don’t miss the lifeboat because you are stubborn
There’s an old joke: A man is drowning and cries out to God for help. A minute later, a man in a rowboat paddles by and offers to help the drowning man. But the drowning man rejects the boater and says, “No, God will save me.” The same thing happens when the coastguard shows up, and again when a scuba diver swims by and offers the man his oxygen mask. When the man finally drowns, he finds himself at the pearly gates and asks God, “Why didn’t you save me? I waited for you.” God replies, “I did, you fool. I sent a rowboat, the coastguard, and a scuba diver!”

We laugh at the drowning man’s foolishness, but many of us do the same thing. We’re so fixated on what we want that we completely ignore alternatives that may give us the same—and often better—results.

Be open. You may not get funding for that school garden, but you might get enough for a classroom garden. You might not get a SMART classroom, but you might get a document camera. You might not get longer recess time, but your principal may open up the gym during lunch. While the alternatives may not be what you ultimately want, they will give you similar results. Don’t reject them because you are stubborn or fixated.

Recruit your biggest allies—your students
There’s strength in numbers. Getting what you want is going to be a heck of a lot easier if your students want it too. Encourage students to write persuasive letters, create videos, and talk to the principal about your big idea whenever they see him or her.

Look for help elsewhere
In an era of shrinking school budgets, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for schools to purchase even the most basic student supplies, let alone create SMART classrooms and fund what might be deemed “superfluous pet projects.”

Rather than despair, find creative ways to fund your classroom projects. Although car washes and bake-offs work, they’re time consuming and take teachers away from what they do best: teach. That’s one reason many of us have started using online fundraising sites.

Here are a few of our favorite crowd funding sites:

Don’t forget about your local community businesses either! It may surprise you how many of them will gladly lend a hand and offer free resources just because you asked.

 

 

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“Go to the Office!”: A Behavior Management System for Principals

 

principalsMore often than not, our teachers can manage student disruptions on their own, but there are occasions when principals must deal directly with students. Unless there is some sort of system in place, though, sending a disruptive student to the principal’s office is rarely productive.

You know what we mean, right? The student arrives, we ask why s/he was sent to see us, and s/he replies, “I don’t know.” Only later on do we hear the second version of the story from the teacher…

To circumvent these situations, we’ve come to rely on a simple system put forth in Abby Bergman, Judy Powers, Michael Pullen’s book, The Survival Kit for the Elementary School Principal. Here’s how it works.

Students need predictability, and so do the teachers who may be at their wits’ end. To save time and gain a more accurate picture of what happened between the student and teacher, we require teachers to fill out a discipline referral form and send it along with the student. The form contains two sections:  the first part is completed by the teacher and the second by us.

Discipline Referral Form

  • Student name
  • Date
  • Teacher
  • Grade
  • Nature of Incident
  • Prior Actions Taken by Teacher
    _________________________________
  • Principal Action
  • Parent(s)/Guardian Notified?
  • Parent Response
  • Follow-Up Plan

After meeting with the student and following up with the teacher, we file the form in a “card box,” an alphabetized file box in which we keep every student’s name and photo on an index card.

After meeting with the student and discussing the incident, we also ask that they complete a written behavior incident report form that answers the following questions:

  • This is what I did
  • This is what I could have done to avoid this
  • This is what I will do in the future

After the student completes the form, we discuss the infraction to make sure the child understands what about his or her behavior is objectionable. It’s a simple system, but it keeps us organized, saves us a lot of time, and helps us quickly get to the heart of the issue.

Download 25 Classroom Management Tips for Teachers

Preparing for Your Principal Interview: A Free How-to Guide

 

Some of us feel more comfortable than others about interviewing for a new position, but even the best interviewee experiences some jitters before stepping in front of an interview committee. 

A successful interview certainly depends a great deal upon your qualifications and experience, but it also hinges upon your ability to convince the screening committee that you are an even better version of the one you claim to be on your CV.

To help principals prepare for their big day, we’d like to share Gene Spanneut’s how-to guide, Preparing for Your Principal Interview. To download the PDF, click here or on the image below.

preparing for your principal interview

 

 

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10 of the Biggest Cover Letter Bloopers: Tips for Future Principals

 

principal
You’ve already spent years, maybe even decades, in the classroom as a teacher, you know how to lead and organize, and you have the “in-the-trenches” perspective that every principal worth his or her salt must have. That’s a great start, but if you cannot craft a well-written cover letter to accompany your CV, you may never have the opportunity to get in front of the interview team that holds your future in their hands!

You’d be surprised at how many applicants fail or forget to include simple elements that can make or break opportunities. To ensure that you avoid them, we’ve come up with a list of 10 of the most common cover letter bloopers.

Failing to address the right person
Beginning a letter with “Dear sir or miss,” or “To whom this may concern” is a surefire way to start off on the wrong foot. Whether or not it’s true, generic introductions like this suggest to the reader that you didn’t take the time to do a quick Google search to find out who would be reading your letter.

Will the superintendent of the district be reading your letter? Will it be a “selection committee?” If you don’t know, make a simple phone call to the human resource department to find out. It’s a small, but important gesture that may distinguish you from the other applicants who either did not think to make the phone call, or didn’t feel like it.

Leaving out important contact information
You probably included your contact information on your CV, but you should also include it on your cover letter. Include your phone number, email address, home address and, if you have one, a link to your classroom/school blog.

Using inappropriate email addresses
This may seem obvious, but we’ve seen too many email addresses like SxiGurl01@yahoo.com, BadBuoy58@gmail.com, or HarleyDude01@gmail.com appear in our inboxes. Email addresses like this are probably—probably—OK when you are in high school, but they won’t do for serious applicants.  Besides the tackiness of the above examples, neither give the reviewer any idea as to who the email is from. As a result, they may end up being deleted because they look like spam.

Blank or vague subject line
If you are emailing your cover letter and resume, read on.

Odds are that there are several positions available in the district you’re applying to, so you can count on it that HR is receiving dozens of emails every day for dozens of positions. Make it easy on reviewers by listing the name of the position and your name in the subject line.

Your cover letter is generic or boring
You’re opening paragraph must be engaging. Why? Because it may be the first and only paragraph the reviewer reads. As you craft your opening paragraph ask yourself the “so what?” question.

Yes, you’ve always wanted to be a principal. So what? Yes, you have a passion for students and education. So what? Why do you want to work in this district at this school? What makes you different than all of the other applicants?

Underselling and overselling
You don’t want to oversell or exaggerate about yourself, but you should find a way to balance on that thin line between confidence and pomposity. 

Your cover letter reads like Finnegan’s Wake
Finnegan’s Wake is long, but it’s the non-linear, stream-of-conscious prose that makes it notoriously difficult for readers. Don’t pull a James Joyce! Your reader doesn’t have time to close read or dissect your cover letter.

Every cover letter should have three things: a clear beginning, middle, and end. Keep it simple. Keep it short.

Lazily recycling your letter
If you’re applying for the same position, there’s no problem with reusing a good deal of your letter—but it should appear to the reviewer that you wrote this letter with him or her (and the school) on your mind.

Failing to sign the letter
If you’re emailing your letter, this doesn’t apply to you. However, if you’re sending a hard copy, always physically sign your name at the end of your letter. This may sound nitpicky, but again, it suggests that you have taken the time to write to the reader personally and haven’t simply recycled the same letter.

Failing to send a cover letter at all
You’d be surprised at how many people think they can just send their CV off on its own. This rarely works in the applicant’s favor. If you’re going to “go for” a position, go for it all the way.

Photo credit: aprillynn77 / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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5 Reasons Every Principal Should Have a Blog

 

principal blogBlogs have been around for a while now, but principals are beginning to jump on the bandwagon and use this tool to connect with parents, students, and the community in ways that were not possible a decade ago.

Not only is it free to blog, but it requires little upkeep or technical knowhow to reach a much wider audience than many of us ever thought possible. If you need convincing about the merits of blogging, here are five good reasons every principal should have a blog. 

You are in control of the message
One of the greatest advantages to blogging as a principal is that you control the central message to your site—which diminishes the odds of you being misquoted. Not only that, if parents, students and colleagues have a question about something you’ve written, they can post a comment and you can respond accordingly. Of course, you have to keep in mind that since you’re crafting the message, you are also going to be the one to blame if you don’t get it right!

If you are concerned about the types of comments you might receive, remember that you can always choose to moderate and approve comments before they are visible to the public.

Blogs may increase coverage in traditional media
These days, newspapers are hugely understaffed. If you’ve ever contacted your local media or sent out a press release about your school, you may have noticed a couple of things: First, most newspapers are not jumping up and down to give you a write-up—unless, of course, it is scandalous. Second, when media do accept your press release, they simply copy and paste most of your press release and repackage it as a “story.”

As Mark Stock points out in his book, The School Administrator’s Guide to Blogging, you may be surprised to find out that journalists, especially those who cover educational issues exclusively, are frequent blog readers who scour the web weekly looking for potential story ideas. If they know about your blog, you may find that they call to ask your opinion on education issues. This is excellent publicity for your school.

Blogs expose your school to a much larger community
Most principals still use traditional methods of connecting with the community: attending the Friday night ball games, attending plays, greeting students in the morning, organizing Back-to-School Night, and so on. More and more, though, principals are realizing that face-to-face crowds do not necessarily represent the entire community they are trying to connect with!

Blogs give you the ability to connect with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people every single day from the comfort of your home or office.
Blogs connect you with other administrators
Like parenting, there’s no textbook for being a principal—well, maybe there is, but no textbook is as wise as your experienced friends and mentors. You may be surrounded by people all day, but being a principal is often solitary and isolated work. Even if you have been promoted from within, you shouldn’t be surprised when a hush comes over the room when you enter, or when people more closely monitor what they say in your presence. That’s just how it is, which is why you need a support system, someone you don’t have to censor yourself in front of; someone who has no connection to your school, its bureaucracy and thin skin.

Blogging is one of the best ways for administrators to connect, swap ideas, and mentor one another.

A blog is a living, breathing resume
Perhaps you plan on staying firmly planted in your school until the day you retire, but chances are that you are open to the possibility of change. When, and if, you decide to apply for another position, you’ll submit a traditional CV/resume to showcase your experience and expertise. Imagine, though, if you also shared your blog with the screening committee or central office administrators who are interviewing you? They will have a large body of work—photos, videos, short reflections—that showcase all of the awesome things you and your colleagues have been doing over the years. Having a blog is a great way to distinguish yourself from the pack.

 

 

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Accommodating Military Families: 8 Tips for Principals

 

principals and military studentsIn an effort to improve schools, education reformers have generally focused their attention on the learning needs of English language learners, minority students, and students with disabilities. Rarely, though, do we hear about students from military families who experience significant learning challenges that are often overlooked.

While children from military families have a variety of opportunities available to them that traditional students don’t—traveling abroad, meeting new people, and learning how to be adaptive at an early age—they also face significant challenges. These include gaps in school attendance and learning, separation from family members who are deployed (often in combat zones), and feelings of isolation.

If your school doesn’t have a large population of military students, you may not need to organize a school-wide military-focused program, but you may benefit from adopting a few of these strategies from Ron Astor, Linda Jacobson and Rami Benbenishty’s book, The School Administrator’s Guide for Supporting Students from Military Families.

Quick Assessment
The sooner you can assess your incoming student’s skills and compare them to the standards of your state or district, the quicker you can accommodate his or her needs. While you may find answers to these questions in the student’s records, very often there is a lag from when the previous school sends these records and you receive them. Having an assessment set up in advance will alleviate this gap and lessen the guesswork.

Student Records
Like I mentioned above, student records don’t always arrive in a timely way. Call the previous school and see if you can expedite the process so that the student’s records don’t fall between the cracks. These records may contain valuable information about the student’s need for additional support and service.  

Create a Welcoming Team
I have a feeling that most of us will never forget the first time we walked into the cafeteria on the first day of school. This is an uncomfortable feeling for anyone, but it can be especially tough on military students—especially those who have transferred mid-year and don’t know anyone in their school, let alone the county or state.

To alleviate this stress, start a Welcoming Steering Committee to greet new students, introduce them to the faculty and staff, give them a tour of the building, and pair them up with a “buddy.”

Have an Ambassador System in Place
Take a moment to think about your student leaders. Who are the friendliest, most responsible and helpful students that come to mind?

Ask these students to help accommodate the needs of your military students. If you can, connect incoming students with a peer by phone or email before the transfer. You may also want to meet with these students periodically to receive updates about the incoming student’s progress.

Give New Students a Mapprincipals and military students
Most of us give students a schedule with room numbers, but less often do we supply them with a map of the campus. This is especially important if you have a large campus.

Supplies
If you’ve ever moved across the country, you know how chaotic it can be in the first couple of weeks. Things go missing, the house is a mess, and you find yourself living out of boxes. Because of this, your military students may not have had time to purchase school supplies—and chances are that your teachers require different materials than those at the student’s last school.

If possible, have starter kits with paper, pens, pencils, erasers, folders, etc., so there are no delays for students in doing their assignments.

Meeting your School Liaison Officer (SLO)
SLOs work for the four branches of the military to help students in military families be academically successful. They also work with local civilian school districts to address any education-related problems or barriers that might keep students from having a positive experience.

Although these officers are more often based on military instillations, they are also housed as a part of the local school district to facilitate communication and cooperation with school officials and staff. Consider inviting them to speak to military parents at your school or to attend school events so families will recognize that they are available to help.

Acceleration
While some military students will be behind academically, others may have already mastered the skills being taught at their grade level. These students may need additional opportunities for enrichment and more challenging material. Consider allowing these students to go into the next grade for instruction in the areas where they are advanced.

Photo credit: Defence Images / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Photo credit: USAG-Humphreys / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

 

 

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