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School staff focus on curriculum alignment, differentiated instruction, professional development, college and career readiness, standards, and academic interventions. Is it possible that schools can lose their focus on customer service? Customers include families, community members, and all guests who visit the school website or schoolhouse.
Customer service involves the front office staff, classroom teachers, teacher assistants, custodians, counselors, and all staff members. How are customers treated when they enter your school? Ask your school staff, “What does it mean to go the extra mile for the customer?” Do families feel like the front office staff answers the phone in a professional manner? Do teachers fire off emails when they are upset with students or parents? How do schools analyze the way they are treating customers?
Six Ways To Pour Some Sugar On The Customer:
The school website is the new front door. Families and community members make a judgment about your school before they arrive in the front office. Is your school website customer friendly? If you have a focus on technology integration, does your school website look like it was created in 1990? Does your website offer a welcome message or invite families to visit the school? If Open House was the biggest event between 1980-2000, then the school website opens your school to more than the all of the guests who attended Open House during that 20 year span. Your school is connected with the world. What kind of message are you sending? Would a family in Florida view your site and want to buy a house in your community, based on the information and message on your website?
Customer service involves phone skills, email etiquette, communication skills, and the way the customer is treated when they spend time at your school. Which restaurants come to mind when you think of outstanding customer service? Have you ever had poor customer service at a hotel? Have you ever visited a church and felt like none of the members knew you were in attendance? Customer service is easy to identify, especially when we are the recipient of poor customer service. When families have a bad experience at your school, they will spread the word throughout the community and through social media. As communities build more charter schools, private schools, and home school organizations, customers will walk rather than talk.
The media may promote your school once or twice a year. Administrators and teachers can promote the school on a weekly basis by posting on a school or teacher blog. Pictures from field trips, class projects, community service, guest speakers, and student awards can assist in communicating with families. Most blogs allow for families to forward the message to their family and friends via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Blogs also allow for two-way communication. The traditional method of communicating with families was a flyer in a second grade student’s backpack. With a blog, the school can communicate with families and families can post comments or ask questions about the event before their child arrives home.
Several schools host a Principal’s Coffee Hour once monthly. There is usually a topic that the principal or a guest speaker shares with families. The highlight of any Principal’s Coffee Hour is the time that families are able to share their opinions, ask questions, and brainstorm ways to support all students. Coffee Hour provides a monthly time for two-way communication. Parents will provide you with their opinions and they will feel respected because the school provided a forum for adult conversation about their most prized possession, their child. How is your school promoting two-way communication with families and stakeholders?
Twitter allows home-to-school and school-to-home communication. Families can receive updates from the school. While Twitter may not work for all families, it is a great tool. Most schools see social media as one form of communication. The sign in front of the school reaches some families, the school website reaches others, and a flyer may still work for families without a computer or a Smartphone. The reason I feel like schools should consider Twitter is because it allows families to forward or reply to each tweet. If you have ever been in a relationship with someone you realize the importance of two-way communication. A strong relationship between families and school staff will improve your customer service and customer satisfaction.
As the number of people with Smartphones increases, your school should consider a school app. “Smartphone vendors shipped 216.2 million units in the first quarter of 2013, which accounted for 51.6 percent of the worldwide mobile phone market” (Bean, April 16, 2013). If the school website is the new front door in 2013, then the school app may be the new front door of the future. An app can combine all of the items highlighted in this article. A school app may not be nice to have, but the next step in your communication and customer-service plan.
Most schools have a professional development plan, school improvement plan, and a curriculum map. I have rarely seen a school’s customer service plan. When it comes to service, if you fail to plan you may be planning to fail. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, said, “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” There are only two kinds of schools; those with outstanding customer service and those without outstanding customer service. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rank the customer service at your school?
Questions for School Staff to Consider
1. Does our school provide outstanding customer service?
2. What are our weaknesses? What action steps do we need to take to improve?
3. What are the characteristics of outstanding customer service?
(Share your own experiences in school and non-school settings)
4. What can we measure every 18 weeks (semester) to analyze our efforts to provide customer service?
5. Do we have a school plan outlining what customer service looks like?
(Think Chick-fil-A; It doesn’t matter if the manager or a teenager provides you with service. There is consistency within and across stores).
The continuously shrinking world and the bout towards a knowledge-based economy impacted every aspect of human life in diverse ways. Even education could not escape this. Educators have sought various ways to make learning more relevant, real-life, and responsive to the changing needs of time.
Inspired by all of this, LIFECOLLEGE, the school where I am working, came up with a unique program that is an eclectic mix of educational and international exposure and travel for 4th year high school students between 15-16 years old. The travel program commenced in 2006 where students first traveled to Australia. The following year, the school traveled to Singapore and Malaysia. Indonesia was included in the succeeding year. And by 2012, students have been traveling to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
As the school envisioned to become a cutting-edge learning hub for global champions, it seeks learning opportunities anchored on 21st century skills that to prepare its students to gain a global perspective without losing their heart for local community development.
This travel program called Global Competence Class include fun and exciting activities such as visit to museums, landmarks, cultural centers, historic places, science centers, theme parks and the most important of all, one-day immersion in various partner schools.
Each activity is linked to a learning competency in various learning areas including developing skills in communication, collaboration, and respect for cultural diversity.
Through this program, the students also learn how to budget their time and money, how to commute in buses, trains, and ferries, how to read maps and follow directions, how to observe keenly and write about what they have observed, and how to understand our identity as Filipinos vis a vis our Asian neighbors.
All learnings are documented on a travel journal produced by the schools. This is a collection of mindmaps, observation notes, reflections, photos, collectible items, and daily devotions to make the educational travel a memory escapade to remember for life. To prepare for this kind of trip isn't very difficult.
The following steps would be of help.
1. Secure passports and DSWD travel clearance. By The beginning of the school year, parents must be aware of the trip's requirements, expenses and itinerary. Legal documents such as passports must be secured from DFA while Travel Clearance is secured from DSWD. These are the necessary papers needed for minors to travel.
2. Finalize itinerary. The next step is to scout for educational places to visit according to the learning goals? send proposals. Once the itinerary is finalized, search for affordable airline ticket prices and book immediately. Then look for hotels. The group would normally stay in the hotel during daytime.
3. Prepare travel logs. Since the itinerary is already set, a journal will help to document what the students learned. This is the most important part of the travel and a source of grade for those who participated. Included in this log are the worksheets for each place to visit, the checklists for the itinerary, contact persons in case of emergency, things to bring, and the evaluation sheet.
4. Predeparture and Travel briefing. Orient the students with the guidelines on proper behavior in various places such as airports, trains, ferries, and places to visit. It would be best if they know what to do, where to go, and how to behave in places where cultural diversity is the norm.
Educators who wanted to make a difference in the lives of their students must learn how to venture out and take bolder steps to innovate. Travel, at the least, is just one of the many options. In this country, where travel is now made available for every one, edu-tours is an exciting way to expose, prepare, and push our students to the real world.
etire the school newsletter. Start a school blog
Many prefer to read news online
According to research published last year by Pew Research, a substantial percentage of leading newspaper readers get their news digitally. Currently, 55 percent of New York Times readers say they prefer to access news on a computer or mobile device, as do 48 percent of regular USA Today and 44 percent of Wall Street Journal readers. While this isn’t proof that nearly 50 percent of your readers prefer to access school news online, there’s a good chance that they do.
Blogs are current
By the time parents receive their monthly newsletter, much of the information is already outdated. Who wants to read about the “big game” or a service learning project three weeks after it happened? Blogs allow you to update readers as newsworthy events are taking place—not after. Another thing to keep in mind is that event information (dates, times, etc.) changes. Once a newsletter has been printed and shipped, there’s no going back. Blogs give you the flexibility to make changes whenever you want.
Blogs will save you money
Most blogging platforms are free. No more printing and shipping costs; no more envelope licking; no more label printing. If you are concerned about alienating parents who are less tech-savvy or prefer to read print, send home a survey and find out who your readers are and how they prefer to access school news.
Blogs provide a rich, multi-media experience
Unlike print, which is linear and static, blogs allow you to easily integrate video, audio, photos and text. Now you can show, not simply tell, parents what’s going on in school. You’ll be surprised at how capturing students “in the moment” and posting pictures and videos of them throughout the day will impact parent engagement.
There are dozens (probably more) of blogging platforms to choose from and most of them are free. Blogger, for example, is Google’s free blogging service. It only takes minutes to set up and you can customize the theme and color of your site. If you already have a Gmail account, there’s good news: You’ve got a Blogger account too. Simply sign into Gmail and select “Blogger” from the “more” menu. Other blogging platforms you might check out include WordPress.com, Blog.com, or even TypePad Micro.
For many students, beginning a new school year can be a great source of anxiety. Thanks to a successful end-of-year transition though, one that you can begin right now, a new teacher and classroom can be an exciting event—not one that causes insecurity or dread. To help your students make a successful transition into the next academic year, we’re offering five simple activities you can put into practice right away.
5 tips for a successful end-of-year transition
The relationship doesn’t end with the academic year
You don’t have to cry like my second grade teacher did on the last day of school, but do let your students know that you valued your time with them. Also, let them know that the relationship doesn’t have to end with the academic school year. They may be moving rooms and working with new teachers, but let them know that they are always welcome to say hello, stop by after school or interact with your new students on your classroom blog.
Ask their new teacher to visit your room
Arrange a time for the new teacher to visit your classroom so that s/he can interact with the students. If you’re looking for a list of tried-and-true icebreaker activities, you can find them here.
Meet the new teacher’s current class
One way to ease your students’ fears about their transition is by having them each interview one student in their new teacher’s current class. They might ask questions like:
Once they conduct the interview, have your students share their findings with the class.
Visit the new classroom
Arrange a time for your students to check out their new digs. It’s always easier to walk into an unfamiliar place when you know where to go and what your surroundings look like. Ask the new teacher to give them a tour and, if you can, try scheduling a follow-up visit.
To help prepare your students for the upcoming summer, check out two of our recent blogs, 10 Summer Reading Activities for Struggling Readers and 10 things parents can say to struggling readers.
There are a number of ways to work through assigned readings with our students, but we’ve always gravitated towards open-discussions. Though we prefer these over delivering lectures, seminar-style classrooms are not entirely unproblematic. Here are a few of the challenges we regularly encounter:
Recently, one of our colleagues told us about Highlighter, a free web application that actually addresses all of the challenges we mentioned above. Here’s how it works:
Highlighter lets teachers know exactly what sections of the course material is most engaging—or most confusing. Knowing this allows teachers to plan accordingly, clarify confusing sections, or expand on key concepts. No longer will you wonder if students have read the course material — now you’ll see they have highlighted, commented, shared and saved.
To learn more about Highlighter, you can watch a video by clicking here.
In her book Engaging Reluctant Readers Through Foreign Films, Kerry P. Holmes recounts a Saturday evening, one where she intended to put all thoughts of school aside and relax with her husband. It was decided that they would finally watch East/West, a French film with English subtitles. At first, she found herself grumbling over the subtitles, but as the film progressed, she became swept up in the plot—so much so in fact, that she forgot she was even reading the subtitles. This experience sparked an epiphany: What if she started using foreign films to engage reluctant readers?
As many of us know, finding creative ways to focus reluctant readers on books, the very thing that evokes feelings of frustration, inadequacy and failure, is challenging. But there are several reasons that foreign films can capture students’ interest and stimulate their imagination in ways that books can’t.
Films are sensory
Psychologists have long known that the brain is a “novelty seeker.” We are attracted to movement and stimulated by unexpected events. Films are brimming with moving images and sounds; these create a context for the text in ways that print simply can’t. Let’s explain.
In foreign films, sight and sound are used simultaneously. A man shouts; we see it, hear it and read it. In fact, every action is accompanied by sound, movement and text, which means that your reluctant readers are hearing and seeing the emotion of the words they are reading.
Subtitles come in short bursts, not long pages
Long paragraphs and twenty-page chapters can be paralyzing for reluctant readers. The text in subtitles, however, appears in short bursts that are never more than one or two sentences at a time. There’s something else to consider: The text we find in a typical book is limited to small black words on a page. Sure, there may be accompanying pictures or graphics, but they don’t move, speak, or make sound. Films do all three.
Foreign films come in a variety of genres
How often do your reluctant readers complain that there aren’t any books that suit their interests? By adding foreign films to your classroom library, students will have even less of a reason to say they can’t find “books” that they like. Like books, foreign films come in a variety of genres; there’s bound to be one that will resonate with them.
Foreign films expose students to cultural differences
As with books, foreign films allow students to transcend their own lives for a short time and enter the lives of those from another culture. In films, cultural differences (which are often abstract) can be seen, heard and read, making them much more real and digestible.
If you are looking for a few more ways to engage your reluctant readers, check out two of our recent blogs, Text-Based Games: A cure for the common book? and Engaging reluctant readers with a multi-media reading experience.
Having the responsibility of shaping a school, managing teachers, students and curriculum—and having to shouldering the blame when things go wrong—has led more than a few principals to project a persona. Principal or not, we all do this to some extent, of course. Under the pressure to succeed, under the pressure to “brand” ourselves with amenable qualities, we often fashion a version of ourselves that minimizes our blemishes and highlights only our best traits. Eventually though, false personas corrode and break down. That’s why we want to talk a bit about authenticity.
“What are some of your weaknesses?” This ubiquitous question shows up in nearly every interview. And while most of us have learned strategies to skirt the question, we believe principals should honestly reflect on their weaknesses. You may not necessarily want to share all of them in an interview, but having the ability to reflect critically on your shortcomings is an integral part of becoming an effective principal because it helps you assess where and when to seek help from others.
Learn to laugh at your blunders
Principals are under an incredible amount of scrutiny and that can make it hard to laugh. But taking yourself too seriously, denying or beating yourself up when you make a blunder is going to take a toll on you and your relationships. Self-deprecating humor is often the funniest. Laugh and laugh often.
Be interested, not interesting
We’ve all spent time with someone who didn’t understand how the give and take of a conversation works. We’ve all gotten off the phone a half hour later and realized, “Wow. She didn’t ask me a single thing about myself.” We all have our moments, but try not to be that person on the other end of the telephone. Authentic principals ask questions and are focused on being interested, not interesting.
Don’t surround yourself with yea-sayers
Praise and concession sure feels nice, but it amounts to little if it is coming from those who offer it out of fear or flattery. Connect with other educational leaders who aren’t personally invested in your school. It’s helpful to have mentors who are encouraging but who also aren’t afraid to give you a perspective that’s different from your own.
Accept that you cannot do this alone
You may think that you have to do it all—and certainly you have an overwhelming amount of responsibilities—but trying to do it all on your own is impossible; and it could have the effect of making you look like a control freak or worse—take a toll on your health. Let your “army” of intelligent and perfectly capable teachers help you shoulder the burden. They may gain a better perspective of the scope of the issues you face too.
Schools benefit from authentic leaders—men and women who engage others and who are working toward authenticity. Being authentic has the added benefit of letting people know that while you’re tough and very capable, you are human too, and appreciate help and support from others.
We just found out that NASA is calling all Earthlings to submit their names, along with a three-line haiku, to the Going to Mars with Maven contest. If you need a little incentive to get your submission in by July 1, try this on for size: The three most popular submissions will actually be written to a DVD and sent to Mars onboard the MAVEN spacecraft!
There is one caveat: Those who submit must be 18 or older. The good news is that teachers are allowed to submit on behalf of their students.
We think this is a great way to get students excited about science, space, space travel and writing. It’s also a creative way to help students make a personal connection to the MAVEN mission, which is scheduled for launch in November.
To learn more about the Going to Mars with Maven contest, or to view current entries, stop by their website by clicking here. You can also watch a video about the MAVEN mission below.
When we were students, it quickly became apparent who was “smart” and who was “not so smart.” This writer happened to find himself in the latter category, especially when it came to math. How did we figure this out? Those who struggled with math, for example, simply interpreted the arrangement of the math groups: Group A, who was often first to work with the teacher (and the first to finish), was obviously the “smart group.” Group B, who went next, was the “decently smart group” and so on and so forth. “Smart kids” earned A’s in math. “Not so smart kids” didn’t. “Smart kids” went outside during recess. “Not so smart kids” had to get extra help during recess. Most teachers know A’s say very little about a student’s intellect. Unfortunately, most students don’t.
Whether our struggling students know it or not, they have a unique gift. And it’s up to us to unearth that special talent and find ways to empower them.
Uncommon commonsense ways to empower struggling students
Have your students talk about their interests
There are myriad ways to find out what your students are passionate about. One way is to have them write about it. We’ve had success with prompts like, “What are three things you want me to know about you?” and “Describe three things that you are really good at.”
Another way to discover your students’ special talents is to have them go around the room and talk about them. Or you might pair students up and have them interview one another and report back to the class.
Publicize the strengths of each student
In fifth grade I sat next to a student named Marcus for most of the year. He had little interest in most of what we were asked to do and received low marks because of it. If you would have asked his peers where Marcus fit, they would have relegated him to the “not so smart” category.
A typical day for Marcus went something like this: His group would work together on a project; meanwhile, he would pull out his notebook, place it on his lap beneath the desk, and sketch. Even at that age, he was supremely talented. One day, as the class worked in groups, he was finally caught—but instead of punishing Marcus, our teacher quietly whispered into his ear. He nodded and handed over the notebook to her. Then the strangest thing happened: She asked everyone to stop what they were doing and held up his sketch. As we looked at it, she raved about its sophistication. Then she walked around the room so that every student could see. Marcus beamed. When she finished, she returned the notebook, which he closed and promptly put back in his desk.
Prior to this, Marcus’ strengths had never been publicized. This simple, but brilliantly executed decision by our teacher had a lasting impact on his learning experience—and we all began to notice a change in him.
Spend more time talking to parents about the student’s strengths
When we meet with parents to review our students’ progress, it’s tempting to gloss over the A’s and B’s and quickly move on to the D’s. The reasons for this are obvious enough, but doing so may come at the cost of building on our students’ strengths. Spend an equal amount of time talking about the A’s and B’s as you do the D’s. Though higher marks have little to do with intellect, they do point to where a student’s strengths lie. Spend time investigating the meaning of that A; explore ways to develop that strength, both inside and outside the classroom.
Encourage students beyond academics
Are some of your students in the school play? Are others on the baseball or soccer team? Why not spend five minutes before class talking about yesterday’s game or tonight’s performance. Not only will this ease your students into the work that lies ahead, it will give your athletes and artists an opportunity to share talents that they might not get to share otherwise.
Recently, my 8th grade English language arts students were writing our guiding question at the beginning of class. This is a routine activity that takes about two minutes. Some students write faster than others and finish in as little as 60 seconds.
As I meandered my way around the tables, looking in and chatting with small groups and individuals, I noticed one student, who had finished the task and was copying a friend’s homework. “I see something important is due in science today,” I said. The two girls looked up sheepishly and nodded. The copier asked if I was going to take the papers. “Why?” I queried. “I’m not hurt by your cheating; you are.” The cheater only shrugged and went back to copying. Her cohort grinned and shrugged, right along.
Are educators responsible for cheating?
Research indicates that cheating is on the rise, especially in high schools and colleges. Donald McCabe, a Rutgers professor, believes rampant cheating is due to the stress of competition that schools present. “I don’t think there’s any question that students have become more competitive, under more pressure, and, as a result, tend to excuse more from themselves and other students, and that’s abetted by the adults around them,” McCabe told The New York Times last year.
McCabe and other luminaries, like Harvard researcher Howard Gardner, believe the Internet may also shoulder some of the blame. Students, they claim, don’t understand honor codes and plagiarism, so they are quick to “borrow” content they find in a simple Google search.
It’s not the Internet, it’s grades!
I would argue that there is a much larger root to this problem. When I asked the girls in my class why they were so willing to copy their science worksheet, they quickly acknowledged that they needed the points to maintain a good grade. “Hmm,” I wondered aloud, “you never cheat in my class. Why is that?” They didn’t contemplate the question for even two seconds. “There are no points or grades on your assignments,” the copier quickly said, “so there’s no reason to cheat.”
A smile quickly brightened my face. “So, what do I value?” I asked, beginning to move away, so I could engage another group of students. “Learning,” the two said, almost in unison.
So, would you like to eliminate cheating in your class? It’s easy! All you have to do is abolish grades. Give your students feedback about their work, and allow them the opportunity to revisit activities and projects and improve them, in order to indicate mastery learning.
Cheating will disappear, and, best of all, your students will become independent learners.
To learn more, get Mark Barnes' new book, Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom (ASCD 2013) here.
If you’re an educational leader, you know how important it is to have teachers feel supported or be on board with new ventures. The last thing we want to hear, or want teachers to feel, is “not one more thing” or “how can we fit it all in?” But it’s not about everything but the kitchen sink; it shouldn’t all fit. Something’s got to give. If we don’t acknowledge that and help teachers modify, we’ll get overworked teachers throwing it all in, or students who need what was left out. We need to continually reevaluate and “remodel” to make room for what’s important.
Picture this: a new teacher pulls out a curriculum guide, talks to her colleagues and creates a year-long plan to include concepts and objectives. Being new at this, it looks like a lot to fit in. She decides to start small; one unit at a time. The manuals and guides are helpful. Her team shares activities for her to use in her classroom. This is all a great start...
A different picture: an experienced teacher of more than 10 years, well respected by students, parents and peers, has just been told of a new program in her curriculum. There’s now a wrench in her well-oiled teaching. There’s no room for anything else...
When we’re busy “trying to fit it all in,” it’s easy to forget the big picture. We get caught up in planning activities, teaching concepts and moving on. If we’re honest, I think this can happen to all of us sometimes. Here are some good reminders and questions for new teachers and those of us who’ve been at this for a while. It’s important to stop, reflect and remind ourselves of ultimate learning goals.
If teachers are to feel supported, curriculum leaders need to regularly reflect as well. When presenting new or revised curriculum, leaders need to be explicit in communicating transfer as the ultimate goal. Essential questions and big ideas should drive student learning. When we open the conversation to why and how we can use curriculum, it's more likely we'll all be on the same page.
Though there were a number of cardinal offenses when we were students, none—perhaps with the exception of cheating—was greater than to be caught sleeping in class. Now that we’re educators, we get it: It’s frustrating to find students napping through important lectures or in-class discussions. What’s making students so “tired?” Does it have to do with boredom, laziness, stress, health issues, all of the above?
Catching Z’s: Why are our students sleeping in class?
According to Russell Foster, a neuroscientist and director of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at University of Oxford, sleeping in class actually has more to with natural fluctuations in “the biology of human sleep timing.” Let’s explain.
Forster’s research suggests that the biology of human sleep timing changes as we age. Once we hit puberty, bedtimes and waking times get later, a trend that continues until 19.5 years in women and 21 in men. Then it reverses. At 55 we wake at about the time we woke prior to puberty. On average this is two hours earlier than adolescents. This means that for a teenager, a 7 a.m. alarm call is the equivalent of a 5 a.m. start for people in their 50s.
Why does this happen?
Foster isn’t entirely sure, but the shifts do correspond to hormonal fluctuations that increase when we hit puberty and decline as we age. Of course, biology is only partially to blame. The proliferation of technology, cultural disregard for the importance of sleep and relaxed bedtime schedules only complicates things.
What do we do with this information?
A half decade ago, many who attended Foster’s conferences scoffed at his suggestion that administrators rethink school start times. More recently, however, educators have started to accept and structure the academic day around adolescent sleep patterns—and the results have been overwhelmingly positive.
In the U.K., Mokkseaton High School instituted a 10 a.m. start time and found “an uptick in academic performance.” Studies of American students revealed similar results: academic performance and attendance improved; sleeping in class and self-reported depression declined.
Whether or not educators decide to push back start times, Foster does caution our disregard for the importance of sleep. Here are a few reasons our students should start taking sleep more seriously:
If you are interested in learning more about Foster’s research on sleep, he has written a book called Sleep: A Very Short Introduction.
Despite the fact that blogs have been around since the 90s, classroom blogs are a relatively new phenomenon and one, we might add, that we fully endorse. If you’re skeptical about the benefits of classroom blogs or simply don’t know where to start, read on.
A blog is nothing more than an online journal where writers—both new and experienced—can share their thoughts, post pictures or music, and connect with readers. We can think of a handful of sites that will host your classroom blog for free, but we suggest stopping by Richard Byrne’s site; he’s written an excellent article that will help you pick the best platform. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we’d like to talk about the benefits of classroom blogs.
5 reasons you should consider using classroom blogs
Classroom blogs encourage writing across the curriculum
“Writing across the curriculum,” is a pedagogical movement that began in the 80s, but the last time we checked, it’s still going strong. No longer are students simply writing in their English courses; they’re also writing in history, science, and even in their math and gym classes. Classroom blogs are a great way to meet federal and state mandated literacy standards while still allowing students to get creative with their content.
Classroom blogs are a liberating change for students
Blog posts are typically informal, short (500 words and less) and, generally speaking, you’ll find lots of paragraph breaks, bullet points, headlines, and even pictures. It’s not often that students get to use any of these things in their own work. Chances are that they’ll find blogging to be a nice change of pace from the traditional writing parameters they’re used to working within.
Classroom blogs expose students to a potential career path
One of our colleagues recently told us about a student who allegedly “hated writing.” Several weeks into the school year, she learned that this student—the same one who “hated writing”—actually wrote for several well-respected mountain biking blogs. In fact, he had worked out a partnership with a few parts manufacturers who regularly sent him bike seats, tires, helmets, and luggage carriers to review. He would try out the product for a month and then write a review for the company. Not only was he paid for his reviews, he got to keep the parts!
This student is certainly unique, but there are lots of people—apparently even people who “hate writing”—who make a sustainable living at blogging. You never know, but exposing your students to this medium just may open up a future career for them.
Classroom blogs making writing authentic
Ask your students about the purpose of their writing or their intended audience. Most likely, they’ll say, “I don’t know” and “You’re the audience.” These are fair answers. Most of our students write because they have to. And while we can ask them to write to a hypothetical audience, they know darn well that we’re the audience.
Classroom blogs make writing authentic. Instead of writing to you, students will be writing to an audience of (at least potentially) millions of Internet browsers.
Classroom blogs are a simple way to connect with parents
Researchers continue to underscore what common sense has always told us: Parental involvement (or lack of) impacts student success. Classroom blogs are quite possibly the easiest way to keep parents engaged and up-to-date on what’s going on in the classroom. They’ll also enjoy commenting on your students’ posts and sharing them with others.
Every morning before work, I stop by Yahoo with the intention of checking my email—and only checking my mail. Without exception, this is what happens: In the half second it takes me to move my cursor over the email icon and click, it’s all over. Suddenly, I find myself halfway into an article entitled “Nike pulls poorly timed t-shirts from stores.” “How did I get here?” I think to myself as I polish off the last paragraph of an article about Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. Of course I never want to read these articles, but the power of an enigmatic, well-written headline can get me to read just about anything.
So what can teachers learn from the power of a well-written headline and how can they harness it for engaging students? Here are a few ideas we gleaned from one of our favorite authors and educators, Dr. Richard Curwin. We highly recommend checking out his blogs here.
Headlines always use teasers. Teachers should too.
Regardless of what you teach, try beginning each lesson with some sort of provocative statement—something that will make your students go, “huh?”
Which of these two questions do you think would work best for engaging students?
You went with the second one, yes? How about these two questions:
We bet you went with the second question both times. Why? Because Jay-Z and Keyboard Cat are interesting. At first glance, they also seem completely unrelated to the essays you asked your students to read. This will not only capture their curiosity, it’ll force students to think critically to make a connection. Here’s another tip for engaging students that comes courtesy of Dr. Curwin.
Use Compelling Questions
Have you ever forgotten the name of a song, a book title or even someone's name and spent the whole day trying to remember it? It was under your skin, so to speak, and the need to remember was compelling to the extreme. The same is true when you begin a class with a question that creates a compelling need for students to know the answer. This strategy is based on the principle that questions should come before answers. Typically, teachers give information and then ask questions about it. Hearing the question first, especially a great one, radically increases the need to learn the information just to find the answer. Great questions have these things in common:
Here is a sampling of compelling questions that teachers from various content areas have shared with me:
Questions like these begin your class with energy, excitement and most importantly, a desire to learn.
Photo credit: Adam Sundana at http://www.flickr.com/photos/cukuskumir/
What I Learned Lately (#WILL 5)
Maya Angelou once said, “Be a rainbow in someone else's cloud”. When I first heard this phrase I was taken back about the idea that we may never know when we are making a difference in someone’s life. At any point, anyone of us may be seen as “Rainbow” in a dark and cloudy life. This past week I observed first hand a few rainbows in the making.
First, I visited one of our schools and got a chance to meet “Jason” and “Marcus”. Jason is a first grader who struggles and relies on the staff to help him be successful. He can’t make it through a day or a lesson without being able to sit with his friend Marcus. I was touched by how our staff has embraced Jason’s learning needs. They encourage Jason to own his learning and be responsible for keeping Marcus up to speed on his lessons. Staff arranges chairs and support when they are together or when Jason wants to be alone. When I met Jason, he was smiling and on the “go” and I am sure Marcus was right with him. Jason is the only one that can see Marcus. Instead of fighting Jason and making him feel unsafe; our staff has been a rainbow. Unfortunately, it is likely that society will require Marcus to hide and likely Jason will feel alone. However this year, Jason’s clouds have a break and he is able to grow and learn in a safe environment.
On Monday morning, I watched a team of rainbows go to work. Tragically, four of LHS students will never be the same, one died, one is in prison and two more will forever be scared. Behind the scenes, many adults were trying to make meaning, provide support and frantically communicate in order to put action steps in place. As I sat in the back of the theater with the staff, you could feel heaviness of the room. I watched our colleagues, deliver the horrific news with grace and humility. This was followed with our Crisis Response team guiding us on the unknown of emotions and reactions that were sure to follow. This group may be the unsung heroes of our organization. Knowing that any minute they may be called upon, they genentley navigate the mixed emotions of anger, sadness, and fear. On Friday, many of these same rainbows were at the funeral to support the family and bury one of our own. That afternoon, I visited the young man in jail. Rarely, if ever have I felt so helpless. I want to forget this week and I want to move on. Unfortunately, I know that is selfish of me and that we need forgive but not forget. When, I drove home there was no rainbow, there was no happy ending, just the sobering effect that I was awake. If we truly believe in ALL, then we have a responsibility to be awakened by the truths that surround us daily.
"Denial of the truths in our society doesn't console the awaken soul, it doesn't fill up any students' bucket of hope, all it does is leave our future empty".
We’ve all had to struggle through books we didn’t like—maybe even books we deplored. When it comes to our students, we don’t worry too much about the strong readers. Sure, the text may not resonate with them; they may even use that forbidden “B-word” (boring, of course) to describe it. Nonetheless, they’ll still muster up the strength to press on. Struggling readers are another story: They tend to become discouraged and often give up before they’ve truly even started a book.
We’re always looking for reading strategies for struggling readers, so we were happy to come across a video made by author Jim Trelease called How to Read a Book You Don’t Want to Read.
Trelease’s video was inspired by, of all things, watching tree surgeons cut down a leaning, 80-foot pine tree that threatened his house. The process used by the tree “surgeons,” in a strange way, reminded him of having to read books we don’t want to read. The end result was not only one less leaning pine tree, but also a nine-minute video that may help your reluctant readers. Check it out and let us know what you think.
Strategies for Struggling Readers: Conquering a book you don’t like
A year and a half ago I decided to implement a job-embedded growth model at the suggestion of some of my teacher leaders. They desperately sought time during the school day to engage in professional growth opportunities, learn how to integrate Web 2.0 tools, and develop their own Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s). After some thinking and looking at various options inherent in the current schedule, I decided to cut all non-instructional duties in half to create a Professional Growth Period (PGP). The inspiration for this idea came from Google’s 80/20 Innovation Model where engineers are encouraged to take 20 percent of their time to work on something company-related that interests them personally. Duties that we cut are now assumed by me and my administrative team.
The PGP was launched in September 2011. It virtually gave every New Milford High School teacher two to three, forty eight minute periods a week, depending on the semester, to engage in growth opportunities of personal interest. The only catch was that each staff member had to create and present a learning portfolio at his/ her end of year evaluation conference. This learning portfolio clearly articulated how they integrated what was learned during this time into professional practice. They also had to keep a log detailing what was done during each PGP day throughout the year.
A great deal was learned after I reflected on year one of the PGP. For starters, I read Drive by Daniel Pink this past summer and made a few slight changes. In order to give each staff member a greater level of autonomy, I removed all top-down mandates such as keeping a log and watching a certain number of PD 360 videos. This year teachers had true freedom to learn anything and follow their passions as long as the time was spent to improve NMHS’s bottom line – student learning and achievement. Sample PGP activities include the following:
I also used last year as an opportunity to work with my teachers and better articulate how to compile their learning portfolios. Last week I began conducting end of year evaluation conferences with my teachers. I was extremely eager to see their respective learning portfolios and discover what they had been working on over the course of the year. Let me tell you this, I was not disappointed. As each staff member presented their learning portfolio they all shared how appreciative they were to have this time. Below is a sample from some of the portfolios:
Similar to FedEx days discussed by Dan Pink in Drive, my teachers have been given the opportunity to follow their passions, unleash their creativity, and deliver a learning portfolio that illustrates professional growth to enhance teaching and learning. Based on the conversations I had with teachers after they presented their learning portfolios, they are already beginning to talk about innovative ideas to pursue next year. I am excited to see what some of my other teachers have been working on in the coming weeks and am proud that time during the school day is being used productively.
Last week we read an article in the Huffington Post suggesting that 93 percent of employers agree that "a candidate's demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major." This wasn’t particularly surprising to us, but it did inspire us to share an activity that will help your students hone their critical thinking, communication and problem-solving skills; it’s called the “Dear Elvis Advice Column” and it comes from our friend, Nothy Lane.
Dear Elvis, How Do I Teach Critical Thinking?
Here’s how the activity works: The class is presented with a question from a hypothetical advice seeker named Elvis (Nothy’s basset hound); the problem is that this canine is too busy to answer all of the letters he receives—that’s where Nothy’s students come in.
After she writes the question on the board, students work in groups to read and generate realistic responses to the anonymous advice solicitors.
Here is on example of a letter to Elvis that her students answer:
In addition to being engaging and fun, this activity supports persuasive writing, creativity, and critical thinking (because students get to work in groups and give advice rather than listen to it. Nothy has also found that this activity is a fun way to “teach them - and let them teach me…to examine an issue from different sides. Is someone right or wrong? Is this just an unfortunate event? Should the advice seeker get help or work things out himself?”
When they finish, students take turns reading their answers aloud. Following this, the entire class discusses which answers they like and why. You may be surprised at how purposeful and considerate their answers are.
Despite the fact that many new principals have spent years—and sometimes decades—in education, they are often broadsided by the new (and unavoidable challenges) that come with the territory. Although we certainly can’t prepare you for all of them, we’d like to offer a few tips to help you avoid a few first-year blunders.
The first year: Making new principals into effective principals
Effective principals know that not everyone knows what they do all day
The expectations placed on leadership have never been more demanding. Sure, principals know who creates the school’s vision, develops curriculum, evaluates teachers, manages the building and collects data. But outsiders are, generally speaking, completely unaware of what principals do throughout the day.
Here's what Jessica Bohn suggested in a recent article: If your colleagues genuinely believe that your day consists of issuing orders or combing the halls for truants, it makes sense that they would be frustrated when you do not respond to their needs immediately. The best way to let them know what you do is by having them help you do it—which brings us to our next point.
Effective principals create a community of shared responsibility
You may think that you have to do it all—and certainly you have an overwhelming amount of responsibilities—but don’t try to be a rugged-individualist. We’re saying this for a few reasons: First, it’s impossible. Second, because it will make you look like a control freak. Third, because you have any army of intelligent and perfectly capable teachers who can help you shoulder the burden.
If you assign a specific, task-savvy adult to handle every anticipated melodrama—crumbling drywall, for example, or a flock of birds who has made a nest in the rafters of the gym—you can spend your time on “big-picture” issues. Quick fixes may make you look good, but you’ll be doing yourself a disservice when you stay mired in perfunctory disruptions.
Effective principals make themselves visible
Like we said earlier, not everyone understands what principals do—and they’re never going to if you hole up in an office all day. One way to make yourself visible is by taking your office with you. If you need access to email, bring along a laptop and set up shop in the library. Is there a study hall going on somewhere in the school? Grab a seat in the back of the room and get some work done there. Try rotating your “satellite office” every day. Doing this not only gets you out of the office, it also gives you the opportunity to speak with faculty and students.
Effective principals accept the fact that they’ll be compared to predecessors
Knowing ahead of time that everything you do will be measured against your predecessor will save you a lot of grief and restless nights. Comparisons are going happen. You are going to hear things like, “Principal X didn’t seem to have a problem with this,” or “Principal X would never have done this.” Ditch your gut reaction to react defensively and use these moments to ask questions and engage in an open discussion.
We’re nearly halfway through the month and we just realized that April is National Poetry Month! (Did we just hear your students let out a groan or was that you?) Why do so many students distrust poetry? Perhaps it is because so many poetry lessons are rife with intimidating words like “iambic” and “pentameter,” or because they’ve spent more time identifying rhyme schemes and stressed and unstressed syllables than they have simply enjoying an impeccable turn of phrase. Robert Frost once said that free verse poetry is “like playing tennis with the nets down.” Mr. Frost may not approve, but we want to help you take down the nets this month and give your students two less conventional poetry lessons.
No More Poetry-Induced Groans: 2 Unconventional Poetry Lessons
Let Them Try the Cut-Up Technique
Cut-up was a literary technique used by Dadaists, but it’s most commonly associated with beat writer William S. Burroughs. Unlike traditional methods of composition, cut-up is aleatory, which means that the creative process is left to chance. Here’s how Dadaist writer Tristan Tzara used to create his cut up poems:
If you’d like see how William S. Burroughs created his own cut-up poems you can check out a video by stopping by our website.
Try Using Paragraph Scrambler
Paragraph Scrambler gives you the ability to plug in text, scramble and randomize it to your heart’s content. Here’s a screenshot of what Paragraph Scrambler did to the well-known Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken”:
Pretty crazy, huh? Our students have used paragraph scrambler to “remix” well-known poems and you can place as many or as few rules on this activity as you like. We’ve taken what seem to be incoherent lines, written them on the board, and collaborated with our students to delete words, add and move lines around so that we could make meaning of the “remixed” poem. If you decide to let your students try out these two unconventional poetry lessons, please let us know how it goes!