Weekly Thoughts 4-28-15

Hello Leaders!

Trivia (answers at the end)

  1. How many counters (chips) are on the backgammon board at the start of a game?
  2. In Japanese cuisine, what is tamagoyaki?
  3. What is the name of Minnie MOuse's ex boyfriend who is Mikey Mouse's rival?

Fun Time of the Year!

Thank you for all the extra hours each of you put in at this time of the year. With dances, breakfasts, talent shows, assessments, interviews, and on and on. It is an exciting time of the year. It is a taxing time of the year. I appreciate that all of you do it with a smile on your face and happiness for what it means for our kids.

KAGAN in Troy

Here is who I want / have attending Day 1 and 2 training at Fort Wood Golf Club in Troy on July 13th and 14th:

  • Teah Kelly
  • Jade Crotty
  • Jeff Sargent
  • Lyndsey Ferrell
  • Brent Kobernus
  • David Jennings
  • Brandee Brooks
  • Andrew Schwartz
  • Devin Raney

We are delaying Dawn Hickman and Paige Steinhoff (Paige has AP Institute that week...we want dawn at day 1 of common assessment training)

Ne hires will be added if they have not previously completed the training.

Please let the above (and new hires) know the date and location. I will give you times at a later date.


I'm happy to hear the excitement in everyone's voices with new hires. That is great. As a principal, one of my personal goals was that the average teacher next year be better than the average teacher this year. Sounds like you believe that will be the case.

As of right now, we have 5 folks transferring to new positions. We also have 6 individuals transferring to positions new to them next year. We have 3 new positions being filled. We have 4 retirees. We have 6 folks that resigned who would not have been offered a contract for next year. We have 4 folks that have resigned that we did offer contracts to, but they have decided to move on. The last 3 types make up 14 folks. If our FTE is at 123.5 (I would have to look, but that is about right), that means 11.3% turnover. 43% of that was our choice.

Here is what positions we still have open, in no particular order:

  1. MS Assistant Principal
  2. 7th Grade Science
  3. MS Computers
  4. Assistant Superintendent

We have accepted offers awaiting BOE approval for:

  1. MS Math
  2. HS Math
  3. HS Assistant Principal
  4. HS Social Studies

We also have a few coaching positions open. The one Head Coach opening we have is for Boys Basketball.

Does that look correct?


Tis the season.

Thank you to the counselors for their hard work. Today was the ACT testing day. Minus having to remove a student for their cell phone going off (not our rules...ACT rules), it went smoothly. MS has wrapped up their assessments and look to be 0% LND. West has hit their first speed bump today when the system dumped all tests, but that was a quick fix. This has really been painless.

HS and West both have a large print test that we will need to send back when those kids are done. I will have to arrange the pick up. Please remind those folks to let me know when those tests are done.

Summer School

We are a bit behind on enrollment. Our budget numbers are based on a summer school at about the same as last year. We did have another 15-20 enrollment forms entered today. While we have a false deadline of May 1st, we will accept kids up to the last day.

The Aventa kids have not been entered as of yet.

Administrative 'Retreat'

July looks to be packed with trainings and such. This has become the norm. That is great. It does pose an issue for all of us getting together. Chris had asked last fall that we all say we could be available the week of July 13th. Now, the common assessments are that week...I'm not sure why. That puts us in searching for a date to convene together. With a new AS and two new APs, it would be wise to do so. I will send something out for possible dates in the near future. It may be only 1 day.


New Teachers will report Wednesday, August 5th. All other certified will report on August 7th. The District meeting and vendor fair will be August 11th. The no meeting day will be on August 12th. To help with availability, we will have the MammVan on that day. School starts on a Thursday this fall...August 13th.

September 18th and October 26th

We have two PAWS days in our calendar. These are days that will be run by the principals (K-5 and 6-12 is an option) to implement our PAWS 2.0. I know you have some ideas, and that those ideas could change a bit after July. That being said, at our next IL, let's start the work toward that.

On a related note, the PDC meets on Tuesday of next week. They will go over their needs assessment and talk about the October 27th and February 12th days.

AS Interviews

For transparency sake, feel free to share this out with anyone you see fit.

We have a 9 person search committee. The committee will split up into 3 separate and back to back interviews. They will have their own desired traits and questions built around those traits. For the CO perspective, we asked for input from the 10 person PDC members as well as all the employees in the CO. I believe everyone in the latter gave input. 5 of the 10 PDC members gave input. All 9 members will be part of the screening to decide who we interview. We hope to have a person in place by May 15th and the BOE will act on May 21st.

Pun of the Day

I send out puns to various folks from time to time. Here is one that I thought might make the Shawn Riley joke of the day. What's the tallest building in the city? The library because it has so many stories!

6 Takeaways from 32 Years of Teaching - blog entry

Articles of the Week via K. Marshall

  1. “Writing a Master Plan” by Laura Varlas in Education Update, April 2016 (Vol. 57, #4, p. 1, 4-5)
  2. “Making Sense of Student Performance Data: Data Use Logics and Mathematics Teachers’ Learning Opportunities” by Ilana Seidel Horn, Britnie Delinger Kane, and Jonee Wilson in American Educational Research Journal, April 2015 (Vol. 52, #2, p. 208-242)

  3. “Administrators: How to Get Out of the Office and Into Classrooms” by Ben Johnson in Edutopia, April 17, 2015, http://bit.ly/1DDCPNj

  4. 4 short items.

1. Solving Lesson-Planning Challenges with Backwards Unit Design

(Originally titled “Writing a Master Plan”)

In this Education Update article, Laura Varlas addresses five challenges teachers face as they plan lessons:

Coverage – Getting through the curriculum is an imperative, but if that’s the main focus, teachers may lose sight of deeper goals. In an English class, says Understanding by Design author Grant Wiggins, planning shouldn’t be about what book is being read but “how students are different when they’re finished reading it.” UbD co-author Jay McTighe agrees: “Just like a coach plans with the game in mind, teach individual skills and knowledge with the performance in mind, not as ends in themselves.”

The fun trap – Many teachers plan cool, engaging activities that don’t necessarily push toward understanding. “Activity-oriented lessons can be fun in the short run, but they’re cotton candy,” says McTighe. “They don’t have any deep nourishment.” Wiggins: “It’s possible to build a model of a working roller coaster but not learn any physics.” He likes to ask students:

  • What are you doing?

  • Why are you doing it?

  • What’s it helping you learn?

The key: deciding on lesson strategies after formulating learning outcomes and how they’ll be assessed. Activities should be a series of steps leading students to being able to perform the objective and explain what they’re doing.

Information overload – “The wealth of free online lesson planning resources can become tempting distractions as teachers sit down to design learning,” says Varlas. The same is true of digital planning software that links a unit to standards and spits out 40 objectives. Teachers need to take a deep breath and (ideally with colleagues) think through the content and what students should learn, focusing on the new standards being taught.

Educator egocentrism – It’s important for teachers to step out of their own mastery of the material and imagine how students will experience it – in particular, what misconceptions they may have and what rough spots they’ll hit. This means working through the material in advance and preparing during-lesson questions that probe for deeper understanding – and then responding nimbly to students’ partial answers and errors.

Lesson plans – Wiggins and McTighe believe the smallest unit of curriculum planning should be the unit plan. “I’m not saying ‘stop planning,’” says instructional coach Mike Fisher. “I’m saying, ‘stop planning for the isolated moment.’” Varlas adds: “Moving away from the potential myopia of daily plans requires schools to shift from isolated teacher planning to collaborative, integrative teams. It also begs principals to question the merit of requiring teachers to submit daily plans. Instead, look for a coherent unit plan with rich, well-aligned assessment tasks built into it.” McTighe sums up: “Don’t micromanage day-to-day teaching. Manage results on things that matter.”

“Writing a Master Plan” by Laura Varlas in Education Update, April 2016 (Vol. 57, #4, p. 1, 4-5), http://bit.ly/1DD4hut for ASCD members; Varlas is at lauravarlas@ascd.org

2. Middle-School Math Teams Wrestle with Interim Assessment Data

In this American Educational Research Journal article, Ilana Seidel Horn, Britnie Delinger Kane, and Jonee Wilson (Vanderbilt University) report on their study of how seventh-grade math teams in two urban schools worked with their students’ interim assessment data. The teachers’ district, under pressure to improve test scores, paid teams of teachers and instructional coaches to write interim assessments. These tests, given every six weeks, were designed to measure student achievement and hold teachers accountable. The district also provided time for teacher teams to use the data to inform their instruction.

Horn, Kane, and Wilson observed and videotaped seventh-grade data meetings in the two schools, visited classrooms, looked at a range of artifacts, and interviewed and surveyed teachers and district officials. They were struck by how different the team dynamics were in the two schools, which they called Creekside Middle School and Park Falls Middle School. Here’s some of what they found:

Creekside’s seventh-grade team operated under what the authors call an instructional management logic, focused primarily on improving the test scores of “bubble” students. The principal, who had been in the building for a number of years, was intensely involved at every level, attending team meetings and pushing hard for improvement on AYP proficiency targets. The school had a full-time data manager who produced displays of interim assessment and state test results. These were displayed (with students’ names) in classrooms and elsewhere around the school. The principal also organized Saturday Math Camps for students who needed improvement. He visited classrooms frequently and had the school’s full-time math coach work with teachers whose students needed improvement. Interestingly, the math coach had a more sophisticated knowledge of math instruction than the principal, but the principal dominated team meetings.

In one data meeting, the principal asked teachers to look at interim assessment data to predict how their African-American students (the school’s biggest subgroup in need of AYP improvement) would do on the upcoming state test. The main focus was on these “bubble” students. “I have 18% passing, 27% bubble, 55% growth,” reported one teacher. The team was urged to motivate the targeted students, especially quiet, borderline kids, to personalize instruction, get marginal students to tutorials, and send them to Math Camp. The meeting spent almost no time looking at item results to diagnose ways in which teaching was effective or ineffective. The outcome: providing attention and resources to identified students. A critique: the team didn’t have at its fingertips the kind of item-by-item analysis of student responses necessary to have a discussion about improving math instruction, and the principal’s priority of improving the scores of the “bubble” students prevented a broader discussion of improving teaching for all seventh graders.

“The prospective work of engaging students,” conclude Horn, Kane, and Wilson, “predominantly addressed the problem of improving test scores without substantially re-thinking the work of teaching, thus providing teachers with learning opportunities about redirecting their attention – and very little about the instructional nature of that attention… The summative data scores simply represented whether students had passed: they did not point to troublesome topics… By excluding critical issues of mathematics learning, the majority of the conversation avoided some of the potentially richest sources of supporting African-American bubble kids – and all students… Finally, there was little attention to the underlying reasons that African-American students might be lagging in achievement scores or what it might mean for the mostly white teachers to build motivating rapport, marking this as a colorblind conversation.”

The Park Falls seventh-grade team, working in the same district with the same interim assessments and the same pressure to raise test scores, used what the authors call an instructional improvement logic. The school had a brand-new principal, who was rarely in classrooms and team meetings, and an unhelpful math coach who had conflicts with the principal. This meant that teachers were largely on their own when it came to interpreting the interim assessments. In one data meeting, teachers took a diagnostic approach to the test data, using a number of steps that were strikingly different from those at Creekside:

  • Teachers reviewed a spreadsheet of results from the latest interim assessment and identified items that many students missed.

  • One teacher took the test himself to understand what the test was asking of students mathematically.

  • In the meeting, teachers had three things in front of them: the actual test, a data display of students’ correct and incorrect responses, and the marked-up test the teacher had taken.

  • Teachers looked at the low-scoring items one at a time, examined students’ wrong answers, and tried to figure out what students might have been thinking and why they went for certain distractors.

  • The team moved briskly through 18 test items, discussing possible reasons students

    missed each one – confusing notation, skipping lengthy questions, mixing up similar-sounding words, etc.

  • Teachers were quite critical of the quality of several test items – rightly so, say Horn, Kane, and Wilson – but this may have distracted them from the practical task of figuring out how to improve their students’ test-taking skills.

    The outcome of the meeting: re-teaching topics with attention to sources of confusion. A critique: the team didn’t slow down and spend quality time on a few test items, followed by a more thoughtful discussion about successful and unsuccessful teaching approaches.

    “The tacit assumption,” conclude Horn, Kane, and Wilson, “seemed to be that understanding student thinking would support more-effective instruction… The Park Falls teachers’ conversation centered squarely on student thinking, with their analysis of frequently missed items and interpretations of student errors. This activity mobilized teachers to modify their instruction in response to identified confusion… Unlike the conversation at Creekside, then, this discussion uncovered many details of students’ mathematical thinking, from their limited grasp of certain topics to miscues resulting from the test’s format to misalignments with instruction.” However, the Park Falls teachers ran out of time and didn’t focus on next instruction steps. After a discussion about students’ confusion about the word “dimension,” for example, one teacher said, “Maybe we should hit that word.”

    [Creekside and Park Falls meetings each had their strong points, and an ideal team data-analysis process would combine elements from both: the principal providing overall leadership and direction but deferring to expert guidance from a math coach; facilitation to focus the team on a more-thorough analysis of a few items; and follow-up classroom observations and ongoing discussions of effective and less-effective instructional practices. In addition, it would be helpful to have higher-quality interim assessments and longer meetings to allow for fuller discussion. K.M.]

“Making Sense of Student Performance Data: Data Use Logics and Mathematics Teachers’ Learning Opportunities” by Ilana Seidel Horn, Britnie Delinger Kane, and Jonee Wilson in American Educational Research Journal, April 2015 (Vol. 52, #2, p. 208-242); this article can be purchased at http://aer.sagepub.com/content/52/2/208.abstract; Horn can be reached at ilana.s.horn@vanderbilt.edu.

3.Escaping the Magnetic Pull of the Office and Visiting Classrooms

“If I simply stand in front of my office, I will be busy all day long – guaranteed,” says principal Ben Johnson in this Edutopia article. “The administrator’s office is the focal point of so many things… teacher needs, student needs, parent needs, district office needs, state needs, and a whole host of facility problems, personnel issues, planning concerns, and discipline referrals… All of this becomes a magnet drawing the administrator inexorably back to the office any time he or she strays any distance from it… Avoiding the magnetic pull of the offices a constant battle for every administrator.” Johnson also notes that it’s satisfying to do trivial work in the office: he confesses that he recently spent time organizing the keys for his


The solution, Johnson realized, was (a) delegating lower-level tasks, (b) blocking out time in his calendar for his “big rocks” so they displace less-urgent items, and (c) telling teachers how often to expect his classroom visits. creating a positive expectation to spur him to keep up the pace. Johnson has found that during these blocks of time when he’s away from the office, his secretary can buffer a lot of items – and even handle some herself.

As he started getting into classrooms more frequently, Johnson had another insight: “Infrequent observations tend to promote a teacher perspective of ‘evaluation’ as looking for mistakes. Frequent observations and feedback help teachers view the administrator as a colleague, an ally, and a valuable instructional improvement coach.” He urges principals to make classroom visits a top priority, saying, “you will see significant changes in school climate, teacher diligence, student performance, and many of the ‘issues’ that pull you back to the office will disappear of their own accord.”

“Administrators: How to Get Out of the Office and Into Classrooms” by Ben Johnson in Edutopia, April 17, 2015, http://bit.ly/1DDCPNj

9. Short Items:

a. A visual history of Lower Manhattan – Check out this video of an imaginary ride up the elevator of One World Trade Center showing the development of that part of the city over the centuries: http://nyti.ms/1DtcbFz

b. Videos of school leadership – These five films created by the Wallace Foundation show effective principals in action: http://bit.ly/1FqWPHz

c. A grammar website – Grammar Bytes www.chompchomp.com has a variety of material to help with English grammar: definitions, tips and rules, diagnostic tests, presentations, exercises, handouts, a MOOC, and YouTube videos.

Spotted in “Flipping the English Classroom” by John Helgeson in Kappa Delta Pi Record, April-June 2015 (Vol. 51, #2, p. 64-68); Helgeson can be reached at mr_jhelgy@hotmail.com.

d. A dictionary for ELs – The free, online Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary (2015) www.learnersdictionary.com is specifically designed for English language learners. It has quizzes, words frequently requested by users, core vocabulary, a word of the day defined and illustrated, and a place for students to save words they’re learning.

Spotted in “A Framework for Explicit Vocabulary Instruction for English Language Learners” by Deanna Nisbet and Evie Tindall in Kappa Delta Pi Record, April-June 2015 (Vol. 51, #2, p. 75-80); the authors can be reached at deannis@regent.edu and evietin@regent.edu.

Thank you!

Since it became official last week, the kindness and kudos and pats on the back have been overwhelming and humbling. Thank you for the charge and the belief. I look forward to my 8th year as a Wildcat in the fall!

Trivia Answers

  1. 30
  2. An omlette
  3. Mortimer