Thursday, August 30, 2012

More Great News for OHS!

Fall in a high school is full of traditions.  Nervous freshmen on the first day of school, excited fans at the first home football game (which is this Friday night at 7:00pm in case you haven't heard!), and the annual release of ACT Data from the year before. 

The ACT is a test of college readiness.  Usually between 1/2 and 2/3 of our graduating seniors choose to take the test as a part of their post secondary plans.  As anyone who knows me is aware, I do not put all of my faith in any test or standardized tests as a whole as a way of measuring the progress of a student or a school.  That being said, each test has its place and when viewed in its proper context, it does give us a piece of the picture of the system we are trying to create and the students we are trying to prepare. 

We get A LOT of data back from ACT and it takes a while to digest.  One of the pieces I appreciate the most though is the one that shows what percentage of our students achieved a score on each test, and overall, that ACT says predicts college success. This cut score is 20.  If it has been awhile since you took the ACT, the score range is 0-36.  Looking at eventual success or failure at college, ACT has determined that scoring 20 or better on the subtests and the composite as a whole, are positively correlated with success in college. 

Here at Okoboji we are used to getting good results on this measure.  This year is no different.  Below is the chart that was included in the report:

LOCAL represents Okoboji High School.  The chart compares our % of students who scored 20 or higher with the state and national data.  As you can see our students were considerably higher in all categories than national and even state percentages.  Overall 78% of our students scored 20 or higher on composite (which is an average of the four subtests).  This is 8% higher than the state average and almost 20% higher than the nation!  These are outstanding numbers.  As you can see we were strong across the board this year with a particularly high number of 20+ scores in reading and science.  

Sometimes we get used to success and forget to celebrate it.  This is something to celebrate.  It is another piece of data that shows how well we are doing on accomplishing our school district mission "[To] prepare each learner with the knowledge and skills necessary for a productive life in a changing world."

We should be proud of this data.  Parents, students, faculty, and community members alike should take great pride in the great thing our students are doing every day.  As I said above, this is just one small piece of the puzzle but it is one we should share and celebrate.  Another reason to be Proud to Be ONE!


Saturday, August 4, 2012

What OHS is Doing Right in Teacher Leadership

"We have the absolute best teachers anywhere.  That is what makes our school great and we should never forget it."

As leaders we are used to hearing about what we are doing wrong. It is human nature to be more forthcoming with our complaints than our compliments. Recently another Iowa school district decided to waive all school fees for the upcoming year. When the local news reported on it, someone complained about what the school was doing!  Sometimes you just can't win in this old world.  :-)

So it is nice to once in a while be reminded of what you are doing right.  Yesterday a team from each of our district's buildings attended the Iowa Teacher and Principal Leadership Symposium in Des Moines. The symposium was put together by the Governor and featured a rich discussion of the need to empower teachers to be leaders in their buildings and ways in which some districts are doing so.

The research on the power of, and need for, strong teacher leadership in developing and sustaining a school culture, designing and leading professional development, and sharing in the authority and responsibility for leading schools forward is strong.  Research shows the most motivating things for employees are to feel their work is appreciated and to feel like they have a say in the direction of their organization.

As I sat with educators from around the state (around 700 in all) I reflected on how our school is doing in this area. I am very proud to say we have taken some significant steps to empower teachers and put them in positions to lead.

Among our most significant successes has been a refocusing of our Building Leadership Team, or BLT.  BLT's are common in schools but what they actually do varies widely. Often times BLT's become nothing more than principal advisory committees signing off on the top down directives coming from the lone administrator. Some spend the majority of their time discussing management issues such as when the next assembly should be or whether we should allow pop in classrooms. While decisions like these certainly need to be made, they are not exactly the kind of vital professional leadership the research shows we need from teachers.

Last spring we began a process of planning and visioning for what we saw as the changing role of our leadership team.  Through a series of important discussions both as a leadership team and with the larger faculty, we are now on a course of shared leadership that will move our professional development, our teachers, our culture, and our entire school, forward.   Our BLT is doing some amazing things but the best part of all is they are only one piece of our teacher leadership puzzle.  We are blessed with an outstanding group of teachers who are not only content experts but are also dedicated to finding, developing, and employing the best instructional strategies and most importantly, working as colleagues to improve the practice of every teacher.   I have said it before but it bears repeating - we have the absolute best teachers anywhere. That is what makes our school great and we should never forget it.

Last year we took steps to individualize our professional development and will be furthering that effort this year. The days of large group "sit-and-get" style in service our over. We are on a journey from "just in case" to "just in time" learning. This means we target learning based on needs and personalize it so each teacher can see a measurable change and improvement in their classroom as a result of implementing what they are learning.

We certainly have plenty more to do. We are closer to the beginning of this journey than the end (if there even is a real end at all), but it gives us a feeling of confirmation to know that we are headed in the right direction for our staff and students.  There will be many new ideas coming from the state in the coming months and years. Changing roles for teachers with multiple career paths including mentor and master teachers, instructional coaches, and changing the way we do professional development are just a few of the big ideas we will see moving throughout our state.  We at Okoboji High School are excited for the future. We have the right people in the right positions and we are working to empower them with the knowledge, skills, and opportunities to lead our school forward. It is sure to be an extremely important and rewarding journey for our entire school.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

We've Taught You How To Think

"All schools for miles and miles around
Must take a special test,
To see who's learning such and such -
To see which school's the best.

If our small school does not do well,
Then it will be torn down,
And you will have to go to school in dreary Flobbertown."

"Not Flobbertown!" we shouted
And we shuddered at the name,
For everyone in Flobbertown
Does everything the same.

Miss Bonkers rose "Don't fret!" she said.
"You've learned the things you need
To pass that test and many more -
I'm certain you'll succeed.

We've taught you that the earth is round,
That red and white make pink,
And something else that matters more -
We've taught you how to think."
-excerpt from "Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!" by Dr. Seuss

I read this book for the first time tonight. Actually to be honest my seven year old read it to me. As I listened I once again had to smile at the sheer honest genius of Dr. Seuss. Plain and simple, he got it. In this little book he hits the nail on the head. The most important knowledge we can impart on our young people is the ability to think. It is a beautifully simple but enormously difficult thing to do. In an era where many schools follow a curriculum a mile wide and an inch deep, it takes teachers and a school with the resolve to say "No." We will not simply spend our time filling our kids heads with facts, figures, names, and dates. We will not allow them to earn a diploma that signifies their graduation from our school without having forced them to analyze, to evaluate, to synthesize, to manipulate, to start from scratch, build it up, flip it over, tear it back apart, and start all over again. In short, they will not leave these halls without having to think.

I am proud to be a part of such a school. With the hard work our teachers are doing in measuring student engagement, pushing their instruction into more and more higher order thinking tasks for students, providing students with real world technology tools to create, collaborate, communicate, and contribute, and drastically shifting the learning paradigm through Project Based Learning, we are and will continue to be like the great Diffendoofer school described by Dr. Seuss.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

1:1 at OHS Present and Future

Okoboji High School is about to complete it's first semester as a 1:1 school. We have learned a lot in the first half a year. Teachers have progressed in their level of comfort and knowledge, and have increased the quantity and quality of tech integration into their classrooms. Google Apps have become second nature to staff and students alike. The phrase "turning it in" has become almost extinct as the vernacular has shifted to "dropping it." We have had our share of wins (new tools, new ways of finding, processing, and creating information) and faced our share of obstacles (distractions, distractions, distractions :-)). All along the way our amazing teachers have eagerly pursued the former and found creative ways to deal with the latter.

As we celebrate our first half-birthday as a 1:1 school, it is time to refocus on the question of where to go from here. One thing that has always, and will always be true is IT'S NOT ABOUT THE COMPUTER. We have not set goals focusing on quantity. Our goals have been focused on the QUALITY of tech integration and the beneficial impact it can have on learning in the classroom. In that vein, as we have begun meeting with department teams to talk about the 2012-2013 school year and set goals, I have created two school-wide goals related to tech integration. In the 2012-2013 school year, EVERY OHS student will have AT LEAST one opportunity to use technology to:

1. Connect with an expert in the real world who uses knowledge or skills related to those they are learning in the classroom
2. Work collaboratively with other students across time and space.

These goals will help keep our focus on the reason we adopted our 1:1 program and further unleash the potential of universal access to technology. 1:1 is about empowering students to do things they could not do before. Both of these goals are focused on exactly that. These goals have been, and are being shared with our teachers as we hold departmental meetings and over the next few weeks and months, teachers will begin to identify areas in their curriculum where that will lend themselves to these opportunities. By the start of the 2012-2013 school year we will have a map of where and when these opportunities will occur so that we can insure we will meet our goals.

We are also busy creating opportunities for these connections with schools around the state, nation and world. Accomplishing these goals will not be easy but it is sure to be exciting and will hopefully lead to many new opportunities to not only "do things differently" but "do different things."

An exciting time indeed for Okoboji High School!

Make the day great!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We are asking the wrong question...

I am a big fan of Sir Ken Robinson. Robinson has penned two books, "The Element - How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything" and "Out of Our Minds - Learning to be Creative"

In these books, Robinson discusses the immense power of and need for creativity. He discusses the nature of creativity and his belief that creativity and the ability to think divergently (seeing many possible solutions to problems) is an ability we all have and that it decreases over time. This last claim is supported through research on problem solving in which people were asked questions like how many different uses they could come up with for a paper clip. The same subjects were asked in a longitudinal study that lasted 10 years. They asked them every 5 years (age 5, 10, and 15) and the number of possibilities they came up with decreased as they got older. They got worse! Robinson's claim is that by age the children had become "educated" into the idea that there is one answer and it is in the back of the book.

One of the central claims in the "Out of our Minds" book is that we often think of and measure intelligence wrong.

A great example of this theory is the question we often ask of ourselves and others "How intelligent are you?" The implied assumption behind this question is that intelligence is a singular and finite characteristic. Much like "How tall are you?" It implies that intelligence can be measured and defined as a specific trait or set of traits. Robinson argues the question we should be asking is "How are you intelligent?" Amazing what a difference the placement of one word; intelligent, makes. Moving that word changes those two questions entirely. Instead of intelligence as a singular, quantifiable trait, the second question portrays intelligence as a multitude of different abilities in a number of different areas. It assumes the intelligence of every individual. Rather than intelligence being something you either have or don't, it becomes something everyone has in varying amounts in many different areas.

I am convinced that the nature and culture of schools would change if we would stop asking the first question and started asking the second. What a great thing to ask kids whether they be in kindergarten, 12th grade, or anywhere in between.

On a related note, if you have not ever watched Ken Robinson speak, you really should. Two of his most popular talks have are "Is School Killing Creativity?" and "Bring on the Learning Revolution!" Those two talks are a "Cliff's Notes" of sorts for his books and are embedded below.

Make the day great!


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stop Filling the Pail and Start Lighting the Fire

campfire clipart

I recently returned from the 2011 TIES Conference in Minneapolis. TIES is an organization made up of a large number of Minnesota school districts that exists to advocate, enable, and empower teachers to increase student engagement through the integration of technology. This is the second year I have been able to attend the conference. I love the learning that happens at TIES because there is a great mix of hands on, applicable tools and tips that can be immediately used in a variety of classrooms, and challenging discussions of broader topics relating to student engagement and the very meaning of what education should look like and consist of in the 21st century. I always come away invigorated, challenged, and with a major headache!

One of the most interesting sessions I attended this year was called I-Imagine: Waking a Generation to Their Own Greatness. The content of the session was great but what really struck me was a statistic. It said that of all of the knowledge in the world, in a 13 year academic career (kindergarten through 12th grade) a teacher could only ever cover .0000001% of it. Whoa. Now, before you call the statistics police, I am fully aware that such a statistic is very difficult to believe, impossible to verify, and in all likelihood, completely made up. But don't get hung up on the number. There is a fundamental truth in there. There is so much knowledge and information in the world, there is no way we could ever hope to cover all of it in 13 years. Not. Even. Close.

One of my favorite educational quotes is: "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." It is attributed to the poet W.B. Yeats. That quote immediately came to mind when I heard the previously mentioned statistic. If our goal in education is to pour as much knowledge as possible into the heads of our young people as we can before their 18th birthday, we are doing it wrong and we are doing them a disservice. We could pour facts and figures into them all day, every day, and not even cover one iota of the available knowledge in the world. So why do we try? In the meantime national statistics show a majority of students say school is boring, uninteresting, and irrelevant and we live in a world where anything you can memorize can also be Googled in .05 seconds on any computer, ipad, or cell phone.

When we think of education in these terms, it seems to me that we need to spend less time trying to fill the pails and more time trying to light the fires. Teach skills in context. Identify student passions and connect them to their learning. Light the fire of curiosity and rekindle a love of learning. Stop filling pails. Light the fires instead.

Make the day GREAT!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

SAI Regional Workshop - Linda Fandel and the Iowa Blueprint

On October 19th I had the opportunity to attend a session sponsored by the School Administrators of Iowa that featured a discussion with Linda Fandel, Governor Branstad's Special Assistant on Education. Her discussion focused on the recently released blueprint for education in Iowa titled "One Unshakable Vision; World Class Schools for Iowa."

It was great to hear from Fandel and I was impressed that the goal of the conversation, and others like it that have been held around the state, seemed to be as much about getting input on the plan to use as it is edited and revised, as it was explaining and selling the plan. Fandel was clearly seeking input and it was clear that the plan has been and continues to be shaped by input from educators and stakeholders from around the state. As Fandel reported, approximately 58% of the state budget goes to education with 42% of it going specifically to PreK-12th grade education. This is an important and timely topic and needs to be addressed. We began with the conversation by watching the video you can see HERE.

Some interesting discussion took place with Fandel sharing the following points among others:
  • Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and Iowa Tests of Educational Development are being replaced with assessments from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium to which Iowa belongs. The Smarter Balanced Assessment is computer based and individually adapting. It takes students through an ever increasing level of difficulty until students begin to miss questions. It then backs down and elevates again to find the student's level of proficiency. You can read more about the Smarter Balanced Consortium and Assessment HERE.
  • The original proposal for a high school graduation exit examination has been replaced with end of course assessments, most likely in Algebra I, Biology, English, and History/Government.
  • Other assessments include a third grade literacy assessment that could result in retention for students that are not able to read at a pre-determined level of proficiency. This is one of the most controversial parts of the plan. Fandel described how it was based on a plan that has been used in Florida. According to her it has shown to increase literacy significantly. She described how Florida third graders are now scoring above Iowa third graders on the reading portion of the NAEP test.
There certainly is a lot more to learn and discuss when it comes to the plan. For additional information there is a good FAQ page HERE. It was nice to feel that the document is still a living work in progress and it is great that the architects of the plan, like Fandel, Dr. Glass, Lt. Governor Reynolds, and others are seeking honest input and willing to amend the plan according to that input. I encourage everyone to read the plan, stay up to date as it changes, and be aware as it moves through the legislature this spring. It certainly will have a significant impact on education in our great state.