Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Charting Our Course for the New Year

Curtis Elementary is getting a make-over, and it is extreme!  Our building is looking fabulous.  I can't wait for the upcoming school year.  Students, parents, and staff members will walk into our building to see this exciting transformation.  It looks brand new!  I can't help but get excited about the journey we are about to begin.

We kicked off our year with a great retreat:  Curtis Make-Over, Pirate Pageant.  We had some fun filled activities centered around Dave Burgess' , Teach Like a Pirate book. We literally transformed some teachers into pirates as you can see from this picture. 
(Left) Lindsay (Right) Lorie

 In preparing for staff development, with the "Extreme Make-Over" theme, the building is obviously not all that will be transformed.  We have already embarked on this tranformation, and it is about to get real!   Racheal Rife, Curtis Elementary principal, Lindsay Fuller, Counselor, Amy Wallace, Instructional Coach, Shawna Ford, Librarian, and I are leading our staff in a study of the book, Teach Like a Pirate written by Dave Burgess.  During staff development week, we will unveil the pirates within all of our teachers.  I am excited about the power that educators have to chart their course.  Teachers can discover what they would like to accomplish during the school year and set the tone in the first week of school.  Dave Burgess explains how important the first three days of school are in setting the tone for the rest of the year.  We will challenge our teachers to excite students and ignite a passion for learning in the first five days!  In the first five days of school, teachers can "hook" students and stir an excitement in them where learning is fun. It will not end after the first five days, but will hoist our teachers and students up to set sail and navigate into the vast, open waters of learning.   As Dave Burgess states, teachers have the power to set their GPS for the year in order to provide students with experiences that will make their year memorable and remarkable. 

Racheal Rife has led our campus and has challenged all of us.  She says,  "We have created an environment that fosters innovation and risk taking." I am excited to see our teachers lead our students through an incredible journey  by daring to be creative, innovative, and to transform their craft in order to capture the attention of students taking them on a voyage that explores leagues and leagues beyond what any of us could imagine.  The first five days of school is all it will take to spark engagement in students. In Edutopia, ,  I read how self assessment inspires learning.  This might be one of the many ways teachers can help inspire learning in their classrooms.

At Curtis Elementary we are passionate about teaching and learning, and anyone that walks into our building can feel it.  Curtis is a great place to work and learn.   My challenge to teachers everywhere is to tap into what excites students and dare to inspire them.  Curtis Elementary teachers are charting their course for a successful year.  They are going to set their coordinates the first week of school and continue to navigate students with engaging lessons that ignite passion and spark curiosity!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What Helps to Drive Improvement

A new school year will be beginning in just a few weeks!  I am really excited about the great things students will achieve at Curtis Elementary.  In thinking about achievement, I have been really focused on what will help students and teachers to improve. I have been reflecting on how I can be a more effective leader to teachers.   What most significantly impacts learning?  Is it setting SMART goals?  Is it tracking data?  Setting goals and tracking data are both important parts of improvement, but the momentum begins with the teacher and the feedback teachers give to students.  I feel that we can continually improve how we offer feedback to students.  Sean Cain's book, The Fundamental Five, offers powerful instructional practices that can positively impact learning in the classroom.  One of those strategies is providing recognition and reinforcement, which is giving students feedback.

If I were to choose one thing that drives improvement in my life, it would be feedback.  I need feedback from others to improve my leadership at school.  I also need to receive feedback to improve my one of my weakest skills, which is cooking.  I receive a lot of feedback from my husband and children.  Just last night, my husband gave me some feedback on the asparagus I prepared.  He thinks I overcooked it a bit.  He actually thinks I overcook many of my dishes.  I guess the point that I am trying to make is that the feedback we receive from our supervisors, collegues, family, and friends is valuable and helps us to focus on improvement.  It helps us to improve everything like exercise, improving our golf game, sticking to a budget, or even cooking. 

In the classroom, feedback should be a constant flow between teachers and students.  Ensuring that students know how they are progressing throughout lessons is important.  If we expect students to make progress and achieve, they not only need to know if they are doing well or not, but they also need to know specifically what is working and what is not working.  Students need to be led through a variety of sources of feedback.  Recognizing and reinforcing students academically and behaviorally increases achievement.  Formatively assessing students throughout the lesson cycle allows teachers to recognize and assess students' abilities and provide feedback so that that they can adjust their learning. Conferencing with students, discussing strengths and weaknesses, helps students to stay focused on learning.  This empowers students to be in charge of their own learning.

Giving feedback is also an important part of parent communication. Frequent communication with parents is important.  Giving feedback to parents before progress reports or report cards are issued is vital in creating partnerships among students, parents, and teachers. 

During this school year, my goal is to remain focused on the importance of offering constant feedback to teachers to help them improve their instruction which will positively impact student achievement.  Reminding teachers to also focus on giving students appropriate feedback will impact student achievment as well.  Isn't that why we (educators) go to work (school) every day?

Here is a link to read about how meaningful feedback helps students deepen learning.