Every school in America is focused on rigor.  Although it is a buzzword, rigor is something that we need to strive for in our classrooms and our schools.  Barbara Blackburn, a prominent educational author defines rigor as;

Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, and each is supported so he or she can learn at high level, and each student demonstrates learning at high level.  (Blackburn, 2008).

By this definition, rigor requires high expectations, support, and a student product that allows students to demonstrate their learning.  In other words, we expect students to perform at high levels, yet we still provide support for these students.  

Expectation and rigor can be very abstract concepts.  If we want our rigor to increase, we need to have a method to measure rigor.  In the past, we have used Bloom’s taxonomy to measure rigor.  Unfortunately, it is difficult to quantify Recall, Analyze, Create, etc.  A seminar this summer introduced me to Webb’s Depth of Knowledge scale.  This would allow us to quantify the depth of knowledge to which our teachers are instructing.  

Hess’s Cognitive Rigor Matrix combines Bloom’s and Webb’s to produce a very effective tool for teachers and school leaders to measure the level of rigor in our classrooms.  

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Teachers often ask “what rigor looks like?”.  This matrix gives clear examples of how to move our instruction “down and to the right”.  

During class walk-throughs we use this matrix to measure student products as well as the questioning in the classroom.  Teachers use the matrix in their planning to gage their lessons.  

This has been one of the best tools that we’ve used this year.  

There is a matrix for Math/Science, Reading, and ELA.

jobinterviewnoteWhat principals want in a candidate, and how to convey that during an interview.

I recently had the opportunity to be a part of a “Speed Interview” session for a local college. The college wanted to provide their soon to be graduates with the opportunity and experience of interviewing with various principals from the area. It was a good experience for the teachers, yet it also provided me the chance to reflect on what truly makes somebody hirable and desirable in my school.

Below is some of the feedback that I offered to the students; I hope that you find it useful in your career search. I’ve also included past interview experiences as examples.

First thing first. Make sure you do a bit of research on the school. Don’t come into an interview with absolutely no idea of what the school is all about. Start with the school’s website, check out the principal’s messages to parents and community, look at his/her blog. Get a feel for the personality of the school and cater to that. Be careful of getting into specifics and brown-nosing. For example, “I saw your Twitter feed, and I really liked what you posted.”. A better way to say it would be “I saw that you are on twitter, do a lot of your teachers use Twitter for professional growth?”.

Passion beats content. There are plenty of potential teachers that know the content, principals want somebody that is passionate about teaching, learning, and making connections with students. Make sure your passion is visible in the way you talk about kids. When you talk about skills that you possess, make sure you connect them to the students and how they will affect student learning.

Take advantage of the gimmes. Interviewers often give a few slow pitches that an interviewee should be prepared to knock out of the park. The following are examples “What can you bring to our school that nobody else can?”, “Is there anything that you would like to add that we did not cover in our questions?”, “What makes you the best fit for the position?”. You need to have a stump speech, or a prepared response, but not too rehearsed so that it sounds robotic. Basically your answer needs to convey the message, I am ready to take on the position, and I’m willing to work my butt off for the good of the students and the school.

Don’t ask questions just to impress. If you honestly don’t have questions about the job or the school, don’t ask them. A good question is one that gets the interviewer talking. Don’t ask yes or no questions. A bad question would be, “Have you ever thought about doing a book study as a faculty for professional development?”. Even though I have thought about this, I said “no” because I don’t like yes/no questions. A better way to frame this would be “Professional growth is very important to me, what types of professional development do you use to grow your staff?” One of my favorite questions is “What are you looking for in a candidate for this position?”. This allows you to give a follow-up response that displays why you fit those criteria.

Nervousness is normal. If you are so nervous that it is negatively impacting your interview, address it. Say something along the lines of “I’m sorry, I’m very nervous right now.” Believe it or not, I don’t mind when that happens. I’d prefer that to getting the wrong impression of a candidate. In my past interviewing experiences (when I was looking for a job and nervous), I’d always take a sip of water when I needed a second to collect my thoughts.

Invest your effort on the front end. A thank you note is nice, but to be real, it will not change my mind after the interview is over. Instead, send a personal email to the principal once a position is made public. Once you apply online, send an email with a resume attached introducing yourself and offering anything additional that they may need. When a position is posted and resumes start coming in, it is important to stand out. A well written email will help you distinguish yourself from the pack. Make sure you spell check and have a friend proofread.

Good luck.

I’ve survived my first two months as a school principal. To catch everyone up to speed, over the summer I applied for positions near Lexington, Kentucky. On July, 21 I interviewed for, and was offered the position of principal at Woodford County Middle School. Ten days later, my house and family were packed and moved to Versailles, KY. I started on August 1 (the students started on August 8).

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Being the principal is vastly different to being the assistant principal of a school. While many of the duties and functions are the same, there is a different pressure to being the principal. As an AP, I didn’t stress as much about making a decision, there was always someone above to let me know if I needed to do something differently. I’m lucky to have two excellent APs to work with and bounce ideas off of, but ultimately the weight of each decision is on my shoulders.

My schedule is usually filled before I have a chance to complete my daily objectives. Getting into classrooms and sitting down with teachers is a top priority, but if not scheduled, these tasks are easily overlooked.

Overall, it’s been an extremely busy and rewarding role.

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Connecting with the community is one of the greatest challenges of every school that I’ve worked in.  Too often, we settle for the excuse of “That’s just the way it is in (fill in any town in America)”.   I would argue that communities that are the most difficult to engage are the communities that most desperately need to be heard from in order to improve our schools.

In the coming school year, we will be using Celly to connect with parents.

Cell is a free service that allows users to create “Cells” or groups of users that can engaged in a text message dialogue.   Cells can be set up for classes, teams, clubs, PTO, or the entire school.

How it works;

Users create accounts, then sets up Cell.

Other users can set up an account using their cell phone, then join the cell that was created. Once they join, they will be able to participate in the text dialogue.

Celly can be used to deliver announcements to all group members such as;

“Report cards going home today, make sure you ask your child and celebrate their hard work!”.

It can also be used to poll participants to get feedback.  This will make for an easy way to get community feedback on school decisions.

For someone who doesn’t like the sound of his voice, Celly is a much preferred option.  When I record a message using our Alertnow system, I record and rerecord the message at least 4 times.  I would much rather send a text alert.

This will be a great resource for connecting with families and ensuring a two way dialogue.

Bullying is a problem in every school.  School leaders must take proactive measures to ensure the safety and comfort of every student in the building.  Students will not learn if they are not comfortable.

Picture taken from http://www.hopewellva.gov

As much as we encourage every student to come to administration with reports of wrongdoing, it doesn’t always happen.  After a meeting with my principal, we decided to add another resource to our fight against bullying.  We want students to be able to text message us directly to report anything that they would not be comfortable doing in person.

Using Google Voice, we were able to set up a free account.  This will allow students to report discipline violations through text messaging.  While we just established the service, I believe it will be a great resource to our school’s fight against bullying.
Google Voice is a free service that has a ton of great features.  If you’d like to learn more, be sure to visit their sight.  Our school district uses Google email services, but the feature of Google Voice was blocked.  I had to set up an alternate email address for our school.  This wasn’t a problem because I was able to forward all received texts to my work email.


I’m toying with the idea of using the website TeachersPayTeachers.com to inspire learning in my school.
Within the past few weeks, there have been many articles published on the success of Teachers Pay Teachers.  As a teacher, I came across the website many times while looking for ideas for my classroom.   I never could justify spending money on a lesson, but apparently others do.  To date, the site has processed over $7,000,000 in sales.  Most of that money goes directly to the teachers that produce the content.

I’d like teachers in my school to start using the site to sell their lessons.  If this were to happen, I believe, it would increase student achievement at my school.

Bad lessons don’t sell.  Not that any of my teachers create bad lessons, but there is always room to grow.  With the extra incentive of possibly earning revenue, teachers would put a little more effort into making original and content specific lessons.

Not only would money motivate, but if teachers have an audience outside of their students and administration, they might spend more time to perfect their product.
I know that it isn’t a guaranteed thing, but I think that it would challenge our teachers to spend more time in the planning stages of teaching, and possibly earn them extra income.

Thanks Sarah for such a great visual.

Thanks to the 7.2 million teachers who spend so much of their time, money, and effort on our students.

Teachers are Heroes Infographic

Educators spend so much time educating, we forget to get educated. Of all the efforts that schools put into increasing student achievement, professional development has one of the best return ratios. The problem that schools have, is that we don’t know how to choose and implement professional development very well. In this post, I examine how professional development impact students achievement, and what can we do to ensure professional development is working for our school.

Good teaching starts with good learning.

In 2007, the American Institute for Research found that teachers receiving at least 49 hours of professional development in a six to twelve month span could expect to increase student achievement by approximately 21 points. This is a staggering figure. There isn’t a school in this country that would not want to increase student achievement by 21 points. So, what is holding us back?

Below are some tips for making professional development work for your school.

1. Make learning part of the school culture. Professional growth should not be an afterthought. It should not be something that is done once a month to meet the district requirements. Every adult should be expected to, and desire to grow for the sake of helping the students. School leaders need to make this part of the vision of the school, it should be central to everything that happens on a daily basis.

2. Make it work for everyone. If we are to shoot for 49 hours, then we need to be proactive in helping teachers find the time. Schools would have to dedicate 1.36 hours per week (in a 36 week school year) to meet the 49 hour goal. One way that our school is creatively meeting the needs of our teachers is by moving our professional communities online. Using Edmodo, we have given our teachers the ability to use any available time to connect with others and grow.

3. Remove the obstacles. The time that teachers have with others is limited, don’t fill that time with mundane details. Use department and staff meetings to learn and grow together. When you have your staff together use the expertise in the room to help everyone grow. If you are standing in front of your staff giving information that could be sent via email, you are wasting a precious commodity, time together.

4. Make it relevant. Ask teachers what they need to become better. Then ask your teachers what training/expertise they can offer to the staff. Encourage teachers to try new things, become experts, then train others. The extra incentive/pressure of teaching others is a great motivator.

It is easy to point to the teachers as the main force behind student test scores and achievement. But what effect does the principal play on student achievement within his or her school?  There have been many articles and studies done over the past twenty years that have investigated the relationship between good leadership and student performance.  It is my intention to highlight a few of the findings.

When I was in the classroom, I felt as if my students’ scores were solely my responsibility. I put a lot of pressure on myself to prepare my students. Now, as an administrator, I feel the same pressure for my students to do well on the upcoming state assessments.  In both cases, I was correct. Teachers and school administrators play significant roles in student performance. Walter, Marzano, and McNulty found that principal impact accounts for 25 percent of the student learning.

As school leaders, we must do all that we can to grow professionally so that we take full advantage of the 25 percent impact that we have.

In a recent publication, the CALDER Urban Institute published a study on principal effectiveness.  They condensed their findings into five key points.  I would strongly recommend reading the entire article (it can be found here).

Because I’m passionate about working is high need schools with a high population of at-risk students, I found point five extremely compelling.  It stated that the variation in principal effectiveness is roughly twice as large in high-poverty and low-achieving schools.  This means that my role as a school leader is much more needed and influential at a low performing school.

The Wallace Foundation released a study in January that outlines the role of school principal as leader (it can be found here).  The authors listed the five functions that a good school leader does successfully.

  • Shaping a vision of academic success for all students.
  • Creating a climate hospitable to education.
  • Cultivating leadership in others.
  • Improving instruction.
  • Managing people, data and processes to foster school improvement.

They found that the real payoff comes when individual variables combine the above functions harmoniously throughout the school.  When all these factors combine, the school and students will be successful.

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