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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.  


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.

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.

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

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.

When the iPad came out, many hailed them as the future of education. Since then, Apple has done a lot to position themselves as the solution to school technology.  With the announcement of iBook textbooks, they are focusing even more on the education sector.  While I’m not super excited for the prospect of textbooks on the iPad (see below), I think iPads offer limitless solutions to the classroom.

Our school recently purchased our third cart of 30 iPad 2s.  Since their purchase, the first two carts have been used almost daily.  I’ve seen students in the hallways, outside, on the floor, and just about every other place possible working on projects for class.

The iPads are not solving any of the major problems in education, but they are engaging students in a way that they enjoy.  I believe that it is our job to make school enjoyable, fun, and relevant to our students.  If we can do this, while teaching content, we will ensure the success of a larger percentage of our students.

When I go to conferences or workshops, it is common practice to see almost every educator on an iPad.  They are ubiquitous with professional growth.  We need to offer that same opportunity to our students.

Yes, iPad are “sexy” and sleek and in the words of our students “awesome”.  But they are also functional, practical, and useful in any type of classroom.

And by the way, yes some of them will break.  It is a natural consequence of usage.  This cannot stop us from putting expensive technologies in the hands of our students. We purchase simple silicon covers from for $3.24 per unit.  They are cheap and prevent the iPads from sliding off the desk.

The reasons that I don’t like iBook textbooks.

iTextbooks will probably not save money over paper books. They cost $15 per year and must be repurchased each year.  If the student is assigned an iPad, then the textbook must be purchased for each student enrolled in that particular class.

Although iBooks allows teachers create textbooks, they will only work on iPads.  While this doesn’t sound terrible, we must think to the future and not bind ourselves to one brand of technology.

The issue of copyright must be brought into the discussion.  Very few educators are originators of content (This isn’t a bad thing).  We recycle and repackage ideas and materials to meet our students needs.  If we do this while authoring an iBook, who is responsible for the infringement of copyrights?

Now, more than ever before, we have a huge pipeline of information at our fingertips.  While information is great, we need to be able to use it effectively in order to impact what is happening in our schools.  School leaders need to find ways to siphon information from this pipeline without being overwhelmed.  Once found, we need to put that information to use.

Technology gives me access to a network of resources.  For example, my iPad has changed how I consume information.  There are so many apps that make consuming topic-based information easier.   One of my favorite apps is Zite; a personalized magazine for your iPad.  It compiles news articles and blog posts from the categories you specify.  Some of the categories that I follow are education, leadership, e-learning, and technology.

An RSS feed is a great way to get daily updates from all the blogs that you like to follow.  It is way too tedious to individually go to each site.  An RSS feed will collect the daily posts into one place for you to catch up as often as you like.  Google Reader is a great place to start.  If you aren’t sure who to follow, click here to subscribe to the same feed that I use.  By no means is it totally comprehensive, but it is a good place to start.

What do I do with this info?  Use it now by putting into practice what I learn, share with staff or other professionals, or store in Evernote so that I can get to it later.  Evernote has provided me with an online storage system for all of the articles and sites that I come across.  Later, when I need to find an article, I can search my Evernote account and easily have access to all the resources that I’ve collected.  Here is a blog post from “The 21st Century Principal” on how school leaders can use Evernote.  Eduleadership Radio, a podcast by Justin Baeder has a show dedicated to “Evernote for Administrators“.

The first step to plugging into a PLN is getting access to resources and learning what others are doing.  The next step will be taking a proactive role in your network of professionals.


I have updated the Google Form that I use.  Click here for most recent post and version of this form. 

Using Google Forms for teacher observations is not something that I thought of.  Many schools are currently using Forms as a way to easily and quickly record data from teacher observations.  The advantage is of using a Google Form is that it compiles all the data into a spreadsheet which allows school leaders to quickly and easily see trends in the school’s classrooms.

School leaders need to examine why they use walk through observations.  I believe, that any good leader will tell you they are used to help teachers grow professionally.  If that is the case, we must provide timely, authentic, and pointed feedback.  The old school method of walking around with a clipboard, then filling out the form, making a copy of it, giving a copy to the teacher, filing the school copy away in a file (most likely to never be seen again) is definitely not the most effective method.  At the same time, collecting data into a spreadsheet for the school leaders to use, but not providing that data to teacher is equally ineffective.

This is where my Google observation form comes in.  This form has a built in script which will send your responses to the teacher for immediate feedback.  The form is completely editable, so that you can change it to accommodate your needs.  For example, if your school is focusing on using literacy in every classroom, you should add a question that records if that teacher was using reading strategies.

Click HERE for the spreadsheet (you will need to be logged in to a Google account).  Make a copy of the spreadsheet and rename it for your purposes.

I love my job. I am an assistant principal of a middle school in North Carolina. There isn’t a moment in my day that I am not; doing something, thinking about what else I need to be doing, or stressing about things that I have yet to do.

Below is a typical day (there is no such thing) in my school. Each day looks different, but on average, this is what I do an a daily basis and why I do it.

7:00 Arrive at school. During this time I say hello to office staff, check emails to make sure there aren’t any pressing tasks, and check voicemail from the night before.

7:30 Greet buses. I think it is very important to welcome the students to school each morning with a smile. I’m a morning person, so I like seeing tired middle school students stumble off the bus in the morning.

8:00 Make announcements. This is my opportunity to practice my improv skills. I have a rough outline of what I’m going to say, but usually I start my sentences without knowing how I’m going to end them. My favorite is making up a sentence on the spot for the word of the day. Only once this year did I not know how to use a word. This was a great teaching opportunity to show students that I am still growing and learning.

8:05 – 9:00 Make rounds. I try to step into as many classrooms as possible. Once again, being visible is extremely important. It is a good idea to see what classes have subs and if the teachers need anything.

9:00 – 11:45 Office time. This is when I get the majority of my office work done. Usually I sit down with my principal and plan out the day and talk about any major issues that need to be addressed. This is my chance to call parents, handle discipline, and do paperwork. As a teacher, I often didn’t think about all the behind the scenes work that goes into something as simple as an awards ceremony. In order to successfully pull off a one hour awards ceremony to celebrate students who made honor roll, the following must happen: compile list of students who made honor roll, get list to teachers, create a schedule that shifts class periods, communicate with cafeteria staff to move lunch times, find placement and supervision for students who aren’t invited, and lastly, order 282 ice cream sandwiches.

11:45 – 1:40 Lunch and recess duty. Once again, being visible is one of the most important roles of an administrator. Discipline rates have plummeted since my principal and I made it a point to be at lunch and recess every day. I’m the type of leader that will not ask others to do something that I am not willing to do myself. Lead by example.

1:40 – 2:40 Last minute stuff. During this time I get bus passes to students, deliver positive referrals, and handle discipline referrals from earlier in the day or lunch (yes even with supervision, some middle schoolers will break rules at lunch).

2:40 – 2:55 Bus lot. Every day I get out to the bus lot to talk with bus drivers. I recommend that you take the time to make sure they are supported too. Also make sure students are on the correct bus and once again provide supervision to all. I really like being the first and last person that our students see on campus.

3:10 – 5:30 (or later) Everything else. Walk the building; stop by classrooms to check in with teachers. Various meetings: whole staff, PBIS, PTO, Leadership, Technology or any other variety. Finish projects that didn’t get done during the school day.