Collecting feedback from stakeholders is essential for the growth of your school.  Learning what you are doing well, and what you could be doing better is a great practice for any leader.

In January, my principal and I sat down with every teacher in the building and discussed four topics.  This was not an opportunity for the administration to give feedback, but rather to listen to what the teachers had to say.

The four questions we asked were;

-What is going well in your classroom?

-What is one area you want to focus on in your classroom?

-What is going well in the school?

-What do we need to focus on schoolwidel?

We listened and took notes of everything the teachers had to say.  Then using Wordle we created visualizations of the teacher feedback.

As a visual learner, I would much rather look at information than read it.  This also makes it easier to spot trends in what people are focused on.

In the future, I plan on using Google Forms to conduct the survey so that I can just cut and paste responses into Wordle.

Learning from our teachers provided great feedback as to what we need to focus our efforts on as we finish this year, and plan for the next.  The experience also helped build community and trust with teachers.

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 Monoprice.com 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?

I write this post after sitting through three days of professional development.  The county that I work for asked that we send a team, thus we did. Prior to attending, I was looking forward to learning new methods of helping our students learn and grow. Unfortunately, I learned unintentional lessons from those presenting.  Here are a few pointers for myself and other professional development presenters.

1. You don’t need to prove your value, we trust you. You’ve already proven your value, which is why I’m taking time from my school and attending your seminar. You don’t need to give stories of your teaching career and how great you were. I’m attending your workshop, because I believe you can offer me tools, information, or strategies that will help me reach my students more effectively.

2. Use the best resources that you have. There were approximately 75 educators in the room, perfect for networking and sharing ideas.  Unfortunately, this did not happen.   Instructional leaders need to put the materials into the hands of those who will be using it. Then, let the professionals work together to plan implementation. This will give teachers comfort with using the new tools while providing support from the experts.

3. Practice what we preach. We ask our teachers to get away from standing at the board and lecturing. Yet, when we attend PD, that is typically what happens.  How are our teachers supposed to get away from lecturing, if we never expose them to anything else?  Use the format of the training as training itself. We can teach others about any number of topics in a format that will give them exposure to a new way of teaching.

4. Read your audience. It is appalling to look around and see a room full of disconnected, disengaged, distracted audience members.  I’m not disappointed by the audience’s behavior, but rather by the fact that the presenter continues as if everyone were paying attention.  As part of my teacher walk-through observations, I look at what percent of the students are engaged.  If a huge portion of the class is not engaged, I have to ask myself if the teacher is effectively engaging the students.

5. Don’t let them leave empty handed.  How many times have you gone to a workshop, and thought “I can’t wait to try that”?  Weeks and months go by, and you still haven’t put anything you learned into practice. At that point you’ve forgotten what it was that you wanted to try. Give the learners time to create a lesson, or plan a unit that incorporates one thing from your workshop.  Make them use their time to do something productive.  That will increase the odds that it will get used.  If you are really on top of it, you will have the participants record what they plan on using and their contact info.  In a few weeks you can send them an email asking them how it went in their classroom.

6. Respect the clock.  NEVER hold a group late.  If you are not finished, invite those that wish to continue the conversation to stay longer, but never require everyone to stay past a set time.  If anything, reward hard work with an early release.  The people will leave on a positive note, and remember your PD in a much better light.

Working as a first year administrator, I’m always looking for opportunity for professional growth.  My daily drive is about 25 minutes each way.  Thus, I have time to listen to plenty of podcasts.

Eduleadership >> Radio – Justin Baeder Justin interviews school administrators to bring you the best ideas for leading your school.  I have really enjoyed listening to Justin and his guests.  Each episode, he talks with other tech driven school leaders and shares their best practices.  There hasn’t been a post since October, of 2011; hopefully he’ll get back to posting some new shows soon.

EdAdmin – Part of the EdReach network, the EdAdmin show highlights the ideas and insights from the innovative administrator’s point of view. Hosted by Chris Atkinson, who does a good job bringing together creative and well spoken administrators to talk about relevant topics.  My only complaint is that there have only been three episodes so far.

Practical Principals – This is most definitely my favorite educational podcast.  Unfortunately they stopped recording April, 2011.  With the tagline “What you didn’t learn in grad school”, Melinda Miller and Scott Elias, do a great job of sharing their insight into the profession.  They are both technology driven, and creative in the way they manage their schools.  Their chemistry is great and really fun to listen to.

NPR Topics: Education – This isn’t really a show, but rather a collection of NPR stories that week that apply to education.  I enjoy keeping up with education news, but when I listen to other podcasts on my drive, I can’t tune into NPR.  The shows are typically 10 to 20 minutes long depending on how many education pieces they aired that week.  This is a great way to keep on top of educational news and policies.

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 started using Jing over the summer, and have found countless uses for it personally and professionally.

Jing can be used to create a screencast or a screenshot.  Screenshots can be drawn on and annotated to highlight information, or give more detail.  My number one use of Jing has been giving teachers a visual guide to something that would normally be a long list of steps. Below is an example of a mid-year review that I needed my teachers to sign off on.  Rather than create word based instructions, I sent this Jing.

Teachers found it to be very useful, and it exposed them to a new tool they could be using in their classrooms.

Jing also allows users to create screencasts.  I use screencasts all the time to walk users through more complicated computer processes (see screencast below in my post on using Google Forms for walk-through observations).  The free version of Jing allows for up to five minutes of recording.  This seems like a lot, but five minutes goes quickly.

I hope you find Jing as useful as I have.

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.