School Finds Music Is the Food of Learning

The principal, unsmiling in his jacket and tie, launched himself into the air, jumping up and down at the back of the gymnasium, waving frantically at more than 100 first graders as they rehearsed for their holiday concert.

Franklin Headley, the principal, was bouncing around to prepare the children for a room full of grinning, waving adults who would come to watch them perform the next day, and he asked the students not to wave back. A few giggles bubbled up from gaptoothed faces, but the students, partway through a cheery rendition of “I Got Rhythm,” kept on singing.

Calendars are awash this time of year in holiday-themed pageants, but the mainly straight-faced students crooning in that gym are much better prepared for the season than most. They are pupils at Voice Charter Schoolin Queens, where students learn to read music, execute complicated harmonies and play a little piano in the music classes they attend at least once a day, and where, far more than in other general education schools, they learn to sing, sing, sing.

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Replay Video

Finding Their Voice

At the Voice Charter School in Queens, students sing every day. It’s part of a curriculum that combines arts education and choral singing.

Video by Natalia V. Osipova and Ashley Maas on Publish DateDecember 19, 2014.Photo by Bryan Thomas for The New York Times.

The gym was standing room only for the performance the next night.

“Please don’t wave at your children,” Mr. Headley said to a room packed with whispered Spanish, head scarves and the occasional bindi. “We want them to be trained, competent musicians.”

Nonetheless, one first-grade boy, stage left during the performance of “I Got Rhythm,” waved furtively. And it would not be an event full of small children if someone did not throw up. Someone did.

Ultimately, these little disturbances were just fine, because Voice is not trying to train aspiring professionals.

“They learn how to be really good at something,” Mr. Headley said. “We believe that then translates into everything else.”

In an era of dwindling attention to the arts in public schools, Voice is now in its seventh year. Mr. Headley founded the school after learning that music and movement might improve language acquisition, he said, a concept he came across while he was studying at a principal training program calledNew Leaders. Voice started with kindergarten and has added one new grade each year; it expects to reach its full complement of kindergarten through eighth grade in the fall.

Today, the school has just shy of 600 students spread between two buildings in Long Island City; one of them used to be a Catholic school. Bells from St. Rita’s Roman Catholic Church, right next door, chime throughout the day. Seventy percent of the students qualified for free lunch last year, according to city data. Like other New York charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, it admits students through a lottery. No one auditions.

Academically, students at Voice did significantly better than the city average on New York State math exams last year, with 70 percent of its students passing, compared with 39 percent citywide. Their English performance was less impressive, but with 39 percent passing, it still beat the citywide average of 30 percent.

The children, each in a uniform of a sky-blue shirt and navy skirt or slacks, are instructed to be quiet in the hallways and asked not to shriek during gym class, to protect order as well as their voices. But what really distinguishes the school are the sounds. Songs in English, Spanish, Japanese and German drift through the buildings, pens rhythmically tap against any convenient hard surface, and little bursts of music surface even where they are not meant to be.

“There’s a lot of humming, especially right after choir class,” Kate Athens, a fourth-grade teacher, said. “They’re not doing it to be disruptive; it’s just stuck in their heads.”

Humming aside, Ms. Athens, a fourth-year teacher who has never taught elsewhere, said the students appeared to learn skills in their music lessons that translated to her classroom.

“They learn to stick with something hard and breaking things down into steps,” she said. “And work together as a group at such a young age.”

All this pops especially brightly against the drab state of the arts in New York City public schools at large, where a report by the comptroller this spring found that spending on arts supplies and equipment fell by 84 percent from 2006 to 2013. The report also found that 20 percent of public schools had no arts teachers at all, and that the dearth in arts education was especially dire in low-income areas. The administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio has since increased arts funding and pledged to hire 120 new arts teachers in middle and high schools, where state law requires arts instruction.

Younger students at Voice usually have music twice a day, and older students once, on average. But so much time spent on music is not without its price. To make room for those courses, the school day is unusually long, from 7:55 a.m. to 4:25 p.m., which can be hard for small children (as a nonunion school, it has more power to set its own hours).

“The hardest part about school, I think, is that there are so many hours in the day, because after a while, everyone seems to get a little more tired, on edge,” said Delaiah Robinson, 11. “I live kind of far away from the school, so I get home pretty late.”

Karina Sinche, whose son Xavier, 6, is in first grade, said her son had no particular interest in music before applying to Voice, but after visiting the neighborhood public school — where the detail that most stuck in her mind was of a security guard napping — she decided to apply to Voice and several other charter schools.

“Now, when he’s walking around the grocery store, he starts singing,” Ms. Sinche said.

Like Xavier, most of the students at Voice do not come to the school specifically for its most defining feature, and some of them, Mr. Headley said, seem to stumble on the school entirely by accident.

“They’ll say, ‘Oh, I thought this was free music lessons.’

“They weren’t looking for us, but they found us,” he added. “Every year.”

Can positive student-teacher relationships improve math scores?

Pittsburg Post Gazette

More information on the importance of creating connections with students.
December 29, 2014

By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
If a teacher goes to a student’s basketball game, will that help the student do better in math?

It might.

With a National Science Foundation grant, Pittsburgh Public Schools has embarked on an effort to develop positive student-teacher relationships to help every student learn math. The goal is to reduce the gap in student achievement, sometimes called the racial achievement gap or the opportunity gap.

The project is called DEbT-M, which stands for Designing for Equity by Thinking in and about Mathematics. It is funded by a nearly $8 million, five-year NSF grant. The project lead is the nonprofit Education Development Center, based in Waltham, Mass. Also participating are the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. Duquesne University serves as the outside evaluator. Teachers are paid $30 an hour, up to 220 hours a year, for extra work.

In the summer, 35 teachers took part in professional development and this fall they began bringing the program to their classrooms. The practices are designed to work in any math curriculum.

The teachers are from 13 schools: Pittsburgh Brashear High School in Beechview; Carrick High School; Perry High School on the North Side; CAPA 6-12, Downtown; Obama 6-12 in East Liberty; Westinghouse 6-12 in Homewood; South Brook 6-8 in Brookline; South Hills 6-8 in Beechview; Colfax K-8 in Squirrel Hill; Faison K-5 in Homewood; and the Student Achievement Center in Homewood.

Tracy Johns, project manager for DEbT-M in the district, said the project looks at where math and educational equity for students intersect. “That’s our overarching question. What does that actually look like? How does culture play a part in what we see?”

She said that when children are not comfortable with their own identity in a classroom, “It lessens them as a learner.”

Some students may come to class with a negative attitude toward math, she said, sometimes from parents who themselves struggled with math.

There may be unconscious bias from the teacher, said Eden Badertscher, former math supervisor for Pittsburgh Public Schools and now a senior project director at Education Development Center.

She said a teacher might talk to an African-American or Latino student who is struggling and suggest an “easier” problem. But this may convey a message that the student doesn’t need to be challenged.

That bias is particularly damaging in math because “math has been used more than any other subject as the gatekeeper or people saying, ’I’m not good at this,’ ” Ms. Badertscher said.

The emphasis of DEbT-M is on teacher development. Ms. Baderscher said the title reflects that “we owe our kids an education debt. The kids aren’t the ones that are underperforming. It’s the system, and it’s all of us that are essentially underperforming.”

Many of the participating schools are focusing on building student-teacher relationships as a way to help engage students, including South Brook where Rosemary Schmitt, eighth-grade algebra teacher; Bill Wolf, seventh-grade math teacher; and Cynthia Fisher, a special education teacher who teaches math in grades 6,7 and 8 are participating.

In Ms. Schmitt’s room, one wall displays the calendar for school and outside activities her students participate in under the title “Come Watch Us Play.”

Ms. Schmitt has gone to the basketball games of eighth-grader Daniel Antantis of Carrick. Asked about the impact of teachers attending his games on his algebra, Daniel answered, “It’s always better to have support. They recognize I’m doing something I love and support me through it and are cheering me on to do better.”

In teaching the math, Ms. Schmitt said the approach considers each student as an individual and encourages them to feel part of a community.

“I’ve gotten to know my kids. My connections are deeper,” Ms. Schmitt said.

Each math student has a notebook made of graphing paper, not lined paper, so they are always ready to graph. Ms. Schmitt hands out lesson plans in advance so students are ready to start when they enter the room. Students take ownership of their work. Her posted list of classroom expectations includes “laugh” and “be helpful.”

On an in-service day for all teachers before the start of school, the three teachers organized a scavenger hunt for their school’s staff in the neighborhoods served by South Brook. On the hunt, teachers had to visit community landmarks and take selfies. A bulletin board in the office shows pictures of the teachers out and about in students’ neighborhoods.

“The stronger relationship you have with the students a lot of the time motivates the student to want to do well in your class,” said South Brook principal Jennifer McNamara.

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.

4 Reasons Why “Innovation” in Education is Different Today

Connected Principals

I have been extremely thankful of the feedback and comments that I have received on the ideas I have written about on innovation in education.  Sharing my thoughts openly, has helped me to shape my thoughts about the topic and why it is important in education.  I really think in education it is more than a “buzzword” now, but we are still struggling to understand what it means for most schools.  The wrong approach is assuming that “innovation” is simply a substitute for the word “technology”; education technology leads have become “innovation officers”.  The title has changed but has the approach?  In some cases it totally has, while others it is not the case.  To me, it is about learning new ideas and creating something new and better for kids.  Sometimes it is invention (a totally new idea) and sometimes it is iteration (remix of an old idea), but it is always better.  That is key to “innovation”.

One of the most important thoughts that has shaped my thinking was from Kelly Christopherson who really pushed the idea that there have been “innovative teachers” long before our present time in schools, and I would totally agree. I remember one of my teachers discussing world wars, and instead of just teaching us about the past, he actually immersed us in activity where every single decision we made either lead to peace or conflict.  That sparked my love for history but it immersed me into a much deeper appreciation for learning.  There was no use of technology, no Internet, but just a better way of teaching and learning that I had not experienced as a student.

So why is innovation in education moving to the forefront?  There are a few reasons that I can think of but I would love for your thoughts as well.

1. Access to one another. – The power of social media is not in the sharing of information but the connection to one another.  For innovation to happen in any field, it is important that there are places where people can connect easily one another, often referred to as “spikes”.  A “spike” is a congregation of people coming together that are in a similar field, like Silicon Valley for startups, Nashville for country singers, and so on.  Social media has provided that “spike” for different fields (specifically in this case education) where we can come together to share ideas and build upon the ideas that we bring to one another.  For innovation to happen culturally in education, a “spike” is essential.  People drive innovation. Always.

2. Unlimited access to ideas. – In university, every book I read was on the topic of education.  My guess is that many of the same books I read in my courses were similar to the ones that other students were reading in different programs.  Now though, we do not only have access to practicing teachers and educational thought leaders (who are not only researchers, but are present in every aspect of the field), but we also have access to a huge amount of people outside education at our fingertips.  Those ideas can be reshaped and applied to education in much easier way than a time when that access was limited. We need to take advantage.

3. Schools as a whole need to get better.  – One of my favourite quotes on change from William Pollard is, “Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change is inevitable.”  With the world outside changing, schools need to help our students become leader in a world that expect a lot of different things from when I was a kid.  It is not that there aren’t great things already happening in schools.  For example, relationships will be the most important thing in schools yesterday, today, and tomorrow, but that is only a foundation of our institutions.  If the world is asking for people to be innovative and think differently, schools can no longer shape students to all think the same.

4. Schools can see what other schools are doing. – This is not meant to put schools into competition with one another, but it is in a hope that we do simultaneously and push one another.  Other than the occasional face-to-face interactions educators had with each other, it was hard to really hear about what was happening in other schools.  Now with so many educators sharing what is happening, there is (and should be) a pressure to do create better learning opportunities for our students.  From what I have seen, the majority of schools are not trying to contain this and make it exclusive to their students, but to share and collaborate with others to help students, no matter where they attend.  We will always serve a diverse community of learners and the more we can help each student, the better we all are.

As Kelly reminded me, innovation is not isolated to what we do in our schools today.  We just now have more of an opportunity to move it from “pockets of innovation” to a “culture”.  The access and tools are there, we just need to embrace them.

5 Critical Questions for the Innovative Educator

Connected Principals

Technology is a crucial part of what is happening in the classroom, and whenever a new hardware or software comes out, educators are thinking, “How could we use this in the classroom?” Although we should have different ways and options to reach all students, we far too often start thinking about the “stuff” instead of what our students need. For learning to be “student-centred”, then our questions should often focus on the student experience in the classroom.

Here are some questions that can help us create new and better opportunities for our students in their learning:

1. Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?

In my experience teaching professional learning opportunities, one of the hardest audiences that we can teach are educators. They have truly high expectations of their own learning, not only because they create those same environments for their own classroom, but their time is limited. Educators always have things that they could be doing, so if the professional learning is not engaging and meaningful, we often start thinking about all of the other things that we could be doing with our time to help our students.

These high expectations are something we need to tap into for our students. If we asked this question and started to empathize with the experience our students have in the classroom, it would really help us think about learning from their point of view. For example, if worksheets were handed out in a professional learning opportunity, some teachers would be bored to tears, yet do we do the same thing to our students? That type of learning is not about what is better for kids, but what is easy for teachers. We have to try and think about the experience from our student’s perspective.

2. What is best for this student?

When I think about my experience in school, I had some amazing teachers, but I don’t know if I really understood the way that I learned most effectively. I remember later on in school and university, that I would write notes from my teacher and go over them later (which would never actually happen) not because that is what worked for me, but that is what every other student did. Again, this was more about the teacher than the student. It is important to not only think about the perspective from the class as a whole, but to know each student and what works for them.

How do they learn best? What are some ways that they can show their learning? For example, if a student is trying to share their understanding of any curriculum objective, is writing it down every time the only way they can show what they understand? Could they create a video, share a podcast, create a visual, or something else? There are different ways that kids can learn so it is important that we not only know that, but they know it as well.

3. What is this student’s passion?

When I was in school, I remember constantly being asked to read novel after novel, even though it was not something that I found interesting. I know it important that in school we are exposed to different things, but I was never once asked to read any non-fiction in school, even though that is what I was interested in most. It was near impossible to get me read to a novel, but at any point in a day, I would head off to the library and read every Sports Illustrated that I could get my hands on, cover-to-cover. This is something that should have been tapped into in my school experience.

Relationships are the foundation of every great school, so we need to learn more about our students and what they love, and tap into them, One of the best experiences that I have ever had in school as an educator was “Identity Day”, where kids would share things that they loved outside of school in a type of display or presentation. There was such an enthusiasm to share their interests, and it is important that from this knowledge, we help to create better experience for our students that taps into these passions.

4. What are some way that we can create a true learning community? 

I remember once hearing someone say, “Why is it that when kids leave school, they have a ton of energy, and teachers are tired? Why is not the other way around?” The reality is, we often create experiences that students become dependent upon the teacher for learning. What would be beneficial for not only our students and ourselves, is if we can have them tap into the expertise of one another, not just the teacher. Things such as blogging, edmodo, google apps, and using twitter hashtags in the classroom, help us to open our students learn from one another. We need to embrace the idea that everyone in our classroom is a teacher and a learner, and tap into this community, especially in a world where we can learn so much from networks.

5. How did this work for our students?

At the end of the year, I would always ask for feedback from my students on my teaching. This would really help improve my teaching for the next set of students, but did nothing for the kids that were in my classroom that year. Getting feedback often throughout the year, not just in the form of grades, but through conversations, both open and anonymous to ensure our students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, helps us to reflect on how we are serving our students that in currently in the classroom. Reflection is a crucial part of becoming a better educator and learner, and should be a process that we embrace as teachers so that we can also see the benefits of reflection in learning for our students.

Again, to create new and better opportunities for our students, it is important that we empathize with the experience of our students and try to understand what it is like to be a learner in our classroom. Teachers need to be experts in learning first, before they can be truly effective teaching. Just because a pencil or a computer works for us in our learning, doesn’t mean that it works for each student. We have to remember that each kid is different and unique, and the more we know about them as learners, the better they will do. But it is also important that through this experience, it is not only teachers that understand how their students learn, but the students themselves. After their time with us, if they have a deep understanding of how they learn, they will be able to continuously grow after our time with them. That is a true measure of teacher effectiveness.

Dear Parent: About THAT Kid

Huffington Post

Posted: 11/17/2014 
ABOUT THAT KID

Dear Parent:

I know. You’re worried. Every day, your child comes home with a story about THAT kid. The one who is always hitting/shoving/pinching/scratching/maybe even biting other children. The one who always has to hold my hand in the hallway. The one who has a special spot at the carpet, and sometimes sits on a chair rather than the floor. The one who had to leave the block center because blocks are not for throwing. The one who climbed over the playground fence right exactly as I was telling her to stop. The one who poured his neighbor’s milk onto the floor in a fit of anger. On purpose. While I was watching. And then, when I asked him to clean it up, emptied the ENTIRE paper towel dispenser. On purpose. While I was watching. The one who dropped the REAL ACTUAL F-word in gym class.

You’re worried that THAT child is detracting from your child’s learning experience. You’re worried that he takes up too much of my time and energy, and that your child won’t get his fair share. You’re worried that she is really going to hurt someone someday. You’re worried that “someone” might be your child. You’re worried that your child is going to start using aggression to get what she wants. You’re worried your child is going to fall behind academically because I might not notice that he is struggling to hold a pencil. I know.

Your child, this year, in this classroom, at this age, is not THAT child. Your child is not perfect, but she generally follows rules. He is able to share toys peaceably. She does not throw furniture. He raises his hand to speak. She works when it is time to work, and plays when it is time to play. He can be trusted to go straight to the bathroom and straight back again with no shenanigans. She thinks that the S-word is “stupid” and the C-word is “crap.” I know.

I know, and I am worried, too.

You see, I worry all the time. About ALL of them. I worry about your child’s pencil grip, and another child’s letter sounds, and that little tiny one’s shyness, and that other one’s chronically empty lunch box. I worry that Gavin’s coat is not warm enough, and that Talitha’s dad yells at her for printing the letter “B” backwards. Most of my car rides and showers are consumed with the worrying.

2014-11-14-amy_murray_.jpeg.size.xxlarge.letterbox.jpeg

But I know, you want to talk about THAT child. Because Talitha’s backward “B”s are not going to give your child a black eye.

I want to talk about THAT child, too, but there are so many things I can’t tell you.

I can’t tell you that she was adopted from an orphanage at 18 months.

I can’t tell you that he is on an elimination diet for possible food allergies, and that he is therefore hungry ALL. THE. TIME.

I can’t tell you that her parents are in the middle of a horrendous divorce, and she has been staying with her grandma.

I can’t tell you that I’m starting to worry that grandma drinks…

I can’t tell you that his asthma medication makes him agitated.

I can’t tell you that her mom is a single parent, and so she (the child) is at school from the moment before-care opens, until the moment after-care closes, and then the drive between home and school takes 40 minutes, and so she (the child) is getting less sleep than most adults.

I can’t tell you that he has been a witness to domestic violence.

That’s OK, you say. You understand I can’t share personal or family information. You just want to know what I am DOING about That Child’s behavior.

I would love to tell you. But I can’t.

I can’t tell you that she receives speech-language services, that an assessment showed a severe language delay, and that the therapist feels the aggression is linked to frustration about being unable to communicate.

I can’t tell you that I meet with his parents EVERY week, and that both of them usually cry at those meetings.

I can’t tell you that the child and I have a secret hand signal to tell me when she needs to sit by herself for a while.

I can’t tell you that he spends rest time curled in my lap because “it makes me feel better to hear your heart, Teacher.”

I can’t tell you that I have been meticulously tracking her aggressive incidents for three months, and that she has dropped from five incidents a day, to five incidents a week.

I can’t tell you that the school secretary has agreed that I can send him to the office to “help” when I can tell he needs a change of scenery.

I can’t tell you that I have stood up in a staff meeting and, with tears in my eyes, BEGGED my colleagues to keep an extra close eye on her, to be kind to her even when they are frustrated that she just punched someone AGAIN, and this time, RIGHT IN FRONT OF A TEACHER.

The thing is, there are SO MANY THINGS I can’t tell you about That Child. I can’t even tell you the good stuff.

I can’t tell you that his classroom job is to water the plants, and that he cried with heartbreak when one of the plants died over winter break.

I can’t tell you that she kisses her baby sister goodbye every morning, and whispers “You are my sunshine” before mom pushes the stroller away.

I can’t tell you that he knows more about thunderstorms than most meteorologists.

I can’t tell you that she often asks to help sharpen the pencils during playtime.

I can’t tell you that she strokes her best friend’s hair at rest time.

I can’t tell you that when a classmate is crying, he rushes over with his favorite stuffy from the story corner.

The thing is, dear parent, that I can only talk to you about YOUR child. So, what I can tell you is this:

If ever, at any point, YOUR child, or any of your children, becomes THAT child…

I will not share your personal family business with other parents in the classroom.

I will communicate with you frequently, clearly, and kindly.

I will make sure there are tissues nearby at all our meetings, and if you let me, I will hold your hand when you cry.

I will advocate for your child and family to receive the highest quality of specialist services, and I will cooperate with those professionals to the fullest possible extent.

I will make sure your child gets extra love and affection when she needs it most.

I will be a voice for your child in our school community.

I will, no matter what happens, continue to look for, and to find, the good, amazing, special, and wonderful things about your child.

I will remind him and YOU of those good, amazing, special, wonderful things, over and over again.

And when another parent comes to me, with concerns about YOUR child…

I will tell them all of this, all over again.

With so much love,
Teacher

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Principal

by  • December 11, 2014

I was recently asked by a superintendent if I had some questions to ask his principals to start off the year.  The questions I gave him were based on the following areas:

  • Fostering Effective Relationships
  • Instructional Leadership
  • Embodying Visionary Leadership
  • Developing Leadership Capacity
  • Creating Sustainable Change

In my opinion, the principal is probably the most important job in an educational organization.  There are many studies that reiterate this, but I think it is that they have the most authority closest to kids.  It is not to say that teachers aren’t important; they are absolutely vital.  But a great principal will help to develop great teachers, and a weak principal will do the opposite. They also tend to push great teachers out of schools, although most of the time unintentionally.  Bad leaders tend to drive away great talent.  A great teacher can become even better with a great principal.  As the very wise Todd Whitaker says “when the principal sneezes, the whole school gets a cold.”

Even though the questions were developed for superintendents to ask principals, I think that they should be questions any educator, parent, and even student should be able to openly ask their principal.

1.  What are some ways that you connect with your school community? (Fostering Effective Relationships) – When asking a principal this question, it is important to look for answers that go beyond the basic answers like staff meetings, emails, etc.  I would look for answers that go above and beyond what is expected.  For example, one of the best principals that I knew spent every morning welcoming staff and students to the school at the main doorway.  He would ask questions about their family, talk to them about their lives, and get to know them in a much deeper way than what was expected.  Although this principal has been retired for a few years, many of his staff refer to him as legendary because of the way that he would go above and beyond connecting with kids and community, before and after school.

2. What are some areas of teaching and learning that you can lead in the school? (Instructional Leadership) Covey talks about two important areas for leaders; character and credibility.  Many principals are great with people, yet really do not understand the art and science of teaching, or have lost touch with what it is like to be in the classroom.  Although a leaders does not need to be the master of all, they should be able to still be able to walk into a classroom and teach kids.  They should also definitely be able to lead the staff in workshops that focus directly on teaching and learning.  If teachers understand that a principal understands teaching and learning, any initiatives are more likely to be seen as credible in their eyes.

3.  What are you hoping teaching and learning looks like in your school and how do you communicate that vision? (Embodying Visionary Leadership) – There are many leaders in schools that often communicate a BIG PICTURE of what schools should look like, but can’t clearly communicate what it looks like for teachers and students. It is important to be able to discuss elements of learning that you are looking for in the classroom.  Not only is important to hold this vision, but to help develop it with staff and be able to communicate it clearly.  Many new educators walk into schools thinking that “quiet and order” are the expectations for classrooms, so even though they are doing some powerful work in their classrooms that looks quite messy, they are worried that it does not fit in with the vision of their boss. Due to this, many will often try to tailor their work to look like what they think the principal wants because they really don’t know what is expected.  Having a vision is important but clearly communicating and developing that with staff is also essential.

4. How do you build leadership in your school? (Developing Leadership Capacity) – Many principals are great at developing followers, but fewer are great at developing more leaders.  There has been this notion for years that you do everything to keep your best talent at all costs, but in reality, it is important to figure out ways to develop people, even if that means they will eventually leave. Great schools have become “leadership” hubs that they are continually losing great people, but they often get a reputation of being places where leadership in all areas is developed, which actually tends to attract some great people.  Wouldn’t you want to work with someone who is going to try to get the best out of you? There is a great quote that I’ve shared before (paraphrased) on this exact topic.

Many leaders are scared about developing people and then having them leave.  They should be more worried about not developing people and having them stay.

Again, great leaders develop more leaders.  What is your plan to make this happen?

5. What will be your “fingerprints” on this building after you leave? (Creating Sustainable Change) This has been a question that was asked of me years ago by my former superintendent, and has been one that has always resonated.  What she had shared with me is that she should be able to walk into my school and see the impact that I have had as the leader of the building.  This is not to say we throw out what the former leader has done, in fact, quite the opposite.  Great leaders will not come into maintain the status quo, but will bring their unique abilities to a school that will help them get to the next level.  They will build upon what has been left, but they will work with a community to ensure that their impact on a school lasts long after their time serving the community.  This where all of the other questions above truly come together, but it takes time and dedication to make it happen.

The old notion is that teachers and students are accountable to a principal is one that is dying (thankfully).  Great principals know that to be truly successful, it is the principal that is accountable and serves the community.  They will help create a powerful vision but will also ensure that they do whatever work is needed to be done to help teachers and students become successful.  I encourage you to talk to your principal, no matter what your role, and ask her/him their thoughts on some of these questions provided.

20 tips for putting Google’s 20 percent time in your classroom

eSchool News

Posted By Stephen Noonoo On December 8, 2014

2 innovative educators share tons of tips for creating innovative, inquiry-based classrooms in only one day a week

google-time[1]Originally pioneered at places like 3M and HP [2], Google’s vaunted 20 percent time, which lets employees spend a full one-fifth of their time on passion projects, has spawned everything from Gmail to Google News. Now it’s gaining ground among educators who are carving out a chunk of their already-limited time with students to work on innovative inquiry-based projects that resonate on a deeper, personal level.

AJ Juliani, an ed tech innovation specialist at Upper Perkiomen School District in Pensburg, PA, piloted 20 percent time three years ago when he taught High School English at his former school, and since then, he’s authored Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom: Using 20% Time, Genius Hour, and PBL to Drive Student Success [3], and created a free course for teachers [4] on his blog. Kevin Brookhouser, a high school English teacher at York School in Monterey, CA, has also run 20 percent time projects in his classroom and recently finished writing a book about his experiences, called The #20time Project [5] after raising money through a Kickstarter campaign.

Recently, Juliani and Brookhouser shared their top tips for getting started, overcoming obstacles, and creating something students find truly meaningful.

1. Dedicate One Day A Week
When he began 20 percent projects in his classroom, Juliani decided to dedicate every Friday to the project, instead of 20 percent of each class day, which he found insufficient. “I wanted to give them the ability to get into that state of flow [6],” he says. “Giving them 10 minutes a day, they were never going to get into that.”

2. It’s Not Just for High School
Twenty percent projects can be used in any subject, and with any grade or skill level. “I’ve done genius hour at the elementary level all the way to doing it with teachers so it doesn’t really matter the level,” Juliani says. “It’s more or less how you’re structuring or framing it to what that actual subject or grade level is.”

3. Set Your Own Parameters
As English teachers, both Juliani and Brookhouser knew that students would be hitting standards just by virtue of all the speaking, listening, reading, and journal writing they’d be doing. For other subjects, they suggest setting parameters on a subject-by-subject basis. Math teachers, for example, might require students to do accounting or use equations to solve project problems.

4. Start With Interests
“Passions sometimes is a big word” for students, says Juliani, who began the project by asking students to name their interests instead. “Whether high school or middle school or elementary students, they don’t have passions, but they have interests.”

5. Inspire Students With Great Projects
Over the years, Brookhouser’s students have worked with local architects to develop an eco-friendly dream home, started YouTube communities around teen fiction books, began an Instagram account (@CookThat [7]) encouraging girls to cook and have healthy relationships with food, created their own games using Java, and more.

6. Use 20 Time to Improve the Community
Brookhouser uses his 20 percent time to foster student engagement within their school and community. “I first want my students to focus on their audience rather than their own personal passions, and filling a need that’s out there,” he says. Once they tap into that need, “I think the passion comes as a product of that.”

7. Find Projects That Pay
For students that struggled even to find an interest, Juliani got creative juices flowing by challenging students to turn a profit. “I had a couple students that did projects where they were trying to make money and that’s what drove them. If you get students to choose a project they care about or are interested in the rest of it goes much more smoothly.”

8. Get Students Thinking Like Entrepreneurs
According to Brookhouser, “increasingly, no matter what position anyone takes, students who enter in the real world need to think of themselves as entrepreneurs, even if they end up working at an organization or a big corporation. We all need to solve problems in an innovative way, and that’s really the big goal.”

9. Group Projects Work Well
For the most part, Brookhouser encouraged students to partner up for their projects. “They can do so much more together working as a team,” he says. “And in the real world generally we work in teams.” Likewise, groups can be used in younger grades to get students with similar interests collaborating with each other.

10. …Solo Ones Do, Too
Juliani, on the other hand, had students work individually. But instead of isolating students, it actually brought the class closer together, as they became interested in each other’s projects and their personal interests. “One of the side benefits was the kids learning more about each other through this project and also me learning more about my students,” he says.

11. Let Students Pitch the Class
Both Brookhouser and Juliani hold formal “pitch days” where students present their project idea via PowerPoint, with Juliani even fashioning his after the popular elevator pitch show Shark Tank. “They got four slides: what they were learning about, why they chose it, what they were going to do, and how they were going to measure success,” he says.

12. And Let Students Give Feedback
During the pitch-day event, Juliani encouraged students to share their feedback on each other’s projects. As a result, “so many students upped what they were doing,” he says. “It was like positive peer pressure.”

13. Think Practically About Projects
“As a teacher you’re going to have to become much more active to do two things: challenging the students to push themselves a little bit and then also reeling some students back in who are maybe going above and beyond,” says Juliani, who adds that students can always continue a project with new goals in the next semester if they want.

14. Be Flexible
At some point, students will likely have to tweak their projects. One year, a group of Brookhouser’s students aimed to break the Guinness World Record for the world’s longest continuous BBQ. But after consulting with Guinness the students discovered they were too young to compete. Instead, they took the work they had done and turned it into an event to feed the homeless. “In the end, they felt really great about the work that they did.”

15. Connect With Professionals
Brookhouser has gotten a lot of support for the project from local businesses and expertslike doctors and architectsvia mentorships, where the professionals lend their expertise and their time to students. “I think a lot people recognize the value of participating in the education of young people,” he says.

16. Create Something Tangible
At the end of each semester Juliani’s students must have something to show for their work. It could be a report or a presentation, or something more creative. He recalls one student who used her time to learn American Sign Language to communicate with a deaf niece. For her final project, “she got up at the end of the presentation and she performed a song in Sign Language.”

17. Keep Track of Student Progress
In addition to a final presentation, Brookhouser tells every student to blog about their projects as a means of keeping him in the loop. “They include an image and that’s how I keep them accountable for what they’re doing,” he says. “I use that as a tool to keep them motivated.”

18. Some Sacrifice Is Necessary
Even though Brookhouser ultimately had to give up some of the traditional literature he usually taught, he says the trade off is well worth it. “On some level it’s painful to give up anything, but what my students are producing instead in that time is nothing less than inspiring,” he says.

19. Tech Helps, But Isn’t Required
“It’s much easier to let students explore when they have technology,” Juliani says. “They can reach out to mentors online, they can watch videos–they have so much more opportunity to learn on their own…. We’ve done it in classrooms without technology, but it really amplifies it.”

20. Share Your Success
For his final presentations, Brookhouser doesn’t just let the class listen in, he invites parents, younger students, community leaders, and media to attend. “They all have five minutes to present,” he says, “and that’s their opportunity to shine. The fact that they know they’re going to be presenting their work to others, including their peers, keeps them motivated to do their best work.”