Sunday, November 24, 2013

Google Summit in Arkansas

I AM Thankful for

     The Google in Education Arkansas Summit took place this weekend on the Conway High School campus. Wow! Just Wow! The pure joy of being part of a PLN is in the connection. This weekend, I saw just a couple of Tweets talking about #GIESummit in Arkansas. I literally said "OH MY Goodness! How could I have missed this amazing opportunity?"  So, I quickly responded to a Tweeter @davidjhinson from Hendrix College,  +Hendrix College to ask if I could register late and still attend. David was kind enough to ask the Google staff, if it was even doable. The answer was yes!

     Thankful to be allowed to attend a Google Summit, I thought nothing of ponying up the money for such an  amazing opportunity in our state. (Thanks to Dan Taylor for helping with the registration process.) This morning, I drove up to Conway and sat in on the lovely Keynote, "What's on the Horizon" by +Lisa Thumann, @lthumann.  Each session I attended built upon previous knowledge. The presenters were Google teachers/trainers familiar with the burning brains of educators. They kindly repeated steps and helped us along the way.
     I continue to be convinced that the education sector must simply unleash their students.
We must allow our students the freedom of research, creation, and yes, even expression. Our students walk our halls with powerful computing devices hidden/or not hidden in their pockets and backpacks.
Why stand in their way? Why must they hide or not use their powerful devices. The reality is that they are using them regardless of school rules. A quick scan of the users of Snapchat, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, and other sharing services clearly proves that the students are using these during the school day. Why not engage our students' nimble fingers in the work of education, instead?

     Many educators are fearful of technology. Will Smith's character in After Earth said, "Fear is not real. It is a product of thoughts you create. Do not misunderstand me. Danger is very real. But fear is a choice.” Educators need to understand the potential danger with students globally interacting with technology. But, they need not be stymied by fear.  Arkansas teachers should be very thankful for Google and the leadership of the CPSD for bringing a Google Summit to Arkansas!  The good news is that CPSD has already agreed to host the event next year! Plan ahead to attend!

Don't feel left out! Feel free to peruse the program and presentations!
#GIESummit in Arkansas Program
Published Arkansas Summit Resources

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Formative Assessment: Dylan Wiliam


     Formative Assessment is continually buzzing through educational circles. It is particularly loud in  #SBGChat led by Dr. Darin Jolly, @DrJolly.  Last week, I had the pleasure of attending three sessions on Formative Assessment by the renown Dr. Dylan Wiliam, @DylanWiliam, at the Arkansas Public Schools Resource Center's Fall Conference, #APSRC13.  Dr. William led me to Tweet rather voraciously. He began by suggesting that educators need to stop arguing about what is and what isn't formative assessment. Ultimately, it is using information to adapt the learning to put the learning back on track. It is constantly making adjustments.
Why was I so engaged?  He was saying things that I knew would help our students and teachers achieve their goals. He was reinforcing ideas that we already knew, but had changed, or drifted away from toward newer ideas. The best teachers have always used formative assessment-even if they don't vocalize that they do. We must encourage our teachers to adapt to their current students by using formative assessment to provide timely feedback. We must stop the cycle of teaching/testing ad infinitum. Our students should receive nonverbal, verbal, and written feedback so that they can attain their goals.

So what is formative assessment?

Using evidence of achievement to adapt what happens in classrooms to meet learner needs

Dr. Wilam's work can be found on his website.  He freely provides his presentations, papers, podcasts, blog, and resources.

Our Cluster has ordered Dylan Wiliam's Professional development DVDs on Formative Assessment. It is professional development worth sharing.

More  videos are available at

What is your school doing with formative assessment?

A few of my tweets are available below.

  1. Mock tests do less to prepare students to raise achievement. Have the students write questions and answers
  2. PD should include choice, flexibility, accountability, support, and small steps
  3. Failure=plan b. plan ahead for your reaction to failure Rally the herd

  1. "we need to help existing teachers get better."-Dylan Wiliams
  2. We should share whee we are going with students. But, we may not always know. Sometimes it spoils the journey.
  3. "the best teachers have always used formative assessment"
  4. best formative assessment teachers are using it every 5 minutes.
  5. "improve the effectiveness of existing teachers. It can be done."
  6. says one additional year of school = 1.7 years longer life

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Teacher burn out/turnover

This year, perhaps more than any other year I am hearing teachers across the country voicing their fears about burning out.  These fears are coming from experienced teachers who are considering giving up the ship in the face of the rising tide of changes.

1.  Federally mandated changes to teacher evaluation systems that MUST include test scores
2.  Test prep for the next generation of online tests for CCSS. (PARCC has not produced a practice test, yet schools could be accountable for the scores on the field test this spring)
3.  Still being accountable for a state test based on frameworks that have been replaced by CCSS.
4.  Technology demands of CCSS despite lack of current technology in many schools.
5.  Prep time lacking for making these important changes

While the new teacher attrition rate has been high in recent years, with 46% of new teachers leaving the profession within 5 years, experienced teachers are also expressing burn out fatigue at an alarming rate. Poor, rural, and inner city schools tend to suffer the most.  Burnout as defined by  Susanne Carter (1994) is "physical, emotional, and attitudinal exhaustion that begins with a feeling of uneasiness and mounts as the joy of teaching begins to gradually slip away."

Schools need to encourage their teachers to find a healthy balance between their teaching lives and their lives outside of school to prevent the rising tide of stressful changes from washing these experienced teachers out of our schools. During this Connected Educator month, we need to consider what it means to be continually connected to our work at home, at the ballpark, and at other times and paces when we should be seeking rest and balance instead.

Disconnecting is difficult. Perhaps we need to discuss this important topic within our schools.  Is this a topic discussed in your school?

Carter, S. (1994). Teacher stress and burnout. Organizing systems to support competent social behavior in children and youth. Eugene, OR: Western Regional Resource Center. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

#edcamp reflections


Today, I had the joy of attending Arkansas's first Edcamp.  It was hosted by UCA in Conway, Arkansas.
I looked forward to finally meeting face to face with colleagues from the Twitterverse.   (@smith5987: @DaisyDyerDuerr @sabrapro @AudraKimball, and @lconley86) It was great to meet so many #arkEdChat tweeps! It was akin to meeting a relative for the first time-Comfortable, yet slightly disconcerting.  :D

As a beta tester of the first Edcamp, my curiosity was piqued, but my expectations were low. Luckily, Michael Mills, @aquiamigo, wonderfully organized the day. The opening was low-key and allowed the participants to ease into the day.  Once the schedule was set, Michael organized a full scale rock, paper, scissors event. We met many of our colleagues, moved throughout the room and cheered for our winners, as we paraded toward the final battle. Fast, furious, and friendly competition that got us all on our feet and mixing with our colleagues. What a heart pumping way to begin the day! We then decided which of the 16 sessions we would attend.

In reflection, this is a wonderful set up for a day of school based professional development. Simply place a few important sessions on the schedule and then add in suggested sessions (especially those with teachers stepping up to facilitate!). I liked the  4 x 4 block. 4 different sessions for each of 4 scheduled time slots. Two were before lunch, and two were after lunch. I can see how this would allow/encourage our teacher leaders to step up and share their knowledge. I can also see how this might help encourage them to apply to be presenters at conferences. Allowing teachers to vote with their feet and move freely to the session that best fits their own needs sounds ideal.

This year, Arkansas is fully implementing a new evaluation system based on the Danielson Framework. TESS-Teacher Excellence Support System. Each teacher creates a professional growth plan and develops a plan for their own PD based on their own specific needs. They are then formatively observed on these PGP identified areas for growth. Keeping their PGP in mind, they can suggest a session/ offer to facilitate a session for the school based PD.

Has your school or district attempted an Edcamp? Are you willing to share your best practices? 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Grit-lurking to learn more about the research behind GRIT

AP Annual Conference 2013 Keynote: True Grit-Angela Lee Duckworth

     Our Cluster is very interested in helping all of our students attain/develop the resilience and grit needed to gain admission and to be successful in college. To be honest, most of our students will attend college. We have high expectations for our students. We are not, however, a "No Excuses" school.
     Our student population, as a public open enrollment charter school, differs only from the local school districts in that we are  schools of choice. Our parents choose every morning to bring their students to our schools. We do also provide city bus passes. So, our parents have grit. They made the choice and stick to their choice daily for the educational benefit our Cluster can offer their children.
Our test scores tend to be above the state and regional scores.  We desire to continue to encourage our students to strive for their own personal success.
    LISA Academy Cluster, under the direction of APSRC, is implementing Dr. Jane E. Pollock's GANAG lesson planning format to use research-based neurological best practices with our students. We know that all students can learn-but that the students must do the work to achieve their dreams.  With this in mind, my mind was piqued by  Educational Leadership, Volume 71 Number 1 regarding resilience.  We need students who can stick to it, who can stay the course. The majority of our AP students have this ability. Our regular students, are quite a different story. They have learned to be persistent in ducking assignments. They have learned to function as a pack. Both of these are useful skills, but will not help these students achieve the fruitful life of their dreams.
     I began my journey into Grit by reading Angela Lee Duckworth's interview in Educational Leadership regarding grit. I committed the time to re-view the entire 45 minute AP Conference Keynote. It was well worth my time. In addition to the myriad data sets that we currently use to inform the educational decisions in our cluster, we also need to seriously implement  research-based psychological best practices with our students. This Keynote was well worth the 45 minutes. Our AP and regular teachers will view this video for professional development. Grit is defined by Duckworth as "perseverance and passion for long-term goals,"  which is exactly what our Cluster desires for our students.
     What is your school doing to encourage grit with your students? What are your best practices?
Please share.

Perkins-Gough, D. (2013, Sept). The significance of grit: a conversation with Angela Lee Duckworth. 
      Educational Leadership. Retrieved from

Thursday, August 22, 2013

First week of school 2013-A simple question.

I've have the privilege to serve as the Cluster of Director of Curriculum. Huh? I lead the development and implementation of curriculum across 5 campuses in Central Arkansas. I spend 2 1/2 days on each side the Arkansas River at LISA Academy. This is a thrilling time for LISA Academy. It is a thrilling time for me, personally. After 7 years on the West campus in a variety of positions, I am now straddling the river (perhaps unfortunate phrase) serving 5 schools on two different campuses.

Our first week continues to be inspiring. Our triad of passionate teachers, parents and students have made this first week of this year very satisfying as an educator. Our teachers on both sides of the river have spent the summer creating common units and common assessments so that LISA Academy can become even more data driven. Watching colleagues begin/continue to collaborate for the good of our students has been heartening.

Having worked in a 6-12 school for 8 years, I am especially enjoying spending time on our elementary campus. The smallest darlings and their parents kept me smiling all day on Monday.  I am truly blessed by this experience. Bouncing between similar, yet divergent campuses is a challenge, but it helps keep my eye on the importance of the Triad of passionate teachers, parents and students.

My question is simply. How does your campus keep the passion level high?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Summer Melt-alleviated through the use of Social Media

This spring, our HS alumni were asked to prepare to be peer mentors for the current seniors who were about to become graduates. Our graduates have a Facebook page and a Twitter account. The Facebook page was used for the post below.

"Peer Mentors for our class of 2013
Nationwide 40% of students intending to go college change their minds during the summer.(
As the new graduates begin joining this group, please reach out to them and encourage them-expecially if they will attend your college. Help them maneuver through the process of beginning college.
They will begin joining the week of graduation."

As is the spirit of our students, several chirpped right up to volunteer to peer mentor our graduates who would attend their specific university. Today, after reading "Summer Melt" in the Blog, I posted the article for our graduates, and reminded them to check in on their fellow graduates. Together, our graduates can prevent the dreaded summer melt by supporting each other. 
 While we won't know the summer melt statistics for our graduates until the fall, I know that by simply encouraging them to reach out and support each other we've taken steps that will help. 

Some colleges are extremely proactive regarding summer melt.Hendrix College  @hendrixcollege continually sends mail (weekly! sometimes with small gifts!) to incoming students and parents and invites the parents to attend orientation-all in a huge effort to alleviate summer melt.

What steps do your schools take to minimize summer melt? by Alejandra Ceja