Tuesday, April 9, 2019

From Ordinary to Extraordinary: Tamara Letter, ITRT

One of my favorite things to do over spring break is to catch up on a “must read” book recommended by other educators. While it’s sometimes difficult to carve out reading time in the midst of other activities with my three children, I make it a priority for my self-care.

This year I dove into The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. The title alone intrigued me because I am passionate about making memories in and out of the classroom, as I’m sure many of you are as well. How is it that some moments have a greater impact than others? I couldn’t wait to find out.

Early in the book, I was struck by a story where relevance and innovation took center stage in transforming a previously apprehensive situation into one that created a long-lasting positive experience for a child.

Doug Dietz, a General Electric industrial designer, had worked tirelessly to design a new MRI machine for a children’s hospital. After two years of preparation and iteration, he eagerly awaited the day when his machine would be put into use.

There was only one problem that Dietz didn’t anticipate: the machine he designed and the environment in which it was used were downright horrifying to a child walking through the door. The machine was menacing, the room was sterile, and no amount of coercion could convince the child that the experience would be pleasant.

In his quest to make an efficient machine, Dietz had focused solely on the content - the MRI machine - not the big picture of the experience itself. He regrouped and formed a panel of stakeholders who could offer a child’s perspective. This “design thinking” team offered suggestions to make the experience of getting an MRI more positive, even fun, for children of all ages.

This process resulted in the creation of the GE “Adventure Series” where rooms were transformed into jungles or islands and MRI machines were customized to play off a child’s imagination, either as a canoe or pirate ship. Great efforts were made to create an engaging experience for children and the data showed positive results with the number of children needing sedation for the MRI dropping from 80% to 27%.

“You can be the architect of moments that matter.” This quote jumped off the page as I reflected about my own teaching practice and collaborations with teachers across the district. As we enter the final quarter of the school year, are we creating moments that matter or simply going through the motions? How are we designing our lessons to create an atmosphere of wonder and intrigue? Is it possible to weave in the elements of intentional surprise while still staying true to our academic expectations for student achievement?

In one word: Yes!

When we make things a priority, they get done. When we brainstorm and collaborate with others, they get done even better. Take a moment and think about a lesson you teach or an initiative you lead from a student or parent perspective. Does this insight shift your planning to create an experience your students won’t forget?  

In my recently published book, A Passion for Kindness: Making the World a Better Place to Lead, Love, and Learn, I shine a spotlight on dozens of teachers and school leaders who are creating memorable moments for their students through the lens of kindness. Teachers like Kate Lapetino, a fourth grade teacher in Wheeling, Illinois whose students practice their written and oral communication by creating kindness videos for others, show how we can take ordinary elements of instruction and make them extraordinary moments to remember.

When we reflect on our teaching practice, and dig deep to evaluate our efficiency and success, we realize the power we have to create equitable learning experiences for our students that soar above the typical and mundane. We truly can create moments that matter!

Today, I encourage you to embrace the purpose that pulled you into education. Wrap your heart around those you serve and remember that you were chosen by Hanover County Public Schools to make a monumental impact on each and every student who walks through the doors of your classroom and school.

Become a maker of moments. Celebrate not only the goal achievements, but the great strides made along the way. Rework a standard lesson into something students never want to end. Join together with those who uplift and inspire and create moments of elevation for your students.

Together we can achieve the unimaginable and lead by example for our students and staff. Let’s dive back into our work with renewed exhilaration and end the year as strong as it began!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Fun Friday-Lessons from a Kindergarten Classroom: Courtney Goodloe, Kersey Creek Elementary

Vivian pulls me to the side during recess on Thursday and whispers, “Ms. Goodloe, I can’t wait for you to see my fancy dress tomorrow for Fun Friday!” Nothing about Fun Friday requires extravagant attire, but Vivian’s excitement points to the special event it has become in our classroom. We abandon the regularity of our routines, stepping outside of normalcy with cross-curricular activities that spark creativity, joy, and usually a little bit of a mess. I often hear from colleagues and friends that I’m lucky to be able to teach Kindergarten because we have so much more time and freedom for fun. Although I adore the open minds and unfettered excitement of Kindergarteners, I don’t think that having fun at school is just for our youngest learners. Let me take you through a Fun Friday in hopes that you might find a way to join us in the joy. 

Fun Friday always kicks off with a visit from our 4th-grade book buddies. We squeeze in tight to fit all 47 students on the carpet. We read Strictly No Elephants, a heart-warming story about a little boy and his pet elephant who are rejected from the neighborhood pet club. He bands together with the other kids who have misfit animals to create their own pet club, open to all. As we read, Melanie noticed how the illustrator used darker colors when the character felt left out and brighter colors when he was happy. Tucker noticed that the story structure offered both a problem and a solution when he commented that the boy helped all the misfit animals by creating a new pet club. Sebastian understood the author’s purpose as he observed that we can be friends with people who are different from us.

Then, we sent the book buddy pairs off to their STEM challenge: create your own pet club tree-house. As I tiptoe around the pipe cleaners and popsicle sticks covering the floor, I am amazed how Melanie and Stacy apply their knowledge of animal habitats to create a slide for their seal to exit the tree-house. Danna, a language learner, tries out new vocabulary as she tells me about the pool they built on the roof for their octopus. As I talk with each pair, I see strengths and skills in my students that I would not have seen had we spent the morning in our usual Daily five centers. I see them strategizing, building and problem solving, skills that sound more like a resume than a report card. 

Next on the schedule is our guest reader! Sutton’s mom reads The Pink Refrigerator. As she reads this family favorite, Shaye notices an onomatopoeia. Mason notices the elements of fiction as he comments that it is a magical refrigerator because a refrigerator can’t fill up with different supplies by itself. Most of all, students end the read aloud with a round of applause and a booming “Thank you!”. We’ve engaged literacy skills, practiced respectful listening skills, and built a love for reading. 
In math, we complete the Oreo Challenge. Small groups of students work together to create the tallest, free-standing stack of Oreos. As each tower falls, students count and record the number of Oreos their team was able to stack. A few students start talking strategy about balanced placement and a straight stack. I hear Marcos defending his group’s tower as the tallest because he knows that 16 is greater than 12. Many students are comparing quantities and practicing writing their teen numbers. It is also a great opportunity for students to practice one-to-one correspondence as they push and count their Oreos. All students, regardless of their level of experience, have the opportunity to engage in mathematical thinking. Fun Friday activities like this give all students an access point and a successful learning experience. 

We wrap up our Fun Friday by rewriting the end of our shared reading text, The Wheels on the Bike. We giggle as we brainstorm all the ways we could end this story about a ragtag group of animals on their way to the circus. Jayden comes up to add his newly acquired sight word into our interactive writing piece. Bayleigh adds “way” to our text, noticing that it has the “ay” vowel team, just like her name! Then, we pull out the paints, and each student creates an animal or a piece of the setting to add to our mural. We proudly hang our writing on the wall and re-read it together,
solidifying our collective identity as authors and illustrators. As we walk out to buses, I hear students continuing to generate more verses for the wheels on the bike, mimicking the familiar pattern of the wheels on the bus song. These students have not only applied their letter-sound knowledge in writing but also transferred their understanding of a patterned text to create their own verses. Even after the bell has rung, these students are choosing to engage in learning. That’s exactly why Fun Friday matters. When learning is fun, it isn’t something that is contained in the four walls of our classroom.

There is little independence and lots of energy in a kindergarten classroom. I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t tired by the end of the week, but Fun Fridays refresh and revive all of us. Students enter with the expectation of excitement and engagement. As a teacher, it challenges me each week to plan activities for them that allow them to apply their learning in a variety of contexts. But, all of the preparation is worthwhile as I see five-year-olds engaging in the skills they will need as 25-year-olds. Armed with qualities like flexibility, creativity, and cooperation, I know these little humans will make tremendous impacts on our world. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Directly from our Students: Dr. Bob Staley and Mr. Michael Mudd, Directors of Secondary and Elementary Education

Prior to the Grand Opening of the 2018-2019 school, we facilitated a panel discussion for our new teachers consisting of students representing K-12.  The activity was unscripted and unfolded very organically – As you can imagine, our students were a hit!  More importantly, they provided our new teachers with outstanding guidance to help them prepare for the Grand Opening of the 2018-2019 school.   

The themes that emerged during our time with the students are as follows:

1.       Students like teachers that are nice – The students explained that “nice” teachers are those that smile, care about them, get to know them, make sure that all students are learning, and are passionate about teaching and their subject area.  Many of the students provided examples of teachers who went “above and beyond” to build trust and ensure that they were successful.  Simply put, our students want strong relationships with their teachers.       

2.       Our students want to be engaged in and make connections with their learning – Students want rigorous experiences and expect our teachers to challenge them and support them throughout the learning process.  Specifically, students want teachers to “get to know them” and to provide them with individualized and equitable learning experiences.  Simply put, our students expect us to serve them in a way that addresses their unique learning needs.   
3.       Students want learning to be fun – A few examples include incorporating movement, using outside learning spaces, lots of hands-on activities, and opportunities to engage in experiences that will prepare them for real-life.  In their own way, the students shared that they want a variety of activities, better use of technology, more opportunities to collaborate with their classmates, and to stretch their learning.  Simply put, students want learning to be relevant and engaging.   
4.       Students expect teachers to be professionals – We repeatedly heard from students that the learning expectations should be clear, that assessments should be graded in a timely fashion and include meaningful feedback, and that teachers need to address behaviors that impact the learning environment.  Simply put, our students expect teachers to be organized, communicate effectively, and to provide an amazing learning environment. 
5.       Students expect us to serve them using the best practices and learning tools available – Closely linked with 1, 2, 3, and 4, the “nuance” is that students expect those that serve them to be “up to date” as professional educators.  Simply put, our students expect all of us to be innovative in our approaches to teaching and learning.  In other words, we can’t keep “doing what we’ve always done.”
It is important to recognize that the student voices echoed those that served on the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Panel, aligned with the findings articulated in Dr. Gill’s Post-Immersion Report and the goals of our Long Range Plan, and support and validate our continued division focus on Relevance, Equity, and Innovation

Why are we sharing student perceptions with you, and why are we sharing them now?  As we begin the second half of our school year, it is important for each of us to reflect on our practices and our impact on student learning and outcomes.  Therefore, as we engage in continuous growth as professional educators and as a member of a learning community, we encourage you to reflect on the following questions:

·         How do we hold ourselves accountable for teaching in more Relevant, Equitable, and Innovative ways?         
·         What opportunities are we providing for student voice and choice, for students to conduct authentic presentations, and for students to engage in meaningful collaboration?
·         How can we best continue learning from each other through peer observations, debriefings, and reflections?
·         What does our data tell us?  What are the trends?  How do we get “better” at analyzing and interpreting our student performance data? 

The answers to those questions are uniquely personal, but also involve conversation and collaboration as a member of a team (grade level, subject area, school improvement, VTSS, department, etc.) and collectively as a member of a school community. 

Finally, what is our answer to the question, What if every child had a champion or a hero?”  Some may argue that it isn’t our job to be a “champion” or a “hero” for our students.  Others take great pride in being a hero or a champion for the children that they serve.  If you are unsure of your answer or you want to learn more about the impact we can have on our students, then we encourage you to take 8 minutes and watch the TEDTalk “Every Kid Needs a Champion” by Rita Pierson: https://www.ted.com/talks/rita_pierson_every_kid_needs_a_champion  

Thank you for all you do to provide Relevant, Equitable, and Innovative learning experiences for our students and your focus on continuous professional growth and school improvement.

We wish each of you a wonderful second half of the school year!

Michael and Bob

Thursday, January 3, 2019

A Tribute to Educators: Remarks from the 2018 Hanover Education Foundation Gala

Teacher of the Year, Sara Salvato's, Remarks:
Good evening! I am so honored to be here tonight alongside so many phenomenal educators and community supporters. As a third generation graduate of Hanover County Public Schools and a first generation college graduate, I am extremely honored to have been chosen as the 2019 Hanover County Public Schools Teacher of the Year.  I think it speak volumes to the incredible educators that I encountered while attending Hanover Schools, several of whom are in attendance tonight.  But I cannot take all of the credit for this award--it isn’t about me. It’s about the community that we have created in Hanover County to make sure that all of our students’ needs are met on a daily basis.

I am very blessed to teach in the Lee-Davis functional academics program.  You might be wondering, what is functional academics? Most of my students have intellectual disabilities and/or autism; however, I don’t see it that way.  I see students that walk into my room each day excited to learn and to build on the abilities that they have. I see students that have talents and dreams.  I see students that, even when they are having a bad day, can still make others smile.  I see students that push themselves to get better at things that are difficult for them.  When given the right tools, love, and support, students have the opportunity to be the best that they can be.

There are two programs that I am very proud of that have brought Lee-Davis together as a community.  These programs promote acceptance and inclusion within our school.  They also helped us earn recognition through the Special Olympics organization as Game Changers.  This award is given to schools that promote programs that encourage engagement, interaction, and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. 

The first is All-Stars Basketball and Cheerleading.  This program is sponsored by our Varsity Girls Basketball Team and our Varsity Cheerleaders.  All-Stars gives students in the functional academics program a way to represent Lee-Davis by being included on a sports team.  All-Stars typically is a six week season, and the students play three home games and three away games. Typically, when the games are played, the whole school attends.  My students particularly enjoy this because they can show off their talent on the court or sidelines! The students of Lee-Davis enjoy watching and cheering on my students so much that whenever one of our former students, Rashaad, would sink a shot, the whole school would join in with his signature cheer: Rashaad would run down the sidelines with both hands up yelling “Yes, Yes, Yes!”  This cheer has been adopted by our school and can be seen at many of our sporting events.  The students don’t do it to make fun of him; they do it in support of him!

However, the program that I am most proud of is our school based business called Salvato’s Potatoes, and not just because it is named after me (though my husband argues it’s named after him). The reason I am so proud of this business is the opportunity it gives our students. Salvato’s Potatoes, now a staple at Lee-Davis and Stonewall Jackson Middle School, is a student run school-based business that works with students with various abilities to give them the opportunity to obtain important vocational skills such as: communication skills, time management skills, leadership skills, mathematics skills, and culinary skills.  These skills enable students to be more confident and competitive for employment.  Students with disabilities have an extremely low employment rate.  In fact, the national employment rate for people with disabilities is 35% with Virginia’s rate slightly better at 37%.  Together, we are making an attempt to break this trend within our community. I am proud to share that the employment rate for the functional academics program at Lee-Davis is 95%.  Our business idea has been shared with others in the community and throughout the state.

I would like to encourage all of our business sponsors to take some time and visit our schools.  There are some incredible things going on in all of our classrooms.  Our kids love showing off what they are learning.  I would like to extend a personal invitation for you to come visit Salvato’s Potatoes for lunch sometime.  I can promise you won’t leave hungry.  

Not only am I a special education teacher at Lee-Davis, I am also proud of my contributions to the school community outside of the classroom.  In the evenings, I can be found out on one of the many athletic fields at Lee-Davis helping athletes and their coaches.  As an athletic trainer, I am responsible for the prevention of injuries, clinical evaluation, and diagnosis of injuries, as well as immediate care, treatment, rehabilitation, and reconditioning of  injuries.  While the job of athletic training seems fairly simple, it is very challenging--every day is different, and no two injuries are the same.  I am also the point of contact for athletic concussions at Lee-Davis; I advocate for student-athletes, communicate with their families, and assists students with returning back to the classroom and athletic fields as quickly and safely as possible.  Through my efforts, Lee-Davis was recognized as a Safe Sport School through The National Athletic Trainers Association and this past football season, our players were selected to promote having athletic trainers at every school by adorning Virginia AT decals on their football helmets. During the Fall season, which begins in early August, I spend hours upon hours with our football team.  On Thursday and Friday nights, I can be seen getting my steps in on the sidelines following the plays and crossing my fingers that everyone stays healthy and that no one goes down on the field.  At only 5’1” I always joke around with my athletes that they don’t want the fans to see little old me picking them up off the field for a cramp...and of course their answer is to always jump right up!  But in all seriousness when an athlete goes down on the field, I know that I have the trust of the athletes and their parents to make the right decision in how to help them. Hanover County is one of only a few school districts in Virginia that directly employs athletic trainers. This is an extremely important practice as student athletes have access to us during the day.  It also creates less turnover of healthcare providers in our schools, which gives us the opportunity to create relationships with athletes and their families.  

On behalf of all of the educators in Hanover County, I would like to thank our business sponsors and the Hanover Education Foundation for the support that they provide on a continuous basis to all of our schools in Hanover County.  I would like to give a special thank you to Mr. Owen Matthews, Mr. Scott Clemons, and the rest of Kings Dominion for sponsoring our table tonight.  I would also like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Michael Patrick and their employees at Patrick Buick GMC in Ashland for recently putting me in a beautiful 2018 Buick Encore.  I would also like to thank my amazing and supportive principal, Mr. Charles Stevens, who eight years ago saw something special in me and hired me to be a part of the Lee-Davis family. I would also like to thank my husband, Stephen, and my parents, Wanda and Rusty Edwards, all of whom never let me give up on my dreams.  Finally, I would like to thank the many families that I have had the privilege to work with over the last eight years as a teacher and athletic trainer at Lee-Davis! Hanover is a great community to live and teach in, and I couldn’t imagine teaching or raising my family anywhere else.  Thank you all for a spectacular and memorable evening.  

Superintendent's Remarks:
In late August, as has become our tradition, faculty of each building gathered to view the new school year’s convocation video.  As always, Mr. Brian Capaldo led a team who produced a professional quality video that was fun and engaging, but it also told a very important story.  This year’s theme was a simple two word question: “What If?”  As the opening narrative played out, students discussed the impact that teachers have had upon them and “what if” every child was able to experience the same positive impact from a relationship with a trusted adult.  We heard from teachers on their vision for being able to determine how each student learns best and then, in turn, being able to provide that differentiated instruction.  We were told that a little humor can go a long way, and finally if we worked to make our “What Ifs” a reality, then we would live up to our mission of inspiring, empowering and leading this generation of learners to do great things and perhaps to even want to become teachers themselves.

The truth is that we are fortunate to have students, teachers, administrators, support staff, parents, county leaders, business partners, and community members who make it their mission every day to make what if statements become “We Did It” realities.  I believe this is why Hanover County Public Schools continues to be a leader in public education. However, it is unmistakable that we live in divisive times, and during these times public education frequently becomes the target of critics.  Certainly, there is no institution without faults and our chosen profession is no different.  Nevertheless, I think it is important, now more than ever, that those who choose this profession feel empowered to describe the life-changing work that takes place in every building…every day.  Before I go any further, I want to reassure you that I do intend to spend time critiquing the critics tonight.  Rather, my intent is to highlight just a small fraction of the goodness that takes place within our walls and in our community by humble, dedicated, and talented educators that do it not to draw attention to themselves, but to strengthen our community.

Here a mere few of the many examples which have inspired me:

I’m inspired when I see students and teachers imagine, “What if we could make sure that every student is connected and has a friend at school” when our Carpentry program at The Hanover Center for Trades and Technology builds “Buddy Benches,” which in turn are decorated by Cosmetology students and then given to our local elementary schools, so that students can sit on them at recess when they want another student to befriend them and play with them.

Last year, a student at Hanover High School imagined, “What if we could give every student who suffers from anxiety and depression the resources they need to assist in battling increasingly common mental health challenges.  Through the assistance of administration and a visionary counselor that student is now making it her mission to reach every student at neighboring Oak Knoll Middle, while also running small groups and assisting students who need more intensive supports to know where to find them.

I’m inspired by the cafeteria staff at Beaverdam Elementary who wondered “What if taking just a few minutes to write encouraging messages on of all things a banana might brighten the day of the students who buy one.”  So they did…and students’ days became better.  Other nutrition services employees began a summer feeding program at Mechanicsville Elementary, this past summer, providing over 1,500 meals free of charge, in just 14 days of operation, to students and community members, as we collectively imagined “What if we could do our part to help prevent hunger in our community?”

Keeping with a similar theme, this fall, teachers at Patrick Henry High School teamed up with about 50 students to participate in Rise Against Hunger’s World Food Day and were part of breaking a Guinness World Record for most meals packaged in 5 minutes.

At Pole Green Elementary, 1st and 4th grade teachers have led their students in the “Village Project” to work on community service work for residents at a local senior adult care facility.  They took a field trip to play games, give out prizes, sing songs and bring good cheer to the residents. 

I’m inspired by The Georgetown School and Kersey Creek Elementary School, as they have partnered for a Mentorship Program. Each month, students from The Georgetown School visit a class at Kersey.  The students get to know each other and work on various projects for the community, including making care packages for Hilliard House, a shelter for mothers and their children who need a safe and supportive place to stay temporarily. The students work together to decorate bags with positive messages and fill them with snacks. The Georgetown School students gain leadership skills and a passion for serving their community, while our elementary students benefit from the positive modeling by our high school students. 

And I’m inspired by our Teacher of the Year, Sara Salvato, Special Education teacher at Lee-Davis High, who you will hear from later this evening.  For several years, she has run “Salvato’s Potatoes.”  Her students have learned invaluable skills including food preparation, math skills and interpersonal communication, all while spreading happiness and great food throughout the building.

So, here is my own “What If” challenge to all of you here tonight.  What if we found a way to celebrate the selfless, tireless work that these incredible educators engage in, not once a year, but throughout the year?  By doing so, we in turn celebrate the accomplishments of our children and the long-standing strength of our community.  What if our voices became a collective beacon of positivity, with a light brighter and more pervasive than the topics that divide us.  I cannot think of a better way to keep our community strong, to ensure our future economic security and to set an example for our children, than to support the educators who support them.

I want to thank each of you here tonight for your support and for your belief in the great work of Hanover County Public Schools.  And to our educators, thank you for being you and never, ever stop wondering, What If?  It’s the first step to making our world a little brighter.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Swiping Innovations: Jeremy Smith, Patrick Henry High School

As I look down and swipe the touchscreen of my new smartwatch, I am instantly reminded of how integrated technology is in our lives these days. Remembering back to my early days at Mechanicsville Elementary, I am reminded of trips to the library to use these things called “computers.” Now, two decades later, I’m carrying one around on my wrist. Watching students become absorbed into current technology has always fascinated me.  They are always finding more efficient ways to do things. They may not realize it, but they have access to an irreplaceable knowledge of these devices and the software that runs them, and with their help, Hanover County is going to see some major breakthroughs in technology over the next decade.

                Breakthroughs are happening every day, and in my second year of teaching English at Patrick Henry High School, I have witnessed this personally. The first day I reserved computers for my class, they came with a huge surprise. We opened up the doors of the cart and pulled the laptops out as we normally would. One by one, the students powered them on, each student carefully examining the device with which they were working. The first class noticed something peculiar about the laptops; they had a camera on the bottom. I will admit I initially had no idea why there was a camera on the bottom of a laptop. It was with true glee that my second class discovered the laptop could be folded in half and used as a tablet!

                Last year’s laptops were good, but there was something exciting about having a new set with touchscreens and extra cameras. Seeing the students flip the screens and scroll through word documents with a tap of the finger was one of those great moments in teaching where you know you’re reaching everyone in the room. Eventually, we began writing our essays and doing research for supporting strong arguments and theories, but that initial moment proved to me how important technology is to our students.

                Providing the most up to date hardware and physical technological innovations will always be a challenge, but providing the best software is equally as important. Things change on a daily basis, and we never know which smart board or tablet is going to affect student learning, but other integrated programs that improve connections and communication are what will matter more. Programs such as PowerSchool and Schoology are changing the way students can access their academic information in ways that have never been available. Students, parents, and teachers can all look at information in unison to ensure the best chance at academic success; along with those are other programs that can design entire houses or simply improve grammar while typing. Most importantly, these programs are providing students with exposure to the way computers will be utilized in their desired fields of employment.

                Real innovation though, lies not in hardware or software alone, but rather in how creatively and effectively they are used. By constantly updating knowledge and skillsets, teachers will be instrumental in helping students use all of the resources available to them. The tall task of being as integrated as the students must become is superseded by the necessity of delivering sound academic content. Though, both can be had with some creativity and a healthy amount of curiosity. By challenging ourselves to find different ways of doing things, we can open the doors for many different types of learners, making the pursuit all the more worth it.

                It is impossible to predict what technologies are going to be the most important to future generations, as they will be the ones to invent and perfect those innovations. Thankfully, I can report without a doubt that students are getting what they need. Little things like touch screens and academic software go a long way in providing relevant learning, and when I am able to synthesize classroom content into a technologically driven lesson, I know the students are accessing worlds that might not otherwise be available to them.

When the time arises that they need to use technology, they will be glad to find a familiar space previously discovered in a high school classroom. These computers, from laptops to smartwatches, have become as natural to them as a walk in the park. My only hope is that we will continue to embrace technology for the benefit of academia, and help usher in a new group of young and successful citizens. By bravely implementing the most up to date and available technologies in and outside of the classroom, a new age of learning will truly be available to all.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Rethinking Assessment: Dr. Stephen Castle, Director of Curriculum and Instruction

John Hattie’s work has been in the spotlight for educational leaders for nearly a decade.  When he published Visible Learning (2009), many educators learned that we are not getting the bang for our buck on a lot of the programs we hold in high regard.  It was an eye-opening publication that pushed a lot of leaders to reflect on the work we are doing and to assess the impact we are making with students.  (For more on Visible Learning visit https://visible-learning.org) 

One of Hattie’s mantras is “Know Thy Impact”.  Much of what he is saying can be summed up with one question, and it’s a question I often ask when I visit classrooms; How do you know the students are learning what is being taught?  Can they discuss with you the purpose for learning and what they need to do in order to be successful?  These might seem a little beyond the scope of some of our learners, but that’s the point Hattie is making.  When our learners are truly connected to the learning environment, they know the answer to these questions.  They can tell you why the information is important and what they need to do in order to be successful in learning it.

This is the direction we are attempting to move toward with assessments.  For years we have discussed the limits of multiple choice only assessments, but now we have the opportunity to assess students differently than we have in more recent years.  It is likely that you have heard about authentic assessments, performance-based assessments, project-based learning, learning portfolios, performance tasks, or simply performance assessments.  These labels of assessment styles are simply telling us that students need a more genuine way to show the skills they have learned.  It is a much better way for us to know our impact or to understand the level of mastery that our students have achieved. 

Hanover County has already started to work on our own performance assessments as we look to replace state assessments with a more authentic assessment tool.  This is not easy work and because of this, the state has not yet given timelines for completion.  I say this to encourage you to take risks as you think of how you might determine each student’s mastery in your classroom.  How do you really know what they know, and what assessment can you create that lets them show you in an authentic manner?  Is there a challenge they can overcome because of your teaching?  Do you have a way to connect them to an expert in the field as a resource?  How can you remove barriers to let them go further?  Does the format of the presentation matter at all?  These are just a few questions you may wrestle with as you begin to think of new ways to assess the learning in your classroom. 

We have been blessed in our county to have all of our schools reach full accreditation once again.  This blessing is also an opportunity.  It’s an opportunity for you to dig deeper into the content.  It’s a chance to explore new methods of teaching as you focus more on what students need in order to grow.  When you know your impact, you know exactly where you are making a difference in guiding students to their learning goals, and you know where they need additional support.  As you reflect on where you would like students to be, push yourself to discover new ways to make this happen and new ways to determine the effectiveness of your instruction.  If you make small changes each year, big differences take place over time.  Imagine where you can be in just a few years from now.

Dr. Stephen Castle serves Hanover County Public Schools as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction.  Having served previously a teacher, assistant principal, principal, Instructional Technology Resource Teacher, Educational Specialist (Research), and Director of Professional Development and School Improvement, Dr. Castle has experienced many opportunities to develop his perspective about working with students.  Dr. Castle has worked in education for more than two decades and still loves finding new ways to challenge students to think creatively as they find solutions to new challenges.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Importance of Feedback

“Hey dad, watch this!”  That’s a familiar line that I often hear from my kids when they are trying something new or have mastered something they are proud of achieving.  Similarly, I can also remember as a teenager looking to make sure that my parents were in the stands at my soccer or basketball games.  Afterwards, I would always seek out my father in particular to ask him how he thought that I had done.  He was always honest, and while I wanted a good report, I respected the times that he told me that I still had work to do in a particular area.

In the classroom, students value feedback as well.  Like all of us, they want validation when they have worked hard to improve a particular skill.  However, while they may not readily admit it, most also want to know both what they need to improve and how to go about doing it.

In an article by Marianne Stenger featured in Edutopia (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/tips-providing-students-meaningful-feedback-marianne-stenger), she highlights the importance of providing students with feedback and offers these simple suggestions in order to be most effective in offering feedback:

1.      Be as specific as possible.
2.      The sooner the better.
3.      Address the learner’s advancement toward a goal.
4.      Present feedback carefully.
5.      Involve learners in the process.

When examined more closely, Stenger explains that well-intentioned comments to students, such as “Great Job” or “Not quite there yet,” offer little to no value.  Thus, specific feedback is key.  This is true whether the student has mastered the content or not.  For instance, if a student has done an outstanding job, be sure to explain why you are so impressed and do so in a timely manner.  Otherwise, research suggests that students will not put feedback into practice when provided many days or weeks after the assignment.

Students must also understand how your feedback will benefit them long-term.  Demonstrating the connection between your input to a specific learning goal or class goal can assist in making it relevant to future work.  Finally, as the saying goes, “It’s not always what you say, it’s how you say it.”  In this context, perhaps it is what you say, but how you present the information is equally important.  Feedback should be presented in a supportive manner and, in most cases, provided one-on-one.  When students perceive the advice as constructive, as opposed to controlling, it usually aids in their growth.

When reflecting on these strategies, I believe they can work in multiple settings.  Whether interacting with adults, students, or even your own children, we all have a desire to know how we are doing and how we can improve.  Next time you hear, “Hey watch this,” remember someone respects you enough to seek out your feedback.  Don’t miss the opportunity to provide it.