Creating Educational Balance

Wellness

What is educational balance? There certainly are different interpretations of this among cities and towns throughout the United States and in other countries. What should students know and be able to do in order to be college and career ready? The Wellness Model above is commonly displayed in wellness classes. It is divided into various components and basically illustrates a person should try to reach optimal levels in each area to attain optimal wellness. If someone concentrates too much in a few areas, the balance may be off and that individual may be deficient in other areas throughout their life.  An example is a person may be wealthy and physically fit but have poor social and emotional skills. Well-Rounded Students

As educators, we have a responsibility to help students reach their full potential as human beings not just academically. This is a monumental task that takes a collaborative effort between schools, parents/guardians, and communities. Getting everyone on the same page is a difficult task but it starts with a vision, having difficult conversations, and being open-minded. As an educator, I believe it is crucial for students to be well-rounded and learn real-life skills. If certain subjects are emphasized as being more important because of specific state required tests, we then begin the process of tipping the scales to create curriculum that reflects this. Shouldn’t a comprehensive curriculum also include character education, soft skills, financial literacy, the arts, and wellness? Time and Learning

 

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So why are there so many more incidents of mental health problems in schools today? Declining Student Resiliency Could it be stress levels are higher, kids feel overwhelmed by mandates, excessive testing, and are less resilient? Do too many adults try to keep them from failing to prevent lower academic averages, being cut from a sports team,  or not chosen for a musical/play. I would argue these certainly play a role in the increase in mental health issues in school. Learning how to keep fighting and never quitting will help develop GRIT in students. Learning needs to also be about the process of learning and not just the grade. Grades need to be skill based and reflect specific standards. Class participation and high homework grades do not help prepare students for college. Inflated high school grades will negatively impact students taking more rigorous college courses. Punctuality, interpersonal skills, working hard, collaborative problem solving, and empathy are essential for future student success. Rise in Child Mental Disorders

As a former athlete, I truly understand the dedication needed to play competitive sports. This same dedication is also needed for other high school extra curricular such as band, drama, and a host of other clubs. Anything worth doing takes dedication and commitment. Students should be encouraged to participate in as many extra curricular activities as possible that they are able to handle (this varies greatly among kids). It is selfish to influence a student to just focus on one thing when they only get one chance at high school. Very few will play major college sports or get a scholarship. Supporting students to try various activities helps them learn more about what they like or dislike. Parents and educators need to support their curiosity and help facilitate their growth. Why are kids quitting sports?

How can we teach students how to balance all of these things? I believe teaching time management skills, emphasizing persistence, and setting realistic goals is paramount in handling stress and achieving incremental success. Also creating classrooms that are fun, engaging, student centered, and allows for personalized learning helps create more curious learners that are willing to take risks and expand their horizons. Skills Employers Want

 

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Building Resiliency/GRIT in Kids

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It is a fact that educators are hearing the words positive growth mindset, GRIT, and resiliency a lot these days but what does it all mean? I don’t remember these words being emphasized so much several years ago so why now? As a child, it was instilled in me that hard work leads to success, and I was accountable for my actions which were not always positive. A phone call home meant that I was in trouble not my teachers or school administrators. It was not acceptable coming to school or work late, not doing my homework, and not studying hard. I learned that it was my actions that led to consequences. As a typical teenager, I certainly disagreed with certain decisions based on my actions, but I owned them and the adults in my life did not allow me to project them on to others. I wasn’t rewarded for not living up to certain obligations and expectations. Parenting and teaching students isn’t easy, but we must educate them about character and perseverance when things go wrong.

Students may want the best grade with the least amount of effort but what are the long term consequences for this? It seems there is a definite disconnect between  high schools and colleges. Many high school graduates need to take remedial courses because of sub par reading and writing skills. Is this because they are being passed through the system so graduation rates look higher than the actual skill level of the students? We have many hard working and bright students in the U.S. that compete on a world-wide level but many students are not reaching their potential. So what do colleges say about declining student resiliency?

We also have a huge increase in mental health issues and according to the 2014 Pisa Study, students in the United States are below average in resiliency>>Study on resiliency-student input. The definition basically is one’s ability to recover quickly from misfortune without being totally overwhelmed. An example would be a student gets a C on a test that they studied hard for, discussed it with his/her teacher, listens to feedback, and then proceeds to work harder or smarter to do better on the next test. Poor resiliency would be blaming everyone for this grade, shutting down, making hurtful statements, and not working hard to make necessary changes. Teachers often complain they feel pressured not to  give poor or low grades. Some do this to avoid any meltdowns or calls from angry parents which only enables the poor effort. Sometimes the teachers are wrong in their grading practices and this can usually be discussed in a professional manner, but what does it teach the child if every time they complain, rant, rave, they get their way? Does this build resiliency? Will this be acceptable behavior in college, future jobs, or relationships?

 perserverance

What about GRIT and a positive growth mindset? Grit is essentially persistence and sticking with difficult tasks. A person with a positive growth mindset believes they can improve their abilities through hard work. Someone with a fixed mindset believes they are born with certain abilities and they are limited by these fixed attributes and can only improve minimally. Carol Dweck has written several publications on positive growth mindsets. Another excellent resource is this video from TED Talks GRIT. Angela Lee Duckworth explains “that IQ is not as important as hard work and educators need to learn more about student motivation.”

So how can educators Improve and cultivate resiliency? Students need to learn from an early age that the process of learning and trying is more important than the immediate outcome. Failure can lead to growth as long as one keeps on trying and refuses to settle for less. Think about people that have failed the LSAT, GRE, MTEL, or other exams but worked harder and finally passed them. Those that fail after several tries can be proud of their effort but then must pick themselves up and move in another direction. What other positive options do they have?

As a school administrator, one thing is clear to me, we all have to work together and be on the same page to improve student growth and outcomes. Teachers, students, parents, and administrators all have an important role to play and consistency and follow through is key. Work together and support each other to teach students resiliency and don’t give in and bend every time a student complains or doesn’t want to work hard. My parents, teachers, principals, and coaches sure didn’t make it easy for me, and I appreciate them very much for pushing and encouraging me while being there to help when I took a step back. Don’t we owe this to our students as well?

Granger Model

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Some other Excellent Resources

 Healthy Coping

Colleges confront lack of Grit/Resiliency

MGH Resilient Youth Program

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Technology to Improve Student Engagement

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There are so many tools that are available to educators that can really help improve student engagement in their classes. As a school administrator, I have to wear many hats with one of them conducting frequent classroom observations. Although other job requirements can sometimes reduce the amount of time I spend in classes, watching fun and engaging lessons is my favorite part of my day. Observing well-prepared lessons that meet student learning needs and improves student achievement is paramount for school administrators. We are supposed to be instructional leaders within our buildings. To fully understand what a well-prepared and engaging lesson looks like, we first need to understand what engagement really means. George Couros discusses some areas to look for during observations in this article: http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/3586

Technology is a great tool that helps make learning fun, helps differentiate and personalize learning, creates more student centered instruction, helps students communicate more, improves collaboration, and helps connect them to other students in other towns, cities, states, and countries. Technology plays an important role in accelerating pedagogy which will help transform education. Teachers can try incorporating a flipped model: 

School administrators need to model various technologies to teachers so they understand the relevance and use it as an important tool to improve teaching and learning. I am enclosing a Video Scribe and PowerPoint presentation on how school administrators can help model the use of technology to improve student engagement. This was presented to other school administrators at the MSSAA Summer Institute in Hyannis Massachusetts on July 30, 2015. I hope it is helpful to both teachers and administrators. I want to recognize and thank my principal Tara Bennett for introducing me to Kahoot and its excellent and fun formative assessment capabilities. There are several administrators I have learned from, but I really want to recognize and thank principal Bill Bulkhead for showing me how to create a blog and modeling the use of technology. One year later, I feel much more connected. To learn more about Video Scribe, please click the link above or email me at tambres@comcast.net.

MSSAASI Presentation 2015

Becoming A More Connected Educator

 

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My Definition of a Connected Educator

1. Being able to learn and share ideas with many other educators from various towns, cities, states, and countries.

2. A connected educator is as much a learner as they are a teacher. They practice and model lifelong learning.

Growth

It is important for every educator and administrator to continuously seek professional growth in order to best provide our students with the best education possible. We must model what we expect our students to be able to do and remain relevant in education by demonstrating our openness to change. To be transformational, school teachers and administrators must be change agents.

7 Ways to Become More Connected

1. Attend various professional developments each year and at different places.

2. Use more interdisciplinary units with colleagues in your school.

3. Be a reflective educator.

4. Be more open to explore, collaborate, and question current educational practices.

5. Learn more about Web 2.0 tools Ex: blogs, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.

6. Join a social network and create a PLN.

7. Slowly integrate more technology into classes and school: HoverCam, QR Codes, Vimeo, iMovie, Digital Newspaper, etc.

 

***See below and click link for full presentation given to Assistant Principals at MSSAA Conference on 4/6/15

Connected Educator Presentation

Good Read

Connect Book

Personalized Learning – Bring Out The Genius In Kids

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So what is Personalized Learning and how does it differ from Individualized Learning and Differentiated Learning? http://education.ky.gov/school/innov/Documents/BB-KM-Personalizedlearningchart-2012.pdf Differentiated instruction is adapting to the various learning styles of students, but the learning goal usually remains the same. Individualized instruction is explicitly designed to accommodate individual learning needs, but students are dependent on teachers to support their learning. Personalized learning allows the student to choose what they want to learn and the method in which they want to learn it. There can be some 1:1 help by the instructor if the student needs it but it is not required. These students learn according to their preferred method which helps improve engagement. All three instructional strategies have their place.

It’s no secret that engaged students tend to do better in school and have less attendance and discipline issues. Students that are not engaged tend to loath school and are more likely to become a drop out. This can significantly reduce their chance for success. This is a segue from my last article on blended learning which tends to be more student centered and thus more engaging. Teachers need to use multiple modalities including using technologies, PBL, flipped classrooms, and collaborative problem solving to reach a wide audience of students.

Google was one of the pioneers in creative thinking by creating a Genius Hour for its employees. Google dedicated 20% of the work time so employees could brainstorm, be curious, and develop new ideas which helped improve Google’s status as a technological giant. So what is a Genius Hour? This is an hour set aside during a class once a week where students can work on anything they are interested in. A couple of questions teachers have regarding using this strategy are; what about all the content I have to squeeze in, and how do I get ready for those standardized tests if I allow students to choose what they want to learn? Genius Hour can be used many different ways by teachers and students. The big question is “how do you engage more learners and make their education more authentic?” By using a Genius Hour, students can become experts in anything they want or are interested in. It allows them to explore their passions and helps them realize that failure is a part of learning. This helps develop true growth. Several schools have already implemented a Genius Hour into their curriculum. http://www.greenwichschools.org/page.cfm?p=11586 By no means am I suggesting this is the only relevant activity, but it definitely helps engage students and gives them a deeper connection to their learning. I believe balance, creativity, fun and defined expectations helps students stay engaged. Here are some excellent links if you want to learn more about implementing a Genius Hour.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/09/living/genius-hour-education-schools/

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/genius-hour-essentials-personalized-education-nichole-carter

http://www.thenerdyteacher.com/2013/10/20time-makes-difference-edchat.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMFQUtHsWhc

http://cybraryman.com/geniushour.html

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Assistant Principal’s Corner #6

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Using QR Codes to improve student learning and improve engagement.

By now, most people have heard of blended learning in education. If you are not quite sure what this means, here is a link that will help http://www.teachthought.com/blended-learning-2/the-definition-of-blended-learning/  As an assistant principal, we wear many hats. One of our responsibilities is to evaluate teachers but also provide them with ideas and feedback on how to improve student learning and engagemnet. I think most people would agree that engaged students tend to be more invested in their education and have less disciplinary and attendance related issues. By using more technology in the classrooms,  most students view the educational content as being more fun, interactive, and relevant to their everyday life. Show an interesting video from You Tube in class and watch how engaged and quiet the students are. By no means am I implying that technology is the answer to all educational growth but it certainly has its place and can pay huge dividends. Many European countries use a well balanced approach by using technology while still requiring students to use good old fashioned pen/pencil and paper to develop well rounded students. http://www.politico.com/story/2014/05/finland-school-system-107137.html

So what about QR Codes? After attending an Edscape Conference in New Jersey, I learned how to use these in classes and took it one step further by researching it on You Tube and Twitter. This seemed so cool to me and putting my old teaching cap back on, I thought how can I introduce this to my staff to see if they might like to use it in their classes? After speaking with my administrative team, we thought it would be beneficial to try it in a faculty meeting. I designed a lesson that would infuse a flipped model (blended learning) by sending an email with all the directions, and a PowerPoint that included videos and web links to some excellent resources to make QRCodes, download a QR Reader, and links on how to creatively use them in classes. After presenting the lesson to my faculty, I received some positive feedback which made me decide to share out the entire presentation on my blog, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I truly hope it is helpful to teachers and administrators trying to use various technologies to improve student engagement. Please feel free to email me at tbresnahan@millburyschools.org or tweet me @tbresnahan1

Please see link below for adjusted presentation for this blog. I added the agenda and modified the trivia quiz to fit one powerpoint which condensed materials for this link. Please send me some feedback.

QR Codes

 

Assistant Principal’s Corner #5

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Why School Attendance is Important? The Big Picture!

After writing on a highly debatable topic like homework, I said to myself, what other sticky topic could I stir the pot with? Ah! Attendance popped into my head. As an assistant principal, we spend much of our time trying to track, chase down, and improve student attendance. This can be daunting and sometimes it feels like a Sisyphean task.   http://www.mythweb.com/encyc/entries/sisyphus.html

So why worry so much if students are not punctual or miss several days of school? Can’t they still get a passing grade and that highly coveted high school diploma? After all, isn’t it just the grade and that piece of paper with the school seal that society says is the most important thing to the students? What is the correlation between having good attendance and academic success? Does being punctual demonstrate respect for others and a sense of commitment and responsibility?

So what does some of the data say? It is evident that students missing ten percent of school in any given school year (chronic absenteeism) reduces even the best teachers ability to provide quality instruction, and those students will be much more likely to either stay back in school or even drop out. One of the greatest factors in improving the quality of life for low-income or at risk students is their education, but having poor attendance greatly decreases their chances for success. Students from all socio-economic groups generally score lower on standardized tests when they missed too much school and are less prepared for college and careers. Many businesses complain that high school and college graduates are chronically late to work and are missing a strong work ethic. http://drjameswellborn.com/preparing-teens-for-the-21st-century-work-place-work-ethic/

Many school systems have vertically aligned attendance policies within their district but don’t uniformly follow the established policies. This is often due to parental push-back, a lack of support by administration, and often changing state guidelines. Raising children is not an easy task at any age, and so many more parents are working  to pay their bills, save for college, and their retirement. This can be challenging in a very difficult economy but they still need to have consistent expectations to ensure their child’s academic success. When schools call home and inquire why a student went on vacation in October versus the summer time, it can cause tension between the parents and the school. Parents may have only been able to schedule it then, or the prices were cheaper. We all know hotels and airlines  jack up the costs during school vacation time. School Administrators do understand this, but we have to hold the students accountable for their education. This is where dialogue between the two parties is critical.

Students also do become physically and mentally ill, and schools are required to call home and check on those types of absences as well. How many times can an adult miss work for illnesses before they get fired? We need to teach students how to deal with some of their issues to build these skills for later in life. If it’s serious, document the days missed with medical notes, and we will work together to get the student caught up. Again, it needs to be within reason. How many notes could you give your boss or college professor?

So what do we do to improve student attendance? From my experience, it takes a collaborative effort from all parties to do this. No one person can have a significant impact. It starts with communication and expectations that need to be followed through with and consistent consequences if these are not met. I believe you must always use rewards and consequences for positive and negative behaviors. An example of this is excellent attendance rewards like no homework passes, free school lunch passes, lunch with the principal, school-wide attendance celebrations, attendance awards, etc. The consequences should be progressive, fair, and consistent. Verbal warnings, detentions, Saturday School, loss of privileges, etc.

The schools and parents need to be on the same page with these expectations to have optimal success. Habits and expectations all start at younger ages, so it is critical that elementary and middle schools follow strict attendance procedures to prevent a snowball effect in high school. School administrators know there will be some push back but need to stand firm because it is only going to be in the best interest of the students. If we buckle every time someone doesn’t agree with the policies or procedures, it will most definitely end up hurting the students in the long run when they are lacking these skills later in life. Doing the right thing can often be the hardest thing to do and also follow through with.

For more information on attendance, please visit this awesome website ATTENDANCE WORKS  http://www.attendanceworks.org/