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? 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. 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.

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Assistant Principal’s Corner #6


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  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.

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 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


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.

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.

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

How Much Homework Is Too Much?


Homework: What a giant issue that has been such a hot topic and such often a heated debate. I decided I wanted to try to tackle this MONSTAH, (Boston version). Why did I choose to write about a contentious issue? Because people need to look at the data before they pass judgment, and this data should be used to benefit student learning. I have enjoyed discussing this topic with several colleagues over my twenty something years in education and have changed my viewpoints as a result of looking at relevant data and the proverbial “Big Picture.”

So the most frequent questions I have heard are; Why is homework needed, does homework improve learning, what does quality/relevant homework look like, and how much homework is too much? The positive aspects of homework are it can help students learn responsibility, practice skills learned in class to help maximize learning, students learn to use more resources like reference materials, the internet, and libraries. Homework can also help students become more independent when they work on assignments on their own. Parents can become more involved in their child’s education by helping them with homework assignments and also seeing what they are learning in school. These are some of the positive aspects of homework.

There have been several studies on the efficacy of homework and most state that at younger ages, homework does not show a definite correlation between the homework and improved test scores or improved academic achievement. Homework used in middle and high school has proven to have some positive impacts on learning as long as it was meaningful and relevant. What does relevant homework look like? From my experience and what I have read, it should be based on skill development and not just memorizing content. Marzano has some great examples of relevant work in his instructional strategies document The NEA (National Education Association) created some recommendations for assigning homework. It basically stated that a student should receive no more than 10 minutes of homework per grade level a night. An example is, an eighth grader would have no more than 80 minutes assigned in a night. This is tough to measure and police in a school, but it helps establish some kind of a norm for homework. This might also help educators understand how much homework is too much.

What is the negative impact of too much homework? I believe students need to go outside and play, be active, and socialize with their friends and family. Excessive homework can stunt a student’s growth in these areas. We want students to develop in many different areas not just in rote memorization. Also, is the homework equitable? What if several students don’t have the support at home to help with their homework while others do? Will this homework be graded? A family of well-educated parents certainly have an edge over those without, but all students are held accountable for the same graded homework. Something to think about! Should the majority of homework assignments even be graded or is it more about the effort in the process of completing it? If a student doesn’t understand the homework, won’t they just be performing the same imperfect tasks over and over which can be detrimental? Wouldn’t it be beneficial for the homework assignment to be based on areas that need work from class that a teacher noticed during some kind of formative assessment? What if the teacher also provided a link on their web page to help them work through the problems, material, or skills? Just a thought!

Does excessive homework prevent students from enjoying school because they feel overwhelmed, and is any of this adding to the excessive mental health issues we are seeing in our schools today? I would say it might play a role. Students definitely have a lot on their plate which is fine as long as we all know how to take some off when they are getting full. Did you know the US gives more homework than almost any other country in the world, but our test scores are not as high as say Japan and Finland? More doesn’t always mean better.

So, to wrap this up, I have learned that balance is the key to success in education, and we want to help students learn by using many educational sources and strategies. I feel homework has its place and can be beneficial if it improves skills that will translate to real-life learning.  I suggest using more technology and project based learning where students take the skills they learned into application. We want students to enjoy education and have fun in the process while also understanding that they must work hard and show responsibility. That balance word again!

Assistant Principal’s Corner #4

AP rocks

With November already upon us and students receiving their report cards for the first grading term, I wanted to touch upon the importance of effort and support. What steps should we take to help students reach their full academic potential in schools? We often start panicking when a student doesn’t do well and sometimes even point fingers in many directions. So who is responsible? I would argue many people, starting with the student. My first questions are always how hard have you worked in your classes and did you seek out extra help from your teachers? Can you believe I actually expect high school students to be in charge of their own personal growth? Such a draconian idea! Next is the teacher’s responsibility of providing engaging, fun, rigorous, and relevant instruction that meets the needs of all their students. Sounds easy, but I assure you it isn’t.  Great teaching is an art and takes many years to perfect. Having teachers discuss what is working and what is not with peers is invaluable and in turn will help provide students with quality lessons. No two students learn exactly the same, so differentiating materials is also a must in most classes

Where do the parents fit into this equation? This is such an important part of the student’s success in school. Parents/guardians have a very difficult job raising children in a society that is sometimes overly demanding. This is why they need to partner with schools to help improve academic, social, behavioral, and emotional success for their child. I firmly believe it is in everyone’s best interest to improve respect in schools. The parents need to see teachers as professionals that have spent many years obtaining educational degrees, so they can provide quality teaching to their children. With that said, I am not suggesting it is a perfect system, but it can always improve with appropriate dialogue.

Now for the administration. Another equally important role in student achievement. There is a delicate balance that must be achieved between all parties involved, and a good administrator helps facilitate these discussions and provides guidance and feedback when they stall. Our decisions must always be in the best interest of the student even if they are sometimes unfavorable. The administration must make these decisions using common sense, experience, integrity, and in collaboration with several teachers, counselors, and other administrators.

So what to do when a student struggles? Take a look at the big picture, ask what skills do they need to be successful, what steps have been taken, and what interventions need to be in place to help rectify the situation? Too often the answer is pull them from class or lower the expectations, but is that really going to be in the students best interest down the road? Will they have the necessary skills for college and career readiness? Is the grade the most important thing or is it the mastery of content and the process of learning? My belief is most students should remain in a challenging class with some students needing to make changes in order to have success.

What ever decision is made, it is important that students, parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators are all on the same page. What good is it if a student graduates with decent grades and a diploma only to take remedial courses in college because they weren’t challenged enough or were able to quit every time it became tough?

There is nothing more gratifying than watching students succeed and grow as young adults but it takes many hands to lift them to success.

Benefits of Using Social Media In Schools


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After spending several years questioning the use of social media and believing it was a distraction, I changed my opinion. I spoke with several administrators that helped me look at this using a very different lens. My good friend Bill Burkhead @BurkheadBill gave me exposure to the benefits of twitter and blogs and how they can improve professional communication and educational growth. I now use these along with Linkedin, edWeb, and Flickr. I can honestly say this has been the fastest way I have acquired information and connected with professionals in my career. So how can this help your students? Using technology like social media in classes helps to engage students, differentiates materials, helps with collaboration, improves knowledge in a rapid manner, improves student interactions with peers and teachers, helps many special education students filter out distractions using certain web tools and APS like @Socrative and QR Reader. These tools also improve family and community engagement, and administrators can quickly showcase their school by uploading and sharing out pictures via Twitter. Professionals also create and share many educational documents via the Internet using social media @Edutopia. Although I have jumped in with both feet and really believe in the importance of blended learning, I still do also believe students need to be well-rounded, and they need to learn balance and responsibility, so putting down the electronics and using old-fashioned reading and writing has merit. Students also need real-time face-to-face interactions to improve social skills. Finland does this with much success. Basic skills should always be maintained and enhanced for true student development. For more pros and cons visit this link

Assistant Principal’s Corner #3


What tips can I give an aspiring  school administrator? This is my third year as a high school assistant principal. I taught for about twenty years before deciding to become a school administrator. This was not a decision I took lightly and understood that making this transition from a teacher/coach would be challenging but worthwhile. As a teacher, I was fortunate to work with many professional school leaders.There seemed to be a growing divide between many teachers and administrators. Was this because expectations and demands had changed? Was it because many new administrators didn’t have the teaching background that was once the norm, a series of state mandated rollouts that put more pressure on day-to-day teaching, or a break down in communication and collaboration which inevitably negatively impacts student success? My own personal opinion is it varies but most likely involves all of these components.

So why jump into the fire?  Just for more pay, advancing up the ranks, professional posturing, or control? If your answer is yes to these questions, you may want to reconsider becoming an administrator. I see it as an opportunity to truly help teachers improve student learning and improve school culture. Both of these tasks can be herculean at times, because along with improvement comes that dreaded word “CHANGE.” When I was in my graduate program, I read an excellent book called Who Moved My Cheese. The shortest book I ever read and also one of the best. Truly made me rethink CHANGE. Several administrators believe one should assess the new school before making significant changes and I agree, to a point. In what business fields do CEO’s say we will make necessary changes several years down the line? They would lose money. I realize schools are guided by a vision and a school improvement plan, but please make immediate changes that directly impact student learning and or safety. Why wait until a 9th grader is a senior to make small but impactful changes just so you don’t ruffle a few feathers? At the end of the day, you have to make decisions that are ethical, impactful,  fair, and are in the best interest of students. These decisions may be unfavorable to some students, parents, and staff, but you were not hired to be popular. A veteran administrator jokingly once told me that you know you made it as an Assistant principal by how many times your name ends up on the mens room walls. If that is the case, then I am a made man! Hear that Tony Soprano! Leaders must make tough decisions even if they are unfavorable.

Another important point is lead according to your own style not someone else’s. You can steal ideas and educational strategies from other administrators but use them according to your own personality. I would never want to hire myself, I would drive myself nuts! What good is having a bunch of yes people who don’t push back a little to make you a better leader? One other thing I think a new AP should know is never forget your teaching hat, and you are not as important as you may think. Everyone has a role to play, and you can’t have too many cooks in the kitchen.

“Too many kings can ruin an army” ~Homer

Here is my top 10 list

  1. Be visible
  2. Be honest and fair
  3. Be consistent
  4. Be a good listener (still working at this myself)
  5. Delegate, delegate, delegate
  6. Stay current/relevant
  7. Don’t be too hard on yourself. I make mistakes every day and try to fix them. Just as it takes time to become a good teacher, it takes time to be an effective administrator. Need a good mentor!
  8. Look at and create data to help make some administrative decisions. Data shouldn’t drive all of them.
  9. Remember there are actual students on a data sheet, know the kids. Can’t just be numbers!
  10. Have fun working with your teachers and students. Why do it if it isn’t worthwhile?

who moved my cheese