Shadowing of an Urban Superintendent

My current 093 Superintendent’s Program requires a shadowing experience of an urban Superintendent of Schools.  I was able to recently meet with Dr. Sal Pascarella, veteran Superintendent of the Danbury Public Schools, CT.  This was a great opportunity to experience a day in the life of an urban school Superintendent.

Dr. Pascarella was part of a conference call with Naugatuck Valley Community College (NVCC) and New Oak, who form a partnership with the Danbury schools.  The Danbury administrators spoke about current course articulations with NVCC.  The collaboration of these members is part of a program called the Connecticut Early College Opportunity (CT-ECO) Program.  This program offers students a unique opportunity to earn an industry-recognized, two-year post-secondary degree, along with their high school diploma.  This is an excellent way to support the overall diversity of an urban district like Danbury.  Staffing, planned program, and other particulars were discussed to ensure the support of students and also aligning to graduation requirements.  The hope is for 400 students to be part of the CT-ECO partnership program.

Next, I was able to sit in on a meeting between the Superintendent and the Human Resources Director.  The conversation was powerful to see in noting Dr. Pascarella’s leadership style and how he delegates tasks to his administrative cabinet.

Dr. Pascarella then discussed issues related to magnet schools in Danbury related to changes in legislature.  A meeting was held last week and the minutes were reviewed.  Dr. Pascarella shared progress toward the 2015 proposed resolutions of the delegate assembly from the CABE Government Relations Committee.  It was a nice opportunity to see the interaction of the Superintendent with the state, in addition to listening to the effect of these legislative changes and their impact in Danbury.

Dr. Pascarella cited the importance of Board of Education relations and compared to his Board.  In general, he described the importance of nurturing the Board and having an “Open door policy”.   He encouraged working closely with the Board chairman.

The Superintendent also described the structure of his leadership team and how often they meet.  There are cabinets that meet once per week.  There are different types of cabinets depending on the structure.  For example, elementary principals meet once per month, as do the secondary principals.

Although many other experiences transpired, the highlight of the visit was a closing discussion with the Superintendent before I left for the day.  Dr. Pascarella shared, what he believed to be, the top qualities of a good Superintendent.  He cited that these leaders need to be creative in how they deal with public, solve personnel problems, and manage a budget.  “All situations are different and require a different strategy.”  He suggested putting people in positions to delegate often and to make connections.

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Doc’s Twitter Secrets Revealed

I have only been on Twitter since July 2012.  However, in just this short time, I have tweeted nearly 16,000 times, gained nearly 1400 followers, and have developed an online Professional Learning Network (PLN).  Somehow, people in my district refer to me as “that Twitter guy.”

Honestly, I love being a leader and being the “one” who knows something.  So, when people say, “you are addicted to Twitter,” really, what they should say is that I’m addicted to being a leader.  The need for information is clearly apparent in today’s society.  With information at our fingertips, we should expect no less.
I have accumulated thoughts and ideas as I have evolved on Twitter.  Some of these ideas are common knowledge and others may be fresh, new ideas that perhaps you can use for yourself.  In order to get the most out of Twitter, expand your PLN, gain more followers, and evolve in your use of Twitter, check out the Top 10 list below.
1. “Favoriting” 
By favoriting tweets more often, you can extend your reach.  Others see this in their “Discover feed”.  It is a networking tactic.  The more ways to “be seen” the more likely others will follow.
2. “Retweeting” 
Same idea/concept as above.
3. The Who’s Who on Twitter: Who to Follow 
Follow those who your work most closely with.  For example, the more teachers you follow that have Twitter accounts, the more students will see.  At New Milford High School, CT, we have nearly 50% of our staff on Twitter.  You will soon know who is very active and who doesn’t use Twitter as much.  Nonetheless, following extends your reach for not only followers, but ideas!
4. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition 
A lot about Twitter is what is actually seen. Many people only see what is on Twitter at that moment they log in.  So, repeat your tweets often, even if it annoys some of your current followers.  Sometimes, you can tweak the wording.
5. Make Friends with those Popular on Twitter 
Reach out to friends popular on Twitter. Ask them to RT some of your posts to get to more of an audience.  I often ask staff and students to “tweet at me” or email me any important pieces of information that I can spread to a larger following.  At NMHS, we post critical information for our school on our NMHS_CT account, and then retweet off our personal accounts.  The school account currently has 1722 followers, most of which are parents and students.  If you are a staff member at NMHS, then these are the people you want seeing your tweets and following you.
6. Follow to follow 
The more people you follow, the more people who will follow you back.  I need to do a better job of this.  I need to follow more people on Twitter.  It took me a while to break away from the “read every tweet in my Home feed” mentality.  Now, I follow over 100 more people in the last 4 months and do not read every tweet anymore.  Most staff do not follow students.  However, some do, as it is critical to communicate with student leaders who post information that staff can use or retweet, for example, class officers.  Plainly stated, the more people you follow, the more will follow you.
7. Utilize Tweetdeck or Hootsuite.
These desktop apps assist with things like “scheduling tweets” and looking for other ways to connect.  I strongly encourage use of Tweetdeck for scheduling your tweets, participating in a group chat, or managing multiple Twitter accounts from one dashboard.
8. The 3C’s: Converse, Collaborate, Communicate 
Join a tweet chat or connect by having a conversation with some followers.  This extends your reach.
9. Get Addicted, a.k.a. Tweet Often 
The more you tweet, the more people see.  Plain and simple.  Get addicted today! #Twitteraddiction
10. Speed Tweeting 101
Getting Tweets out fast is crucial in adding to your reach.  Tweet drafting is an important tool.  When tweeting at an activity or athletic event for example, copy and paste repeat info in “drafts”.  A good idea for tweeting at sporting events, where you can copy and paste parts of tweets that save time and allow for more tweeting and reach.  Ask Mr. Fitzsimmons about this one!  Works like a charm when you are tweeting at an event and have little ones with you!
Best wishes to all in the Twitterosphere!
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Spirit Week 2014

Spirit Week at New Milford High School.  Once a year for one week in October, students and staff come together under the guidance of the Student Council and devote one week to various means to increase school spirit and to also celebrate Homecoming.  Like many other high schools, this is a tradition that has changed over the years to relate to the changes in society, student interests, and the overall culture of a school and town.

The week is filled with many opportunity for students to show their school spirit by contributing to the theme of that day.  This year, the spirit days were: Sports Jersey Day, Twin Day, America Day, Fictional Character Day, and Green and White Day/Senior Toga Day.  Again, tradition plays a role in the organization of such a week.  However, the days were voted on by members of our Student Council.  Planning for these events goes back to the previous spring, where members begin to brainstorm ideas and discuss options.

This year, there were great outfits, creative ideas, and overall a lot of participation. Some of the major events to come later in the week also showed committed students taking on the responsibly of leading school-spirited events. On Thursday, the NMHS Dramatics Club sponsored our 2nd annual Carnival that featured games, food, and entertainment. There was a nice turnout and it was nice to see many clubs come together in the small gym and share fundraising proceeds at this event.

On Friday, our traditional pep rally took place in the afternoon. Followed by Green Wave football vs. ND-Fairfield in the evening. Our boys won 53-10. Friday evening concluded with a Bonfire, a favorite event of our Athletic Director, Mr. Lipinsky.

On Saturday evening, the annual Homecoming dance took place in the Arena. This has always been the culminating event of Homecoming week where the Homecoming king & queen are announced. Congrats, Brady & Bethany.

All in all, despite all the glitz, glamour, fancy outfits, pep rally, traditions, etc., we cannot lose sight of the main focus of the week, and that is the sense of pride we have in our school. In addition to the special themes and events, seeing former students who come back to visit at Friday night’s football game make annual Homecoming truly memorable.

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A Vision of Personalizing Learning for Students

As educators, we try our best to develop steps to create learning environments that put students at the center.  District leaders need to find ways to create systemic change that will lead to better outcomes for students, staff, parents, and community.  Personalized learning can truly serve as a visionary step in engaging students and preparing them for the future.

Moving from Status-quo to Personalized Systems

In a mastery-based competency system, we create gaps in learning.  The high achiever has all his or her gaps filled in, but others fall in areas, and these areas produce problems later in education.  Everyday, learners come to school and are met at their developmental learning level.  They are challenged and hopefully successful.  And then they go home. These students come back the next day and do it again.  The system of education has been nearly the same for the past 200 years.

No matter where our students are coming from, leaders have a moral imperative to create the best learning environment possible for all students.  Is the student who completes high school with a D average and 26 credits in 4 years really prepared for the future and the job market?  Can these types of students successfully meet the demands of our society?

There are many problems with traditional “time-based” learning systems.  This system is simply a movement over time, where students are assessed along the way.  Why not differentiate and assess when students are ready based on their progress?  We need a model based on performance, where learning takes place anytime and anywhere and is driven by the needs of learners.  By doing this, we can increase the use of critical thinking and problem solving in all content areas, utilize technology, collaborate effectively, and be prepared to be a 21st century learner, better yet, a 22nd century learner.

Potential Steps in Developing a Performance-based System

Begin by developing or tweaking the district strategic design.  Strengths and areas for growth need to be assessed before proceeding forward.  Next, develop a guaranteed and viable curriculum.  It is important to include “life-long learning” standards, in addition to content standards.  It is critical that all learning be linked to a comprehensive assessment system.  There needs to be connectivity between curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Imagine a learning system that dropped the traditional A-F grading system.  These school districts adopt a 0-4 scoring system.  Since students learn in different ways and at a different pace, despite the challenges, this system allows for the flexibility to engage all students.

Incorporating different types of electronic assessment scoring and tracking systems allow for monitoring personalized learning systems.  Often, these systems include a portal for students and parents.  In some cases, students can even upload their work, which serves as “evidence” .  No matter what type of course management system and online portals that are used, the concept is the same: monitoring progress in a personalized learning environment.

A performance-based system includes a flexible system for grouping learners.  Educators need to empower learners by developing “learning facilitators” rather than teachers.  This is a strong shift in culture, but a necessary one to develop more of a student-centered system.  Incorporating student voice and choice also play a significant role in supporting this type of system.

Common Barriers Associated with a Performance-based System

The most difficult area to address when implementing this type of system is the culture of change.  There is a mindset that needs to be addressed based on years of a traditional system.  There also needs to be an understanding amongst staff so staff see this change as healthy, meaningful, and applicable.  Another barrier is State mandated testing.  Since testing is “time-based,” there will need to be more flexible options in testing students at the state level.  Other significant variables include but are not limited to: the pressure of college acceptance rates, high school graduation rates, teacher union support, and the perception of changing the overall grading system.

Moving Forward with a Student-centered Learning System

In summary, the most important areas to address in moving forward with a personalized learning system are: curriculum design, assessment design, grading, grouping of learners, and technology.  In taking the beginning steps of shifting from a traditional system to a personalized learning system, the biggest step is to implement and nurture cultural change within a school district.  Thomas Edison once said, “Vision without execution is just hallucination.”  By developing a culture that is not only linked to the district vision, but also put into action by connecting personalized learning systems, we are truly doing what is in the best interests of our students.

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Twitter as a Powerful Tool for School Leaders

Twitter has been around for over seven years now and has evolved in the field of education.  School Leaders have an opportunity to utilize Twitter for an array of possibilities to interact with students, staff, parents, and the community.  From informational posts to making connections with followers, Twitter can be a powerful tool to inform, instruct, and connect.
10 Ways School Leaders Can Maximize the Use of Twitter
10. Reminders and updates.
9. Collaborating with students.
8. Promoting parental and school involvement.
7. Developing relationships that extend beyond the classroom, school, community.
6. Utilizing TweetChat and other Chat sites to engage in online conversations that serve as professional development.
5. Following areas/people of interest.
4. Tracking hashtags to streamline interests.
3. Sparking creativity, sharing interests, and building professional networks.
2. Obtaining real time updates from professional networks.
1.  Connecting, communicating, and collaborating around the world.
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Differentiating Leadership

Over the past week, our district administrative team had its annual 2-day retreat. The presentation was facilitated by Dr. Robyn Jackson of Mind Steps (Washington, DC, http://www.mindstepsinc.com).  With the current teacher evaluation model in Connecticut (SEED) being tweaked and modified by districts this spring and summer, one focus doesn’t change- the need to give effective feedback at pre- and post- conferences and after lessons.

The focus of the workshops was to understand and apply the four types of feedback given to teachers.  These four types are: diagnostic, prescriptive, descriptive, and micro.  Diagnostic feedback is to be given for novice teachers or teachers who have been classified as below basic in areas of the evaluation process.  Prescriptive feedback is given to apprentice teachers (or those classified as “Developing” in the eval process).  Descriptive feedback should be given to teachers who are practitioners, whose who have been previously evaluated as proficient.  Lastly, micro feedback is given to master teachers.

Administrators give diagnostic feedback by “diagnosing” what is not working and trying to assist the teacher with “why?”  Prescriptive feedback allows for the administrator to present two options for the teacher to improve on an area.  It is helpful to have a third idea or option handy as a back up.  Descriptive feedback is what I am very comfortable using, as it allows for more reflection on the part of the teacher.  Micro feedback is reserved for teachers of high ability and skill.

After looking at several classroom scenarios, viewing classroom instruction video segments, and preparing to understand feedback through this lens, I have reflected on my practice of differentiating feedback.  Historically, administrators have been trained to give feedback that was descriptive in nature. The question that arises is, “How do you provide feedback that is reflective in nature to a teacher who is novice?”  Novice teachers require diagnostic feedback, and, over time, can improve their practice to elicit other types of feedback.

Also discussed at these workshops was the concept of Will and Skill.  Jackson and Mindsteps suggest that there are four types of teachers that have a different amount of “will” and “skill”.  Simply stated, will refers to the teacher’s motivation and skill is the teacher’s capacity (pedagogical and subject area knowledge).  Teachers can be classified either as: 1) high will/high skill, 2) high will/low skill, 3) low will/high skill, and 4) low will, low skill.  More information found at this webinar video below: 

In the midst of continued teacher evaluation changes, I hope to utilize these strategies on giving effective teacher feedback based on the types of teachers that I supervise.  As administrators and instructional leaders, we always suggest and enforce differentiation as a valuable strategy.  So, why don’t we practice what we preach and differentiate for our teachers?  I have differentiated for my students.  I have differentiated for my athletes that I coached.  I have differentiated for my staff when delivering professional development.  2014-2015 is the time to differentiate feedback for teachers, so that they will become stronger reflective practitioners, ultimately benefiting our students.

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The Changing Face of Leadership

lead

How do you define leadership?  This is a question that is often asked in many education courses, workshops, conferences, etc.  I have performed this exercise many times and realized that each time, my definition is slightly different.  The qualities of an excellent school leader can be categorized and agreed upon by many.  However, coming to an agreement on which leadership qualities are most important often depend upon the current environment, role, and status of the school district of the leader.

So, the question should really be: What is your current leadership face?  Leaders need to develop several qualities and skills, some of which sit in a “back pocket” for periods of time, until situational leadership scenarios arise.  Despite the various qualities that can be associated with effective leaders, I have broken down what I believe are the key qualities into five central areas: Communication, Purpose/Vision, Cultivation of Leadership, Ability to Adapt, and Positive Attitude.

COMMUNICATION

Most research on effective leadership will point to effective leaders possessing the ability to communicate.  As a school administrator, several stakeholders rely on information necessary for the growth of students and the school.  Effective communication is also effective listening.

PURPOSE/VISION

Strong leaders have a clear and articulate vision and a deep commitment to that vision.  Leaders need to manage people, data, and processes on a daily basis, so linking all initiatives, decisions, and tasks to the school or district vision benefits all.

CULTIVATING LEADERSHIP IN OTHERS

This is what I believe to be perhaps the most important area of leadership.  Success breeds success and leaders breed other leaders.  We all have mentors that we look up to, admire, steal from, and learn from.  Likewise, successful leaders delegate tasks to others.  Trust is developed over time, and leaders have to decide on which tasks are to be delegated for others.  Also related to successful delegation is the leader’s ability to motivate.  By inspiring others, leaders are cultivating leadership.

ABILITY TO ADAPT

Leaders are faced with many decisions that need to be made in a timely manner.  While some decisions allow for research and the collection of pertinent information, many decisions result from unpredictable situations that arise.  Effective leaders have a sense of intuition and are able to make decisions based on this intuition and as a result of their prior experiences.  Leaders need to adapt and be flexible when it comes to emergency and crisis situations and find creative solutions in order to problem solve.

POSITIVE ATTITUDE

Effective leaders see an opportunity in everything, even a problem.  By keeping an optimistic mind, leaders are able to remain positive in daily experiences.  By relating all things done in the best interests of students, successful school leaders are able to demonstrate a positive attitude at all times.  Building and cultivating relationships is a critical area of successful leadership and in establishing a positive school culture.

I encourage administrators to reflect periodically and attempt to define leadership.  The last definition that I wrote on leadership was:

Leadership: “The ability to motivate others to accomplish tasks for the greater good of the vision of an organization that has a lasting effect and cultivates other leaders along the way.”

Ask me what my definition is six weeks from now, and I will probably give you a slightly different version of what you see above.  The same is true with the top five qualities of leadership.  Leadership and the challenges associated with it evolve through our experiences in the role.

 

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